George Abbott (1887-1995)

Photo of George Francis Abbott, Broadway Writer, Director and Producer

George Abbott

George Abbott went to Harvard to take a class in playwriting from George Pierce Baker.  Initially, he acted, wrote plays and worked as an assistant to John Golden, a lyricist, composer, producer, director, playwright and theatre owner.  His success came as he collaborated with other playwrights and started to direct.

We can see this pattern of collaboration when he started to work with Richard Rodgers and Larry Hart.  His initial collaboration with Rodgers and Hart was as a co-author of the book for On Your Toes; and two years later, he wrote the book for The Boys from Syracuse (1938.14), an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors.  Abbott staged the show and produced it.  Sets and lighting were done by Jo Mielziner, choreography by George Balanchine.  Harry Levant, brother of Oscar Levant, was music director; Hans Spialek wrote the orchestrations; and Eddie Albert and Jimmy Savo were the male leads.  A small role (tailor’s apprentice) went to Burl Ives.  The show ran for 235 performances.

Cover Art from LP for Rodgers and Hart show Pal Joey 1950

Pal Joey

Abbott’s final collaboration with Rodgers and Hart was to produce and stage Pal Joey (1940.22), with the libretto  by John O’Hara (adapted by him from his novel).   Spialek once again did the orchestrations; Harry Levant was the music director; and Gene Kelly and June Havoc provided star power.  Oscar Levant, Harry’s brother, once said: “There is a fine line between genius and insanity.  I have erased that line.”  There but for the grace of God go many of us.

The combined efforts of Dwight Deere Wiman and Abbott brought an end to the Rodgers and Hart era.

One additional show should be included here.  Abbott produced the first show written by the team of Hugh Martin (music) and Ralph Blane (lyricist)–a musical called Best Foot Forward (1941.06).  Don Walker and Spialek wrote the orchestrations; June Allyson, Nancy Walker and Gil Stratton starred in the show.  It was staged by Abbott, and the dances were directed by Gene Kelly.  It ran for 326 performances.  We may not remember the songs from that show, but most of us remember the songs from the 1944 Judy Garland movie, Meet Me in St. Louis.  That’s right; it’s the same songwriting team of Martin and Blane.