Musical Monday: Broadway Thru a Keyhole (1933)

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.

broadway-thruThis week’s musical:
Broadway Thru a Keyhole (1933) – Musical #554

Studio:
20th Century Pictures

Director:
Lowell Sherman

Starring:
Constance Cummings, Paul Kelly, Russ Columbo, Blossom Seeley, Texas Guinan, Gregory Ratoff, Hobart Cavanaugh, Helen Jerome Eddy, Lucille Ball (uncredited), Charles Lane (uncredited), Ann Sheridan (uncredited), Esther Muir (uncredited), Dennis O’Keefe (uncredited), Walter Winchell (uncredited voice)
Themselves: Eddie Foy Jr., Frances Williams, Dewey Barto and George Mann comedy team

Plot:
A childhood friend of gangster Frank Rocci (Kelly) asks if he can help her sister Joan Whalen (Cummings) get a job. Frank does and when he meets Joan after years apart, he is smitten with Joan and puts the pressure on club owner Max Mefoofski (Ratoff) to make Joan the star of the club’s show. The only problem is that Joan falls in love with bandleader Clark Brian (Columbo).

Paul Kelly and Constance Cummings in "Broadway Thru a Keyhole"

Paul Kelly and Constance Cummings in “Broadway Thru a Keyhole”

Trivia:
-Written by famed columnist Walter Winchell. The story was said to be similar to a love-triangle between dancer Ruby Keeler, her husband singer Al Jolson and New York Gangster, Johnny “Irish” Costello. Winchell denied that the story was based on the three individuals, according to Unsung Hollywood Musicals of the Golden Era by Edwin M. Bradley.

Highlights:
-The movie begins with a hand taking a key out of the door and the camera zooms in to look through a keyhole. Following this are sights and sounds of Broadway.
-Texas Guinan’s character in the film

Notable Songs:
-“Doin’ the Uptown Lowdown” performed by Frances Williams
-“When You Were a Girl on a Scooter and I the Boy on the Bike” performed by Constance Cummings and Eddie Foy, Jr.
-“You Are My Past, Present and Future” performed by Russ Columbo
-“I Love You Pizzicato” performed by Russ Columbo and Constance Cummings

My review:
“Broadway Thru a Keyhole” was a wonderful romp. It has a great comedic supporting cast, biting Pre-Code jokes and is a fun plot all over.

The plot is nothing out of the ordinary: gangster helps young girl succeed in her career, falls in love with her, she falls in love with someone else, and the gangster doesn’t want to let her go. But though this isn’t an unusual plot line, this one little film is special because it is more joke than crime.

Maybe it’s a little different because it was written by gossip columnist Walter Winchell. There are some wonderful pre-code lines such as: “I knew a hypochondriac once and was he GOOD.”

Texas Guinan in "Broadway Thru a Keyhole."

Texas Guinan in “Broadway Thru a Keyhole.”

But even better than the pre-code jokes is famed speak easy owner and performer Texas Guinan’s role in the film. Her character is similar to her real life character and it’s a treat to see her on the screen. Sadly, Guinan died four days after this film premiered.

The musical has fairly catchy songs. Leading lady Constance Cummings isn’t a stellar singer. However, I’m not sure if this is on purpose. I was curious if Cummings was cast to show that often young women were on looks and their boyfriend’s power rather than on their talent. Or I could be thinking too much into it and Cummmings was cast to use this as a vehicle. Russ Columbo brings the singing talent in his smooth, crooner tone — though he isn’t a great actor. Knowing Columbo is dead a year after this film however, makes his performance a little sad to watch.

Many of the numbers have a Busby Berkeley feel to them, though he wasn’t involved in the film. For example, one number has girls singing faces in musical notes and there are several over-head dancing shots.

“Broadway Through a Keyhole” is a musical you don’t often hear about, but if you love pre-code and 1930s musicals, be sure to add this film to your list.

Constance Cummings and Russ Columbo in "Broadway Thru a Keyhole."

Constance Cummings and Russ Columbo in “Broadway Thru a Keyhole.”

