By Kathleen Marshall
“More Stars Than There Are In Heaven,” boasted the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer slogan in the 1940s, and those stars never shone brighter than in the glorious movie musicals produced by Arthur Freed.
The list of artists that Freed discovered, nourished or championed is astonishing. He helped shape the careers of Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra, Vincente Minnelli, Lena Horne, June Allyson, Esther Williams, Howard Keel, Cyd Charisse, Ann Miller, Jane Powell and Stanley Donen, among dozens of others. Freed produced more than 45 films under his legendary “Freed Unit,” which in essence was a production company within MGM. He assembled an amazing array of talent—writers, composers, lyricists, directors, choreographers and designers—and gave them the freedom and the resources to dream up lavish and original musicals. The result was some of the most magical, memorable and innovative musical films of all time, including Meet Me in St. Louis, Easter Parade, On the Town, Show Boat, The Band Wagon and Singin’ in the Rain.
Freed started on the MGM lot as a songwriter with his collaborator, Nacio Herb Brown, and you’ll hear many of their songs in our lineup. After writing the scores for films including The Broadway Melody and Going Hollywood, he got his first assignment as an associate producer on The Wizard of Oz. It was Freed who hired Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg and then suggested that they write a ballad to act as a transition between Kansas and Oz. The studio wanted to cut the song, but Freed insisted it stay in the picture. In 1940 “Over the Rainbow” won the Oscar for Best Song. Three other songs from MGM musicals produced by Freed won Oscars and two of his films, An American in Paris and Gigi, won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Being a lyricist himself, Freed revered songwriters, and so it’s no wonder that the movies he produced are filled with songs by a veritable Who’s Who of the American Songbook—George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein, Harold Arlen, E. Y. Harburg, Burton Lane, Johnny Mercer, Alan Jay Lerner, Arthur Schwartz, Betty Comden and Adolph Green—all of whom are represented in our program.
The words “MGM Musical” conjure up images as clear and potent for us today as they did in the heyday of the Freed Unit. We imagine skipping down a yellow brick road, jumping onto a lamppost while singin’ in the rain, dancing on the ceiling, strolling down Fifth Avenue in Easter finery, celebrating the night they invented champagne or going out on the town with three sailors on leave in New York, New York. The remarkable and timeless films of the Freed Unit still have the ability to charm and delight us and to transport us to musical heaven. Now that’s entertainment.
© 2014 Kathleen Marshall
Back to Top