The Queen of Technicolor, in person: Maureen O’Hara

Irish actress Maureen O'Hara, pictured here in the 1950s.

Irish actress Maureen O’Hara, pictured here in the 1950s.

Hundreds of people stood waiting, excitedly chattering.

A line wrapped up and down an alley at least four times and stretched out to Hollywood Boulevard.

When the doors to El Capitan Theater opened, people walked briskly, some even running, to get a good seat in the theater.

I waited in line for 2 hours and was the twentieth person in line.

The excitement was for a 93-year-old woman.

But not any woman, Irish screen legend Maureen O’Hara.

At this past April’s Turner Classic Movie (TCM) Film Festival in Los Angeles, O’Hara made a special appearance before a screening of “How Green Was My Valley” (1941).

TCM is now honoring the Irish actress as July’s Star of the Month.

Red-headed O’Hara started her film career in 1938, starred in several films directed by John Ford and was John Wayne’s most frequent leading lady.

Her red hair and green eyes dubbed O’Hara with the nickname “Queen of Technicolor.” Her film roles varied from serious dramas, swashbuckling pirate films to westerns.

In “How Green Was My Valley” (1941), the story of a Welsh mining family, O’Hara played Angharad. O’Hara’s character falls in love with the new minister, played by Walter Pidgeon.

Before the screening of O’Hara’s first John Ford film at TCMFF 2014, she was brought out onstage to discuss her life and career.

The line to see Maureen O'Hara outside the El Capitan theater in Los Angeles.

The line to see Maureen O’Hara outside the El Capitan theater in Los Angeles.

The audience exploded with applause and O’Hara was given a lengthy standing ovation. Several people around me were wiping tears from their eyes.

 

She modestly motioned from her wheel chair for everyone to sit down.

“I see a tear there,” said TCM primetime host Robert Osborne to O’Hara on stage.

Osborne interviewed O’Hara before the film, but kept it to 10 minutes so he would not tire her out. She was interviewed the next day in the Roosevelt Hotel lobby. The lobby of the historic hotel is transformed into “Club TCM” during the festival.

“Don’t laugh and applaud and think it means nothing,” she told the audience.

Osborne first asked about her relationship with director John Ford.

“I thought I was here to talk about me,” she said with quick wit.

Her mind was sharp and her voice sounded the same, just older. However, it was obvious O’Hara was weak in her old age. The classic actress turns 94 in August.

“I’m still here, I’m at quite an old age now,” O’Hara said. “It’s terrible thing, not to be sure of your age.”

O’Hara discussed God and religion and hoping she was able to live way beyond the years God gave us on Earth.

Maureen O'Hara interviewed by Robert Osborne at the El Capitan during the TCMFF 2014.

Maureen O’Hara interviewed by Robert Osborne at the El Capitan during the TCMFF 2014.

“So many of us (classic actors) have passed and are in heaven, and so many of us are looking towards heaven,” O’Hara said.

She said God is listening all the time and listening to see if he can catch you doing something you aren’t supposed to be doing.

During the interview a woman coughed or sneezed in the crowed and she asked her to stand. The embarrassed woman stood up and O’Hara simply wanted to bless her.

Though O’Hara is elderly, as film fans, we sometimes don’t think about the age of our favorite stars or silver screen heroes. We know them as they are in their films and forget just how old or frail they may be. It was a privilege to see O’Hara and some of the other classic stars in person at TCMFF. But also it was almost a little sad. It’s another reminder that the classic film lover’s reality actually fantasy.

And O’Hara reminded us of this when she told the audience that even though she was an actress, we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking she is magical.

“Don’t be fooled in to thinking I do magical things,” she said.

Though O’Hara says she doesn’t do magical things, the ethereal feeling she gives her fans when she appears on screen is nothing less than enchanted.

Robert Osborne and Maureen O'Hara (Photo courtest of Getty)

Robert Osborne and Maureen O’Hara (Photo courtest of Getty)

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Musical Monday: Down Argentine Way (1940)

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 - Down Argentine Way_01This week’s musical:
Down Argentine Way” — Musical #273

Studio:
20th Century Fox

Director:
Irving Cummings

Starring:
Betty Grable, Don Ameche, Charlotte Greenwood, J. Carroll Naish, Carmen Miranda (as herself), Henry Stephenson, Leonid Kinskey, Fayard and Harold Nicholas (as themselves)

Plot:
Ricardo Quintana (Ameche) travels from his home in Argentina to New York to sell his prized race horse. His father (Stephenson) tells him not to sell his horse to any relative of Binnie Crawford (Greenwood), who’s brother cheated him and the two have been in a feud ever since. In New York, Ricardo meets Glenda Crawford (Grable) and falls for her. She also wants to buy his horse, unaware of the feud. When he learns who she is, he takes back his agreement to let her buy the horse. Glenda angrily follows Ricardo to Argentina.

Trivia:
-Remake of the 1938 film, “Kentucky” starring Loretta Young, Richard Greene and Walter Brennan. “Kentucky” is set in the American south and also deals with horse racing. Young and Greene’s families are feuding, because of an incident that occurred during the Civil War.

