Musical Monday: It’s a Pleasure (1945)

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

This week’s musical:
It’s a Pleasure (1945) – Musical #312

Studio:
International Pictures

Director:
William A. Seiter

Starring:
Sonja Henie, Michael O’Shea, Marie McDonald, Iris Adrian, Bill Johnson, Gus Schilling, Cheryl Walker, Arthur Loft, Dave Willock (uncredited), David Janssen (uncredited)

Plot:
Don Martin (O’Shea) is a star hockey player but gets barred from the game after hitting a referee. Chris Linden (Henie) is the lead in the ice-capades and gets Don a job with the show. The show, produced by Buzz Fletcher (Johnson), is a success and Don and Chris fall in love and marry. Buzz’s wife, Gale (Fletcher), causes trouble for the couple.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Olympics to Hollywood: Belita

Belita Jepson-Turner, known simply as “Belita,” in a publicity photo in 1947.

When it comes to ice skating on films, we all think of mainly think of Norwegian Olympian turned actress turned Sonja Henie. With her doll-like features, Henie starred in 10 20th Century Fox musical comedies from 1937 to 1948.

But there is another ice skater who graced the screen on skates: Belita Jepson-Turner. Known simply as Belita, she skated, ballet danced and also acted in dramatic roles from 1944 until 1968.

Similar to Henie, Belita competed for United Kingdom in the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Belita, who was 12 years old, placed 16th in the women’s singles figure skating competition. Henie won her third Olympic gold medal.

Continue reading

Musical Monday: Lady, Let’s Dance (1944)

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

This week’s musical:
Lady, Let’s Dance (1944) – Musical #584

Studio:
Monogram Pictures

Director:
Frank Woodruff

Starring:
Belita, James Ellison, Walter Catlett, Lucien Littlefield, Maurice St. Clair, Barbara Woodell, Emmett Vogan, Harry Harvey, Jack Rice
Specialty performances: Skating team Frick and Frack (Werner Groebli and Hans Mauch), Henry Busse and His Orchestra, Mitchell Ayres Orchestra, Myrtle Godfrey, Lou Bring and His Orchestra

Plot:
Belita (Belita) is a refugee from Holland due to World War II working as a waitress at a Californian resort. When the hotel’s star dancer Dolores (Woodell) quits to get married, the hotel’s entertainment manager Jerry Gibson (Ellison) hires Belita to take her place. Belita becomes a great success while Jerry gets fired from his job and then is drafted into the Army.

Continue reading

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:

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

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.”

Don’t miss our other Olympic spotlights:

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

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.

esther1

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.”

Don’t miss our other Olympic spotlights:

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

Olympics to Hollywood: Bruce Bennett/Herman Brix

Bruce Bennett or Herman Brix? He went by either name

You may know him as actor Bruce Bennett who played Joan Crawford’s ex-husband in Mildred Pierce (1945) or perhaps as yet another actor who played Tarzan. Others know him by his birth name Herman Brix, which he was using when he won an Olympic silver medalist.

Before the Olympics and Hollywood, Bennett played football for the University of Washington when they competed in 1926 Rose Bowl Game against the University of Alabama. In that game he played against future actor Johnny Mack Brown, who was half back for Alabama. Alabama won the game 20-19.

In 1928, Herman Brix competed on the United States team in the Summer Olympic games in Amsterdam—also attended by Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe—and won a silver medal for men’s shot put in the track and field portion of the games. Brix threw the shot put 15.75 meters, breaking the world shot put record with his toss. But  then his teammate John Kuck followed with a throw that set a new world record. Kuck won the gold.

Herman Brix competing in the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam.

Herman Brix competing in the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam.

1928 Olympic Track and Field Ceremony: USA's John Kuck with the gold, German's Emil Hirschfeld with the bronze and USA's Herman Brix with the silver.

1928 Olympic Track and Field Ceremony: USA’s John Kuck with the gold, German’s Emil Hirschfeld with the bronze and USA’s Herman Brix with the silver.

Bennett started his film career in 1931, putting his football skills to use as a football extra in “Touchdown!” (1931). He broke his shoulder during the filming which kept him from making the United States team for the 1932 Los Angeles games. It also caused him to lose the role of “Tarzan the Ape Man” (1932) to another Olympian: Johnny Weissmuller.

Bennett later had the opportunity to play Tarzan in “The New Adventures of Tarzan” (1935) and “Tarzan and the Green Goddess” (1938), billed as Herman Brix.

Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs wasn’t pleased with Johnny Weissmuller’s inarticulate, “crude” representation and preferred Bennett for the role, according to Bennett’s 2007 New York Times obituary.

