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

Studio:
20th Century Fox

Director:
Walter Lang

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

Plot:
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.

Trivia:
-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.

Highlights:
-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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Classics in the Carolinas: A visit to the Ava Gardner Museum

Comet Over Hollywood is doing a mini-series of “Classics in the Carolinas.” I’ll be spotlighting classic movie related topics in South Carolina (my home state) and North Carolina (where I currently live and work).

Actress Ava Gardner in "The Killers" (1946)

Actress Ava Gardner in “The Killers” (1946)

One of the biggest stars to emerge from North Carolina is the actress once called “The Most Beautiful Animal” in the tag line for “The Barefoot Contessa.”

The only other North Carolinian whose fame could be equal is Andy Griffith of the “The Andy Griffith Show,” born in Mount Airy, NC.

Ava Gardner was born in rural Grabtown, NC on Christmas Eve in 1922. Gardner’s family was poor and she was the youngest of seven children.

Gardner made a screen test in 1941 for MGM and signed a seven year contract with the studio. But her career took off after she starred with Burt Lancaster in the 1946 film noir “The Killers.”

Gardner went in to star in “Show Boat” (1951), “Mogambo” (1953) and “The Night of the Iguana” (1964).

The Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield, NC celebrates Gardner’s life and career with costumes, personal belongings and film posters that tell her story.

Ava Gardner's grave in Smithfield, NC (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

Ava Gardner’s grave in Smithfield, NC (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

Within a couple miles of the museum is Ava Gardner’s grave site at the Sunset Memorial Park. Though Gardner passed away in London, her wishes were to be buried with her parents, brothers and sisters in Smithfield.

On Sunday, I traveled from Shelby, NC to Smithfield, NC to visit the museum for the first time. It was seven hours round trip, but well worth the drive.

The 5,000 square-foot museum is beautifully kept and Frank Sinatra (one of Gardner’s husbands) is played as you look about.

When you first enter, you watch an 18 minute documentary on Gardner’s life. Interviewees in the documentary include actresses Arlene Dahl, Kathryn Grayson and Janet Leigh; actor and Gardner’s ex-husband Mickey Rooney; actor Howard Keel; Gardner’s maid and friend Mearene Jordan and her niece.

The documentary included such facts as:

-Clark Gable was her favorite star as a child and she loved watching Gable and Jean Harlow in “Red Dust.” Gardner went on to star in the Harlow role in “Mogambo,” the remake of  “Red Dust.” Gardner also stared three times with Grable in films-“The Hucksters,” “Mogambo” and “Lone Star.”

-Rooney remembered that he dressed as Carmen Miranda when he first met Gardner and asked for her phone number. He spoke fondly on their brief marriage. The documentary said Gardner thought their marriage would be like her parents: cooking for Rooney and having children. Rooney preferred the night life.

-During Gardner’s first screen test, the studio could not understand her Southern accent. Her test ended up being a silent test as they took different shots of her face and movements.

-“The Killers” was the first role Gardner enjoyed acting in

-While filming “Show Boat,” actress and fellow North Carolinian Kathryn Grayson said Gardner was fun to work with. Howard Keel said she was up for anything and swore as much as he did.

-Gardner worked hard to do her own singing in the musical “Show Boat” but ended up being dubbed by Annette Warren. Her co-stars were unhappy about the dubbing and she can be heard on the soundtrack.

-Howard Hughes was obsessed with Gardner and the two fought a lot. At one point she hit him over the head with an object. She said she was so mad, she would have killed him had she not been stopped.

-Frank Sinatra was the true love of her life, but they were too much alike. Janet Leigh described them in the documentary as two sticks of dynamite together.

-Gardner didn’t enjoy Hollywood. She spent several years living in Spain and lived the remainder of her life in London.

 Items that can be found in the museum:

 Childhood items:

An odd play pin that Ava (pictured on top) used as a child. It could be rolled around and had a top. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

An odd play pin that Ava (pictured on top) used as a child. It could be rolled around and had a top. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

-The family Bible

-Ava Gardner’s 1939 high school diploma

Ava's college yearbook. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

Ava’s college yearbook. Ava is documented as a Campus Beauty. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

Costumes:

A cape that was used in publicity shots for "Barefoot Contessa" but is not seen in the film. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

A cape that was used in publicity shots for “Barefoot Contessa” but is not seen in the film. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Originally worn by Ingrid Bergman in "Gaslight," this jacket was reworked for Gardner to wear in "The Great Sinner" also starring Gregory Peck and Melvyn Douglas (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Originally worn by Ingrid Bergman in “Gaslight,” this jacket was reworked for Gardner to wear in “The Great Sinner” also starring Gregory Peck and Melvyn Douglas (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Gardner wore this dress in "The Great Sinner" also starring Gregory Peck and Melvyn Douglas (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Gardner wore this dress in “The Great Sinner” also starring Gregory Peck and Melvyn Douglas (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