-Originally supposed to star Alice Faye, who had to drop out. Caesar Romero was supposed to play Leonid Kinskey’s role. The film ended up being a break through film for Betty Grable, who had been in films since the early 1930s, according to Hollywood Musicals Year by Year.

-First screen appearance of Carmen Miranda. Her scenes were shot in New York at the Movetone studio in Manhattan and edited into the Hollywood film, so her only film appearances are two songs and no dialogue with the characters. Miranda was performing on Broadway in “The Streets of Paris.” She made an impression on audiences and was signed to 20th Century Fox, according to Memo from Darryl F. Zannuck.

-Film gossip columnist Louella Parsons compared Don Ameche to Rudolph Valentino in this movie. She said he “has a good singing voice, but he has never been the least exciting until this movie,” she said in a Oct. 6, 1940, column.

-Don Ameche’s role was originally offered to Desi Arnaz, according to Life on the Hyphen: The Cuban-American Way by Gustavo Pérez Firmat

-Director Irving Cummings originally wanted to cut the Nicholas Brother’s three minute tap dance scene, according to Brotherhood in Rythm: The Jazz Tap Dancing of the Nicholas Brothers by Constance Valis Hill.

Highlights:
-The Nicholas Brother’s tap dance performance.

-Carmen Miranda’s first screen appearance.

Notable Songs:
-”Down Argentine Way” sung by Betty Grable
-”Two Dreams Met” sung by Betty Grable and Don Ameche
-”Mamãe Yo Quero” sung by Carmen Miranda
-”South American Way” sung by Carmen Miranda

Betty Grable and Don Ameche in "Down Argentine Way"

Betty Grable and Don Ameche in “Down Argentine Way”

My Review:
“Down Argentine Way” may be looked upon as another colorful, fluffy Technicolor musical. But it’s an important step in two of the star’s careers and in Hollywood’s involvement with American foreign relations.
Catapulting star careers
Betty Grable, known for her “Million Dollar Legs,” started in films in bit roles in 1929. From 1929 through the late 1930s, she appeared as chorus girls-even in Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers films. “Down Argentine Way” was her first major Technicolor film, showcasing her beauty and musical talents. After this film, she became one of 20th Century Fox’s top stars.
Carmen Miranda arrived in New York via Brazil in May 1939 and started in Broadway in June 1939. “Down Argentine Way” was released in October 1940, only a little over a year from the time she arrived in the United States. Her brief appearance in the film, launched an American career, primarily from 1940 to 1945, and dubbing her the Brazilian Bombshell.
Foreign policy
Now it’s time for a brief history lesson thanks to my South American History and Policy class at Winthrop University. (I even semi led a Carmen Miranda discussion in the class):
During the President F. D. Roosevelt administration in 1933, FDR said (in a nutshell) that he wanted to be a good neighbor to other nations. The Secretary of State said no country had the right to intervene in internal or external affairs of another country. The United States had troops in South America in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Due to the Good Neighbor Policy, the United States withdrew Marines who were occupying Haiti and Nicaragua.
To promote these neighborly relations, the United States worked to promote Latin America in culture. You can see the cultural impacts in films like “Down Argentine Way,” “That Night in Rio” or “Week-End in Havana.” Fashion was affected with espadrille shoes, fiesta blouses and peasant blouses. Music had a South American influence with bandleaders such as Xavier Cugat.
What does this have to do with movies? “Down Argentine Way” was one of the first Hollywood films that promoted the Good Neighbor Policy- showcasing the beautiful countries (via soundstage) and how wonderful and romantic the culture is.
“Down Argentine Way” isn’t the best film of Betty Grable, Carmen Miranda or Don Ameche. But it’s fun and beautifully colorful. The story is simple but it is important in the careers of a few Hollywood favorites.

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Musical Monday: “Thousands Cheer” (1943)

t’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.

thousands cheer posterThis week’s musical:
“Thousands Cheer” — Musical #188

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
George Sidney

Starring:
Kathryn Grayson, Gene Kelly, Mary Astor, John Boles, Ben Blue, Odette Myrtil (uncredited), Henry O’Neill (uncredited), Frances Rafferty (uncredited), Mary Elliot (uncredited)

As themselves: Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, June Allyson, Gloria DeHaven, Red Skelton, Eleanor Powell, Ann Sothern, Lucille Ball, Virginia O’Brien, Jose Iturbi, Frank Morgan, Lena Horne, Marsha Hunt, Marilyn Maxwell, Donna Reed, Margaret O’Brien, Kay Kyser, Georgia Carroll, Bob Crosby, Cyd Charisse, Sara Haden

Band leaders: Kay Kyser and his band, Bob Crosby and his orchestra.

Plot:
Opera singing Kathryn Jones (Grayson) leaves her mother (Astor) to live on base with her military father (Boles), who is a colonel. Kathryn is also hoping to convince her divorced parents to reconcile. While on base, Kathryn hopes to build morale on the military base before the men are shipped off to fight in World War II. She meets former acrobat Pvt. Eddie Marsh (Kelly), who is not cooperative and isn’t pleased with being in Army. He hopes to transfer to the Army Air Corp, until the two end up falling in love.
The plot is a backdrop to a lavish military show Kathryn helps organize filled with comedic skits and music put on by MGM’s top contract players.

