Musical Monday: The Sky’s the Limit (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:
The Sky’s The Limit (1943) – Musical #210

Studio:
RKO Radio Pictures

Director:
Edward H. Griffith

Starring:
Fred Astaire, Joan Leslie, Robert Benchley, Robert Ryan, Elizabeth Patterson, Marjorie Gateson, Fred Aldrich, Robert Andersen, Richard Davies, Norma Drury, Dorothy Kelly, Neil Hamilton (uncredited), Peter Lawford (uncredited) Eric Blore (uncredited), Amelita Ward (uncredited)
Himself: Freddie Slack and his Orchestra, Ella Mae Morse

Plot:
Fred Atwell (Astaire) is one of the Flying Tiger pilots during World War II and has been named a hero for all of his successful missions. During his leave back home, he is taken on a personal appearance tour. Tired of the strict schedule, he gets off the train at a stop and decides he’s going to have fun. He meets photographer Joan Manion (Leslie), who he falls for but she believes it just a drifter.

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“A Colorful Life”: Remembering Joan Leslie

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Actress Joan Leslie in the 1940s

Actress Joan Leslie in the 1940s

With her shining smile, bright eyes and fresh face, actress Joan Leslie had an innocent girl-next-door appeal. But during her career at Warner Brothers during the 1940s, Joan Leslie held her own in top films with major actors such as Ida Lupino, Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney.

She was a full-fledged star by age 17. And it all began on the stage when she was nine years old.

Joan Leslie—then Joan Brodel—was part of a sister act, with her sisters Mary and Betty, known as the Three Brodels. The sisters traveled the United States and Canada; singing, dancing, doing impressions and playing instruments, according to a 1999 interview in the book “Movies Were Always Magical” by Leo Verswijver.

Joan played the accordion and did an impression of actress Greta Garbo.

While performing in New York, an MGM scout saw Joan and signed her to play a small role in the Greta Garbo film “Camille” (1936). In film, Joan, 11, played Robert Taylor’s little sister. She had one line, welcoming him home as he arrived at her first communion.

As she continued to get small, uncredited roles in films such as “Nancy Drew—Reporter” (1938), “Susan And God” (1940) and “Foreign Correspondent” (1940), Joan changed her last name from Brodel to Leslie so she wouldn’t be confused with actress Joan Blondell.

Pictured with her sisters and mother in for a LIFE magazine photo spread.

Pictured with her sisters and mother in for a LIFE magazine photo spread.

But her big break came at age 15. Joan got the role of Velma, a young girl with a club foot, in the Howard Hawks directed film “High Sierra” (1940) starring Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino. In the film, Bogart is a criminal on the run, and when he meets Velma, he wants to help her get an operation for her foot.

At age 15, Joan Leslie with Humphrey Bogart in

At age 15, Joan Leslie with Humphrey Bogart in “High Sierra”

“That was such a good role,” Leslie said in the Verswijver interview. “And I was only 15! I wish I had more such roles when I was older.”

By age 17, Joan Leslie was on the cover of the Oct. 26, 1942, issue of LIFE magazine. “Joan Leslie: girlish and unassuming, at age 17 she shines brightly as a full-fledged movie star able to sing, dance and act,” the magazine headline said.

Joan Leslie on the cover of Life, Oct. 1942.

Joan Leslie on the cover of Life, Oct. 1942.

By this time, Leslie had starred with Bogart a second time in “Thieves Fall Out” (1941). Still in her teens, she played the love interest to top stars such as Gary Cooper in “Sergeant York” (1941) and James Cagney in “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (1942).

“When you talk about working with the best, I’ll always remember Jimmy Cagney. What a creative, dynamic person he was,” she said in the 1999 interview.

Both Cooper and Cagney received Academy Awards for Best Actor for their respective roles.

“I never was nominated but I don’t feel I did anything up to that caliber,” she said.

In most of her roles that followed at Warner Brothers, Joan Leslie exuded a persona that was the young, innocent, sweet girl-next-door.

“I was merely being myself in the 1940s, that’s what it really was,” she said.

However, Joan Leslie always proved to be versatile. She could go from comedies with Eddie Albert, such as “The Great Mr. Nobody” (1940) to the hard hitting drama “The Hard Way” (1942), playing the younger sister Ida Lupino is pushing to make a star. At age 18, Joan was also the youngest of any of Fred Astaire’s dance partners in the 1943 film, “The Sky’s The Limit.”

