Musical Monday: Ziegfeld Girl (1941)

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.

ziegfeld2This week’s musical:
“Ziegfeld Girl” (1941) Musical #126

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Robert Z. Leonard, Busby Berkeley

Starring:
Lana Turner, Judy Garland, Hedy Lamarr, James Stewart, Jackie Cooper, Charles Winninger, Tony Martin, Ian Hunter, Eve Arden, Philip Dorn, Al Shean, Edward Everett Horton, Dan Daily, Fay Holden, Felix Bressart, Rose Hobart, Leslie Brooks (uncredited), Georgia Carroll (uncredited), Joyce Compton (uncredited), Patricia Dane (uncredited), Myrna Dell (uncredited), Jean Wallace (uncredited)

Plot:
Three girls are selected to be in the latest Broadway production of Florenz Ziegfeld:
• Sheila (Turner), a Brooklyn native who is discovered while working on an elevator in a department store
• Susie (Garland), a performer in an act on vaudeville with her father. The only problem is Mr. Ziegfeld only wants Susie and not her dad (Winniger)
• Sandra (Lamarr), who is discovered while she is with her violinist husband (Dorn), who is auditioning for the orchestra.
The film follows the girls as they rise to fame and the trials they face on their way up: alcohol, wooing men who try to take them away from husbands and boyfriends, and getting accustomed to more money. They all learn that fame has a great price.

Trivia:
-Florenz Ziegfeld was a famous Broadway producer who died in 1932. He was known for his lavish sets and elaborate costumes that “glorified the American girl.” Ziegfeld is a God-like figure in this film: he is discussed but never seen.

-“Ziegfeld Girl” is one of three films MGM dedicated to Florenz Ziegfeld. This film is a follow up to “The Great Ziegfeld” (1936), a biopic of Ziegfeld starring William Powell as the impresario. “Ziegfeld Girl” is a sequel which shows the life of the Ziegfeld Girls. The third film was “Ziegfeld Follies” (1946), which just showed multiple Ziegfeld-like acts.

-Hedy Lamarr requested to be in this film as a change of pace from her other dramatic roles, according to historian John Fricke.

-Two of the actors in the film were in original Florenz Ziegfeld produced films: Charles Winneger, who was in the original stage production of Show Boat, and Al Shean, who was part of the act Gallagher and Shean. Winneger and Shean recreate one of the Gallagher and Shean numbers in the film.

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Hedy Lamarr, Judy Garland and Lana Turner in costume for the “Minnie from Trinidad” number

-The production of this film was originally announced in 1938 and was to star Eleanor Powell, Joan Crawford, Margaret Sullivan and Virginia Bruce (who was in The Great Ziegfeld). It was several years before the script was developed and the film was recast with newer talent, according to film historian John Fricke.

-James Stewart’s last film before joining the military to fight in World War II. His next film was “It’s a Wonderful Life” in 1946.

-The finale of “Ziegfeld Girl” edits in multiple numbers from “The Great Ziegfeld.” Judy Garland’s character is dressed in a costume which recreates the “Pretty Girl” number from the 1936 film, on top of the large tower.

-Busby Berkely choreographed the numbers in the film.

-The original finale was going to be “We Must Have Music” with Judy Garland, but it was deleted.

-Judy Garland felt a little inferior to her co-stars. A frequent story she shared was: When Lana Turner came onset, the technicians would whistle. When Hedy would pass through, they would sigh. When Judy came on set they would tell her hello, according to “Beautiful: The life of Hedy Lamarr” by Stephen Michael Shearer.

-“Ziegfeld Girl” was the game changer in Lana Turner’s career, and it led to more serious, dramatic and adult roles. The role was even expanded for Turner during filming.

-Lana Turner was originally supposed to die in the end of the film, according to TCM film historian Robert Osborne. Her death had negative reactions from preview audiences and is now cut to be left ambiguous.

-Model and later wife of Kay Kyser, Georgia Carroll, said in 2008 that Hedy Lamarr was shy and private during the filming. Hedy Lamarr and Judy Garland were friends and Lamarr and Lana Turner were cordial, according to “Beautiful: The life of Hedy Lamarr” by Stephen Michael Shearer.

