Musical Monday: Pagan Love Song (1950)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

874241_1_lThis week’s musical:
Pagan Love Song” (1950) – Musical #75

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Robert Alton

Starring:
Esther Williams, Howard Keel, Minna Gombell, Rita Moreno, Charles Mauu

Plot:
Half-American, half-Tahitian Mimi (Williams) dreams of getting off the island-where she lives with her rich aunt (Gombell)- and going to the United States. Ohio school teacher Hazard Endicott (Keel) moves to the island to run a small plantation his uncle left him and is happy to relax and be lazy on the island. Will Hazard convince Mimi to change her plans?

Trivia:
-Esther Williams was pregnant while filming Pagan Love song, which made her especially concerned about filming a scene in an outrigger, according to Williams’ autobiography, The Million Dollar Mermaid.
-Howard Keel broke had a broken arm during part of the film, and his cast is covered with a towel during a bike riding scene, according to Keel’s autobiography “Only Make Believe: My Life in Show Business.”
-Originally was supposed to star Cyd Charisse and Van Johnson, but Charisse got pregnant, according to Esther Williams autobiography.
-Originally supposed to be directed by Stanley Donen, but after having a difficult time with Donen in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” Williams requested otherwise, according to her autobiography.
-Esther Williams sings two of her own songs but is dubbed by Betty want in “The Sea of the Moon”
-Produced by Arthur Freed
-Based on the book “Tahiti Landfall”

Howard Keel and Esther Williams in Pagan Love Song

Howard Keel and Esther Williams in Pagan Love Song

Notable Songs:
None. They were all lousy.

My review:
From the adorable, colorful poster you think “Oh this film has so much potential!”….But this isn’t one of Esther Williams better films. I’m not sure if it’s as bad as “Jupiter’s Darling,” but it’s up there. And the fact that Williams is made up in tan makeup as a part Tahitian isn’t even the worst of it.
Everyone in the film laughs non stop and smiles like an idiot for most of the movie–I guess to show that everyone-even the Ohia school teacher- loves Tahiti. But non-stop laughing in a 72 minute movie can get pretty annoying.
If you read the plot above, you can see there is absolutely nothing to this plot. As I was watching it, I even found myself thinking, “So…what’s the point of this story?” (And that’s coming from someone who has watched and enjoys silly fluff films).
The filming of this movie was about as unhappy as the viewing experience, according to both Williams’ and Keel’s autobiographies.
The director had never shot on location, Keel and Arthur Freed had a falling out, Keel was unhappy with the score and songs, Williams was nervous about sailing in an outrigger over jagged reef while pregnant, Keel had a broken arm, and it rained a large portion of the filming, according to their autobiographies.
For a film set at the beach, starring Esther Williams who is wearing a sarong 40 percent of the film, you would think there would be swimming galore. In reality there are only two swimming scenes:
-Esther Williams singing a tune while a group (her swimming class) swim in a diamond behind her.
-Williams and Keel swim in a lavish dream sequence in the last 10 minutes of the film.
For me, the most notable feature in this film is that you get to hear Esther Williams’ own singing voice in a couple of songs, while she was usually dubbed. For the more serious ballad, Betty Wand dubbed Williams but from what little we hear, Williams sounds decent.
Films that came out of the “Freed Unit” (produced by Arthur Freed), are generally glittery, fantastic forms of entertainment. Which is why I find it so shocking that “Pagan Love Song” is a real stinker.

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Life of groundbreaking Hollywood composer explored in new film

Ever wanted to get involved with a documentary or see your name in the credits of a film? Learn more about how you can get “Lives of Bernard Herrmann” closer to completion through their crowdfunding campaign.

What would the shower scene of “Psycho” be like without his piercing, staccato strings? Would the theme from “Vertigo” be as dizzying without those swirling woodwinds?

Rehearsal of The Free Company radio drama with conductor Bernard Herrmann. Image dated April 6, 1941. Copyright © 1941 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Credit: CBS Photo Archive. File X4467_2

Rehearsal of The Free Company radio drama with conductor Bernard Herrmann. Image dated April 6, 1941. Copyright © 1941 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Credit: CBS Photo Archive. File X4467_2

Forty years after his death, composer Bernard Herrmann’s still hasn’t stopped playing. His themes constantly appear in pop culture; whether it’s looped into mainstream music, used in a commercial or reworked into another composer’s score. Examples of these include Quentin Tarantino’s use of the whistling “Twisted Nerve” theme in “Kill Bill,” or the Lady Gaga using a portion of “Vertigo” in her “Born this Way” music video.

But Herrmann’s influence doesn’t stop at pop culture. You can hear traces of his impact in the scores of 20th and 21st century composers such as John Williams, Danny Elfman and Michael Giacchino

To highlight his work and continuing relevance, New York-based director Brandon Brown is directing a new full-length documentary, “Lives of Bernard Herrmann,” on the composer who worked with Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Ray Harryhausen and Martin Scorsese. In February, Brown interviewed actor and former co-host of TCM’s “The Essentials” Alec Baldwin, who called Herrmann an equal to all of those artists.

Comet Over Hollywood spoke with Brown about what inspired the project and when his love for the composer began:

“Lives of Bernard Herrmann” director, Brandon Brown

COH: What made you decide to make the documentary? What is your goal?

