Who's Who in Musicals: E
by John Kenrick
b. April 8, 1928? (New York City) - d. Sept. 11, 2004 (NYC)
For four decades, Ebb collaborated exclusively with composer
John Kander on musicals notable for their often
startling originality, each score having a unique sound and style. Superb musical
dramatists, they were among the last theatre composers whose songs could stand on their
own while being fully integrated into the shows they were written for. Their first
Broadway show was
Flora The Red Menace (1964), a moderate success that helped launch the career of
Liza Minnelli, who would be closely linked
with many of Kander and Ebb's hit songs. The moderate success of Flora
led to the triumph of Cabaret (1966), a landmark musical drama that featured
Joel Grey as the leering Emcee. It received eight Tony Awards,
including honors for Best Composer and Lyricist (the Best Score category did not exist
that year), as well as Best Musical. The original production racked up 1,166 performances,
and enjoyed successful runs in London and elsewhere.
Kander and Ebb's Broadway scores include The Happy Time (1968), Zorba
(1968), The Act (1978), Chicago
(1975), Woman of the Year (1981),
The Rink (1984), the Tony-winning Kiss of the Spider Woman (1993), and
Steel Pier (1997). They also created original scores for the films
Funny Lady (1975) and New York, New York (1977). Their songs were
showcased in the popular off-Broadway revue And The World Goes 'Round.
Kander & Ebb worked on musical versions of The Visit and
The Skin of Our Teeth. The 1997 revival of Chicago is the longest running
revival in Broadway history, and the 1998 revival of Cabaret outran its original
production. In 2003, the film version of Kander
and Ebb's Chicago (2002) became the first musical in thirty five years to win
the Academy Award for Best Picture. After years of illness, Ebb died of
heart failure in 2004, with sources placing his age at anywhere from 71 to
76. His remains were interred at Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn. Since Ebb's
death, two more Kander & Ebb projects have reached Broadway; the
mystery musical Curtains (2007) and the short-lived minstrel
inspired Scottsboro Boys (2010).
(b. Rollins Edens)
Pianist, arranger, producer
b. Nov. 9, 1905 (Hillsboro, TX) - d. July 13, 1970 (Hollywood, CA)
Although he had the looks of a star, this gifted musician did all his work behind the
scenes. When Ethel Merman's pianist fell
ill and withdrew from Girl Crazy (1932), Edens stepped in. Merman was so
impressed that she hired him as pianist/arranger for her nightclub act,
and brought him out to Hollywood to assist her on several films. When
Merman returned to Broadway, Edens remained behind. He was hired by MGM producer
Arthur Freed to act as his musical supervisor and
associate producer to the now legendary "Freed Unit."
Together, they worked on some of the finest musicals films
ever made. The long list includes Babes in Arms, Easter Parade, Royal Wedding,
An American in Paris, Singin' in the Rain, and The Bandwagon.
Many have suggested that Edens often had a greater role in making these films than
Freed, a fascinating possibility that is now almost impossible to prove or disprove.
There is no question that Edens was one of the most gifted musicians in show business,
and it is clear both he and Freed played key roles in developing some of the greatest
musical films and talents of all time. At a time when homosexuality was seen as a fatal
flaw in Hollywood, Edens managed to keep his a secret. After his marriage to
Martha LaPrelle ended in divorce, the almost constant presence of gifted
friend and co-worker, Kay Thompson, deflected lavender rumors.
Edens was musical mentor to Judy Garland and had an
uncredited hand in almost all of her musical films. Because of his exclusive MGM contract,
Edens could not take screen credit for Garland's memorable "Born In A Trunk"
sequence in the Warner Brothers production of A Star Is Born (1954). His long career
at MGM culminated in his acting as the credited producer for the all-star Deep In My
Heart (1954). When MGM cut back on musical production and disposed of its creative
staff, Edens continued to work at other studios, producing Funny Face (1957) and
Jumbo (1962). In the 1960s, he composed special night club material for Garland
and Merman. His final screen assignment was as associate producer of Hello Dolly!
(1969), directed by fellow MGM alumni Gene Kelly. Edens
coached dramatic actress Katherine Hepburn for her musical stage debut in Coco
(1969). A longtime chain smoker, he died of lung cancer at age 64.
b. June 29, 1901 (Providence, RI) - d. March 6, 1967 (Miami Beach, FL)
This handsome blonde baritone studied singing in Europe and played minor roles at the
Metropolitan Opera before appearances on radio brought him to the attention of Hollywood.