Publicity still of the costumes from the "You've Stepped Out of a Dream" number

Publicity still of the costumes from the “You’ve Stepped Out of a Dream” number

Highlights:
-Elaborate costumes by Adrian
-Eve Arden’s sassy character

Notable Songs:
-“You Stepped Out of a Dream” performed by Tony Martin
-“Minnie from Trinidad” performed by Judy Garland
-“You Never Looked So Beautiful” performed by the chorus, borrowed by the 1936 film
-“I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” performed by Judy Garland
-“Laugh? I Thought I’d Split My Sides” performed by Judy Garland and Charles Winninger
-“Caribbean Love Song” performed by Tony Martin
-“Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Shean” performed by Charles Winninger and Al Shean

My review:
In the grand scheme of film history, “Ziegfeld Girl” (1941) may not be very important. It is notable because it gave Lana Turner’s career the boost it needed, landing her in more sophisticated and adult roles. But when it comes to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie musicals, this one isn’t even listed in the top 10.

But I love it. “Ziegfeld Girl” may be overly long (with a run time of 2 hours and 12 minutes) and the plot may be rather fluffy, but I think it’s a great example of the lavish luxury that was a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film.

Publicity still of Lana Turner, Hedy Lamarr and Judy Garland

Publicity still of Lana Turner, Hedy Lamarr and Judy Garland

With the Adrian gowns and themes of fame and newly found wealth, “Ziegfeld Girl” oozes glamour, sophistication and the jewel-encrusted style many people dream about. For some reason, for me this film holds the definition of MGM glamour more than other well-known MGM films like “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952), “The Women” (1939) or “Grand Hotel” (1932).

I think one major reason for this is the “You Stepped Out of a Dream” number where Tony Martin sings as women in elaborate (yet eccentric) costumes walk up and down stairs like goddesses.

After it’s release, Hedda Hopper said that the film is so beautiful that it “makes you ill that it’s not in color.” I can’t say I agree though. While Technicolor would have made “Ziegfeld Girl” even more glorious, I somehow think that black-and-white suits it and glitters more than color would. Color would have almost been too distracting.

The cast of this film is also bursting at the seams. Not only are the leading ladies three of MGM’s most well-known and top stars, the character actors seemingly just keep coming out of the woodwork through the film.

The only thing I don’t love about this film is the finale. Pasting together “Great Ziegfeld” (1936) feels off, though you could look at it as tying it back to the original film and making “Ziegfeld Girl” a true sequel. But that’s a bit of a stretch. It really comes off as lazy, and costume and dance styles had changed so much in five years that it doesn’t fit. However, the originally planned “We Must Have Music” finale is also weak (it’s included on the DVD special features). They would have been better off ending with “Minnie from Trinidad.”

I do also enjoy that two original Ziegfeld players- Charles Winninger and Al Shean- are included in the film.

I first saw “Ziegfeld Girl” in 2004 or 2005 and I fell in love with it and I still really love this movie. I loved it so much that “ziegfeldgirl1941” was part of me e-mail address at the time. I even tried to convince my mom to play “You Stepped Out of a Dream” when I walked downstairs to my prom date (she refused so this didn’t happen).

If the glamour of this film was a soap or a perfume, I would buy it and wear it. But since it’s not, I did the next best thing. I created Hedy Lamarr’s “Stepped out of a Dream” costume designed by Adrian for this Halloween. I bought the sleeveless white dress but made the rest of the costume- sewing on sleeves, cutting out and gluing silver stars and sequins, using 12 glue sticks to attach wire with stars on a board on my back (Adrian also used a board on Hedy’s back.) If this 20 hour project doesn’t describe my love for “Ziegfeld Girl,” I’m not sure what does.

My version of Hedy Lamarr's "Dream" costume

My version of Hedy Lamarr’s “Dream” costume

If you love MGM glamour and musicals, I would give this one a watch. I’ll give you fair warning that it’s a bit dramatic at parts, like when Lana Turner’s luck starts to change, but it’s such a fabulous look at MGM in it’s prime.

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Hollywood Veterans in Arlington National Cemetery: Jackie Cooper

Last weekend, filmmaker Brandon Brown and I set out to find six celebrities buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC. The venture took four hours and more than five miles of walking. To put that into perspective, we were hunting for six graves out of more than 400,000 people buried in the 26 square mile cemetery with roughly an 8 mile trail running through it. This week, I am highlighting these people who either served in the military or were married to military personnel. 

Jackie Cooper as a child star in the 1930s.

Jackie Cooper as a child star in the 1930s.

Known for his constant tears that rolled down chubby cheeks, Jackie Cooper was one of the top child actors of the 1930s.

