Interview and review: “Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait”

vivien leigh book coverAfter 75 years, her fresh portrayal as Scarlett O’Hara is one of the most memorable screen performances of all time.

Last November, the “Gone with the Wind” actress celebrated her 100th birthday. And to help celebrate, film historian Kendra Bean published a biography on Vivien Leigh, “Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait.” Bean’s book is also the first book written about Leigh in 25 years.

Leigh won two Academy Awards for Best Actress during her short, 18 film career for playing two iconic Southern belles: O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind” (1939) and Blanche DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951)

“An Intimate Portrait” tenderly chronicles Leigh’s life, from her childhood in India through her marriage and divorce to Laurence Olivier to Leigh’s early death at age 51. The book is well-researched, unbiased, beautiful and heartbreaking.

Through her writing, Bean shows her passion for the subject and allows the reader to connect with the English actress. Leigh feels relatable and human compared to the unreachable and ethereal portrait that usually seems to be painted of the mysterious beauty.

A publicity photo of Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh for "Gone with the Wind" (1939). This photo also appears in Bean's book.

A publicity photo of Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh for “Gone with the Wind” (1939). This photo also appears in Bean’s book.

Reading the page-turning biography is almost like reading “Romeo and Juliet.” Similar to the Shakespeare story that ends in tragedy, you are aware of the impending heartbreak in Leigh’s life. While reading about her successful career and marriage to Laurence Olivier, most readers know the whole time of her heartbreaking divorce, bouts with depression, tuberculosis and Leigh’s early death.

Bean chronicles these events sensitively and through extensive research, quoting interviews throughout the book. She is also the first author to delve into Laurence Olivier’s files. The 272 page book is also filled with gorgeous and rare photos of Leigh.

Bean started her Leigh and Olivier research on her website,, before moving from California to England to do more in-depth studying of Leigh’s life and romance with Olivier.

In December, she was kind enough to answer several interview questions for Comet Over Hollywood: 

Comet Over Hollywood: When did your love for Vivien Leigh begin? What started it?
Kendra Bean: I saw Gone With the Wind as a teenager and began reading everything I could get my hands on that would tell me more about the film, including biographies of the stars. The more I read about Vivien, the more interesting she became in my eyes. That’s really what started it. Having a website and online community centered on her and Laurence Olivier has definitely helped keep my interest alive over the years.

Vivien Leigh proudly holds her Best Actress Oscar on March 2. 1940. She was recognized for her portrayal of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind.

Vivien Leigh proudly holds her Best Actress Oscar on March 2. 1940. She was recognized for her portrayal of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind.

COH: I have always understood that you moved to England to better study Olivier and Leigh. Is that correct? How difficult of a decision was that? What was that transition like to study something you love?
KB: That was only part of the reason. I actually moved to London for graduate school. I did my BA in Film and Media Studies back in California and then spent the next four years working. But I knew I wanted to be a film historian and to do that, I felt I needed to get a further degree. I wasn’t really satisfied with what I was doing back home, and just felt like I needed a change if I was ever going to actually pursue these interests. I always wanted to live in London for at least a year, so I applied to the Film Studies graduate program at King’s College London. Luckily, they accepted me and offered a couple of scholarships, so off I went!
It was a big change, but I knew some people here already and knew my way around the city. I also made some great friends through the program who I still keep in touch with today. I think the most difficult period was the transition from graduation to whatever was going to happen next. I was determined to make this book project work, but the process of actually getting a publisher was a long one. It was a very stressful period because being on a visa kind of limits things. There were several times when I thought I might well have to move back to the US and that the book would never happen.

COH: You have been working on the book for five years. What all goes into the research that you had to do?
KB: There were two parts to my research: constructing the book and getting it published. Because it’s a coffee table book, a good deal of the process involved locating, sourcing, and licensing photographs (I don’t think a lot of people realize what a lengthy and involved process that is). I also spent a good deal of time in various archives in the UK and in Los Angeles looking for interesting information (fellow fans/research assistants sent me information from New York and Australia, as well), reading through various biographies, tracking down and interviewing people who knew and worked with Vivien, and seeking permission from various estates to quote from letters.
When I first started this project, I had no idea how to get a book published. So, I also had to do a fair bit of research into the actual publication process: how to get an agent, possible marketing angles, crafting a proposal, etc. It was a lot of work, but very much worth it in the end!

COH: What was a misconception you had that came to light during your research?
KB: I think there have been a lot of misconceptions about Vivien’s battle with manic depression (bipolar disorder) and her relationship with Laurence Olivier, in general. One major grey area has always been the infamous 1953 incident, when Vivien had nervous breakdown whilst filming Elephant Walk in 1953. She was flown back to England, legally sectioned, and committed to a mental asylum. The picture I had in my mind from reading previous Leigh biographies was something akin to Frances Farmer getting hauled off to the state institution.
There were also a lot of rumors surrounding this event, including the suggestion that Olivier was having a long affair with actor Danny Kaye and that this set Vivien off. I found no evidence to support any of that. Rather, there was plenty to support the fact that Vivien had been headed toward a mental health crisis for a long time and previous attempts at intervention in 1951/52 were refused by her. Although this was not surprising given the stigma surrounding mental illness in the 1950s, it was still sad to learn that there’s a chance that this particular incident might have been avoided. I was given access to some files pertaining to this incident that hadn’t been by previous biographers (of Leigh or Olivier). What emerged was a clearer picture not only of the harrowing experience that Vivien went through, but also how that experience affected those closest to her – particularly Olivier. It was a very stressful and frightening time for all involved.
Today it seems fashionable to focus on their interpersonal problems; specifically how horrible Olivier was to Vivien. Through moderating and the accompanying Facebook page over the years, it seems to me that there’s a tendency to view their relationship in black and white terms. In fact, it was very complicated. How could it not be? They were together for nearly 25 years and she remained obsessed with him for the rest of her life. Their marriage did turn very sour in the 1950s but before that, and I think sometimes during that period, there was actually a lot of love, respect, and camaraderie between them. That notion was reinforced when going through Olivier’s papers, and those of other people who knew them.

Arriving in New York by boat in 1951.

Arriving in New York by boat in 1951.

COH: Why is it important to study actors like Leigh and Olivier and their relationship?
KB: Because they both made significant contributions to 20th century popular culture. They considered themselves artists and their work deserves to be remembered and reappraised. Unfortunately, their stage work was very ephemeral but luckily their films still remain to be enjoyed and discussed by fans and casual viewers alike. On top of that, they lead interesting lives.

