Musical Monday: Pagan Love Song (1950)

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

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

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Robert Alton

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

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

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

Howard Keel and Esther Williams in Pagan Love Song

Howard Keel and Esther Williams in Pagan Love Song

Notable Songs:
None. They were all lousy.

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

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

Musical Monday: Bathing Beauty (1944)

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

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

bathing

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
George Sidney

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

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

Trivia:

-Esther Williams’ first starring role.

Red Skelton's comedic ballet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Janis Paige’s first film.

Red Skelton and Esther Williams in

Red Skelton and Esther Williams in “Bathing Beauty.”

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

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

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

Esther Williams in the finale of

Esther Williams in the finale of “Bathing Beauty.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Musical Monday: “Jupiter’s Darling” (1955)

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.


Jupiters-darling-1955This week’s musical:

“Jupiter’s Darling” – Musical #110

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
George Sidney

Starring:
Esther Williams, Howard Keel, Marge Champion, Gower Champion, George Sanders, William Demarest, Richard Haydn, Norma Varden

Plot:
A fabricated tale based on a historical event set in 216 B.C. when Hannibal (Keel) marched on Rome. Amytis (Williams) is the fiance to Roman dictator Fabius (Sanders). Curious and spirited Amytis hears Hannibal is attractive and wants to check out him, his troops and elephants that are stationed outside Rome. Amytis and her slave girl, Meta (Champion), are captured and brought to Hannibal. Amytis charms Hannibal, purposefully delaying he and his troops from attacking Rome.

Trivia:
-Remake of “The Private Life of Helen of Troy” (1927) which starred Maria Corda, Lewis Stone, Ricardo Cortez and Alice White.
-Esther William’s singing was dubbed by Jo Ann Greer.
-In the film, Esther Williams’ character rides a horse that dives off of a cliff into water. Esther Williams wrote in her autobiography, “Million Dollar Mermaid” that director George Sidney wanted her to do the stunt but she refused. Stunt man Al Lewin performed the stunt and broke his back in the process.
-Esther Williams’ last film made under contract at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
-The pool Williams swims in was modeled after William Randolph Hearst’s pool at his estate, San Simeon, according to Esther Williams’ autobiography.
-The “underwater statues” in the “I Have a Dream” underwater sequence were secured to the bottom of the pool wearing cleats, according to Williams’ autobiography.
-Williams broke her left eardrum, which had been broken five times before in films, while swimming in the 25 feet deep pool for the “I Have a Dream” sequence, according to her autobiography.
-The Hayes of Office, which dictated the moral censorship production codes, was uncertain about the scantily clad “marble statues” during the “I Have a Dream” sequence, Williams wrote.
-The movie opened to a disappointing box office. Williams wrote this was “not surprising.”
-Howard Keel said he felt this was the best film he and Williams made together and Hannibal was his best performance, he wrote in his autobiography “Only Make Believe.”
-In one scene, Keel and Williams walk in with a leopard. The director suggested Keel pick up the leopard and the animal bit his shoulder. Thankfully he was wearing leather armor, according to Keel’s autobiography.

Esther Williams swimming with a "marble statue" in the 'I Have a Dream" sequence.

Esther Williams swimming with a “marble statue” in the ‘I Have a Dream” sequence.

Highlights:
-The underwater, swimming “I Have a Dream” dream sequence with men painted like white marble statues. Notable mainly because it’s a bit odd, but it is staged pretty nicely too since it is all underwater. This includes swimming small children dressed as cherubs who shoot arrows.
-Husband and wife dancers Marge and Gower Champion to the song “If This Be Slavery.” The actual song is silly but this is the one dance in the movie that really show cases their talent. The dance with “The Life Of An Elephant” is a bit distracted by the actual elephants (though the babies are really cute).

