Arthur Freed Edit Profile
Graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy, 1914.
In the 1920s, Freed was a performer in vaudeville. But once sound arrived, he went into films as a lyricist for MGM, often with Nacio Herb Brown. Many of their songs—“You Were Meant for Me,” "Hold Your Man,” and “You Are My Lucky Star"—were used several times in different Metro films: The Broadway Melody (29, Harry Beaumont); Hollywood Revue (29, Charles Reisner); Blondie of the Follies (32, Edmund Colliding); Dancing Lady (33, Robert Z. Leonard); Broadway Melody of 1936 (35, Roy del Ruth); Broadway Melody of 1938 (37, del Ruth); and Thoroughbreds Don't Cry (37, Alfred E. Green).
In 1939, MGM made him a producer and he became effectively for the next twenty years in charge of their musicals. As well as the most obvi¬ous talent he gathered at the studio—Busbv Berkeley, Minnelli, Donen, Charles Walters—he encouraged such people as choreographer Michael Kidd, writers Adolph Comden and Bettv Green, orehestrator André Previn, and art directors like Randall Duell, Cedric Gibbons, and Preston Ames. From the veiy beginning, with The Wizard of Oz project and his determination that Judy Garland should play in it.
Freed revealed himself as a sure judge of talent. he lasted as long as the musical, its godfather, even if he failed to prolong its life beyond the 1950s: Babes in Arms (39, Busby Berkeley, taken away from Warners as one of Freeds first actions); The Wizard of Oz (39, Victor Fleming; coproduced with Mervyn Le Roy); Strike Up the Band (40, Berkeley); Little Nellie Kelley (40, Norman Taurog); Babes on Broadway (41, Berkeley); Lady Be Good (41, Norman Z. McLeod); Cabin in the Sky (42, Vincente Minnelli); For Me and My Gal (42, Berkeley); Du Barry was a Lady (43, del Ruth); Girl Crazy (43, Taurog); Best Foot Forward (43, Edward Buzzell); Meet Me in St. Louis (44, Minnelli); Yolanda and the Thief (45, Minnelli); The llarvey Girls (45, George Sidney); Ziegfeld Follies (46, Minnelli); Till the Clouds Roll By (46, Richard Whorf); Summer Holiday (47, Rouben Mamoulian); The Pirate (47, Minnelli); Easter Parade (4S, Charles Walters); Words and Music (48, Taurog); Take Me Out to the Ball Game (49, Berkeley); On the Town (49, Donen and Kelly); The Barkleys of Broadway (49, Walters); Annie Get Your Gun (50, Sidney), and uniquely vulgar in Freed's output; An American in Paris (51, Minnelli); Show Boat (51. Sidney); Royal Wedding (51, Donen); The Belle of New York (52. Walters); Lovely to Look At (52, Le Roy); Singin' in the Rain (52, Donen and Kelly); The Band Wagon (53, Minnelli); It’s Always Fair Weather (55, Donen); Silk Stockings (57, Mamoulian); Gigi (58, Minnelli); and Bells Are Ringing (60, Minnelli).
It seems like a fine record, but as the musical withered, Freed tried to branch out into drama, with dismal results: The Subterraneans (60, Ranald MacDougall) and Light in the Piazza (62, Guy Green).
Member Royal Horticultural Society (England), A.S.C.A.P., American Orchid Society, Academy Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (president 1963-1967).
There is not a producer who can be so identified with a single genre and studio as Arthur Freed. Yet it remains very difficult to say how far his influence over the MGM musical was creative, conceptual, coincidental, or that of a Renoir-like organizer—Danglars in French Can Can—blending and cajoling a company of brilliant talents.
A few essential pointers can be mentioned: Freed is a lyricist, not in the class of Cole Porter or Johnny Mercer, perhaps, but good enough to make us remember that when Gene Kellv does the title number in Singin' in the Rain (52, Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen) he is singing Freed's words, which, in rhythm and mood, are integral to the sequence; second, the MGM musical shifts gear with his arrival at the studio, principally in the way that he drafted in a number of Broadway- trained artists; and, perhaps most important, the
Freed musical addresses itself more directly and wittily to the elements of fantasy, dream, and Chinese-box convolution in the backstage musical: The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Pirate, An American in Paris, and Singin’ in the Rain are full of piquant moments when the artifice of the musical form is penetrated to reveal a quality of human truth scarcely touched on in the 1930s musical.
The Wizard of Oz and Meet Me in St. Louis deserve an honorable place in the roll of ino\ies about child psychology; St. Louis is a chamber musical, with an enchanting nostalgia; The Pirate is an emotionally dry and visually garish portrait of forced feelings and ham acting; An American in Paris is one of the cinemas most complete ventures into dream; while Singin' in the Rain is not just a witty history of the arrival of sound but a parody of the musical. Remember that moment when Kellys buildup dissolves into the “Broadway Ballet sequence—a good ten-minute exercise— only for the producer, Millard Mitchell, to say “I can’t quite visualize it.”
In other words, the tone in Freed musicals is self-aware and amused, and the form is not a celebration of homeliness, energv, or innuendo—the 1930s themes—hut of sophistication. Silk Stockings, that late Freed masterpiece, honestly prefers the culture of America and Paris to that of Russia, and supports the seduction of commissar Charisse by Astaires dancing. The “All of You” sequence in that film, where Astaire coaxes Charisse into dance—as an end in itself—might he the emblem of Freed's achievement: a self-sufficient beauty based on excellence and splendid frivolousness.
Married Renee Klein, March 14, 1923.
Award for superlative and distinguished service to the academic Academy Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 1968.