DOUBLE TROUBLE and the 1940's Hollywood Musical part V

DOUBLE TROUBLE opens to the press tomorrow, so here is another instalment to get you jam packed with info on the world of the play and the Hollywood Musical in the days of the "studio system."



Hollywood's most cost-conscious studio concentrated its efforts on low budget comedies and action films. However, Columbia also filmed a series of inexpensive black & white wartime musicals featuring statuesque tap dancer Anne Miller, including the popular Reveille With Beverly (1943).

Although the presence of jazz greats Duke Ellington and Count Basie helped draw audiences, these films were made on the cheap, with production numbers that look as if they were staged in a high school auditorium. Miller soon moved on to MGM, where her outstanding dance talents found classier showcases.

Columbia's most memorable wartime musical was Cover Girl (1944),

the story of a Brooklyn nightclub dancer who becomes a top magazine model. Designed as a vehicle for screen beauty Rita Hayworth (whose singing was always dubbed), it marked Gene Kelly's transition to stardom. On loan from MGM, his "alter ego" dance with a reflection of himself in a glass window proved to be the first of many classic screen moments. The number was conceived and staged by Stanley Donen, who would play a major role in Kelly's career and direct several great MGM musicals over the next ten years. Cover Girl was such a hit that MGM would never again loan Kelly out for a musical role.

After the war, Columbia studio boss Harry Cohn (whose harsh managerial style won him the nickname "White Fang") decided to film Al Jolson's life story, taking the usual liberties with historic fact. For once, this parsimonious studio spared no expense, hiring Jolson to record the songs that actor Larry Parks lip-synched to on screen. Handsomely produced, The Jolson Story (1946) 

revived Jolson's popularity and led to that rarest of things, a successful musical sequel – Jolson Sings Again (1949).


NEXT UP: The Twentieth Century Fox blondes and More! 

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DOUBLE TROUBLE and the 1940's Hollywood Musical part IV

DOUBLE TROUBLE has music that evokes a wide array of the jazzy and swinging sounds of the 1940s. One studio boasted a remarkably wide musical range, from light opera to the biggest boogie woogie hits, as well as the actors that were most identified with these sounds -


Operatic ingénue Deanna Durbin was an audience favorite, starring in more than a dozen Universal Studios musicals during the 1940s. But some of these vehicles clunked. Spring Parade (1940) featured Durbin as a young baker's assistant who sings her way to glory in Imperial Vienna. 

Can't Help Singing (1944) was Durbin's first adult role, with a score by Jerome Kern and E.Y. "Yip" Harburg, but the story of settlers in the Wild West seemed a strange choice for an operetta.

Durbin's vehicles grew weaker as the decade progressed, culminating in a lavish but uninspired screen version of Up In Central Park (1947) that dropped most of Romberg's charming stage score.

Disenchanted with Hollywood, Durbin retired at age 27, refusing all invitations to return to performing – including a plea from Lerner and Loewe to create the role of Eliza in My Fair Lady.

By 1939, Universal Studios was on the brink of bankruptsy. It was a pair of burlesque comics, who had made it big on Broadway and radio who, in one film, One Night in the Tropics (1940), launched a two decade film/TV career that, ultimately, saved the studio.

Teamed with The Andrews Sisters for their first three films, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello burst onto the scene becoming the #1 film stars in the nation by 1943. Their first starring film, Buck Privates (1941) made $4,000,000 on a $180,000 investment.


Buck Privates was the first of four service comedies the team did, followed by In the Navy, Keep 'em Flying and Buck Privates Come Home, (which returned their characters from the first film back to stateside at the conclusion of the war). While Keep 'em Flying paired the boys with musical comedian Martha Raye, In the Navy featured both The Andrews Sisters and the star of the biggest Busby Berkeley musicals of the 1930s, Dick Powell.

Abbott and Costello's position in Hollywood aided greatly in their securring the top musical costars in their films, including young Ella Fitzgerald, introducing "A Tisket, a Tasket" in Ride 'em Cowboy (1943).

Abbott and Costello continued to dominate every form of entertainment they set their sights on, only until the arrival of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in the 1950's.

NEXT UP: Columbia Pictues, Ann Miller and More! 

