About Jnpickens

Classic film lover and reporter in North Carolina.

Musical Monday: Pajama Party (1964)

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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:

Pajama Party (1964) – Musical #318

Studio:

American International Pictures

Director:

Don Weis

Starring:
Annette Funicello, Tommy Kirk, Elsa Lanchester, Jody McCrea, Harvey Lembeck, Jessie White, Buster Keaton, Bobbi Shaw, Donna Loren, Candy Johnson, Ben Lessy, Susan Hart, Luree Holmes, Cheryl Sweeten, Michael Nadar, Kerry Kollmar, Joi Holmes

Cameo: Frankie Avalon, Dorothy Lamour, Dorothy Kilgallen

Dancers: Teri Garr (as Teri Hope), Toni Basil

Plot:
Connie (Funicello) is frustrated because her boyfriend Big Lunk (McCrea) is more concerned with athletics than her. When Gogo/George the Martian (Kirk) visits Earth to help with an invasion from Mars, he falls in love with Connie. In the meantime, J. Sinister Hulk (White) wants to rob Big Lunk’s rich Aunt Wendy (Lanchester), and Eric Von Zipper (Lembeck) and his gang have beef with Big Lunk.

Continue reading

Musical Monday: Seven Days Ashore (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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:

Seven Days Ashore (1944) – Musical #669

Studio:

RKO Radio Pictures

Director:

John H. Auer

Starring:

Gordon Oliver, Marcy McGuire, Virginia Mayo, Elaine Shepard, Amelita Ward, Wally Brown, Alan Carney, Dooley Wilson, Marjorie Gateson, Margaret Dumont, Dorothy Malone (uncredited), Lawrence Tierney (uncredited)

Himself: Freddie Slack and his Orchestra

Plot:
Merchant Marine Dan Arland Jr. (Oliver) got himself engaged to three girls, two of which (Mayo, Ward) play together in Dot Diamond’s (McGuire) band. The other, Annabelle (Shepard), is a family friend who Dan really cares for. When the Merchant Marines have a week leave in San Francisco where all the women are located, Dan has his buddies (Brown, Carney) date two of the girls to help him out.

Trivia:
• Originally planned as a U.S. Navy musical but was rewritten as a Merchant Marine musical.

• Alan Carney and Wally Brown were hired to be groomed as Abbott and Costello-like comedy team.

Marcy McGuire in “Seven Days Ashore”

Highlights:
• I like the part when the men and women trade off walking in and out playing instruments.

Notable Songs:
• “Apple Blossoms in the Rain” performed by Dooley Wilson

• “Ready, Aim, Kiss” performed by Marcy McGuire

• “Sioux City Sue” performed by Marcy McGuire

• “Jive Samba” performed by Freddy Slack and his Orchestra and Marcy McGuire

• “Over the Waves” performed by Marcy McGuire

• “The Poor Little Fly on the Wall” performed by Freddie Slack and his Orchestra

• “Improvisation in B Flat” performed by Freddie Slack and his Orchestra

Chorus girls perform “Seven Days Ashore”

My review:

Not to be confused with Seven Days’ Leave (1942), this low budget B-musical was surprisingly better than I expected.

The first few moments of the film are like “who’s who” early in their careers in Hollywood. We see Dorothy Malone in an uncredited role playing the piano in an all girl’s band, Lawrence Tierney as an uncredited Merchant Marine, and Virginia Mayo in a credited role (and main character) though still early in her career.

The film follows a Merchant Marine (Gordon Oliver) who got himself engaged to too many girls and it complicates his shore leave. His pals try to help out by also dating the girls.

Judging by the photos and how the film started, I thought this musical would be about Marcy McGuire’s character, but she’s really just there to supply the music and some comedic antics.

I almost think the film may have be more fun if it had been centered around McGuire. I’m not certain of her appeal, but I also liked when she was on screen.

Dooley Wilson also co-stars and has the opportunity to sing a few songs.

The film had some great snappy songs, especially performed by Freddie Slack and his Orchestra. I honestly was surprised at how much fun this film ended up being.

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

Gold Star Families: Performers who lost loved ones in military conflict

In honor of Memorial Day, I would like to highlight the loved ones of performers who died in conflict — from World War I through Vietnam. The term “gold star” references families who have lost a loved one in military conflict.