Notable Songs:
-“Don’t Let This Night Get Away” sung by Howard Keel
-“I Have a Dream” sung by Esther Williams, dubbed by Jo Ann Greer

My Review:
Esther Williams is one of my favorite stars, but “Jupiter’s Darling” is just no good. And Williams knew it too, according to her autobiography.
“Jupiter’s Darling” is not just a turning point in Esther Williams’ career but also the movie musical at MGM.
This musical marks the end of Esther Williams’ MGM career. At one point, she was MGM’s top star. After 12 years at MGM, it’s sad that her career at the studio that made her famous was a bit of a dud.
To put it into context, gossip columns around this time were writing “The Mermaid on the Lot has been beached,” according to Williams’ autobiography.
She was originally supposed to star the musical “Athena,” but was replaced by Jane Powell (but if you ask me-that wouldn’t have been any better of a last MGM film than this one).
Led by studio head Dore Schary, MGM was suffering and many of it’s major stars were leaving. Greer Garson, Clark Gable and Van Johnson were already “jumping ship.”
At the same time “Jupiter’s Darling” was released, Lana Turner also suffered from bad reviews for her film “The Prodigal.” Trade papers were both saying Williams and Turner were losing their fan base.
After this film, Williams was offered the lead in “The Opposite Sex,” the remake of “The Women” (1939). Williams wrote in her autobiography she thought it was ridiculous to remake the classic and refused. Williams realized Schary was probably purposefully giving her terrible scripts and that this was the end of her career, so she left and broke her contract.
It had been over 10 years since I last saw this movie and in my mind it was the worst movie.
After revisiting it- while “Jupiter’s Darling” isn’t the worst film ever made- it’s simply not very good.
In the 1950s and 1960s, several ancient history films were being made such as “The Robe,” “Ben-Hur” or “Spartacus.” “Jupiter’s Darling” fits into that fad but it just doesn’t work. Probably because it is so historically inaccurate.
The songs are ridiculous such as “Never Trust a Woman” which has lyrics about decapitating or “Hannibal” which is simply “Hannibal, oh Hannibal we’re fighting men of Hanniabl.”
I will admit that the color is beautiful and Williams’ looks gorgeous in the Roman costumes. However, set dressing and costumes can not save this film.
It’s a shame that Esther Williams glittering career had to end with such a dud. If you have never seen an Esther Williams film, don’t start with this one.

Esther Williams and Howard Keel in "Jupiter's Darling"

Esther Williams and Howard Keel in “Jupiter’s Darling”

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: Aeroplane by Red Hot Chili Peppers

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

Director/choreographer Busby Berkeley was known for his elaborate nature and kaleidoscope-like musical numbers.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers used scenes from Esther Williams films such as "Million Dollar Mermaid" for inspiration in their music video "Aereoplane"

The Red Hot Chili Peppers used scenes from Esther Williams films such as “Million Dollar Mermaid” for inspiration in their music video “Aereoplane”

His work has been mimicked in movies such as “The Great Muppet Caper” to music videos such the the 1995 Red Hot Chili Peppers song “Aeroplane.”

The music video begins with girls in gold sequined body suits.

Esther Williams in her gold sequined costume for "Million Dollar Mermaid" (1952)

Esther Williams in her gold sequined costume for “Million Dollar Mermaid” (1952)

Berkeley directed swimming star Esther Williams in two films, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” (1949) and the biographical film on Annette Kellerman, “Million Dollar Mermaid ” (1952.)

In “Million Dollar Mermaid,” Williams wears an aluminum crown and a gold swimsuit, made of 50,000 sequins. Williams said in her autobiography, “The Million Dollar Mermaid: An Autobiography” that it weighed her down like chain-mail.

When Williams dove into the water, the crown hit the water, she broke three vertebrae and was in a full body cast for six months, she wrote.

Also, in the Red Hot Chilli Peppers video, girls swing on trapezes- like in “Easy to Love” (1953) or “Million Dollar Mermaid” (1952). At another part in the video girls dive sideways into the pool, reminiscent of a scene from “Bathing Beauty” (1944).

Another example of a Busby Berkeley kaleidoscope-like shot can be scene at 2:51, which is similar to scene from “42nd Street” (1933). 

Thank you our friends over at Hollywood Revue for telling us the references in this video a few months ago!

