Wednesday, April 16, 2014

JIMMY STEWART BLOGATHON: THE MUSICAL SIDE OF JIMMY STEWART

When you think of the wealth of movies that Jimmy Stewart made in his career, you do not consider him a musical star. Anyone who has ever heard him sing would agree with me. However, Jimmy Stewart dimake a handful of musicals during his long and illustrious career which spanned decades. Most of them however we not that well received.

After debuting in a forgotten Spencer Tracy film The Murder Man in 1935, Stewart's next movie was a musical - Rose Marie (1936). The movie was an adaptation of the stage operetta and a starring vehicle for Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. Stewart plays the second male lead that tries to steal MacDonald away from Eddy. Jimmy did not sing in this film, but Nelson and Jeanette would introduce the song "Indian Love Call" in the movie. It would be the duo's signature song.


MGM still had no clue what to do with Stewart so they stuck him in another musical right after. In Born To Dance (1936) he was paired with the beautiful Eleanor Powell. The musical score was done by the great Cole Porter, and Stewart was even given the task of introducing the Porter classic "Easy To Love". His voice brought tears to my eyes and not in a good way. Even in the 1974 documentary That's Entertainment Stewart poked fun and his attempt at singing. Thank goodness Eleanor Powell's tap dancing and the Cole Porter score took made audiences forget Stewart's vocal inadequacy.

By the late 1930s, Jimmy Stewart was making a mark for himself as the "every man" of film. His films like You Can't Take It With You and Mr Smith Goes To Washington cemented Stewart's place as a great leading man. However, in 1941 Stewart appeared in two musicals. For the horrible film Pot O Gold, Jimmy was loaned out to United Artists, a studio not known for great musicals. The movie was an adaptation of a popular radio show of the time. The film tells of a couple (Stewart and Paulette Goddard) romantically involved despite family feuds. Stewart and Goddard both were not singers so the musical part of the movie came from Horace Heidt and His Orchestra. Pot O Gold was a bomb, and Stewart later referred to the film as the worst one he ever appeared in.


The other musical Stewart appeared in in 1941 was MGM's lavish musical Ziegfeld Girl. Set in the 1920s, the film tells the parallel stories of three women who become performers in the renowned Broadway show the Ziegfeld Follies. Stewart had no musical numbers in the film. He was the main male lead, playing the boyfriend of a tortured Ziegfeld girl (Lana Turner). Stewart did not need to sing in this film, because it also had the talented musical stars Judy Garland and Tony Martin to make the film one of the best musicals of 1941.

In the 1940s Jimmy steered clear of the musical genre. Other than a humorous song he sang on Bing Crosby's radio show in the late 1940s, Jimmy stayed away from the musical. However, he did make one more musical of note. Not only was it his most profitable musical, but it was one of the greatest musicals of the 1950s. Stewart portrayed big band leader Glenn Miller in The Glenn Miller Story (1954). The film follows big band leader Glenn Miller (1904–1944) (James Stewart) from his early days in the music business in 1929 through to his 1944 death when the airplane he was flying in was lost over the English Channel during World War II. Prominent placement in the film is given to Miller's courtship and marriage to Helen Burger (June Allyson), and various cameos by actual musicians who were colleagues of Miller. Upon release in 1954, The Glenn Miller Story was massively successful at the box office.


In 1954, the film was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Screenplay (by Valentine Davies and Oscar Brodney) and Best Score (by Henry Mancini and Joseph Gershenson). The film won the Oscar for Best Sound Recording, by Leslie I. Carey. Jimmy Stewart was definitely no rival to Bing Crosby or Fred Astaire in the musical genre, but it is interesting to look at the musicals the non-musical Stewart made during his career. His acting ability as America's "every man" is what made him one of the biggest stars of classic Hollywood. Again, it was definitely his acting ability and not his musical talent or lack of...

Monday, April 14, 2014

DORIS DAY AT 90

With reports of ill health, it is rare to see a new picture of screen star Doris Day. However, she made a rare appearance in Carmel, California for her 90th birthday, and here are the pics...