BB: The documentary is my dream project; I want to make a film that I would like to watch on Bernard Herrmann. Herrmann was not only an amazing composer but he was also an interesting person. I think his music and story deserve to be more closely examined in a longer film with new interviews. My goal is to introduce people to Herrmann’s music and also sympathize with him not only as a composer, but as a character in the documentary.

COH: What inspired the title?

BB:  In an interview from 1970*, Herrmann said, “There’s no one performance of a piece [of music] that can ever reveal the whole piece… It’s not finished. It goes on and on and on. Each performance reveals something new about it again.”

When I decided on a title for this film, I had that quote in mind and applied it to Herrmann’s life. To me, a documentary on Bernard Herrmann’s life would in fact need to be a documentary on many lives. It’d be a documentary examining Herrmann’s life before music, his life of composing music, his life as a husband and father, and, finally, how his music has lived on long after his passing.

This interview is available through the Film Music Society.

COH: When did your love for Bernard Herrmann begin? What started it?

BB: It started when I was 12 or 13 after I heard the score from “Vertigo.” Up until that point, I had a general love of soundtracks that started with my love of movies and it evolved from there. John Williams was my favorite composer before Bernard Herrmann. As I got more interested in Herrmann, I learned that Williams was influenced by Herrmann and that he knew him personally. It was interesting to connect my two favorite composers.

COH: Do you remember the first time you were introduced to Bernard Herrmann? What was the score and when was it?

BB: The first score I ever heard was “The Trouble with Harry,” which was also my first Alfred Hitchcock film. I was six or seven years old.  The score that later made me aware of Herrmann was “Vertigo.” I saw how Hitchcock’s direction, the visuals of Robert Burks, the acting of Stewart and Novak and Herrmann’s music all paralleled each other.

Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann.

Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann.

BB: What is your favorite Herrmann score? What makes it memorable?

COH: “Obsession” (1976). It’s a genuinely haunting score through his use of organ and strings and how his themes reflect the characters. “Obsession” is really the same story as “Vertigo,” which has more of a romantic score. The score for “Obsession is much more haunting and eerie than “Vertigo,” and Herrmann’s finale makes the film.

COH: Though you are still in the early stages, when do you hope for the documentary to be complete?

BB: Summer 2016.

COH: What do your viewers have to look forward to? (Interviews, new information)

BB: The documentary will include interviews with Herrmann’s family, people he worked with and people who know his music well. Most of these are interviews that haven’t been conducted before on film. We’ll be revealing more information as the interviews are filmed.

COH: Why is it important that we remember Bernard Herrmann and his work today?

BB: First and foremost, Herrmann wrote some of the greatest music of the 20th century, ranking with any celebrated classical composers. Writing music wasn’t just a job for Herrmann, it was his life. He saw it as an art form and was dedicated to preserving that art form.  He demonstrated this by conducting the music of Ives, Ruggles and other great but generally unknown composers.

Orson Welles and Bernard Herrmann

Orson Welles and Bernard Herrmann

COH: How has Herrmann influenced pop culture, contemporary composers and scores?

BB: You hear his music everywhere, whether it is being reused or parodied, people are constantly finding new uses for his music. Try to think of any slasher movie that doesn’t pull inspiration from the shower scene in “Psycho,” or an outer space film that doesn’t use musical techniques from “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” Herrmann’s music was a foundation for horror, thriller and sci-fi film music. You always hear it. Every time you hear the theme from “Jaws,” you will hear traces of Herrmann.

COH: What interested you in film making and documentaries?

BB: There are plenty of stories to tell about people who made a significant impact in the world. I want to help tell these stories of people who are no longer around or left their mark on history.

Musical Monday: The Girls on the Beach (1965)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

the-girls-on-the-beach-movie-poster-1965-1020209597This week’s musical:
“Girls on the Beach” (1965)– Musical #519

Studio:
Paramount Pictures

Director:
William Witney

Starring:
Noreen Corcoran, Aron Kincaid, Lana Wood, Gail Gilmore, Martin West, Linda Marshall, Steven Rogers, Sheila Bromley, Lori Saunders
Themselves: The Beach Boys, Lesley Gore, The Crickets

Plot:
Sorority sisters try to save their sorority house when they realize their nest egg has been spent by their house mother. In order to raise the money, they try a number of money making schemes from cake baking, newspaper puzzle contests, beauty contests and baby sitting. Three surfer boys trying to get in with the girls tell them that they are personal friends of the Beatles to perform at their benefit concert. The girls advertise The Beatles are coming, but when they learn they aren’t coming, they have to dress up like the Fab Four.

Trivia:
-The only beach film that the Beach Boys appearing, according to Risky Business: Rock in Film by R. Serge Denisoff, William D. Romanowski.
-Originally was going to be titled “Beach Girls,” according to Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave by Thomas Lisanti.
-The film was shot in three weeks, according to Lisanti.
-The Beach Boys wrote “Girls on the Beach” and “Little Honda” specifically for this film.
-Actors didn’t receive residuals for this film for several years, because the film was still listed under its working title of Beach Girls rather than Girls on the Beach, according to Lisanti.