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

Musical Mondays: “Thrill of a Romance” (1945)

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.

thrill posterThis week’s musical:
Thrill of a Romance” (1945)- Musical #502*

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Richard Thorpe

Starring: 
Esther Williams, Van Johnson, Frances Gifford, Henry Travers, Spring Byington, Lauritz Melchior, Tommy Dorsey and his band

Plot:
Pretty swimming teacher Cynthia Glenn (Williams) is swept off her feet by wealthy Robert Delbar (Carelton Young) who charms her in a whirlwind romance. After a short time, Cynthia and Robert are married and head to a resort for their honeymoon.
However, after only being married a few hours, Robert abandons his new bride for a business deal, leaving her alone on her honeymoon. As she mopes about being left alone, World War II hero, Major Thomas Milvaine (Johnson) sweeps in to cheer her up.
All of this happens on a glittering backdrop of Technicolor outdoor scenery, swimming sequences and musical performances from big band leader Tommy Dorsey and opera singer Lauritz Melchior.

Trivia:

Van Johnson and Esther Williams. This is my favorite outfit Esther wears in the film.

Van Johnson and Esther Williams. This is my favorite outfit Esther wears in the film.

-“Thrill of a Romance” is the first of four full-length films Esther Williams and Van Johnson made together. But this wasn’t their first film together. Williams has a brief part in “A Guy Named Joe” (1943) with Johnson. Their other films include “Easy to Wed,” “Duchess of Idaho” and “Easy to Love.”
-A young girl plays the piano and sings and is supposed to be Tommy Dorsey’s daughter in the film.  The girl isn’t Dorsey’s daughter and is actress Helene Stanley playing Susan Dorsey in the film. However, he did have a daughter named Susie in real life.

Notable songs:
-Tommy Dorsey plays one of his famous songs, “Song of India.” Aside from that song, it’s always fun to hear big band music in films, especially since that would have been the “pop standard” of that time period.
-Famous Danish opera singer Lauritz Melchior performs several songs in the film. This is notable since he was influential as an opera singer.

Highlights:
-Young Jerry Scott hiding on the terrace singing “Please Don’t Say No, Say Maybe.”
-Van Johnson lip syncing (though he can sing in real life) as Lauritz Melchior sings “Please Don’t Say No, Say Maybe.”
-Esther Williams swimming with Van Johnson

Esther and Frances Gifford.

Esther and Frances Gifford.

My review:
Not only is “Thrill of a Romance” my favorite Esther Williams film, but it is a perfect example of a mid-1940s MGM musical.
It’s not the type of musical where people break into song because they are so full of emotion they can’t speak. It is more a romantic story with a backdrop of musical performances.

Esther and Van dancing to  Tommy D

Esther and Van dancing to Tommy D

The film has a beautiful set, gorgeous costumes, catchy songs and vibrant, young actors.
MGM films always have that something extra special, and while there are a lot of special things about this movie-Esther Williams and swimming sequences stand out.
Louis B. Mayer liked to add class and culture to his films. While some musicals would have contemporary musicians featured, such as Tommy Dorsey in this one, he also featured classical performers in his films. This could vary from pianist Jose Iturbi or opera singer Lauritz Melchior, in the case of this film.
Though this movie may be dismissed as sugar coated, I always find it thoroughly enjoyable.
It will make you want to visit the resort they are staying at–and you will want Williams’s wardrobe. I don’t believe she wears more beautiful clothing in any of her other films.
It’s one of those films that if you are down, it will immediately lift your spirits.

*Though I saw this musical over eight years ago, I discovered I had never put it down on my musical list. Egads!

You can find my Esther Williams tribute here. Williams passed away at the age of 91 on June 6, 2013.

Check back next week for Musical Monday.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page for the latest updates or follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet.

The All-American Aphrodite: Remembering Esther Williams

My cinema relationship with Esther Williams helped shape my film interests.

I didn’t full watch any of her films until 2003 when my film appetite craved musicals.