Publicity photo of Fred Astaire and Joan Leslie in

Publicity photo of Fred Astaire and Joan Leslie in “Sky’s the Limit.”

However, because she was so much younger than her peers such as Cagney, Olivia de Havilland, Henry Fonda and Bogart, she said she never felt like she was a “chum” to any of these stars, but was also never scared or in awe while working with them.

“People were very nice to me…” she said. “They were getting the quality from me that they wanted: young, innocent and sweet girl next door. It was during the war (World War II) and that’s what they wanted to project on the screen.”

Like many other actresses, Joan Leslie danced at the Hollywood Canteen during World War II with the soldiers. Art imitated life as she starred in the film “Hollywood Canteen” (1944) as herself. In the film a soldier, played by Robert Hutton, wins a date with Joan Leslie and the two end up falling in love.

Joan Leslie and Robert Hutton in the film

Joan Leslie and Robert Hutton in the film “The Hollywood Canteen” (1944)

In 1946, Joan Leslie was voted No. 1 in a Future Star poll, but becoming quality roles were scarce for her. This largely was because she sued Warner Brothers for control of her contract, believing after the age 21 she should be able to pick better parts. Warner lowered her billing in some of her films and blackballed her name with other studios.

“I always liked to play a certain kind of part as a certain kind of person and I don’t find that very much anymore. The business has changed so much,” she said in 1999.

Joan Leslie with her husband William Caldwell, MD.

Joan Leslie with her husband William Caldwell, MD.

However, once Joan Leslie married obstetrician William Caldwell, MD, in 1950, her interest in Hollywood started to fade. When the two had twin girls, Patricia and Ellen, Joan stopped making films and concentrated on her role as a mother.

“When I married, that would be the most important thing in my life,” she said. “When you had a colorful life as an actress, it’s not easy to say that and to mean it as well. My husband respects me for what I have accomplished in my career.”

After her career, she was involved with parish work, the Los Angeles Public Library’s after-school reading program, and the advisory board of the Damon Runyan Cancer Fund, according to her obituary.

Dr. Caldwell passed away in 2000 and Miss Leslie passed away at age 90 on Oct. 12, 2015.

“I had a very colorful life, she said. “There’s nothing quite like it.”

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Memorial Day Musical Monday: This is the Army (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.

TitaposThis week’s musical:
“This is the Army” –Musical #488

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
Michael Curtiz

Starring:
Joan Leslie, Ronald Reagan, George Murphy, Charles Butterworth, George Tobias, Alan Hale, Dolores Costello, Una Merkel, Rosemary DeCamp, Dan Dailey (uncredited), Gary Merrill (uncredited), Gene Nelson (uncredited), Herb Anderson (uncredited), Victor Mature
As themselves: Frances Langford, Kate Smith, Joe Louis, Irving Berlin

Plot:

The movie starts in 1917, when dancer Jerry Jones (Murphy) is drafted to fight in World War I. Before leaving, he marries his sweetheart Ethel (DeCamp).
But before the soldiers are shipped overseas, Jones stages an all-soldier Broadway show called “Yip Yip Yaphank.” While fighting in France, Jones hurts his leg and will no longer be able to dance.
When he returns to the states, he becomes a producer, and his buddy Eddie Dibble (Butterworth) -who was the bugler in the Army-opens a music store.
Over 20 years pass, and we see Jones’s son Johnny (Reagan) preparing to fight in World War II. Dibble’s daughter Eileen (Leslie) wants to get married before Johnny goes overseas, but he doesn’t want to potentially leave her as a young widow.
Now that Johnny is in the military, he is given the order to create a military show just like his dad. This time, it’s called “This is the Army.”
Once the plot is set up, the remainder of the movie is the the actual show “This is the Army” including musical performances, a magic act, a comedian and acrobats.

Character actor Charles Butterworth is the bugler in World War I in "This is the Army"

Character actor Charles Butterworth is the bugler in World War I in “This is the Army”

Trivia:
-The movie came from two Irving Berlin shows “Yip Yip Yaphank” and “This is the Army,” according to a disclaimer from Warner Brothers at the beginning of the film. The cast of both the stage and play version of “This is the Army” included soldiers who were performers in civilian life.
-The original Broadway play of “This is the Army” came by request of the United States War Department. Irving Berlin received a letter in 1942 asking him to do a revival of the World War I show, “Yip Yip Yaphank,” to help raise funds for the Army Emergency Relief. Berlin had already considered doing this, but knew he had to change the title, according to The Complete Lyrics of Irving Berlin  edited by Robert Kimball, Linda Emmet
-Warner Brother’s first three strip Technicolor film.
-Warner Brother’s top film of 1943, earning $9,555,586.44. The money made was donated to the Army Emergency Relief.
-This is actress Dolores Costello’s last film.

