Origins and textual analysis (longish)
Posted by: showtunetrivia 05:57 pm EST 12/03/18
In reply to: re: Listening while feminist: a defense of 'Baby, It's Cold Outside.' - Ncassidine 03:09 pm EST 12/03/18

This is taken from a lengthy FB discussion of the song this weekend. Many here will know the song's origin, but I did a bit of textual analysis some may find interesting.

In 1944, Frank Loesser had had modest success in Hollywood, but had not yet taken Broadway. He had written many popular war songs ("Rodger Young," "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition") as well. He and his first wife, Lynn, had just gotten a new place, and Frank wrote the song for them to perform at their housewarming. So it was not written for any show, but was a performance piece. She was "the Mouse," he was "the Wolf." So, yes, there was a certain predatory nature built into the song from the start, though I do not think it's the equivalent of rape. The Wolf is after the Mouse, but it's so staged, no one took it seriously.

The song was an immediate hit. They performed it over and over and got invited to parties, just to sing it. As Lynn wrote, "It became our ticket to caviar and truffles." They sang it at parties on both coasts for several years and even recorded it. Then Frank sold it to the movies for NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER. Lynn was devastated, betrayed. It was their special song and she adored performing it. But Frank said if he didn't let go of it, he'd start thinking he couldn't write another song as good. It won the Oscar, and he would go on to write WHERE'S CHARLEY? (actually debuted before NEPTUNE'S release), GUYS AND DOLLS, and HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING.

I think the main thing "the Mouse" is concerned with isn't sex with "the Wolf," but her reputation if she spends the night with him. There clearly is something going on between them; late in the song, she says, "Say, lend me a comb." Excluding the lyrics they share (the title), the Mouse has 30 lines. Eight of them express worry about what her family or the neighbors will think. "But don't you see--there's bound to be talk tomorrow!" Five of them she's clearly enjoying herself. "This evening has been--so very nice." "the welcome has been--so nice and warm." And in six, she's saying she has to go.

The Wolf has 13 lines referring to the weather, including the title phrase. Seven of his are compliments--and we progress from "Gosh, your lips look delicious" to "Gosh, your lips ARE delicious." (And following those are the lyrics I cited above in which the Mouse asks for a comb.)

I certainly see where certain lyrics like "Say, what's in this drink?" and the Mouse insisting "The answer is no!" (which interestingly follows her earlier lyrics to herself, "I ought to say no, no, no, sir!") don't sit well in today's culture. The former makes one immediately think of roofies and date rape; the latter "No means no." And that makes sense. The percentage of theatre nerds and historians who seek out context are far outnumbered by the general populace hearing this tune in the mall. My eldest daughter squirms visibly hearing it; I enjoy it because I know it was written as a performance piece for a couple.

But while today's culture rightly deplores men abusing women and using their power to attain sexual favors, we think little of an unmarried girl spending the night with an unmarried man. And I think that's just as central to the song's plot as the Wolf seducing the Mouse--yet nobody today, in the now annual criticisms of this song, ever mentions that aspect.

Laura, who should be working

Previous: re: Listening while feminist: a defense of 'Baby, It's Cold Outside.' - Ncassidine 03:09 pm EST 12/03/18
Next: re: Origins and textual analysis (longish) - Michael_Portantiere 12:48 pm EST 12/04/18

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