A swimming scene from "This Time for Keeps"

A swimming scene from “This Time for Keeps”

As I gorged on her candy-colored, aqua musical extravaganzas, I couldn’t wait until I could see another film. Each of her musicals brings back memories of spending weekends endlessly watching her movies.

When I was 15 I read her autobiography, “The Million Dollar Mermaid.” It’s my favorite film autobiography that I’ve read so far.

When I was 17, I bought one of her Esther Williams bathing suits.

Williams inspired me to practice swimming strokes and try to learn how to swim (I failed swimming lessons when I was five years old. How embarrassing).

I remember in 2004 when she was highlighted during TCM’s August Summer under the Stars series. I wasn’t looking forward to going back to school in August but my excitement of Esther Williams’ day out-weighed my dread.

Esther Williams and frequent co-star Van Johnson in "Easy to Wed"

Esther Williams and frequent co-star Van Johnson in “Easy to Wed” dressed for the number “Bonecu de Pixe.” Carmen Miranda helped them with the Portuguese lyrics.

But it’s not just how she affected my every day actions, but my film knowledge that makes her important to me.

To date, I have seen all but two of Esther Williams’ films: “A Raw Wind in Eden” and “The Big Show.”

Esther Williams’s films are a textbook example of the mid-1940s to early 1950s MGM musicals: brightly colored, beautiful clothing and lavish musical numbers that may include Williams swimming, Xavier Cugat and his band shaking maracas or opera singer Lauritz Melchior belting a tune.

Her films also introduced me to my biggest film crush- Van Johnson.

Something I have always found appealing about Williams is that she is very attainable.

Her beauty is natural and girl-next-door like and her figure is athletic, rather than actress anorexic. In her 1996 Private Screenings Interview with Robert Osborne, she said becoming a star was all an accident.

Her stardom was a “consolation prize” when all she had wanted was an Olympic gold medal for swimming.

Williams qualified for the 1940 Olympics, which were canceled when Poland was invaded by Hitler. She felt her career as a swimmer was over when the Olympics were canceled and she didn’t receive a swimming scholarship to the University of Southern California, she wrote in her autobiography.

The road to stardom

With Mickey Rooney in "Andy Hardy's Double Life"

With Mickey Rooney in “Andy Hardy’s Double Life”

She took a job at I. Magnum department store until producer Billy Rose called her at the store asking if she wanted to audition for the Aquacade- a show of music, dancing and swimming in San Francisco.

“You swim very fast,” Billy Rose said when she auditioned.

“That’s what I do, Mr. Rose,” Williams said. “I’m a sprint swimmer. The U.S. 100-meter freestyle champion.”

“I don’t want fast,” he said. “I want pretty.”

Williams swam with Johnny Weissmuller, Olympic swimmer turned actor, and had to escape from him after every performance, because he would try to get her out of her swim suit. The Aquacade was not a happy experience. Because of that she repeatedly told MGM that she wasn’t interested in a film career, she said in her autobiography.

“If my experience at the Aquacade with the dingy dressing room and the grabby hands was any indication, they could keep their stardom,” she wrote.  “I had a husband, a career at I. Magnin to look forward to, a whole new life. That would be enough for me.”

Williams was doubtful of the success of swimming musicals. She told producer Jack Cummings that they would make one swimming musical and never make another.

Hollywood’s mermaid

In 1947 in Biscayne Key, south of Miami, Fla., while on location.

In 1947 in Biscayne Key, south of Miami, Fla., while on location.

MGM was looking for an American Aphrodite-a tall, wholesome American girl and that was Williams.

Once Williams signed with MGM in 1940, she was molded from an athlete into a starlet- taken to speech coaches, movement coaches, acting coaches and singing coaches. She wrote she had a nagging suspicion she didn’t belong at MGM.

Something that cemented this was how Williams and acting coach Lillian Burns butt heads.

At five-foot-eight-inches, Williams wasn’t your average petite actress.

“Even though Lana Turner, Donna Reed, Debbie Reynolds and Janet Leigh swore by her, Lillian Burns and I were a mismatch,” Williams wrote. “I knew instinctively that a five-foot-eight-inch girl could not behave like a feisty, indignant little poodle with quick, jerky movements.”