 
Just like beloved Betty White, 92 - Doris devotes her time to animal rights and founded the Doris Day Animal Foundation in 1978.
Affectionately nicknamed the 'Dog Catcher of Beverly Hills,' the Calamity Jane actress even held a charity doggie fashion show Thursday at her hotel, Cypress Inn.

Doris Day has officially been retired since the late 1980s...

Saturday, April 12, 2014

DIAMONDS & GOLD BLOGATHON: BING CROSBY AS DR. COOK

Bing Crosby was one of the biggest movie stars of all-time. He was the number one box office draw from 1945 to 1949. After his contract with Paramount Studios was over in 1956, Bing moved away from making movies and concentrated on raising his second family. However, even in Bing's "golden years" he did make an occasional movie. One of his last screen appearances was in the television movie Dr Cook's Garden on ABC television in 1971. Bing was 68 at the time the movie came out.

Dr. Cook's Garden was originally a Broadway play written by Ira Levin. It premiered on Broadway in 1967 with a cast including Burl Ives and Keir Dullea. George C. Scott was meant to direct but was replaced during rehearsals by Levin. When the play was made for television Bing took over the Burl Ives roles as a seemingly friendly elderly doctor. Frank Converse plays the young doctor that looks up to Bing, and a young Blythe Danner plays Bing's secretary and Converse's love interest. Originally airing as the ABC "Movie of the Week", Dr. Cook's Garden seems more relevant with the passage of time with the real world bringing us Doctor Kevorkian types in the decades since.

Der Bingle is a kindly G.P. in a Greenfield, arguably the most beloved person in this idyllic area. How idyllic? The town boats a very low crime rate and few unpleasant citizens. Greenfield is about to host recent medical school graduate Converse, returning to visit high school sweetheart Danner and mentor Crosby. The budding young doctor is pleasantly surprised by his home town's evolution into a paradise---and increasingly concerned about the number of abrupt, mysterious deaths occuring in heavenly Greenfield. Crosby's Dr. Cook is calm and rationalizing as his describes the thought he puts into his decisions, and admits that marking the "R" is always difficult for him. His unfailing composure adds creepiness that helps make up for the missing uncertainty and almost raises this otherwise average tale into the must-see category.


Two decades before Alec Baldwin brazenly declared himself God in Malice, Crosby let actions speak louder than his downright humble words possibly could, giving us a thriller more than interesting enough to watch despite its deficiencies. By 1971, Bing was no longer the leading man who made Dorothy Lamour or Mary Carlisle swoon with the notes of his beautiful voice. At an age now when many people were retired, Bing could pick and choose what movies he wanted to make. I am glad he picked the role of Dr. Cook. Some of the dialogue is as dated as a 1971 television movie, but I think Bing should have done more dramas. He definitely had the acting chops to do so. The ending of the movie is completely different than the ending of any other Bing Crosby movie, and Dr. Cook's Garden proved that Bing still had "IT" at the age of 68...

Friday, April 11, 2014

MICKEY ROONEY: A LIFE IN PICTURES

The death of Mickey Rooney is the greatest blow to classic Hollywood since the death of Elizabeth Taylor. It is so hard to capture a career like Mickey Rooney's in a blog entry, but I wanted to capture his life in pictures. He was one of the greatest stars that Hollywood would ever know...




with Judy Garland

With Ava Gardner

With Elizabeth Taylor

With Spencer Tracy

 

With Sammy Davis Jr.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

HOLLYWOOD REMEMBERS MICKEY ROONEY

Even though most of the late Mickey Rooney's contemporaries are gone like Judy Garland and Spencer Tracy, much of Hollywood is remembering the legendary actor at his passing. Here is what some of Hollywood had to say:



Margaret O' Brien:
Mickey was the only one at the studio that was ever allowed to call me Maggie. He was undoubtedly the most talented actor that ever lived. There was nothing he couldn't do. Singing, dancing, performing ... all with great expertise. Mickey made it look so easy. I was currently doing a film with him, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde -- I simply can't believe it. He seemed fine through the filming and was as great as ever."

