Freed began his career as a lyricist, working with various partners; most notably, he created a series of hits with composer Nacio Herb Brown, songs that were later featured in the classic 1952 film Singin' in the Rain. By the later 1930s, Freed was ambitious to move into film production. In 1937, MGM paid him $1500 per week as a song lyricist; Freed was so eager to produce that within a year he took a salary cut to $300 per week to be an apprentice producer.
Conflicting stories divide the credit for the origin of the MGM Oz project between Freed and producer Mervyn LeRoy; in one widely-cited account, Louis B. Mayer arranged for Freed to serve as LeRoy's assistant so that the neophyte Freed could gain valuable experience under the veteran LeRoy.
Surviving MGM documents show that Freed was intensely involved in preparation of the film's script and its musical score. (Freed hired Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg to write the songs for The Wizard of Oz.) Perhaps more than any other individual involved in the project, Freed stressed the need for Dorothy's story to have a unified and compelling emotional impact upon the audience.
Freed dictated a long memo on 25 April that encapsulated his views. He asserted "the urgent necessity of getting a real emotional and dramatic quality through the Oz sequences....so that, when the picture is over, besides our laughs and our novelty, we have had a real assault upon our hearts."
Freed went on to a long and successful career as a producer, whose films included the Academy-Award-winning An American in Paris and Gigi. After Oz, Freed would work with Judy Garland on thirteen more movies.
- John Fricke, Jay Scarfone, William Stillman. The Wizard of Oz: The Official 50th Anniversary Pictorial History. Warner Books, 1989.
- Aljean Harmetz. The Making of the Wizard of Oz: Movie Magic and Studio Power in the Prime of MGM and the Miracle of Production #1060. New York, Knopf, 1977.