Col. Maggie Raye: A One Woman USO

martha rayeDuring world wars and conflicts, celebrity USO shows travel to military bases and overseas to raise morale for the men and women fighting for freedom.

One film star who is the most associated with entertaining troops is Bob Hope, who entertained during World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam. Hope would bring celebrities with him such as Ann-Margret or Connie Stevens to bring the familiarity of home to them in a foreign land.

But there is one star who isn’t mentioned as much for her morale raising service as Hope: Martha Raye.

Nicknamed Colonel Maggie by soldiers, Raye was so revered by veterans that she received special permission to be buried with the U.S. Army Special Forces cemetery on Fort Bragg Army base in North Carolina.

Martha Raye's headstone at Fort Bragg. I visited Raye's grave in December. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Martha Raye’s headstone at Fort Bragg. I visited Raye’s grave in December. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

World War II
Her patriotic endeavors began when she traveled overseas during World War II on Oct. 31, 1942. Raye traveled with actresses Carole Landis, Kay Francis and dancer Mitzi Mayfair to entertain troops in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and North Africa. The adventures of the four actresses was later written as a book by Carole Landis called “Four Jills in a Jeep” and was made into a musical film by 20th Century Fox.

Raye, known for her large mouth and jazzy songs, was the comic relief of the group. Landis was the sex appeal and Francis brought class and glamour.

While in England, the actresses only had one show canceled. When they arrived at a base, they learned half of the squadron’s bombardiers were lost that day. They ate with the men and helped toast to those who had died, according to “Take It from the Big Mouth: The Life of Martha Raye” by Jean Maddern Pitrone.

Martha Raye performing in Africa in 1943.

Martha Raye performing in Africa in 1943.

While traveling to North Africa in a B-17, two German planes began to attack. After the firing stopped, the actresses learned their tail gunner was killed, according to Pitrone.

When Landis, Francis and Mayfair returned to the states, Raye stayed behind to continue entertaining the troops. She helped carry wounded men, worked with medics, and traveled by jeep to the front lines; performing four shows. Each show was at least an hour and a half long, Pitrone wrote.

Conditions were rugged in Africa: Raye came down with yellow fever and lost 22 pounds, and then was in a trench for three days with 200 soldiers while Germans bombed the area, according to Pitrone.

“It was chummy,” Raye said in a May 15, 1943, United Press newspaper article, “Martha Raye Now a Captain.”

Raye returned home with a rank of honorary captain in March 1943 after four and a half months overseas.

Martha Raye with soldiers in Africa.

Martha Raye with soldiers in Africa.

“Their only complaint was that they didn’t get enough letters from home. That’s what they want most,” Raye told the newspapers, encouraging families to write, according to the United Press.

Her plan was to travel to the South Pacific, but doctors told her that she needed rest after her bought with yellow fever. Instead, she planned a six week American military base tour, which ended on the second day when she collapsed from fatigue. In 1944, she discovered she was unable to go on any USO tours, because she was pregnant, Pitrone said.

Korea and Vietnam
Raye traveled to Korea in the summer of 1952 to entertain troops, but it only lasted a few weeks due to illness.

Martha Raye in Vietnam in her signature Green Beret and combat boots.

Martha Raye in Vietnam in her signature Green Beret and combat boots.

She was most active during Vietnam; traveling overseas eight times from 1965 to 1972 for six month to a year per tour. She was in Vietnam so often that a blind soldier recognized her by her perfume.

“She spent more time in Vietnam than the average soldier. She virtually gave up her career, family and everything,” said Mildred Fortin, quoted in a July 6, 1993, Daily Gazette article, “Area veterans take on mission to honor Martha Raye.” Fortin was a Vietnam veteran and co-founder of Medals for Martha Raye, an organization that wanted Raye to receive the Medal of Freedom, the highest military recognition a civilian can receive.

Raye would go into risky areas for the soldiers, leaving the larger, safe bases and travel into the jungle to perform for as few as 25 soldiers, according to her 1994 obituary. In 1967, she was the first woman in the Green Berets with five qualified jumps, according to an Aug. 1, 1979, article by Vernon Scott.

“She came, regardless of danger,” said retired Master Sgt. Tom Squire in her obituary. “She talked, drank, told jokes, played cards. A lot of times when the regular Army didn’t know what was going on or understand, she would just go.”

In each base, she posted her home address and phone number, encouraging the soldiers to stay in touch. And when she would return home, she sent their letters to their family, called wives, and would tell reporters how the soldiers were discouraged and disillusioned by the lack of support they were receiving from Americans, according to Pitrone’s book.

“I think the way they’re being treated by a minority of idiots back home is just disgraceful,” Raye said in an Aug. 27, 1970, article before she went on her sixth tour. “What I do isn’t for sympathy or pity. It’s just trying to help in a small way. Our servicemen give so much and ask for so little.”

Martha Raye with soldiers in Vietnam.

Martha Raye with soldiers in Vietnam.

Along with singing and entertaining, Raye would help as a nurse. Raye told people she was became a registered nurse in 1936 and worked at a hospital while also acting at Paramount. However, it seems she never was a registered nurse but was once a nurses’ aid.