Notable Songs:
-God Bless America sung by Kate Smith
-What Does He Look Like sung by Frances Langford
-This is the Army Mr. Jones sung by the chorus
-I’m Getting Tired So I Can Sleep sung by James Burrell
-Ladies of the Chorus sung by Alan Hale (dressed as a woman)
-I Left My Heart at the Stagedoor Canteen sung by Earl Oxford
-That’s What the Well Dressed Men in Harlem Wear sung by James Cross, featuring boxer Joe Louis
-Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning sung by Irving Berlin

Highlights:
-A disclaimer before the film noted that the Army does not condone black face, which is used in a number during the film, but says it is a part of history.
-Irving Berlin singing “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” in a rare film appearance.
-Real color footage of the attack of Pearl Harbor during the montage of the bombing.
-Alan Hale dressed as a woman in the musical number “Ladies in the Chorus.”
-Warner Brother stars such as Joan Leslie, Ronald Reagan, George Murphy, Alan Hale, Charles Butterworth and Una Merkel in color!
-One of the character actors does fairly convincing speech impersonations of Herbert Marshall, Charles Boyer, Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt.

My Review:

The romance between Joan Leslie and Ronald Reagan took up probably 20 minutes of this film.

The romance between Joan Leslie and Ronald Reagan took up probably 20 minutes of this film.

Like the rest of Hollywood during World War II, Warner Brothers was releasing star spangled patriotic films. Around this same time, “Hollywood Canteen” (1944) and “Thank Your Lucky Stars” (1943) were released. All three films focus mainly on musical performances and celebrity appearances (Kate Smith, Frances Langford, Joe Louis) and a very thin plot.

Other studio equivalents would be MGM’s “Two Girls and a Sailor” (1944) and Paramount’s “Star Spangled Rhythm” (1942).

But while the other four listed musicals still hold attention and are fun, somehow “This is the Army” falls flat. The initial plot set up seems promising, but after the first 45 minutes, the movie turns into musical number after number after number with little plot interlude. That is where “This is the Army” differs from similar films. For example, in “Hollywood Canteen,” you have the romance of Joan Leslie and Robert Hutton between the different performances.

The lack of plot interlude is honestly disappointing, because actress Joan Leslie and some of the other leads are maybe on screen for 20 to 30 minutes in the two hour and five minute film.

On a more technical side, the DVD print that came in the 2008 “Homefront Collection” isn’t very good. In close shots, the color is gorgeous. But in a few scenes, it looks over exposed and washed out.

When I first saw this movie in 2009, I really enjoyed it. Now I found I was rather bored. I appreciate any patriotic World War II film, because it gives you a feel of what audiences wanted during the war. After all, this was Warner Brother’s top film of 1943, so apparently audiences enjoyed it at the time. Or maybe they were watching the movie so their money would be donated to the Army Emergency Relief.

I feel that the movie could have been better structured. Actors like Una Merkel, Dolores Costello, George Murphy and Charles Butterworth are wasted in this film because they barely have any screen tirme. Less songs and more plot in this slightly over two hour film would have been more enjoyable.

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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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Just like the prince and the pauper…

Do you ever watch a movie and think, “Man, those actresses could be sisters.” or  “It’s hard to tell those two men apart because they look so similar.”   These actors could maybe even switch places just like Billy and Bobby Mauch did in “The Prince and the Pauper” (1937).

Younger movie viewers of today may say that all old actors all look the same. This isn’t true of course, but there are some that certainly look very similar. This is a result of being groomed by movie studios to have glamour and charm.

Actors and actresses also are given names that sound similar and can cause confusion.

Here is a list of actors who look similar and have confusingly similar names.

Look-a-likes:

Joan Leslie, Joyce Reynolds, Teresa Wright

Joan Leslie, Joyce Reynolds, Teresa Wright
-Joyce Reynolds emerged in the 1940s in the movie “Janie” with a clean Joan Leslie appearance and a squeaky Teresa Wright voice.  Warner Brothers must have thought that Joan and Joyce looked similar as well, since Joan Leslie played Janie in the sequel to “Janie”: “Janie Gets Married.”

