Today is the birthday of Arthur Freed (Arthur Grossman, 1894-1973). Born in Charleston, raised in Seattle, he launched his professional career in Chicago as a song plugger and piano player. One of his first partners was Louis Silvers; the two wrote song material for Gus Edwards’ vaudeville kiddie act and for other revues. Freed also taught the kids and participated in the act himself (e.g. he was in Edwards’ Song Revue of 1915 with Jesse Block, Georgie Price, and Lila Lee.) He also wrote material for the Marx Brothers’ act and performed in their sketches (Groucho, too, was an Edwards alumnus).
In the 20s he began to have success as a lyricist, writing with such composers as Nacio Herb Brown, Gus Arnheim and Abe Lyman. In the 30s he began supplying songs to Hollywood films and producing stage musicals in Los Angeles. His historic moment came in 1939 when he was brought in as uncredited associate producer for The Wizard of Oz (1939).
MGM liked his work so much that was brought on staff to head of their musicals division, which became informally known as “the Freed Unit”. Freed’s touch proved magical: the number of classic-film Freed was responsible for as producer is amazing. Some of them include: Babes in Arms (1939), Strike Up the Band (1940), Cabin in the Sky, (1943), Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), The Harvey Girls (1946), The Ziegfeld Follies (1946), Easter Parade (1948), The Barkleys of Broadway (1949), Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949), On the Town (1949), Annie Get Your Gun (1950), An American in Paris (1951), Show Boat (1951), Singin’ in the Rain (1952), The Band Wagon (1953), Brigadoon (1954), Silk Stockings (1957), Gigi (1958), and Bells Are Ringing (1960). As musicals went out of favor, for several years he turned his attention to producing the annual Academy Awards ceremony.
To learn more about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.