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Fred Ebb

Fred Ebb

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Also Known As: Died: September 11, 2004
Born: April 8, 1932 Cause of Death: Heart attack
Birth Place: New York City, New York, USA Profession: lyricist, screenwriter, producer, librettist, director

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

In the annals of theatrical collaborations, there have been many songwriting partnerships, including Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Bock and Harnick, Strouse and Adams and Kander and Ebb. For the last four decades, Kander and Ebb have been creating successful stage musicals with the dominant theme of entertainment, whether in the nightclubs of Weimar Germany ("Cabaret"), a court of law ("Chicago"), the imagination of a prisoner ("Kiss of the Spider Woman") or the dance marathons of the Depression ("Steel Pier"). The welding of Ebb's wry, witty and sometimes biting lyrics to Kander's mournful ballads and brassy showstoppers has resulted in several contemporary classics, notably the title song from "Cabaret".A native New Yorker, Ebb received his education at NYU and Columbia. In the early 1960s, he began to write lyrics, collaborating with Jerry Herman on numbers for the revue "A to Z" and writing song with Kander. Kander and Ebb had a hit with "My Coloring Book", first recorded by Barbra Streisand in 1962. Another rising star, Liza Minnelli, starred in their first stage musical, the uneven "Flora, the Red Menace" (1965). An unlikely musical about Communists, the show offered a star-making...

In the annals of theatrical collaborations, there have been many songwriting partnerships, including Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Bock and Harnick, Strouse and Adams and Kander and Ebb. For the last four decades, Kander and Ebb have been creating successful stage musicals with the dominant theme of entertainment, whether in the nightclubs of Weimar Germany ("Cabaret"), a court of law ("Chicago"), the imagination of a prisoner ("Kiss of the Spider Woman") or the dance marathons of the Depression ("Steel Pier"). The welding of Ebb's wry, witty and sometimes biting lyrics to Kander's mournful ballads and brassy showstoppers has resulted in several contemporary classics, notably the title song from "Cabaret".

A native New Yorker, Ebb received his education at NYU and Columbia. In the early 1960s, he began to write lyrics, collaborating with Jerry Herman on numbers for the revue "A to Z" and writing song with Kander. Kander and Ebb had a hit with "My Coloring Book", first recorded by Barbra Streisand in 1962. Another rising star, Liza Minnelli, starred in their first stage musical, the uneven "Flora, the Red Menace" (1965). An unlikely musical about Communists, the show offered a star-making role for Minnelli (who won a Tony) and included an eclectic score that contains the spunky "All I Need (Is One Good Break)" and the lilting "A Quiet Thing". Two years later, Kander and Ebb had their first bona fide hit, "Cabaret", a musicalization of John Van Druten's play "I Am a Camera" set in 1930s Berlin. Hal Prince's groundbreaking staging, strong performance from a cast that included Lotte Lenya and Joel Grey and a score that was both entertaining and dramatic helped make "Cabaret" one of the most acclaimed musicals of the mid-60s. The production earned eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Score.

Their follow-up projects were hardly of the same magnitude, but offered pleasures. Robert Goulet had one of his best roles as a Canadian photographer recalling his family in "The Happy Time" (1968), staged by Gower Champion. "Zorba" (1968), based on Michael Cacoyannis' 1964 "Zorba the Greek", reunited Kander and Ebb with director Harold Prince and offered Herschel Bernardi a tour-de-force.

In 1975, Ebb and Bob Fosse fashioned the book for the musical "Chicago" loosely based on Maurine Watkins' play about a woman who becomes a celebrity after murdering her lover. Overshadowed by "A Chorus Line" which opened in the same season, "Chicago" was a series of sketches with a pastiche score that paid homage to great vaudeville performers, performed with gusto by leads Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera and Jerry Orbach. When it first opened, many reviewers commented on its dark, cynical approach to the material. Twenty years later, times had changed. In light of the O J Simpson trials and the nation's seemingly endless quest for gossip and entertainment news, "Chicago" was more timely. The 1996 revival featured Ann Reinking, Bebe Neuwirth and James Naughton and earned unanimous raves. Interest in a feature version was rekindled, with Goldie Hawn signed to star as Roxie Hart.

Kander and Ebb shows have generally featured a strong central figure with interests in, if not an all-out pursuit of, entertainment. "The Act" (1978) was structured as nightclub performance and was tailored for the unique abilities of Liza Minnelli while "Woman of the Year" (1981), based on the 1942 Tracy-Hepburn classic became a star vehicle for Lauren Bacall. Chita Rivera won her two Tony Awards headlining Kander and Ebb musicals, the short-lived "The Rink" (1984) and the more successful "Kiss of the Spider Woman" (1992-93). More recently, the pair wrote the score for the 30s-era "Steel Pier" (1997), set against the backdrop of marathon dancing.

Bob Fosse's 1972 feature version of "Cabaret" has been acclaimed as one of the most successful stage-to-screen transfer. Jettisoning the book numbers from the stage show, he refashioned the material so that all the musical numbers (save for the hair-raising Nazi anthem "Tomorrow Belongs to Me") are restricted to the cabaret itself. The film earned eight Oscars, including Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (for Joel Grey reprising his eerie Master of Ceremonies) and Best Actress (Liza Minnelli in her best screen role). Ironically, Kander and Ebb were overlooked in the nominations, despite writing several new songs for the film. Nevertheless, the success of "Cabaret" opened more opportunities for them. The pair received their only Oscar nod (to date) for the jaunty, high-spirited "How Lucky Can You Get?", one of a handful of new songs written for Barbra Streisand to sing in "Funny Lady" (1975). For Minnelli, they wrote the title song for "Lucky Lady" (also 1975) and several numbers, including the now over-sung title tune, "New York, New York" (1977).