Clark Gable was the first to call Williams a mermaid.

Lana Turner married Artie Shaw without consulting Louis B. Mayer and as punishment, Williams was told to make a screen test with Gable for the film “Somewhere I’ll Find You.”

Gable brought his wife Carole Lombard to the screen test and unexpectedly kissed a very nervous Williams three times-catching her off guard and ruining the screen test.

IMG_20130607_174538_044

As they left he said to Lombard, “Well, baby, I told you I was gonna kiss me a mermaid today.”

After the screen test, Williams went on to film “The Double Life of Andy Hardy” (1942) and caught everyone’s attention as she languidly swam through the water.

Then Williams swam her way to stardom with Technicolor swimming musicals such as “Bathing Beauty,” “Thrill of a Romance” and “Easy to Wed.”

Swimming musicals presented challenges for makeup and wardrobe departments. A thick cream based makeup was “slathered” on to Williams head to foot. Hairdressers used a mixture of warm baby oil and Vaseline to keep her hair in place.

“I always thought there was a little too much glee on their faces when I arrived for my morning sessions,” she wrote. “They smeared this gooey mess that looked suitable for lubricating cars into my hair and made tiny braids all over my head…By the time I made it out of hair and makeup, I was as waterproof as a mallard.”

From all the swimming scenes, Williams once broke her back and busted her ear drums countless times. She was also pregnant in two of her films: Pagan Love Song and Easy to Love.

The end of stardom

But after over 10 years of success, MGM started to change as new MGM production head Dore Schary began to “kill off what was left of MGM glamour.”

Lana Turner and Esther Williams were named has-beens by Time magazine in 1955 and Clark Gable, Van Johnson and Greer Garson were leaving MGM.

The last straw for Williams was when she was called to play the Norma Shearer role in a remake of “The Women” called “The Opposite Sex.”

“There was nothing wrong with the group of actresses chosen, but they were certainly second string compared to the originals,” she wrote. “The studio was also going to add men to the plot, an unfortunate decision since the most intriguing thing about The Women was that it was a magnificent film without men.”

Williams refused to do the picture and realized Schary was feeding her lousy scripts to force her to leave MGM.

Williams redid her dressing room to suit a star like Grace Kelly who was up-and-coming at MGM, packed her bathing suits and wax gardenias she wore in her hair in films and drove out of MGM one night without saying goodbye to anyone but the man at the gate.

Much loved star

Williams looks over a Cole of California bathing suit. She allowed the company to use her name for a bathing suit line in 1951. (LIFE/Edward Clark)

Williams looks over a Cole of California bathing suit. She allowed the company to use her name for a bathing suit line in 1951. (LIFE/Edward Clark)

But even after her career ended, Williams wasn’t a has-been star. She was a successful business woman, with her line of Esther Williams bathing suits, and helped bring synchronized swimming to the summer Olympics.

My favorite Esther Williams films are “Duchess of Idaho,” “Thrill of Romance” and “Easy to Wed”- a remake of “Libeled Lady,” this is one remake I enjoy.

Williams always makes me happy. Her smile is genuine and watching her swim through the water can soothe a worried soul.

“My life as a child, woman, lover, wife and mother-has been more than public events. Some of it has been lived on the heights of personal happiness and passion. Some of it has been filled with terrible conflict and anguish,” Williams wrote. “Yet somehow I kept my head above the water. I relied on the discipline, character and strength that I had started to develop as a little girl in her first swimming pool in southwest Los Angeles. With sufficient endurance and courage, we all can achieve some kind of victory of our lives.”

Rest in peace, Esther Williams. Thank you for bringing my family and your fans so much happiness.

Esther Williams in Swimming Pool

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page for the latest updates or follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet.

Classic Christmas Addiction

Part of why I love Christmas is getting to watch my favorite classic holiday films such as “Christmas in Connecticut”, “White Christmas” and “Remember the Night.”