World War I

Edward Gabriel Lester

Edward Gabriel Lester, biological father of Katherine DeMille

Edward Gabriel Lester served as a lieutenant in the 102nd Battalion, CEF during World War I and died at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917 during World War I. Katherine was adopted at age 8 by Constance Adams DeMille and producer and director Cecil B. DeMille after the death of both parents.

World War II

Don E. Brown

Captain Don E. Brown, son of Joe E. Brown

Captain Don. E. Brown joined the Army’s Infantry reserve in January 1939 and was commissioned to a second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps July 11, 1941. He was killed when his twin-engine bomber crashed in the desert near Palm Springs on Oct. 8, 1942. Brown was alone on the flight and the plane was on fire when it landed. He crawled out of the plane and died shortly after, according to an Oct. 9, 1942 article.

Robert Westfield Beedle

Robert Westfield Beedle, brother of William Holden

Engisn Robert Westfield Beedle was killed in action on Jan. 4, 1944. He was on the USS Bunker Hill, part of a carrier-based squadron of the Hellcats escorting dive bombers on the raid on the mission, Strike III – Kavieng. Beedle was one of 18 Hellcats.

The Hellcats were attacked by half a dozen Zeros (a type of Japanese plane). Beedle’s plane was hit as he turned to intercept a pair of Japanese planes that concentrated on him.

“His Hellcat swept upward in a lazy loop, pulled out just above the water, flew level for a few seconds, then plunged into the whitecaps. His guns were still blasting,” said Beedle’s section leader, according to William Holden’s biography “Golden Boy.”

Norman Neale William, father of Aron Kincaid

Norman Neale Williams was a second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps and died during World War II. Future actor Aron Kincaid was a toddler (born Norman Neale Williams II), according to Kincaid’s 2011 obituary. There is little information on Kincaid’s father.

Bradley Bernad Clark

Bradley Barnard Clark, brother of Dick Clark

2nd Lt. Bradley Barnard Clark, older brother of Dick Clark, enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on Feb. 21, 1943. In Europe, he was a P-47 Thunderbolt pilot who flew with the 371st Fighter Group’s 406th Fighter Squadron. He was part of a group that conducted operations to support the Allied ground action during the Battle of the Bulge.

Clark was one of nine in a strafing mission, and his plane was hit by a German near Koblenz, Germany. It is assumed he was wounded and his plane damaged. Near the village of Omelmont, France, on his return flight, the following happened according to the American Air Museum:

“Seeing the church of the village of Omelmont, about 5 km NW from the base, he made two passes around it, but his plane hit the corner of a village house, then an electricity pole and a tree. He was ejected from the plane and his body was found near his crashed plane in a nearby field.”

Clark was killed in action on Dec. 23, 1944. The American Air Museum details Dick Clark’s memories of his brother. Dick Clark was 15 when his brother died.

Sir Robert Peel and Beatrice Lillie in 1938.

Sir Robert Peel, 6th Baronet, son of Beatrice Lillie

Sir Robert Peel, 6th Baronet, served in the Royal Navy. He was was killed in action in April 1942 at age 21 aboard the HMS Tenedos (H04) in Colombo Harbour, Ceylon.

Marguerite Guigette Carroll, sister of Madeleine Carroll

Marguerite Guigette Carroll was killed on Oct. 7, 1940, in a German air raid in London.

“My younger sister learned how to be a very excellent typist but was killed at her typewriter by a direct hit from a German bomb in London’s Blitz,” Carroll said in a 1949 Rotary Club speech. “It seems to me that had the generation previous to hers been more interested in encouraging good neighborliness between countries, there is a chance my sister might be alive today.”

Before her death, Marguerite (or “Gigs” to her friends), wrote to her sister in Hollywood, “How pleasant it must be over where you are. No war and no air raids, just warm sun … Cross your fingers for me,” according to an Oct. 9, 1940, article.

Vietnam

Walt Gelien

Walt Gelien, brother of Tab Hunter

Chief Petty Officer Walt Gelien enlisted in the United States Navy and served as a Chief Hospital Corpsman. Gelien was killed in action on Oct. 28, 1965, during the Vietnam War in Quang Nam. He was married and had seven children. Gelien was sleeping on a helicopter when the airstrip was attacked and his helicopter was blown up.

