Musical Monday: “The Helen Morgan Story” (1957)

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.

Tthe-helen-morgan-story-movie-poster-1957-1020431163his week’s musical:
The Helen Morgan Story” –Musical #481

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
Michael Curtiz

Starring:
Ann Blyth, Paul Newman, Richard Carlson, Ed Platt, Gene Evans, Alan King, Cara Williams, Virginia Vincent, Juanita Moore, Leonid Kinskey
As themselves: Rudy Vallee, Walter Winchell, Jimmy McHugh

Plot:
Biographical musical film on the life of singer Helen Morgan. The film starts with Morgan (Blyth) starting out her career dancing at a carnival show that is managed by Larry Maddux (Newman).
Morgan becomes famous, going from nightclub singer to Broadway star. Along the way, her alcoholism and on and off relationship with Maddux torment her.
Morgan hits rock bottom, broke and drunk. The movie ends with Morgan healthy and being honored by celebrities and Walter Winchell.

Trivia:

Ann Blyth and Paul Newman in a publicity still for "The Helen Morgan Story"

Ann Blyth and Paul Newman in a publicity still for “The Helen Morgan Story”

-Ann Blyth had a lovely singing voice but was dubbed by singer Gogi Grant.
In an interview, TCM Primetime Host Robert Osborne asked Ann Blyth why she was dubbed.
Blyth told Osborne she figured Warner Brothers wanted a different sound so chose Grant. When Blyth was researching the role, she listened to a record of the real Helen Morgan and her voice was actually more soprano and not very strong. But Grant was popular at the the time, and she figured the producers thought that would help promote the movie.
The critics felt Blyth’s voice would have worked better in the film.

 

-“The Helen Morgan Story” was Ann Blyth’s last theatrical film.
In an interview with Robert Osborne, she said the parts just weren’t there anymore. She later was offered the lead in “The Three Faces Of Eve” which Joanne Woodward won an Academy Award for.

-Peggy Lee, Susan Hayward, Jennifer Jones, Judy Garland, Patti Page and Doris Day were all considered for the lead.

-Doris Day turned down the role of Helen Morgan, because she thought the hard drinking character would hurt her career. Day had similar concerns before she portrayed Ruth Etting in “Love Me or Leave Me” (1955), according to her autobiography.

-The same year, five months before the film was released, Polly Bergen portrayed “Helen Morgan” on television on “Playhouse 90.” Bergen won an Emmy for Best Lead Performance by an Actress.

Notable Songs:
All of the songs are performed by Gogi Grant and are well known, including:
-“Can’t Help Loving that Man of Mine” from “Show Boat”
-“Bill” from “Show Boat”
-“The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else”
-“Someone to Watch Over Me”
-“Somebody Loves Me”
-“You Do Something to Me”
-“Why Was I Born?”

For comparison of Helen Morgan and Gogi Grant’s voices, both singing “Why Was I Born?” -

Helen Morgan:

Gogi Grant who dubbed Ann Blyth: 

My Review:

The real Helen Morgan

The real Helen Morgan

Fifty-seven years later, I’m upset that Ann Blyth was dubbed by Gogi Grant.
Blyth said she thought Warner was looking for a different sound, but Blyth would have sang the songs well.

Also, the real Helen Morgan’s voice matched Blyth’s voice more than the belting, Judy Garland-Like Grant’s voice.
Obviously as the story of Helen Morgan’s life is a bit fabricated.

Morgan was married three times, which wasn’t shown in the film. She also died of liver failure due to alcoholism in 1941, yet the film unsurprisingly painted a happy ending.

The Helen Morgan Story” isn’t a great movie, but it isn’t bad either. It is simply a run-of-the-mill sad, torch singer biopic that was characteristic of the 1950s. This time it was just Ann Blyth in the lead role, rather than Susan Hayward.

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Classics in the Carolinas: Joanne Woodward

  This fall, 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).

In 1942, someone very important graduated from Greenville High School, in Greenville, S.C.: my grandfather, Henry E. Vogel.

Joanne Woodward with her Oscar for “Three Faces of Eve” in 1958.

But another important figure graduated from Greenville High School: Joanne Woodward.

Woodward won an Academy Award for playing a woman who suffers from multiple personality disorder in “The Three Faces of Eve” (1957). But in real life, she was the envy of women everywhere as the wife of Paul Newman.

Originally born in Thomasville, Georgia in 1930, Woodward moved to Greenville, S.C., where my family has lived for 14 years, after her parents divorced. A teenager when they moved, Woodward started at Greenville High School as a sophomore and graduated in 1947.

While at Greenville High School she was beauty queen several times, “Sweetheart of 1947” her senior year, nominated “Best Looking” and a member of the cafeteria club, said classmate Catherine Tate in an interview. Woodward also attended Christ Episcopal Church in Greenville.

As a high school student, Woodward also performed in “I Remember Mama,” “The Glass Menagerie” and “Inherit the Wind” with the Greenville Little Theater. She returned to Greenville in 1975 to perform “The Glass Menagerie” with the Greenville Little Theater, refusing a formal driver and was the “same Joanne,” Tate said.

“I don’t know what Joanne Woodward’s ambitions are, but she was a born actress,” said one Greenville Critic in an article about “I Remember Mama” in 1946.