But I also love looking at Christmas related photos with classic actors and actresses.

Every day since December 1, I’ve been posting a Christmas related photo on Comet Over Hollywood’s Facebook Page, and searching for the day’s photo can be an addicting task.

Even long after I find the photo of the day, I keep browsing-marveling at the ridiculousness of vintage Christmas photos.

I’ve found these classic photos can be divided into categories. Here are some examples:

Glamour: These photos show actors looking beautiful and wealthy at their homes during Christmas.

gina

Gina Lollabrigida looking glamorous in her Christmas tree

Copy of Carole Lombard

Carole Lombard

glam paulette goddard

Paulette Goddard

glam jean harlow1

Jean Harlow

glam Anite Page

Anita Page in 1932

glam christmas jennifer jones

Jennifer Jones

Adorable and cute: These involve child actors or actresses looking sweet and angelic. 

cute jackie cooper

Jackie Cooper

Bacall And Bogart

The Bogart: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and their son Stephen.

cute leslie

Joan Leslie

cute keatons

Buster Keaton and Natalie Talmadge with Junior and Bob

cute our gang

The children of Our Gang

cuteNatalie Wood

Little Natalie Wood

cute Shirley Temple

Shirley Temple in 1935

cute Priscilla Lane

Priscilla Lane

rita hayworth

Rita Hayworth

Ridiculous or funny: Photos that try way to hard to make a photo Christmasy or make it a sexy Christmas photo.

Dorothy Jordan and Gwenn Lee, I don't even understand what's happening.

Dorothy Jordan and Gwenn Lee, I don’t even understand what’s happening.

Joan Crawford

Joan Crawford flirting with Santa in 1932

Janet Leigh

Janet Leigh with a Christmas tree hat

Esther Williams

Esther Williams in unreasonable winter clothing

funny Maureen Osullivan

Maureen O’Sullivan…..dressed as a choir boy.

funny Margaret Obrien

Margaret O’Brien…wrapped as a package?

funny Clifton Webb

Clifton Webb as the most unlikely Santa Claus

Visit Comet for more holiday fun this month!

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page 

Actress Beauty Tip #23: Fashion copied in films

This is the twenty-third  installment of the monthly classic actress beauty tips that I have read about and tested.  I can’t believe the last beauty tip review was in April.

Like March and April’s beauty tip, July is going to focus on fashion trends from films. For the time being I’ve run out of regiments to test, but I’m still digging around for some. If you have anything you want to read about, let me know!

Esther Williams-the Million Dollar Mermaid

One of my favorite actresses is Esther Williams, “The Million Dollar Mermaid”.

The Olympic swimmer turned movie star may not have been the greatest at acting. However, she always looked lovely gracefully swimming through the water during a synchronized swimming extravaganza that was featured in nearly all of her movies.

Williams in the 1940s

Not only was her swimming ability fascinating, but her figure always looked great in a fashionable, one-pieced bathing suit.

When summer rolls around, I’m sure I’m not the only classic film fan scouring eBay and vintage clothing stores looking for 1940s, Maillot pin-up looking bathing suits.

Esther Williams does have her own swimsuit line, but it’s hard to justify spending $90 on a bathing suit when you are on a budget, so you search for alternatives.

Two years ago I found a new a new-old maillot style bathing suit and got to wear it for the first time this weekend to a party.

(left to right) My friend Kitsey and I, modeling our vintage looking swim wear.

It was comfortable and I wasn’t self-conscious as a bikini might have made me, but still felt like a 1940s pin-up.

Friends even said I “looked like I had stepped out from another decade”-making me feel even more like  Esther Williams.

To review: Though bikinis are considered more sexy and commonly worn these days, don’t be afraid to buy a vintage style one piece. It looks just as nice and get you feeling like a Hollywood starlet.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page for the latest updates.

Classic Movies in Music Videos: “Bones” by The Killers

Here we have another installment of music videos that feature either classic movie stars, movies or reference classic movies.

This month’s music video is “Bones” by The Killers from their album “Sam’s Town.”

