Roger Edens

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An important American arranger - and later - producer from the 1930s through to the '50s.
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b. 9 November 1905, Hillsboro, Texas, USA, d. 13 July 1970, Hollywood, California, USA. An important arranger, songwriter - and later - producer, who was a close associate of MGM producer Arthur Freed from the 30s through to the 50s, when the legendary Freed Unit was turning out one magnificent film musical after another. Edens first came to notice on Broadway in Girl Crazy (1930) when he stepped out of the pit orchestra and took over as Ethel Merman’s pianist when her regular man became ill. He subsequently became Merman’s arranger and accompanist for some time before joining MGM in 1934. After serving as musical supervisor on the Jean Harlow picture Reckless, he adapted Freed and Nacio Herb Brown’s songs for the studio’s big-budget Broadway Melody Of 1936, which was released in 1935. In the same year, Edens arranged the music for a party to celebrate the 36th birthday of one of MGM’s biggest stars, Clark Gable. The highlight of the affair was 14-year-old Judy Garland’s tender version of ‘You Made Me Love You’, which she prefaced with the ‘fan letter’ ‘Dear Mr. Gable’, written by Edens. The response was sensational and Garland reprised the sequence in Broadway Melody Of 1938. From then on Edens scored numerous films, winning Academy Awards for his work on Easter Parade (with Johnny Green), On The Town (with Lennie Hayton), and Annie Get Your Gun (with Adolph Deutsch). He also contributed songs to numerous pictures including Love Finds Any Hardy, Babes In Arms, Little Nellie Kelly, Strike Up The Band, Two Girls On Broadway, Lady, Be Good!, Ziegfeld Girl, Babes On Broadway, Girl Crazy, Thousands Cheer, Good News, On The Town, Take Me Out To The Ball Game, Singin’ In The Rain, Funny Face, and Billy Rose’s Jumbo. Out of these came numbers such as ‘In-Between’, ‘It’s A Great Day For The Irish’, ‘Our Love Affair’, ‘Nobody’, ‘Do The Conga’, ‘My Wonderful One’, ‘Minnie From Trinidad’, ‘Caribbean Love Song’, ‘Carnegie Hall’, ‘Hoe Down’, ‘Here’s To The Girls’, ‘Pass That Peace Pipe’, ‘You’re Awful’, ‘The Right Girl For Me’, ‘Strictly USA’, ‘Moses Supposes’, ‘Sawdust, Spangles And Dreams’, and ‘Think Pink’, ‘Bonjour Paris’, ‘On How To Be Loved’ (the last three for Funny Face). For much of the time Edens wrote both words and music, but on other occasions his main collaborators were Arthur Freed, Ralph Freed, Hugh Martin, Betty Comden And Adolph Green, Sigmund Romberg and Jimmy Monaco. He was associate producer on The Harvey Girls (1946) and many other Freed musicals, but it was not until several years later that he took full producer credit on the Sigmund Romberg biopic Deep In My Heart (1954), and Funny Face (1957) for which MGM loaned him to Paramount. His last major assignment was as associate producer on Hello Dolly! for 20th Century Fox in 1967, although he was also involved in the preliminary work on Irving Berlin’s Say It With Music, which was to have been made in 1969, but never materialized owing to upheavals in Metro’s top management.

One of the most important aspect of Edens’ work was his ability to discover and nurture fresh talent. He gave Lena Horne her break in films which led to appearances in Cabin In The Sky and Stormy Weather, and he befriended and nurtured Judy Garland through some well-documented difficult times, as well as writing special material for her concerts. According to the trade paper Variety, he coached Katharine Hepburn for her starring role in Coco which opened on Broadway in December 1969. He died a few months later of lung cancer.