Trivia:

-Eleanor Powell’s first color film. Powell’s contract was not renewed with MGM after this film, according to “A to Z of American Women of Performing Arts” by Liz Sonnebon.

-Fifth role for Cyd Charisse and it is uncredited. After several small roles, Charisse was signed to MGM in 1946, according to Sonnebon’s book.

-Fourth film role for Gene Kelly.

Gene Kelly and Kathryn Grayson in a publicity photo for "Thousands Cheer"

Gene Kelly and Kathryn Grayson in a publicity photo for “Thousands Cheer”

-First film for concert pianist Jose Iturbi. Iturbi is one of many classically trained musicians that MGM studio head L.B. Mayer signed on to give the studio class.

-Ranks number 29 in MGM’s top grossing musicals. “Thousands Cheer” made $3,500,000 in the box office, according to “The Rough Guide to Musicals” by David Parkinson.

Highlights:

-Jose Iturbi. I enjoy seeing him in any film, whether he is acting or playing the piano.

-Gene Kelly tap dancing with the broom.

-Eleanor Powell in Technicolor. She again was filmed in color in her last film “Duchess of Idaho” (1950).

Notable Songs:
-”I Dug a Ditch” sung by several men

-”Daybreak” sung by Kathryn Grayon with Jose Iturbi on the piano

-”Three Letters in the Mail Box” sung by Kathryn Grayson

-”In a Little Spanish Town” sung by June Allyson and Gloria DeHaven

-”Should I” sung by Georgia Carroll with Kay Kyser’s band

-”Honeysuckle Rose” sung by Lena Horne

-”The Joint is Really Jumpin’ in Carnegie Hall” sung by Judy Garland with Jose Iturbi on the piano

My Review:
As I have mentioned in previous posts, there are several war time films just like “Thousands Cheer” – a thin plot with a ton of musical performances by big name stars.

However, “Thousands Cheer” stands out against “Star Spangled Rhythm,” “Thank Your Lucky Stars” or “This is the Army.” Maybe it’s because of the caliber of the MGM stars that makes it more enjoyable. Or maybe it’s the Technicolor.

But truthfully, I think it’s the way the film and the showcase of stars is structured. The first half of the film is a straight musical with a plot sprinkled with songs. The last hour to 45 minutes is roughly seven musical performances and skits designed as a show to entertain troops. The performances are shown like an actual show with Mickey Rooney as the emcee between each performance.

“Thousands Cheer” holds a rare quality against other talent showcasing films-the musical performances don’t grow tiresome. I was entertained the whole time, unlike films such as “This is the Army,” where my finger was itching for the fast-forward button.

Kay Kyser's singer and wife Georgia Carroll singing "Should I" in "Thousands Cheer"

Kay Kyser’s singer and wife Georgia Carroll singing “Should I” in “Thousands Cheer”

All of the performances and songs are quality entertainment. Frank Morgan and Red Skelton’s skits are humorous and all of the music is fantastic. The two songs that I think bring down the house are Judy Garland’s “The Joint is Really Jumpin’ in Carnegie Hall” (which should be no surprise) and Kay Kyser’s band with his wife Georgia Carroll as the singer. Carroll’s glowing closeup almost makes the movie for me.

This film is still early in Gene Kelly’s film career- this was his fourth film- but you can already see his star potential in his performance and the few dance numbers he was given. Kelly and Grayson also have good chemistry, and apparently MGM agreed, pairing them two years later in “Anchors Aweigh” (1945).

If you enjoy star spangled World War II films made for morale boosting and bursting with songs, this is for you.

Fun promotional pamphlet of caricatures of the "Thousands Cheer" songs.

Fun promotional pamphlet of caricatures of the “Thousands Cheer” songs.

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Musical Monday: Look for the Silver Lining (1949)

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:
“Look for the Silver Lining” — Musical #133

look-for-the-silver-lining-movie-poster-1949-1020437158

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
David Butler

Starring:
June Haver, Gordon MacRae, Ray Bolger, Charles Ruggles, Rosemary DeCamp, Lee Wilde, Lyn Wilde, S.Z. Sakall, Will Rogers Jr. (uncredited), Dick Simmons

Plot:
Biographical film of musical star Marilyn Miller, played by June Haver. The film follows Miller’s rise to fame as a singer and dancer, starting with her family vaudeville act until she is the top star on Broadway. The film begins when Miller joins her family’s act, “The Five Columbians,” with her mother, father and two sisters. Miller meets famous vaudeville dancer Jack Donahue (Bolger) who helps her break into show business and is responsible for her first show on Broadway. During her big break, Haver meets actor Frank Carter (MacRae) and the two eventually marry.

