Classics in the Carolinas: Kathryn Grayson

Actress, singer Kathryn Grayson

With her soprano voice and sweet, heart-shaped face, Kathryn Grayson was one of the many stars in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s constellation.

But before the singer and actress was one of the studio’s top stars, Grayson was born Zelma Kathryn Elisabeth Hedrick in Winston-Salem, N.C. Zelma was one of four children born to Charles and Lillian Hedrick. The other siblings – Bud, Hal and the youngest Millie, who were also born in North Carolina. Though Zelma was born in Winston-Salem, she spent most of her childhood in Kirkwood, Mo., near St. Louis, when her family moved due to her father’s work as a real estate contractor. Zelma aspired to be an opera singer and studied voice while she was growing up.

The family moved from Kirkwood to Texas to California. Grayson continued studying and improving her singing and was discovered in California, according to a July 1, 1944, issue of “The State,” a monthly North Carolina-focused magazine that has been published from 1933 to present, which is now titled “Our State.”

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Watching 1939: Stand Up and Fight (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film:  Stand Up and Fight

Release date:  Jan. 6, 1939

Cast:  Wallace Beery, Robert Taylor, Florence Rice, Helen Broderick, Charles Bickford, Barton MacLane, Charley Grapewin, John Qualen

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:  W.S. Van Dyke

Plot:
Starting in 1844 in Maryland, Blake Cantrell (Taylor) is a plantation owner who is broke and has to sell his property. He’s in love with Bostonian Susan Griffith (Rice), who loses interest when he has no means of taking care of himself. Blake has never worked for a living and ends up working for a stagecoach line run by Capt. Boss Starkey (Beery), which is also owned by Amanda Griffith (Broderick), who is Susan’s aunt.

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Musical Monday: Brigadoon (1954)

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:
Brigadoon (1954) – Musical #53

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Vincente Minnelli

Starring:
Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Van Johnson, Elaine Stewart, Barry Jones, Hugh Laing, Virginia Bosler, Albert Sharpe, Jimmy Thompson, Eddie Quillan, Dee Turnell, Madge Blake (uncredited), George Chakiris (uncredited), Barrie Chase (uncredited)

Plot:
Americans Tommy Albright (Kelly) and Jeff Douglas (Johnson) are lost in Scotland and come across the town of Brigadoon, which only awakens every 100 years and is stuck in the 1700s. Tommy falls in love with one of the girls, Fiona (Charisse), but the town will disappear if anyone leaves and anyone who wants to stay has to leave the world they know and stay forever.

Trivia:
• Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was making “Brigadoon” at the same time as “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” “Seven Brides” was nearly dropped, because the studio didn’t feel they could fund two extravagant musicals and they thought “Brigadoon” would be more successful, according to Powell’s autobiography. Producer Jack Cummings talked the studio into keeping the film and cut the budget and economized where he could. “Seven Brides” ended up being more successful, according to Powell’s book.

• In May 1952, the Hollywood Reporter reported that Kathryn Grayson and Alec Guinness would co-star with Gene Kelly. In March 1952, the Hollywood Reporter said David Wayne was considered for a role. Moira Shearer and Donald O’Connor were also considered for the roles of Fiona and Jeff, according the book Vincente Minnelli: Hollywood’s Dark Dreamer by Emanuel Levy.

• The film was based on a Broadway show of the same name, which ran from March 1947 through July 1948. The only person who reprised their role in the film was Virginia Bosler, who played Jean Campbell. Not all songs from the Broadway show were used. The songs removed included “Come to Me, Bend to Me,” “My Mother’s Wedding Day” and “There But For You I Go.”

• A television version aired in 1966 starring Peter Faulk, Sally Ann Howes and Robert Goulet.

Agnes de Mille was the choreographer for the Broadway musical, but all of her choreography was replaced by Gene Kelly’s in the film. New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther blamed the film’s failure for the “poor choreography” because the “life and smoothness of the original” were lost, according to the book “Agnes de Mille: Telling Stories in Broadway Dance” by Kara Anne Gardner.

• Originally planned to be filmed in Scotland, but the weather was too unpredictable.

• Vicente Minnelli’s first CinemaScope film.

• Cyd Charisse was dubbed by Carol Richards.

• Dee Turnell was dubbed by Bonnie Murray

• Jimmy Thompson was dubbed by John Gustafson

• Music by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe

• Produced by Arthur Freed

Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse in “Brigadoon”

Highlights:
– Van Johnson and Gene Kelly dancing in “Go Home with Bonnie Gene”
-The “Heather on the Hill” dance sequence
– The wedding dance

Gene Kelly and Van Johnson dancing in “Go Home with Bonnie Jean” (Screen cap by Jessica P.)

Notable Songs:
-“Waiting for My Dearie” performed by Cyd Charisse, dubbed by Carol Richards, and Dee Turnell, dubbed by Bonnie Murray
-“Go Home with Bonnie Jean” performed by Jimmy Thompson, dubbed by John Gustafson, Gene Kelly, Van Johnson
-“Heather on the Hill” performed by Gene Kelly

My review:
I remember when I watched “Brigadoon” for the first and last time. It was 2004 and I was a freshman in high school. I was devouring every musical I could get my hands on and I was bursting with excitement to see “Brigadoon.” I had seen photos and clips and it looked so beautiful. But after seeing it, I was disappointed and thereafter thought of it ruefully and with a bit of a sigh.