Sorority sisters plot money making schemes in

Sorority sisters plot money making schemes in “Girls on the Beach.”

Highlights:
-The female stars dressing up as the Beatles, though it’s goofy.

Notable Songs:
-“The Girls on the Beach” performed by the Beach Boys
-“Leave Me Alone” performed by Lesley Gore
-“Little Honda” performed by the Beach Boys
-“Lonely Sea” performed by the Beach Boys
-“We Want To Marry a Beatle” performed by the female leads

My review:
By the same writers of “Beach Ball,” comes “Girls on the Beach”– one of many beach films made in the 1960s trying to copy the success of the Frankie and Annette American International Picture films.

Compared to some of the other copycat beach films, this one is fun. It has everything that makes up the beach film formula: pretty girls in bikinis, popular musical performances in the day, and scenes on the beach.

Noreen Corcoran as a blonde.

Noreen Corcoran as a blonde.

It’s fun to see teenage Noreen Corcoran, former child star and sister of Kevin Corcoran, as the lead in a grown up role after watching her as a little girl in so many other films. However, Noreen’s hair was bleached for the role and she didn’t feel comfortable or like herself. Though Noreen proved to be a capable teenage actress, this was one of her last roles.

The sorority girls’ money making schemes are fairly entertaining and funny such as Lori Saunders doing a snake dance at a beauty contest or one girl making a cake using chemistry and it continuously explodes.

However there are some  silly moments. The worst part was when the girls realized The Beatles aren’t coming and dress up as the Beatles. However, every time the Beatles are mentioned, people say “yeh yeh yeh,” referencing the song “She Loves You.”
Apparently they couldn’t get any rights to Beatles music and all they did was say “yeh yeh yeh” and “woooo.”

Once the girls are found out, they start seeing a terrible song called “We Want to Marry a Beatle.”

Though this film has a simple premise, it is pretty entertaining and cute.

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Review: “Gidget Goes Hawaiian” (1961)

gidget-goes-hawaiian-movie-poster-1961-1010681749I almost stopped this movie after watching for 20 minutes.

Gidget Goes Hawaiian” (1961) is the worst of the Gidget series. Even the 1969 made-for-TV film, “Gidget Grows Up” starring Karen Valentine, is better.

The success of the 1959 “Gidget” film was followed by two feature films, three made-for-TV movies and two television shows.

As previously mentioned, I adore the film “Gidget” (1959) that spawned a beach culture craze. However, the film that followed two years later is abysmal.

In the film, Moondoggie/Jeff Matthews (James Darren) returns from college. He and Gidget spend a carefree summer together, and Moondoggie gives Gidget his fraternity pin. All is bliss until Gidget’s parents (Jeff Donnell, Carl Reiner) surprise her with a trip to Hawaii. Rather than being overjoyed, Gidget is outraged, because she will have to leave Moondoggie, who only has two weeks of summer vacation left. In a tizzy, she runs to tell him the bad news. Rather than being angry with her, Moondoggie is happy that she has the opportunity to go on this trip. Naturally Gidget assumes that this means he doesn’t love her, so she flies off the handle, gives him back his fraternity pin and decides she wants to go to Hawaii.

On the flight to Hawaii, Gidget meets Abby Stewart (Vicki Trickett) who is spoiled and boy crazy. Also on their flight is popular TV dancer Eddie Horner (Michael Callan), who Abby immediately sets her sights on, but Eddie is more interested in Gidget. Once in Hawaii, Gidget mopes around and misses Moondoggie. To cheer her up, Dad invites Moondoggie to Hawaii so the two can patch up their relationship. But when Moondoggie arrives, he finds Gidget with Eddie. Filled with anger, Moondoggie sets out to have a good time with Abby and the two work to make the other jealous. Abby is also jealous of all the male attention Gidget is receiving and starts a rumor that she is a loose woman and sleeps around.

Moondoggie (Darren) catches Eddie (Callan) and Gidget (Walley) together.

Moondoggie (Darren) catches Eddie (Callan) and Gidget (Walley) together.

The whole purpose of the original story of “Gidget” is the fact that she is a petite girl who surfed. There are two surfing scenes in the movie, but surfing is not the focus here. While the 1959 film is a splash of Malibu color, the cinematographer and director did not take advantage of the lush Hawaiian scenery while shooting on location.

The issue with “Gidget Goes Hawiian” boils down to this is the casting of Gidget.

Deborah Walley simply is no Gidget. She is whiney, shrill, squealy and honestly isn’t cute. Of the actresses that played Gidget (Sandra Dee, Cindy Carol, Sally Field, Karen Valentine, Monie Ellis, Kathy Gori, Caryn Richman), Walley is probably the worst.

Walley has a jazzy moment on the dance floor with Michael Callan—the original Riff in the Broadway version of “West Side Story—and later does a solo hula, which comes across as awkward. She later has a bizarre dream sequence where she imagines herself as a streetwalker and fan dancer.

Gidget (Walley) imagines herself as a street walker?

Gidget (Walley) imagines herself as a street walker?

“Frankly, we’ll take Miss Dee’s direct sweetness to Miss Walley’s squealing, calliope innocence any day,” Howard Thompson wrote in his Aug. 10, 1961, New York Times review.

