Father’s Day with Comet’s Dad

Father’s Day from Comet Over Hollywood! This year, we have a few words from my dad.

As we did on Mother’s Day, I have a video of telling about his film love and introducing his children to classic films–particularly “West Side Story” (1961) to me:

Father’s Day from the Comet Archives:
My dad, the practical movie watcher
What Fathered Comet’s Interested?

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A Familiar Face: Character actor John Ridgely

Character actor John Ridgely

Character actor John Ridgely

They are the highlights of most of our favorite films; coming in with the most striking lines and comedic moments.

A character actor is often the best part of the film. Not the star and a little lower than the secondary lead, a character actor has something distinct that they carry from film to film; whether it’s a funny voice, a physical appearance or personality trait. Think S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall’s chubby cheeks, Joyce Compton’s southern drawl or Una O’Connor’s fussy Irish habits.

But there are character actors who are just below these sidekick-like roles. The audience recognizes their face but may not know their name. These actors usually perform a role in the film that helps move the plot along, even if it is something as simple as being a police officer arresting the bad guy or a hotel clerk checking the lead actors into a hotel.

This role describes the versatile “every man” actor, John Ridgely (sometimes spelled Ridgeley). Born John Huntington Rea in Illinois, Ridgely was a graduate of Stanford University with plans to go into an industrial career. After performing in plays with the Pasadena Playhouse, Ridgely entered films in the 1930s.

If you have watched a Warner Brother’s film made between 1935 and 1948, chances are you have spotted Ridgley. The tall, dark haired vaguely attractive actor appeared in 145 feature films. His roles ranged from police officers, doctors, heavies, truck drivers, salesmen, orchestra leaders, part of a double date, cab drivers, hotel clerks, coroners and reporters.

John Ridgely as a hotel clerk in

John Ridgely as a hotel clerk in “Nancy Drew-Reporter.”

Some of his films include The Big Sleep (1946), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), “They Died With Their Boots On (1941), The Letter (1940) and Dark Victory (1939), humorously listed as Man Making Crack About Judith.

Actress Lauren Bacall’s first screen test was with Ridgely for the film “To Have and Have Not” (1944), performing the famous “put your lips together and blow” scene. The scene was written without any real intention of keeping it in the film, but after seeing the screen test, director Howard Hawks changed his mind, according to Bacall’s autobiography “By Myself.”

But Ridgely received top billing in the 1943 World War II film “Air Force;” co-starring with John Garfield, Arthur Kennedy, Gig Young and Harry Carey.

John Ridgley had top billing in

John Ridgley had top billing in “Air Force.”

For his first (and last) time in a lead role, Ridgely does an excellent job. In the Feb. 4, 1943, New York Times film review, critic Bosely Crowther called Ridgely’s performance “refreshingly direct.”

“Mr. Hawks very wisely recruited a cast with no outstanding star, thus assuring himself the privilege of giving everyone a chance. And his actors have responded handsomely,” Crowther wrote.

Two years later, Ridgely acted with John Garfield in “Pride of the Marines” (1945). Though the role is not as large as “Air Force,” Ridgely has a sufficient amount of screen time as a next door neighbor and friend of Garfield and his wife, played by Eleanor Parker.

But regardless how much screen time he received in films, Ridgley garnered media attention, as most film stars in the classic era did. This included:

  • April 10, 1943: A humorous newspaper story in an April 10, 1943, article where Ridgely gave a few kids a ride. The kids asked to be let out of the car when they found out he was an actor.
  • July 20, 1943: “Theater Gossip” John Garfield and John Ridgley announced to be acting with Cary Grant in “Destination Tokyo.” The two Johns are both noted for just coming from the film “Air Force.”
  • Nov. 11, 1943:The Evening Independent, “Playhouse Film Provides Thrills, Flynn Stars in Hudson Bay Story of Nazi Spies”: Ridgley is noted for acting in the upcoming Errol Flynn film, “Northern Pursuit.”
  • Feb. 11, 1944: “Sign on Windshield Almost Ruins Actor,” an article tells how Ridgely almost was in a car accident due to his surprise of seeing an old woman driving a 1903 Baker Electric.
  • Oct. 27, 1944: “The Evening Independent” under “Theater Gossip”: John Ridgley is noted for playing a “heavy” in the upcoming film, “The Big Sleep.” “Assignment of Ridgely was announced at the same time it was disclosed Regis Toomey was signed for an important role as a fast talking muscle man…Ridgely portrayed a meteorologist in Destination Tokyo and a confused husband in The Doughgirls.”
  • April 6, 1945: Ridgely is mentioned in the sub-head of a review on “God is My Co-Pilot” starring Dennis Morgan.
  • May 27, 1951: article mentions Ridgely was celebrating his 19th anniversary in film and his next upcoming project, playing a doctor in the “The Blue Veil.”
Arthur Kennedy, Gig Young, John Ridgely and Charles Drake in