The soldiers thought so highly over her, they once threw her a birthday party. Fortin said Raye was the mother that the boys were missing- sister, girlfriend or nurse.

“We had no idea who would be coming to Ham Long on Christmas morning (1971),” said Army Col. John B. Haseman. “You can imagine our surprise and delight when this wonderful lady, clad in her trademark jungle fatigues and Green Beret jumped out of the helicopter… I will never forget what she did for us, and I know there are thousands of other soldiers who can tell you a similar story.”

During Vietnam, the Army made her an honorary member of the Green Berets’ Special Forces and she was given an honorary rank of Army Lt. Col. The Marines made her a full Colonel. In 1969, she was awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for her work with the military, and in 1993, she was recognized with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Even long after World War II or Vietnam, military personnel would check in with Raye. One World War II veteran who was with her in North Africa wrote into Ann Landers in 1991 asking if she was okay after seeing her in a wheelchair on TV.

“I was privileged to be Martha’s Jeep driver during the North African Campaign when she entertained the troops of the 2nd Armored Division,” he wrote. “She tripped while performing and hurt her ankle but refused to get it checked out by a doctor until she put on a show for 20,000 soldiers.”

At her Fort Bragg funeral in October 1994, the Honor Guard from the 7th Special Forces Group Airborne served as pallbearers, the 82nd Airborne Division band performed and 300 soldiers and civilians were there to honor her.

“She was Florence Nightingale and Dear Abby,” said Bob Hope. “And she was the only singer who could be heard over the artillery fire.”

Closer view of Raye's grave at Fort Bragg (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Closer view of Raye’s grave at Fort Bragg (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

Musical Monday: My Blue Heaven (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.

Poster - My Blue Heaven (1950)_01This week’s musical:
“My Blue Heaven” –Musical #274

Studio:
20th Century Fox

Director:
Henry Koster

Starring:
Betty Grable, Dan Dailey, David Wayne, Jane Wyatt, Mitzi Gaynor, Una Merkel, Louise Beavers, Elinor Donahue (uncredited)

Plot:
Married radio stars Kitty (Grable) and Jack (Dailey) Moran want to have a baby. After Kitty miscarries, the couple moves to television and tries to adopt a baby.

Trivia:
-Film debut of Mitzi Gaynor
-Third of four films of Dan Dailey and Betty Grable. The others were “Mother Wore Tights” (1947), “When My Baby Smiles at Me” (1948) and “Call Me Mister” (1951).
-Montage dancing shots of Dailey and Grable are numbers edited from “Mother Wore Tights” (1947).
-Ranked No. 10 in the top grossing films of 1950.
-Alternative title: “Stork Don’t Bring Babies”

Betty Grable and Dan Dailey in "My Blue Heaven."

Betty Grable and Dan Dailey in “My Blue Heaven.”

Highlights:
-Dan Dailey’s Enzio Pinza impersonation during the “Friendly Islands” number which is modeled after the “South Pacific.”
-“Don’t Rock the Boat, Dear” number.
-Mitzi Gaynor in her first feature role.

Notable Songs:
-“Don’t Rock the Boat, Dear” performed by Betty Grable and Dan Dailey
-“My Blue Heaven” performed by Betty Grable and Dan Dailey
-“I Love a New York” performed by Betty Grable and Dan Dailey

My Review:
“My Blue Heaven” is a sweet, adorable and emotional little musical.
Two performers learn they won’t be able to have children after having a miscarriage, and try to adopt. However, this is during a time that it was difficult for performers to adopt children, because they seemed unreliable due unconventional work schedules and were more apt to divorce.
While a 1950 New York Times review ripped this to shreds calling it old fashioned, mishmash, I enjoy “My Blue Heaven.”
In the old fashion of her other films, Betty Grable shows off her beautiful legs and sells a song better than anyone else can. However, it also gives both Grable and Dan Dailey the opportunity to give an emotionally charged performance.
Grable shows her elation of pregnancy, and her despair when she loses a baby and as she struggles to adopt a child.
Along with their performances in this film, Grable and Dailey also are an underrated screen team. Starring in four films together, their chemistry is always through the roof.
The topics in this film is also interesting for two reasons:

Mitzi Gaynor in "My Blue Heaven."

Mitzi Gaynor in “My Blue Heaven.”

-As shown in other films such as “Close to My Heart” (1951) and “Blossoms in the Dust” (1941), adopting or promoting adoption was taboo during this time, because parents wouldn’t know what sort of background these “foundlings” came from. However, “My Blue Heaven” doesn’t really focus on that aspect.
-The lead characters are television stars at a time that TV was a large threat to films (and still is).
It’s also fun to see Mitzi Gaynor in her first film role playing a not so savory woman.
My Blue Heaven is heartwarming; making me smile at one point and tear up at the next.