But life changed for Cooper when he joined the Navy during World War II.

“I had gone into the Navy as a youth, and I came out as a man,” Cooper wrote in his 1981 autobiography, “Please Don’t Shoot My Dog.”

Cooper served in the Navy during World War II; going into the service in 1943 and was discharged in 1946.

“I think the only time I really regretted being recognizable was during the war,” he wrote.“It was tough on celebrities then. The officers wanted to show everybody they didn’t play favorites, so they were twice as hard as us. The men wanted to show us they were as good as we were, so they would go out of their way to pick fights, to prove they were our equals or betters….And yet for the duration, I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.”

Cooper went to Notre Dame in 1943 to 1944 for military training, but left after a scandal of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. A teenager got drunk in a group he was with, but Cooper was found innocent, according to his autobiography.

Jackie Cooper playing the drums during World War 2 with Claude Thornhill's band.

Jackie Cooper playing the drums during World War 2 with Claude Thornhill’s band.

Bandleader Claude Thornhill was overseas originally in a Navy band started by Artie Shaw. When the band broke up, Thornhill asked Vice-Admiral Calhoun if he could form another band that played a remote bases in the South Pacific. The band was called Thornhill’s Raiders. Cooper, who was a drummer outside of his acting career, had played with Thornhill previously in 1942, and he called Cooper asking to join the band, according to Cooper’s autobiography.

In 1944, Cooper was promoted to seaman third class and was performing at the Aiea Naval Hospital in Oahu. Starting in January 1945, the band performed for eight months over 28 islands across the Pacific via Navy Air Transport, according to his autobiography.

Singer Dennis Day was also in the band. Friction between Day and Thornhill caused Thornhill to leave and morale for the band went downhill.

 

Jackie Cooper when he was discharged in 1946.  Original caption: Joyously waving his discharge paper, movie actor Jackie Cooper prepares to depart for Hollywood after leaving Navy separation center at Terminal Island, Long Beach. Cooper served 26 months and was discharged with rank of Musician, 3rd class.

Jackie Cooper when he was discharged in 1946.
Original caption: Joyously waving his discharge paper, movie actor Jackie Cooper prepares to depart for Hollywood after leaving Navy separation center at Terminal Island, Long Beach. Cooper served 26 months and was discharged with rank of Musician, 3rd class.

“The war was just out there, and you could see what it did,” Cooper wrote. “You knew that the public was being fed pap (we saw the newspaper reports on Tarawa that 1,500 had been killed, and we had no trouble counting 5,500 graves), and you knew the war would last 10 years more, and you wondered if you were helping much by playing music. Yet, you also saw what happened to so many good guys—dead, dying, blinded, horribly mutilated…We (the band) often talked about it. Were we doing enough? Generally, we had to admit we weren’t.”

Cooper saw action once on Ulithi. The harbor had more than 5,550 ships of U.S. Navy carriers, gunboats and supply vessels and the Japanese Air Forces attacked. The Japanese had very little left to fight with, and one Kamikaze attempted to crash into a ship went right into the water, he wrote.

“Then one of the enemy crashed his plane into the fantail of the carrier USS Randolph; all the ammo aboard its aircraft blew up, and hundreds of sailors were killed,” Cooper wrote. “The day after, we went aboard what was left of the hangar deck of the Randolph and there were ankle-deep puddles of blood. From that moment on I recognized how artificial war movies are.”

Cooper was on the island New Caledonia when the war ended, and then went on a goodwill tour of New Zealand. Cooper was discharged in January 1946.

After returning from the war, Cooper returned to Hollywood but eventually turned to directing rather than acting.

Jackie Cooper's grave in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica Pickens)

Jackie Cooper’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica Pickens)

He joined the Navy again as a Naval Reserve in 1961 and remained remaining in the reserves until 1982. His rejoining started with Naval Reserve recruitment advertisements until the Navy urged him to join. Cooper was a lieutenant commander and was promoted to captain in 1973. During his time in the Navy, Cooper made training films and promotions, but declined promoting the Vietnam War, because he disagreed. In 1970, Cooper became an honorary Naval Aviator, an honor also bestowed to actor Bob Hope.

Upon Cooper’s retirement in 1982, he was decorated with the Legion of Merit by Navy Secretary John F. Lehman Jr. Other than James Stewart, no performer in his industry has achieved a higher uniformed rank in the US military, according to the U.S. Navy.