The video is of a guy and a girl in a drive in movie and we see several classic films on-screen as well as being acted out by the couple.

Some movie references are:
•”Jason and the Argonauts” (Very first shot, the fact that the band members are skeletons
•”From Here to Eternity” (1953)- :30 seconds, 1:00, 1:30
•”Easy to Love” (1953)-  2:12
•”Lolita” (1962)- 2:39
•”Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954)- 3:16

Enjoy and let me know if I missed any!

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page and Radio Waves Over Hollywood Facebook page.

Boola boola and rah rah rah: College in the movies

A typical day at Winthrop…not. (From “Good News

After a fast Christmas break, I have moved back into my Winthrop University dorm for the last time.  In honor of my last semester as a college “co-ed”  here is a blog with different representations of college in classic film and judge at how realistic the films portray college.

*I’d like to point out that all of these are classic films, so don’t be disappointed that I didn’t review “National Lampoon’s Animal House” or “Accepted.”

 

Harold Lloyd and Jobyna Ralston in “The Freshman”

•The Freshman (1925)-

Harold Lloyd is very excited about going to college after seeing a movie about a popular campus. Lloyd’s only purpose at college is to be the big man on campus. He achieves this by doing a silly dance before he shakes people’s hands and fumbling around the football field. However, he just makes a fool of himself. To review: I’m not a huge fan of Harold Lloyd actually (I am loyal to Buster Keaton), but this is actually one of my favorite silent movies. It’s heartbreaking to see how people make fun of him but also hilarious at the same time. I really don’t know what college life was like in the 1920s, but in my college experiences there is not one BIG popular person. I will say, I am on a fairly small campus of 6,500 people so there are notable figures but no one person who I would say is the most popular.

Pigskin Parade (1936)- Winston and Bessie Winters (Jack Haley and Patsy Kelly) are college coaches trying to have a winning season. Things are going rough until hillbilly Amos (Stuart Erwin) and his sister Sairy (Judy Garland)-also a redneck- come to campus.  Amos can throw a winning football pass after throwing melons on the farm. To review: Its been a long time since I’ve seen this movie but I remember it being pretty excruciating. Between Judy’s country accent and the Yacht Boys singing, it was pretty obnoxious.

 

Rosemary and Priscilla Lane publicity shot for “Variety Show”

•Varsity Show (1937)-

Priscilla and Rosemary Lane (as Betty and Barbara) and friends are trying to put on a show on Winfield Campus, but the faculty doesn’t like swing music. They pull in former student and Broadway star Chuck Day (Dick Powell), to help with the show, but his last performances have laid eggs. To review: I love Priscilla Lane and Dick Powell, and its fun to see them in a movie together. However, this is another stereotypical song and dance college musical. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen in college put on as big of a show as they do in this movie.

Vivacious Lady (1938)-Francey (Ginger Rogers) marries college chemistry professor Peter (James Stewart). The marriage is a secret from his family because he is already engaged and his father (Charles Coburn)  is the college president. Stewart and Rogers go to extreme measures to stay together, including Rogers becoming a student at the college. To review: This is one of my favorite movies. Rogers and Stewart have wonderful chemistry and there are several funny moments. I did think most of the college students in Stewart’s class looked a lot older than college students though.

Bathing Beauty (1944)- Caroline (Esther Williams) goes back to her old job as a teacher at a girls’ college after a misunderstanding with her boyfriend Steve (Red Skelton). Steve tries to win Caroline back by finding a loophole in the rules and enrolling in the school. Comedic moments ensue with Red in a tutu and Harry James jazzing up music class. To review: I love this movie. Esther is beautiful in Technicolor. Xavier Cugat and Lina Romay spice it up with Latin rhythm along with other musical talents like Ethel Smith and Harry James. I know that James and Cugat don’t come and jazz up “I’ll Take the High Road” in music class in college, but it certainly does make college look fun. I also love the ever pert and fun Jean Porter in this movie. She really seems like the quintessential college/high school young lady of the 1940s to me.

