There’s no denying that when the holiday season rolls around you’ll eventually hear yourself singing along to “Baby It’s Cold Outside” on the radio. Every year you forget, and then remember as you’re singing… just how creepy the lyrics are. Even Michael Bublé’s smooth vocals and “good guy” image can’t make the song less disturbing. (But his rendition of Santa Baby was a worthy effort, read more about it here)
A beloved holiday classic, it’s hard to reconcile that this call and response duet has some serious sinister undertones. The female singer responding with “what’s in this drink?” is just one of the few alarming lyrics. However, there is a story behind this story, and while the song is still creepy and manipulative, perhaps knowing the story will alleviate some of our guilt for enjoying this clearly problematic tune.
Frank Loesser wrote the song in 1944 while living in New York, and performed it as a duet with his wife Lynn Garland. The duet was labelled with two parts: the wolf and the mouse. The wolf is trying to convince the mouse to stay with him because “it’s cold outside.” This analogy doesn’t necessarily make the nature of the male and female relationship any less disturbing, but the duet was intended for Frank to perform with his wife.
In the book, “A Most Remarkable Fella: Frank Loesser and the Guys and Dolls in His Life,” daughter Susan Loesser recounts how her parents performed the song for the first time. Frank and Lynn decided to throw a housewarming party for friends and family after moving into the Navarro Hotel, and they ended the night with their performance of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” on piano.
Lynn Garland remembers: “Well the room just fell apart. I don’t think either of us realized the impact of what we’d sung. We had to do it over and over again and we became instant parlor room stars. We got invited to all the best parties on the basis of ‘Baby.’”
Indeed, for years afterward the couple would perform the song at various parties and social events. Garland became particularly attached the song, relishing in the idea of “Baby” being a song between her and Frank- “their song.” In 1948, when Frank decided to sell the song to MGM for the film “Neptune’s Daughter,” Garland felt betrayed. She recalls: “I felt as betrayed as if I’d caught him in bed with another woman.”
While it might have caused trouble in paradise for Frank, selling the song was probably the best decision for its continued longevity and success. That year it won an Academy Award, although daughter Susan declares that he treated his Oscar win “as a kind of joke.” While it cannot be determined if selling the duet was the reason (perhaps it was the beginning of the end), Frank and Lynn eventually divorced in 1956.
In an interesting twist of fate, the intimate duet between husband and wife, “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” survived after the marriage fell apart. It has lived many lives since that housewarming party, with numerous recordings by stars like Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles & Betty Carter, and Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Jordan. Susan writes: “Not a winter goes by without a couple of ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ newspaper headlines.”
And now, the next time you hear “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” instead of feeling guilty for enjoying such disturbing lyrics, remember the sad love story of Frank Loesser and Lynn Garland.