Vera Miles, Vera-Ellen, Mitzi Gaynor

Vera-Ellen, Vera Miles, Mitzi Gaynor
– I think the thing that is funniest is that two of the women have the same first name.  I can tell the difference between them, but you have to admit they all look very similar. All three women are very thin, blonde and rather tan. Vera Miles had one of her first acting roles on the TV show “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and looked very similar to Vera-Ellen because she was thinner than I had ever seen her.   However, all three women had different careers.
Vera Miles stared mostly in dramatic roles, and occasionally in bit parts on TV (like a romantic interest for Fred MacMurray on “My Three Sons“) .  After Grace Kelly, she was Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite actress, according to IMDB. Unfortunately, she had to turn down roles because she was pregnant. Miles is still living.
Vera-Ellen was a ballet dancer and was in several musicals. In earlier movies like “On the Town,” Vera was thin, but looked healthy. In later movies, like “White Christmas,” she was almost dangerously thin, because she was anorexic. She had the smallest waist in Hollywood in the 1940s and 1950s and suffered from early aging because of anorexia ,according to IMDB, so you will notice that she wears turtle necks to cover it.  After she retired she had severe arthritis and was practically a recluse, dying in 1981.
Mitzi Gaynor is best known for her role in movie musicals like “South Pacific.” Though she didn’t have a tremendous career, she was very successful with her comedic, musical variety TV specials in the 1960s and 1970s. Currently, Mitzi is performing a one woman show. 0

Anne Shirley and Olivia de Havilland

Anne Shirley and Olivia de Havilland
-Anne Shirley  never had the same star power or acting skills as Olivia de Havilland, but you can’t deny their similar appearance. Particularly the way Anne Shirley looks in “The Devil & Daniel Webster.” The two starred together in the irritating comedy “Government Girl” (a movie that de Havilland hated and had to make because of contractual agreements. She purposefully acted ridiculous in the movie).

 
 
 

John Carroll and James Craig

John Carroll and James Craig
– Both men played small romantic roles in the 1940s when most of the lead actors like Clark Gable and Robert Taylor were fighting in World War II. Carroll starred with Esther Williams in “Fiesta ” (1947) and “Flying Tigers” (1942) with John Wayne. Craig was in several “feel good” movies in the 1940s like “Our Vines Have Tender Grapes” (1945) with Margaret O’Brien and “The Human Comedy” (1943) with Fay Bainter.

Joan Blondell and Ann Sothern

Joan Blondell and Ann Sothern
-In the 1930s, Joan Blondell had a curvy, sassy look of her own; pretty but also comedic. In the 1940s, Blondell was a bit more curvy and switched from the tight 1930s hair styles to long and wavy. Her 1940s look was similar to Ann Sothern, who also was a bit curvy. Both actresses can be found in light comedic roles.

Names that confuse:

-Reginald Gardner, Reginald Owen, Reginald Denny (I’m still not sure which is which sometimes)

-Eleanor Parker and Eleanor Powell

-Margaret Sullivan and Maureen O’Sullivan

-Connie Stevens and Stella Stevens

What actors do you confuse? What names can you not remember?  Let me know!

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Bedtime for Bonzo is not the only movie Ronald Reagan made

This is another post I wrote early in my blogging career on blogger. It is a little better than the Susan Slade one, but yet again just a plot summary. Hopefully you can see the improvements of the blog from then to now.

It has once again been another long absence from my blog. I didn’t mean for it to be this way; I actually have several movies in mind to blog about, but I end up watching more movies instead of blogging. Movie watching is what I do, as lazy it may be-but sometimes I do exercise while watching movies!

Today’s blog is the Ronald Reagan/Joan Leslie movie “This Is the Army” (1943).

Now I can already hear some of you groaning, “Ronaaald Reeeeaaaggan. Uggggggh.” Well I don’t know much about how he was politically, but I do know that he was a top notch actor for Warner Brothers back in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

Those politicians and late night talk show hosts just look like uneducated film boobs when they talk about Ronald Reagan’s sub-par career, because they obviously know nothing about classic film or Warner Brothers in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. Ronald Reagan was actually the star of the month for March on Turner Classic Movies-which is nothing to sneeze at. Usually it is someone like Spencer Tracey, Sean Connery or Bette Davis.

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