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DOUBLE TROUBLE and the 1940's Hollywood Musical part III

The Chicago premiere of DOUBLE TROUBLE basks in the comedy musical styles of the likes of Donald O'Connor, Jack Haley, Mickey Rooney, Ray Bolger, Jules Munshin and the other hilarious song and dance character men. One of the best was the biggest star at The Samuel Goldwyn Studios.


When his 1930s star Eddie Cantor eased away from film projects,  independent producer Samuel Goldwyn went in search of new musical comedy talent. He found Danny Kaye, whose zany comedy had won praise in the Broadway hits Lady in the Dark (1940) and Let's Face It (1940). Goldwyn featured the slim, nimble Brooklyn comic in a series of hilarious screen musicals, including Up in Arms (1944), 

Wonder Man (1945), 

The Kid From Brooklyn (1946)

andThe Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947). 

Although Kaye could be difficult to work with, he had a good professional relationship with the equally difficult Goldwyn. Kaye went on to other studios after 1947, but re-teamed with Goldwyn for Hans Christian Andersen (1952). With a delightful score by Frank Loesser (composer of Porchlight's upcoming How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying), it remains a perennial favorite more than half a century later.

NEXT UP: Universal Studios, Deanna Durbin, Abbott and Costello and More! 

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DouBLE TROUBLE and the 1940's Hollywood Musical part II

Our Chicago premiere of DOUBLE TROUBLE celebrates those wonderful two-man partnerships that were so often found in the golden age of Hollywood. From "Laurel and Hardy," "Wheeler and Woolsey" and "Clark and McCollough" to "Abbott and Costello," "Olson and Johnson" and "Martin and Lewis," the movies have always celebrated "buddies."

Paramount Pictures

In our continued exploration of the Hollywood musical one half of "Hope and Crosby" was a tinseltown musical giant. His name was...  Buh, buh, buh, buh, buh, buh-

Bing Crosby was America's most popular entertainer and Paramount's top musical star through the 1940s. He became the only person who ever reigned as Hollywood's top box office star for five consecutive years -- 1944 through 1948. His warm vocals and laid-back persona made him one of the most recognized celebrities in the world, and a nation at war saw him as a reassuring presence.

Launched by The Big Broadcast (1932), Bing Crosby's career soared in a steady arc; a trajectory ascending with greater velocity every year until, at its late 1940s pinnacle, he would be transformed from an actor-singer-star into an incontestable national icon, a match for motherhood, apple pie and and baseball.
- Gary Giddins, Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams, The Early Years 1903-1940 (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2001), p. 297.

"Der Bingle" enjoyed phenomenal success. Aside from his weekly radio shows and numerous hit recordings, he toured extensively to entertain the troops, raised millions for war charities, and starred in more than two dozen films. Not all were full-fledged screen musicals, but even his comedies usually included a song or two. America loved to hear Bing sing. For example –

  • The Road series of comedies co-starred Crosby as a schemer, Bob Hope as a bumbler and Dorothy Lamouras the glamorous sarong-clad beauty they pursue through a variety of exotic settings. The Road to Singaopore(1940) had four 1940s sequels, and stretched on until The Road to Hong Kong (1962) -- becoming the most profitable film series up to that time. In each of these genially sill comedies, Hope and Crosby exchanged barbs and played a riotous game of patty-cake, with an on-screen chemistry that both spoofed and reflected their close off-screen friendship. Formulaic but reliably funny, the Road films introduced several hit songs including the Hope-Crosby renditions of "Put It There" and "We're Off On the Road to Morocco," as well as Crosby's solo hit "Moonlight Becomes You."
  •  Holiday Inn (1942) teamed Crosby with Fred Astaire, playing two song & dance men in love with the same talented girl. This well-worn plot was just an excuse to showcase a truckload of Irving Berlin tunes, including "White Christmas." (Bing's recording of that song became the best selling single of all time, returning to the charts annually for nineteen of the next twenty years.) Crosby crooned, Astaire danced on air, and audiences loved it all. The two stars were teamed again in Blue Skies (1946), using much the same plot and more Berlin tunes.
  • Going My Way (1944) had Crosby and the thickly-brogued Irish actor Barry Fitzgerald as priests in an impoverished Manhattan parish. The story made the most of Crosby's trademark warmth and unpretentious humor, and his renditions of "Swinging On A Star" and the breezy title tune topped the pop charts. The film, Crosby and Fitzgerald won well-deserved Academy Awards, and became Paramount's highest grossing film up to that time. When RKO invited Crosby to play the role again, he made his only non-Paramount live action hit of the decade . . .
  • Bells of St. Mary's (1945) pitted Crosby's Father O'Malley against Sister Ingrid Bergman in yet another financially strapped parish, this time trying to preserve its crumbling elementary school. Solid acting triumphed over a melodramatic plot, and Crosby introduced  "Aren't You Glad You're You" as well as the sentimental title tune. Although not quite on a par with Going My Way, this is one of Hollywood's most entertaining sequels.
  • The Emperor Waltz (1948) had Crosby as a phonograph salesman courting aristocrat Joan Fontaine in the pre-World War I court of Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph. The Technicolor results are picturesque, but Bing's fans preferred seeing him in American settings -- and singing a better grade of songs.
  • The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949) is Walt Disney's diverting animated version of two classic fairy tales, with Crosby providing the narration (both spoken and sung) for Washington Irving's tale of timorous schoolteacher Ichabod Crane and the fearsome headless horseman.