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Musical Monday: Reveille with Beverly (1943)

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.

beverly4This week’s musical:
Reveille With Beverly (1943)– Musical #323

Studio:
Columbia

Director:
Charles Barton

Starring:
Ann Miller, William Wright, Dick Purcell, Andrew Tombes, Franklin Pangborn, Adele Mara, Douglas Leavitt, Barbara Brown, Larry Parks, Doodles Weaver (uncredited), Irene Ryan (uncredited), Lee and Lynn Wilde
As themselves:

  • Bob Crosby and his orchestra
  • Freddie Slack and his orchestra with Ella Mae Morse
  • Duke Ellington
  • Count Bassie
  • Frank Sinatra
  • Mills Brothers
  • The Radio Rogues

Plot:
A switchboard operator, Beverly Ross (Miller), at the local radio station KFEL has dreams of having her own jive radio show. She eventually gets her own time slot and features all of the top jive music. While on the radio, Beverly catches ear (and eye) of soldier Barry Lang (Wright), who is wealthy and switches places with his chauffeur buddy Andy Adams (Purcell) to see if he can win Beverly without his millions.

Andrew Tombes and Ann Miller in "Revellie with Beverly"

Andrew Tombes and Ann Miller in “Revellie with Beverly”

Trivia:
-The film is based off the radio show Reveille with Beverly which was hosted by Jean Ruth Hay. Jean Hay served as technical adviser to the film and narrates the trailer for the film.

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/e48HsgRQPzM&#8221; frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen><!–iframe>

Highlights:
-All of the musical performances

Notable Songs:
-“Cow Cow Boogie” performed by Ella Mae Morse
-“Big Noise from Winnetka” performed by Bob Crosby and his Bobcat Orchestra, singers Lyn and Lee Wilde
-“Take the A Train” performed by Duke Ellington, sung by Betty Roche
-“One O’Clock Jump” performed by Count Bassie
-“Night and Day” performed by Frank Sintra

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/hLc7rohX9As&#8221; frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen><!–iframe>

My review:
“Reveille with Beverly” is one of those guilty pleasure musicals. It has very little plot but for fans of 1940s big band and jive, it’s a dream.

“Reveille with Beverly” is based on a real radio show called “Reveille with Beverly” which was DJed be a young lady named Jean Ruth Hay. The Los Angeles radio show was on the air from 1941 to 1944 for soldiers fighting in World War II. They could hear it on ships, fighting or in the air.

Advertisement for Jean Ruth Hay's radio show.

Advertisement for Jean Ruth Hay’s radio show.

The idea of the radio show came when soldiers Jean knew said they hated starting their day with the blast of a bugle. Hay also said that government officials would sometimes provide a script to read which included names of songs that didn’t exist. These scripts turned out to be code for the French Underground. Hay even married bandleader Freddie Slack, who is featured in this film.

The real show is merely a premise for the plot and all else is fictional. The movie has multiple laugh-out-loud funny scenes, particularly with Franklin Pangborn who is furious that Beverly’s show is in his time slot. While there is a bit of a plot, the majority of the film are musical performances of 1943 hits. When Beverly’s record starts spinning, we’re transported to a video of Bob Crosby and his band or Duke Ellington performing “Take the A Train” on a train.

All the songs had me dancing in my seat. I saw this movie for the first time in 2009 and it introduced me to Ella Mae Morse, who I wasn’t familiar with prior. Now she is one of my favorites.

Admittedly, there may be some who don’t enjoy this style of movie. If you aren’t interested in a string of jive musical numbers, you should probably stay away.

This isn’t your usual Ann Miller film, who was still early in her career. Ann only tap dances once and it’s a patriotic number at the end of the film.

Just writing this review makes me want to watch “Reveille with Beverly” again. It’s a brief hour and 18 minutes that will leave you dancing and humming by the end.

Ann Miller in her tap dancing finale.

Ann Miller in her tap dancing finale.

If anyone knows where to listen to some of Jean Ruth Hay’s original broadcasts, leave me a message! I would love to hear them.