Gloria and James Stewart with Ronald Walsh McLean

Ronald Walsh McLean, stepson of James Stewart  

1LT Ronald Walsh McLean enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and entered the service via Reserve Military. He was killed on June 8, 1969, when he was trapped in an ambush. One of the men in his battalion, Joe Sheriff, didn’t know McLean was related to Jimmy Stewart.

“We all expected to die on the hill,” said Bob Lake of Aitkin, Minn., who at 19 had been the assistant patrol leader. “We were in no man’s land, unknowingly dropped into a [1,200-member] enemy battalion, and [helicopter extraction from] the hilltop was the only way out.”

Lake later wrote to James and Gloria Stewart in 1985, who responded to Lake saying he was the only Marine who wrote the couple.

Sean Flynn

Sean Flynn, son of Errol Flynn and Lili Damita

Sean Flynn, son of Errol Flynn and Lili Damita, was a photojournalist in Vietnam and Cambodia. He traveled with special forces covering the conflict; parachuting into combat zones with U.S. troops. In 1970, Flynn was on assignment for Time magazine and traveled to Cambodia with photojournalist Dana Stone. Flynn and Stone traveled via motorcycle, leaving Phnom Penh, on their way to a press conference in Saigon. Stone and Flynn were never heard from again, and it is assumed that they were captured by the Viet Cong.

Their remains were never recovered, and Damita searched for her son until her death in 1994.

Unfortunately I was unable to find any one from the Korean War. Please share if anyone was forgotten, and I will update the article.

Watching 1939: Everybody’s Hobby (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

everybodyshobby21939 film: 

Everybody’s Hobby (1939) 

Release date: 

Aug. 26, 1939

Cast: 

Irene Rich, Henry O’Neill, Jackie Moran, Jean Sharon, Aldrich Bowker, Peggy Stewart, Alberto Morin, John Ridgely

Studio: 

Warner Brothers

Director: 

William C. McGann

Plot:
Everyone in the Leslie family is obsessed with their hobbies:
-Mom/Myra (Rich) collects stamps
-Robert (Moran) has a HAM radio
-Evelyn (Sharon) loves records
-Uncle Bert (Bowker) love statistics and facts
And Dad/Thomas (O’Neill) has no hobby. Because of this, everybody else’s hobby drives him crazy and he thinks it is nonsense. But due to his dissatisfaction and stress at his newspaper job, Dad takes up a photography hobby and takes a camping trip with his son Robert. While Robert and his dad are camping, a forest fire breaks out and they use their hobbies to help out.

Continue reading

Musical Monday: Melody Cruise (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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.
This week’s musical:
Melody Cruise (1933) – Musical #458

melody cruise

Studio:
RKO Studios

Director:
Mark Sandrich

Starring:
Charles Ruggles, Phil Harris, Helen Mack, Greta Nissen, Chick Chandler, June Brewster, Shirley Chambers, Florence Roberts, Marjorie Gateson, Betty Grable (uncredited), Clarence Muse (uncredited)

Plot:
Friends Pete Wells (Ruggles) and Alan Chandler (Harris) escape the winter of New York and go on a cruise. Pete is a philanderer and Alan drunkenly writes a letter to Pete’s wife about all of his affairs, to be opened only if Alan ever married — something Alan has sworn he won’t do. Complications arise when Alan falls in love and wants to marry.

Continue reading

Watching 1939: Slightly Honorable (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

slightly honorable1939 film: 
Slightly Honorable (1939)

Release date: 
Dec. 22, 1939

Cast: 
Pat O’Brien, Edward Arnold, Broderick Crawford, Ruth Terry, Claire Dodd, Alan Dinehart, Eve Arden, Phyllis Brooks, Douglass Dumbrille, Bernard Nedell, Douglas Fowley, Evelyn Keyes, Willie Best, Janet Beecher

Studio: 
United Artists

Director: 
Tay Garnett

Plot:
Lawyer John Webb (O’Brien) works to clear his name when his ex-girlfriend (Brooks) is killed.
Continue reading

Musical Monday: Student Tour (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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Student Tour (1934) – Musical #255

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Charles Reisner

Starring:
Jimmy Durante (billed as Jimmie Durante), Charles Butterworth, Maxine Doyle, Phil Regan, Douglas Fowley, Florine McKinney, Monte Blue, Mischa Auer (uncredited), Bruce Bennett (uncredited), James Ellison (uncredited), Dick Foran (uncredited), Ann Rutherford (uncredited), Arthur Treacher (uncredited)
Himself: Nelson Eddy

Plot:
The Bartlett College crew team is scheduled to sail for a world tour competition. The problem is, the whole team is flunking philosophy class. So they don’t miss out on the tour, Ann (Doyle) convinces the philosophy teacher, who is her uncle, (Buttersworth) to travel with the crew team and give the exam aboard. This is because she’s in love with the team’s captain, Bobby Kane (Regan).

