Musical Monday: Cain and Mabel (1936)

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:
Cain and Mabel (1936) – Musical #459

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
Lloyd Bacon

Starring:
Marion Davies, Clark Gable, Allen Jenkins, Roscoe Karns, Ruth Donnelly, Walter Catlett, Hobart Cavanaugh, Pert Kelton, Robert Paige, E.E. Clive, Sammy White, Marie Provost (uncredited)

Plot:
After Mabel O’Dare (Davies) loses her job as a waitress, she ends up working her way up to be a musical star. Larry Cain (Gable) is a prizefighter, who is kept awake all night before a fight due to Mabel’s tap dance practice in a hotel suite above him. Mabel’s press agent (Karns) creates a romance between Mabel and Larry, unbeknownst to them, for publicity.

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From Hollywood to Raleigh: the biggest collection of Gone with the Wind memorabilia

gone with the wind

It started when James Tumblin, saw a dress from “Gone with the Wind” lying on the floor at Universal Studios in 1962.

It was the dress Scarlett O’Hara wore while riding through the shanty town in the 1939 film.

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Found on the floor about to be thrown away, this was the first item in Tumblin’s Gone with the Wind collection-Scarlett’s dress she wore in the shanty town scene

“My mother always taught me to be respectful of belongings. Even if I’m walking through K-Mart I pick up clothing that’s on the floor,” said the former Universal Studios hair and make-up department head. “I picked up the dress and realized it was a dress from ‘Gone with the Wind.’”

Tumblin asked why the dress was on the floor and was told the dress was going to be thrown away.

“I asked if I could buy it and was told $20 for the dress and a whole other rack of clothes,” he said. “I casually accepted. I knew if I was too excited they would go up on the price. The rack of clothes didn’t include other Gone with the Wind costumes but had costumes that Judy Garland wore in ‘Easter Parade.’”

After that, Tumblin began getting phone calls from people who had items from “Gone with the Wind.”

Now, Tumblin owns the largest “Gone with the Wind” collection in the world. He owns at least 300,000 pieces of film memorabilia. Part of his collection has been displayed in the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh in the Real to Reel: The Making of Gone with the Wind exhibit. The exhibit started in Aug. 2012 and was originally supposed to end in January. It has been so successful, it was extended until April 14.

The hast worn by Vivien Leigh in the barbecue scene in Gone with the Wind

The hat worn by Vivien Leigh in the barbecue scene in Gone with the Wind

Tumblin’s collection is stored at his home in Oregon. The latest item he bought was a coat worn by a Munchkin in “The Wizard of Oz” (1939).

I traveled from Shelby, N.C. with my parents to see the exhibit on Saturday, April 6.

Vivien Leigh's Academy Award for Best Actress for Gone with the Wind

Vivien Leigh’s Academy Award for Best Actress for Gone with the Wind

The exhibit included costumes worn by Viven Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara, Clark Gable as Rhett Butler, Olivia de Havilland as Melanie Wilkes, Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes, Ona Munson as Belle Watling and Cammie King as Bonnie Blue Butler.

It also had the script used by Hattie McDaniel who played Mammy, furniture used in the film and Vivien Leigh’s Academy Award for Best Actress as Scarlett O’Hara.

While walking in, one of the museum workers told us Tumblin, the owner of the exhibit, was inside.

I kicked myself for not bringing along a reporter’s notebook and scrambled to find paper in the museum so I could interview Tumblin. I settled for the back of several museum volunteer fliers.

Tumblin was sitting on a bench with his 27-year-old son Josh when I introduced myself as a reporter for the Shelby Star. The two scooted down and let me sit with them for about a 45 minute interview.

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Owner of the collection, James Tumblin greeting visitors and answering questions at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh

“Are you going to click your heels three times and go back to Kansas?” he joked, glancing down at my bright orange flats.

Born in Denver, Colorado, Tumblin began working at Universal Studios in the late-1950s and retired in 1982.

