One of the last surviving Broadway composers from the so-called Golden Age of the 1940s-50s, Lane was not as prolific as most of his contemporaries, writing only three produced Broadway musicals from 1947 to 1979. This followed a fecund Hollywood career in which he wrote some 30 film musicals including The Royal Wedding for Fred Astaire.
Despite his many wonderful tunes, he will be remembered chiefly for his whimsical score to the 1947 Musical Finian's Rainbow, which includes standards such as "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?," "Old Devil Moon" and "Look to the Rainbow" along with treasured character numbers like "Necessity," "The Begat" and "Something Sort of Grandish," all of which feature some of lyricist E.Y. "Yip" Harburg's best lyrics outside of The Wizard of Oz.
The show's nutty Fred Saidy book has Irishman Finian McLonergan on the lam from Ireland with his daughter Sharon after stealing a leprechaun's magic crock of gold. With the leprechaun, Og, in hot pursuit, Finian comes to the mythical state of Missitucky where they suddenly encounter poor black sharecroppers being exploited by a racist senator. When Sharon accidentally uses the crock's magic to turn the white senator black, things get sticky fast.
The combination of Celtic whimsy and social consciousness meant the show was not made into a movie until the late 1960s, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Astaire and Petula Clark (recently Norma Desmond in the London Sunset Boulevard. A major Broadway revival of Finian's Rainbow had been announced for January 1997, but the production went on the back burner,though librettist Peter Stone was talking about his ongoing revisions to the book as recently as Jan. 1, on the PBS theatre program "Theatre Talk."
Lane's less-known 1965 musical, On a Clear Day . . ., starred John Cullum and Barbara Harris on Broadway, but was filmed with Barbra Streisand as Daisy, a woman who remembers all too well her previous lives.
Lyricist Alan Jay Lerner teamed with Lane after Lerner's My Fair Lady partner, Fritz Lowe, retired in 1961. Their collaboration resulted in only two musicals, On a Clear Day and the short-lived Carmelina (1979), about an Italian woman who convinces three different American soldiers after World War II that each is the father of her child, so she can collect money from all three. Things get complicated when they all show up at once to visit her and the child. The show had a brief run on Broadway and Lane continued to revise it over the next decade, hoping for a second production.
Lane was born in New York and got his start as a family friend of George and Ira Gershwin. He began his Broadway career while still in his teens, writing songs for the revue Three's a Crowd. His first major Broadway assignment came in 1931, writing material for that year's edition of Earl Carroll Vanities revue. His other Broadway shows include Hold On To Your Hats, a satire on Westerns, in 1940, and the nutty Olsen & Johnson revue Laffing Room Only in 1944. During his career he collaborated with many of the era's top lyricists, including Ira Gershwin, Frank Loesser and Ted Koehler, in addition to Lerner and Harburg.
-- By Robert Viagas