Arthur Kennedy, Gig Young, John Ridgely and Charles Drake in “Air Force.”

Ridgely left the industry in 1953 and died in Manhattan in 1968 of heart failure. Conflicting reports say he is buried in New York while other says Forest Lawn in Hollywood. Ridgley was married to Virginia Robinson and had a son, John Ridgely Rea.

While he wasn’t a huge star, Ridgely was still considered important enough to be noted by the press. Regardless of the role, Ridgely always adds something to the film and it’s fun to pick him out in his various roles.

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Musical Monday: Happy Go Lovely (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.

b70-15397This week’s musical:
“Happy Go Lovely” –Musical #125

Studio:
Associated British-Pathé (UK) and RKO Radio Pictures (US)

Director:
H. Bruce Humberstone

Starring:
David Niven, Vera-Ellen, Cesar Romero, Bobby Howes, Diane Hart, Kay Kendall (uncredited)

Plot:
Director John Frost (Romero) is putting on a show in Edenborough, Scotland, but doesn’t have a funds to do it. When a rumor starts that chorus dancer Janet Jones (Vera-Ellen) is engaged to greeting card millionaire B.G. Bruno (Niven), John makes Janet the lead with hopes that Bruno will put money in the show.

Trivia:
-This film was made in Great Britain in attempt to compete with American films and incorporate American pop culture in British films. They did so by starring and directing American talent, according to Popular Music On Screen: From Hollywood Musical to Music Video by John Mundy
-British musical films were struggling. Casting American talent in their films was one strategy to solve this, according to The International Film Musical edited by Corey Creekmur, Linda Mokdad
-When screened in the United States, a gag involving a kilt had to be cut, according to Banned in the U.S.A.: British Films in the United States and their Censorship, 1933-1966 by Anthony Slide.
-Vera-Ellen’s singing was dubbed by Eve Boswell, a singer popular in Great  Britain in the 1950s.

Vera-Ellen and David Niven in "Happy Go Lovely"

Vera-Ellen and David Niven in “Happy Go Lovely”

Notable Songs:
-“One, Two, Three” performed by Vera-Ellen
-“Would You-Could You?” performed by Vera-Ellen

Vera-Ellen and Cesar Romero in "Happy Go Lovely"

Vera-Ellen and Cesar Romero in “Happy Go Lovely”

My Review:
I love this musical.
There are some first time film watching experiences that you remember and sometimes reflect on. “Happy Go Lovely” is one of those for me. Sometimes I randomly remember laying on the couch on a Friday, fall afternoon after coming home from high school. It was the weekend and I was ready to relax with classic films. That film binge started with “Happy Go Lovely.” I loved it then and I love it now.
It’s a silly, and simple plot and it’s largely forgotten. I think that it’s not as recognized today by American audiences since it was made in Great Britain with stars popular in America.
This is a fun little cinderella story that starts with a big misunderstanding and a rumor which eventually becomes reality.
I always enjoy seeing Vera-Ellen on screen. We only had her in films for such a brief time: her career spanned from 1945 to 1957 with only 16 film and TV appearances. She always had a glittering prescience and is one of the best dancers to ever grace the silver screen.
Then we have David Niven. Niven is always charming, humorous and seems sincere in his acting, regardless of the role.
And to top it all off, we have Cesar Romero!
For a little British musical, “Happy Go Lovely” has a fun cast with a few laugh out loud moments and catchy songs. And it’s in Technicolor.
If you enjoy musicals and are looking for a little slice of escapism, this is one of my favorite “go-to’s.”

