He was a protÃ©gÃ© of Aaron Copelandâ€™s, composed music for â€œAnnie,â€ came to blows with Warren Beatty over â€œBonnie and Clydeâ€ and heâ€™s still going strong at 80.
â€œHeâ€ being the legendary music composer Charles Strouse, Emmy winner and multiple Tony award winner. Strouse gave an especially illuminating lecture on his life and music in â€œPut On A Happy Face: A Salute to Charles Strouseâ€ for the Paley Centerâ€™s â€œPaley After Darkâ€ series in Los Angeles on January 26.
The talk was moderated by Robert Hoffler, senior editor at Variety, himself a Broadway aficionado.
Graduating at 15 from high school in New York, Strauseâ€™s career began when he was accepted for a scholarship to study with the famous composer Aaron Copeland at the Tanglewood Music Center.
At Hofflerâ€™s remark that Copeland seemed to have fallen from grace at that time, Strouse agreed.
â€œIt was unbelievable; he had influenced all of us â€“ film composers and other composers. Aaron felt as if he was edged out. He wrote music that was accessible and terribly moving,â€ said Strouse.
â€œHe was out of work, not getting musical scores and so he started to conduct towards the end of his life.â€
Strouse also spoke about some things he wrote in his autobiography â€œPut On A Happy Face: A Broadway Memoir,â€ such as having an identity crisis and his feelings of insecurity.
â€œI donâ€™t mind talking about it. I picked up certain fears, especially from my mother,â€ explained Strouse, who added that his mother was depressed and suicidal.
â€œCy Coleman was a close friend of mine and I always admired him; he never had any doubts about himself and he always had a beautiful woman on his arm,â€ he said with a laugh.
Strouse, who also worked with Sammy Cahn, brought out laughs from the audience with his remarks about the lyricist.
â€œSammy was a profound influence on me â€“ he was always in a hurry, he didnâ€™t want to spend more than an hour with a composer!â€ he said.
â€œAnd he had an ability to be simple (about music) â€“ Sammy did that for me, and I miss him a great deal.â€
Strouse continued on that Martin Charnin was â€œvery stubborn, we fought all the time and we are great friends,â€ while Alan Jay Lerner â€œthought that there was a word that would perfectly describe everything.â€
â€œHe lived that way, would stay up the whole night, get sick, just to find the right word and heâ€™d find it,â€ said Strouse, smiling.
Another musical that he composed for, â€œGolden Boy,â€ got hate mail in regards to the interracial romance within the story; Strouse had to have a police escort to his hotel. Dr. Martin Luther King in fact saw the musical â€œmany times.â€
About his experiences in composing music for â€œBye, Bye Birdie,â€ Strouse said, â€œThank God for Ann-Margaret!â€
â€œI was against it at first (her casting); I thought, this sexpot playing a little girl?? But she made it a big hit!â€
And when composing music for the film â€œBonnie and Clyde,â€ the usually mild-mannered Strouse confronted Warren Beatty.
â€œHe produced the film, so he had certain rights. Very often he would interrupt the music rehearsal. One time he had asked for some particular music and I said to him, â€˜At least let us finish it, Warren!â€™.â€ Both men were standing on a podium and suddenly they were â€œpummeling each other.â€ Finally a friend pulled them apart and said, â€œCome on guys, itâ€™s only a movie,â€ and Beatty ended up taking them out to eat at a Chinese restaurant.
Strouse also composed music for the song â€œThose Were the Daysâ€ for a pilot television show called â€œAll In The Family.â€
â€œWhen I was younger those were some of the happiest moments of my life, standing behind my mother as she played the piano,â€ said Strouse about the songâ€™s opening.
A surprise guest at the lecture was Bonnie Franklin, who came up on the stage to talk about â€œApplause,â€ another show that Strouse composed music for.
â€œI sang the title role, and Lauren Bacall was great about it,â€ she said.
â€œAnd it was a happy company as long as Betty (Bacall) was happy!â€
â€œSheâ€™s essentially a good woman, very stern, works extremely hard and she taught me a lot about life,â€ added Strouse.
Strouseâ€™s works are still going strong, too â€“ the Roundabout Theatre Company is doing a Broadway revival of â€œBye, Bye Birdieâ€ and â€œThe Night They Raided Minksyâ€™sâ€ will have a run at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles.
â€œI have great support and I love working, itâ€™s my life!â€ said Strouse.
He then sat down at the piano and proceeded to give a rousing performance of his own, singing â€œPut On A Happy Face,â€ â€œI Donâ€™t Need Anything But Youâ€ and â€œTomorrowâ€ to much applause and cheering from the audience.
- LISA D.CARROLL
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