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Musical Monday: The Eddie Cantor Story (1953)

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.

eddieThis week’s musical:
“Eddie Cantor Story” –Musical #513

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
Alfred E. Green

Starring:
Keefe Brasselle, Marilyn Erskine, Aline MacMahon, Richard Monda (as young Eddie), Maria Windsor, William Forrest (as Flo Ziegfeld), Jackie Barnett (as Jimmy Durante), Ann Doran, Will Rogers, Jr. (as his father)

Plot:
Musical biopic of vaudeville star Eddie Cantor, whose career started as a child in 1907 and continued until his wife’s death in 1962. Cantor died in 1964. The film begins with Cantor (Brasselle) being raised by his grandmother (MacMahon) and how he gets into show business and makes good when everyone thought he would end up in jail. Cantor makes it big and ends up in the Ziegfeld Follies. Cantor marries his childhood friend Ida (Erskine) and the two have five daughters, but Ida feels Cantor neglects his family and his health for his career.

Keefe Brasselle as Eddie Cantor and Marilyn Erskine as Ida Cantor

Keefe Brasselle as Eddie Cantor and Marilyn Erskine as Ida Cantor in “The Eddie Cantor Story.”

Trivia:
-The real Eddie Cantor dubbed Keefe Brasselle’s singing. Similarly, Al Jolson’s voice dubbed Larry Parks in “The Jolson Story.”
-“The Cantor Story” was made in response to the success of the Warner Brothers film, “The Jolson Story” about vaudeville star Al Jolson. Critics didn’t care for the movie.
-Son of Will Rogers, Will Rogers, Jr., portrayed him during the Ziegfeld Follie scenes.
-Larry Parks was considered for the role of Eddie Cantor.
-Jimmy Durante was originally slated to play himself but had to bow out.

Highlights:
-The film opens with Eddie Cantor and his wife driving up to Warner Brothers to view the movie. The WB logo and credits begin after Eddie Cantor is seated to watch the film. We see Cantor and his wife Ida again at the close of the film.

Notable Songs:
-“If You Knew Susie”
-“Be My Little Baby Bumble Bee”
-“How ‘Ya Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?)”
-“Yes Sir! That’s My Baby”

An example of Brasselle’s Cantor Caricature:

My Review:
If you are looking for an hour and 55 minute caricature impression of Eddie Cantor, “The Eddie Cantor Story” is your movie.

Keefe Brasselle’s performance of the famed vaudeville and Ziegfeld Follies star is one long impression complete with eyes bugged out, clapping as he skips across the stage and goofy faces. He’s working so hard at the impression it looks like he is having a hard time getting his words out.

Our Musical Mondays have featured many, many musical biopics and several of them I have panned. But when this started film I thought it had potential. I love Aline MacMahon in 1930s films and it was good to see her again as young Cantor’s grandmother.

The real Ida and Eddie Cantor in the 1930s.

The real Ida and Eddie Cantor in the 1930s.

The film only got truly annoying to me when Cantor grew up. We first see Brasselle when he is lowering a towel after washing off his black-face make-up. And there was our first glimpse of our caricature, complete with lips practically puckered and eyes bulging.

“It’s like watching Darren York (or Dick Sergeant), trying to play Eddie Cantor,” Mom said, who was watching the movie with me. “I keep waiting for Samantha to come out and tell him to cut it out.”

At the very end of the film, the audience has a treat of seeing the real Eddie and Ida Cantor. Cantor says, “I never looked better in my life.” He has an incredulous look and the comment could be read as sarcastic; it is almost like a private joke between the real Eddie Cantor and the audience.
“He not only is talented but kind,” said the 1953 New York Times review about this remark.

It was like one big impression act, however, as we see Jackie Barnett playing Jimmie Durante with a big fake nose and his best gravely speaking voice. Will Rogers, Jr. portrayed his daddy but fine. After all, he had played his father in a film before.

Another complaint that the New York Times review, George Burns and Eddie Cantor all had is how much it white-washed his colorful life.
“Although it has been filmed in the pleasing hues of Technicolor and is weighted with the songs and shows he helped make famous, “The Eddie Cantor Story” is slightly less than a colorful illustration of the reasons for its hero’s greatness,” said the New York Times.

Eddie Cantor in the 1930s.

Eddie Cantor in the 1930s.

Eddie Cantor said, “If that was my life, I didn’t live.” In George Burns’ autobiography “All My Best Friends,” said Warner Brothers created a miracle by making Cantor’s life appear boring.

In all honesty, the best acting in the film was by Aline MacMahon, bringing an extra something special to the role.

My biggest complaint about this film was it’s lead. Brasselle’s constant mimicking grated on my nerves. But who else would play him? Ray Bolger who played him in “The Great Ziegfeld”? Maybe Eddie Cantor himself? Larry Parks was originally slated for the role, but I’m not sure that would have been very good, but potentially less annoying.

While the script made Cantor’s life appear rather bland, I do believe this film would have been much more enjoyable with a different Eddie Cantor in the lead.

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Mother’s Day with Comet’s Mama

Comet Over Hollywood is working to bring back our video feature. Our first video back from our lengthy hiatus is in celebration of Mother’s Day.

As I have written many, many times before, my parents have been influential in my classic film love. In this video, my mother speaks to her love of classic films and how she passed that love to her children:

Mother’s Day from the Comet Archives:
-2013: Without Mom, I’d Never See Any Classic Films
-2014: Just Like Mom 

Happy Mother’s Day!