“I wanted to make a lot of money and buy my mother a house,” he said. “I guess I was too naïve to realize rejection. But I kept going back and wore them down, and they finally gave me a job sweeping hair in the costume department.”

A muff and coat worn by Ona Munson as Belle Watling. This was costume designer Walter Plunket's favorite muff and coat. It took three years to restore it when it was found.

A muff and coat worn by Ona Munson as Belle Watling. This was costume designer Walter Plunket’s favorite muff and coat. It took three years to restore it when it was found.

Every night, he would stay and comb the wigs. One day his boss, Larry Germain, asked him if he had been combing the wigs.

“He told me that Debbie Reynolds liked the way I had combed her wig and said she wanted me to come out to her house and comb her wigs,” Tumblin said. “She paid me $200 to do it. It was the first time I rode in a limousine. They realized I had talent and that’s how it all started.”

He got along with many of the stars and it was a happy time. The only downside was when he found a favorite actor to be unpleasant.

Claudette Colbert, Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo and Mae West are just a few people he worked with.

“Marilyn Monroe was lovely and child-like. Cary Grant was a lovely man. Garbo had already retired, but she would have me up to her apartment in New York to cut her hair,” Tumblin said. “Mae West was a hoot. She would have me up to her beach house and I did 30 wigs for her.”

Katharine Hepburn was another close friend who Tumblin frequently had as a house guest after he retired.

“She loved to drive my truck and always lectured me about my posture,” he said.

William Cameron Menzies's production painting for the burning of Atlanta scene

William Cameron Menzies’s production painting for the burning of Atlanta scene

Another friend was Doris Day. He had an ongoing joke with Day where he threw her into a swimming pool.

Movies he worked on include “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), “Psycho” (1960), “The Birds” (1963), “The Sound of Music” (1964), “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (1967), “Star Wars” and “The Terminator.”

“I worked for a year and a half on Lawrence of Arabia. I hadn’t seen it for 40 years when I saw it again at a film festival,” he said. “I started crying and my son asked me what was wrong. I worked on this film for a year and a half of my life and so many of these people are gone now.”

The dissolve of the studio system didn’t affect the costume department, but Tumblin didn’t like the situation.

The original score by Max Steiner for Gone with the Wind

The original score by Max Steiner for Gone with the Wind

“It was sad to see all of these people go. I used to see Fred Astaire coming in his convertible. Doris Day and Rock Hudson had dressing rooms next to each other,” he said. “Universal was the first studio to lease out a sound studio to television with shows like ‘Leave It To Beaver.’ Universal survived while other studios died when they turned their noses up to television.”

I even found that Tumblin and I share the same favorite classic film: “Since You Went Away” (1944).

“It was a job,” he said. “What’s nice to know is that I did it well enough that people still want to see my work in films.”

Room of costumes from Gone with the Wind at the NC Museum of History

Room of costumes from Gone with the Wind at the NC Museum of History

Costume designs for Gone with the Wind by Walter Plunkett

Costume designs for Gone with the Wind by Walter Plunkett

A suit worn by Clark Gable as Rhett Butler. It was later worn by John Wayne, who at one point was the same size as Gable.

A suit worn by Clark Gable as Rhett Butler. It was later worn by John Wayne, who at one point was the same size as Gable.

Tattered Civil War uniform worn by Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes

Tattered Civil War uniform worn by Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes

Worn by Vivien Leigh in the hospital scene in Gone with the Wind

Worn by Vivien Leigh in the hospital scene in Gone with the Wind

Worn by Cammie King as Bonnie Blue Butler during the horse riding incident

Worn by Cammie King as Bonnie Blue Butler during the horse riding incident

Worn by Olivia Deviland as Melanie Wilkes during the train station scene

Worn by Olivia Deviland as Melanie Wilkes during the train station scene

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Saratoga: Harlow’s last curtain call

Jean Harlow’s death in 1937 at the age of 26 came to a shock to many; particularly those working on her last film “Saratoga.”