Trivia:

Marilyn Miller in 1929

The real Marilyn Miller in 1929

-Marilyn Miller, played by Haver, was a famous Broadway musical star in the 1910s and 1920s. She was in a handful of Hollywood films, but she was more successful on the stage. The real Frank Carter, played by MacRae, married Miller in 1919 and he died in 1920 in a car accident, like the film says. Miller then married actress Mary Pickford’s brother, Jack Pickford, in 1922 and they divorced in 1927. She then married dancer Chester Lee O’Brien in 1934 until her death in 1936. Miller died from complications of a nasal surgery at the age of 37.

-In 1942, Louella Parsons announced Joan Leslie was playing the role of Marilyn Miller. Parsons hinted Rita Hayworth and Ann Miller may have been in the running for the film, according to a July 27, 1942 column in the St. Petersburg Times. Apparently plans for this film fell through or were delayed, because in 1947, Louella Parsons then announced June Haver would play the role of Miller in a St. Petersburg Times column. This time, Parsons says Vera-Ellen was “heartbroken” she didn’t receive the role of Miller, because she was a “leading candidate.”

-Last film of Lee Wilde. Her twin sister Lyn continued acting in films until 1953.

-Gordon MacRae’s second film.

-Will Roger Jr. plays his father Will Rogers.

Notable Songs:

-”Look for the Silver Lining” sung by June Haver

-”Who?” sung by Ray Bolger

-”Time on My Hands” sung by Gordon MacRae

My Review:
Visually “Look for the Silver Lining” is fun and colorful, but the actual plot is rather bland.

For a biographical film, you learn very little about Marilyn Miller other than the fact that she existed, was a very famous performer and one of her husbands died. However, I guess real life is a bit too long to stuff into an hour and 41 minute film.

Like most biographical films made during this time, the details are fairly sanitized. Only one out of three of Miller’s real husbands are discussed in the film- which is Frank Carter, the vaudeville actor who died in the car accident. At the end of the film, Miller’s character marries a character named Henry Doran, played by Dick Simmons. I’m not sure if this is supposed to be Jack Pickford, who was Miller’s next husband, or maybe a combination of her last two husbands: Pickford and Chester Lee O’Brien.

In real life, Miller also was an alcoholic and had issues with sinus infections. She died of complications after surgery that was dealing with her sinus problems.

In the film, it was implied that Miller’s health was declining but it was vague. She pirouettes as she practices for a show, then grabs her head in pain. She tells her friend Jack Donahue that her doctor says she has to “stop eating lobster, champagne, staying out late and dancing.”

Gordon MacRae as Frank Carter and June Haver as Marilyn Miller in "Look for the Silver Lining"

Gordon MacRae as Frank Carter and June Haver as Marilyn Miller in “Look for the Silver Lining”

Though Miller died in 1936, the film ends with her dancing in a colorful music number and singing the title song “Look for the Silver Lining.” But this ending is fairly typical for a musical biographical film where the lead’s life my end rather tragically. These brightly colored musicals don’t want to end on a low note, killing off the main star.

For example: “The Helen Morgan Story” (1957) about Helen Morgan (starring Ann Blyth) who died in 1941, ends with a banquet held in honor of the recovering alcoholic singer.

“The Incendiary Blonde” (1945) starring Betty Hutton as Texas Guinan, who died in 1933, ends with Hutton slowly walking out of a hospital, worried about her lover.

The stand out stars in this film for me are Ray Bolger and Gordon MacRae. June Haver’s dancing was lovely, but she wasn’t that memorable. I will say that this is one film where the leading lady actually looks fairly similar to the woman she is playing. But I was legitimately sad when MacRae’s character was killed off. I wanted to see more of him and hear more of his singing. Charles Ruggles was fun comic relief and Rosemary DeCamp is always the perfect mother.

I’m not trying to be harsh with “Look for the Silver Lining,” but there are other fabricated musical biographies that are more entertaining than this one. See: Yankee Doodle Dandy, Annie Get Your Gun, Love Me or Leave Me or Hans Christian Anderson.

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Musical Monday: “Follow the Boys” (1963)

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.

Follow the boysThis week’s musical:
Follow The Boys” –Musical #303

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Richard Thorpe

Starring:
Connie Francis, Paula Prentiss, Dany Robin, Janis Paige, Russ Tamblyn, Richard Long, Roger Perry, Ron Randell

Plot:
-Four women- Bonnie (Francis), Toni (Prentiss), Michele (Robin) and Liz (Paige)- travel to the Rivera to meet their Navy boyfriends and husbands when they go on shore leave.
-Bonnie came from North Dakota to surprise her husband, who thinks she is still at home.
-Wealthy Toni comes to see her playboy fiance Lt. Peter Langley. But Michele is also there to see Peter as a bill collector.
-Liz is tired of being a “seagull”-Naval wives that follow their husbands to each port- and wants her Lt. Commander husband to settle down.
As the girls are waiting at a French port, they learn the ship is landing in Italy instead. The four women team up to travel to meet the men.