COH: Was there anything you learned that didn’t make it into the book and why?
KB: One of the main tasks of an author is to decide what is important and what isn’t for the story he or she wants to tell. Coffee table books require even more editorializing than standard biographies because they rely just as much – sometimes even more – on visuals as they do text. A couple of examples of things that were left out of Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait: I was told some stories during interviews that I felt were interesting but they ended up being more about the interviewee than Vivien, or I didn’t feel they added anything thematically that hadn’t been said already, so they were left out. I also didn’t spend much time talking about the films she made for Alexander Korda in the 1930s, instead opting to cut to the meat of her fame, which really took off with Gone With the Wind. I did write an essay about these films for the Vivien Leigh Anniversary Collection released in November by Cohen Films though, and that’s something I would definitely expand upon in a full biography.
leighOne of the challenges in writing a biography of a famous figure is that many materials are still in copyright and permission is required to publish them if they fall outside of fair use. This meant that, unfortunately, there were some letters and photos that I very much wanted to use, but couldn’t.

COH: Recently you have given several speeches and interviews. What has been your proudest moment since the book has been published?
KB: I think my proudest moment was actually getting the book published. It was such a long and often emotional journey and there were several instances where I worried it wouldn’t come to fruition.
I’m grateful for the opportunities that have arisen from being published. It’s been such a wonderful learning experience and I’ve met some very passionate and intelligent people because of it. I never thought I’d get to curate an exhibit at a major museum, for example, but Terence Pepper (who edited some of my favorite photo retrospectives) asked me to help curate the “Starring Vivien Leigh: A Centenary Celebration” exhibit that’s currently on at the National Portrait Gallery. I also gave my first-ever big lecture to a sold out audience at the NPG. Public speaking has always been one of my worst fears, but this went really well and has given me confidence for the lecture I’m giving at the V&A in February.

COH: Do you see another book in your future?
KB: Yes! Watch this space!

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Musical Monday: “Reckless” (1935)

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.

reckless-movie-poster-1935-1020143418This week’s musical:
Reckless” (1935) –Musical #190


Victor Flemming

Jean Harlow, Franchot Tone, William Powell, May Robeson, Rosalind Russell, Nat Pendleton, Mickey Rooney, Ted Healy, Henry Stephenson, Leon Ames, Allan Jones is a featured singer

Musical actress Mona Leslie (Harlow) goes on stage thinking she’s performing for a charity event to find the whole house bought out by heir Bob Harrison (Tone).  Mona falls in love with Bob as he is courting her, and her gambling agent Ned Riley (Powell) sits silently in the background, though he is also in love with Mona. After a drunken evening, Bob and Mona marry and they face the disapproval of Bob’s wealthy society family.


Hungover Franchot Tone isn't too sure about his marriage to Jean Harlow in "Reckless."

Hungover Franchot Tone isn’t too sure about his marriage to Jean Harlow in “Reckless.”

-The film was originally supposed to star Joan Crawford under the title “A Woman Called Cheap.” However, producer David O. Selznick replaced Crawford with Harlow before production to capitalize off of Harlow and Powell’s real-life romance, according to the Darrell Rooney and Mark Vieira book “Harlow in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capital, 1928-1937.” 
-Dancer Betty Halsey doubled for Jean Harlow in the long shots.
-The film’s plot was very similar to a scandal that occurred two years earlier involving singer Libby Holman and her husband tobacco heir Zachary Reynolds. Similarly to the film, Reynolds drunkenly committed suicide. Holman threatened to sue for libel, but never did. Harlow was also uncomfortable, because the scandal in the movie was similar to the death of her husband Paul Bern. However, Powell convinced her to make the film, according to “Harlow in Hollywood.”
-Version of “Sing, Sinner, Sing” (1933) starring Leila Hyams and “Brief Moment” (1933) starring Carole Lombard.
-Jean Harlow’s singing was dubbed by Virginia Verrill. “She (Jean) realized that I couldn’t have credit for my singing, so she went out of her way to give me a hand whenever she could.”
-”Reckless” was the first Jean Harlow film to lose money.

-A very young Leon Ames marrying Rosalind Russell.

leon ames

Young Leon Ames with Rosalind Russell in “Reckless.”
(Screencapped by Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica Pickens)

Notable Songs:
This isn’t your typical musical. There are really only three musical numbers. Including:
-”Reckless” performed by Jean Harlow and dubbed by Virginia Verrill, written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein
*However, I think the very beginning of the song is Jean Harlow’s singing. You can hear the switch.

-”Trocadero” sung by Allan Jones and danced by Jean Harlow.
-”Hear What My Heart is Saying” performed by Jean Harlow and dubbed by Virginia Verrill

I guess calling this a musical is a stretch. It’s really a melodrama with three or four songs and dances built into the plot, and none of the songs move the plot along.
However, since it is categorized as a musical, the “That’s Entertainment” documentary features it and it’s Jean Harlow birthday, I decided to highlight the film today.
Reckless” may be the first Jean Harlow film to lose money, but I don’t think it’s un-watchable. It’s interesting, it kept my attention, the plot keeps moving, but I will say it isn’t Jean Harlow’s best film.
The film is interesting however, since it is shot around the time William Powell and Jean Harlow started their romance.
You also see Rosalind Russell early in her career, though she is not the comedic Russell we are used to seeing. Early in her career, Russell is cast as the other woman or the forgiving, jilted friend- such as in “Evelyn Prentiss,” “China Seas” and “Man-Proof.” Certainly not the comedic lady we later came to know.
Also keep your eyes peeled for a young, line-less and un-credited Leon Ames as he marries Russell.
If you are looking for a musical with show stopping numbers, this isn’t it. But if you enjoy a good MGM melodrama with a few songs sprinkled in starring the original platinum blond, check it out.

Jean Harlow's character Mona Leslie is a musical star in "Reckless."

Jean Harlow’s character Mona Leslie is a musical star in “Reckless.”

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Musical Monday: I’ll See You in My Dreams (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.

ill see you in my dreamsThis week’s musical:
I’ll See You in My Dreams” (1951)–Musical #180

Warner Brothers

Michael Curtiz

Doris Day, Danny Thomas, Frank Lovejoy, Patrice Wymore, James Gleason, Mary Wickes, Jim Backus, Hans Conreid (uncredited)

A biographical film about lyricist Gus Khan (Thomas) who wrote several popular songs such as “It Had To Be You,” “Pretty Baby,” “San Francisco,” “The Carioca” and “Tootise” just to name a few. The film Khan as he meets his composing partner Grace (Day) who he eventually marries.
Grace is a song plugger and Gus wanted her help publishing songs. She gave him advice to write a love song:
“Do you know why you write a popular song? Boys and girls don’t know how to say I love you, so you help them with 32 bars of music.”
The film shows the songwriter’s ups and downs in his career from getting started and having his songs in the Ziegfeld Follies to losing everything in the 1929 stock market crash and moving to Hollywood and rebuilding his career. The whole way, his wife is there helping him make the next move in his career. The film starts in 1908 and ends in the 1930s.