Continue reading

Watching 1939: 6,000 Enemies (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

6000 enemies1939 film: 

6,000 Enemies (1939)

Release date: 

June 9, 1939

Cast: 

Walter Pidgeon, Rita Johnson, Paul Kelly, Nat Pendleton, Harold Huber, Grant Mitchell, John Arledge, J.M. Kerrigan, Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams, Tom Neal, Arthur Aylesworth, Willie Fung, Esther Dale, Helena Phillips Evans, Ernest Whitman

Studio: 

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director: 

George B. Seitz

Plot:

District attorney Steve Donegan (Pidgeon) usually wins his cases; sending thousands to prison. But when Steve is framed by gangster Joe Silenus (Huber) for taking brides, he is sent to jail where he is surrounded by everyone he has imprisoned.

1939 Notes:
• By the numbers:
– Walter Pidgeon was in four films released in 1939.
– Rita Johnson was in seven films releaed in 1939.
– Paul Kelly was in six films released in 1939.
– Harold Huber was in nine films released in 1939.
– Nat Pendleton was in eight films released in 1939.
– John Arledge was in five films released in 1939.
– Arthur Aylesworth was in 18 films released in 1939.
– Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams was in nine films released in 1939.
– Grant Mitchell was in seven films released in 1939.
– Willie Fung was in 10 films released in 1939.
– Helena Phillips Evans was in two films released in 1939.
– Tom Neal was in 12 films released in 1939.
– Ernest Whitman was in five films released in 1939.
– Bernadene Hayes was in eight films released in 1939.
– J.M. Kerrigan was in 15 films released in 1939.
– Esther Dale was in 13 films released in 1939.

Other trivia: 
• During the boxing fight, Walter Pidgeon’s rib was broken. Nat Pendleton was pulling a punch but lost his balance. The scene where Walter Pidgeon is in a hospital bed with a broken rib was filmed before this incident occurred, according to an April 23, 1939, news brief.

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
I went into this film, assuming it would be like most low-budget, 60-minute prison film. But I walked away blown away by the storytelling, camera work and surprised by how gritty this little picture is.

Walter Pidgeon stars as Steve, a district attorney who is framed for bribery and sent to jail. While shouting he is framed, he is reminded that he recently has told the accused that there is no such thing as being framed.

While in jail, Steve quickly finds that he is not going to be making any friends, since most of the prisoners are there because of him. Several prisoners are planning their own revenge plans, while the prison’s physician, Dr. Malcolm Scott (played by Paul Kelly), tries to protect Steve, or give him tips on how to survive. While Steve is in jail, his younger brother Phil (John Arledge), is trying to clear his name.

The title of course refers to the prisoners who dislike Walter Pidgeon.

While Walter Pidgeon is now best known for his Academy Award-nominated roles in “Mrs. Miniver,” and his stalwart, leading man prescience. News briefs leading up to this film note that this was one of Pidgeon’s first and best leading dramatic roles, after often playing “the other man” to Clark Gable or Nelson Eddy.

It is a surprisingly gritty film for Walter Pidgeon. Usually dressed in a white dinner coat while smoking a pipe, here he’s in a prison uniform and doing hard labor in jail.

One of the most compelling scenes is during a boxing match with Walter Pidgeon and Nat Pendleton (who won an Olympic silver medal for wrestling before his acting career). The fight is meant for Pidgeon’s character to prove himself to the other prisoners. George B. Seitz’s direction is really interesting during this scene, as he makes each punch the point of view of the camera. The camera shows quick closeups as Pidgeon is punched in the face, showing the intensity of the fight.

Pidgeon did sustain an injury from this fight, according to a news brief, when Pendleton stumbled while trying to pull a punch.

My only complaint is that the rest of the film is wrapped up very quickly. Also this is a spoiler, but it’s becoming a film fact: John Arledge dies in nearly every movie I watch with him. That is all the more sad since he died young at age 40.