Trivia:
-Connie Francis’s second film after “Where The Boys Are.” The film is supposed to be an unofficial sequel, according to “Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave, 1959-1969″ by Thomas Lisanti
-Filming locations include: Cannes, France; Nice, France; Santa Margherita Ligure, Genoa, Liguria, Italy
-Filmed in Panavision and Metrocolor

Russ Tamblyn and Paula Prentiss, Richard Long, and Dany Robin, Roger Perry and Connie Francis, Ron Randell and Janis Paige

Russ Tamblyn and Paula Prentiss, Richard Long, and Dany Robin, Roger Perry and Connie Francis, Ron Randell and Janis Paige


Highlights:

-The French Rivera and Italy in gorgeous, vibrant color.

Notable Songs:
-”Italian Lullaby” sung by Connie Francis
-”Follow the Boys” sung by Connie Francis
-”Intrigue” sung Connie Francis

My Review:
Though this is categorized as a musical, it’s more a romantic comedy where Connie Francis sings at the drop of the hat: Connie picks up a baby and sings a lullaby, Connie goes to an Italian party and is asked to sing, Connie turns on the radio and sings.
This is pretty common in frothy 1950s and 1960s films. Young singing stars such as Frankie Avalon, James Darren or Connie Francis are cast in films and have a four or five songs to spotlight their singing talents.
In many of her films, Francis has man trouble. In “Where the Boys Are,” she has trouble nabbing a guy. This time in “Follow the Boys,” she is married but he can’t get leave to see her.
I love seeing Janis Paige, Paula Prentiss and Russ Tamblyn in pretty much every film, and the scenery in the film is beautiful.
However, even with a star-studded cast, “Follow the Boys” is really merely okay.
The plot is tedious and I don’t care for the French actress Dany Robin.

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Musical Monday: The Fleet’s In (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.

HUTTON 1 FLEET'S INThis week’s musical:
“The Fleet’s In” –Musical #488

Studio:
Paramount Pictures

Director:
Victor Schertzinger

Starring:
Dorothy Lamour, William Holden, Eddie Bracken, Betty Hutton, Leif Erickson, Betty Jane Rhodes, Jimmy Dorsey (as himself)

Plot:
Sailor Casey Kirby (Holden) is dubbed a playboy when there is a picture of him in the newspaper kissing movie star Diana Golden (Rhodes). As his buddies build him up as a “sea wolf,” they bet Casey can’t woo ice queen nightclub performer “The Countess” (Lamour), who is well-known for turning down sailors. However, Casey isn’t aware that sailors are betting money him kissing the Countess in public. During all of this, the Countess’s roommate Bessie Dale (Hutton) is after Casey’s friend Barney (Bracken).

Trivia:
-Betty Hutton‘s first feature film. Hutton came straight from Broadway, where she was in the play “Panama Hattie” with Ethel Merman.
-Music written by Johnny Mercer.
-Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra perform in the film. Dorsey is the brother of other big band leader, Tommy Dorsey. Jimmy played the saxophone and Tommy played the trombone.
-Hutton and Lamour became long time friends while making this movie, Hutton wrote in her autobiography, “Backstage, You Can Have.” “
“I will always love her for the friendship she immediately showed to me in those early days,” she wrote.

Bessie (Hutton) holds back the Countess (Lamour) when she finds out there is a bet if Casey (Holden) kisses her. Barney (Bracken) hides.

Bessie (Hutton) holds back the Countess (Lamour) when she finds out there is a bet if Casey (Holden) kisses her. Barney (Bracken) hides.

Notable Songs:
-”Tangerine” performed by Jimmy Dorsey’s band and sung by Bob Eblery and Helen O’Connell
-”When You Hear the Time Signal” sung by Dorothy Lamour
-”If You Build a Better Mousetrap” sung by Betty Hutton, performed by Jimmy Dorsey’s band
-”Not Mine” sung by Betty Hutton and Dorothy Lamour
-”I Remember You” sung by Dorothy Lamour
-”Arthur Murray Taught Me To Dancing a Hurry” sung by Betty Grable

Highlights:
-Jimmy Dorsey’s band using telephones as part of their song for “When You Hear the Time Signal”
-Betty Hutton singing and quickly dancing several dances during the song “Arthur Murray Taught Me To Dancing in a Hurray.” Lyrics are as follow with video below:

“Turkey trot
Or gavotte?
Don’t know which,
Don’t know what.
Jitterbug?
Bunny hug?
Long as you
Cut a rug!
Walk the dog,
Do the frog,
Lindy hop
Till you drop!
Ball the jack
Back to back,
Cheek to cheek
Till you’re weak.”

My Review:
This is an enormously enjoyable and funny movie.
The plot is very thin and is mainly padded with excellent music by Johnny Mercer, but it’s a wonderful piece of World War II-era escapism.
Dorothy Lamour is gorgeous and funny in her role as “The Countess.”
William Holden is still early in his career. He does well in the comedy, but you can tell he has more potential- which he proved later in his career.
For me, the real treat is Betty Hutton. I know I may be a minority in this. I have found several folks in the film community who find her exasperating or irritating. But I LOVE her energy- displayed perfectly in the “Arthur Murray” number.
There is also another funny lady in this film, who I wasn’t familiar with until I saw this film, named Cass Daley. Her singing has a similar sound to Hutton’s and she mainly makes jokes off her physical appearance. What I found interesting is that Cass Elliot of the Mama’s and the Papa’s apparently named herself for Daley.
With an entertaining cast and catchy 1940s tunes, this is a must see.