Gus (Thomas) missed the birth of his child because he was writing "It Had to Be You." Day wrote this scene made her emotional because of her life experiences.

Gus (Thomas) missed the birth of his child because he was writing “It Had to Be You.” Day wrote this scene made her emotional because of her life experiences.

-When Danny Thomas sings to Doris Day at her maternity bedside in the film, Day got very emotional thinking about how her first husband, Al Jordan was not present when her son Terry was born, she wrote in her autobiography, Doris Day: Her Own Story.
“In the way Danny played the scene, there was a sense of his remorse in having not been with me when the baby came (in the movie. His character was writing a song and lost track of time.),” she wrote. “When Danny started his song, I couldn’t help but cry, for what came to mind was the birth of my own baby, how Al Jorden had not been with me, and how alone and unfulfilled I felt.”

-Grace Kahn, Gus’s wife, was the technical adverser for the film, according to TThe Casablanca Man: The Cinema of Michael Curtiz by James C Robertson.

-Gordon MacRea was director Michael Curtiz’s first choice to play Gus Kahn, according to Robertson’s book.

The real Gus Kahn (left) with composer Arthur Johnson in 1935 at MGM.

The real Gus Kahn (left) with composer Arthur Johnson in 1935 at MGM.

-Grace LeBoy Kahn, who Doris Day portrayed, was still alive when the film was made. Gus Kahn, played by Danny Thomas, died in 1941. The two were married in 1916 until his death. Grace died in 1983.

-”I’ll See You in My Dreams” was Warner Brother’s second top grossing film for 1952 and was Curtiz’s last financial success for the studio, according to Robertson’s book.

-The album soundtrack from this film reached number one on the Billboard charts.



Notable Songs:
-”Gee, I Wish That I Had a Girl” sung by Doris Day
-”My Buddy” sung by Doris Day
-”Pretty Baby” sung by Danny Thomas
-”She’s Nobody’s Sweetheart Now” sung by Doris Day
-”The One I Love (Belongs to Somebody Else) sung by Doris Day
-”It Had to Be You” sung by Danny Thomas
-”Makin’ Whoopee” sung by Doris Day and Danny Thomas
-”Ain’t We Got Fun” played on a record but sung as a duet by Day and Thomas on the album


The record my Mom and I nearly wore out.

The record my Mom and I nearly wore out.

I knew all the songs before I saw this movie.
When Mom was in middle school, her father (my grandfather) had a 78 record of the “I’ll See You in My Dreams” soundtrack. He was going to throw it away, so she asked to keep when she saw Doris Day on the album cover. When I began getting interested in Doris Day when I was 13, my mom pulled out the record and I listened to it constantly.
When I first saw this movie back in 2005, Mom and I both knew all the words to the songs Kahn made popular because of that 78 but neither of us had ever seen the movie before.
When Mom and I rewatched this movie on Sunday, we both softly sang along to all of his hit tunes.
Clearly this movie has a special place in my heart.
Sentimentality aside, I love the cast and the music. Mary Wickes is always hilarious and Day and Thomas are wonderful.
Though it is questionable about how accurate biographical films are, this one is still a lot of fun with an excellent score to accompany a fairly touching story.

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Baby Take a Bow: Remembering Shirley Temple

shirleyWhen I was in fourth grade I cut six inches off my long hair.

I was doing a book report on Shirley Temple and wanted short, curly hair like America’s Sweetheart for my presentation.

In 2000, before Internet shopping was common place, my parents searched all over to get me a Shirley Temple doll for Christmas. They eventually found one from a store in Connecticut.

Later as a high school senior I even dressed up as Shirley Temple for Halloween.

While my classic film love escalated to obsession in 2004, Temple was my first favorite movie star.

The first movie I saw with Shirley Temple was “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm’ (1938). It was a Christmas gift from my Grandmother. I was hooked as Temple sang about wearing an old straw hat, a pair of overalls and a worn out pair of shoes.

Years after she brought happiness to Americans during the Great Depression in the 1930s, the curly headed child star was still influencing and bringing happiness to a young girl in South Carolina.

The dimple faced, curly topped child star was the top box office draw of the 1930s.
The story told is that Temple was discovered in her dance class at age 3, hiding under a piano.

Shirley Temple dressed as Marlene Dietrich in the Baby Burlesk short "Kid N Hollywood."

Shirley Temple dressed as Marlene Dietrich in the Baby Burlesk short “Kid N Hollywood.”

From 1932 until 1933, many of her films were shorts. Some were called Baby Burlesks, involving child actors like Temple dressing up like popular stars such as Mae West and Marlene Dietrich.

With her 56 pin-curls and song-and-dance films, President Franklin Roosevelt once said the United States couldn’t have made it through the Depression without her.

She also saved 20th Century Fox studio from bankruptcy, according to her obituary in the Los Angles Times.

She made 40 movies before she turned 12, and eight of those were in 1934.

Temple was the first child star to carry a full weight picture on her own; not as a secondary actor, according to Dickie Moore’s book “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star (and don’t have sex or take the car). Her co-stars included top Hollywood names such as Carole Lombard, Gary Cooper, Joel McCrea, Alice Faye, Adolphe Monjou, Victor McLaglen and Lionel Barrymore.

She loved dancing with her friend Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and was didn’t understand why he was treated differently because he was black.

Shirley with J. Edgar Hoover in 1938.

Shirley with J. Edgar Hoover in 1938.

She met important figures such as President Franklin Roosevelt, head of FBI J. Edgar Hoover and Amelia Earhart.

Temple knew her lines and everyone else’s, frequently correcting the adult actors to their chagrin.

“She was a nice kid, with a really wonderful mother and father. We all liked her,” said actress Alice Faye who starred in “Poor Little Rich Girl” (1936) with Temple. “But she was brilliant. She knew everyone’s dialogue and, if you forgot a line, she gave it to you. We all hated her for that.”

Because of Temple, other parents hoped to get their children in films, so their children would be the breadwinners while the parents couldn’t find work during the Depression.

Temple was treated like a princess. She had a bowling alley and a life sized play house in her backyard.

