Alan Jay Lerner (August 31, 1918 – June 14, 1986) was a Jewish American lyricist and librettist. In collaboration with Frederick Loewe, he created some of the world's most popular and enduring works of musical theatre for both the stage and on film. He won three Tony Awards and three Academy Awards, among other honors.


Born in New York City, he was the son of Edith Adelson Lerner and Joseph Jay Lerner, whose brother, Samuel Alexander Lerner, was founder and owner of the Lerner Stores, a chain of dress shops. Alan Jay Lerner was educated at Bedales School, Choate Rosemary Hall, and Harvard, where he was a classmate of John F. Kennedy, with whom he edited the yearbook.[1] Like Cole Porter at Yale and Richard Rodgers at Columbia, his career in musical theater began with his collegiate contributions, in Lerner's case to the annual Harvard Hasty Pudding musicals.[2] During the summers of 1936 and 1937, Lerner studied at Julliard. While attending Harvard, he lost his sight in his left eye due to an accident in the boxing ring. Apparently while at Harvard, both Lerner and Leornard Bernstein collaborated on a parody of their school song.

Due to his injury, Lerner could not serve in World War II. Instead he wrote radio scripts, including Your Hit Parade, until he was introduced to Austrian composer Frederick Loewe, who needed a partner, in 1942 at the Lamb's Club. Their first collaboration was a musical adaptation of Barry Connor's farce The Patsy called Life of the Party for a Detroit stock company. It enjoyed a nine-week run and encouraged the duo to join forces with Arthur Pierson for What's Up?, which opened on Broadway in 1943. It ran for 63 performances and was followed two years later by The Day Before Spring. One of Broadway's most successful partnerships had been established.[3]

Their first hit was Brigadoon (1947), a romantic fantasy set in a mystical Scottish village, directed by Robert Lewis. It was followed in 1951 by the less successful Gold Rush story Paint Your Wagon.

Lerner worked with Kurt Weill on the stage musical Love Life (1948) and Burton Lane on the movie musical Royal Wedding (1951). In that same year Lerner also wrote the Oscar-winning original screenplay for An American in Paris, produced by Arthur Freed and directed by Vincente Minnelli. This was the same team who would later join with Lerner and Loewe to create Gigi.

In 1956, Lerner and Loewe unveiled My Fair Lady. Their adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion retained his social commentary and added appropriate songs for the characters of Henry Higgins and Liza Doolittle, played originally by Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews. It set box-office records in New York and London. When brought to the screen in 1964, the movie version would win eight Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Rex Harrison .

Lerner and Loewe's run of success continued with their next project, a film adaptation of stories from Colette, the Academy Award winning film musical Gigi, starring Leslie Caron , Louis Jourdan and Maurice Chevalier .. The film won all of its nine Oscar nominations, a record at that point in time, and a special Oscar for co-star Maurice Chevalier.

The Lerner-Loewe partnership cracked under the stress of producing the Arthurian Camelot in 1960, with Loewe resisting Lerner's desire to direct as well as write when original director Moss Hart suffered a heart attack in the last few months of rehearsals, and would die shortly after the show's premiere. Lerner was hospitalized with bleeding ulcers while Loewe continued to have heart troubles. Camelot was a hit nonetheless, with a poignant coda; immediately following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, his widow told Life magazine that JFK's administration reminded her of the "one brief shining moment" of Lerner and Loewe's Camelot. To this day, Camelot is invoked to describe the idealism, romance, and tragedy of the Kennedy years.

Loewe retired to Palm Springs, California while Lerner went through a series of unsuccessful musicals with such composers as André Previn (Coco), John Barry (Lolita, My Love), Leonard Bernstein (1600 Pennsylvania Avenue), Burton Lane (Carmelina) and Charles Strouse (Dance a Little Closer, based on the film, Idiot's Delight, nicknamed Close A Little Faster by Broadway wags because it closed on opening night). Most biographers blame Lerner's professional decline on the lack of not only a strong composer but a strong director whom Lerner could collaborate with, as Neil Simon did with Mike Nichols or Stephen Sondheim did with Harold Prince (Moss Hart, who had directed My Fair Lady, died shortly after Camelot opened). In 1965 Lerner collaborated again with Burton Lane on the musical On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, which was adapted for film in 1970. Lerner was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1971.

