This Week in Classic Movies on the Radio, Nov 28 - Dec 4


11/30  - Ball of Fire  - Screen Guild Theater (click here to listen  or download at the Internet Archive)
  • Year: 1942
  • Starring: Paulette Goddard, Kay Kyser and Richard Haydn (as Professor Oddly,  his film role)
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Summary:  After her boyfriend is suspected of murder, a nightclub singer goes on the lam, hiding out with  a group of unsuspecting professors.
  • Trivia : Radio celebrity, Kyser, panders to the studio audience quite a bit in this broadcast, eliciting gales of laughter from unscripted moments.

12/02 - Meet Me In St. Louis - Lux Radio Theater (click here to listen  or download at the Internet Archive)
  • 1946
  • Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien and Tom Drake
  • Genre: Musical Comedy
  • Summary: A St. Louis family might have to move to New York just when the 1904 World’s Fair opens.
  • Trivia: The three principals here reprise their film roles.

The Clock (1945) - Judy Garland's Intense Boy-Meets-Girl Drama

 Spoilers ahead.

STORY
Judy Garland Database
Lonesome soldier Joe (Robert Walker) is on leave for the weekend in New York City and runs into a young office worker named Alice (Judy Garland), who gives him a tour of the Big Apple.  They  quickly grow fond of one other and contemplate marriage despite knowing little about each other. But in this vast city, boy loses girl. Boy finds girl. Boy marries girl. A simple premise is the framework for complex issues in this war-torn drama.

TIME & NEW YORK CITY AS CHARACTERS
Time, symbolized by various clocks and wristwatches, is a quiet character, but still very influential. Author Scott Bukatman notes that “…everything in The Clock is measured against Joe‘s imminent departure.” Joe squeezes a lifetime of experiences into 48 hours - dating, losing and marrying a woman, then facing the idea of permanently leaving her in New York City.

The Big Apple has often been used as a character in films. Here the city figures prominently as  a schizophrenic  behemoth who is alternately friendly and cruel to our little love birds.

When Joe asks for sightseeing suggestions and later on when the couple needs a lift after the taxis have stopped running, many people are helpful, creating the small town feel that the serviceman misses. However, when Joe first steps outside of Penn Station, the city looms over him and the skyscrapers’ graduated exteriors resemble fangs, so the baby-faced soldier retreats into the relative cozy world of the train station. Just when it seems our hero will spend the entire weekend inside a terminus, Alice comes along to midwife him out of that place and guide him through the city.

After Joe has become comfortable in this strange new world, New York City’s noises become almost symphonic. Where a ballad might have been placed in any other Judy Garland film, the couple is instead seduced by the sounds of horns, bells and whistles. Later on,  however,  the rattle of  a train [Coming from Penn Station, perhaps?] interrupts their nuptials like an inebriated wedding guest  after his third champagne cocktail.
The comic meetcute - Life Magazine
ANONYMITY & DRABNESSS
Bukatman considers The Clock a remake of the stage musical version of On The Town from 1944, but in a minor key  with darker possibilities.  In each story, a member of the armed forces is on leave, meets a girl and thinks he cannot live without her. However, unlike the sailors in On The Town, Joe
“… is on his own, by himself, with no buddies to back him up, none of that safety in numbers that means you‘re never really alone in the big bad city. And Joe is army rather than navy, a grunt, a GI Joe… destined to slog through the mud, hide in holes, take a hill, lose a hill, take it back. No jaunty sparkling whites, no romance of the open sea for Joe; just a drab and diminutive anonymity that is already making itself felt here in New York City.”
Furthering the anonymity, in an hysterical climax after losing and finding each other again in the vast city, Joe asks for Alice’s last name [Mayberry],  but Joe’s is never spoken. One can catch a glimpse of his surname on the marriage license in the subsequent scene, but the camera does not linger too long on it, mirroring the city’s limited interest in this individual.

Although The Clock gives in to some of the usual boy-meets-girl-during-a-war patterns, it sets itself apart from some in the subgenre since the characters discuss seriously, before the fact,  the repercussions of a quick marriage, and they experience immediately the aftereffects of their decision. Our principals have a disturbingly slipshod municipal wedding and are greeted on the crowded street with another couple who has just had a church ceremony with friends, family and all of  the  nuptial trappings which Joe and Alice immediately regret having decided to forgo.