Susan Peters is a co-ed with “Young Ideas”

Young Ideas(1943)- Romance author Josephine Evans(Mary Astor) marries college professor Mike (Herbert Marshall) and cancels her book tour.  Astor’s children, Susan (Susan Peters) and Jeff (Elliot Reed), oppose of the marriage, especially since it may mean their mother’s book career is over. Susan and Jeff enroll in college and do whatever they can to break up the marriage. To review: This is a classic, fun MGM movie from the 1940s. I love Herbert Marshall and he was really funny in this movie. Susan Peters and Elliot Reed were pretty bratty but Richard Carleson gave a nice balance to it. This movie seemed the most of what college might have been like-though I do wonder if freshman really wore little beanies.

•Andy Hardy’s Blonde Trouble (1944)- Andy Hardy (Mickey Rooney) goes to college and is surrounded by beautiful girls-his dream. Two twin blondes trick him and he falls for the icy Kay Wilson (Bonita Granville). Hardy competes with professor Dr. Standish (Herbert Marshall) for Kay’s attention. To review: I don’t like the Andy Hardy movies as much when he goes to college. However, the way college was represented seemed to be pretty realistic.

Peter Lawford and June Allyson in “Good News”

Good News (1947)- In the 1920s, co-ed librarian June Allyson isn’t exactly what you would call a vamp. Allyson falls for popular, football star Peter Lawford but he is interested in modern woman, Patricia Marshall.  Several songs are fit in during the pursuit of love, including a great number involving “The Varsity Drag.” To review: Once again, I wonder if in the 1920s, schools were so small to have one person who is the most popular? The movie is fun and colorful, but it seems more a vehicle for Joan McCracken and Patricia Marshall-neither who did much else in movies. I wish June Allyson was in the movie more, because she was the whole reason I watched it.

Apartment For Peggy (1948)- Peggy (Jeanne Crain) and Jason (William Holden) are married, and Jason is going to college as a chemistry major using the G.I. Bill.  Professor Henry Barnes (Edmund Gwenn), a professor at the college, has decided he has lived long enough and wants to commit suicide. The couple lives in a trailer, but needs more room because Peggy is expecting. The professor agrees to let the couple rent out his attic as an apartment and his views on life begin to change. To review: This is a really fun and cute movie. It is very light hearted but let me warn you for some sad parts. I think the college aspect is pretty realistic when put in perspective of post-war men using G.I. Bill to go to college and their wives and their struggles.

Mr. Belvedere Goes to College(1949)- Clifton Webb as Mr. Belvedere decides to enroll in college since his highest level of education is from the fifth grade.  Though he is older than all the students, Belvedere is considered a freshman and has to deal with ritual hazing. During all of this he makes friends with Tom Drake and beautiful Shirley Temple who has a secret. To review: The movie is very funny, and Clifton Webb gives a droll perfomance as always. Other than the hazing, I thought this seemed pretty similar to a real college. It was pretty large and it didn’t seem like there was that one person in charge.

The Varisty Drag from Good News:

Other college films:
College (1927)- Starring Buster Keaton
College Swing (1938)- Starring Bob Hope, Gracie Allen and Martha Raye
Dancing Co-Ed (1939)-Starring Lana Turner, Ann Rutherford,  and Artie Shaw
These Glamour Girls (1939)- Starring Lana Turner, Lew Ayres and Anita Louise
Second Chorus (1940)- Starring Fred Astaire, Paulette Goddard, Burgess Meredith and Artie Shaw
The Feminine Touch (1941)- Starring Rosalind Russell and Ray Milland
The Male Animal (1942)- Starring Henry Fonda, Olivia de Havilland and Joan Leslie
The Falcon and The Co-Ed (1943)- Starring Tom Conway
Mother Is A Freshman (1949)- Starring Van Johnson and Loretta Young
HIGH TIME (1960)- Starring Bing Crosby, Tuesday Weld and Richard Beymer
Joy in the Morning (1965)- Starring Richard Chamberlin and Yvette Mimeux

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page and Radio Waves Over Hollywood Facebook page.