“6,000 Enemies” (1939) isn’t one of 1939’s best films, but it’s an intriguing MGM B-level movie that was a better film than I expected it to be.

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

Musical Monday: Annie Get Your Gun (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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:

Annie Get Your Gun (1950) – Musical #93

Studio:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:

George Sidney

Starring:
Betty Hutton, Howard Keel, Keenan Wynn, Louis Calhern, J. Carrol Naish, Edward Arnold, Benay Venuta, Clinton Sundberg

Plot:
A fictionalized biographical film about sharpshooter Annie Oakley (Hutton) and how she met and fell in love with her husband, Frank Butler (Keel) as they traveled with Buffalo Bill’s (Calhern) wild west show.

Trivia:
• Based on the 1946 Broadway musical of the same name.

• Howard Keel’s first credited film role.

• Filming originally started April 9, 1949, and for this film was shut down on May 6, 1949, for a number of reasons:

– Judy Garland was originally set to play Annie Oakley, but had to pull out of the film for health reasons.

– Frank Morgan was originally cast as Buffalo Bill, but he died of a heart attack on Sept. 18, 1949. Louis Calhern replaced Morgan.

– Howard Keel broke his ankle while riding a horse on set.

• Before Betty Hutton was cast, other actresses considered for the role included Ginger Rogers, Betty Garrett, Betty Grable and Doris Day.

• Some of the songs from the original show were removed, including “I’m a Bad, Bad Man,” “Moonshine Lullaby” and “I Got Lost in His Arms.”

• The song “Let’s Go West Again” was deleted from the film. This was the only original song written by Irving Berlin for the film.

• Busby Berkeley was replaced by Charles Walters as director. George Sidney was the director of the final project.

• MGM purchased the film rights to the Broadway show in 1947. The film purchase rights said that the film version couldn’t be released until the Broadway run ended.

• In early planning, Bing Crosby was considered for the role of Frank Butler opposite Judy Garland.

Highlights:
• The Technicolor cinematography.

Notable Songs:
• All of the songs

My review:
As I was getting interested in classic movie musicals, I kept running across photos and songs from the film version of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN. I was dying to see it, and finally checked it out from the library.

I remember watching it one night with my parents over the summer. We all had a fabulous time. I remember laughing at Betty Hutton when her jaw drops each time she sees Howard Keel, and her impression of Keel when she sings “The Girl That I Marry.” I was in love with the soundtrack, and marched up and down the cul-de-sac singing “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun.”

I still find this film to be great fun. It’s colorful, has toe-tapping tunes and makes me want to get a jaunty western outfit like Annie Oakley wears. I also have a bit of a personal tie to this film. In 2012, this was the first play I was in. I was in the chorus and got to perform in most of the musical numbers. It was a great time.

I know there is much discussion Betty Hutton vs. Judy Garland in the role of Annie Oakley. I love Judy Garland, but I really feel Betty Hutton is perfect for this role.

I know there are alleged issues on set, which vary from each cast member. I wrote about this in 2011, which you can read by clicking here.

However, I find the outtakes with Garland incredibly sad. Garland is sweet and elegant in her roles, and the energy of Annie Oakley did not fit her.

Though instead of comparing Hutton vs. Garland, considering other actresses of the time is also interesting. Howard Keel wrote in his autobiography that after working with Doris Day, he thinks she would have been great, which I agree with. Betty Garrett was also considered, and she would have been fun too.

But that said, I love Hutton’s mix of energy and comedy in this film.

I caught the 4K restoration from the original nitrate Technicolor negative during the At Home Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival, and it was stunning. The colors were even more vibrant in this restoration.

While ANNIE GET YOUR GUN may not be the most accurate account of Annie Oakley’s life, it is at least sure to put a smile on your face. I was under the weather when I revisited this, and it almost made me forget that I wasn’t feeling well.