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Musical Monday: Show Business (1944)

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

This week’s musical: “Show Business” –Musical #516

Studio: RKO Pictures

Director: Edwin L. Marin

Starring: Eddie Cantor, George Murphy, Joan Davis, Nancy Kelly, Constance Moore, Donald Douglas, Dorothy Malone (uncredited)

Plot: Supposedly loosely based on Eddie Cantor’s rise to stardom, popular burlesque star George Doane (Murphy) takes Eddie Martin (Cantor) under his wing after Cantor wins amatuer night. The men meet Joan (Davis) and Connie (Ford) and the four of them decide to team up and try to strike it big in vaudeville. In between the singing and dancing, George and Connie fall in love.

Trivia:

-Produced by Eddie Cantor

-This picture was to celebrate Eddie Cantor’s 35th year in entertainment and is supposed to be a fictional biography of Cantor’s career, according to the 1944 New York Times review.

Highlights: -Joan Davis pretending to sing opera

Eddie Cantor, Constance Ford, Joan Davis, George Murphy in

Eddie Cantor, Constance Ford, Joan Davis, George Murphy in “Show Business.”

Notable Songs:

-“Good Ole Fashioned Girl” performed by the four leads

-“They’re Wearin’ ‘Em Higher in Hawaii” performed by George Murphy

-“I Don’t Want to Get Well” performed by Eddie Cantor

-“It Had to Be You” performed by George Murphy and Constance Ford

My Review: For a movie that is celebrating Eddie Cantor’s 35th year in entertainment, “Show Business” seems pretty lackluster. While I love George Murphy and enjoy Joan Davis’s humor, you somehow think a celebratory anniversary film would be in Technicolor with loads of stars. However, in comparison to the “Eddie Cantor Story” biopic, this film is gold. Despite this, “Show Business” is a charming little film filled with a dozen songs. I think the thing that struck me the most is how beautifully the quartet’s singing voices blended perfectly in harmony. Really lovely and superb. I also had a few laugh out loud moments at Joan Davis and Eddie Cantor’s humor. “Show Business” is an easily forgettable film in the grand scheme of movie musicals. But for 92 minutes when you sit down and watch it are a lot of fun. Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

Classic films in music videos: “Gimme Some More” by Busta Rhymes

This is June’s edition of Comet Over Hollywood’s film references in music videos.

Psycho_(1960)Composer Bernard Herrmann’s music is constantly sampled in contemporary pop culture; from commercials to spoofs on TV.

Several popular music artists have incorporated Herrmann’s music into their songs or music videos. For example, Lady Gaga used part of the “Vertigo” score in her 2011 “Born this Way” music video, which Comet Over Hollywood highlighted in 2013.

Another popular artist who sampled Herrmann’s work is American rapper and producer Busta Rhymes.

In his 1998 single “Gimme Some More” from the album E.L.E., Rhymes uses a part of the opening sequence from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film “Psycho,” composed by Herrmann. This song reached number one on the U.S. Billboard R&B/Hip Hop charts in 1999.

The sample of the opening score is used as throughout the song as the main beat.

Below is the song and the opening credits from Psycho for comparison: 

Love Bernard Herrmann? Our friends are making a documentary about Herrmann called “Lives of Bernard Herrmann.” Check them out on Facebook and Twitter.

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

Musical Monday: The Fabulous Dorseys (1947)

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:
“The Fabulous Dorseys” –Musical #314

fabulous dorsesys

Studio:
United Artists

Director:
Alfred E. Green

Starring:
As themselves: Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey
Also starring: Janet Blair, William Lundigan, Sara Allgood, Arthur Shields, Buz Buckley, Bobby Warde
Cameo appearances: Paul Whiteman, Charlie Barnet, Henry Busse, Bob Eberly, Helen O’Connell and Art Tatum.

Plot:
Starting in their youth in 1916, the film is a fictionalized biopic of bandleader brothers Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey who reached the height of their fame in the 1940s. The film depicts the brother’s differences and tumultuous relationship that lead to them splitting into their own separate bands.