For the small screen, Ebb has written special material for awards shows and variety specials, as well as one-act plays for the anthology specials "Three for the Girls" (CBS, 1972) and "Liza Minnelli in Sam Found Out: A Triple Play" (ABC, 1988). He picked up Emmy Awards for co-producing two of the more acclaimed variety specials of the 70s: "Singer Presents Liza With a 'Z'" (NBC, 1972) and "Gypsy in My Soul" (CBS, 1976), starring Shirley MacLaine.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:


CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Funny (1989) Songwriter
2.
 Kennedy Center Honors, The (1998) Honoree
4.
 Broadway '97: Launching the Tonys (1997) Interviewee
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1951:
First theatrical writing job, co-wrote the lyrics for the musical revue, "Baker's Dozen"
1956:
Collaborated with Phil Springer on the song, "I Never Loved Him Anyhow"
1960:
Collaborated with Jerry Herman on songs for the Broadway revue, "A to Z"
1962:
Met and began collaborating with John Kander
1963:
Wrote book and lyircs for the stage musical, "Morning Sun"
1965:
First stage musical with Kander, "Flora, the Red Menace"; also first collaboration with Liza Minnelli
1966:
Won first Tony for the musical, "Cabaret"; again collaborated with composer John Kander
1967:
Revised book for revival of the Rodgers and Hart musical, "By Jupiter"
1968:
Wrote lyrics for "The Happy Time," starring Robert Goulet
1969:
Created lyrics for "Zorba," adapted from the film "Zorba the Greek"
1970:
Provided special material for Minnelli's NBC TV special, "Liza"
1972:
Collaborated with Kander to write new songs for Bob Fosse's feature adaptation of "Cabaret," starring Liza Minnelli
1972:
Made debut as a producer with the Bob Fosse TV special, "Liza with a Z" (NBC)
1973:
Wrote one-act of the TV special, "Three For the Girls" (CBS)
1973:
Was one of the writers on the TV special, "Magnavox Presents Frank Sinatra" (NBC)
1975:
Wrote the book (with Kander) for the hit Broadway musical "Chicago," directed by Fosse
1975:
Earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song for "How Lucky Can You Get?" from "Funny Lady"; shared nomination with Kander
1976:
With composer Cy Coleman, produced Shirley MacLaine's TV special, "Gypsy in My Soul"
1977:
Co-wrote with Kander, the song "New York, New York" for Martin Scorsese's film musical starring Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro
1978:
Wrote lyrics for "The Act," starring Minnelli and directed by Scorsese
1979:
Directed and served as a producer for "Liza in Concert at Carnegie Hall"
1981:
Won second Tony for creating the score for the stage adaptation of "Woman of the Year"
1984:
With Kander, wrote the theme music for the CBS sitcom, "Mama Malone"
1984:
Wrote lyrics for the musical, "The Rink," starring Minnelli and Chita Rivera
1988:
Was one of the executive producers and wrote one sketch for "Liza Minnelli in Sam Found Out: A Triple Play" (ABC)
1990:
Contributed special material to Rivera's nightclub act
1991:
Contributed special material to "Liza Minnelli: Stepping Out at Radio City"; later aired on PBS under the title "Liza Minnelli Live! From Radio City Music Hall"
1991:
A collection his songs with Kander was showcased in the off-Broadway musical revue, "And the World Goes 'Round"
1992:
Wrote songs for the revised version of "Kiss of the Spider Woman," starring Rivera; earned third Tony Award for Best Score (shared with Kander)
1996:
Wrote songs for the revised version of "Chicago" on Broadway
1997:
With Kander, wrote the music for Broadway's "Steel Pier"
1999:
Directed and wrote Liza Minnelli's comeback stage vehicle, "Minnelli on Minnelli"
2002:
Received a Grammy nomination for his work on the feature adaptation of "Chicago"
2006:
With Kander wrote the lyrics for the Broadway musical, "Curtains"; earned a Tony nomination for Best Original Score
2011:
Final collaboration with Kander before his death, composed the music for "The Scottsboro Boys"; earned a Tony nomination
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

New York University: New York , New York - 1955
Columbia University: New York , New York - 1957

Notes

"We have a rhythm of working though we're entirely different people. He's a Midwestern gentleman. He had the edges filed down ... I'm outspoken, quick and nervous. Things that terrify me don't terrify him." --Ebb on his working relationship with John Kander in USA Today, April 23, 1997.

Sources vary on Mr. Ebb's year of birth: some list 1932, others 1933, while others 1936.

In 1991, Kander and Ebb were inducted into the Theatre Hall.

Kander and Ebb have the dubious distinction of having created the only two musicals nominated for 11 Tony Awards which did not win a single award: the 1975 production of "Chicago" and 1997's "Steel Pier".

Family close complete family listing

father:
Harry Ebb.
mother:
Anna Evelyn Ebb.

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