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

Musical Monday: West Side Story (1961)

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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

west side story6This week’s musical:
West Side Story (1961) – Musical No. 1

Studio:
United Artists

Director:
Robert Wise, Jerome Robbins

Starring:
Natalie Wood, Rita Moreno, Russ Tamblyn, George Chakiris, Richard Beymer, Ned Glass, Simone Oakland, William Bramley

Sharks: Jay Norman, Jose de Vega, Eddie Verso, Gus Trikonis, Jamie Rogers, Larry Roquemore, Robert E. Thompson, Nick Covacevich, Rudy Del Campo, Andre Tayir

Jets: Tucker Smith, David Winters, Eliot Feld, Tony Mordente, Bert Michaels, David Bean, Robert Banas, Anthony Teague, Harvey Evans, Tommy Abbott

The Girls: Susan Oakes, Carole D’Andrea, Gina Trikonis, Yvonne Wilder, Suzie Kaye, Joanne Miya, Maria Jimenez Henley

Plot:
In a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet, the story is set in the west side of New York City. The feud is between the American gang, the Jets, and the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks. An American, Tony, falls in love with a Puerto Rican, Maria, who is also the sister of the Sharks’ gang leader, Bernardo.

west side story

Trivia:

  • Film adaptation of the 1957 Broadway musical.
  • Several actors were in the original Broadway cast, such as: William Bramley as Officer Krupke, David Winters (who plays A-Rab in the film but Baby John on stage), Jay Norman, Larry Roquemore, Rudy Del Campo, Tucker Smith, Tony Mordente (who played A-Rab on the stage), Gina Trikonis, Carole D’Andrea (who played Anybodys on stage)
  • Some actors were on the West End production, such as: George Chakiris (as Riff), Yvonne Wilder, David Bean
  • Irene Scharaff created the costumes for both the film and Broadway productions.
  • The character of Ice, played by Tucker Smith, was created for the film.
  • Jimmy Bryant dubbed the singing voice of Richard Beymer. Marni Nixon dubbed the singing voice Natalie Wood. Tucker Smith dubbed Russ Tamblyn during the “Jet Song.” Betty Wand partially dubbed Rita Moreno in “A Boy Like That.”
  • Several people were considered while casting this film:
    • Tony: Elvis Presley, Warren Beatty, Richard Chamberlain, Bobby Darin, Gary Lockwood, Troy Donahue, Tab Hunter, George Preppard, Scott Marlowe
    • Maria: Anna Maria Alberghetti, Denise Alexander, Ann-Margret, Pier Angeli, Jane Fonda, Elizabeth Ashley, Diane Baker, Suzanne Pleshette, Angie Dickinson
  • In his autobiography, Tab Hunter wrote that he really wanted the role of Tony and passed up roles for it, especially with his musical experience in “Damn Yankees.” He hoped he would get it, especially since and Natalie Wood had been “America’s Sweethearts” in the late-1950s.
  • Rita Moreno was unhappy that the makeup used for the Puerto Rican characters was all the same shade of brown. “Puerto Ricans … are born with a broad palette of skin colors, from outright white to true black,” she wrote in her autobiography.
  • Natalie Wood hoped she could do her own singing, and arranged for vocal lessons. Robert Wise remembered agreeing to “try and see,” according to Wood’s biographer Suzanne Finstad.
  • Tony Mordente worked one-on-one with Natalie Wood on her dance numbers, according to Suzanne Finstad.
  • The scene where Maria waits on the roof for Tony after the “Rumble” was not in the Broadway play, but was created for Natalie Wood, according to biographer Gavin Lambert.
  • Jerome Robbins was eventually fired from the film, according to Rita Moreno’s autobiography. According to her, he had impossible standards and was such a perfectionist that he would never say “It’s a print!” after a scene.
  • Jerome Robbins choreographed every dance but the mambo, according to Moreno.
  • Won 10 Academy Awards.
  • Filmed on location in New York City.

west side story3

Highlights:

  • The set design and colors
  • Jerome Robbins’s choreography
  • Leonard Bernstein’s score

west side story4

Notable Songs:

  • Jet Song” performed by Russ Tamblyn, dubbed by Tucker Smith, and the Jets
  • Something’s Coming” performed by Richard Beymer, dubbed by Jimmy Bryant
  • Maria” performed by Richard Beymer, dubbed by Jimmy Bryant
  • America” performed by Rita Moreno, George Chakiris and the Sharks
  • Tonight” performed by Richard Beymber (dubbed by Jimmy Bryant) and Natalie Wood (performed by Marni Nixon)
  • Gee, Officer Krupke” performed by Russ Tamblyn and the Jets
  • One Hand, One Heart” performed by Richard Beymber (dubbed by Jimmy Bryant) and Natalie Wood (performed by Marni Nixon)
  • I Feel Pretty” performed by Natalie Wood (performed by Marni Nixon), Suzie Kaye, Yvonne Wilder, and Nobuko Miyamoto
  • Quintet” performed by Rita Moreno, Richard Beymer (dubbed by Jimmy Bryant), Natalie Wood (dubbed by Marni Nixon), Russ Tamblyn, Tucker Smith, George Chakiris, The Jets, and The Sharks
  • Somewhere” performed by performed by Richard Beymber (dubbed by Jimmy Bryant) and Natalie Wood (performed by Marni Nixon)
  • Cool” performed by Tucker Smith
  • A Boy Like That” performed by Rita Moreno (partially dubbed by Betty Wand) and Natalie Wood (dubbed by Marni Nixon)