In 1973, Lerner coaxed Fritz Loewe out of retirement to augment the Gigi score for a musical stage adaptation. The following year they collaborated on a musical film version of The Little Prince, based on the classic children's tale by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. This film was a critical and box office failure, but has gained a modern following.

Lerner's autobiography The Street Where I Live (1978), was an account of three of his and Loewe's successful collaborations, My Fair Lady, Gigi, and Camelot along with personal information. In the last year of his life he published The Musical Theatre: A Celebration, a well-reviewed history of the theatre replete with personal anecdotes and his trademark wit. A book of Lerner's lyrics entitled A Hymn To Him, edited by Benny Green, was published in 1987.

At the time of Lerner's death, he had just begun to write lyrics for The Phantom of the Opera, and was replaced by Charles Hart. He also had been working with Gerard Kenny in London on a musical version of the classic film My Man Godfrey. [4] He had turned down an invitation to write the English language lyrics for the musical version of Les Misérables.[5]

After Lerner's death, Paul Blake made a musical revue based on Lerner's lyrics and life. Almost Like Being in Love featured music by Frederick Loewe, Burton Lane, Andre Previn, Charles Strouse, and Kurt Weill. The show ran for only ten days at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco.

Personal life

Lerner's personal foibles were the stuff of tabloid legend. For nearly twenty years he battled an amphetamine addiction; during the 1960s he was a patient of Max Jacobson.[6][7]

He married eight times: Ruth Boyd (1940-1947), dancer Marion Bell (1947-1949), Nancy Olson (1950-1957), lawyer Micheline Muselli Pozzo di Borgo (1957-1965), editor Karen Gunderson (1966-1974), Sandra Payne (1974-1976), Nina Bushkin (1977-1981), and Liz Robertson (1981-1986). Four of his eight wives Olson, Payne, Bushkin, and Robertson, were actresses.[1] His seventh wife, Nina Bushkin, whom he married on May 30, 1977, was the director of development at Mannes College of Music and the daughter of composer and musician Joey Bushkin.[8]After their divorce in 1981, Lerner was ordered to pay her a settlement of $50,000.[9] Lerner wrote in his autobiography (as quoted by The New York Times): "All I can say is that if I had no flair for marriage, I also had no flair for bachelorhood."[10] The divorces cost him much of his wealth.[11] The divorce settlement from Micheline di Borgo was reported to cost him an estimated $1 million in 1965.[12] Loewe had warned Lerner to not get involved with a lawyer. It was reported that Borgo sent over US$500,000 to Switzerland. When he died, he reportedly owed the US Internal Revenue Service over US$1,000,000 in back taxes.[13]

Lerner died of lung cancer in New York City at the age of 67. At the time of his death he was married to actress Liz Robertson, [10]who was thirty-six years his junior.

Lerner had four children: Jennifer, Liza, Susan, and one son, Michael.


Lerner would often struggle with writing his lyrics. He was surprisingly able to complete I Could Have Danced All Night from My Fair Lady in one 24 hour period. He usually spent months on one song and was constantly rewriting them. Lerner was said to have insecurity about his talent. He would sometimes write songs with someone in mind, for instance, I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face from My Fair Lady was written with Rex Harrison in mind to compliment his very limited vocal range. He said of writing:

"You have to keep in mind that there is no such thing as realism or naturalism in the theater. That is a myth. If there was realism in the theater, there would never be a third act. Nothing ends that way. A man's life is made up of thousands and thousands of little pieces. In writing fiction, you select twenty or thirty of them. In a musical, you select even fewer than that.