Cooper passed away in 2011 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

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Classic Christmas Addiction

Part of why I love Christmas is getting to watch my favorite classic holiday films such as “Christmas in Connecticut”, “White Christmas” and “Remember the Night.”

But I also love looking at Christmas related photos with classic actors and actresses.

Every day since December 1, I’ve been posting a Christmas related photo on Comet Over Hollywood’s Facebook Page, and searching for the day’s photo can be an addicting task.

Even long after I find the photo of the day, I keep browsing-marveling at the ridiculousness of vintage Christmas photos.

I’ve found these classic photos can be divided into categories. Here are some examples:

Glamour: These photos show actors looking beautiful and wealthy at their homes during Christmas.

gina

Gina Lollabrigida looking glamorous in her Christmas tree

Copy of Carole Lombard

Carole Lombard

glam paulette goddard

Paulette Goddard

glam jean harlow1

Jean Harlow

glam Anite Page

Anita Page in 1932

glam christmas jennifer jones

Jennifer Jones

Adorable and cute: These involve child actors or actresses looking sweet and angelic. 

cute jackie cooper

Jackie Cooper

Bacall And Bogart

The Bogart: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and their son Stephen.

cute leslie

Joan Leslie

cute keatons

Buster Keaton and Natalie Talmadge with Junior and Bob

cute our gang

The children of Our Gang

cuteNatalie Wood

Little Natalie Wood

cute Shirley Temple

Shirley Temple in 1935

cute Priscilla Lane

Priscilla Lane

rita hayworth

Rita Hayworth

Ridiculous or funny: Photos that try way to hard to make a photo Christmasy or make it a sexy Christmas photo.

Dorothy Jordan and Gwenn Lee, I don't even understand what's happening.

Dorothy Jordan and Gwenn Lee, I don’t even understand what’s happening.

Joan Crawford

Joan Crawford flirting with Santa in 1932

Janet Leigh

Janet Leigh with a Christmas tree hat

Esther Williams

Esther Williams in unreasonable winter clothing

funny Maureen Osullivan

Maureen O’Sullivan…..dressed as a choir boy.

funny Margaret Obrien

Margaret O’Brien…wrapped as a package?

funny Clifton Webb

Clifton Webb as the most unlikely Santa Claus

Visit Comet for more holiday fun this month!

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The tears are on us: RIP Jackie Cooper

Cooper looked the same his whole life

Jackie Cooper was one of those people who looked the same all his life.  He was an adorable child, a handsome young man and then adorable again as an older man.

He had that round face that was almost too big for him as a child and large chubby cheeks which plumped up with a grin or perfectly reflected his flowing tears.

Cooper successfully went from playing the wise cracking child into being able to a adult actor; something many other child stars failed to do.

He won our hearts in “The Champ” as he steadfastly loved his alcoholic father Wallace Berry. He then tugged at our  heart-strings when tears rolled down his face when The Champ dies at the end.

Cooper later showed he could play a romantic young man to pretty actresses like Deanna Durbin in “That Certain Age.” I have to admit I thought he was rather cute and was crush worthy as a teenager.

Jackie Cooper crying

Like Margaret O’Brien and June Allyson, Jackie Cooper was famous for his crying scenes.  Once when Cooper didn’t want to cry Norman Taurog, his uncle and director of the movie “Skippy” threatened to shoot Cooper’s dog.  Joking aside about the multitude of tears, Jackie Cooper was a pretty good child actor and had a sincere childish way about him.

He acted in an era where children were allowed to be children in movies, unlike today where they seem to be little adults.  Other male actor children followed in his footsteps like the adorable Bobs Watson who cried better than any other child I’ve ever seen.

As cute as Jackie Cooper was, he also was a sort of odd-looking kid. He was pretty stocky and had a huge head.  Look at

Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Cooper and Paulette Goddard

the photo of Jackie, Paulette Goddard and Charlie Chaplin. He’s nearly as tall as both of them, and wider than either.

I always thought Jackie Cooper seemed like a genuinely friendly man from interviews and had a really good career.  I have to admit, I wish he was the one who played Ted Nickerson in the 1930s Nancy Drew series. He seemed closer to the book character than Frankie Thomas.

Rest in peace Jackie Cooper. I hope he is able to be with his wife Barbara Kraus who died in 2009.  You will be missed, Mr. Cooper, the tears are on us. You are our Champ this time.