A dress Gardner wore in "East Side, West Side" (1949) which also starred Barbara Stanwyck and James Mason. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

A dress Gardner wore in “East Side, West Side” (1949) which also starred Barbara Stanwyck and James Mason. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

A jacket Gardner wore in "Mogambo" also starring Clark Gable and Grace Kelly (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

A jacket Gardner wore in “Mogambo” also starring Clark Gable and Grace Kelly (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

A personal dress of Gardner's (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

A personal dress of Gardner’s (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

A dress Gardner wore in "Show Boat" also starring Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica Pickens)

A dress Gardner wore in “Show Boat” also starring Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica Pickens)

Left to right: Dresses from "Ride Vaquero" starring Robert Taylor and a dress from "My Forbidden Past" starring Robert Mitchum. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Left to right: Dresses from “Ride Vaquero” starring Robert Taylor and a dress from “My Forbidden Past” starring Robert Mitchum. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

A costume from the film "She Went to the Races" (1945) -my personal favorite of the costumes there.  (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

A costume from the film “She Went to the Races” (1945) -my personal favorite of the costumes there.
(Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

A gift to Gardner from Howard Hughes. Silk was hard to come by because of World War II. In an attempt to woo Gardner, Hughes bought her this dress as an expensive and lavish gift. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

A gift to Gardner from Howard Hughes. Silk was hard to come by because of World War II. In an attempt to woo Gardner, Hughes bought her this dress as an expensive and lavish gift. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Portraits of Ava Gardner: 

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Other personal items: 

-Script and contract for “The Night of the Iguana”

A scarf that belonged to Gardner from Queen Elizabeth's coronation in 1952. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

A scarf that belonged to Gardner from Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1952. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

-Awards such as the Look Achievement Award for 1948.

-A letter from Grace Kelly. Kelly and Gardner became good friends while filming “Mogambo” and Gardner even attended Kelly’s wedding in Monaco. Gardner said she always received a handwritten Christmas card from Kelly.

-Scripts from films such as “One Touch of Venus

-Bullfighter and bull figurines that she got while living in Spain.

A Tiffany's watch from director John Ford inscribed "To Ava, a Class Act, John Ford."

A Tiffany’s watch from director John Ford inscribed “To Ava, a Class Act, John Ford.”

-Several portraits of Gardner by artist Bert Pfister

-Ava Gardner’s doll collection

-Poems from Gardner’s friend and poet Robert Graves

Jewelry that belonged to Gardner. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Jewelry that belonged to Gardner. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Personal items from Gardner's London apartment. The needle point pillow talks about being an aunt. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Personal items from Gardner’s London apartment. The needle point pillow talks about being an aunt. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

-A miniature statue of Gardner from “One Touch of Venus

-Gardner enjoyed collecting China. Several glasses and plates that belonged to her were on display

Was it worth it?

Smithfield is three and a half hour away from Shelby. I was exhausted by the time I got home, but it was a worthwhile visit.

I have always been proud to be living in the same state that Gardner was born. However, even though I have seen many of her film, I never knew much about her life.

I left the Ava Gardner Museum with a new appreciation for Ava Gardner. I also left with a bottle of Ava Gardner wine from Hinnant Family Vineyards.

If you are ever in the area, I suggest a visit.

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

Happy Thanksgiving from Comet

Here we are, celebrating our third Comet Over Hollywood Thanksgiving together. And as the Bing Crosby song from “Holiday Inn” (1940) says…I have plenty to be thankful for.

Along with being thankful for my new job in Shelby, N.C., my family and friends, I am also thankful for classic films.

Cast of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” (1938) David Holt, Ann Gillis, Georgie Billings, Jackie Moran, Tommy Kelly, Byron Armstrong, Cora Sue Collins and Mickey Rentschler

Since 2002 when classic films actively became part of my life, they have consistently brought joy into my life. But classic films haven’t just given my entertainment, its taught shown me snapshots of pop culture in the past and given me history lessons.

I am also thankful for all of the wonderful classic film fans who I’ve met through my blog and on Twitter. It’s wonderful to know there are other like-minded fans out there who cry during “Since You Went Away” or swoon over Joel McCrea.

