Moviehole at Charles Strouse Event in L.A

He was a protégé of Aaron Copeland’s, composed music for “Annie,” came to blows with Warren Beatty over “Bonnie and Clyde” and he’s still going strong at 80.

“He” 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 “Put On A Happy Face: A Salute to Charles Strouse” for the Paley Center’s “Paley After Dark” 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, Strause’s career began when he was accepted for a scholarship to study with the famous composer Aaron Copeland at the Tanglewood Music Center.

At Hoffler’s remark that Copeland seemed to have fallen from grace at that time, Strouse agreed.

“It was unbelievable; he had influenced all of us – film composers and other composers. Aaron felt as if he was edged out. He wrote music that was accessible and terribly moving,” said Strouse.

“He was out of work, not getting musical scores and so he started to conduct towards the end of his life.”

Strouse also spoke about some things he wrote in his autobiography “Put On A Happy Face: A Broadway Memoir,” such as having an identity crisis and his feelings of insecurity.

“I don’t mind talking about it. I picked up certain fears, especially from my mother,” explained Strouse, who added that his mother was depressed and suicidal.

“Cy 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,” he said with a laugh.

Strouse, who also worked with Sammy Cahn, brought out laughs from the audience with his remarks about the lyricist.

“Sammy was a profound influence on me – he was always in a hurry, he didn’t want to spend more than an hour with a composer!” he said.

“And he had an ability to be simple (about music) – Sammy did that for me, and I miss him a great deal.”

Strouse continued on that Martin Charnin was “very stubborn, we fought all the time and we are great friends,” while Alan Jay Lerner “thought that there was a word that would perfectly describe everything.”

“He lived that way, would stay up the whole night, get sick, just to find the right word and he’d find it,” said Strouse, smiling.

Another musical that he composed for, “Golden Boy,” 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 “many times.”

About his experiences in composing music for “Bye, Bye Birdie,” Strouse said, “Thank God for Ann-Margaret!”

“I was against it at first (her casting); I thought, this sexpot playing a little girl?? But she made it a big hit!”

And when composing music for the film “Bonnie and Clyde,” the usually mild-mannered Strouse confronted Warren Beatty.

“He 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, ‘At least let us finish it, Warren!’.” Both men were standing on a podium and suddenly they were “pummeling each other.” Finally a friend pulled them apart and said, “Come on guys, it’s only a movie,” and Beatty ended up taking them out to eat at a Chinese restaurant.

Strouse also composed music for the song “Those Were the Days” for a pilot television show called “All In The Family.”

“When I was younger those were some of the happiest moments of my life, standing behind my mother as she played the piano,” said Strouse about the song’s opening.

A surprise guest at the lecture was Bonnie Franklin, who came up on the stage to talk about “Applause,” another show that Strouse composed music for.

“I sang the title role, and Lauren Bacall was great about it,” she said.

“And it was a happy company as long as Betty (Bacall) was happy!”

“She’s essentially a good woman, very stern, works extremely hard and she taught me a lot about life,” added Strouse.

Strouse’s works are still going strong, too – the Roundabout Theatre Company is doing a Broadway revival of “Bye, Bye Birdie” and “The Night They Raided Minksy’s” will have a run at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles.

“I have great support and I love working, it’s my life!” said Strouse.

He then sat down at the piano and proceeded to give a rousing performance of his own, singing “Put On A Happy Face,” “I Don’t Need Anything But You” and “Tomorrow” to much applause and cheering from the audience.

- LISA D.CARROLL