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

From Citizen Kane to Paul Masson: Orson Welles the constant perfectionist

Orson Welles in 1938 on CBS radio

Orson Welles in 1938 on CBS radio

Orson Welles was a media renaissance man.

As an actor, director, writer and producer, he experimented with several entertainment art forms. His work such as making the United States believe they were under alien attack to making a critical film about one of the most powerful men in America made Welles a controversial figure.

From acting on the radio, stage and films which included Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil, The Third Man and The Lady from Shanghai, Welles gained the reputation for being eccentric and difficult to work with.

In order to continue funding his projects, Welles had to take on lower brow jobs, including the Paul Masson wine commercials he is famously and humorously known for.

While there are hilarious anecdotes and outtakes came from these commercials, it’s not surprising that someone so immersed in all forms of arts and entertainment would be argumentative about comparing cheap wine to the text of “Gone with the Wind.”

Because he was involved in so many high level productions,he had a high standard of other media, down to the script for Paul Masson wine commercials and the text for a frozen peas advertisement.

Welles wasn’t cynical about doing the advertisements; he was reworking the text as he did with advertisements in the 1930s to help improve it, according to “What Ever Happened to Orson Welles?” by Joseph McBride.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Welles promoted Pan American Airlines and Lady Esther cosmetics on the radio.

Welles in a printed Paul Masson advertisement.

Welles in a printed Paul Masson advertisement.

Starting in 1978, Welles was hired as the Paul Masson spokesman. Masson later dropped him from the ads. “My Lunches with Orson” by Peter Biskind’s sites the reason for Welles telling a talk show host that he lost weight because he cut out snacks and wine.

“I’ve worked for advertising agencies all my life,” Welles is quoted in Biskind’s book. “In the old days in radio, you worked for them, because they were the boss, not the network. And I have never seen more seedier, about-to-be-fired sad sacks than were responsible for those Paul Masson ads. The agency hated me, because I kept trying to improve the copy.”

Paul Masson’s slogan at the time was “Paul Masson, we sell no wine before its time.” Each add compared the wine to a higher art form that also took several years to create, such as a Beethoven symphony.

In one such instance, a commercial was comparing Masson to a Stradivarius violin, which took three years to carve.

“Come on gentleman,” Welles is quoted in “Orson Welles: A Biography,” by Barbara Learning. “You have a nice, pleasant cheap little wine here. You haven’t got the presumption to compare it to a Stradivarius violin.”

In a famous incident, Welles was hired by Findus Frozen Food in 1970 and was recording a voiceover for a frozen peas ad. During the recording, Welles argued about the text, lost his temper and finally walked out (Read the transcript below). However, though Welles sounds like a prima dona in the session, the technicians said he was very kind to them during the recording, according to “VO: Tales and Techniques of a Voice Over Actor” by Harlan Hogan.

Welles didn’t just try to change the text, but he also sent instructions on how he would like to be photographed. He arrived for a Masson commercial shoot with his makeup already applied on his own.

He also sent instructions to the cameramen: he liked the brooding look he had when the camera was positioned slightly above his eyes so he had to look up a bit at it, and he liked the hard light three-quarters on the left side, according to Learning’s book.

While this sounds like star behavior, his requests aren’t surprising since he is familiar with filming and lighting. However, the camera men would have Welles’ requests set up for when he arrived. Once he was satisfied, the director would quietly change it to how he wanted it, according to Learning’s book.

Through the years, these advertisements have made Welles the butt of jokes and were the lighter, more humorous side of his career. As the constant professional and perfectionist, Welles viewed the piddly commercials the same as he would one of his own films: he wanted it to be well made. Welles didn’t want to appear out of character with the persona that he had crafted since the 1930s.

Transcript of the frozen peas ads (Source: VO by Harlan Hogan):

Orson Welles: “We know a remote farm in Lincolnshire, where Mrs. Buckley lives. Every July, peas grow there.” Do you really mean that?

Director 1: Uh, yes, so in other words, I—I—I’d start half a second later.

Welles: Don’t you think you really want to say “July” over the snow? Isn’t that the fun of it?

D 1: It’s—if—if you can (laughs) if you can make it almost when that shot disappears, it’ll make more—

Welles: I think it’s so nice that—that you see a snow-covered field and say “every July peas grow there”. “We know a remote farm in Lincolnshire, where Mrs. Buckley lives. Every July, peas grow there.” We aren’t even in the fields, you see? (pause) We’re talking about them growing and she’s picked them. (clears throat) What?

D 1: …in July.

Welles: I don’t understand you, then. When must—what must be over for “July”?

D 1: Uh, when we get out of that snowy field—

Welles: Well, I was out! We were onto a can of peas, a big dish of peas when I said “in July”.

D 1: Oh, I’m sorry, Orson.

Welles: Yes, always. I’m always—past that!

D 1: You are?

Welles: Yes! Wh—that’s about where I say “in July”.

Director 2: Can you emphasize a bit “in”? “In July.”

Welles: Why? That doesn’t make any sense. Sorry. There’s no known way of saying an English sentence in which you begin a sentence with “in” and emphasize it. Get me a jury and show me how you can say “in July” and I’ll go down on you. That’s just idiotic, if you’ll forgive me by saying so.