Jean Harlow and Anita Loos worked on several movies together such as “Red Headed Woman”

Anita Loos described in her 1977 book “Cast of Thousands: A Pictorial Memoir of the Most Glittering Stars in Hollywood”  waiting on the set with Clark Gable and other stars in the film for Jean Harlow to get out of the hospital.  Loos wrote the screen play for “Saratoga” along with several other Jean Harlow films like “Red-Headed Woman.”  The book is divided up into different sections about several different actors that Loos encountered during her time in Hollywood, and a large portion is dedicated to working with Jean, Jean’s marriage to Paul Bern and her death.

The stars were under the impression that Harlow would get well again, the film would be completed and they would continue on with their usual business.  If I recall correctly, Loos said Harlow had been off the set for a few days and they continued shooting the scenes without her.  When they received the phone call of her death they were shocked and close friend Clark Gable (who nicknamed her Sis) was devastated.

I saw “Saratoga” two summers ago and thought it was entertaining, but rather disturbing.  The film was incomplete when Harlow died, so several of her scenes had to be shot with her double Mary Dees and a voice double.

The scenes after Jean’s death are weird and uncomfortable to watch for a couple of reasons:

1. The fact that you know she is dead, even though you saw her before at the beginning of the movie
2. The covering of the face, the irritating fake voice and the thin scenes the double is in are disconcerting.  The voice drives me up the wall and part of you is like “Turn around, I want to see Jean’s  face” though you know darn well it’s not her.  The scenes with the double are so brief and fleeting that you can tell the crew was saying “Let’s wrap this up as quickly and painlessly as possible.”
3. The fact that Jean is in the last scene singing with Clark Gable on the train.  I guess this scene was shot earlier, but you almost think “Oh there’s Baby, she’s okay.”

Here are string of scenes that someone put together of Jean’s double taking over for the rest of “Saratoga”:

Here is a video of Jean acting in “Red Dust” (1932) so you can compare the voices:

Regardless of the double, the general plot of “Saratoga” is good and it has a strong cast including Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, Walter Pidgeon, Frank Morgan and  Lionel Barrymore.  Clark Gable is his usual scoundrel, playing a gambler this time, who wins a ranch in a bet from Lionel Barrymore.  Now that he’s won Barrymore’s ranch, Clark is now trying to win over his daughter Jean Harlow. This was Harlow and Clark’s sixth and last film together.

With the star power here, this clearly wasn’t a B movie that they were throwing Jean in because they thought she was washed up. There was a lot of money at stake.  After Jean’s death, there were talks about shelving the movie and reshooting her parts with Virginia Bruce or Jean Arthur.  However, fans pleaded with MGM to let them get one last chance to see their Baby, according to IMDB.

Gable and Harlow in their last film together.

I have mixed feelings about reshooting with another actress or keeping Jean’s parts in the movie.  Jean and Clark have terrific chemistry, like always.  But frankly, the plot is predictable and typical of a Clark Gable movie.  I personally think it was only saved by Jean Harlow’s comedic wit and beauty.  Jean Arthur would have been terrible in the role and Virginia Bruce would have been just as predictable. The film would have fallen flat.

But at the same time, I almost wish the film had been shelved, much like Marilyn Monroe’s unfinished movie “Something’s Got to Give” (Though the difference is “Saratoga” nearly done and Monroe’s movie just starting).  I’m not saying that I’m not thankful to see one last glimpse of Jean alive and well, but it’s heart breaking to watch.  You see her at the beginning of the movie very beautiful and very much alive.  It’s like watching someone on the street, knowing they are about to die, but they have no clue.

After 74 years, Jean Harlow is still loved and missed and “Saratoga” is still a bit disturbing. We love you Jean; happy 100th birthday.

“Comet Over Hollywood” is taking part of the Jean Harlow blogathon from Feb. 28 to Mar. 6 put on by Kitty Packard Pictorial.

 

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