The King of Musicals: Arthur Freed

Whenever you think of musicals, especially in the modern age, you think of the 1950s and 60s, when musicals were full of lavish costumes, flashy dance numbers, and wonderful music servicing as backdrop to beautiful romance. The company largely responsible for some of the greatest musicals of all time is, without argument, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

The studio which churned out timeless classics in the span of nearly forty-years: The Wizard of Oz, Showboat, Ziegfeld Follies, Meet Me in St. Louis, Singin’ in the Rain, and An American in Paris were all the brainchild in some capacity of Arthur Freed.

An often unsung hero in the world of film, Arthur Freed was a producer and lyricist, who mainly wrote love songs and popular jazz tunes from the 1920s and 30s – eventually became a producer. A majority of his tunes can be heard in his magnum opus “Singin’ in the Rain“, but it was his start with writing the songs to MGM’s “Broadway Melody of 1929” that made his mark in the company as a man who was able to get what he wanted.

His first major film of real note was “The Wizard of Oz”, though he was uncredited, he served as an executive producer. Legend has it, he championed the other producers of the film to keep Somewhere Over the Rainbow in the film, which was in danger of being scraped for slowing the film down in terms of pacing. This move not only cemented Freed’s producing decisions but helped kickstart Judy Garland’s career, of which Freed played a major part in. The relationship between Freed and Garland was largely positive, as Freed was perhaps the only adult that tried to help Judy with her various addictions to alcohol and barbiturates.

In 1944, Garland’s “Meet Me in St. Louis” which featured three songs that would become standards – “The Trolley Song” which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song, “The Boy Next Door”, and the Christmas classic, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”; the film shattered box office records, becoming the fastest box-office gross of the year with Arthur Freed being cemented as Hollywood’s premiere producer.

Throughout the 1950’s, Freed would produce some of Hollywood’s most beloved films, including Academy Award winners: “An American In Paris” (Best Picture, 1951), “Gigi” (Best Picture, 1958) bookending the decade. Telling the story of a young girl being brought up in high-class Parisian society and falling in love, “Gigi” is a lovely musical of costume and dry wit, that perhaps could have only been made in 1958. At the time of its release, “Gigi” held the record for most Academy Award wins 9 in total, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Song (for “Gigi”), Best Score, Best Costume Design, and Best Set Design; this record would stand for one year, being beaten out by Ben-Hur which received 11 Oscar wins.

Arthur Freed never duplicated “Gigi‘s” success, while he went on to produce several of the Academy Awards (33rd-35th, 40th respectively), Freed’s producer credits ended after the 40th Academy Awards; while he is still credited today for his lyrics and soundtracks (his IMDB page is continually updated, most notably for its use of “Singin’ in the Rain” tunes), his name is otherwise left to the pages of obscurity and cinephiles. Arthur Freed died in 1973 in his home at the age of 79.