Even the real Gidget, Kathy Kohner, agreed Sandra Dee was the best fit for the character. Gidget went from a cute, tomboy to being just like her boy crazy friends in this film.

Columbia wanted Sandra Dee to reprise her role, but she was under contract at Universal Pictures who would not release her for the film.

Moondoggie (Darren) tries to make Gidget jealous with Abby (Trickett)

Moondoggie (Darren) tries to make Gidget jealous with Abby (Trickett)

Walley apparently didn’t want to be cast in the film, because she considered herself a serious actor who was acting in New York. More than 150 other actresses were considered, according to “Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave” by Thomas Lisanti.

James Darren reprised his role as Moondoggie and is the best reason to watch the film. Jeff Donnell and Carl Reiner are fine as Gidget’s parents, though it is odd to see THE Carl Reiner in a “Gidget” film. The cast is rounded off by Peggy Cass and Eddie Foy, Jr.—another odd casting choice—as Abby’s parents.

This film does something which most sequels are guilty of, which is assuming the audience is stupid. “Gidget Goes Hawaiian” begins with Moondoggie giving Gidget his pin…but Gidget already agreed to wear his pin at the end of the 1959 film.

“James Darren is the steady lad who lands Gidget (as before, if we recall),” the New York Times also notes that we already knew they were going steady.

However, this film doesn’t ignore the fact that the 1959 film exists. As Gidget recounts her romance with Moondoggie to Abby, there are three painful reenactments of the 1959 version with Deborah Walley acting as Sandra Dee’s character, down to her wearing the same red, white and blue striped bathing suit.

L to R: 1959 Gidget in red bathing suit, 1961 Gidget reenactment of the original film, the scene Walley is reenacting.

L to R: 1959 Gidget in red bathing suit, 1961 Gidget reenactment of the original film, the scene Walley is reenacting.

The film also assumes the audience is stupid with Joby Baker’s role of Judge Hamilton, a college student Gidget meets on the plane to Hawaii and one of the many males flanking. In the 1959 film, Baker played one of the surf bums Stinky who sells Gidget her surf board.

Gidget’s moping about Moondoogie is pretty ridiculous as she says things such as, “I can’t swim in Hawaii, it’s the same ocean Jeff and I used to swim in.”

The film gets even more painful to watch once Moondoggie arrives in Hawaii and he and Gidget work to make each other jealous. Gidget hangs all over the guys and also does crazy stunts—such as a dangerous water ski jump—to give a thrill seeking vibe and show Moondogie she no longer cares for him, though this is false. These types of plots are frustrating to me anyways. I’m watching the film for their romance; not their petty arguement.

Though Sandra Dee is a spunkier fit for “Gidget,” I’m not even sure if she could have saved this film with its ridiculous script.

“Gidget Goes Hawaiian” is just one of many films proving that the original will generally be better than the sequel.

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Musical Monday: Honolulu (1939)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

Honolulu_(1939)This week’s musical:
Honolulu” (1939)– Musical #172

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Edward Buzzell

Starring:
Eleanor Powell, Robert Young, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Rita Johnson, Willie Fung, Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson, Sig Ruman, Ruth Hussey, Phillip Terry
As Themselves: The Pied Pipers, Jo Stafford, The King’s Men, Andy Iona’s Orchestra

Plot:
Popular Hollywood star Brooks Mason (Young) has a lookalike George Smith (Young). To get a rest from his fans, Mason sends Smith to New York for a personal appearance tour and heads to Smith’s Hawaiian plantation for a rest, meeting dancer Dorothy March (Powell) on the way. Complications arise when Mason meets Smith’s girl Cecila (Johnson).

Trivia:
-George Burns and Gracie Allen’s last film appearance together. After this movie, George Burns wouldn’t appear again on screen until 1952.
-Eleanor Powell’s “Hola E Pae” number was re-edited and put in “I Dood It” (1943).
-Eleanor Powell’s tap dance number “I Got a Pair of New Shoes” was cut from the film and can be found here.
-From an April 26, 1939, “Hollywood Shots” column: “There’s a good reason why Eleanor Powell calls Honolulu her favorite films: its the only one that ever gave her a foot bruise costing her at least one toenail.”

Robert Young plays a double role in

Robert Young plays a double role in “Honolulu”(1939)

Highlights:
-Eleanor Powell’s hula routine with a native tap dance routine
-Robert Young plays a double role
-Costume party featuring Bing Crosby impersonator and Gracie Allen as Mae West

Notable Songs:
-“Honolulu” performed by Gracie Allen, The Pied Pipers
-“The Leader Doesn’t Like Music” performed by Gracie Allen, The King’s Men
-“Hawaiian Medley” performed by The King’s Men, danced by Eleanor Powell
-“Hola E Pae” performed by Andy Iona’s Orchestra, danced by Eleanor Powell

My review:
“Honolulu” is not your usual MGM glittery musical, but it’s a lot of fun. Primarily, the movie is a comedy of lookalikes/mistaken identity with Robert Young. Eleanor Powell is merely a tap dancing backdrop.