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Musical Monday: New Moon (1940)

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:
New Moon” (1940)– Musical #374

Poster - New Moon (1940)_02

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Robert Z. Leonard, W.S. Van Dyke (uncredited)

Starring:
Jeanette MacDonald, Nelson Eddy, Mary Boland, George Zucco, Dick Purcell, Grant Mithcell, Joe Yule, Nat Pendleton (uncredited), Buster Keaton (scenes deleted)

Plot:
Marianne de Beaumanoir (MacDonald) is heading from France to New Orleans. On the same boat as a prisoner is nobleman Duc de Villiers (Eddy), using the name of Charles Henri. Marianne meets him on board, believing that he’s the ship’s captain. He is sold as a servant in New Orleans and becomes the servant of Marianne, and she is angry that he lied to her. Little to their knowledge, Charles’ enemies are sailing to New Orleans from France.

Continue reading

Over the Rainbow: Land of Oz in North Carolina

Though Dorothy Gale and her friends are from Kansas, they also have a home in the mountains of North Carolina.

Located in Beech Mountain, N.C., the Land of Oz is a park that opens to the public a limited amount of times per year. For the last 20 years, the Autumn at Oz festival has welcomes thousands to the former amusement park. This year’s event was held Sept. 9, 10 and 11, bringing out approximately 8,200 people.

The Yellow Brick Road in the Land of Oz, Beech Mountain

The Yellow Brick Road in the Land of Oz, Beech Mountain

There was a Wizard of Oz amusement park in North Carolina?
Land of Oz was originally an amusement park that opened in 1970 and owned by Grover Robbins, who also owned Tweetsie Railroad, a train and wild west theme park in Boone, NC. Robbins leased the Beech Mountain property and wasn’t sure what to do with it until he teamed with park designer Jack Pentes, who said the trees reminded him of the haunted forest in the “Wizard of Oz” (1939), according to Land of Oz representative Sean Barrett.

Debbie Reynolds with Carrie Fisher at the opening of Land of Oz in 1970.

Debbie Reynolds with Carrie Fisher at the opening of Land of Oz in 1970.

Actor Ray Bolger, who played the Scarecrow in the film, was at the 1968 groundbreaking , according to the Land of Oz website. Actress Debbie Reynolds, who collected Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film memorabilia, partnered with Robbins to provide some costumes and props from the 1939 film for a small museum located on the amusement park property. Reynolds attended the June 1970 grand opening with her daughter Carrie Fisher. The park originally consisted of one ride, character houses, Emerald City, an amphitheater, shops and a restaurant.

But the amusement park only operated for 10 years. In 1975, a fire crippled the park which destroyed the amphitheater and adjacent shops and restaurants. The museum was also broken into and items such as Dorothy’s original dress were stolen.

The park closed in 1980, but was bought in the 1990s. Now, the park is opened part-time for the yearly fall event.

“Many people think the park is abandoned,” Barrett said. “It’s not abandoned and never was.”

Myself, my parents and the Wizard of Oz characters at Land of Oz

Myself, my parents and the Wizard of Oz characters at Land of Oz

So what is this festival?
I first learned about Autumn at Oz in 2013 and have wanted to go ever since. Unfortunately, I always was too late with ticket purchases and it was always sold out. This year, I bought my ticket the day Autumn at Oz went on sale and was finally able to make it. (Tip: If you’re interested in going, follow their Facebook page and pounce when ticket sales are announced in August)

The night before heading to Autumn of Oz, I pre-gamed for the event by revisiting the film.

Sunday morning on Beech Mountain started out as chilly and foggy. Oz fans loaded up on buses that drove up the mountain to the former amusement park. When you enter the park, everyone is greeted by Dorothy. You then follow a trail where you run into Professor Marvel, Mrs. Gulch and the farm hands before entering Dorothy’s farm home. Aunt Em and Uncle Henry shoo you into the cellar because a storm is coming.

In the tornado

In the tornado

It’s sort of like a fair fun house in the storm cellar with the sounds of the film’s tornado all around you. You exit the tornado into a crooked, disheveled house. On the other side of the rainbow, the coroner is there to inform you that you killed the Wicked Witch of the East.

You hit the Yellow Brick Road where you meet—and take pictures with—the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, Dorothy, Glinda the Good Witch and the Tin Man. The witch’s castle guards divert your path down towards the Wicked Witch of the West’s castle through the haunted woods filled with flying monkeys. You find your way out and end up in Oz to meet the great and powerful Wizard of Oz.