MGM co-starred him with soprano Jeanette MacDonald in
Naughty Marrietta (1935), where their rendition of "Ah Sweet Mystery of
Life" proved a sensation. The new duo eventually co-starred in eight screen musicals.
In the popular Rose Marie (1936) and its "Indian Love Call" ("When
I'm calling you-oo-oo-oo") provided the now classic image of Nelson as a stalwart
Canadian Mountie wooing the ravishing Jeanette. While both Eddy and MacDonald had musical
and dramatic limitations, their chemistry somehow made operatic emotions believable on
For all their on-screen passion, the two stars were just friends in real life
they socialized occasionally, and each sang at the other's wedding.
Suggestions that they had an off-screen affair have been dismissed by most
responsible sources. Their string of MGM
hits included Maytime (1936), Sweethearts (1938) and The New Moon
(1940). Eddy worked on numerous films with other co-stars. In Rosalie (1937), Eddy
introduced Cole Porter's "In the Still of the Night,"
and sand the soaring title tune to dancer Eleanor Powell. His
also starred in The Chocolate Soldier (1941), Phantom of the Opera (1943) and
Knickerbocker Holiday (1944). After Northwest Outpost (1947) verified that
Hollywood operetta was losing popularity, Eddy remained busy in radio, television and
nightclubs for the next twenty years. He collapsed during a 1967 concert due
to a cerebral hemorrhage and died soon afterward.
b. Oct. 14, 1855 (Clee, UK) - d. Oct. 4, 1915 (London, UK)
This prolific producer was the driving force behind the development of the first British musical
comedies -- a full decade after Harrigan and Hart initiated the form in the US.
After serving as a manager for Richard D'Oyly Carte,
Edwardes went to work for producer John Hollingshead (1827-1904), taking over the
Gaiety Theatre when Hollingshead retired in 1885. Over the next thirty years, Edwardes
produced seventy-plus London productions that packed both The Gaiety and Daly's.
Edwardes' most memorable hits included a series of "poor maiden loves aristocrat
and wins him against all odds" shows, usually with the word "Girl" in the
title -- including The Shop Girl (1894), The Geisha (1896),
A Country Girl (1902), Our Miss Gibbs (1909), The Quaker Girl
(1910) and The Girl From Utah (1913). Most of these shows were
directed by J.A.E. Malone, and many had scores by
composers Sidney Jones and
Lionel Monckton. Edwardes introduced many stars,
most notably the popular ingénue Gertie Millar.
Edwardes brought a series of continental operettas to the London stage,
including popular productions of The Merry Widow (1907),
The Dollar Princess (1909) and The Count of Luxembourg (1911).
When Edwardes' hit The Girl From Utah was adapted for Broadway in
1914, it provided the showcase for Jerome Kern's groundbreaking hit song
"They Didn't Believe Me."
Caught in Germany at the start of World War I, he was imprisoned for several
months, and his health was seriously compromised. Forced into seclusion for
the final months of his life, Edwardes died at age 62. Although he left
substantial debts, they were posthumously paid off by the ongoing profits from
his theatrical properties.
(b. May Belle Elsas)
b. June 15, 1897 (New York City) - Jan. 30, 2003
As a member of the Metropolitan Opera Company from 1918-1922, Ellis sang with the great
tenor Enrico Caruso before switching to a career on the popular stage. After appearing
in several dramatic productions, she played the title role in the original Broadway
production of Rudolph Friml's hit operetta Rose Marie
(1924). With co-star Dennis King, she introduced the memorable
"Indian Love Call" ("When I'm calling you-oo-oo-oo"). After
winning raves in the West End version of Jerome Kern's
Music In the Air (1933), Ellis relocated to London. Her good looks and superb vocal
technique made her a lasting favorite with British audiences. She co-starred with
songwriter-actor Ivor Novello in three of his biggest
musical hits Glamorous Night (1933), The Dancing Years (1939) and
Arc de Triomphe (1943). Ellis introduced such Novello favorites as "Waltz of My
Heart," "My Dearest Dear" and "I Can Give You the Starlight." She
spent was a volunteer ambulance driver during World War II. In the years that followed,
Ellis appeared mainly in non-musical plays, including Terrance Rattigan's drama
The Browning Version. After starring in Noel Coward's
short-lived musical After the Ball (1954), she devoted her later years to straight
dramatic work on stage and screen. In 1995, she played her final role on the Granada/PBS TV
series Sherlock Holmes. At the time of her death, sources varied as to her age.