"First, we decide where a song is needed in a play. Second, what is it going to be about? Third, we discuss the mood of the song. Fourth, I give (Loewe) a title. Then he writes the music to the title and the general feeling of the song is established. After he's written the melody, then I write the lyrics."
In a 1979 interview on NPR's All Things Considered, Lerner went into some depth about his lyrics for My Fair Lady. Professor Henry Higgins sings, "Look at her, a prisoner of the gutter, condemned by every sentence she utters. By right she should be taken out and hung. But it rhymes with the tongue,". Lerner said he knew it was grammatically incorrect but were written merely for rhyme. He was later approached about it

"so for the cold-blooded murder of the English tongue. And I thought, oh well, maybe nobody will notice it, but not at all. Two nights after it opened, I ran into Noel Coward in a restaurant, and he walked over and he said, Dear boy, it is hanged, not hung. I said, Oh, Noel, I know it, I know it! You know, shut up! So, and there's another, then to have ever let a woman in her life. It should be as to ever let a woman in her life. but it just didn't sing well."

Awards and honors

  • Kennedy Center Honors 1985
Academy Award
  • Best Original Screenplay, 1951 An American in Paris
  • Best Adapted Screenplay, 1958 Gigi
  • Best Original Song, 1958 Gigi
Golden Globe
  • Best Original Song, 1968 Camelot
  • Best Original Score, 1975 The Little Prince
Tony Award
  • Best Book of a Musical, 1957 My Fair Lady
  • Best Original Score, 1957 My Fair Lady and 1974 Gigi
New York Drama Critics
  • Best Musical, 1947 Brigadoon
  • Best Musical, 1957 My Fair Lady
Johnny Mercer Award
  • Lyric Writing, 1985 , Lifetime


  • Brigadoon, 1947 (Broadway), 1954 (film) (lyricist)
  • Royal Wedding, 1951 (lyricist)
  • Gigi, 1958 (screenwriter/lyricist)
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1960 (lyricist)
  • My Fair Lady, 1964 (screenwriter/lyricist)
  • Camelot, 1967 (screenwriter/lyricist)
  • Paint Your Wagon, 1969 (screenwriter/lyricist)
  • On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, 1970 (screenwriter/lyricist)
  • The Little Prince, 1973 (screenwriter/lyricist)
  • Tribute, 1980 ("It's All for the Best," lyricist)
  • Secret Places, 1984 (title song lyricist)


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Alan Jay Lerner", accessed August 1, 2009
  2. Green, p.238
  3. Green, p. 239
  4. Citron, Stephen. Sondheim and Lloyd-Webber (2001), Oxford University Press US, ISBN 0195096010, p. 330
  5. Behr, Edward. The Complete Book of Les Miserables (1993),Arcade Publishing, ISBN 1559701560, p. 62
  6. Bryk, William."Dr. Feelgood"New York Sun, September 20, 2005
  7. Rasmussen, Nicolas. On speed (2008), NYU Press, ISBN 0814776019, p. 169
  8. "Note on People", The New York Times, June 10, 1977, p. 19
  9. Lees, Gene. The musical worlds of Lerner and Loewe, (2005), U of Nebraska Press, ISBN 0803280408, p. 309
  10. 10.0 10.1 Freedman, Samuel. New York Times, "Alan Jay Lerner, the Lyricist and Playwright, Is Dead at 67" June 15, 1986, p.1
  11. Brown, Gordon W. Administration of wills, trusts, and estates (2002), Cengage Learning, ISBN 0766852814, p. 358
  12. "Mrs. Lerner in Las Vegas Preparing to Ask Divorce", The New York Times, September 1, 1965, p. 28
  13. "Alan Jay Lerner Sued By U.S. for $1.4 Million"New York Times, February 20, 1986


  • Green, Stanley. The world of musical comedy (Edition 4, 1984), Da Capo Press, ISBN 0306802074

Further reading

  • Lerner, Alan Jay (1985). The Street Where I Live. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0306806029
  • Shapiro, Doris (1989). We Danced All Night: My Life Behind the Scenes With Alan Jay Lerner. Barricade Books. ISBN 0942637984
  • Jablonski, Edward (1996). Alan Jay Lerner: A Biography. Henry Holt & Co. ISBN 0805040765
  • Citron, David (1995). The Wordsmiths: Oscar Hammerstein 2nd and Alan Jay Lerner. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195083865
  • Green, Benny, Editor (1987). A Hymn to Him : The Lyrics of Alan Jay Lerner. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 0879101091
  • Garebian, Keith (1998). The Making of My Fair Lady. Publisher: Mosaic Press. ISBN 0889626537

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Alan Jay Lerner. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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