Oops! (Photo by Comet Over Hollywood)

Oops!
(Photo by Comet Over Hollywood)

It was fun to see the actors in character and watch small children react to each one. After seeing photos online of Land of Oz, my goal for attending Autumn at Oz was to see the old amusement park so I could take photos for Comet Over Hollywood.

The visit lasted two hours from bus ride up the mountain, seeing the sights, meeting the Oz characters and heading back down the mountain. It wasn’t too brief or too long.

While Land of Oz is a fun place for children, most of the attendees were “Wizard of Oz” loving adults.

A film released 77 years ago still touches nostalgic memories for fans and is an important part of childhood for many. Throughout the day, I heard people quoting the film, commenting that they dressed up as Dorothy for Halloween as a child, or would watch it when it aired annually from 1959 to 1991.

“Wizard of Oz” is just one of a long list of films made during the great year of 1939. And while many of the other films still resonate, none of them touched as many lives and generations as the one starring a little girl who realizes there’s no place like home.

Most of the Characters

Professor Marvel

Professor Marvel

Aunt Em

Aunt Em

Miss Gulch

Miss Gulch

The Tin Man

The Tin Man

The Cowardly Lion

The Cowardly Lion

Glenda the Good Witch

Glenda the Good Witch

The witch's guards

The witch’s guards

oz-watermark-monkey

The Wicked Witch of the West

The Wicked Witch of the West

 

Musical Monday: The Vagabond Lover (1929)

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 Vagabond Lover” (1929)– Musical #356

vagabond2

 

Studio:
RKO Radio Pictures

Director:
Marshall Neilan

Starring:
Rudy Vallee, Sally Blane, Marie Dressler, Nella Walker, Malcolm Waite, Charles Sellon, Alan Roscoe, The Connecticut Yankees band

Plot:
Saxophone player Rudy Bronson (Vallee) forms a jazz band. To get off the ground, he and his band go to the home of famous bandleader Ted Grant (Waite) for an audition. Grant isn’t interested and kicks them out of his home and then heads out of town. Grant’s neighbors Jean Whitehall (Blane) and her aunt Ethel Bertha Whitehall (Dressler) mistaken Rudy and his band for Ted Grant. Rudy and his band play along but find themselves in hot water when they’re presented at a society fundraiser as Ted Grant and his band.

Rudy Vallee and Sally Blane in "Vagabond Lover"

Rudy Vallee and Sally Blane in “Vagabond Lover”

Trivia:
-Rudy Vallee’s first feature film
-“Vagabond Lover” was briefly Vallee’s publicity nickname

Notable Songs:
-“Nobody’s Sweetheart” performed by Rudy Vallee and the Connecticut Yankees
-“If You Were the Only Girl in the World” performed by Rudy Vallee
-“A Little Kiss Each Morning (A Little Kiss Each Night)” performed by Rudy Vallee
-“I Love You, Believe Me, I Love You” performed by Rudy Vallee

My review:
“The Vagabond Lover” is both an early film with sound and also Rudy Vallee’s film. It’s interesting to see this early film to see how both musicals and Rudy Vallee acting improved.

It’s very obvious that studios are still trying to figure out hot to best use sound. While the story line is less muddled than films like “Broadway Melody of 1929,” the sound volumes are often muddy. Sometimes the music is louder than the singing or talking, and other times I feel like the actors are shouting to be picked up by the microphone.

Sally Blane and Marie Dressler in Vagabond Lover

Sally Blane and Marie Dressler in Vagabond Lover

In his first film, Rudy Vallee isn’t a very good actor. But he apparently improved his acting craft over the years because Vallee was a skilled comedic actor in the 1940s and 1950s.

“Vagabond Lover” is just over an hour-long. It’s not terrible, but rather lackluster. Marie Dressler is wasted in the film and doesn’t exercise her comedic talents. Sally Blane is lovely, but is merely window dressing in the movie.

Overall, it’s watchable but not one I would be pressed to revisit.

