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."


  1. As an avid Melton fan, I waited impatiently for the release of "Ziegfield Follies." When it finally was shown, I was terribly disappointed! Where were all the songs that had been promised? The operatic duet was beautiful and charming but I'd hoped for so much more. Not only that, many of the comic routines seemed interminable, notably Victor Moore and Red Skelton. And why was Judy Garland imitating a temperamental celebrity? Astaire and Kelley were adept and funny. As usual, Lena Horne was beautiful and effective ... Tony Martin did well, but my hero, Melton, was almost ignored.

    Recently, this movie was shown on TCM and we taped the Melton portion. (Thank you!) The rest, in my opinion, did not deserve to be saved!