So dear reader, in my 200th blog post, I am thankful for YOU.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Shirley Temple cooking the Thanksgiving turkey

Margaret O’Brien serving up dinner in 1947

Frank Sinatra carving the turkey

And Comet brought the pumpkin pie. Happy Thanksgiving, love Jessica

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Caroling, Caroling- favorite classic Christmas songs

Maureen O'Sullivan (dressed as a choir boy) sings her favorite Christmas songs.

I’m the kind of person who starts listening to Christmas music right after Thanksgiving. But I’m very selective-I only really enjoy the classic singers. I’ll turn up the radio to Bing Crosby, Dean Martin or even Andy Williams, but once Mariah Carey, Amy Grant or LeeAnn Rhymes come on, the channel is changed.

Here are a few of my favorite Christmas songs sung by some classic stars and singers.

1. Caroling, Caroling by Nat King Cole- My family has many Christmas CD’s including The Ventures Christmas. One of my favorites of our CD’s is called “Christmas Time” with Nat, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. This song, along with the others brings back a lot of nice memories.

 

2. There Is No Place Like Home for the Holidays by Perry Como- You can’t got wrong with any Perry Como song, but his version of this song gives you a warm, homey feeling.  We also own a Perry Como Christmas CD, along with other Perry albums. His voice is very soothing, just makes me wish it was a blanket so I could go to sleep in it.

 

3.  The Christmas Song by Nat King Cole- This song also came off the “Christmas Time” album. There are many versions of this song, but Mr. Cole’s version is my favorite. I particularly enjoy this video because we get to see him singing it. He looks very pleasant.

 

4. A Holly Jolly Christmas by Burl Ives- Who doesn’t smile when they hear this song? I’ve always loved Burl Ives since I saw him in movies like “Summer Magic.” He is just big and jolly and I imagine him smiling and laughing during this song.  This song is at the end of the 1965 “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” cartoon, which is something my family watches every year.  All of these things combined make me blast this song whenever it comes on the radio and sing along.

 

5. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Gene Autry- Okay, I’m a Roy Rogers fan, but I enjoy all of Gene Autry’s Christmas songs including Rudolph, Here Come’s Santa Claus and Up on the Roof Top. He has a nice homey sound when he sings it, like he’d come over and sing in your living room. I particularly like Gene Autry singing Rudolph, because he is the one who popularized the song in the 1930s.

 

6. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas by Judy Garland- As far as I’m concerned, Judy Garland is the only one who can sing this song. She sings this in “Meet Me in Saint Louis” and my mom cries every time. And then the bittersweet moment is killed when Margaret O’Brien goes berserk and attacks the snowmen when Judy stops singing. Regardless, it’s a very nice song and moment in the movie.

 

7.  Jingle Bells by Frank Sinatra- This might seem very silly but this is my favorite Frank Sinatra song (I’m not a huge Sinatra fan). This song is also on our “Christmas Time” CD. I’m not sure what drew me to this song, but I’m pretty sure it was the spelling. Ever since hearing “Gal from Kalamazoo” by Glenn Miller, I’ve loved songs that spell (including Fergie). I guess I enjoy it, because it takes a song everyone knows and makes it a little more fun.

 

8. White Christmas by Bing Crosby- What favorite Christmas song list is complete without Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas”? Whether it be the version from “Holiday Inn” (1942) or “White Christmas” (1954), I enjoy it either way. I heard Taylor Swift sing a version of this song and it just wasn’t the same and horrible. No one can croon like Bing.

 

9. Ave Maria by Perry Como- I’m not Catholic, but I’ve always enjoyed Perry Como singing Ave Maria. It’s very nice and rather emotional. From what I understand, he sang it on TV every year.

 

Non-Classics Honorable Mention: Though my most favorite songs are above, here are a few newer Christmas songs I also enjoy-

10. Snoopy vs. The Red Baron Christmas by the Royal Guardsmen- I’ve always enjoyed all the Snoopy songs, and this one is fun and cute. Unfortunately they don’t play it on the radio much.

 

11. Cowboy Christmas Ball by The Killers- For the past six years The Killers have put out a Christmas single to help raise money for AIDS. As some of you know, they are my favorite band and this is the single they put out this year.  It’s actually a music set to the tune of an old cowboy poem. It’s a lot of fun and the video is shot to look like a 1960s Spaghetti Western.

 

What songs do you listen to get in the Christmas spirit?

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Elkin goes to war and Hollywood

Fred Norman, 19, in 1943 when he enlisted.

I met one of the last Americans to see Churchill, Stalin and Truman together and who also has met several Hollywood stars.

            On Wednesday, I was excited about the interview and wore a skirt and turtleneck rather than my usual outfit of jeans.  I wanted to show respect to this particular interviewee.

