Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Roger Edens

Multi-talented Roger Edens (1905-1970) was a key player in the creation of classic MGM musicals from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Edens was a part of Arthur Freed’s production unit derisively called “Freed's Fairies”: director George Cukor, prop master Edwin Willis and Roger Edens (although Freed himself was not gay). Edens brought a unique combination to MGM's movie musicals as an arranger, songwriter, musical supervisor, composer and producer.

Although born in Texas, Edens grew up in Richmond, VA. He worked as a pit pianist in NYC during the 1920s. When Ethel Merman’s pianist left Girl Crazy in 1932, Edens was hired as his replacement. Merman was so impressed that she hired Edens as pianist/arranger for her nightclub act and brought him to Hollywood; but when Merman returned to Broadway, Edens stayed on in Los Angeles. Hired by MGM as Arthur Freed’s musical supervisor and associate producer, he became part of the legendary "Freed Unit", creating some of the finest ever Hollywood musicals: An American in Paris, Singin' in the Rain, Meet Me in St. Louis, Babes in Arms, Easter Parade, On the Town, Showboat, Royal Wedding and The Bandwagon.

At a time when known homosexuality was a death blow to a career in Hollywood, Edens managed to keep his under wraps. After a brief marriage ended in divorce, Edens appeared in public with his talented friend and co-worker Kay Thompson in an effort to throw others off the scent. Kay Thompson was a vocal arranger at MGM. By the time he worked with Judy Garland (shown in photo with Edens), he was living as a gay man.

Edens also appeared on screen opposite Eleanor Powell in a cameo role in Broadway Melody of 1936, and he continued to compose, score, and arrange MGM musicals throughout the 1940s. His most visible projects from this era included Easter Parade (1948), for which he earned an Academy Award; On the Town (1949), for which he wrote several new songs and won a second Academy Award; and Annie Get Your Gun (1950), for which he received his third Academy Award. During his career he was nominated eight times for an Academy Award.

Roger Edens became the musical mentor to Judy Garland and was an uncredited coach in almost all of her musical films. Because of his exclusive contract with MGM, Edens was not credited with Garland's “Born in a Trunk,” the landmark sequence in the Warner Brothers production of A Star Is Born (1954). Edens nurtured and established a creative relationship and friendship with Garland that would last for more than three decades.

Photo at right: Audrey Hepburn, Richard Avedon, director Stanley Donen, screenwriter Leonard Gershe and producer Roger Edens arriving in Paris to film Funny Face, 1956.

When MGM cut back on musical productions, Edens continued to work at other studios, producing Funny Face (1957) and Jumbo (1962) while breaking into television work. His final screen assignment was as associate producer of Hello, Dolly! (1969), directed by Gene Kelly. Edens coached Katherine Hepburn for her Broadway musical stage debut in Coco (1969).

A year later Roger Edens died of lung cancer at the age of 64. He was interred in a columbarium at Westwood Memorial Park’s Sanctuary of Remembrance, a resting place for Hollywood royalty in Los Angeles (just off Wilshire Boulevard, east of I-405 [San Diego Freeway]). His eternal neighbors include Eddie Albert, Burt Lancaster, Eve Arden, Fanny Brice, Janet Leigh, Sammy Cahn, Jack Lemmon, Truman Capote, Oscar Levant, Eva Gabor and Merv Griffin (and on and on). Not to mention Natalie Wood, Marilyn Monroe and Billy Wilder.

1 comment:

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