Shirley with top stars Carole Lombard and Gary Cooper in "Now and Forever" (1934)

Shirley with top stars Carole Lombard and Gary Cooper in “Now and Forever” (1934)

However, even Hollywood’s greatest star faced difficulties.

Temple’s father had a hard time finding work, because employers assumed he had enough money because of Shirley’s films, according Moore’s book.

Temple was isolated from the other children. Many parents of child stars did this, because they didn’t want their children fraternizing with a child who may be competing for the same role.

However, publicity departments made it look like Temple had lots of friends. Each year she would have three birthday parties: one with other child actors, one on set with the crew and one with her family.

Shirley Temple cutting the cake at her birthday party in 1935.

Shirley Temple cutting the cake at her birthday party in 1935.

“The parties were endless…Fox would have one for a large number of people I didn’t know, a lot of children I’d never seen in my life and would never see again,” Temple told Moore. “And I was the hostess. It was kind of strange. I figured it was part of my job.”

Moore said Temple was sweet; the real problem was her stage mother Gertrude Temple. Gertrude was responsible for making sure Temple had the maximum amount of screen time. This included demanding a touching scene with child star Sybil Jason being cut from “Blue Bird” (1940).

Temple also faced the same fate as child star Jackie Coogan: her parents spent all of her money.

After marrying Charles Black, the couple looked at her finances that much of her money had been spent to support her family-what was left belonged to her parents. There should have been $356,000 in her account, but her father, George, disobeyed court orders and kept the money, according to BBC.

Shirley Temple with Monty Wooley and Soda the dog in my favorite movie, "Since You Went Away"

Shirley Temple with Monty Wooley and Soda the dog in my favorite movie, “Since You Went Away”

The transition from child star to teenager was difficult for Temple as it is with other stars.
However, Temple starred in several charming films as a teenager such as “Kathleen” (1941), “That Hagen Girl” (1947) and my all-time favorite film “Since You Went Away” (1944).

Though I was sad when I heard the news of Shirley Temple’s death at age 85 on February 10, I remembered she had a long life.

After leaving her film career behind at age 22, Temple went into politics.

In 1968, she was a delegate to the United Nations and in 1974 was an ambassador to Ghana, according to Temple’s USA Today obituary.

After divorcing John Agar, her husband of five years, Temple was married to Charles Black for 55 years until his death in 2005.

Actress Shirley Temple and her husband, Charles G. Black at the Stork Club in 1953.

Actress Shirley Temple and her husband, Charles G. Black at the Stork Club in 1953.

She said in her autobiography that in her adult life, the child actress seems more like a dream or a younger sister to her.

Though she is gone, Temple will continue to bring happiness to film fans as she has continued to do for the last 80 years.

Added bonus: Me in high school as Shirley with "Juliet"

Added bonus: Me in high school as Shirley with “Juliet”

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Musical Monday: Week-End in Havana (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.

Week-end_in_havanaThis week’s musical:
Week-End in Havana” (1941)–Musical #479

20th Century Fox

Walter Lang

Alice Faye, John Payne, Cesar Romero, Carmen Miranda, Cobina Wright, Leonid Kinskey, George Barbier

Macy’s shop girl Nan Spencer (Faye) saves up her money to go on her first cruise to Havana. The only problem is, the ship hits a sandbar in Florida and the ship company has to reimburse everyone and offer them another trip. When ship employee Jay Williams (Payne)-who is also engaged to the boss’s daughter- is sent to reimburse the passengers and have them sign waivers, Nan isn’t satisfied with a check. She saved for years for this trip and also knows what the captain was doing when the ship crashed, which could threaten a lawsuit for the company.
Jay’s company sends Nan on an all expenses paid trip to Havana so she will sign the company’s waiver. Jay has to go along-postponing his wedding- to make sure Nan has a good time. Along the way she falls for Monte Blanca (Romero), who is the boyfriend/manager of Rosita Rivas (Miranda). Monte thinks Nan is wealthy and thinks he is using her to pay off his gambling debts.

-This is one of many films made in the 1940s with a “good neighbor” feel to it. Several films visited Latin American countries such as Cuba, Argentina or Brazil to showcase these countries and strengthen United States relations with Latin American government.
-Carmen Miranda’s second film.
-This was the second of three films Miranda and Faye made together. The other two films were “That Night in Rio” (1941) and “The Gang is All Here” (1943).

John Payne, Alice Faye, Carmen Miranda and Cesar Romero in "Week-End in Havana."

John Payne, Alice Faye, Carmen Miranda and Cesar Romero in “Week-End in Havana.”

-Every colorful Carmen Miranda performance
-Alice Faye and Cesar Romero dancing to “Romance and Rhumba.” It gives the audience an opportunity to see Romero’s smooth dance moves.

Notable Songs:
-Tropical Magic sung by Alice Faye and John Payne
-Rebola a Bola sung by Carmen Miranda
-The Ñango sung by Carmen Miranda complete with a lavish dance number
-Romance and Rhumba sung by Alice Faye and Cesar Romero

Alice Faye once said her singing voice was deeper than the plots of the films she made.
This may be the case with “Week-End in Havana,” but this film is a lot of fun. The colorful costumes and scenery are gorgeous in Technicolor, Carmen Miranda and Alice Faye are equipped with catchy songs and the two leading men are nice to look at.
The four leads seem to have fairly equal screen time- each delivering witty lines and offering scenes filled with charm.
Week-End in Havana” is a lighthearted 1940s “good neighbor” film, that is full of color and fun.

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Hollywood Odd Couples

Feel free to listen to this tune as you read:

Love comes in many forms and opposites attract- Paula Abdul even said so in her music video with the singing cat.
However, sometimes people marry who just don’t quite seem to fit.
Here are a few examples of some odd Hollywood couples.  Apparently, these celebrities agree that the puzzle pieces didn’t quite fit since all of these marriages ended in divorce.
These prove that Neil Simon doesn’t have the market cornered on odd couples.

Ernest Borgnine and Ethel Merman (June 26, 1964 – July 28, 1964)

Ethel Merman and Ernest Borgnine on their wedding day in 1964.

Ethel Merman and Ernest Borgnine on their wedding day in 1964.