Robert Young and Eleanor Powell in

Robert Young and Eleanor Powell in “Honolulu” (1939)

Since Powell does not sing, any songs are performed by Gracie Allen. The one that’s the most fun is “The Leader Doesn’t Like Music” as she is dressed like Mae West for a costume party and her backup singers are dressed like the Marx Brothers.

Married comedians Gracie Allen and George Burns have very little screen time together in their last film together.

The most notable dance number is the amazing hula/tap number that Eleanor Powell does. She starts off barefoot and in a grass skirt doing an impressive Hawaiian dance and then switches into tap shoes to mix tap dancing and hula steps. It’s truly the highlight of the film.

Gracie Allen even does a little tap dancing with Eleanor Powell at the start of the film.

The unfortunate part of this film is Eleanor Powell’s dance in blackface. This is off putting and takes away from Powell’s fantastic dancing, however, it was meant to be a tribute to Bill Robinson. Robinson was a close friend of Powell’s. She was not interested in tap dancing but knew it was the best form of dance to break into the business, and Bill Robinson served as her mentor. Robinson, along with Pearl Bailey, was also a godparent to her son Peter Ford. The two often performed together.

“Honolulu comes from the magical year of 1939 which hailed so many top notch films. It isn’t on the same level of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” or “Ninotchka,” but it does still hold a certain level of charm and glitter typical of other 1939 lower budget films.

While “Honolulu” isn’t the most inspiring MGM musical, it’s still a good slice of fun with some amazing tap dancing numbers.

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Gidget: Bringing the Surf Culture to Mainstream

When I first started getting interested in classic films, my mom would get excited about movies she wanted to introduce to me. “Gidget” (1959) was one that she could hardly wait to show me.

Views of Sandra Dee in some of my favorite swimsuits and dresses from "Gidget."

Views of Sandra Dee in some of my favorite swimsuits and dresses from “Gidget.”

Sitting there on a Sunday night at age 14, I fell in love with this film. It’s an explosion of color on the gorgeous backdrop of Malibu beach. It features awesome surfing shots and has excellent cast filled with one-liners that are real gems. It’s the perfect fun-in-the-sun Southern California travelogue. To date, it also has one of my favorite film wardrobes.

The movie was pivotal in my film love and got me further entrenched in 1960s pop culture. I read up on famous surfers, researched surfer lingo, listened to the Beach Boys, plastered 1960s surf images around my room and hunted for bathing suits that gave off a 1960s vibe. Of course, I wanted to learn how to surf, which has still never happened since I live four hours away from the beach on the east coast.

“Gidget” is the story of a teenage tomboy, Francie Lawrence (Sandra Dee), who isn’t interested on going on “man-hunts” with her shapely female friends. Up until this summer, her extracurricular activities involved playing the cello and making straight A’s in school. Her dismay with her one-track-minded friends leads to joining a group of male surfers, much to their chagrin. Once they realize she’s interested in surfing and can hold her own in their group, Francie becomes their mascot and is nicknamed “Gidget”- the girl midget. Most of the boys live for surfing and some are “surf bums,” living on the beach all summer with the Big Kahuna (Cliff Robertson) as their leader. Of course, Gidget’s summer doesn’t come without romance, as she is smitten with Moondoggie (James Darren).

"Gidget" film poster featuring Cliff Robertson, Sandra Dee, James Darren.

“Gidget” film poster featuring Cliff Robertson, Sandra Dee, James Darren.

On the surface, this is a teen beach romance. However, the film is also exploring if should Gidget follow the mainstream and chase boys with her friends or if she should do what she loves as one of the few females surfing in Malibu. Gidget’s loving but concerned parents (Arthur O’Connell, Mary LaRoche) support their daughter in her new outdoor activity but are still concerned about the type of people she is hanging around.

While “Gidget” may seem like a piece of fluff, this film was not only influential in the life of an impressionable 14 year old, but also in American culture. The first film started a popular franchise of “Gidget” sequels and television shows. But outside of the sequels, it also spawned a film subgenre of beach party films. These mainly low budget teenage beach films featured attractive teens in bathing suits, surfing, slapstick comedy and performances from popular 1960s musicians.

Every surfing film from “Beach Blanket Bingo” to “The Endless Summer” was a result of “Gidget,” though “Gidget” remains to be one of the better beach films. But it didn’t stop at movies; the popularity of beach music such as Dick Dale, The Ventures or the Beach Boys was also a direct correlation.

However, “Gidget” wasn’t just a story that started a popular franchise and culture. It was all based off a southern California teenager who wanted to write a story about her summer.

Cover of the 1956 by Frederick Kohner- featuring Kathy Kohner- about his daughter's surf adventures.

Cover of the 1956 by Frederick Kohner- featuring Kathy Kohner- about his daughter’s surf adventures.

The film is based off the 1956 book “Gidget: The Little Girl with Big Ideas” by Hollywood screenwriter Frederick Kohner. Kohner’s 15-year-old daughter, Kathy, started surfing one summer and would share her beach stories with her father. When Kathy wanted to write a story about her adventures as the mascot “Gidget,” Kohner offered to write it for her. It took Kohner six weeks to write the book which involved reading excerpts from her diary, listening in on phone calls (both with her permission) and conversations with his daughter. Kathy shared the nicknames of the surfers and the surfer slang, from “kuks” to “bitchin’” to “shootin’ the curl.” The book became a bestseller and spawned the film.