Rip Taylor:
"Mickey was such a friend and pro, that he even gave me advice, when I replaced him in Sugar Babies. .. As if it could ever be possible to replace Mickey. It was the treat of my life, to receive tips from the great Mickey Rooney."

Carol Channing:
"I loved working with Mickey on Sugar Babies. He was very professional, his stories were priceless and I love them all ... each and every one. We laughed all the time."

Mia Farrow:
"RIP Mickey Rooney. We can only be awed and grateful for so many great performances."

Piers Morgan:
"I remembered interviewing Mickey once and he told me to always get married in the morning. That way if it doesn't work out, you haven't wasted the whole day. Mickey Rooney RIP."

Tim Conway:
Back in 1970 Mickey Rooney was on my show The Tim Conway Comedy Hour; I enjoyed every minute we worked together. Not only was he a great actor but he made me look tall. RIP.


Ben Stiller:
"He was crazy and fun and a legend. I just worked with him on scenes for Night At The Museum 3. It was a honor to get to know him and even be in the same room with him."

Monday, April 7, 2014

RIP: MICKEY ROONEY


Mickey Rooney, the pint-size, precocious actor and all-around talent whose more than 90-year career spanned silent comedies, Shakespeare, Judy Garland musicals, Andy Hardy stardom, television and the Broadway theater, died Sunday at age 93.

Los Angeles Police Commander Andrew Smith said that Rooney was with his family when he died at his North Hollywood home.

Smith said police took a death report but indicated that there was nothing suspicious and it was not a police case. He said he had no additional details on the circumstances of his passing.

Rooney started his career in his parents' vaudeville act while still a toddler, and broke into movies before age 10. He was still racking up film and TV credits more than 80 years later — a tenure likely unmatched in the history of show business.

"I always say, 'Don't retire — inspire,'" he told The Associated Press in March 2008. "There's a lot to be done."

Among his roles in recent years was a part as a guard in the smash 2006 comedy A Night at the Museum.

Rooney won two special Academy Awards for his film achievements, and reigned from 1939 to 1942 as the No. 1 moneymaking star in movies, his run only broken when he joined the Army. At his peak, he was the incarnation of the show biz lifer, a shameless ham and hoofer whom one could imagine singing, dancing and wisecracking in his crib, his blond hair, big grin and constant motion a draw for millions. He later won an Emmy and was nominated for a Tony.

"Mickey Rooney, to me, is the closest thing to a genius I ever worked with," Clarence Brown, who directed his Oscar-nominated performance in The Human Comedy, once said.

Rooney's personal life matched his film roles for color. His first wife was the glamorous — and taller — Ava Gardner, and he married seven more times, fathering seven sons and four daughters.

Through divorces, money problems and career droughts, he kept returning with customary vigor.

"I've been coming back like a rubber ball for years," he commented in 1979, the year he returned with a character role in The Black Stallion, drawing an Oscar nomination as supporting actor, one of four nominations he earned over the years.

That same year he starred with Ann Miller in a revue called Sugar Babies, a hokey mixture of vaudeville and burlesque. It opened in New York in October 1979, and immediately became Broadway's hottest ticket. Rooney received a Tony nomination (as did Miller) and earned millions during his years with the show.


To the end, he was a non-stop talker continually proposing enterprises, some accomplished, some just talk: a chain of barbecue stands; training schools for talented youngsters; a Broadway show he wrote about himself and Judy Garland; screenplays, novels, plays.

Rooney was among the last survivors of Hollywood's studio era, which his career predated. Rooney signed a contract with MGM in 1934 and landed his first big role as Clark Gable as a boy in Manhattan Melodrama. A loanout to Warner Bros. brought him praise as an exuberant Puck in Max Reinhardt's 1935 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which also featured James Cagney and a young Olivia de Havilland.

Rooney was soon earning $300 a week with featured roles in such films as Riff Raff, Little Lord Fauntleroy, Captains Courageous, The Devil Is a Sissy, and most notably, as a brat humbled by Spencer Tracy's Father Flanagan in Boys Town.