Judy Garland Database
THE CLOCK AS A SILENT FILM
Although The Clock is filled with emotional trauma and an appropriately wrenching score to accompany it all, the story arrives at these high points  through light dramatic vignettes which quietly build to a crescendo.  Alice and Joe walk in the park and talk of trivialities; they go to a museum, sit on a statue of Queen Hatshepsut and talk of some generic farm; they go to a restaurant and talk of nothing, really. The whole movie is filled with banal dialogue or no dialogue at all.  Not counting the extraneous city noises and the score, at times this movie is a silent film.  A good third of the film has no dialogue.

Director Vincente Minnelli  was notoriously meticulous on every film. Everything in a Minnelli frame is studied and placed in its space for a reason, from the elbow of an extra in Bells are Ringing  (1960) to the movement of the swans in the background of Gigi (1958).

 Although a New York Times critic at the time didn’t seem to like the pantomime, we are meant to pay attention to the movement and the pictures.

1st BREAKFAST SCENE
Some of the most poignant few frames in The Clock are during the first breakfast scene. Alice and Joe are prepping to eat with the milkman (James Gleason) and his wife (real life wife, Lucile Gleason). All, except Joe, discuss inconsequential things (One egg or two?) - their conversations might as well be the musical score. We’re meant to pay attention to Joe, who is still and quiet among the chatter and the movement.  Alice and  the hostess are putting food on serving platters in the foreground; the men are opposite.  Joe, chin in hand, seems  to be contemplating the mirror effect, perhaps longing to grow old with a wife just as the milkman has. The guy who was afraid of the shade under tall buildings is now determined to take a risk that might not produce dividends.


Does this scene of domestic bliss foreshadow his life after the war? Is this the closest he’ll ever get to having his own home life? Does his singular stillness suggest his imminent death as life moves on without him?  The movie is tormentingly silent on these questions, putting us in the same boat with Joe. We just don’t know.

2nd BREAKFAST SCENE
The second breakfast scene is also largely silent and quite meaningful. It is the morning after their wedding night, and Joe has finally had breakfast with his wife, just as he dreamed of doing 24 hours before. But in a few hours he’s leaving for who knows where. What can you say at a time like this? The couple does not speak for 3 minutes of the 4 minute scene as  they share significant glances and mime gestures over coffee. A high vantage point of the city lies just over Joe’s shoulder observing the man as he gazes at his new bride; New York inserts itself even into their most intimate moments.

Author David Thomson states that he screened the first reel forward with sound and simultaneously screened the second reel of the film backwards without sound and found the film
“so stunning, so lovely, so surreal, that it helped eyes appreciate all the same lyrical, kinetic things in forward motion, things to which we become so accustomed.”                                                  
One doesn’t have to run the film in reverse to notice that The Clock is in no small part a pantomime - the movement is meant  to be appreciated. Dialogue here is often just another city noise.


BEHIND THE SCENES
According to biographer John Fricke,  Garland did not like how her first straight drama was shaping up. This  movie was to be a big change from the diminutive’s star’s bold musicals and it had to be done just right.

Director Fred Zinnemann notes
“I think [Judy Garland] was probably not getting what she needed from me- in terms of direction. She might have felt insecure working with me. I suppose that it was very important for my education to go through an experience like that. At the time, [being replaced] was quite a blow.”
Judy Garland Database
So out with Zinnemann and in with Garland’s previous director Vincente Minnelli. Their relationship - professional and personal - had been heating up since Meet Me In St. Louis (1944) and they would marry soon after The Clock was finished. Garland has said that filming St. Louis was the first time  that she felt beautiful on camera, and that it was due to Minnelli‘s deft touch. This period seems in some ways to be an upswing for  the actress who is notorious for  her life’s ups and downs.

It’s a good thing that Garland was in relatively fine emotional shape since her co-star apparently needed her help. Robert Walker‘s marriage to actress Jennifer Jones was dissolving under his wife‘s infidelity with  David O‘ Selznick. According to Fricke ,Garland and makeup woman Dorothy Ponedel had to take Walker out of bars, sober him up and get him ready for shoots. Perhaps Walker channeled some of that real life despair into his character’s fraught face; he looks like a man in dire straits.