The real Gidget was fairly amused by the film, writing in her dairy, “Saw Gidget today, it was funny.” Kathy said in “Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave” by Thomas Lisant that she had never heard of Sandra Dee, but when they met she was very sweet. The sweet, innocent Sandra Dee character was a far cry from her experiences at the beach. In the book, Gidget talks about wearing a particular sweater to make her breasts look perky, smoked cigarettes or frequently uses the word “bitchin’” to describe the waves.

Sandra Dee as Gidget with the real Gidget, Kathy Kohner in 1959.

Sandra Dee as Gidget with the real Gidget, Kathy Kohner in 1959.

“It was quite funny seeing Sandra Dee and these other people acting in a movie that some of us lived,” Kathy said in Lisant’s book. “I think Miss Dee did an outstanding, memorable job and captured a moment in time…I am a real person. I’m shorter than Dee and have dark hair. I was a bit tenacious and bit fearless…Certainly I had a different personality but of all the actress that played Gidget, Sandra Dee came the closest in capturing my experiences from surfing to wishing my breasts would grow bigger to my relationship with my parents.”

As the surfing subculture reached mainstream, the once calm Malibu were overcrowded. The number of surfboards in the water seemed dangers to Kathy, according to Lisant. Once the film was released, Kathy was in college at Oregon State, but the real Gidget stopped surfing in 1960. The beaches were over populated with the craze that she unintentionally began.

Photos below from an Oct. 28, 1957, LIFE photo spread on Kathy Kohner and her father: 

Kathy2 Kathy and surfers Kathy and Fredrick Kathy 1957 life Kathy 1956 16 year old kathy

 

What is your favorite beach film? Which Gidget is your favorite? 

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Musical Monday: Bathing Beauty (1944)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Bathing Beauty” (1944)– Musical #61

bathing

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
George Sidney

Starring:
Esther Williams, Red Skelton, Basil Rathbone, Bill Goodwin, Jean Porter, Janis Paige, Donald Meek, Margaret Dumont, Nana Bryant
As themselves: Harry James, Lina Romay, Xavier Cugat, Helen Forrest, Ethel Smith, Carlos Ramirez

Plot:
George Adams (Rathbone) is unhappy when his star songwriter Steve Elliot (Skelton) says he’s leaving the business to marry pretty swim instructor, Caroline Brooks (Williams). George creates a misunderstanding between the two that sends Caroline back to the all-girls college where she teaches. Determined to win her back, Steve finds a loophole in the charter and enrolls.

Trivia:

-Esther Williams’ first starring role.

Red Skelton's comedic ballet

Red Skelton’s comedic ballet routine which was created by Buster Keaton.

-Skelton’s ballet routine was created by Buster Keaton, according to Gehring’s book.

-Originally titled “Mr. Co-Ed” with Red Skelton as the defined lead. Once Esther Williams was brought on the project, Skelton was knocked to secondary lead, though he has more screen time, according to Red Skelton: The Mask Behind the Mask by Wes Gehring.

-When Esther Williams did her first swimming number (the first in the movie and the first of it’s kind on screen), director George Sidney told her to do what she wanted because he knew nothing about swimming, according to Williams’ autobiography “The Million Dollar Mermaid: An Autobiography .”

-The finale swimming number with Williams, Harry James and Xavier Cugat was choreographed by John Murray Anderson, who choreographed Billy Rose’s aquacades, according to Williams’ book.

-The skit where Red Skelton pretends to be a girl waking up and getting ready in the morning was created by his first wife, Edna Stillwell, according to Gehring’s book.

-This film was shown in combat areas overseas during World War II.

-The pool used at the beginning was the Lakeside Country Club in San Fernando Valley.

-Janis Paige’s first film.

Red Skelton and Esther Williams in

Red Skelton and Esther Williams in “Bathing Beauty.”

Highlights:
-Xavier Cugat’s musical performances with Lina Romay singing.
-Every swimming scene with Esther Williams
-Red Skelton’s skit of woman waking up and getting ready.
-Red Skelton dancing in a tutu

Notable songs:
-“Te quiero dijiste” performed by Carlos Ramirez
-“Bim, Bam, Bum” performed by Xavier Cugat and Lina Romay
-“Tico-tico no fubá” performed by Ethel Smith
-“Alma llanera” performed by Lina Romay and Xavier Cugat
-“I Cried for You” performed by Helen Forrest and Harry James
-“Loch Lomond” performed by Harry James, Jean Porter, Ethel Smith, Janis Paige and other co-eds

My review:
This film is true escapism, particularly good for the World War II era.

Esther Williams in the finale of

Esther Williams in the finale of “Bathing Beauty.”

“I think the reason the movie did so well was that it was exactly the right kind of breezy summer entertainment for war-weary public,” Esther Williams wrote in her autobiography.

While “Bathing Beauty”‘s plot line is a little silly, this movie is such a joy.

It’s vibrant Technicolor, humorous scenes with Red Skelton, Esther Williams looking beautiful and cool in the pool, and top musical performances from Harry James, Helen Forrest, Carlos Ramirez, Xavier Cugat and Lina Romay.