D 2: (indistinct chatter)

Welles: That’s just stupid. “In July”? I’d love to know how you emphasize “in” in “in July”. Impossible! Meaningless!

D 1: I think all they were thinking about was that they didn’t want to—

Welles: He isn’t thinking.

D 1: Orson, can we just do one last time—

Welles: Yeah.

D 1: …and it was my fault. I should—I said “in July”. If you could leave “every July”—

Welles: You didn’t say it. He said it.

D 1: …I said “every July”.

Welles: Your friend. “Every July”?

D 1: …so after this shot…

Welles: No, you don’t really mean “every July”?

D 1: …it is, but it’s…

Welles: But that’s—that’s bad copy. It’s in July. Of course it’s every July! There’s too much directing around here.

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Musical Monday: Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956)

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:
“Meet Me In Las Vegas” – Musical #151

UP_MEET_ME_IN_LAS_VEGAS_MOV

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Roy Rowland

Starring:
Dan Dailey, Cyd Charisse, Agnes Moorehead, Paul Henreid, Lili Darvus, Jim Backus, George Chakiris, Betty Lynn, Sammy Davis Jr. (voice only), Robert Fuller (uncredited)
As themselves: Lena Horne, Frankie Laine, Pier Angeli, Vic Damone, Debbie Reynolds, Peter Lorre, Tony Martin, Dewey Martin, The Four Aces, Steve Forrest, Jeff Richards, Frank Sinatra, Elaine Stewart, Jerry Colonna

Plot:
Ballet dancer Maria Corvier (Charisse) is performing at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. Gambling rancher Chuck Rodwell (Dailey) makes his yearly visit to Las Vegas and is notorious for poor luck with gambling. Chuck finds that he has consitent luck winning big every time he holds Maria’s hand.

Trivia:
-Composers George Stoll and Johnny Green were Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.
-Filmed in Las Vegas.

Highlights:
-Cameos by Lena Horne, Frankie Laine, Pier Angeli, Vic Damone, Debbie Reynolds, Peter Lorre, Tony Martin, Dewey Martin, Steve Forrest, Jeff Richards, Frank Sinatra, Elaine Stewart, Jerry Colonna
-The “Frankie and Johnny” dance number narrated by Sammy Davis, Jr.
-Dan Dailey dancing and singing with Mitsuko

Notable Songs:
-“Frankie and Johnny” sung by Sammy Davis Jr.
-“The Girl with the Yaller Shoes” sung by Dan Dailey
-“If You Can Dream” sung by Lena Horne
-“My Lucky Charm” sung by Dan Dailey and Mitsuko Sawamura; also performed by Jerry Colonna

My Review:
“Meet Me in Las Vegas” has a simple and nonsensical plot: holding the hand brings good luck while gambling.
But while the plot is silly and simple, this is a charming musical, and the cast has a lot to do with that.
Cyd Charisse is stunning with beautiful clothes and impressive dances, as always, and Dan Dailey always feels like an old friend in his films.
As an added bonus you get 13 cameos from other MGM players throughout the film from Charisse’s husband Tony Martin to actress Debbie Reynolds.
While the songs aren’t terribly memorable, the dancing is outstanding. Charisse has the opportunity to exhibit both her classical ballet style with Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty Ballet and her modern dance with the “Frankie and Johnny” number.
This brightly colored Technicolor musical is one that keeps me smiling throughout.

Cyd Charisse and Dan Dailey in "Meet Me in Las Vegas" (1956).

Cyd Charisse and Dan Dailey in “Meet Me in Las Vegas” (1956).

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

Musical Monday: For Me and My Gal (1942)

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:
“For Me and My Gal” –Musical #10

Poster - For Me and My Gal_03

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Busby Berkeley

Starring:
Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, George Murphy, Ben Blue, Richard Quine, Mártha Eggerth, Keenan Wynn (uncredited)

Plot:
Set in 1916 right before the United States entered World War I, the film follows vaudeville team Jo Hayden (Garland) and Jimmy Metcalf (Murphy). While traveling, Jo and Jimmy meet self-centered Harry Palmer (Kelly), who is looking for any way to reach the top. Jo falls for Harry and leaves Jimmy to start an act with Harry. Right before Jo and Harry are going to hit the big time, Harry is drafted into World War I. Harry takes extreme measures to stay out of the military and risks his relationship with Jo at the same time.

Judy Garland and George Murphy in the

Judy Garland and George Murphy in the “Oh, You Beautiful Doll” number in “For Me and My Gal.”

Trivia:
-Gene Kelly’s first film.
-The first time Judy Garland’s name was listed above the title, according to Judy: A Legendary Film Career by John Fricke
-“For Me and My Gal” is loosely based on Kelly’s character, the vaudeville performer Harry Palmer, who did become form a team and become engaged to performer Jo Hayden.
-The title was originally “The Big Time” and then “Applause” with hopes a title song would be written by Arthur Freed, according to DVD commentary by Judy Garland historian John Fricke.
-The script was written with Judy Garland in mind and George Murphy originally was going to have Gene Kelly’s role. When Murphy lost the role, he said it was one of the greatest disappointments of his life, according to Fricke.
-Eleanor Powell and Dan Dailey were originally slated in the cast. There were going to be two female roles (a dancer and a singer), but it was combined into Judy’s role, according to Fricke.