My review:

There would be no Musical Monday feature without WEST SIDE STORY (1961). There maybe wouldn’t be a Comet Over Hollywood.

I was 14-years-old when I first watched WEST SIDE STORY with my parents in March 2002. I already liked Doris Day and Audrey Hepburn films, so they thought I would enjoy this musical.

“While watching you watch the movie, I thought, ‘This was going to be Jessica’s new favorite movie,’” my mom said when I recently discussed that first viewing with her.

As the credits started to roll, I found myself thinking of the film constantly. I felt overwhelmed with how much I loved the film. I was OBSESSED in all capital letters.

Because of this, I sought out other movie musicals to see if any other film made me feel the way WEST SIDE STORY did—which is why I’ve seen so many musicals.

Magnificent Obsession

The obsession lasted about three years, though I continue to love the film.

Shortly after that March 2002 viewing, I made my parents drive me to Best Buy so I could purchase the CD and later received the 40th anniversary special edition DVD as a gift. I tried to learn the dances (which makes me laugh now), learned how to snap because of this film, plastered my room with West Side Story images, and listened to the soundtrack constantly. I brought the film up to anyone who would listen, including classmates.

This week, I polled friends and family for a testimonial to see their memories of this time:

Adrien Wamboldt, friend and former childhood classmate:

“Oh my gosh, Jessica was crazy about West Side Story. I had no idea what she was even talking about it, but it made her happy so I was pro-West Side Story too.”

 Lisa Pickens, my mom

“I remember you being glued to the television during the movie and teary at the ending. I knew right away that you loved the movie. The next day I could tell that you were thinking about the movie a lot. When you weren’t thinking about the movie, you were talking about it. You found lots of pictures of the movie online and printed them and covered your closet door with them. You got the soundtrack CD and played it over and over, even listening to it in the shower. You watched the movie a lot and tried to learn the dance steps and hoped to use the dance moves at the eighth grade dance. You read everything you could find about the movie and all the actors, and you watched other movies that starred the West Side Story actors. You also knew the names of every dancer, and followed their careers. In your Spanish class your name was Julieta. You hoped every year that marching band would perform the music from West Side Story.”

Bill Pickens, my dad

“My sister Katy and I watched older movies growing up, and West Side Story was one of our favorites. When Jessica started watching West Side Story and became a very enthusiastic fan of the movie and soundtrack, it made me very happy that she enjoyed something I also liked.”

Erin Pickens, my oldest sister

“I wasn’t really living at home when you had your West Side Story ‘phase,’ but I do remember continuous watching of the movie on repeat, always talking about it, many pictures and conversations about it and a lot of singing of the songs.”

The film

Though WEST SIDE STORY was my gateway drug into movie musicals, I’ve held off reviewing it since I began Musical Monday reviews in 2013. The reason for the delay is simple: It’s such a personal film, and I have so much to say that I worried it wouldn’t be enough. As I wrote this, I revised and reorganized this review many times. I still maybe didn’t say everything I wanted to share.

I think it’s obvious from what I’ve already said that I love this film. The music, the choreography, the colors are mesmerizing. For a 2 hour and 45 minute film, it doesn’t feel that long. It moves at a brisk pace with each song arriving to help move along the story.

The film is a modern retelling of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” However, the story isn’t a carbon copy just set in contemporary times. It is a story all its own (another example of a Shakespeare adaptation that does this well is “All Night Long,” a retelling of Othello).

