Arts & Culture

“Baby It’s Cold Outside”: A Misunderstood Love Song

In 1949, much to Lynn Loesser’s chagrin and opposition, Frank sold “their song” to the movie “Neptune’s Daughter,” where it won the Academy Award for Best Song and cemented its place in our collective holiday music history. The song was to be sung man to woman or woman to man by the Loessers. In the movie, Ricardo Montalban and Betty Garrett take turns singing the role of the “aggressor” to their dates.

Stephen L. Carter, Yale law professor and novelist says, “It is the curse of historians . . . to judge the past by the norms of the present.” But Frank Loesser was a romantic and much of his work  showcased women.  “Guys and Dolls” celebrates the idea that strong-willed women win out over men, no matter how tough they think they are. Loesser’s “ ‘Adelaide’ Lament,” (among his very best) targets a man who takes advantage of his too-willing girlfriend, stringing her along for years with promises of marriage. She sings: “If she’s getting a kinda name for herself and the name ain’t his . . . A person, could develop a cold.” The nightclub, where Adelaide performs with the “Hot Box Girls,” is gently ridiculed for the silly songs and the baby-doll costumes the showgirls were required to wear. And “How to Succeed,” which won Loesser a Pulitzer Prize, lampooned the rampant sexism in corporate culture, derided the predatory CEO, and included the song, “A Secretary is Not a Toy.”

Cultural products must be evaluated in the context of their creation. “How to Succeed,” produced in 1961, showed the cracks in a sexist world that was on the verge of the Feminist Revolution. It could not be revived today and play well without seeing it through the lens of history. Likewise, “Hamilton” would not have been imaginable in the 1960s, whose era on Broadway began with romantic musical comedy but ended with “Hair,” and “Oh Calcutta.”

Last week, John and Susan Loesser, Frank and Lynn’s children, expressed to us gratitude and relief that the misunderstanding has been addressed in many media outlets and the controversy seems to be dying down. Let’s hope that our era produces more shows, serious and comedic, accurately reflecting our culture, with the warmth and wisdom of men like Frank Loesser and his colleagues. White men are no longer the only voices in the industry. However, Loesser was one of the people whose work questioned the status quo and helped put us on the path we are on today. Women and minorities are “outside” much less, and if Frank was still with us, he’d probably write a really witty and clever song about it.


Karen North, Ph.D. is a Clinical Professor of Communication at USC’s Annenberg School and Niece of Producer Ernest H. Martin
Cecilia Martin Ford, Ph.D. is a Clinical Psychologist in NYC and East Hampton and the Daughter of Producer Ernest H. Martin









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  • mickey December 20, 2018 at 11:57 am

    Thank you so much for this clarification of an endearing song. My mother and father must have known the song. They were 19 when they met in 1944. Both are gone to dance to Glen Miller as they did at the USO. Happy Holidays