Notable Songs:
-“For Me and My Gal” performed by Judy Garland and Gene Kelly
-“Oh, You Beautiful Doll” performed by George Murphy
-“After You’re Gone” performed by Judy Garland
-“Ballin’ the Jack” performed by Judy Garland and Gene Kelly

My Review:
“For Me and My Gal” is a fun film with a plot that revolves around the art form of vaudeville, which was popular in nostalgia movie musicals in the 1930s and 1940s. The introduction to the film says it is “fondly dedicated” to the vaudeville performers who traveled from town to town and lived out of trunks.

Set in 1916, this musical was released in October 1942, right after the United States entered World War II. Production planning started for this film in 1940.

“For Me and My Gal” has catchy songs, great costuming and a compelling story line. But for me, the film is more interesting for two major reasons: This is the first truly adult role for Judy Garland.

Audiences were able to see Garland as a sophisticated young woman with an adult romantic lead and complex dance numbers. She wasn’t playing second fiddle to Rooney’s antics, which sometimes happened in her previous films, and her singing and dancing talents are further showcased.

Gene Kelly, Judy Garland and George Murphy in a publicity still for

Gene Kelly, Judy Garland and George Murphy in a publicity still for “For Me and My Gal.”

Before this film, Garland was primarily in child or teenager roles. Garland’s role in “Little Nelly Kelly” before “For Me and My Gal” also gave her the opportunity to play an adult role. However, it was a dual role- she was an adult who marries George Murphy and then Murphy’s child. It wasn’t quite the same as the woman she plays in “For Me and My Gal,” and part of the film kept her a child.

The second notable fact about this film is that it’s Gene Kelly’s first film role. Fresh from Broadway playing “Pal Joey,” studio heads were uncertain how Kelly would photograph, but Garland fought for him to be in the film.

A fact new to me is that “For Me and My Gal” is loosely based on Kelly’s character, the vaudeville performer Harry Palmer, who did become form a team and become engaged to performer Jo Hayden. The film closely follows Palmer and Hayden’s relationship with some changes. In real life, Hayden had a friend named Danny Metcalf who was killed in action. In the film, Danny Metcalf was split into two people- Jo’s brother Danny who is killed and her friend Jimmy Metcalf, played by George Murphy. Hayden and Palmer married in 1919 and Palmer died in 1962.

“For Me and My Gal” is an entertaining MGM musical that allows you to watch two Garland grow and Kelly start an impressive career. My only complaint is there isn’t enough George Murphy. Otherwise, it’s a ton of fun.

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Musical Monday: Navy Blues (1941)

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:
“Navy Blues –Musical #512

navy blues2

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
Lloyd Bacon

Starring:
Ann Sheridan, Martha Raye, Jack Oakie, Jack Haley, Herbert Anderson, Jack Carson, Jackie Gleason, John Ridgley, Georgia Carroll (uncredited), Leslie Brooks (uncredited), William Hopper (uncredited), Gig Young (uncredited)

Plot:
Cake and Powerhouse (Oakie, Haley) are two Navy seamen on leave in Hawaii and are trying to borrow money to pay their way for fun. They meet prize gunner Homer Matthews (Anderson), who is being transferred to their ship. Their meeting with Matthews sparks an idea to earn more money. They want to enter Homer into the gunner competition to win the trophy for their trip and start taking bets on his abilities with the rest of their shipmates. The only problem is Homer will only be on their ship for a few days before he is discharged from the Navy, leaving before the gunnery competition. Cake and Powerhouse now work to keep Homer from leaving the Navy, but Homer is eager to return to his pig farm in Iowa. They enlist the help of night club performers Marge (Sheridan) and Lilibelle (Martha.)

Jack Haley, Herb Anderson and Jack Oakie in "Navy Blues."

Jack Haley, Herb Anderson and Jack Oakie in “Navy Blues.”

Trivia:
-The first musical comedy to come from Warner Brothers in four years, according to a January 1941 column by Louella Parsons.
-Eddie Albert was orignally slated for the film, according to the January 1941 Parsons article.
-Intro: “Honolulu where Aloha means goodbye and Shore Leave means trouble.”
-Jackie Gleason’s film debut.

Highlights:
-Georgia Carroll performing as a chorus girl
-Ann Sheridan singing
-Herbert Anderson calling pigs

Notable Songs:
-“Navy Blues” performed by Ann Sheridan and Martha Raye
-“In Waikiki” performed by Ann Sheridan and chorus
-“You’re a Natural”performed by Herb Anderson and Ann Sheridan

Martha Raye and Ann Sheridan at the beginning of "Navy Blues." Unfortunately, neither has enough screen time for my liking.

Martha Raye and Ann Sheridan at the beginning of “Navy Blues.” Unfortunately, neither has enough screen time for my liking.