Trivia:
-The film is based off of a Saturday Evening Post article called “The Battling Brothers Dorsey.”
-When the film was released in February 1947, their hometown in Pennsylvania designated the week “Dorsey Week.”
-The film failed critically and commercially and the brothers made no profit from the film, according to “Tommy Dorsey: Livin’ in a Great Big Way : a Biography” by Peter J. Levinson.

Tommy Dorsey playing the trombone and Jimmy Dorsey playing the saxophone.

Tommy Dorsey playing the trombone and Jimmy Dorsey playing the saxophone.

Highlights:
-Seeing the Dorsey brothers on screen together.

Notable Songs:
-Marie
-Tangerine
-Green Eyes performed by Bob Eberly and Helen O’Connell
-The Object of My Affection performed by Janet Blair
-Turquoise performed by Art Tatum

My Review:
This is one of the few biographical films I can think of that actually stars the people who it is about. While this film is mostly fictional, the fact that the film stars its subject matters is very interesting, and it’s notable to see the Dorsey brothers together on film.
Trombone playing Tommy Dorsey and saxophone playing Jimmy Dorsey were two of the top big band leaders of the 1930s and 1940s, though Tommy was probably more famous than his brother. Both brothers were featured as musicians in several films of the 1940s and 1950s, but Tommy popped up more often, particularly in MGM films such as “Ship Ahoy,” “DuBarry was a Lady” and “Thrill of Romance” and the Goldwyn film “A Song is Born” with Danny Kaye.
The film shows the Dorsey brothers growing up in humble upbringings and their father encouraging their musicianship, it seems that much is at least true. The film also shows the two brothers performing together in a band known as “the Dorsey Brothers” but frequently fighting, that much is also true.
The Dorsey brothers were extremely competitive, and though Tommy was more successful, he was jealous of his brother, according to the book “Tommy Dorsey: Livin’ in a Great Big Way : a Biography” by Peter J. Levinson.
The brothers formed their band in 1930 and split in 1935. Before their split, they tried to stay together by one brother directing the band for the first half of the performance and then switching, according to Levinson’s book. The two eventually formed again in 1953 to perform together, but both died only a few years later: Tommy in 1956 at age 51 and Jimmy in 1957 at age 53. Their mother (who is played by Sara Algood in the film), outlived her two musician sons, passing away in 1968 at the age of 93.
As actors, Tommy is much more natural and human on screen while Jimmy Dorsey seems a bit more like a 1930s Warner Brothers character actor.
The film almost concentrates too much on the two brothers fighting, which gets tedious. After the first two or three fights in the film, I think the audience gets the idea that they didn’t get along.
Janet Blair is in the film as a childhood friend who performed as their girl singer in the film and falls in love with a piano player. I’m sure that much is fictional and was added into the film so there was a romance somewhere in the plot line.
While the actual plotline is questionable, this film gives a brief glimpse into the lives of two brothers who had a longstanding feud and also gives you the opportunity to hear excellent music and musical cameos of some of the most popular performers of that time.

Publicity photo of Jimmy Dorsey, Janet Blair and Tommy Dorsey for "The Fabulous Dorseys" (1947).

Publicity photo of Jimmy Dorsey, Janet Blair and Tommy Dorsey for “The Fabulous Dorseys” (1947).

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Memorial Day Musical Monday: Four Jills In a Jeep (1944)

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

four jillsThis week’s musical:
“Four Jills and a Jeep” –Musical #514

Studio:
20th Century Fox

Director:
William A. Seiter

Starring:
Carole Landis, Kay Francis, Martha Raye, Mitzi Mayfair, Phil Silvers, John Harvey, Dick Haymes
Themselves: Betty Grable, Alice Faye, Carmen Miranda, George Jessel, Jimmy Dorsey

Plot:
This musical is based on Carole Landis’s book “Four Jills in a Jeep” about her USO tour in the UK and Northern Africa with Martha Raye, Kay Francis and Mitzi Mayfair. The actresses play themselves.

