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By Corky Siemaszko
Baby, it’s really, really cold outside for Frank Loesser’s Oscar-winning song this Christmas season.
Under fire amid the #MeToo movement from critics who say “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is sexist and hints at date rape, radio stations in Cleveland and San Francisco have dropped the holiday staple from their Christmas playlists and others in the U.S. and Canada are following suit.
This is not sitting well with the daughter of Broadway legend Frank Loesser, who said she has heard complaints in the past about her dad’s ditty but blames Bill Cosby for turning it into something fiendish.
“Bill Cosby ruined it for everybody,” Susan Loesser told NBC News on Thursday. “Way before #Me Too, I would hear from time to time people call it a date rape song. I would get annoyed because it’s a song my father wrote for him and my mother to sing at parties. But ever since Cosby was accused of drugging women, I hear the date rape thing all the time.”
Cosby was convicted earlier this year of drugging and sexually assaulting one woman and has been accused of doing the same to dozens more. And the link between the song and disgraced actor was even reinforced in a memorable SNL skit — from 2015.
Loesser, 74, said she understands why women nowadays might bristle at the song, which features a man trying to convince a woman to spend the night because the weather outside is frightful — and includes the line, “Say what’s in this drink?”
“Absolutely I get it,” she said. “But I think it would be good if people looked at the song in the context of the time. It was written in 1944.”
How would her dad, who died in 1969, react to his song being banned from the radio?
“I think my father would be furious at that,” she said. “People used to say ‘what’s in this drink’ as a joke. You know, this drink is going straight to my head so what’s in this drink? Back then it didn’t mean you drugged me.”
“It was a different time,” Loesser added.
“Flirting was a whole different thing back then,” she said. “It was 1944 and my father wrote it because when he and my mom had parties where everybody had to have an act to entertain the guests.”
The song became a widespread hit after Loesser, who also wrote the music and lyrics to Broadway classics like “Guys and Dolls” and “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” sold the rights to MGM and it was included in the 1949 movie “Neptune’s Daughter.”
In that movie, Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams perform the duet together, as do Red Skelton and Betty Garrett, with the gender roles reversed for laughs.
While the song won the Academy Award, Susan Loesser said her mom, Lynn Garland, was not happy that her father sold “their song” to MGM. The marriage ended in divorce in 1957.
The duet went on to be covered by numerous artists, ranging from Johnny Mercer and Betty Carter in 1949 to the version millennials will know best, the 2003 cover performed by Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschanel from the Christmas movie “Elf.”
“I always thought my parents’ version was the best,” Susan Loesser said. “I think it’s adorable.’
But adorable isn’t one of the words dozens of callers used recently when they called WDOK Christmas 102.1 in Cleveland to demand that “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” be yanked off the playlist.
“I gotta be honest,” Glenn Anderson of Cleveland’s Star 102 radio wrote on the station’s blog after the decision was made. “I didn’t understand why the lyrics were so bad … Until I read them.”
But the song has its defenders.
Karen North, a USC communications professor whose great uncle was a producer of “Guys and Dolls” and several other Loesser shows, said the song has been misinterpreted.
“It’s about a man pursuing a woman and a woman pursuing a man and it’s sung in both directions,” she told NBC News. “It’s not about a male predator.”
If you look at the lyrics, North added, the lines sung by the woman are not “no, no, no.”
“What she’s saying is ‘I ought to say no, no, no,'” said North. “It’s all about how women in that era were not allowed to be unchaperoned with a man. The song is about two people who are mutually attracted and want to find an excuse to stay together.”
As for the “what’s in this drink” line, North said “it’s not about a date rape drug being put in a drink.”
“It’s about a woman coming up with an excuse to stay because she’s had too much to drink and is referring to alcohol,” she said.