Crosby's position slipped somewhat with the rise of rock n' roll in the mid-1950s, but he remained one of America's most beloved entertainers, making top-rated appearances on stage, screen and television right up until his death in 1977. The reason for his lasting popularity is simple -- however musical styles changed, people liked Crosby. To this day, December is not complete without Bing's mellifluous rendition of "White Christmas."

NEXT UP: The Goldwyn Studios, Danny Kaye and More! 

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DOUBLE TROUBLE and the 1940's Hollywood Musical


Porchlight's Chicago premiere of DOUBLE TROUBLE is set  in the wild and wonderful world of Hollywoodland. Throughout the 1940s, America was either preparing for, fighting in or helping the world recover from World War II. Since movie goers needed breaks from often nightmarish realities, humor and unquestioning praise for "American values" were Hollywood's cinematic order of the day. A number of major stars (Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, etc.) served in battle, but others pitched in by providing entertainment. Almost every important musical screen star toured military camps and sold war bonds. At the same time, Hollywood's musicals, sometimes patriotic, sometimes nostalgic (and often both), provided a much needed morale boost before, during and after the war. 

The songs were key attractions. In the 1940s, film songs frequently topped the pop charts. The most popular songwriters of the era all wrote for Hollywood, including Kern, Berlin, Porter, Fields, Warren, Rodgers and Hammerstein. So it is no surprise that many of the biggest hit songs of the World War II era ("White Christmas," "You'll Never Know," etc.) were introduced on screen.

As in the 1930s, each major studio had its own approach to churning out hits, what some scholars refer to as a "house style."  

Warner Brothers
After the departure of Busby Berkeley, Warner Bros. had no director specializing in musicals. Occasionally, the studio dipped into its talent pool to produce musicals, most notably several biographies using existing songs. The best, and arguably the most entertaining musical film bio of all time, was Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), which soared thanks to James Cagney's Oscar-winning performance as Broadway legend George M. Cohan. Top-rank director Michael Curtiz gave the film exceptional overall polish. This flag-waving film sanitized any controversial aspects of Cohan's life, providing a first rate morale booster for a nation at war. Thanks to frequent broadcasts on television, this film has reintroduced several generations to Cohan's most memorable songs, and kept alive a great name that might have otherwise faded into obscurity. There were many patriotic screen musicals during World War II, but none matched this one's lasting appeal, even though it was filmed in budget-conscious black and white.

Warners and director Curtiz had less success with Night and Day (1946), its Technicolor musical bio of composer Cole Porter. Even the suave Cary Grant is unable to find much humor in the lifeless screenplay, but the real embarrassment is the equally lifeless performances of Porter's great songs. The only moment of real magic comes when Mary Martin recreates her star-making performance of "My Heart Belongs to Daddy."  Otherwise, this film makes for dull, factually fatuous viewing.  

In the late 1940s, Warners began a profitable series of musicals starring Doris Day, a band singer who proved to be a fine actress with an appealing screen presence. Her most memorable musicals would come in the next decade.

NEXT UP: Paramount, Bing, Bob and More! 

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