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Musical Monday: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

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.

wonka-poster-681x1024This week’s musical:
Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971)– Musical #552

Studio:
Paramount Pictures

Director:
Mel Stuart

Starring:
Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Peter Ostrum, Roy Kinnear, Julie Dawn Cole, Leonard Stone, Denise Nickerson, Nora Denney, Ursula Reit, Ursula Reit

Plot:
The mysterious Willy Wonka (Wilder) holds a contest for five town members to enter his candy factory for a tour for anyone who finds a golden ticket in a chocolate bar. The tour of the factory is disastrous for some of the misbehaving children on the tour. While most of the children are spoiled brats, the main character Charlie (Ostrum) comes from a poor family and takes his Grandpa (Albertson) on the tour.

Trivia:
-Director Mel Stuart wanted to make the “Willy Wonka” into a film after his 12-year-old daughter said she read it three times and wanted her father to make it into a film, according to “Pure Imagination: The Making of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” by Mel Stuart, Josh Young
-Joel Grey was considered for the role of Willy Wonka, according to Reel Culture: 50 Movies You Should Know About by Mimi O’Connor
-The film sponsored by Quaker Oats to promote the candy bar, the Wonka Bar. In 1988, Nestle bought the rights to use the Wonka name, according to O’Connor’s book.
-The chocolate rivers was made of melted chocolate ice cream and water, according to O’Connor’s book.
-Based on the Roald Dahl book, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”
-Remade in 2005 with Johnny Depp

willy wonka

Awards and Nominations:
-Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring Adaptation and Original Song Score in 1972
-Gene Wilder was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical

Notable Songs:
-“Pure Imagination” performed by Gene Wilder
-“Oompa-Loompa-Doompa-De-Do” performed by the chorus
-“The Candy Man” performed by Aubrey Woods
-“(I’ve Got a) Golden Ticket” performed by Jack Albertson and Peter Ostrum

My review:
“Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” wasn’t the planned film that we were going to feature this week for Musical Monday. However, Comet Over Hollywood switched gears to honor Gene Wilder who passed away at age 83.

Before revisiting “Willy Wonka” on Aug. 29, 2016, I probably hadn’t watched this movie since 1996 when I was about eight years old. As a child, I never really cared for the story though we seemed to watch the movie a good bit at my house. Roald Dahl’s story was weird and a little creepy with little girls plumping up into blueberries and little boys drowning in a river of chocolate.

Augustus gets sucked way in the chocolate river as Charlie and Grandpa try to help him.

Augustus gets sucked way in the chocolate river as Charlie and Grandpa try to help him.

While “Willy Wonka” is still not a favorite of mine, Gene Wilder’s performance is what makes the film interesting.

Author of the “Wonka” book Roald Dahl was disappointed that the film focused more on Willy Wonka than Charlie, the impoverished boy who wins a tour with his grandfather. However, I’m okay with that.

With a twinkle in his eye, Wilder’s character brings humor and charm to the movie musical. Really the scenes I enjoy the most feature Gene Wilder. I also like Jack Albertson’s character as Grandpa, because he’s adorable.

While I can’t say “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” is a favorite of mine, it is colorful and filled with memorable songs. Sammy Davis, Jr, even had his only No. 1 hit with his adaptation of “The Candy Man,” which originated in this film. The song spent three weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 100 in June 1972.

The film is also was a large part of childhood to many generations. That’s one reason it’s so hard to say goodbye to Gene Wilder, who passed way Aug. 29, 2016. Outside of “Willy Wonka” he starred in so many more memorable films leaving a void for fans that’s difficult to fill with any other actor.

Thank you for helping spark our “pure imagination” through your memorable roles. You will be greatly missed.

Gene Wilder and Peter Ostrum behind the scenes of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory"

Gene Wilder and Peter Ostrum behind the scenes of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”

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Musical Monday: The Cat and the Fiddle (1934)

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.

cat and the fiddleThis week’s musical:
“The Cat and the Fiddle” (1934)– Musical #410

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
William K. Howard, Sam Wood (uncredited)

Starring:
Jeanette MacDonald, Ramon Novarro, Frank Morgan, Charles Butterworth, Jean Hersholt, Vivienne Segal, Sterling Holloway (uncredited), Herman Bing (uncredited), Leonid Kinskey (uncredited)

Plot:
In Brussels, struggling musician Victor (Novarro) meets American singer Shirley (MacDonald). He’s immediately infatuated with her which is very annoying to her. However, Shirley eventually falls for Victor. Both Shirley and Victor audition music they composed to Professor Daudet (Morgan), and Daudet is also immediately smitten with Shirley. Daudet uses his influence to get Shirley by trying to send Victor to Paris to perform his music.