This movie is notable for several reasons:
-It catapulted Esther Williams’ career of swimming musicals- a genre never before seen on films- that were top in the box office for 10 years following. This new type of genre is a great example of how MGM tried to bring novelties to the screen and seem new, fresh and innovative.
“We didn’t know it, but we were about to invent synchronized swimming as it had never been before seen on film,” she wrote.
-You get a glimpse of who the top performers in music were: Harry James and Xavier Cugat. While MGM often tried to seem cultured while bringing in opera stars such as Laurietz Melchoir, they often brought in the most popular names in music.
-South American themed musical numbers- here with Xavier Cugat, Lina Romay, Carlos Ramirez- were commonplace in 1940s films, and this is a great example of that theme.

But while this musical landed Esther williams on top, it is also a little sad for Red Skelton, who had been in films for a few years but still was not on top. Skelton started in films with hopes of becoming a serious comic but was often misplaced in his roles.

However, in “Bathing Beauty” Skelton has more screen time than Williams and pulls out all the stops with his hilarious scenes, he received very little recognition in the film columns. All of the critics were enamored with Esther Williams and gave little mention to Skelton, according to Gehring’s book.

“Audiences apparently care more about what the heroine is wearing than if Skelton gets her in the in,” the New York Herald Tribune came to his defence.

Regardless, Skelton gives a great performance and Williams is a breath of fresh air…or maybe a cool dive in a pool.

While things are steamy outside, cool off with this film indoors and soak in the Technicolor, rather than get a sunburn.

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Musical Monday: “Let Freedom Ring” (1939)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Let Freedom Ring” (1939)– Musical #354

let freedom ring

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Jack Conway

Starring:
Nelson Eddy, Virginia Bruce, Victor McLaglen, Lionel Barrymore, Edward Arnold, Guy Kibbee, Charles Butterworth, Gabby Hayes

Plot:
Steve Logan (Eddy) returns to his home back west after graduating from Harvard. Now a lawyer, he finds his town full of corruption being lead by Jim Knox (Arnold). Logan sets out to save his friends and family by disguising himself as “The Wasp” and uses the power of the press to break down Knox.

Trivia:
-Script by Ben Hecht

Nelson Eddy and Virginia Bruce in "Let Freedom Ring."

Nelson Eddy and Virginia Bruce in “Let Freedom Ring.”

Notable songs:
-Dusty Road performed by Nelson Eddy
-Love Serenade performed by Nelson Eddy
-Ten Thousand Cattle Straying performed by Nelson Eddy
-When Irish Eyes Are Smiling performed by Nelson Eddy
-America, My Country ‘Tis of Thee performed by Nelson Eddy and Virginia Bruce

My review:
“Let Freedom Ring,” is more of a western than a musical. Though Nelson Eddy sings three or four songs during the film, his beautiful voice isn’t the focus of the film.
Coming from the great year of 1939, this movie isn’t as well known as it’s contemporaries. However, this little western sparkles just as bright and continues to show that there was something in the water that year that made the majority of the films coming out of Hollywood great.
Along with some lovely songs performed by Eddy, we also have the treat of an excellent supporting cast of character actors. Guy Kibbee, Edward Arnold, Victor McLaglen, Charles Butterworth, Gabby Hayes. What more could you ask for than that?!
McLaglen and Butterworth have several particularly funny scenes.
Virginia Bruce also does well in the film, but unfortunately has very little screen time. Lionel Barrymore is also a treat (as always), but similarly has little screen time. In the film, Eddy actually seemed to have more energy and be less wooden without his frequent co-star Jeannette MacDonald.
This film is interesting if you think about what is going on around the world at this time. Much of Europe was being invaded by Germany and preparing for war. While the United States had not yet joined World War II, it was still at the forefront of their minds.
Nelson Eddy’s character gives several speeches, particularly about not being oppressed by tyranny. I’m fairly certain his lines were written with the European situation in mind.
Whether you are a fan of westerns or musicals, this little film is one you should catch. With great songs, humorous moments and rousing speeches, it’s a fun way to spend 90 minutes.

Nelson Eddy in "Let Freedom Ring."

Nelson Eddy in “Let Freedom Ring.”

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Actress Beauty Tip #36: Oatmeal face mask

This is the thirty-sixth installment of my classic actress beauty tips that I have read about and tested.

Syndicated beauty columnist Lydia Lane interviewed actresses from 1938 to 1980. Along with sharing the beauty secrets of actresses like Greer Garson, Jan Sterling and Anne Baxter, Lane also took questions from her readers.

In an Aug. 14, 1960, column, Elizabeth Bennett of Nashville, Tenn. wrote:
“I went to school with Mary Healy, and her complexion is just as pretty now as it was then. I don’t know her well enough to ask what she does. But could you find out?”

Actress Mary Healy

Actress Mary Healy

Beauty columnist Lydia Lane writes back:
“Mary says, ‘I don’t wear make-up when I’m not working, and I’m always very careful about getting my pores thoroughly clean. And I still use the same facial that my lovely grandmother recommended. I make a paste of dry oatmeal and water. When it is the consistency to spread, I smooth it on my face and lie down for 10 minutes while it dries. Then I wash it off with warm water and splash with cold.”