And then I revisited “Brigadoon” for the first time in 14 years yesterday to prepare for this musical post. It starts off with sweeping, beautiful notes and with flaming red title cards. The painted studio scenery is the backdrop for as low voices sing about lost hunters and Brigadoon. Then a flourish of Scotish townspeople rush across the screen dressed in vibrant Irene Sharaff costumes. The first few numbers are exuberant and a bit wistful (“Waiting For My Dearie”). As I watched, I found myself enjoying the film, but kept preparing myself, “Something is going to irritate me or is this is going to go south.”

But I completed the film and was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed it more than I did when I was 15 years old. I won’t go as far as to say it’s my favorite, but I had fun watching it and had several of the songs in my head after watching it.

I think there are a few reasons I didn’t like it the first time I saw it. I had a strong love for Van Johnson at this time (and still do), and I didn’t care for his character. Johnson’s character is a bit of a heel, scoffing at the Brigadoon situation, and is an alcoholic. I wanted the sweet Van of “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.” As for Gene Kelly, while his character is similar to his other roles, he and Van Johnson are a bit more jaded. Both characters are dissatisfied with life, and at my young age, I think this may have been a bit complex for me. Now I appreciate their desire of wanting more out of life and also appreciate Johnson’s versatility and like his bitter character more.

While Cyd Charisse doesn’t do her own singing, I think she was well cast. However, I also could see Kathryn Grayson or Moira Shearer doing well in the role. This could be a bold statement, but I think Cyd Charisse is at her most beautiful as Fiona. I like her wistful character, and I particularly love her performance of “Waitin’ for My Dearie.” Charisse only has two costume changes in this film, but her costumes designed by Irene Sharaff are simple and beautiful. I love the simple cream colored dress she wears for the majority of the film with that bright yellow shawl and orange petticoat. Then for the wedding scene, she has that gorgeous red dress.

Cyd Charisse and Dee Turnell dance in “Waitin’ for my Dearie” in “Brigadoon.” (Screen Cap by Jessica P.)

Jimmy Thompson has a small role in the film as Charlie, who is marrying Charisse’s sister, but his character is very charming and appealing. Thompson isn’t a well-known actor, but many “Singin’ in the Rain” fans would recognize him as the singer who performs “Beautiful Girl.” However, while I enjoy Thompson, I’m confused why they picked a singer to play a small role when he was dubbed by John Gustafson was dubbed.

I am curious about Thompson’s life and career but can find little on him. Thompson has 11 film credits to his name but never made it big in Hollywood, despite having a secondary lead in this film. In searches, he gets confused with a British actor of the same name who passed away in 2005.

Jimmy Thompson in “Brigadoon.” (Screen cap by Jessica P.)

In the play, the character Harry Beaton (played by Hugh Laing in the film and James Mitchell on stage) has a more expanded role and some of his own dance numbers. It would have been interesting to see that character expanded with the original numbers, though I know this would have made the film longer.

I think another thing I didn’t like about “Brigadoon” 14 years ago was the serious tone. Knowing it was the competitor of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” I thought it was going to have the same upbeat, joyful exuberance but “Brigadoon” couldn’t be more different. While there is a wistfulness to it, it focuses on life’s discontentments. There’s Harry who feels trapped in the town of Brigadoon and calls it his prison, Jeff (Johnson) is trapped by his alcohol, Fiona (Charisse) hasn’t found anyone she loves, and Tommy (Kelly) doesn’t want to marry the woman he’s engaged to. And there are consequences to finding happiness. If Harry leaves Brigadoon, the whole town disappears. If Jeff stays with Fiona, he has to live in Brigadoon forever (and live most of his life asleep). It’s a much more complicated story than “We need brides so let’s kidnap some girls!”

Because they were competitors and made at the same time, I consider “Brigadoon” a companion piece to “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” While they are completely different films, their musical stories are different and stand apart from other MGM films that were made before and during this time. Ultimately, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” was the more successful of the two films though MGM thought it would be the underdog. Unfortunately, after 1954, musicals were on the decline at MGM as studio head Dore Schary wanted to make serious message movies.

Admittedly, I do like “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” more, but I’m happy that I revisited this one after years of remembering my initial disappointment.

The highlights for me are the “Waitin’ for My Dearie” number and Van Johnson and Gene Kelly dancing together in “Go Home with Bonnie Jean.”

While I won’t be calling “Brigadoon” my all-time favorite musical, I’m happy I revisited this one. The moral of today’s story is to wait a few years and give a film another try.

