Even Freed’s military service during World War I became a platform for his musical abilities. As an army sergeant, he continued composing and put on shows to entertain the soldiers.
Film producer, songwriter. Freed was born in Charleston on September 9, 1894, to Max Freed and Rosa Grossman, both Hungarian immigrants. Freed did not remain in his native city long. The eldest of eight children, he traveled extensively with his family, as required by his father’s profession as an art dealer. The family eventually settled in Seattle, where he attended public schools for several years. In 1914 Freed finished Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, where he began writing poetry. On March 14, 1923, he married Renee Klein, with whom he had a daughter, Barbara.
Freed’s love of music and poetry would coalesce to create his success as a lyricist. For two years he performed his original songs for the Marx Brothers’ tour. He also gained experience singing for Gus Edwards’s celebrated vaudeville show. Even Freed’s military service during World War I became a platform for his musical abilities. As an army sergeant, he continued composing and put on shows to entertain the soldiers. His talents received greater recognition after the war, however, when he partnered with Nacio Herb Brown to write songs and produce plays at the Orange Grove Theater in Los Angeles, which the two men jointly purchased. In 1929 the pair was invited to compose songs for Metro Goldwyn Mayer’s Broadway Melody, which won the Academy Award for best picture. Freed and Brown also wrote “Singin’ in the Rain,” which appeared in MGM’s Hollywood Revue (1929).
Freed became best known in his ongoing work with MGM as he helped to fashion and energize the studio’s popular musicals. He served as associate producer of The Wizard of Oz (1939), shaping its screenplay and casting the unknown Judy Garland as the film’s lead. After the movie’s tremendous success, he went on to produce films that defined the musical genre, including pictures such as Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), Annie Get Your Gun (1950), Singin’ in the Rain (1951), and both An American in Paris (1951) and Gigi (1958), for which he received Academy Awards. These and other shows emerged to form what is now called the Freed Golden Era in Hollywood. In 1952 Freed received the prestigious Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for his exceptional body of work.
During his tenure at MGM, Freed distinguished himself as a shrewd recruiter of talent. He assembled the finest artistic and technical staff, a core group of colleagues referred to as the Freed Unit. Together, they made important cinematic innovations, creating lavish and lively sets, integrating songs more seamlessly with story lines, and filming pictures on location. Freed also achieved a reputation for cultivating musical stars such as Garland and Gene Kelly, who became legendary in the roles in which he cast them.
From 1963 to 1966 Freed served as president of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1968 he won recognition for his service and achievement with an Academy Award. He resigned from MGM in 1970 and died on April 12, 1973, in Hollywood. He was buried in Los Angeles.
Fordin, Hugh. M-G-M’s Greatest Musicals: The Arthur Freed Unit. New York: Da Capo, 1996.
Rimoldi, Oscar A. “Produced by Arthur Freed.” Films in Review 45 (July–August 1994): 14–22; (September–October 1994): 20–27.