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Alan Jay Lerner : a biography /

Main Author: Jablonski, Edward.
Format: Book
Language: English
Published: New York : H. Holt and Co., 1996
Edition: 1st ed.
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Review by Choice Review

Jablonski, writer on the musical theater and author of several books about George Gershwin (e.g., Gershwin, CH, Mar'88), turns here to playwright/lyricist Alan Jay Lerner. This biography supplements Lerner's fragmentary autobiography, The Street Where I Live (CH, May'79), and parallels Gene Lees's Inventing Champagne: The Worlds of Lerner and Loewe (1990). Although Lerner is principally remembered for his work with Frederick Loewe (My Fair Lady, Camelot), Jablonski also describes his stage and motion-picture work with others (e.g., Kurt Weill, Burton Lane, Andre Previn, Leonard Bernstein). He gives considerable detail on each show, including excerpts from lyrics--particularly helpful for the lesser-known works. Jablonski discusses Lerner's medical, marital, money, and drug problems and his erratic and undependable work habits, all of which had an impact on his theatrical achievement. With its numerous anecdotes, the book makes for entertaining reading. Included are a list of Lerner's writings and two sections of photographs. Like Lees's volume, this biography contains no documentation and the bibliography is incomplete. Copyediting and checking are poor (e.g., Lehman Engel's name is misspelled throughout the volume). In spite of these limitations, the work should be a popular addition to all general, academic, and professional collections. R. D. Johnson emeritus, SUNY College at Oneonta

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Booklist Review

As lyricist and bookwriter, Alan Jay Lerner was responsible for some of the most enduring stage and screen musicals--Brigadoon, An American in Paris, Gigi, Camelot. Moreover, his lyrics are among the most playfully literate and romantic in the genre. Yet, as Jablonski points out in this affectionate yet uneven biography, Lerner's personal life was a shambles. A workaholic and "speed" freak, he married only slightly more frequently than he divorced, and nothing he wrote during his last 29 years equaled the power and beauty of the magnificent My Fair Lady (1956). Once, with his partner Frederick Loewe, the rival of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner died virtually penniless and owing the IRS thousands. Jablonski charts Lerner's slow rise in the theater world, from college shows to early flops to first glimmers of success, with the passion of a true lover of the American musical. Alas, he spends too much time thereafter recounting in tedious detail the plots of Lerner's shows and not enough time unraveling the mystery of Lerner's wonderful songs or the mystery of his melancholy life. --Jack Helbig

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In this bloodless biography, Jablonski chronicles the life and career of the noted lyricist and screenwriter Alan Jay Lerner (1918-1986) from his earliest project, the 1938 Harvard Hasty Pudding Club production of So Proudly We Hail, to his last show, Dance A Little Closer, a dismal failure that closed after opening night in 1983. In between, there were numerous successes, including Brigadoon, Paint Your Wagon, My Fair Lady and the movie Gigi, and many disappointments on Broadway as well as in life. Lerner, the son of the founder of the Lerner stores, was difficult to work with, partly because he was addicted to amphetamines and an incorrigible procrastinator, and also because he was constantly involved in divorce proceedings (he married eight times). Eventually, his most important collaborator, the composer Frederick Loewe, got fed up and retired. Lerner was then allied with a number of other composers, including Burton Lane, André Previn and Leonard Bernstein. Jablonski (George Gershwin) dutifully recounts the progress of each of Lerner's theatrical ventures but fails to shed much light on the talent behind some of America's greatest lyrics and screenplays. Photos not seen by PW. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Serviceable biography of a noted Broadway and film lyricist/librettist. Born the son of a department store mogul, Lerner had the luxury to pursue a life in the theater. Luck brought him into contact with Viennese-born composer Frederick Loewe at New York's legendary theatrical hangout, the Lambs Club, in the mid-'40s. Loewe had had some minor hits, but success had eluded him; he was looking for a new partner to pump some life into his work. The two worked together on a series of shows, hitting pay dirt with the 1947 fantasy Brigadoon. Lerner was a compulsive worker, while Loewe was happy to enjoy his newfound success; over the next decade and a half, the two would collaborate on two more successful shows, My Fair Lady and Camelot, while Lerner filled the gaps by working (less successfully) with other composers, including Kurt Weill and Burton Lane, as well as keeping himself occupied writing scripts in Hollywood. After Camelot, Loewe happily went into semi-retirement; confounded, Lerner worked on a number of ill-begotten projects, beginning with the overblown On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. The failures kept coming through the '70s and '80s, while Lerner's personal life followed its rocky path, marked by a series of quickly consummated and ultimately unsuccessful marriages. Lerner succumbed to cancer in 1986. Jablonski (Gershwin, 1987, etc.) is an able writer and knows how to hold a reader's interest. Realizing that Lerner's life story is less uplifting than the story of his hits, he wisely focuses on the shows, glossing over the more troublesome aspects of the biography. Jablonski offers salient critiques of the major Lerner productions, including close readings of the songs, the libretti, and a complete run-down of the production histories. However, he relies on the standard literature in retelling Lerner's life, barely moving beyond a handful of well-known sources for further insights. (32 b&w photos, not seen)

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.