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Musical Monday: Two Girls on Broadway (1940)

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:
Two Girls on Broadway (1940) – Musical #586

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Alfred E. Green

Starring:
Lana Turner, Joan Blondell, George Murphey, Kent Taylor, Wallace Ford, Richard Lane, Otto Yamaoka, Lloyd Corrigan

Plot:
When Eddie Kerns (Murphey) sells his song and is offered a job to perform it in a show, he calls his girlfriend Molly Mahoney (Blondell) and tells her to join him in New York. Molly Mahoney and her sister Pat (Turner) have been running a dance school in Nebraska, and both go to New York, also hoping to hit it big. The only problem is when they audition for the show Eddie is in, producer Buddy Bartell (Lane) only wants to hire Pat to perform with Eddie.

Trivia:
-Remake of The Broadway Melody (1929)
-Joan Blondell’s first film with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
-Released in Great Britain under the name “Choose Your Partner.”
-The song “Maybe It’s the Moon” by Bob Wright and Chet Forrest was written for the film but not performed.
-Costumes by Dolly Tree
-Produced by Jack Cummings

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Watching 1939: Four Girls in White (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 Film: Four Girls in White

Release date: January 27, 1939

Cast: Florence Rice, Ann Rutherford, Una Merkel, Mary Howard, Alan Marshal, Kent Taylor, Buddy Ebsen, Jessie Ralph, Sara Haden, Phillip Terry, Tom Neal, Joy Anderson (uncredited)

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
S. Sylvan Simon

Plot:
Four nurses (Rice, Rutherford, Merkel, Howard) are student nurses trying to make it through their three years at a hospital until graduation. Norma (Rice) is looking for a rich husband, Mary (Howard) pines way for her young daughter, Patricia (Rutherford) is sweet and diligent, and Gertie (Merkel) looks forward to her next meal. The girls face the stresses of becoming a nurse and making mistakes. Norma falls in love with a doctor (Marshal) but is frustrated that he always gets called into work.

1939 notes:
• Ann Rutherford was in seven films released in 1939. This one was released first.

• Phillip Terry was in 12 feature films in 1939. This is one of four films that was credited. The rest were uncredited.

Mary Howard, Florence Rice, Ann Rutherford and Una Merkel in “Four Girls in White” (1939)

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
I love nurse films and this one is no exception. The 1930s were filled with nurse films, but many of the Pre-Code era featured sassy, fast-talking nurses who have at least one scene in their skivvies and rolling up or down their stockings. An example of this would be Night Nurse (1931), where Barbara Stanwyck ends up as a private nurse to children of an alcoholic mom.

Others were very dramatic accounts, like Prison Nurse (1938) or The Nurse from Brooklyn (1938).

While there have been many films focusing on the nursing field throughout the 1930s, I feel that “Four Girls in White” (1939) provides something a little different.

I felt that “Four Girls in White” showed girls working to become nurses in a hospital with the same tone and feeling that the Dr. Kildare film series (which began in 1937) showed about young doctors coming into the medical field.

Each nurse is independent and eager for a career in the medical field. Now, some of these nurses had different agendas other than just helping sick people. One, in particular, was looking to marry a rich husband, but we see each of them studying and working hard to learn (and also messing up). Much of their learning is shown through montages that give a feel for the four nurses’ personalities.

These low-budget Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer films of the late 1930s and early 1940s all have a brisk brightness that is especially pleasing. There are some overly dramatic moments (a few disasters strike and all nurses are needed) but it really is a fun film.

Is it a great film? Probably not, but it has a fresh and hopeful feeling that is found in MGM films of this time.

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Musical Monday: Sweethearts (1938)

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:
Sweethearts” (1938)– Musical #292

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
W.S. Van Dyke

Starring:
Jeanette MacDonald, Nelson Eddy, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Reginald Gardiner, Florence Rice, Mischa Auer, Herman Bing, George Barbier, Fay Holden, Allyn Joslyn, Lucille Watson, Gene Lockhart, Kathleen Lockhart, Terry Kilburn, Olin Howland, Douglas McPhail, Betty Jaynes, Irving Bacon (uncredited)

Plot:
Husband and wife Broadway stars Gwen Marlowe and Ernest Lane (MacDonald and Eddy) have been happily married for six years and are in their sixth year of performing Victor Herbert’s operetta “Sweethearts.” They are exhausted due to constant singing obligations and decide to go to Hollywood. Their Broadway producer (Morgan) and his staff hatch a plan to drive the couple apart and keep them from going to Hollywood.

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Musical Monday: New Moon (1940)

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:
New Moon” (1940)– Musical #374

Poster - New Moon (1940)_02

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Robert Z. Leonard, W.S. Van Dyke (uncredited)

Starring:
Jeanette MacDonald, Nelson Eddy, Mary Boland, George Zucco, Dick Purcell, Grant Mithcell, Joe Yule, Nat Pendleton (uncredited), Buster Keaton (scenes deleted)

Plot:
Marianne de Beaumanoir (MacDonald) is heading from France to New Orleans. On the same boat as a prisoner is nobleman Duc de Villiers (Eddy), using the name of Charles Henri. Marianne meets him on board, believing that he’s the ship’s captain. He is sold as a servant in New Orleans and becomes the servant of Marianne, and she is angry that he lied to her. Little to their knowledge, Charles’ enemies are sailing to New Orleans from France.

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