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What Fathered Comet’s interest?

If it wasn’t for either of my parents, I wouldn’t like classic films today.

As I have said on Comet numerous times, my parents rolled out films such as “Yankee Doodle Dandy” or “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” when my sisters and I were toddlers.

It was my dad who later introduced me to “West Side Story (1961) when I was 14, because he noticed my growing interest in musicals. Dad might have later regretted showing me the film when a full blown obsession followed our viewing of the modernized musical version of “Romeo and Juliet.”

This classic film encouragement is partially because they grew up with a love for the classics themselves.

For Father’s Day, I decided to do a brief Question and Answer session with Dad, Bill Pickens, about classic films.

Me: Who are your favorite actors and actresses?

Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart in "African Queen" (1951)

Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart in “African Queen” (1951)

Dad: My favorite actors are Jimmy Stewart and Gregory Peck. I enjoy their movies and they seemed like they were down to Earth, good people. I also like Humphrey Bogart, because some of my favorite films are “African Queen,” “Casablanca” and “We’re No Angels.”

My favorite actresses are Maureen O’Hara (Dad has always had the hots for Maureen) and Katharine Hepburn.

Me: What are your favorite movies?

Dad: Lawrence of Arabia, The King and I, Twelve O’Clock High, Lion in Winter, The Longest Day, The King and I.

Me: What kind of movies would you go to see as a kid? (Dad was born in 1955, for some reference)

Dad: My older sister Katie and I went to see movies every Saturday afternoon, because we lived on a military base and it was only 25 cents. We would see everything that came out from Disney movies to westerns.

I remember one time, some GI was trying to get fresh with Katie and I kicked him in the leg. I was her bodyguard at the movies. I don’t remember what movie it was but we lived in Ft. Lewis in Washington.

Me: Why do you like older movies?

Dad: They are classy and have interesting story lines. The movies didn’t have to have all the action, like you do today, to tell a good story.

Me: What is the worst movie I have had you watch?

Dad: I can’t think of any really bad ones. “The Blob” was pretty bad though, because it was so campy.

The fearsome monster in "The Blob" (1958)

The fearsome monster in “The Blob” (1958)

My Dad has been the only man in a family of all girls for the past 35 years. From putting together Barbie houses, helping us with math homework, nailing taps on the bottoms of dancing shoes or fixing our cars, Dad has been supportive and a good sport.

Probably two of the worst movies we all suffered through were the Doris Day films “Jumbo” and “The Ballad of Josie.” The only film Dad couldn’t take was “Calamity Jane.” He didn’t even make it through the eight minute intro song, “Deadwood Stage.”

“Calamity Jane isn’t a bad movie,” he said. “It’s just not my style.”

He’s been supportive of my film interest and, though he said he couldn’t think of any bad movies, has sat through some terrible ones, all for “the cause” of my movie love.

Happy Father’s Day, to my Dad who supports my interest and who I have even help expand on his.

Dad in a selfie with his three daughters. Comet is back left.

Dad in a selfie with his three daughters. Comet is back left.

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Musical Monday: Grounds for Marriage (1951)

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.

Grounds_for_Marriage_posterThis week’s musical:
“Grounds for Marriage” –Musical #371

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Robert Z. Leonard

Starring:
Van Johnson, Kathryn Grayson, Paula Raymond, Barry Sullivan, Reginald Anderson, Lewis Stone, Richard Anderson, Theresa Harris

Plot:
When Ina Massine (Grayson) returns to New York from Europe, she tries to win back her husband Lincoln “Linc” Bartlett (Johnson) after being divorced for three years. Linc is now engaged to Agnes Young (Raymond). On the day of her New York stage comeback singing “La Boheme,” Ina has a sore throat and then suddenly looses her voice. Doctors determine that the loss of voice is psychological from the shock of Linc’s engagement. Linc then tries to throw Ina into a new romance and appoints his brother Chris (Sullivan) to do the task.

Trivia:
-The movie originally was supposed to star Robert Walker and June Allyson. After Allyson was no longer in the film, it was going to star Walker and Kathryn Grayson, according to a Hedda Hopper brief from July 28, 1949. Van Johnson replaced Walker.
-”That’s the only picture I really loved making,” Grayson said in a Jan. 7, 1951 interview with Hedda Hopper. “I’ve been in films since 1940, but I’ll confess that I have never been particularly interested in a film career until recently.”
-During the “Carmen” dream sequence, Van Johnson is dubbed by Gilbert Russell for the character Don Jose and Stephen Kemalyan for the character Escamillo.

Van Johnson and Kathryn Grayson dressed for the "Carmen" dream sequence in "Grounds for Marriage."

Van Johnson and Kathryn Grayson dressed for the “Carmen” dream sequence in “Grounds for Marriage.”

