Musical Monday: Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)

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:
Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935) – Musical #149

Warner Brothers

Busby Berkeley

Dick Powell, Gloria Stuart, Adolphe Menjou, Alice Brady, Hugh Herbert, Glenda Farrell, Grant Mitchell, Wini Shaw, Frank McHugh, Joseph Cawthorn, Dorothy Dare, Virginia Grey (uncredited), Dennis O’Keefe (uncredited)

The luxury hotel, The Wentworth, opens to wealthy patrons. Rich Mrs. Prentiss (Brady) is controlling of her daughter Ann Prentiss (Stuart) and is pushing her to marry T. Mosley Thorpe (Herbert). Mrs. Prentiss relents to letting Ann have a fun and free summer as long as she marries Mosley at the end of the summer. Mrs. Prentiss strikes a deal with hotel desk clerk Dick Curtis (Powell) if he agrees to escort Ann through the summer.

Dick Powell and Gloria Stuart

-Chorus dancer Jack Grieves died at age 26 on the set of “Gold Diggers of 1935” while Berkeley was directing “Lullaby of Broadway.” The cause of Grieves’ death was written as “acute indigestion,” according to Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley by Jeffrey Spivak

-Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell were originally set to star in this film. But after Flirtation Walk, Keeler and Powell asked to not star together for a little while because they were being type-cast. Gloria Stuart replaced Ruby Keeler for the film, according to The Women of Warner Brothers by Daniel Bubbeo

-Busby Berkely’s first film directing the entire film (both the dance numbers and narrative)

-Busby Berkeley used 56 pianos (that didn’t have to play music) in the “Words Are in My Heart” number, according to Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley by Jeffrey Spivak

-In the “Lullaby of Broadway” number, Wini Shaw’s head turns and she starts smoking a cigarette. This was supposed to model Man Ray’s 1920 photograph “Woman Smoking a Cigarette,” according to Spivak’s book.

-The fourth “Gold Diggers” film in the series that began in 1929 and ended in 1938.

-Music by Harry Warren and Al Dubin

-Costumes by Orry-Kelly

-Film begins with people at the hotel dancing
-The Lullaby of Broadway number

Notable Songs:
-“The Words Are in My Heart” performed by Dick Powell and ensemble
-“The Lullaby of Broadway” performed by Wini Shaw and Dick Powell, ensemble
-“I’m Going Shopping with You” performed by Dick Powell and Gloria Stuart

My review:
“Gold Diggers of 1935” is a funny and entertaining musical filled to the gills with 1930s Warner Brothers stars. The storyline is similar to other Warner Brothers musicals starring Dick Powell in this time frame. Powell is the clean-cut young man and falls in love with a wealthy young girl (Gloria Stuart) that he’s supposed to be chaperoning. Alice Brady plays the girl’s wacky, penny-pinching mother trying to get her to marry Hugh Herbert. And Adolphe Monjou is a Russian dance director. In this film, the gold diggers aren’t showgirls as they are in the previous films. The gold diggers are the hotel workers who don’t receive a salary and only work for tips.

Adolphe Menjou, Joseph Cawthorn, Alice Brady, Grant Mitchell and Glenda Farrell in Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)

While the storyline has several humorous moments (especially Adolphe Monjou directing chorus girls with a meat cleaver), the truly memorable segment of this movie is the 9-minute long “Lullaby of Broadway” number.

It begins in darkness with only Wini Shaw’s face as she sings “Lullaby of Broadway.” From there, the number tells a story of a “Broadway Baby” and her boyfriend who enjoy the nightlife of New York (all filled with Busby Berkeley’s imaginative shots and designs). The couple’s story ends rather grimly.

While “The Words Are In My Heart” features ladies at rotating pianos, “Lullaby of Broadway” is the Berkeley highlight in this film. It’s funny, I can think of this number and know the choreography, visuals, costumes and story by heart…but I often can’t remember which Berkeley film it’s frome. That’s how memorable it is…and it also speaks to how the film is entertaining, but not easy to distinguish from other films starring Dick Powell with direction by Berkeley. (I actually thought this number was in another film because I didn’t remember Gloria Stuart’s story being remarkable).

Pianos for the The Words Are In My Heart number

There are only three actual songs performed in the film, which is surprising especially for a Dick Powell film. But this is undeniably a musical, especially because it opens with groundskeepers and staff of the hotel dancing as they prepare for the opening.

I do have one beef with this film: Glenda Farrell was completely wasted. Farrell plays Hugh Herbert’s chiseling stenographer but has very little screentime. At one point, it had been so long since we had seen her that I forgot she was in the film!

Something else odd about this film: a dancer Jack Grieves collapsed on the set on Jan. 10, 1935, while filming the “Lullaby of Broadway” number. I wasn’t able to find much on Grieves, except for Jan. 11, 1935, news clippings that said Grieves collapsed and died from “acute indigestion” and was survived by wife Feleta Crawford and had an 11-month-old baby.

If you are a fan of Busby Berkeley musicals, don’t miss this one. Especially since it includes some of his best directed numbers.

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Rose let go: RIP Gloria Stuart

Gloria Stuart in 1935

Many people know Gloria Stuart as the adorable old lady who plays Rose as an old woman in the 1997 waste of time “Titanic.”

However, when I think of Gloria Stuart, I think of her in my favorite Shirley Temple movie, “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” (1938). Stuart played the country girl that befriends Shirley Temple and helps get her to a radio gig at the end of the movie. She also plays the love interest to attractive Randolph Scott.

Gloria Stuart was one of the many beautiful Warner Brothers glamour girls of the 1930s, however she did not have as a big of a career as other actresses such as Joan Blondell, Gail Patrick or Ginger Rogers.

She did manage to appear and be serenaded by  Dick Powell in “Gold Diggers of 1935” (1935), one of the few “Gold Diggers” movies that didn’t star Joan Blondell.

I have to be honest, “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms,” “Poor Little Rich Girl“(1936) and “Gold Diggers of 1935” are the only Stuart films I have seen. Most of her films were low budget 1930s and 1940s films. She had 69 film credits to her name, which sounds like a lot by todays standards, but wasn’t much for a 1930s and 1940s actress. Actresses like Kay Francis and Bette Davis made up to 100 films, filming two to four in just one year.

But though Stuart’s film career might not be as impressive as some, she accomplished one thing that many stars do not: She was married to her filmographer husband Arthur Sheekman from 1934 until his death in 1978, a long marriage by Hollywood standards that few are able to boast.

Stuart was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Role in “Titanic.” I think it is really a shame that she didn’t win, seeing that the film won every other Oscar, tying for most winnings with “Ben-Hur” (which in my opinion, how can you compare a stupid romance movie with the religious and moving Ben-Hur. I like the 1950s version of Titanic MUCH better).

Anyhow, let us not remember Miss Stuart for tossing a blue sapphire necklace into the ocean at the end of a movie, but for her lovely 1930s glamour as Dick Powell serenades her with “The Words are in My Heart.”

Gloria Stuart knitting

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