b. Oct. 29, 1904 (Hampstead, UK) - d. June 19, 1996 (London)
A classically trained pianist, Ellis developed a passion for popular music
and was writing songs for London revues by the 1920s. Active through the 1960s,
he eventually composed 28 musicals, working with a variety of
lyricists and occasionally providing the words himself. His biggest hits
were Mr. Cinders (1929), Under Your Hat (1938) and
Bless the Bride (1947). Despite his jaunty melodies, these shows were
considered too British for export to Broadway. Consequently, such charming Ellis
songs as "Spread a Little Happiness," "This Is My Lovely
Day" and "The Wind in the Willows" are little known outside
(b. William Julian Dalton)
Female impersonator, actor, vaudevillian
b. May 14, 1883? (Newton, MA) - d. Mar. 7, 1941 (New York City)
The most famous female impersonator in 20th Century show business, Eltinge combined
an uncanny ability to imitate feminine mannerisms with superlative taste in costumes.
Two years after starring in the Broadway production Mr. Wix of Wickam
(1904), he launched a successful vaudeville career. Eltinge took occasional
breaks from vaudeville to star in Broadway musicals and silent films. In 1912, Eltinge
became the only female impersonator ever to have a Broadway theater named after him
it is now the facade and lobby of the AMC multiplex cinema on 42nd Street. But
Eltinge saw his fame melt away as vaudeville collapsed and Depression-era audiences
became hostile towards cross-dressing performers. He fell ill while appearing at
Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe in Manhattan, and died of a cerebral hemorrhage ten
days later. Although Eltinge never married and lived a scandal free
life, opinions on his sexual preferences remain divided.
Erlanger, Abraham Lincoln
b. May 4, 1860 (Buffalo, NY) - d. Mar. 7, 1930 (New York City)
One of the most hated men in 20th Century show business, Erlanger and partner
Marc Klaw put together a nationwide empire of legitimate theaters and vaudeville
houses. In 1896, they formed the Theatrical Syndicate, which gave them
monopolistic control of the bookings for almost every theater in the USA.
Over the next sixteen years, they set the rates and handled access to more than 700
houses. Their shameless greed made them countless enemies. On the up
side, Erlanger built some of Broadway's finest theaters,
including The New Amsterdam and The St. James (originally called The
Erlanger). He also financed dozens of important productions,
including George M. Cohan's
Forty-Five Minutes From Broadway (1906) and the early editions of
producer Florenz Ziegfeld's
Erlanger reserved his most creative efforts for
two pursuits business and cruelty. He made and destroyed careers with impunity,
and was quoted as saying, "I never trust a man I can't buy." Even
the formidable Ziegfeld was reluctant to cross swords with him. Erlanger's
heartlessness opened the way to his own destruction. When theater owner
Sam Shubert died in a train wreck, Erlanger refused
to abide by any legal agreements "with a dead man." Sam's outraged brothers
Lee and Jacob swore vengeance, and over the next few decades battled
the Syndicate into virtual extinction. Even more ruthless than Erlanger,
they turned the former tyrant into a minor power. However, he continued
actively producing until his death at age 69 -- an event that inspired
celebration rather than mourning.
b. July 3, 1881 (Sydney, Australia) - d. Oct. 12, 1951 (Hollywood)
This sad-faced, nimble comic got his start as a comedian in burlesque and
vaudeville. He became a Broadway favorite
starring in six early editions of the Ziegfeld
Follies, directing the 1915 & 1916 installments. His most memorable stage
performance was as Connie in Ziegfeld's production of Sally (1920), co-starring
with Marilyn Miller. When sound came to Hollywood, Errol
was one of many Broadway stars who headed out West and one of the few early
arrivals who stayed. His odd looks led to dozens of character roles, most notably a
series of 1930s comedies with Lupe Velez. He appeared in numerous dramas and comedies.
His 24 screen musicals include Paramount on Parade (1930), Make a Wish
(1937), Higher and Higher (1943) and Footlight Varieties (1951)
the last completed just weeks before his death at age 70.
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