Trivia:
-Dick Haymes first film.
-The character of Ted Warren is based on Capt. Thomas Wallace, who Landis met abroad and was married to from 1943 to 1945.
-The film opens with a “Command Performance” radio program. These were recorded from 1942 through 1949 and were broadcast on the Armed Forces Radio Network (AFRS) with a direct shortwave transmission to the troops overseas. It was not broadcast over domestic U.S. radio stations.
-Betty Grable’s last black and white film.
-Mitzi Mayfair’s last film.

Publicity photo of Mitzi Mayfair, Martha Raye, Carole Landis and Kay Francis

Publicity photo of Mitzi Mayfair, Martha Raye, Carole Landis and Kay Francis

Notable Songs:
-“You’ll Never Know” performed by Alice Faye
-“I, Yi, Yi, Yi, Yi (I Like You Very Much)” performed by Carmen Miranda
-“Crazy Me” performed by Carole Landis

My Review:
The New York Times review said, “It (Four Jills in a Jeep) gives the painful impression of having been tossed together in a couple of hours.” This sadly is true. Carole Landis’s 1943 book “Four Jills in a Jeep,” which the film is based off of, is touching and interesting. The film doesn’t half of the charm that the book does.

Landis, Francis and Raye during their USO tour, which this film was based off of.

Landis, Francis and Raye during their USO tour, which this film was based off of.

The book–written in first person by Landis–follow Landis, Kay Francis, Mitzi Mayfair and Martha Raye on their USO tour in England, Ireland, Scotland and Northern Africa which began in October 1942. Not shown in the film, Raye stayed behind in Africa and continued performing on her own; returning in March 1943.
In the book, Landis describes some of their hardships such as freezing cold accommodations and lacks of amenities that they were used to, which is hardly referenced in the film. (Read more about Raye’s USO efforts in this Comet post).
The book also follows Landis’s romance with Capt. Thomas Wallace. This thrown together film mainly focuses on this romance with “Ted Warren” (Harvey), who is supposed to be Wallace.
This musical film does feel thrown together: it is 80 percent musical performances and 20 percent gags written into a thin plot. There is very little attempt at trying to structure a story line that is followable.
The storyline focuses more on these musical numbers and gives very little screen time to Landis, Francis, Mayfair or Raye.
These four actresses spent time overseas to raise the morale for soldiers, and it doesn’t feel like this film even tries to honor their service. Instead, it makes it look like the trip is a constant manhunt. The scenes in Africa (which is the last 20 minutes of the 90 minute film) is the only part that shows some of their services: the actresses help out as nurses and then give a show after working all day in the hospital.
The disappointing thing about “Four Jills in a Jeep” is that this could have been a really warm film if some time had been spent on it. Maybe some of the Phil Silvers corn could have been cut, the storyline could more closely and truthfully followed the real events of Landis, Francis, Mayfair and Raye.

Left: Carole Landis marrying Capt. Thomas Wallace in 1943.  Right: Landis with actor John Harvey in

Left: Carole Landis marrying Capt. Thomas Wallace in 1943.
Right: Landis with actor John Harvey in “Four Jills in a Jeep” who played “Ted Warren,” who was supposed to be Thomas Wallace.

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Col. Maggie Raye: A One Woman USO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martha Raye performing in Africa in 1943.

Martha Raye performing in Africa in 1943.

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

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

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

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

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

Martha Raye with soldiers in Africa.

Martha Raye with soldiers in Africa.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martha Raye with soldiers in Vietnam.

Martha Raye with soldiers in Vietnam.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Musical Monday: My Blue Heaven (1950)

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

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

Studio:
20th Century Fox

Director:
Henry Koster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mitzi Gaynor in "My Blue Heaven."

Mitzi Gaynor in “My Blue Heaven.”

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

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Musical Monday: The Eddie Cantor Story (1953)

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

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

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
Alfred E. Green

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

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

Keefe Brasselle as Eddie Cantor and Marilyn Erskine as Ida Cantor

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

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

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

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

An example of Brasselle’s Cantor Caricature:

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

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

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

The real Ida and Eddie Cantor in the 1930s.

The real Ida and Eddie Cantor in the 1930s.

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

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

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

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

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

Eddie Cantor in the 1930s.

Eddie Cantor in the 1930s.

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

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

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

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

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