Woodward wanted to go to Clemson University, a South Carolina state college 45 minutes away from Greenville, like her brothers but the college was still an all-male military college at the time. (I wasn’t able to find this story confirmed anywhere, but have always been told that. My family is big Clemson fans, with my parents, sisters, great-grandfather and grandfather attending and my other grandfather holding the position of Dean of Science at the university.)

Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward in 1955

Woodward went to Lousiana State University where she studied drama and then continued on to New York where she found work in plays and on television. Early in both of their careers, Woodward met Paul Newman. Newman was married at the time, but he eventually divorced and the two were married in 1958 until his death in 2008.

In 1992, Newman donated $50,000 to Clemson University in honor of his father-in-law, Wade Woodward, Jr. who graduated from Clemson in 1922. The money went towards the Green Room at the Brooks Center of Performing Arts, according to a January 1992 Associated Press article.

Woodward is currently living in Connecticut, since Paul Newman passed away in 2008.

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Star Collector

anita
Anita Page in the 1920’s. At one point she had more fan mail than Greta Garbo.

Not only am I old-fashioned in my movie tastes, but I am also pretty passe as a movie fan.

I write fan mail.

You may be thinking, “Who does that anymore?” A surprising amount do continue to write to stars like Debbie Reynolds, Tony Curtis and Elizabeth Taylor. No one writes the stars of today, though, like Angelina Jolie, Orlando Bloom or Jennifer Aniston. Why is this? Because they won’t answer…that is if you can even find an address to write to.

I get my fan mail addresses from an autograph database called StarTiger.com. On the website you can search virtually any movie star, singer or sports player. Each star has their own profile page. On this page there is a list of addresses that you can contact them.

Users comments on the address and rate them with success ratings on if they received an autograph, how fast it was returned or they note if they got an answer at all. There are messages boards for each address where autograph hunters tell what they sent (such as a self-addressed, stamped envelope with two 4×6 photos) and what they got back (such as they signed one picture and left the other unsigned).

I discovered Star Tiger in 8th grade in 2003 for keyboarding class where we were practicing our letter writing skills by writing to famous people. At the time the website was known as Star Archives and was free (users now have to pay a monthly fee). While the rest of my class chose famous rappers like 50 cent and actresses like Sandra Bullock, 14-year-old Jessica Pickens of course chose Doris Day.

This was the first of many fan letters I ever wrote. I wrote to Doris about how much I loved her movies, how she brightened my day and that I used her as a role model to try to keep a sunny disposition. A few weeks after sending off the letter, I was the only student in the class to receive an autographed picture and a nice letter from Ms. Day inviting me to donate money towards her animal foundation.

After this I made lists of stars I wanted to write. Since then I have sent off fan letters twice; sophomore year of high school sophomore year of college.

Unfortunately, there are mournful times when I have to cross a name off a list when a star dies. Some instances have been with June Allyson in July 2006, Cyd Charisse in June 2008 and Kathryn Grayson in February 2010.

Writing fan letters to 70, 80 and 90-year-old movie stars might seem greedy. I will admit that part of it is selfish. I want autographs and to be part of that classic film culture and era, but that isn’t all of it. I want classic stars to know that they are still thought about. That their films are still watched, that they are still loved and a young lady in Greenville, S.C. really looks up to them.

I am showing that I appreciate the stars with my fan mail. The classic actors also show that they appreciate me by responding with autographs. Classic film actors REALIZE that they way they became movie stars is through their fans watching their movies and reading about them in the fan magazines.

Joan Crawford might have a bad reputation from that book of lies “Mommy Dearest” by Christine Crawford. However, Crawford knew she was famous because of her fans and answered each piece of fan mail personally, according to Divas the Site.

Joan Crawford
Joan Crawford signing autographs. Photo taken by Clarence Sinclair Bull in 1933

I’ve also read accounts of people who have seen stars like Van Johnson or Walter Pidgeon who happily stop and sign autographs.
Van
Van Johnson with fans.

Fans used to confuse Lana Turner and Betty Grable, and when either was approached and mistaken for the other, they would sign autographs with the other’s name rather than getting angry and yelling at the fans.

Grable lana
Betty Grable and Lana Turner sometimes were confused because of their platinum locks.

It’s hard for movie viewers of today to hear things like this while the movie stars of today are not as accomodating. In fact they are the opposite. They run from autograph seekers, scream if you call them the wrong name and do not answer fan mail.

Today’s celebrities need to realize that they would be nothing without their fans.

Autographs in order that they were recieved:

1. Doris Day (My first autograph in 8th grade)

doris2

2. Deanna Durbin

3. Esther Williams

4. June Allyson (signed notecard. I was going to send a letter with a picture but she died before I got the chance)

5. Vera Miles, along with a nice note

Vera Picture Vera Letter

6. Annette Funicello (One of my favorites. She signed it herself, which was a great surprise and treat because since she has MS I had heard her husband signed them)

Annette

7. Joan Fontaine

8. Lauren Bacall

9. Ann Blyth

10. Jane Powell

11. Joan Leslie (so sweet and added cardboard to back her picture)

12. Elizabeth Taylor

13. Paul Newman (shortly before his death)

Paul

14. Shirley Temple- sent 2 pictures; one young and one teenaged signed both.
Shirley young Shirley old

15. Van Johnson- again shortly before his death

16. Debbie Reynolds

17. Julie Andrews- pre-signed. I have read she is the worst person for autographs

18. Maureen O’Hara- A real treat and a hard person to contact. Autograph came from Ireland!

Maureen

19. Audrey Totter

20. Doris Day- I wrote her again.

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