Playing Tarzan and billed as Herman Brix

Playing Tarzan and billed as Herman Brix

“So when Mr. Brix’s Tarzan is discovered by explorers in the 1935 movie “The New Adventures of Tarzan,” he intones: “Why, yes, I’m Tarzan, also known as Lord Greystoke. How may I help you?,” his obituary said.

He acted under the name Herman Brix—the name that originally made him famous—from 1931 to 1939. He then changed it to Bruce Bennett and acted in nearly 100 films.

“I realized the name Herman Brix was associated with Tarzan, so I made up a list of seven or eight names and asked people which they liked best. Bruce Bennett was the name I came up with,” Bennett told his 2001 biographer, Mike Chapman.

Along with “Mildred Pierce” (1945), Bennett’s other notable films include “The Treasure of Sierra Madre” (1948) with Humphrey Bogart, “A Stolen Life” (1946) with Bette Davis and “Nora Prentiss” (1947) with Ann Sheridan.

While Hollywood and acting was a large part of his life—from 1931 to 1973— so were athletics. When Bennett passed away, he requested memorial donations to the Olympic Committee.

Billed as Bruce Bennett with Joan Crawford in "Mildred Pierce" (1945)

Billed as Bruce Bennett with Joan Crawford in “Mildred Pierce” (1945)

But he was most proud of his marriage to his wife Jeannette for 67 years, who passed away in 2000, he told the University of Washington Alumni Magazine in 2002.

It’s a little confusing about which name to call him. He rose to fame as an athlete with the name Herman Brix and his Hollywood career was most profitable with the name Bruce Bennett. His son Christopher Brix told the Los Angeles Times in 2007 that he answered to either name.

“He’d answer to either name,” Christopher Brix said. “I think he was proud of both.”

He went by either Bruce Bennett or Herman Brix. Pictured in 1993 with his shot put and a photo of himself from the Olympics.

He went by either Bruce Bennett or Herman Brix. Pictured in 1993 with his shot put and a photo of himself from the Olympics.

Don’t miss our other Olympic spotlights:

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

Olympics to Hollywood: Buster Crabbe

Johnny Weissmuller wasn’t the only swimming Olympian to play Tarzan. There was also Clarence “Buster” Crabbe.

Crabbe and Weissmuller knew each other before their Hollywood days and were competitive.

Crabbe developed his swimming (and surfing) prowess while growing up on a pineapple plantation in Hawaii. His athleticism didn’t stop there. He was even the light-heavyweight boxing champion at the University of Hawaii, according to his Los Angeles Times 1983 obituary.

Buster Crabbe at the 1932 Olympics

Buster Crabbe at the 1932 Olympics

Crabbed competed on the United States Olympic team with Weissmuller at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam.  Crabbe won a bronze medal for the men’s 1500 meter freestyle.

But in 1932 Crabbe’s luck changed. He competed again at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and this time won a gold medal for the men’s 400 meter freestyle.

Continue reading

Olympics to Hollywood: Johnny Weissmuller

Today, most Olympic fans in the United States are proud of Michael Phelps, who has broken records for both swimming and amount of gold medals won in one Olympic game.

But in the 1920s, the same pride and idolization was for another swimmer: Johnny Weissmuller, one of the first international swimming superstars.

Johnny Weissmuller in the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris.

Johnny Weissmuller in the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris.

Weissmuller is best known now for swinging through trees with his signature yodeling yell and speaking in broken English in the film role of Tarzan the Ape man. But his fame began as an Olympic swimmer.

Continue reading

Review: Geordie (1955)

Never have I stumbled over a more delightful film.

While searching for films about sports, the 1955 British film “Geordie,” released in the U.S. as “Wee Geordie,” came up in the results. I hadn’t heard of this film or several of the stars, but I decided to give it a go and I’m glad I did.

Geordie is smaller than the other students and gets picked on.

Geordie is smaller than the other students and gets picked on.

Directed by Frank Launder, “Geordie” follows a young boy named Geordie MacTaggart (Paul Young) who is the smallest in his class and Scottish village. The “wee” boy is fed up with being picked on at school and harassed about his height.

Geordie spots an advertisement for a mail-order body-building course on the back of his father’s (Jameson Clark) newspaper. He orders Henry Samson’s (Francis DeWolff) exercise correspondence and continues to work through the course until he’s a tall, strong 21-year-old man (Bill Travers — who was 6′ 6″). Geordie’s girl Jean (Norah Gorsen) is aggravated by the exercises and feels like it takes up all of his time.

Continue reading