The big break came with the wildly popular Andy Hardy series, beginning with A Family Affair.

"I knew A Family Affair was a B picture, but that didn't stop me from putting my all in it," Rooney wrote. "A funny thing happened to this little programmer: released in April 1937, it ended up grossing more than half a million dollars nationwide."

The critics grimaced at the depiction of a kindly small-town judge (Lionel Barrymore) with his character-building homilies to his obstreperous son. But MGM saw the film as a good template for a series and studio head Louis B. Mayer saw the series as a template for a model American home. With Barrymore replaced by Lewis Stone in subsequent films and Rooney's part built up, Andy Hardy became a national hero and the 15 Hardy movies became a gold mine.

Rooney's peppy, all-American charm was never better matched than when he appeared opposite his friend and fellow child star Garland in such films as Babes on Broadway and Strike up the Band, musicals built around a plot of "Let's put on a show!" One of them, the 1939 Babes in Arms, brought him his first Oscar nomination. He was also in such dramas as The Human Comedy, 1943, which gained Rooney his second Oscar nomination as best actor, and National Velvet, 1944, with Elizabeth Taylor.

But Rooney became a cautionary tale for early fame. He earned a reputation for drunken escapades and quickie romances and was unlucky in both money and love. In 1942 he married for the first time, to Gardner, the statuesque MGM beauty. He was 21, she was 19.

"I'm 5 feet 3, but I was 6 feet 4 when I married Ava," he said in later years. The marriage ended in a year, and Rooney joined the Army in 1943, spending most of his World War II service entertaining troops.

Rooney returned to Hollywood and disillusionment. His savings had been stolen by a manager and his career was in a nose dive. He made two films at MGM, then his contract was dropped.

"I began to realize how few friends everyone has," he wrote in his second autobiography. "All those Hollywood friends I had in 1938, 1939, 1940 and 1941, when I was the toast of the world, weren't friends at all."


His movie career never regained its prewar eminence. The Bold and the Brave, 1956 World War II drama, brought him an Oscar nomination as best supporting actor. But mostly, he played second leads in such films as Off Limits with Bob Hope, The Bridges at Toko-Ri with William Holden, and Requiem for a Heavyweight with Anthony Quinn. In the early 1960s, he had a wild turn in Breakfast at Tiffany's as Audrey Hepburn's bucktoothed Japanese neighbor and was among the fortune seekers in the all-star comedy It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.


Rooney's starring roles came in low-budget films such as Drive a Crooked Road, The Atomic Kid, Platinum High School, The Twinkle in God's Eye and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini.

But his later career proved his resilience: The Oscar nomination for Black Stallion. The Sugar Babies hit that captivated New York, London, Las Vegas and major U.S. cities. Voicing animated features like The Fox and the Hound, The Care Bears Movie and Little Nemo. An Emmy for his portrayal of a disturbed man in the 1981 TV movie Bill. Teaming with his eighth wife, Jan, off-Broadway in 2004 for a musical look back at his career called, fittingly, Let's Put On a Show.

Over the years, Rooney also made hundreds of appearances on TV talk and game shows, dramas and variety programs. He starred in three series: The Mickey Rooney Show (1954), Mickey (1964) and One of the Boys (1982). All lasted one season and a co-star from One of the Boys, Dana Carvey, later parodied Rooney on Saturday Night Live, mocking him as a hopeless egomaniac who couldn't stop boasting he once was "the number one star ... IN THE WOOORLD!"

In 1983, the Motion Picture Academy presented Rooney with an honorary Oscar for his "60 years of versatility in a variety of memorable film performances." That matched the 1938 special award he shared with Deanna Durbin for "bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth."

A lifelong storyteller, Rooney wrote two memoirs: i.e., an Autobiography published in 1965; Life Is Too Short, 1991. He also produced a novel about a child movie star, The Search for Sonny Skies, in 1994.

In the autobiographies, Rooney gave two versions of his debut in show business. First he told of being 1½ and climbing into the orchestra pit of the burlesque theater where his parents were appearing. He sat on a kettle drum and pretended to be playing his whistle, vastly amusing the audience. The theater owner kept him in the show.