Borgnine was the gruff working man in films and Merman was the glamorous Broadway diva. The two met in November of 1963, the same year Borgnine divorced from his wife, Mexican actress Katy Jurado.
Merman was nine years older than Borgnine. After they met, Borgnine started courting Merman.
“I’ve never been in love, really in love, before,” Merman told reporters according to Ethel Merman: A Life by Brian Kellow. “For the first time in my life I feel protected.”
After a six month courtship, the two were married.
“Everyone thinks she’s loud and brash. But she’s the opposite,” Borgnine was quoted in Brass Diva: The Life and Legends of Ethel Merman by Caryl Flinn. “She’s soft, gentle and shy. And you know me, I’m ‘Marty.’”
The two married on June 26, 1964 and were divorced 32 days later on July 28, 1964.
Merman never gave reasons for the divorce and Borgnine said in interviews it’s because more people knew him than her on their honeymoon.
“Everybody knew me, but they didn’t know Ethel overseas,” Borgnine said in an interview. “The more they recognised me, the madder she got. That’s what hurt her, so she started taking it out on me.
After the divorce, Merman referred to the marriage as “That thing.” In her autobiography, the chapter “My Marriage to Ernest Borgnine” is one blank page.

Ava Gardner and Mickey Rooney (Jan. 10 1942 – May 21, 1943)

Mickey Rooney and Ava Gardner in 1941.

Mickey Rooney and Ava Gardner in 1941.

Newcomer to MGM Ava Gardner met star Mickey Rooney when he was dressed as Carmen Miranda for “Babes on Broadway.” While dressed as the Brazilian Bombshell, Rooney asked Gardner for her number.
North Carolinian, inexperienced Gardner had just arrived to Hollywood and Rooney was a well-known playboy.
“I married him because he wanted to get in my britches,” Gardner once said. “And I wasn’t going to let him until we were married.”
MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer and Rooney’s parents were not pleased with the couple’s marriage.
“I fell madly in love with Ava the first night I went out with her,” Rooney once said. “And later when I asked her to marry me, she wouldn’t have any part of it, like the problem I had getting her number, until I wore her down.”
Rooney spoke fondly of his brief marriage to Gardner in a documentary on her life. The documentary said Gardner thought their marriage would be like her parents: cooking for Rooney and having children. Rooney preferred the night life.

Gloria Swanson and Wallace Beery (March 27, 1916 – March 1, 1919)

gloria wallace

Wallace Beery and Gloria Swanson

“Two of the more trivial topics I never discuss are my marriage to Wallace Beery and those frozen dinners which have become famous with my name on them,” Gloria Swanson said.
The two were married after they starred in “Speedie Goes to College” in 1915.
Swanson was a glamorous leading lady and Beery was a gruff, burly man who was notoriously difficult to work with.
Swanson writes in her autobiography “Swanson on Swanson” that Wallace Beery made many forceful advances on their wedding night, leaving her bleeding and in pain.
Swanson also wrote he would pick up her salary for her at the studio and spend it before she saw it.
Beery cheated on Swanson and was abusive. In her autobiography, she writes that he gave her pills when he found out she was pregnant, and implies Beery made her get an abortion.
She woke up in the hospital and a nurse told, “You have nothing to be down in the mouth about, honey. You’re young. You’re pretty. You’ve got all the time in the world to have another baby.”
The couple separated and divorced two years later.

Richard Ney and Greer Garson (July 24, 1943 – Sept. 25, 1947)

Greer Garson and Richard Ney

Greer Garson and Richard Ney

Ney met Garson while he was playing her son in the film “Mrs. Miniver.”
He was 12 years younger than the Academy Award winning actress.
Ney asked Garson out for dinner and dancing, and she accepted, but she remained distant from her on-screen son during the remainder of the filming for “Mrs. Miniver.”
“I went dancing with Mr. Ney and I had the most beautiful time,” Garson was quoted in saying A Rose for Mrs. Miniver: The Life of Greer Garson by Michael Troyan.
MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer disapproved of their relationship and it would be unfavorable publicity for an on-screen mother and son to date, according to Troyan’s book.
They kept their romance secret until “Mrs. Miniver” premiered, and Mayer was right- the couple received unfavorable publicity. Garson told reporters she wanted to marry Ney because he made her feel younger, Troyan wrote.
However, gossip columns began talking about their unraveling marriage.
In the second Miniver film, “The Miniver Story,” Ney’s character was recast.

Linda Darnell and J. Peverell Marley (April 18, 1943 – Feb. 20, 1951)

Pev Marley and Linda Darnell on their wedding day.

Pev Marley and Linda Darnell on their wedding day.

Darnell was 20 when she married 42 year old Marley.
Darnell started in Hollywood as a teenager and didn’t have a father figure growing up. The cinematographer was sort of a mentor to the young girl, according to the Biography documentary, “Fallen Angel.”
Marley was a close friend of Darnell’s frequent leading man Tyrone Power. Marley helped sculpt Darnell’s Hollywood image, according to the book Hollywood Beauty: Linda Darnell and the American Dream by Ronald L. Davis.
Marley and Darnell would occasionally frequent night clubs but the press dismissed him as an old friend and escort, according to Davis’s book.
While Pev Marley remained a constant form of strength, the two eloped to Las Vegas. Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck was furious, saying it would ruin her image. No one had seen the two as more than friends.
“I like him and age doesn’t matter,” Darnell wrote in fan magazines. “I feel people meant well when they busy bodied about me marrying Pev. It’s just they couldn’t know the truth.”
Darnell announced the two separated while filming “My Darling Clementine” (1946), but then the two began seeing each other while she was filming “Forever Amber” (1947). The two then adopted Charlotte, nicknamed “Lola.” They separated again in 1948 and finally divorced in 1952.

Lupe Velez and Johnny Weissmuller (Oct. 8 1933 – 1939)

Lupe Velez and Johnny Weissmuller in 1935.

Lupe Velez and Johnny Weissmuller in 1935.

Velez’s relationship had recently ended with Gary Cooper when she met Weissmuller.
She was known as the “Mexican Spitfire” and Weissmuller was Hollywood’s Tarzan.
Velez and Weissmuller were staying in the same hotel one night. She called up his room to ask him down for a drink. He hung up on her because he thought it was someone joking. Velez called back and was furious. He apologized and went down to her room, according to the book Tarzan, My Father by Johnny Weissmuller.
Weissmuller was already married to Bobbe Arnst when he started his relationship with Lupe in 1932.
Weissmuller’s son wrote that Velez was good for Johnny, because she was funny and made him laugh. However, she was also supposedly a manic depressive and had low times and also had a very bad temper.
“Dad just couldn’t handle her,” Weissmuller, Jr. wrote.
Once they were married, the two realized they were opposites. Velez went to bed late and woke up late and Weissmuller went to bed early and woke up early. Lupe was spontaneous and Weissmuller wasn’t. She once said in 1934 she felt they would go on quarreling forever, according to the book Lupe Velez: The Life and Career of Hollywood’s “Mexican Spitfire” by Michelle Vogel.
The two separated several times and Velez had several affairs, Weissmuller, Jr. wrote.
But the couples split was supposedly over a dog, according to both Vogel and Weissmuller, Jr.
Weissmuller came home and his dog Otto didn’t great him. When he asked Velez where he was, she said a stranger came in and killed him. Weissmuller said she was lying, packed his bags and never returned.

Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe (June 29, 1956 – Jan. 20, 1961)

Play write Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe in 1956.

Play write Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe in 1956.

Though Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe were an odd couple, they seem normal in comparison to Monroe and play wright Arthur Miller.
Monroe’s glittering screen persona better matched DiMaggio’s baseball fame better than Miller’s literary standing.
Miller liked how Monroe listened to his ideas. Monroe liked how intelligent he was and how he supported her career and ambitions, unlike DiMaggio, according to the book The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe by J. Randy Taraborrelli.
When they married, Miller told the press that Monroe would make one film every 18 months, lasting eight weeks shooting time, and be a wife when she wasn’t making films, according to BBC.
Their relationship supposedly started to decline during the filming of “Let’s Make Love” (1960).  Monroe had an affair with Yves Montand, who was also friends with Miller, according to Arthur Miller: His Life and Work by Martin Gottfried.
Supposedly their divorce was over their different lifestyles. At the time of their divorce, Miller was working the script for Monroe’s film, “The Misfits” but it was said they barely spoke on set, according to the BBC.
Monroe died nearly a year later after their divorce.
Apparently Miller was “haunted by Monroe” because he “never resolved their relationship or understood his role in the public’s ongoing obsession with her,” according Gottfried’s book.

Betty Grable and Jackie Coogan (Nov. 20, 1937 – Oct. 8, 1940)

Jackie Coogan and Betty Grable in "College Swing" (1938)

Jackie Coogan and Betty Grable in “College Swing” (1938)

The glamour girl marries the former child star turned comedian.
The couple had a long engagement and Grable’s contract didn’t allow her marry before she was 21, according to Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary.
Grable and Coogan were married while he was fighting his lawsuit over misappropriation of the salary he earned as a child star. Part of the reason their marriage dissolved was over the stress of Coogan’s trial trying to get his money back, according to Dickie Moore’s book no child stars ““Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (but don’t have sex or take the car).”
“Betty was working hard on her career getting nowhere (her career didn’t take hold until 1939), and she was paying all the bills,” according to Jackie Coogan: The World’s Boy King by Diana Serra Cary.
Once the lawsuit was finally settled, Grable came home from the studio to find all of their wedding gifts gone and Coogan had sold them. The only thing left in the house where the stove, refrigerator and beds, according to Cary’s book.
Coogan also started heavily drinking. For the millions of dollars squandered by his mother and stepfather, he received $80,000 in the settlement.
After Grable signed with Fox, she filed for divorce. In 1940, she became a star with “Down Argentine Way” and Coogan, who at one time had been on top, was struggling. His time spent fighting in World War II was what helped him straighten out, Coogan told Moore in his book.

Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles (Sept. 7, 1943 – Dec. 1, 1948)

Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles sign their marriage license in 1943.

Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles sign their marriage license in 1943.

Rita Hayworth was Hollywood’s love goddess, though rather down to Earth in real life. Orson Welles was the controversial intellectual, scaring the Americans with the “War of the Worlds” broadcast and getting his film “Citizen Kane” banned from mainstream movie houses.
They were labeled the Beauty and the Brain.
But of her five husbands, Hayworth is said to have cared for Welles the most and called him the love of her life, according to The Hollywood Book of Breakups  by James Robert Parish.
Hayworth was dating Victor Mature when Welles met her and Mature went to fight in World War II. Hayworth turned him down many time but Welles said he “persevered” and he won her over.
“It took me five weeks to get Rita to answer the phone,” Welles once said. “But once she did, we were out that night.”
Her shyness is what attracted Welles, according to Orson Welles: A Biography by Barbara Leaming.
Under Welles’ influence, Hayworth read more literature. He even transformed her sexy redhead image by making her an icy blond for his noir film “The Lady from Shanghai” (1947). The public was not pleased.
“Orson Welles was trying something new with me on The Lady from Shanghai (1947) but Harry Cohn wanted The Image — The Image he was going to make me until I was 90,” Hayworth once said.
Their marriage was disintegrating after “The Lady from Shanghai” was completed. Hayworth accused him of being with other women and Welles didn’t understand her jealousy. Though they tried to reconcile, Hayworth eventually filed for divorce, according to Leaming’s book.
“I can’t take his genius anymore,” Hayworth said when they divorced.

Who are some Hollywood couples you always thought were interesting matches? Comment below and tell us who and why!

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Musical Monday: One in a Million (1936)

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.

one-in-a-million-sonja-henie-1936-everettThis week’s musical:
One In A Million” (1936)–Musical #478

20th Century Fox

Sidney Lanfield

Sonja Henie, Don Ameche, Adolph Menjou, Jean Hersholt, Ned Sparks, June Wilkins, the Ritz Brothers

Tad Spencer (Menjou) is broke and takes his female band (including his wife) to the Swiss Alps. They come to an inn run by Henriech Muller (Hersholt) and his daughter Greta (Henie). Greta is a figure skater training for the Winter Olympics. Henriech lost out on a figure skating medal in 1908 and has been training his daughter as a skater. Tad sees dollar signs when he see her skate and wants him in her act. The only problem is Greta is being paid for a nightclub act would hurt her amateur standing in the games. Bob Harris (Ameche) and his photographer Danny Simpson (Sparks), also arrives at the hotel to investigate a fire that may have been an assassination attempt.

-First film of Olympic figure skater medalist Sonja Henie.
-The film features footage from the 1936 Winter Olympics. Henie won her won her third consecutive gold medal in woman’s figure skating at the 1936 games in Bavaria, Germany.
-After winning three gold medals a the Olympics in 1928, 1932 and 1936, Henie was signed to 20th Century Fox for this film and “Thin Ice.” In his memos, studio head Darryl F. Zanuck wrote to give the Norwegian skater “as little and as simple dialogue” and “give her only questions and answers; questions which are questions, answers which are direct statement.” He picked this script for Henie, because it had very few acting scenes, according to Memo from Darryl F. Zanuck: The Golden Years at Twentieth Century Fox.
-MGM was originally the studio interested in Henie as soon as she turned pro. Zanuck wanted to sign Henie as a featured performer, but she stood her ground because she wanted to be a star. “I have an all-consuming desire to become a movie star, and nothing will stop me in that effort,” Henie said to American reporters, according to Skating on Air by Kelli Lawrence
-Don Ameche’s sixth film.
-This film was a box office success and made Henie a star at Fox. Film critic Frank Nugent called Henie’s films the “Sonie Henie riddle” of how to plan a plot around figure skating scenes, according to Twentieth Century-Fox: The Zanuck-Skouras Years, 1935-1965 by Peter Lev.