Notable Songs:
- “Carmen” performed by Kathryn Grayson and Van Johnson
-”La Boheme” performed by Kathryn Grayson
- “Tiger Rag” played by the Firehouse Five Plus Two

Highlights:
-Van Johnson playing the bird sound in the doctor’s symphony
-The “Carmen” dream sequence, which acts out the film’s predicament. Johnson is hilariously dubbed in an operatic voice. Johnson said in a Feb. 13, 1951 article in the Times Daily that he had never seen the opera.
-Van Johnson gives a speech on the common cold to the women’s club and says it’s mainly psychological or due to stress. Air is blowing on the back of Johnson’s neck and by the end of the speech, he has developed a bad cold.

My Review:
This is not your usual Kathryn Grayson musical, chock full with operatic performances in Technicolor. In fact, Grayson probably has four or five numbers because most of the movie she can’t speak or sing due to loss of voice.
Van Johnson, as always, is also a lot of fun; excelling in comedic moments and is likable as always.
I always love to see Paula Raymond in films, and I hated that she didn’t have more screen time in “Grounds for Marriage.” (Spoiler) I also would have almost preferred for Raymond to end up with Van Johnson.
It certainly isn’t the best film Grayson or Johnson made, but it is fairly fun. Some of the gags can be tiring, but “Grounds for Marriage” is a nice piece of escapism.

Kathryn Grayson, Van Johnson, Paula Raymond and Barry Sullivan in a publicity photo for "Grounds for Marriage."

Kathryn Grayson, Van Johnson, Paula Raymond and Barry Sullivan in a publicity photo for “Grounds for Marriage.”

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The Longest Day: Actors who fought in D-Day

Seventy years ago today, Allied forces stormed Omaha Beach in the Normandy Invasion, known as D-Day.

A few of those soldiers were established actors or later pursued a career in Hollywood. Here are a few of those men that served in D-Day:

Lt Col David Niven, Royal Marine Commando, Normandy 1944

Lt Col David Niven, Royal Marine Commando, Normandy 1944

David Niven: The British actor was a Lt. Colonel of the British Commandos. He also worked in the intelligence branch and was later assigned to the U.S. First Infantry.
Niven was one of the first officers to land at Normandy. He later was one of 25 British soldiers to be awarded the U.S. Legion of Merit Medal, according to a 1983 book by Don McCombs and Fred Worth.

Alec Guinness in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve

Alec Guinness in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve

Alec Guinness: The British actor operated a British Royal Navy landing craft on D-Day.

Richard Todd during World War II

Richard Todd during World War II

Richard Todd:  Capt. Todd was one of the first British officers to land on D-Day. Todd was part of the British airborne invasion, known as Operation Overlord, that took place June 5 through June 7. During Operation Overlord, Todd’s battalion were the reinforcements parachuted in after the gliders landed and captured Pegasus Bridge to prevent German forces crossing the bridge and attacking.
Todd’s battalion was led by Major John Howard, who Todd played in “The Longest Day”(1962). The beret that Todd wears in the film is the one he wore on D-Day.

Robert Montgomery in his Naval uniform during World War II.

Robert Montgomery in his Naval uniform during World War II.

Robert Montgomery: American actor Montgomery enlisted in World War II before the United States entered the war.
Montgomery became a PT boat Lt. Commander and was part of the D-Day invasion on board the destroyer, USS Barton (DD-722).
After serving five years of active duty, Montgomery was awarded a Bronze Star, the Good Conduct Medal, the American Defense Service Ribbon, the European Theater Ribbon with two Battle Stars, one Overseas Service Bar, and promoted to the rank of Lt. Commander. (1904-1981)

Actor Charles Durning during World War II. He served in the United States Army.

Actor Charles Durning during World War II. He served in the United States Army.

Charles Durning: American actor Durning served in the United States Army. He was in one of the first waves to land on Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion. Durning was the only soldier in his company to survive, according to KPBS broadcasting.
Durning was wounded nine days after the landing and earned a Purple Heart. Durning was also awarded the Silver Star.

Actor James Doohan was shot several times during the Normandy Invasion.

Actor James Doohan was shot several times during the Normandy Invasion.

James Doohan: Canadian actor Doohan served in the Canadian Army.  Doohan was in the Juno Beach invasion on D-Day. During the invasion, Doohan was shot in the leg, chest and lost his right middle finger.

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From song to screen: “Ode to Billy Joe” (1976)

On the third of June, Billie Joe McAllister committed suicide by jumping off the Tallahatchie Bridge.

Bobbie Gentry, Ode to Billie JoeBobbie Gentry’s 1967 hit song “Ode to Billie Joe” chronicles a family sitting around the dinner table and casually discussing the death of a local boy-not considering the feelings of the narrator who was dating Billie Joe.

One line in Gentry’s song discusses the narrator and Billie Joe throwing something off the bridge generated the most questions from fans: “What did she and Billie Joe throw off the bridge?”

Fans speculated LSD, a baby, a ring, flowers or a draft card were tossed into the muddy Mississippi waters.

“People are trying to read social comment into the song. I wrote it as a comment on human nature, not on society,” Gentry said in a 1967 Associated Press interview. “I don’t know what was thrown off the Tallahatchie Bridge. The act itself was more symbolic than anything.”

But in 1976, a movie based on the song gave an answer to what was thrown off the bridge and why Billy Joe McAllister committed suicide: a homosexual experience.