My Review:
The New York Times review, published on Sept. 21, 1941, hit the nail on the head in their review saying, “Oakie and Haley working harder for laughs than a bum vaudeville team in Omaha” and that the script is full of corn.
When I watched this movie looking for an Ann Sheridan vehicle. Sheridan was in a few musicals and I love to hear her deep singing voice. However, if you are looking for a film with a lot of Ann time, don’t look to “Navy Blues.”
The film opens with Sheridan singing “Navy Blues,” looking beautiful in an adorable sailor style costume…but the film goes downhill from there.
The film is centered around the crazy, frantic antics of Jack Haley and Jack Oakie as they do con their friends and will do anything to earn a buck. Our leading ladies Ann Sheridan and Martha Raye have very little screen time in this hour and 48 minute movie.
The antics revolve around getting Herb Anderson’s character to stay in the Navy. One of the biggest highlights of this film for me was seeing Anderson (or Dennis the Menace’s dad, as my family frequently calls him) in a larger role. Before his TV dad fame, Anderson was a film character actor. His character actor roles were usually smaller than other character actors such as James Gleason or William Frawley.
We even have the opportunity to hear Anderson sing. He’s just always someone I enjoy seeing on screen. His demeanor and turtle-like look makes me smile.

Ann Sheridan and Herb Anderson in "Navy Blues."

Ann Sheridan and Herb Anderson in “Navy Blues.”

It was also a great surprise to see lovely Georgia Carroll appear in this film, singing as one of the Navy Blues Sextette Members. Carroll was the singer for band leader Kay Kyser’s band and the two later married. I believe I even shouted “That’s Georgia Carroll!” when she appeared on screen.
“Navy Blues” isn’t the worst musical I have ever seen, it’s simply that Oakie and Haley’s corn got tiresome when all I wanted was to see more Ann Sheridan.

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Actress Beauty Tip #35: Youth Dew Perfume- An Actress Favorite

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

Youth Dew advertisement by Estee Lauder

Youth Dew advertisement by Estee Lauder

Youth Dew was an instant success from the time it was released in 1953.

Created by Estee Lauder as a bath oil that could double as a perfume and sold for $5, the scent was blend of rose, jasmine, vetiver and patchouli, according to Estee Lauder cosmetics.

The perfume was also popular with Hollywood actresses including Gloria Swanson, Joan Crawford and Dolores Del Rio.

Swanson was a collector and life-long lover of perfume. The Turner Classic Movies documentary “Movies and Moguls” said Gloria Swanson spent $500 per month on perfume in the 1920s.  A 1924 report said she spent $6,000 alone that year on perfume, according to “Gloria Swanson: The Ultimate Star” by Stephen Michael Shearer. One of Swanson’s favorite scenes included Caron’s Narcisse Noir.

Del Rio was also a perfume collector with fragrances such as Parfum des Champs Elysees by Guerlain, Jungla by Myrurgia, Secret de la Perle by Pleville, La Jacee by Coty, Sans Adieu by Worth and Les Lys by D’Orsay.

Joan Crawford throwing rice with new husband Alfred Steele. Crawford said Youth Dew helped her attract him.

Joan Crawford throwing rice with new husband Alfred Steele. Crawford said Youth Dew helped her attract him.

A few of Crawford’s favorite perfumes included Jungle Gardenia, Spanish Geranium by Lanvin and she also enjoyed the men’s cologne, Royall Lyme.

But one favorite all three women shared was Estee Lauder’s Youth Dew.

Actress Gloria Swanson in 1956. Collector of perfume, she said she frequently wore Youth Dew.

Actress Gloria Swanson in 1956. Collector of perfume, she said she frequently wore Youth Dew.

Crawford claimed she attracted her fourth husband, Pepsi CEO Alfred Steele, with the scent. Supposedly Steele whispered in her ear while they were dancing, “I can’t stop dancing with you. You smell so exquisite,” according to the book “America’s Obsessives” by Joshua Kendall.

Swanson frequently told reporters she wore the scent, and Del Rio said she brushed Youth Dew into her hair, saying it was the secret to drive men mad, according to the book “Estee Lauder: Business Woman and Cosmetic Pioneer” by Robert Grayson.

Youth Dew has a strong, heavy, powdery and rather musky scent. It’s a smell that most people now seem to categorize as old fashioned or even grandmotherly.

Dolores Del Rio in 1955. Del Rio said she brushed the perfume in her hair to "drive men mad."

Dolores Del Rio in 1955. Del Rio said she brushed the perfume in her hair to “drive men mad.”

When I read about classic actress perfumes, I always hope for the best and take a great leap of faith when purchasing them without smelling them first. That stands true for Youth Dew, as well as perfumes worn by Audrey Hepburn, Jean Harlow and created by Elizabeth Taylor. You do feel glamorous while wearing a perfume you know was your favorite actress’s signature scent (except for Taylor’s. It’s truly terrible). However, most of these perfumes that have a long history seem to have this same powdery, over powering smell.

I prefer lighter scents, which are more en vogue today. For example, some of my personal favorite scents include Estee Lauder’s Sensuous and Dolce Gabbana’s Light Blue. The heaviest scents I own are Chanel Mademoiselle and Escada Magnetism.