Arline Judge and Adolph Monjou check in to an inn run by Jean Hersholt and Sonja Henie in "One in a Million."

Arline Judge and Adolph Monjou check in to an inn run by Jean Hersholt and Sonja Henie in “One in a Million.”

-Jack Haskell was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Dance Direction for “Skating Ensemble.”

-Sonja Henie skating 20 minutes into the film to show off her talent. She starts off simply practicing on the ice and then Menjou has a dream sequence of how he could make money off of her talent.
-Sonja’s skating performance for the Olympics in the film.

Notable Songs:
-Who’s Afraid of Love sung by Leah Ray and Don Ameche

This movie is notable because of it started the film career of figure skater Sonja Henie. It was also the start of another “film novelty.” Henie’s films were successful- similar to swimmer Esther Williams later on- because they offered something different that most movie goers had not seen before.
The plot is thin, but fun with a good supporting cast of Don Ameche, Adolph Menjou, Jean Hersholt and the always sour-faced (yet delightful) Ned Sparks.
My main complaint with this movie is the Ritz Brothers. I have seen them in several films, and still do not understand their appeal. They had three or four gigantic chunks in the film where they performed worn out vaudeville routines. I can’t deny that I fast-forwarded through the majority of their scenes.
Ritz Brothers aside, Henie’s skating routines are lovely and it’s interesting to see how figure skating has evolved since the 1930s.

The film ends with a lavish ice skating performance with Sonja Henie and several skating men.

The film ends with a lavish ice skating performance with Sonja Henie and several skating men.

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Musical Monday: “Cairo” (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.

cairoThis week’s musical:
Cairo” (1942)–Musical #477


W.S. Van Dyke
Jeannette MacDonald, Robert Young, Ethel Waters, Reginald Owen, Grant Mitchell, Lionell Atwill, Rhys Williams, MonaBarrie

Small town reporter Homer Smith (Young) is picked to travel abroad to cover the war after his newspaper is chosen as “America’s Typical Small Town Newspaper.” On his way to Cairo, his ship sinks and he floats along the ocean with another survivor (Owen) who gives him a message to deliver if they both survive. Hence, Homer gets mixed up in a spy ring. Once the message is delivered, Homer becomes convinced that singer and movie star Marcia Warren (MacDonald) is also a spy and begins working as her butler so he can investigate her. Marcia also believes Homer is a spy. While they investigate each other, the real spy ring is working to explode an Allied convoy.

-Director W.S. Van Dyke is credited as “Maj. W.S. Van Dyke.” Dyke was promoted to Major prior to World War II and set up a Marine Corps recruiting center in his MGM office. He convinced several actor to join up.

-Lena Horne was originally cast as the Ethel Water’s role as MacDonald’s maid. However, Horne refused to play roles that made her domestic servants, according to Leading Ladies: The 50 Most Unforgettable Actresses of the Studio Era

-The movie was originally to be shot in Technicolor but was switched to black and white, according to TThe Espionage Filmography by Paul Mavis.

-Jeannette MacDonald’s film that she was fully the star.

-One of Jeanette MacDonald’s least popular films, according to TThe Hollywood Musical Goes to War by Allen Woll. (Even more than I Married an Angel?)

-Jeannette MacDonald singing “Les Filles de Cadiz” in the credits and on the movie screen is edited footage from the 1937 film “Maytime.”

Jeanette MacDonald is worried Robert Young has fallen into hands of spies. Also pictured- Ethel Waters and Rhys Williams.

Jeanette MacDonald is worried Robert Young has fallen into hands of spies. Also pictured- Ethel Waters and Rhys Williams.

-Ethel Waters sings operatically in response to Jeanette’s singing.

-Robert Young’s hilarious fake English accent he uses to get a job as MacDonald’s butler.

Funny quotes such as:
-Robert: Have you ever been in San Francisco?
Jeanette MacDonald: Yes. Once with Gable and Tracey and the joint fell apart.

Notable Songs:
-Buds Won’t Bud sung by Ethel Waters and Dooley Wilson
-Waiting for Robert E. Lee sung by Jeanette MacDonald and Ethel Waters (notable for the fact that MacDonald lets loose and isn’t singing in an opera voice)
-Les Filles de Cadix sung by Jeanette MacDonald. (We only hear this song over the credits and see footage of MacDonald singing it in “Maytime,” but I love this song and had to add it).
-”Il Bacio” sung by Jeanette MacDonald in a bathtub and Ethel Waters echoing back in a faux opera voice. Hilarious.
-From the Land of the Sky-Blue Water sung by Jeanette MacDonald
-Beautiful Ohio sung by Jeanette MacDonald

This is not your typical Jeanette MacDonald musical where she is singing with Nelson Eddy as a princess, opera singer or duchess. In fact, this is a lot more fun. Really, this is more an MGM comedy with a few songs added in for MacDonald and Ethel Waters.

I really enjoyed seeing MacDonald in a comedic role. She was funny, down to Earth, had great comedic delivery and I wish she made movies like this. There are even jokes in the film picking fun of MacDonald’s films such as “San Francisco.” The ever underrated Robert Young is also a delight, as always. Waters is hilarious as well and we get the opportunity to hear her sing.

Plain and simple, I loved this film.  No, there is real no message or heartfelt moment and it is one of Jeanette MacDonald’s least popular films but….I found it enjoyable. There is just something about a W.S. Van Dyke directed film. It had several laugh out loud moments and I plan on buying it on DVD very soon.

Publicity photo of Robert Young and Jeanette MacDonald for "Cairo."

Publicity photo of Robert Young and Jeanette MacDonald for “Cairo.”

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Musical Monday: “Can-Can” (1960)

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.

Can_CanThis week’s musical:
Can-Can” (1960) — Musical #506

20th Century Fox

Walter Lang

Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine, Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan, Juliet Prowse

Set in 1896 France, Simone Pistache (MacLaine) owns a nightclub that continuously is raided by police for performing the lewd can-can dance.  Simone is in love with her lawyer François Durnais (Sinatra) and helps keep her out of jail. Judge Philipe Forrestier is the one who keeps getting the club raided, but Philipe ends up falling in love with Simone and the two are engaged, jilting Francois.