Trivia:
-The final scene was filmed in three strip Technicolor. This was the first use of three-strip Technicolor in a live action film. It previuosly was only used in Walt Disney cartoons.
-Jeanette MacDonald’s first film with MGM, according to The Invisible Art of Film Music: A Comprehensive History by Laurence E. MacDonald
-Based on the 1931 Broadway musical “The Cat and the Fiddle” written in Jerome Kern and Otto A. Harbach
-The film version kept the entire score intact, which is unusual for film adaptations for plays. However, many songs were reassigned to different characters, according to The Jerome Kern Encyclopedia by Thomas S. Hischak

cat and fiddle4

Jeanette MacDonald, Ramon Novarro and Charles Butterworth in “The Cat and the Fiddle”

Highlights:
-Three strip Technicolor finale

Notable Songs:
-“The Night was Made for Love” performed by Jeanette MacDonald and Ramon Novarro
-“She Didn’t Say Yes” performed by Jeanette MacDonald
-“The Breeze Kissed Your Hair” performed by Ramon Novarro
-“One Moment Alone” performed by Ramon Novarro

My review:
Ever since I discovered that Ramon Novarro had a beautiful singing voice, I have really enjoyed revisiting and discovering these films.

Jeanette MacDonald, Ramon Novarro in "The Cat and the Fiddle"

Jeanette MacDonald, Ramon Novarro in “The Cat and the Fiddle”

The only problem with “The Cat and the Fiddle” (1934) is Novarro’s leading lady’s voice over powers his. While Novarro has a wonderful voice, it’s not quite strong enough to match the well-trained opera voice of Jeanette MacDonald for their duets.

Aside from our two leads, “The Cat and the Fiddle” has a great supporting cast of Frank Morgan and Charles Butterworth. Though Morgan is supposed to be the bad guy in the film, it’s hard to dislike him because he’s rather friendly and affable.

The plot is fairly light and unimportant. It mainly just revolves around the relationship of Novarro and MacDonald. Regardless, it is filled with wonderful music.

“The Cat and the Fiddle” is also a wonderful pre-code film. Novarro and MacDonald live together “in sin.” At one point she tells him that she had a dream that they were so rich that Novarro was walking around in a gold coat. He asked if that’s all he was wearing and she said yes.

While this isn’t Jeanette MacDoanld’s most memorable film, it’s still a lovely story with the added bonus of Roman Novarro in another musical.

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Olympic Stars that Didn’t Soar in Hollywood

During the past two weeks, Comet Over Hollywood has looked at Olympic athletes who found Hollywood fame after exhibiting their athletic prowess. Some Olympians were scouted for Hollywood but their stars didn’t rise has high as others.

Eleanor Holm
Eleanor Holm was an Olympic swimmer who competed for the United States in 1928 summer Olympics in Amsterdam where she finished fifth in the 100-meter backstroke. At the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, Holm won a gold medal in the 100-meter backstroke.

Eleanor Holm at the 1932 Olympics

Eleanor Holm at the 1932 Olympics

Between the 1928 and 1932 Olympics, producer Florenz Ziegfeld hired her to perform in the Ziegfeld Follies in Broadway in 1930. She left the show to train for the 1932 Olympics. After the 1932 Olympics, she was placed under contract to Warner Bros. for $500 a week, but despite studio-hired acting coaches, she declared herself a spectacular flop as an actress, according to her 2004 obituary.

Holm was to compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics and where she would be the first woman to compete on the United States Olympic team three times.

Holm boarded the ship to sail for Berlin for the 1936 games and when she got to Berlin, she was no longer on the team. Olympic president Avery Brundage expelled Holm for breaking curfew and drinking while traveling to Berlin.