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The Mystery of the Murdered Movie

I love Nancy Drew.

I have played and solved 21 of the HerInteractive PC games and read most of the original yellow bound novels. I even own a Nancy Drew cookbook, a “Nancy Drew’s Guide to Life” book and a large Nancy Drew cut out.

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Nancy Drew has played a pivotal role for the past 80 years in literature for young girls, as well as in pop culture.

Everyone knows who she is and is fairly respected as a literary character. However, why is there not a flattering movie adaptation depicting everyone’s this important literary character and symbol for American women?

Eight years after the first Nancy Drew novel, “The Secret of the Old Clock,” was published in 1930, the first Nancy Drew film adaptation was released.

Nancy Drew, Reporter,” the first film adaptation of the series, was released in 1938, three more movies were released all in 1939. These movies included “Nancy Drew  Troubleshooter,” “Nancy Drew Detective ” and “Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase).”

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Film series were not rare in the 1930’s and 1940’s. In fact many studios made a great deal of money off of series such as “Andy Hardy,” “Dr. Kildaire,” “Maisie” and “Boston Blackie just to name a few of many.

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I imagine that is what Warner Brothers was trying to do with Nancy Drew. But none of the films followed or resembled any of the Nancy Drew books, except for snippets of “Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase” which I think is modeling itself after the book “The Hidden Staircase.”

In novels Miss Drew is level-headed, fearless and intelligent. She doesn’t goof off and there isn’t much time for romance in her life. Yes there is her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson, but I can count on one hand the amount of times they kissed or flirted in the novels. She was also very talented and fashionable. She could tap dance the Morris code while wearing a freshly pressed tailored suit.

Also in the novels, Ned was concerned about Nancy but never hindered her sleuthing. Carson Drew, Nancy’s father, was a distinguished lawyer. He teased his daughter for her appetite for mysteries and trusted her good sense.

However, the characters in the 1930s Nancy Drew series didn’t resemble Carolyn Keene’s intelligent teens.

Nancy Drew, played by Bonita Granville, was bumbling, scatter-brained and frightened for most of the films. She set out to solve a mystery but would run home before finding any actual clues.

Nancy and Frank
Bonita Granville as Nancy Drew and Frankie Thomas as Ted Nickerson

Ned Nickerson, played by Frankie Thomas, was named TED in the movies for some reason. He was maybe the most tolerable character in the movies, but I wouldn’t run to him to protect me.

John Litel was a very irritating Carson Drew. He forbid Nancy from sleuthing and worried about her constantly. Even Hannah Gruen, the housekeeper, ran away in terror when someone broke into their home. Hannah in the books would have knocked them on their ear.

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John Litel as Carson Drew in “Nancy Drew…Reporter” (1938)

The films involve very little mystery solving and an over abundance of silly slap-stick. I’m not asking for a whole detailed novel to be played out in the 68 minute films, but Warner Brothers could have at least been accurate with their character depictions.

Bonita Granville, who was 16 when she played Nancy Drew, was in top-notch films such as “These Three”(1936), which she received her only Oscar nomination, and “Now, Voyager” (1941), giving excellent performances in both but clearly Nancy Drew was not the role for her.

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I made a list of who, with some tweaks to the script, could have been the perfect Nancy Drew casting in the 1930s or 1940s.

Nancy Drew: Deanna Durbin (19 at this time) would be my first pick. She sometimes plays silly characters, but also plays serious roles beautifully. Nancy Drew was also supposed to be very attractive. Miss Granville wasn’t ugly, but Deanna Durbin is decidedly prettier. I’m sure they would have to fit in a song or two for Deanna. She would have been old enough by this time, because “First Love,” the film that she received her first on-screen kiss came out the same year as the series.

Carson Drew: John Litel is generally a character actor with small roles. I’m not sure why they chose him to play the distinguished lawyer, Carson Drew. I can’t think of anyone else who could play this role more perfectly than Walter Pidgeon. Mr. Pidgeon is the definition of distinguished and sophistication. With his fatherly and friendly acting style, along with his pipe, I can picture him now giving Nancy advice.

Ned Nickerson: I would either say a teen-aged Jackie Cooper (17 at the time) or Robert Stack (20 at this time). Both boys were attractive and would have seemed more protective of Nancy Drew than Frankie Thomas. Stack was also in the 1939 film “First Love” with Miss Durbin and would have been of a suitable age.

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