My Interview With Jo Loesser; Dead At 91

Jo Loesser, the widow of Broadway composer Frank Loesser, died Sunday at her Manhattan home at the age of 91. The following is one of the interviews I did with her, this one surrounding a second revival of her husband’s “The Most Happy Fella,” a show she starred in the original production on Broadway.

BY Frank Rizzo

In the musical "The Most Happy Fella," an older, far-from-handsome man — an Italian immigrant who owns a Napa Valley vineyard — falls in love with a much younger and beautiful woman named Rosabella, a San Francisco waitress.

The theme of May-December romance is one that has resonance both on stage and off for the woman who originated the role as well as the one who is playing the character in the revival, now in previews at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam. (The show opens Wednedsay, Oct. 9 and runs through Dec. 1.)

In 1956, the show's leading lady on Broadway was Jo Sullivan Loesser, then in her 20s, who eventually fell in love and married the composer, Frank Loesser, who was more than two decades her senior.

"He was so full of energy, funny and just so adorable," says Jo Loesser from the midtown Manhattan office where she oversees her late husband's properties. "He would write notes on yellow paper all the time and send them to me across the room like paper airplane. How could you not love that?"

They wed several years later and were married until the composer's death in 1969 at the age of 59.

In the Goodspeed show, Mamie Parris plays Rosabella, and in a recent intervew at the theater she recalled a romance she had with an older Italian man.

"When I was 25 I fell in love with a man named Cataldo who was 20 years older, too," says Parris who was in Broadway productions of "Ragtime," "The Drowsy Chaperone" and "110 in the Shade."

"I was working in a ship as a performer and he was one of the officers, second in command. It's similar to ['The Most Happy Fella'] story in so many ways.