“What the song didn’t tell you, the movie will” it advertised.

Set in 1953, the film version of “Ode to Billy Joe” (the spelling of Billy differs in the song and film) stars Glynnis O’Connor as Bobbie Lee Hartley, the 15-year old narrator, and Robby Benson as Billy Joe McAllister.

Fifteen-year-old Bobbie Lee is an adolescent young woman eager for gentlemen affections. In her frustrated state, she reads torrid romance magazines and says ridiculous lines such as, “I’m a body too with desires,” “Nothing has passed my lips except Pepsi Cola” and “I’m 15, and going on 34 – B cup.”

ode to billy joeBilly Joe confesses his love for Bobbie Lee, but her father says she is too young to date.

The budding romance is mainly a game of cat and mouse of Bobbie Lee pretending she doesn’t like Billy Joe.

One night, the town holds a jamboree with a make shift whorehouse in the back. Billy Joe is drunk and confused about it all and is missing for two days after the jamboree.

The reason for Billy Joe’s disappearance is the same reason as his suicide: at the jamboree he has sexual relations with a man. The man turns out to be his boss at the sawmill Dewey Barksdale, played by James Best.

Billy Joe shows up in tears, ashamed of what he did saying it is sin against nature and a sin against God.

“I don’t know how I want to be with you and do that,” he tells Bobbie Lee.

During their discussion, Billy Joe throws something off the bridge- Bobbie Lee’s childhood doll, Benjamin.

After Billy Joe’s death, the town is filled with rumors that Bobbie Lee is pregnant with his baby, though the two never had sex.

Bobbie Lee melodramatically decides to leave town and pretend that she has the baby and will return when the rumors die down. She meets Barksdale on the bridge, who is on his way to confess what he has done. Bobbie Lee gives a speech, saying telling the truth won’t do Barksdale or Billy Joe, any good.

“Billy Joe’s already on his way to becoming a legend. He made a desirable girl pregnant and then jumped off the bridge. We ought to leave him with that,” Bobbie Lee said.

The film ends with Barksdale carrying Bobbie Lee’s bag to the bus stop.

Gentry received movie offers after the song came out in 1967, but she held out for 10 years, she said in a 1976 article in the Nashua Telegraph written by Vernon Scott.

“I waited because I was afraid it would become an exploitation picture to capitalize off the record,” Gentry was quoted. “I didn’t want it done cheaply.”

“Ode to Billie Joe” was originally a short story written by Gentry, and then condensed into a song, she said in the 1976 interview.

Gentry wrote a song for Max Baer, Jr.’s film “Macon County Line.” Baer produced “Macon County Line” and directed “Ode to Billy Joe.” He is known for his role as Jethro on the TV show “The Beverly Hillbillies.”  She liked Baer’s work and she brought “Ode to Billie Joe” to him as a film idea, the Nashua Telegraph article said.

In the contract, Gentry had approval of characters and plot development. She also re-recorded the hit song for the film.

Robby Benson and Glynnis O'Connor in "Ode to Billy Joe" (1976)

Robby Benson and Glynnis O’Connor in “Ode to Billy Joe” (1976)

“Now that I know why Billy Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge, I almost wish I didn’t,” film critic Roger Ebert wrote in his July 7, 1976 film review. “Bobbie Gentry’s famous song, on which “Ode to Billy Joe” is based, found much of its haunting effect in its refusal to reveal why Billy Joe killed himself. His death was seen as sad, and long ago, and unnecessary, and the singer recalled it as a key event in an unhappy time. Gentry didn’t need to explain because she evoked.”

Ebert gave the movie 2.5 out of 3 stars in 1976, saying the dialogue is attractive, but that the movie goes astray after Billy Joe kills himself.

Personally, I found the dialogue hokey with several pointless scenes. “Did they really just say that?” was a reoccurring thought as I watched the hour and forty-five minute film.

The film doesn’t play scenes that are lyric-by-lyric of the song. This is probably a good thing. There isn’t a dinner table scene when Billy Joe’s death is discussed and Billy Joe doesn’t put a frog down Bobbie Lee’s back at the Carroll County picture show.

However, there is a preacher watching as the doll is thrown off the bridge, and Bobbie Lee’s father says, “Seems like nothin’ ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge.” This is said after an incident where some drunk Alabamians try to push his truck off the Tallahatchie Bridge.

While I may not have enjoyed this film, I do understand the message that was trying to be portrayed- Billy Joe’s senseless suicide because of societal beliefs. Billy Joe’s confusion, guilt and shame that leads him to kill himself is a relevant issue for 1953, 1976 and most likely today. Though as Gentry originally said, her song was not a social commentary.

Along with the ridiculous script and disliking Robby Benson, my main issue with the film is giving a reason to Billy Joe’s death.

The original purpose of the song is “unconscious cruelty”- the nonchalant way the narrator’s family discusses Billy Joe’s suicide, Gentry said in an interview when the song was released.

Even though Gentry agreed to the film, I feel giving a reason to the suicide takes away from the mournful tune of “Ode to Billie Joe.”

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