Oatmeal naturally contains cleansing features, particularly good for sensitive skin, that reduces redness and inflammation. It’s used as an addition to a beauty regiment, not a substitute, according to “Natural Beauty at Home” by Janice Cox.

Actress, singer Mary Healy acted in the late 1930s through the early 1960s, but she wasn’t in many “A-list” films. The most notable is “The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T” (1953), based off the Dr. Seus book. She was most notable for her comedy team with her acting husband Peter Lind Hayes. The two starred on  “Peter Loves Mary” (1960-61), the “Peter Lind Hayes Show,” variety shows and radio shows in the 1940s. Hayes and Healy were married from 1940 until his death in 1998. Healy passed away in Feb. 2015.

When I read about Miss Healy’s beauty tip, I thought, “Well that sounds easy enough to test and try for Comet’s readers.”

Boy was I wrong. There was no “spreading” when it came to this oatmeal mask. I was caking breakfast food on my face ended up being a difficult mess that left me looking like I came straight from Davey Jones locker, with barnacles growing on my face like a Universal sci-fi monster.

In search of the perfect oatmeal to water ratio, and it seems one doesn’t exist that makes it easily spreadable. I sought out other oatmeal mask recipes on various beauty websites and home beauty ritual books. Most oatmeal mask recipes include other ingredients such as honey, yogurt, olive oil or milk. However, I wanted to stick to water and dry oatmeal as Miss Healy did.

I tried various mixtures:

  • First I tried uncooked instant oatmeal. This was no good. I added too much water and it added up too soupy, regardless of how I tried to remedy it. I was even squeezing water out of the oatmeal to no avail.
  • Next I read using cooked oatmeal was the way to go. But again, the water to oatmeal ratio was never quite right. It was either too runny and it dripped right off my face or it was so sticky that it stuck to my hands more than my face.
  • The best mixture was 1/2 water and 1/4 oatmeal, but that was still much to thick and sticky to spread as easily as Miss Healy describes.
  • I also tried using the cooked oatmeal as a scrub rather than a mask. This worked quite well. I had been experiencing some peeling that day and it was fixed by this.

Finally it occurred to that I hadn’t actually tried followed Mary Healy’s instructions except when I tried using instant oatmeal. I filled a bowl with dry, uncooked oatmeal and slowly added water until the oatmeal was merely damp and paste-like. Once I finally did this correctly, this was the best mixture.

But regardless of the mixture, this is not an easy thing to spread on your face. You end up clumping lukewarm oatmeal on your face, with bits follow back into your hand,on your sink or on the floor with your cat looking quizzically at you and trying to eat it. Or that’s at least what my cat Tallulah did. Needless to say, it’s a big mess.

To review: While the scrub and masks would leave my face feeling soft, I did not see any other major change. I had several blemishes at the time of use, and this did not seem to help with redness or inflammation as others said. But regardless of any skin improvements, this is really too much of a frustrating mess to incorporate into a beauty regiment.

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Musical Monday: Beach Ball (1965)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals. In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals. beach-ball-1965-poster

This week’s musical: “Beach Ball” –Musical #517

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Director: Lennie Weinrib

Starring: Chris Noel, Edd Byrnes, Aron Kincaid, James Wellman, Robert Logan, Mikki Jamison, Don Edmonds, Brenda Benet, Gail Gilmore, Anna Lavele Themselves: The Four Seasons, The Supremes, The Righteous Brothers, The Hondells, The Walker Brothers, The Nashville Teens

Plot: The band the Wigglers is trying to keep their instruments from being repossessed. In order to pay for them, Dick (Byrnes) tries to get an ethnic music studies grant from the college he dropped out of from grant committee member Susan (Noel). When Susan finds out she has been had, she tears up the check. But then feeling some remorse, Susan and the other pretty committee members shed their studious looks, going undercover as pretty beach bunnies to help them get the grant.

The

The “Wigglers” can’t afford their instruments and are trying to earn money to keep them.

Trivia:
-Chris Noel’s first starring role.
-Chris Noel said she did not care for Edd Byrnes because he was “egotistical” and kept putting his tongue in her mouth during the kissing scenes, which she didn’t care for, according to the book “Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema” by Tom Lisanti.

Notable Songs:
-Come to the Beach Ball with Me performed by the Supremes
-Surfer Boy performed by the Supremes -Dawn (Go Away) performed by the Four Seasons
-Baby, What You Want Me to Do performed by The Righteous Brothers

My Review:
With the success of Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello beach films, other studios tried to follow American International Pictures’ lead and make similar teenage beach movies. Paramount Pictures’ attempt is “Beach Ball,” which is one of the better carbon copy beach films. It’s very similar to “Beach Blanket Bingo,” complete with car racing, sky diving, musical acts and surfing. However, what sets “Beach Ball” apart from any of the other beach films is it’s fantastic music line-up which includes Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, the Righteous Brothers and The Supremes. While The Supremes sing the title song for “Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine,” this is their only beach film appearance. All of the beach films are pretty silly and a little tiresome at times, but they somehow are charming and suck you in. If you are looking for beach films outside of the American International Pictures films, give “Beach Ball” a try. It’s not award winning, but you will definitely hear some great music.

The undercover grant committee.

The undercover grant committee.

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