Baby It’s Cold Outside, by Frank Loesser

Taxi in snow storm--baby it's cold outsideHasn’t this winter been brutal? Ice storms in New Orleans, arctic temperatures in Chicago. Oh baby it’s cold outside. Hmm. That sounds like a good song title!

And of course, it’s the title of a most unusual song. There haven’t been many pop songs taking the form of a dialog and requiring two singers.

Frank Loesser wrote “Baby It’s Cold Outside” in 1944. He and his wife Lynn sang it for the first time at a housewarming party that year after they moved in to New York’s Navarro Hotel. After all, they were entertainers, and when entertainers held parties for other entertainers, everyone performed.

The two parts in the dialog are named “the mouse” and “the wolf,” usually but not always sung by a woman and a man respectively. The mouse is in the wolf’s home and wants to leave. The lecherous wolf tries to persuade the mouse to stay, because, after all, it’s cold outside.

There can’t be as many songs that have been subjected to so much scrutiny by pop psychology as “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Does the mouse really want to leave, or is she putting up token resistance for appearance sake? Is the wolf a dangerous predator? Has he drugged the drink he offers?

I doubt if the Loessers thought or cared about such matters as they continued to sing the song at parties. For about four years, they kept it to themselves. Lynn liked to think of it as their own private song. When Frank sold it to MGM for the movie Neptune’s Daughter, Lynn was furious.

He told her that he had to let the song go. “If I don’t let go of ‘Baby” I’ll begin to think I can never write another song as good as I think this one is.” Neptune’s Daughter appeared in 1949. “Baby It’s Cold Outside”became Loesser’s first Academy Award winner, although he had been nominated twice earlier.

The public first heard “Baby It’s Cold Outside” as sung by Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalbán. Later in the film, Betty Garrett, as sister of Esther Williams’ character, sang it in the role of the wolf, to Red Skelton’s mouse.

It was the thought of Williams and Montalbán singing “Baby It’s Cold Outside” that so infuriated Lynn Loesser. I wonder what she thought of Garrett and Skelton. As befits an Academy Award winner, soon everyone else was singing it, too.

Almost immediately, the comedy team of Homer & Jethro enlisted the aid of a then unknown teenager named June Carter to join them in a parody. While the comic duo didn’t even try to match Montalbán’s urbane sophistication, the two of them could easily be twice as lecherous.

Of course, June Carter eventually became famous in her own right and married Johnny Cash. Here is “Baby It’s Cold Outside” as it appeared on Cash’s TV show. (Sorry, I haven’t been able to find the date.)

Movies at CDUniverse.com

Photo credit: Some rights reserved by Dan Nguyen.

Source: America’s Songs / by Philip Furia and Michael Lasser (2006)


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