-During the filming, USSR leader Nikita Khrushchev visited the set and was shocked by the film. He called it “immoral.” He said, “The face of humanity is prettier than it’s backside,” and Shirley MacLaine said he was just mad that the dancers were wearing underwear during the can-can dance. The incident gained the film national publicity, according to Shirley MacLaine.

Shirley MacLaine performs like a Can Can girl for Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev at the 20th Century Fox Studios. Left to right: Louis Jourden, Mr. Khrushchev, Shirley MacLaine, Mrs. Khrushchev, Maurice Chevalier, and Frank Sinatra.

Shirley MacLaine performs like a Can Can girl for Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev at the 20th Century Fox Studios. Left to right: Louis Jourden, Mr. Khrushchev, Shirley MacLaine, Mrs. Khrushchev, Maurice Chevalier, and Frank Sinatra.

-Juliet Prowse’s first film.
-Frank Sinatra requested Shirley MacLaine for this film, requiring 20th Century Fox to buy out her Columbia Pictures contract for “Who’s That Lady?” that Janet Leigh eventually starred in, according to Sinatra in Hollywood by Tom Santopietro.
-Frank Sinatra didn’t like to work before noon so they worked “French hours” when shooting the film. During the World Series, no one would know where Sinatra was until they would see him on TV in a box watching the game at the stadium, according to Shirley MacLaine.
-The original play opened on Broadway in 1953 and ran for 892 performance. Gwenn Verdon won the 1954 Tony Award for Supporting or Featured Actress in a Musical.
-The film was rather different from the stage version which gave it some bad reviews: “The music has been reduced to snatches, the book has been weirdly changed and the dances-well they have been knocked out by some tired jigs, knocked out by Hermes Pan,” said the New York Times in 1960.
-Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Costume Design by Irene Scharaff and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture by Nelson Riddle.

-A man walks up, slaps Shirley MacLaine, rips off her skirt and then they start a strange dance of dragging each other around. This is the Apache Dance. I’m not saying this is a good dance, it’s just random and notable because of its oddness.
-The Garden of Eden Ballet is the best part of the film, aside from the dancers dressed as bunnies and monkeys. It gives us a chance to actually see the dancing talents of Juliet Prowse, Marc Wilder and Shirley MacLaine.

Shirley MacLaine and Marc Wilder dance the "Garden of Eden" ballet

Shirley MacLaine and Marc Wilder dance the “Garden of Eden” ballet

Notable Songs:
The movie is filled with famous Cole Porter songs such as “It Was Just One of Those Things,” “Let’s Do It” and “You Do Something to Me.” However, while Sinatra, Chevalier and Jourdan sing the songs well,  the song placements seem awkward.

My Review:
Why is there so much screaming when the can-can is danced?
But that’s besides the point.
This movie is overly long and the majority of the stars are miscast. Basically, the two leads are a mess, in my opinion. Shirley MacLaine is a fine dancer, her singing is only okay and her acting in this film is mediocre. Frank Sinatra seems silly as a Frenchman, but has good vocals. Louis Jourdan, as handsome as ever, and Maurice Chevalier-reunited together two years after “Gigi” (1958)- are just fine and fit into the plot well. A star-studded cast with Cole Porter songs shouldn’t go wrong, but it did.
I enjoy plenty of films that are full of fluff, but this one seems overly long for the plot we are given. While the score is chock-full of excellent Cole Porter songs, they just….seem oddly placed.
Visually, the movie is gorgeous with Louis Jourdan’s good looks and lovely costumes by Irene Scharff. The Garden of Eden Ballet is also gorgeous and the best part of the film.
When a five minute dance is the best part of a 131 minute film, this is a problem.

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Musical Monday: “Follow the Fleet” (1936)

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 fleet 2This week’s musical:
Follow the Fleet” (1936) — Musical #155


Mark Sandrich

Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Randolph Scott, Harriet Hilliard, Betty Grable, Lucille Ball

Bake Baker (Astaire) joined the Navy after his former dance partner Sherry Martin (Rogers) turned him down when he asked her to marry him.
Now he’s back on shore leave and he meets her by chance at a 10 cents a dance joint.
Sherry’s bookish sister Connie (Hilliard) meets Bake’s sea mate Bilge Smith (Scott) and falls in love with him. But Bilge isn’t read to settle down and starts running around with a rich divorcee.

follow the fleet

Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire dance to “Let Yourself Go”

-This movie was made after the success of “Roberta.” RKO wanted to bring Randolph Scott and Irene Dunne back together again for another film with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers as the secondary leads, according to TCM host Robert Osborne. Dunne’s contract expired with RKO and she went on to star in “Showboat” (1936). New comer Harriet Hilliard was selected to fill the Irene Dunne role, Osborne said.
-The beaded dress Ginger Rogers wears in “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” was very heavy. Fred Astaire said the dress was too heavy to be made for dancing. During the first take, a long sleeve hit Astaire in the face. After 20 more takes, Astaire felt like the first take was their best, said Robert Osborne.
-Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ fifth film together.
-The couple in the dance contest with Astaire and Rogers were unknowns picked by choreographer Hermes Pan.
-Lucille Ball and Betty Grable have small roles in the film.
-Actor/singer Tony Martin has an uncredited role in the film.
-Irving Berlin wrote “Get Thee Behind Me, Satan” was originally written for “Top Hat.”
-Adapted from the play “Shore Leave.”

-Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in the dance contest. They do impressive dance steps and Rogers is wearing pants so you can actually see the dance moves she’s doing.

Notable Songs:
All the songs are quality because the score is written by Irving Berlin but my favorites are:
-”Let Yourself Go” sung by Ginger Rogers
-”I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket” sung by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
-”Let’s Face the Music and Dance” sung by Fred Astaire

Harriet Hilliard and Randolph Scott in "Follow the Fleet"

Harriet Hilliard and Randolph Scott in “Follow the Fleet”

My Review:
While this was following the success of “Roberta,” it isn’t quite as good as “Roberta.” Harriet Hilliard is fine, but I would have loved to see Irene Dunne in the role.
The music in this Astaire and Rogers film is terrific since the score is written by Irving Berlin. It is also a real treat that all but one of Rogers’ dance performances are done in pants so you can see her footwork better than when she is wearing a ballgown.
The plot isn’t bad but some of the lines said in the film could be bothersome to the contemporary viewer. Such as Ginger Rogers saying you have to be dumb to get a man. Or that Harriet salvages a boat for a man she doesn’t even know.
Regardless of my issues with silly parts of the plot, if you are a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers fan, this is definitely a movie you should see. 

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