Thursday, May 27, 2010

Just one more thing about the "Follies"

In Esther Williams' autobiography, Million Dollar Mermaid (Simon & Schuster, 1999), she recounts a story about filming a segment for "Ziegfeld Follies" in which my father, dressed in naval whites sings "I'll See You Again in Honolulu" while she does an underwater ballet. After shooting the sequence, she found a note from him in her dressing room that said, "We will meet again, but not in Honolulu. I am in dressing room 10." Based on her past experience of being chased by nearly every man she met, she interpreted this as a seduction ploy. I'm not so sure it was.  Especially since my father didn't wait around very long for her to show up.

Like many men at whom women fling themselves (or at least flirt with), my father was not unmoved by displays of affection. Although I don't believe he was truly unfaithful to my mother—until near the end of his life—he may have had (or hoped for) the odd fling here and there.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Ziegfeld Follies

My father was once again called to the silver screen in the Spring of 1944, so that he could film several segments in "Ziegfeld Follies," Metro Goldwyn Mayer's extravaganza in celebration of its 20th anniversary.

The "Follies" was a massive production, directed by Vincent Minelli, with a $3 million dollar budget (huge for the time).  The film opens with Florenz Ziegfeld (played by William Powell) in heaven, recalling the spectacular shows he staged in the 1920s and 30s, and imagining what they would be like with MGM's current stable of stars.  In it with my father were stars such as Esther Williams, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Lucille Ball, Red Skelton and Lena Horne, among others.  Filming went on all summer.  In spite of a fat weekly salary from Metro, my father was not very happy about his part.  He foresaw, correctly, that much would have to be cut from the lengthy film before it was released, and his contract didn't stipulate that his  should not be "the face on the cutting room floor." 

The agreement did promise to film four numbers by Melton, one from opera, a new song, a medley of cowboy songs, and a standard ballad.  But it didn't say in the fine print that these sequences had to be left in the finished picture.   All except the aria "Libiamo"  from La Traviata, which he sang with Marion Bell, were axed. (Marion Bell was later to become one of lyricist Alan J. Lerner's eight wives.) Nevertheless, his appearance in the picture increased his national popularity.  The film that previewed in November 1944 was three hours long.  Massive editing was needed.  When it was finally released in April 1946, the number of elaborate sequences had been cut from nineteen to thirteen.  The film ended up winning the Best Musical award at the Cannes Film Festival, and was one of the top grossing pictures of 1946, at over $5 million.

By the way, one can purchase a CD of music from the movie that includes "We Will Meet Again in Honolulu" and "There's Beauty Everywhere," both of which were cut from the movie at its final release, as well as "Libiamo."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Melody for Two

Sing Me a Love Song was followed by a slightly more dramatic role in Melody for Two.  In it, my father plays a band leader who has career ups and downs due to professional and personal jealousies. Predictably, it all comes out right in the end, he gets the girl and the conniving music arranger gets his comuppance. He sings the forgettable "Melody for Two," the memorable "September in the Rain," and the song most identified with the great Irish tenor, John McCormack, "Macushla." Whose idea was it to use that song?  Was it a dig at McCormack by my father, the heir presumptive? That particular song is not a critical part of the story; he could have sung anything. There's a brief appearance by a black janitor who supplies the success-producing hot swing arrangements--the latest thing from the Harlem clubs. It sure looks and sounds like Eddie Anderson, Jack Benny's sidekick "Rochester," but he's not named in the credits. Patricia Ellis is the love interest, with comic relief provided by Marie Wilson.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Sing Me a Love Song

Warner Brothers kept postponing "The Desert Song," but in the meantime offered him "Sing Me a Love Song."  He plays a department store heir who goes incognito as a music clerk to discover how to save the store from financial ruin.  Plot was not usually the strong point of early Warner Brothers musicals. Co-stars were Patricia Ellis, Zasu Pitts (pictured), Allen Jenkins and Ann Sheridan. The music was by Warren and Dubin, the same duo who had composed the score for "Stars Over Broadway."