“All I did was drink a couple of glasses of champagne,” she told People magazine in 1996. “I was married, singing in a nightclub with my husband’s band. I was not exactly a child.”

In 1938, Holm starred aside fellow Olympian Glenn Morris in “Tarzan’s Revenge.” This was the only film she was in. After this she married producer Billy Rose from 1939 to 1954. She starred in Rose’s New York World’s Fair Aquacades, swimming with fellow Olympian gold medalists Johnny Weissmuller in the 1939 show and Buster Crabbe in 1940.

Olympians Eleanor Holm and Glenn Morris in "Tarzan's Revenge" (1938)

Olympians Eleanor Holm and Glenn Morris in “Tarzan’s Revenge” (1938)

 

Glenn Morris at the 1936 Olympics

Glenn Morris at the 1936 Olympics

Glenn Morris
Glenn Morris competed on the United States team at the 1936 Berlin summer Olympics and won a gold medal for the decathlon. After the Olympics, Morris had a brief Hollywood career.

His film career started with an uncredited role in “She Married an Artist” (1937) at Columbian Pictures, and he was the fourth Olympian to play Tarzan.

Distributed through 20th Century Fox, Morris starred in a low budget Tarzan film, “Tarzan’s Revenge” (1938) which co-starred with Olympic swimmer Eleanor Holm.

After the Tarzan film, Morris acted in one more film, “Hold That Co-Ed” (1938) before leaving Hollywood.

Murray Rose
Murray Rose is an Australian swimmer who won six Olympic medals at the 1956 Melbourne and 1960 Rome Olympics. All three of the medals at the Melbourne Olympics were gold and he won a gold medal in Rome as well as one silver and one bronze.

Murray Rose (center) at the 1960 Olympics with his gold medal

Murray Rose (center) at the 1960 Olympics with his gold medal

After graduating from college at the University of California, Rose entered a brief Hollywood career. His first film was the beach movie “Ride the Wild Surf” (1964) with Tab Hunter, Peter Brown, Shelley Fabares and Fabian. Columbia called him “one of the best bets for stardom in a long time,” according to Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave, 1959-1969 by Thomas Lisanti.

Murray Rose in "Ice Station Zebra" (1968)

Murray Rose in “Ice Station Zebra” (1968)

From 1964 to 2008, Rose made a total of 10 film and TV appearance including an appearance on the TV shows “Dr. Kildare” and “Patty Duke.” He also had a role in the 1968 film “Ice Station Zebra” with Rock Hudson and Ernest Borgnine.

However, he was not passionate enough about acting to continue perusing it, according to his 2012 obituary.

Don’t miss our other Olympic spotlights:

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Olympics to Hollywood: Harold Sakata

Harold Sakata in the 1948 Olympics

Harold Sakata in the 1948 Olympics

You probably know him best as a James Bond henchman with a lethal bowler hat. But Harold Sakata’s career started as an Olympian.

Born in Hawaii, Sakata competed on the United States team in the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, England. Sakata won a silver medal for lifting 380 pounds in the men’s weightlifting portion in the light-heavyweight division.

After the Olympics, he was a professional wrestler under the name of Tosh Togo in the 1950s and 1960s, according to the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame.

But despite his silver medal winning, Sakata’s athletics aren’t what he’s best known for.

Noticed for his muscular build, James Bond producers hired Sakata to play Oddjob, Auric Goldfinger’s personal bodyguard in the film “Goldfinger” (1964). Oddjob wore a steel-rimmed bowler hat that he would toss at enemies.

Harold Sakata in "Goldfinger" (1964) (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

Harold Sakata in “Goldfinger” (1964) (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

Sakata played characters named Odd Job in two other films: 4 Schlüssel (1966) and “The Wrestler” (1974). This character was even used in 1970s Vicks cough syrup commercials.

He became so well-known for the Bond character that he even adopted “Odd Job” as his middle name.

He made a total of 30 film and TV appearances, with a recurring role on the TV series “Sarge” (1971-72). However, none of the films were as prominent as “Goldfinger.”

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Esther Williams and the Canceled Olympics

What do you do when you’re an athlete and the Olympics are canceled? Become one of Hollywood’s top stars.