            It was already a crazy morning after driving 20 minutes to a wreck and I was running a little late for our 10 a.m. appointment.

            I pulled up to a beautiful ranch style home, I later found out he and his wife built it in 1954, and was greeted at the door by 88-year-old Fred Norman before I even rang the doorbell.

            I’d seen younger photos of him and he looked basically the same-still wearing his hair in the 1940s wave style and a few pounds heavier.

            “Hello!!” he happily said inviting me inside. We sat down and started to talk about his war years.

            Norman was in the 3rd Army, sixth division (or Super Six) that fought under General George S. Patton. Under Patton he fought in the Siege of Bastogne to relieve the U.S. 101st Airborne Division who was surrounded by the German in the Battle of the Bulge (this is shown in the 1948 film “Battleground”).

            Norman was with the American, French and British forces who went into Berlin, Germany after the Russians.  He was also there with hundreds of other soldiers and tanks that lined the Autobahn as Harry Truman, Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin rode into Berlin for the Potsdam Conference that determined Nazi Germany’s punishment.

            “Churchill had his daughter Sarah with him and Stalin was in the biggest limousine I’ve ever seen,” Norman said.  “Truman road up in a convertible and I slipped out of rank and snuck into the forest to take a picture. I’m probably one of the last people living to see those three together. I was 21 at the time and it was 66 years ago so there can’t be many of us left.”

            Born and raised in Elkin, N.C., Norman was 19-years-old and a student at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when he was drafted into the Army. He was sent to California for basic training before going overseas to England.

            After the war, Norman married his sweetheart since the fourth grade, Nan ‘Hon’ Johnson. She passed away in 2007.

Fred Norman and his division in front of their tank in Bastogne. I said he was like Van Johnson in "Battleground." He got bashful and said "I don't know about that"

“When I got out of the Army I said, ‘Nan we aren’t having any long engagement, we’ve been engaged since the fourth grade,’” Norman laughed.  “Hon and I were married for 62 years and we had a great life. Someone may go but the memories never leave.”

            Towards the end of the interview I asked if he saw any movie stars or went to the Hollywood Canteen while he was in California for training.

            “I saw a bunch of stars when I went to Hollywood, but I don’t think you’d know anything about them,” he said.

            I quickly said I was actually a big movie fan. Mr. Norman smiled real big and we talked an extra 30 minutes about people he had seen at the Canteen and during the 1940s and 1950s.

            “I remember seeing Joan Blondell at the Hollywood Canteen-she was real famous at the time. That was a really great thing they did for us,” Norman said. “I also saw Frank Sinatra, he was mine and Hon’s number one.”

            Norman and a friend used to travel to New York City to see the Lucky Strike Radio Hour and listen to Frank Sinatra sing.

            “The girls just went crazy for him. I asked my friend ‘What has he got that we haven’t got?’ Every time he would move the girls would go crazy,” Norman said. “He was sitting on a stool and knelt down to adjust his loafer and the girls went ape. They did the show again two hours later for California audiences and I’ll be doggoned if those girls waited another two hours to listen to Frank again!”

            Norman also saw big band leader Kay Kyser several times since they both went to UNC Chapel Hill, but at different times.

Fred Norman and a friend at the Hollywood Canteen in 1944.

While overseas he saw Marlene Dietrich perform.

            “See what the boys in the backroom will have,” he sang thinking about the famous song Dietrich sang. “World War 2 was so different. Everyone was so dedicated. I don’t believe anyone would do that now.”

            In Berlin, Norman saw one of the most modern theaters he had ever seen. It had 12 doors that lead to every row of seats and an elevator stage.

            “The elevator stage rose up and there was Mickey Rooney,” he said. “I didn’t know how small that rascal was! He came out and said, ‘I know you are all going to tell me to get off my knees, but this is as tall as I get.’ He gave quite a show.”

            Norman met many incredible actors that we have lost today, but most importantly I’m thankful for what he did for our country. He fought under one of the greatest generals our country will ever see, and is the sweetest man I have ever met.

            For a long time, Norman didn’t talk about his war experiences.

            “I didn’t talk about the war for many years after I got home. Nobody did, I didn’t even talk to daddy about it,” he said. “It wasn’t until Tom Brokaw came out and said we needed to tell our stories that I did. I don’t mind telling some of the anecdotes, but there are a lot of things I saw that I just don’t want to talk about.”

            I’m proud that I was able to talk to him, and that I consider this man a friend.

            Thank you Fred Norman, and all the other veteran’s who have served our country.

To read more about Norman’s war experiences, you can read my article on the Elkin Tribune website.

Fred Norman today showing off his Nazi helmet and flag he captured during WW2.

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