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Tin Pan Sally

January 27, 1991

There are two sets of limitations on any review: those of the work under consideration, and those of the writer reviewing it. Whatever the merits or lack of them of my biography of Lerner and Loewe ("Inventing Champagne"), Stefan Kanfer in his review of it in the Nov. 18 issue displays a remarkably full set of limitations, including arrogance, ignorance, inability to spell, and inability to read.

Mr. Kanfer writes that out of the differences of character between Lerner and Loewe "arose a creative tension that produced 'Brigadoon' and the lesser 'Love Life' before the team crested with 'My Fair Lady.' "

Fritz Loewe had nothing to do with "Love Life." See page 57 of the book: "Lerner's next musical was written not with Fritz but with another composer born in Berlin: Kurt Weill." The collaboration with Weill on "Love Life" is then discussed in some detail. One is forced to wonder if Mr. Kanfer read that chapter. In any case, the comment instantly establishes his ignorance of the work of Lerner and Loewe, as well as Weill's.

Mr. Kanfer says with an airy affectation of scholarship that it would "come as a surprise to Lerner and Loewe, to say nothing of Thomas Malory, who started the whole thing by writing 'La Mort d'Arthur' (sic) in the 15th Century," that the love affair of two men with the same woman in "Camelot" is perceived as a projected symbol of homosexuality.

The work has always been and still is known (due to a historical error) as "Le Morte d'Arthur." And Malory assuredly did not start "the whole thing." His book is in part adapted from a 14th-Century poem, rooted in sources at least 400 years older, and Books Seven to Twelve are largely translations from the French of "Tristan," made from a manuscript obtained from a nearby monastery while Malory was in prison. It is from this source that he got the story of Guinevere and Lancelot. All of this was extensively traced in the book's discussion of "Camelot." The point I made--which Mr. Kanfer cutely fails to mention--was that the theme of two men who are attracted to each other and share the same woman turns up not just in "Camelot" but often in Lerner's work, including "Paint Your Wagon" (the film version, which Lerner also produced), "An American in Paris" and "My Fair Lady" (in the callous spiritual rape on a bet of Eliza for their own academic amusement by the mutually admiring Pickering and Higgins.) The related but secondary theme of the Woman as Whore (or Peasant) Redeemed by the Love of a Noble Rich Man (or Academic or King) is in a great deal of what Lerner wrote, including "Gigi," "My Fair Lady," "Royal Wedding" and "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever" (particularly the film version).

Mr. Kanfer describes--perhaps "dismisses" is the better word--me as "author of books about Oscar Peterson and a number of jazz singers" and says that I seem "far more comfortable with the ambiance of smoky nightclubs than in the autumnal atmosphere of Schubert Alley." Evidently Mr. Kanfer is not sufficiently comfortable in its automated atmosphere to spell it correctly. It is Shubert Alley. It wasn't named after Franz . . .

Finally, to those of subtle perception, the nuance of the tone of Mr. Kanfer's patronization of Oscar Peterson and jazz is hard to misinterpret. We get the point.


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