At least, that’s what Esther Williams did.

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17-year-old Esther Williams (third from left) with the Los Angeles Athletic Swim Club team in 1939.

In 1939, 17-year-old Esther Williams was the United States women’s 100 meter freestyle national champion at the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Championship. She represented the Los Angeles Athletic Club with the winning time of 1:09, which was better than all but one of the swimmers for the next six years, according to the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

The AAU formerly worked closely with the United States Olympic Committee.

Williams was assured a spot on the United States team for the 1940 Summer Olympics which were going to be held in Tokyo, Japan. But the games were canceled due to the outbreak of World War II.

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 Million Dollar Mermaid.”

She said stardom was her consolation prize.

Swimming to Stardom
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 was reluctant to take the job in the Aquacade because it would mean losing her amateur standing, which would keep her from ever competing in the Olympics again.

Esther Williams swimming "pretty and not fast" with former Olympian Johnny Weissmuller

Esther Williams swimming “pretty and not fast” with former Olympian Johnny Weissmuller

“Young lady, there’s a war on and there aren’t going to be any Olympic games for a long time,” Billy Rose told her. “You might as well make some money off your talent.”

Due to World War II, there wasn’t another Olympic games until 1948, when Williams was already a top star at MGM.

She swam with former Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller, who Williams said she 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.”

But Esther Williams eventually relented to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, signed with the studio and was in her first film in 1942. Her career catapulted with the swimming musical “Bathing Beauty” (1944) and she rose to be one of MGM’s top stars.

Esther Williams in "Bathing Beauty" (1944)

Esther Williams in “Bathing Beauty” (1944)

Esther Williams in a synchronized swimming extravaganza in "Bathing Beauty"

Esther Williams in a synchronized swimming extravaganza in “Bathing Beauty”

From 1942 to 1963, Williams starred in 34 films. The swimming musicals were modeled after the novelty ice skating films Olympic ice skater Sonja Henie starred in…but just with swimming.

Williams learned to swim pretty, as Billy Rose advised, and her synchronized swimming numbers were performed in a 25-foot-deep, $250,000 swimming pool on Stage 30, complete with underwater windows, fountains and hydraulic lifts, according to Williams’ 2013 New York Times obituary.

Back at the Olympics
But everything eventually came full circle for Esther Williams and she found herself back at the Olympics.

Williams attended the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics not as an athlete but as a commentator. Synchronized swimming was introduced as an Olympic sport at the 1984 games. Due to Williams popularizing synchronized swimming in her films, NBC Sports asked Williams to join their team as a color commentator. Williams was co-commentator to Donna de Varona, swimmer and 1964 Olympic gold medalist.

Esther Williams co-anchoring with former swimmer Donna de Varona

Esther Williams co-anchoring with former swimmer Donna de Varona

“I was dazzled by the skill of all the athletes and by the underwater technology of NBC’s coverage,” Williams said of the 1984 games. “Some of those girls were underwater for more than half of their five-minute programs and you could see every balletic move.”

Leading up to this, Williams had researched how synchronized swimming could be recognized as an Olympic sport. She also would answer questions and create informational packets for community swimming groups around the country interested in starting a team, she wrote in her autobiography.

In 1956, a synchronized swimming demonstration was held at the Melbourne summer Olympics. But former International Olympic Committee president Avery Brundage—who served from 1952 to 1972—complained that they were “all just clones of Esther Williams. That’s not a sport!”

“Despite Avery Brundage’s sexist notions, synchronized swimmers are superb athletes,” Williams wrote in her autobiography. “They have to lean ballet and first do their routines on dry land as exercises. They have to hold their breath for long periods of strenuous activity.”

Swimmers Tracie Ruiz-Conforto and Candy Costie took home gold medals that year.

“I was touched to realize how these girls had seen those movies and gotten together in their groups and wanted to swim pretty and not fast,” Williams wrote. “I was proud to be there when it came into the Olympics. I was proud to be an inspiration, a godmother to a sport. It was a very emotional moment for me. Tears came to my eyes on camera, and I thought, I love every one of those girls in the water.”

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