Musical Monday: Du Barry Was a Lady (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.

This week’s musical:
“Du Barry Was a Lady” (1943)– Musical #173


Roy Del Ruth

Red Skelton, Gene Barry, Lucille Ball, Virginia O’Brien, Rags Ragland, Zero Mostel, Louise Beavers, Donald Meek, Ava Gardner (uncredited), Marilyn Maxwell (uncredited), George Carroll (uncredited),
As Themselves: Tommy Dorsey, Lana Turner, Dick Haymes, Jo Stafford

All working at the same club, coat check boy Louis Blore (Skelton) and master of ceremonies Alec Howe (Kelly) are both in love with nightclub performer May Daly (Ball), where she sings a song as Madame DuBarry. May is in love with Alec, but she is holding out to marry a rich man. Louis wins $150,000 in a sweepstakes. Then he drinks a drugged drink and dreams that he’s King Louis XV and Lucille Ball is Madame DuBarry.

Lucille Ball and Red Skelton go back to the 1700s

-Lucille Ball’s first starring role under contract with MGM.
-Ann Sothern was originally set to star in this film, but turned it down because she was pregnant with her daughter, Tisha.
-Zero Mostel’s first film
-Lucille Ball was dubbed by Martha Mears
-Produced by Arthur Freed
-Based on the 1939 Broadway musical starring Bert Lahr, Ethel Merman and Betty Grable. The film used very little of the original Cole Porter score.

-Virginia O’Brien’s performances
-The “Esquire Girl” number, with all the different costumes
-Lana Turner’s cameo

Notable Songs:
-“DuBarry was a Lady” performed by Lucille Balls, dubbed by Martha Mears
-“Do I Love You” performed by Gene Kelly
-“Salome” performed by Virginia O’Brien
-“I Love an Esquire Girl” performed by Red Skelton and Pied Piper
-“Friendship” performed by Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Gene Kelly

My review:
“DuBarry Was a Lady” isn’t the best MGM musical around, and a lot of it is nonsense, but it sure is fun.

The film revolves around a nightclub hat check, played by Red Skelton, who is in love with the club’s singer, played by Lucille Ball. Ball’s character portray’s Madame Du Barry in her act (hence the title). Lucille Ball is in love with fellow performer Gene Kelly, but she is unwilling to marry a poor man and end up happy, but broke like her parents. Skelton strikes it rich, but gets accidentally drugged, where he dreams everyone in the club is back in the days of France in the 1700s (include Tommy Dorsey and his band).

The time traveling dream sequence may seem a little random, and it does take you out of the story line, but it’s fairly entertaining.

For some reason, this 1943 Technicolor musical seems to explode color than any other 1940s MGM musical. Maybe it’s because of the costume color selections that were picked. We start with a musical number of chorus girls in Ziegfeld Girl-like blue and purple costumes. Then there is Lucille Ball with her vibrant red hair (a color MGM stylist Sydney Guilaroff called Tango Red). Of course, Red Skelton also has a shock of red hair. And then there’s Virginia O’Brien’s unforgettable chartreuse blouse. Visually, this film is off-the-charts gorgeous!

Virginia O’Brien with this chartreuse blouse

Colorful costumes for the opening number

Lucille Ball with her “Tango Red” hair

Red Skelton is the star of this film and has the most screen time. While Lucille Ball and Gene Kelly may be the reason some folks tune into this one, Kelly is really secondary to Ball and Skelton. Kelly only has one full-on dance number. According to her autobiography “Love, Lucy,” Lucille Ball enjoyed working with Red Skelton. Lana Turner even has a cameo in the film!

Zero Mostel also randomly shows up in this film and does some moderately annoying impressions. For example, he does one of Charles Boyer in “Algiers” (1938) and just repeats “Heddyyyy” about 15 times. And then there is Virginia O’Brien, who sings in her straight-faced singing style, that is somehow so appealing.

“Du Barry was a Lady” has it’s faults and is silly. But I won’t deny that I love it. Hopefully you will too.

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Classics in the Carolinas: Arthur Freed

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

Annie Get Your Gun, Bandwagon, Singin' in the Rain and Meet Me in St. Louis are just a few MGM musicals Arthur Freed produced.

Annie Get Your Gun, Bandwagon, Singin’ in the Rain and Meet Me in St. Louis are just a few MGM musicals Arthur Freed produced.

Singin in the Rain” (1952), “Show Boat” (1950) and “Meet Me in St Louis” (1944)

These are just a few of the well-known, Technicolor MGM musicals that producer Arthur Freed produced.

But before working with some of Hollywood’s most talented stars, Freed was born down south.

Freed, real name Arthur Grossman, was born in 1894 in Charleston, S.C.

His parents, sister and brothers were a musical family. Freed’s father, Max, emigrated from Budapest in the 1880s.

Max Freed sold zithers and encouraged his children’s musical talents. Arthur’s brother Walter became an organist, Sydney and Clarence had recording businesses in Hollywood, Ralph was a songwriter and Ruth also wrote several songs, according to M-G-M’s Greatest Musicals: The Arthur Freed Unit by Hugh Fordin.

Nacio Herb Brown (left) and Arthur Freed (right) in 1929. The two wrote several songs together.

Nacio Herb Brown (left) and Arthur Freed (right) in 1929. The two wrote several songs together.

Though Freed was born in Charleston, he was raised in Seattle, Washington, educated in New Hampshire and started his music career as a song plugger in Chicago.

In Chicago, Minnie Marx, mother of the Marx Brothers, discovered Freed who sang and wrote material for the brothers in vaudeville shows, according to Billboard Aug. 1950.

In 1928, Freed got a job at MGM studios where he wrote songs with Nacio Herb Brown such as “Broadway Melody,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” “You are My Lucky Star” and “Temptation.”

Freed began producing films in the late 1930s and became interested in helping promote Judy Garland’s career.

Judy Garland and Arthur Freed

Judy Garland and Arthur Freed

From 1939 to 1960, Arthur Freed produced 44 films. It’s safe to say I have seen every Freed production.

After working with  some of MGM’s top talents and winning an Academy Award for Best Picture for “Gigi,” Freed left the studio in 1961.

Freed died at the age of 78 in 1973 and was buried in Culver City, California.

Although Freed did not spend much of his life in Charleston, I felt it important that one of Hollywood’s most prolific producers was born in my birth state of South Carolina.

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