In this adaptation, the story is set in the west side of New York City. The feud is between the American gang, the Jets, and the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks. An American, Tony, falls in love with a Puerto Rican, Maria, who is also the sister of the Sharks’ gang leader, Bernardo. While the two gangs hate each other, they also have one common enemy: the law enforcement. Lt. Schrank and Officer Krupke don’t try to understand the problems of contemporary teens and are racist against the Puerto Ricans moving into the neighborhood. The racial issue was a timely topic, especially for the 1960s.

This film is what made me a fan of all of its stars and I sought out other films of Natalie Wood (Maria), Rita Moreno (Anita), George Chakiris (Bernardo), Russ Tamblyn (Riff) and Richard Beymer (Tony) — who was also a crush of mine for a while after this film.

Even more than our lead performers, I’ve come to enjoy watching the performances of the dancers in the Jets and the Sharks (who I highlighted in this 2016 article, click here to read).

I’ve heard reviews of the film saying it is silly, because gangsters are performing ballet and modern dance in the streets and during fights. But if you are at all interested in dancing and athletics, these dancers are extremely athletic and the choreography is difficult. This is why I laugh at my teen self, trying to learn these dances — I didn’t take into consideration that these were professional dancers with years of experience.

By today’s standards, some of the casting isn’t perfect. Several actors were in brown face, like American actress Natalie Wood, Greek actor George Chakiris and Greek-American actor Gus Trikonis. Other issues are Asian-American actors performing as Puerto Ricans, like Filipino actor Jose de Vega or actress Nobuko Miyamoto (billed as Joanne Miya) as one of the Shark girlfriends, Francisca. Vega and Miyamoto later created The Great Leap, Inc., to work to end racial stereotypes in films.

Also, a downside for some is that several of the actors didn’t perform their own singing and were hired for their acting and dancing abilities. Wood and Beymer were both dubbed, and Russ Tamblyn was even dubbed during “The Jet Song” by fellow Jet, Tucker Smith.

My hot take: Elvis Presley was considered for the role of Tony. Today, we remember him for bright, colorful fluff films, but Presley wanted to be a serious actor. If allowed to act as a serious performer, I think Presley would have been an excellent Tony (even though I love Richard Beymer). I also feel Michael Callan, who was in the original Broadway cast, could have been a great lead member in this film.

But acknowledging those flaws, I still love this film. Even grouchy New York Times critic Bosley Crowther called it a “cinematic masterpiece.”

It’s difficult to pick a favorite song, because I love all of them in their own way. I think that the “Quintet” is one of the most innovative and interesting sequences performed on screen.

My favorite scene hands down is “The Dance at the Gym.” It’s an excellent showcase of all of the dancers in the film, as they also get to demonstrate different dance forms — from contemporary jazz to the mambo. As an aside: This was a dance I practiced, because it could happen at the eighth grade dance. You never know!

A work of art

As a teen, I loved the movie for the romance, choreography and gorgeous score. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve studied the movie with a more critical eye. I spot something new every time I watch this film.

I equate this film to a work of art. The camera movements, the set design and costuming are just as much a part of the storytelling as the music and script. One of my favorite moments that demonstrates this is at the beginning, as the Jets and Sharks chase each other. The camera has the effect of spinning to the next scenario of the gangs battling in the streets, and the camera work moves with the notes of Leonard Bernstein’s score. I love when the camera zooms in on Baby John (Eliot Feld) painting “Sharks Stink” on the wall, with it zooming in with every music que.

Once years ago, after watching this film with a friend, I was discussing performances of actors and symbolism in the set design. I mentioned the window that looks like a cross above Tony and Maria during “One Hand, One Heart,” and the looks of empathy when Lt. Schrank (Oakland) is harassing the Sharks in Doc’s Candy Store.

“You’re thinking too much about it. It’s just a movie,” they said.

With any film and with any competent filmmaker, everything is there for a reason. These things don’t happen by accident. Every shot and scene is carefully planned, just like details in a painting.

While I love this film and generally oppose remakes, I will most likely see the new WEST SIDE STORY, set to be released in Dec. 2021. After all, this is an adaptation of a Broadway stage play, so even the 1961 version isn’t original. I also feel that the story is in the capable hands of director Steven Spielberg and composer David Newman, son of 20th Century Fox’s musical director Alfred Newman. Both have demonstrated a love and understanding of classic films over the years.

In conclusion, I hope I appropriately conveyed how important this film is to my classic film love. While I recognize “Since You Went Away” as my favorite film now, WEST SIDE STORY is still one of my top films.

west side story5

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