While I don’t think Youth Dew is putrid, it’s so strong that it did clog my sinuses. While visiting my parents, my mother was trying to get a good whiff of the perfume and sprayed the perfume once in the kitchen. The room instantly was filled with the smell and it stuck around for the rest of the evening.

“My sinuses are shutting down! I feel sick,” Mom said.

My bottle of Youth Dew (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

My bottle of Youth Dew (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Though I warned her not to spray it, she said she was helping with my blog research. Shortly after, my dad got home.

“It smells terrible. What have you been up to,” Dad said.

To Review: Youth Dew is clearly not a fan favorite with my parents. While I didn’t hate the smell, it definitely is fairly overpowering. I’m not sure this is something I could wear all through the work day without ending up with itchy eyes and a headache.

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Yul Brynner spearheaded cancer awareness, prevention

Yul Brynner (1)Known for his mysterious, intense looks and bald head, actor Yul Brynner is famous for his film roles in “The Magnificent Seven,” “Anastasia,” “The Ten Commandments” and “The King and I” as the King of Siam.

But Brynner also played a role in cancer awareness. This week is Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week (April 12-18, 2015); an event that Brynner’s own illness helped play a role in.

Brynner and oncologist George Sisson, MD, formed the Yul Brynner Head and Neck Cancer Foundation in 1984 in Chicago. Renamed in 2001 as the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance and based in Charleston, SC, the organization’s mission continues to be educating people on the side effects of tobacco and its connection to cancers of the head, neck and mouth.

While the King of Siam is one of the roles Brynner is best known for, it was also one of his favorites. Aside from the 1956 film version, Brynner performed the role on stage 4,625 times up until three months before his death in 1985, according to his Los Angeles Times obituary.

OHANCAW_logoBrynner began reprising the role of the King in 1977. He first appeared on stage in the role in 1951. His daughter Victoria called his returning to Broadway for “The King and I” a “God send,” in the documentary “The Hollywood Collection: Yul Brynner- The Man Who Was King,” because he hadn’t been in a good place in his career.

“He was getting to play again a role that had been his for years,” Victoria said.

In 1983, while Brynner was still playing the King, he learned he had lung cancer. One source, the Encyclopedia of Cancer and Society by Graham Colditz, said Brynner saw a doctor because his throat felt hoarse and that is how he was connected with Sisson. The 2006 biography “Yul Brynner” by Michelangelo Capua said Brynner found a lump on his neck while putting on his makeup. Brynner was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer in September 1983 by three oncologists.

Brynner tried to keep his illness quiet from the public; only telling close friends and family members, according to Capua’s book. Brynner started smoking as a kid and smoked five packs of cigarettes a day, according to his Los Angeles Times obituary.

“I recall very clearly the night that he called me. He said, ‘I don’t have very good news and that he had three months to live,’” Victoria said. “From then on it was a battle to defy this disease. He kept on doing the King and I. It gave him structure: something to do every day, something to fight for. It gave him two and a half years that we really hadn’t hoped for.”

Brynner underwent radiation treatment, because the side effects were less severe than chemotherapy, according to Capua’s biography.

“Having been ill has opened my eyes suddenly to the fact that, the gypsies have a wonderful phrase for it: ‘Your future is getting shorter.’ There are things I want to do beyond sharpening and honing this role further,” Brynner said in a 1984 New York Times interview. “At the same time, the illness has changed the King for me. Some lines come as a surprise suddenly: ‘Every day, my Lord in heaven show the way’ and ‘Every day I try to live for one more day.’ This describes completely how I do the show and how I survived the illness.”

Yul Brynner during the 1985 "King and I" revival.

Yul Brynner during the 1985 “King and I” revival.

While still performing, the play was renamed “The King and I: Farewell Tour,” and Brynner would visit cancer patients in hospitals. He spoke with a 10-year-old boy who was bald due to his radiation therapy, and told the child, “See, I’m a star and I’m bald. It’s not so bad being bald,” according to Capua’s biography.

Brynner’s last performance in the “King and I” was June 30, 1985.

Before his death, Brynner was interviewed on Good Morning America (GMA) where he told the reporter that he wanted to film a commercial before his death warning people about the dangers of smoking. Part of this interview was edited into a PSA for the American Cancer Foundation.

“If I could take back that smoking, we wouldn’t be talking about any cancer,” Brynner said on GMA. “I smoked a lot since I was a kid just to appear macho, because I didn’t have brains enough. Something else makes you macho. I really wanted to make a commercial when I realized I was so sick.”

The commercial aired posthumously.

“Now that I’m gone, I tell you: Don’t smoke, whatever you do, just don’t smoke,” Brynner said.

He died on Oct. 10, 1985, at age 65 at New York Hospital- Cornell Medical Center.

“There was an idea that you go to bed not knowing if you have a tomorrow and you must be thankful for every tomorrow and make the most of it,” Brynner told the New York Times in 1984. “I couldn’t see myself going to bed and waiting to see what would happen with my illness. I preferred to play to 2,000 or 3,000 people and standing ovations. The choice is quite simple.”

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