The second autobiography told a different story: He was hiding under the scenery when he sneezed. Dragged out by an actor, the toddler was ordered to play his harmonica. He did, and the crowd loved it...


Friday, April 4, 2014

BORN ON THIS DAY: FRANCES LANGFORD

Today marks a milestone in my life. I am 40 years old now. It has taken me years now to come to grips with this day. I an no longer a thirtysomething young man! While I decide what to get for my early bird special and wait to fall asleep in my chair, I figured I would see who was born on my birthday. The very underrated singer, Frances Langford would be 101 years old today. She not only was a great singer, but she gave herself to entertaining the soldiers during World War II. To this day, she deserves to be recognized for that.

Frances grew up in the Mulberry, Florida area, a tiny community near Lakeland. She attended Lakeland High School. Langford originally trained as an opera singer. While a young girl she required a tonsillectomy that changed her soprano range to a contralto. As a result, she was forced to change her vocal style to a more contemporary big band, popular music style. At age 17, she was singing for local dances. Cigar manufacturer Eli Witt heard her sing at an American Legion party and hired her to sing on his local radio show.. After a brief stint in the Broadway musical "Here Goes the Bride" in 1931, she moved to Hollywood appearing on the Louella Parsons' radio show "'Hollywood Hotel' while starting a movie career. While singing for radio during the early 1930s, she was heard by Rudy Vallee, who invited her to become a regular on his radio show. From 1935 until 1938 she was a regular performer on Dick Powell's radio show.

From 1941, Langford was a regular singer on Bob Hope's "Pepsodent Show" when he held his first military entertainment program at March Field in Riverside, California in 1941. The show was so positive, he continued broadcasting from training bases around the country and asked Langford to join him. During World War II, she joined Hope, Jerry Colonna, guitarist Tony Romano and other performers on U.S.O. tours through Europe, North Africa, and the South Pacific, entertaining thousands of G.I.'s throughout the world. During a USO tour in the Pacific theater she was invited to take a ride in a P-38 fighter plane. During the flight, a Japanese ship was spotted and the joy ride was postponed until the pilot finished strafing the ship.

In his memoir, Don't Shoot! It's Only Me!, Bob Hope recalled how Frances Langford got the biggest laugh he had ever heard. At a U.S.O. show in the South Pacific, Langford stood up on a stage to sing before a huge crowd of G.I.'s. When Langford sang the first line of her signature song, "I'm in the Mood for Love," a soldier in the audience stood up and shouted, "You've come to the right place, honey!"



Also, during the war, Langford wrote the weekly "Purple Heart Diary" column for Hearst Newspapers, in which she described her visits to military hospitals to entertain wounded G.I.'s. She used the weekly column as a means of allowing the recovering troops to voice their complaints, and to ask for public support for making sure that the wounded troops received all the supplies and comforts they needed.

Her association with Hope continued into the 1980s. In 1989 she joined him for a USO tour to entertain troops in the Persian Gulf.

She worked for several years in the late 1940s on Spike Jones' show and starred in a short-lived DuMont variety show Star Time (1950). As a guest on early television shows such as Perry Como and Jackie Gleason she was motivated to venture into television. She was the host of two self-titled variety television programs. She then teamed with Don Ameche for the ABC television program, The Frances Langford/Don Ameche Show (1951), a spin-off of their successful radio series The Bickersons in which the duo played a feuding married couple. Langford was also the host of the NBC musical variety program Frances Langford Presents (1959), which lasted one season, as did a later program "The Frances Langford Show" (1960). Another notable appearance was in The Honeymooners lost episode "Christmas Party" which first aired December 19, 1953.

She remained active in her community of Jensen Beach in Florida, but heath problems plagued her in her final years. She died at her Jensen Beach home at age 92 from congestive heart failure on July 11, 2005. According to her wishes, she was cremated and the ashes strewn off the coast of Florida near her residence. In 2006, the Frances Langford Heart Center, made possible by a bequest from her estate, opened at Martin Memorial Hospital in Stuart, Florida...