A front row seat to make my fair lady

In her new memoir, Front row seats: An intimate look at Broadway, Hollywood and glamor, Nancy Olson Livingston describes as an acting student at UCLA, she was signed by Paramount and played a series of roles, some more suited to her age and ethnicity than others. Her work includes several films with William Holden as well as that of Billy Wilder Sunset, for which she received an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress. But Nancy, still in her 20s in 1950, was frustrated with spending six days a week in dark audio studios and wanted to experience life to the fullest. She is married to famed lyricist Alan J. Lerner, with whom, along with co-writer Fredrick “Fritz” Loewe, have earned fame Brigadoon and Paint your wagon. However, they fall apart as we enter Nancy’s story here, where Alan is struggling creatively while she, a rising star who has turned her back on Hollywood, is trying to grow as a woman. way as a 1950’s wife assisted in raising two young daughters. – Cari Beauchamp

Alan and I decided to start our lives again. In December 1954, we left our country house and rented a townhouse on East Seventy-Fourth Street in New York City. We took our little girls Liza and Jenny with a nanny, a cook and a maid and planned to stay for a year. When spring came, Alan despaired. One Friday morning, he sat on the edge of our bed and started crying. He said his career was over. He tried everything, but nothing worked. He said the copyright to George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion is available and he feels he knows exactly how to turn this famous work into a musical. He said Fritz was the only composer who could do that, but of course Fritz no longer spoke to him.

I sat up in bed and handed Alan a Kleenex, put my arm around him, and said, “Don’t you understand that Fritz is sitting by his phone waiting for your call?” Alan said it was nonsense; he doubted that Fritz would answer the phone. I said, “I’ll prove it to you.” I picked up the phone and called Fritz’s house. When he heard my voice, he said, “Nance!” (pronounced “Naahnce”). “How are you? How are the children?” I told him we were going to this country the next morning and wanted to see him very much. I explained that Alan had an idea for a new piece and that there was only one person in the world who could compose music, and that was him. Can he join us for lunch tomorrow? He asked, “What time?” I replied, “An hour.” He said, “I’ll be there!”

I told our chef and nanny that we were going home for the weekend and expected a guest to come for lunch. Fritz arrived at one o’clock, and the three of us sat in the small, pine-paneled dining room for early Americans, and it was clear that Fritz was happy to be there.

Alan explains that Dick Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein have been trying for a year to conquer George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion. They owned the rights but decided to give it up and release them, saying the work could never be made into a musical. Alan said they misunderstood the approach to the property. “They’re writing songs for Alfred Drake!” (Alfred Drake is a stage actor best known for his recurring role as Jud in Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!) “They don’t understand. Higgins is the key. The lyrics and music should be an extension of Shaw’s dialogue. A great Shavian actor like Rex Harrison should play Higgins. He doesn’t even have to sing that well! ‘ Fritz looked disappointed. What does Alan mean when he says, “He doesn’t even have to sing well?” Alan laughed and said, “Don’t worry, Fritz. There will be a place for your tunes. Freddie, who gets along well with Eliza, will sing love songs, and Eliza must have a beautiful voice to be able to sing about her feelings as a duchess. “

Fritz was intrigued, and the two of them were so absorbed in Alan’s ideas that I could have been invisible. They got up from the table, left the dining room, walked out the front door, crossed the street to the studio without even glancing at me, even thanking me for lunch. At five o’clock that evening, Fritz rented the house atop our orchard, arranged for his mistress to stay, and for a year sat at our table every day at lunch. and dinner.

Probably the happiest year Alan and I ever had together. Excitement ran high as he and Fritz got to work. They’re both at the top of their game, and they know it. Alan is pleased and grateful for the loving atmosphere that permeates our little home in the country with our two lovely little girls. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night to find him sitting on the couch and couch in the far corner of our bedroom, writing lyrics. He seemed glad that I was awake so he could read me what he was writing. I have always been an avid listener.

One particularly cold and stormy winter night, I was suddenly awakened by Alan and Fritz, shaking my bed, telling me to get up. I panicked, thinking maybe the house was on fire, and where are my kids?! They say the house and the kids are fine, but I have to get up and go to the studio to hear what they’re composing and writing. Fritz handed me my galoshes, Alan helped me put on my winter coat and silencer, and the three of us headed downstairs and out into one of the worst blizzards I’ve ever experienced. We trudged through the snow, down the driveway, across the street to the set, already lit by the light.

I walked in and was asked to sit in an armchair facing the piano and a small couch. Loved the children playing, they set the stage and the setting for me. Alan says he’s Higgins and Eliza, and Fritz is Pickering. Alan is an exasperated Higgins who tells Eliza to repeat and repeat the sentence “Rain in Spain is mainly in the plains.” Pickering had told Higgins that maybe they should go to bed and forget the whole exercise. Higgins wasn’t about to give up, and suddenly Eliza said perfectly, “It rains in Spain mostly in the plains.”

Fritz rushes to the piano, Alan tells Eliza to say it again, she did, and Fritz begins quietly playing the phrase to the music. Suddenly the two started singing, dancing and bullfighting, eventually ending up falling back on the couch in victory.

I was stunned speechless. Suddenly, they were no longer Higgins, Pickering, and Eliza but Alan and Fritz looking at me with such expectation, both saying in the chorus, “How do you like it?” I looked at them very seriously and said, “You’ve created a problem.” Fritz panicked and said, “What’s the matter, Nance?” I said quietly, “This number will stop the show. Actors will not be able to continue. There will be such a reaction from the audience that they may actually bow in the middle of the first act. Not just one bow, but many bows.” As the wind howls outside, the light of hope and excitement lights up all of Rockland County.


In the end, Pygmalion became My beautiful girl, and we moved into the city. We put our girls in the Town School for preschool and kindergarten classes. It was time to start thinking about who would play Higgins, and Rex Harrison was everyone’s first choice. Alan, Fritz, and I flew to London to see him. We stayed at the Connaught Hotel and arranged for an extra room with a piano in it. There is a lot of tension and anticipation. Alan believes that Rex can make My Fair Lady a reality as well as being the key to creating the authenticity he is looking for. Rex arrived one afternoon with a tweed hat in his hand, looking like Henry Higgins. He’s played the role many times, so it’s not a problem for him, but he’s never sung a single note on stage. Fritz said if he could sing “Happy Birthday” on the key softly, he would be fine.

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