Walker’s problems, the script,  Garland, Minnelli - it’s a combination of many things that you can‘t help but pity Joe and Alice. The movie begins by panning a crowd and zooming in to follow a soldier - Joe - around a train station. It ends in the same place, following Alice as she melds into the crowd, zooming out as if it plans to pan the room again for another story. Their little tale is similar to so many others, but that commonality is also what makes you empathize with their struggle to be appreciated for themselves. The movie takes a comically cruel jab at their sameness when the couple sits next to another couple - a sailor and his bride  who is wearing the same off-the-rack dress as Alice.

Critic Bosley Crowther sums up the movie well in his review from May 4, 1945:
“The Clock” is the kind of picture that leaves one with a warm feeling toward his fellow-man, especially toward the young folks who today are trying to crowd a lifetime of happiness into a few fleeting hours.

This Week in Classic Movies on the Radio, Nov 21-27


11/21 - No, No Nanette - The Railroad Hour (click here to listen)
  • Year: 1949
  • Starring: Gordan MacRae and Doris Day
  • Genre: Musical
  • Summary: A  fun-loving young lady leaves her fiance and takes a trip to Atlantic City.
  • Trivia: In the following year, MacRae and Day would star in a film adaptation of No, No Nanette called Tea for Two.
11/22 -  Hit The Deck - The Railroad Hour (click here to listen)
  • Year: 1948
  • Starring: Gordan MacRae and Francis Langford
  • Genre: Musical Drama
  • Summary: A cafe owner wonders if the sailor she loves will ever return.
  • Trivia: The script and musical highlights are adapted from the 1927 stage production which is far more dramatic than the colorful 1955 MGM movie musical of the same name.

Judy Garland without Oz vs. Deanna Durbin

“[Judy Garland] ran second to Deanna [Durbin] then, but not now. The Wizard Of Oz took care of that. If we removed Oz from the equation, I wonder how they’d compare.”  - John McElwee of Greenbriar Pictures

How would they compare? Would Garland still outdo Durbin in name, image and sound recognition today without Oz? If so, to what degree?

McElwee states"…if I had to pick a winner, I’d have to go with Deanna, because, well, she is still here, after all.” McElwee has a point. Perhaps people put too much stock in a performer being famous and not enough in her having peace of mind. This blog post, however, will not choose a winner and will concentrate only on each star’s level of fame. You can place your own value on that fame.

We’ll delve into what keeps Garland’s legacy, for the foreseeable future,  firmly pasted to the wall of entertainment history, and we’ll extract Oz and see how that reduced legacy holds up against that of the formidable Durbin.






Factors in Garland v. Durbin

  • Oz
  • Length of Life
  • Prolific Artistry and Television
  • Shaping Her Own Legacy
  • Accessibility
  • Progeny
  • Durbin’s Retirement

Oz
The Judy Garland legacy goes on due, in no small part, to the universal appeal of The Wizard of Oz (1939) and the enormous marketing of this film and its lore. Generations of people, long after Garland’s death, still associate the star and the film with some part of their childhood. Consequently, the film often acts as a gateway to her other work.

Deanna Durbin doesn’t have an Oz - that movie which is both timeless and appeals to all ages. Films during Durbin’s pixie or puckish stage are wonderful time capsules, but won’t play well with those determined not to enjoy old films. Even if Durbin had an Oz in her repertoire, this self-possessed, mature young lady doesn’t play insecure - a significant, relatable theme in childhood fantasy films.

Still, there are other reasons for Garland’s perpetual fame besides the Emerald City.


Length of Life
We all know the familiar stories of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe skyrocketing to what seems to be permanent icon status after dangerous habits somehow lead to an early demise. Judy Garland’s death is similar and her mass of insecurities are well-known, which tends to evoke empathy with the lady beyond her movies. Thus, the tragic star would still have had  icon status without Oz.  However, her grip on the general public’s childhood would be considerably reduced sans the yellow brick road.

Deanna Durbin is alive and in her 80s. Although this vivacity hampers cementing her film legacy, she will be spared society’s morbid tendency towards over-idolizing a star who dies before reaching threescore and ten.

Prolific Artistry and Television
Both Durbin and Garland were featured on radio, in movies, magazines and newspapers, etc., just like any other star. However, since Winnepeg’s Sweetheart hasn’t  performed since the 1940s (even though she has had offers), the Durbin legacy misses out on the big wave of television, which tends to lessen an audience’s familiarity with her a bit.

Durbin knocked the European War off the front pages with her first screen kiss as a teen and retired in her 20s. Garland didn’t have that kind of stardom while she was alive, but  appeared regularly on TV and performed in popular concerts and albums until her death in the 1960s, all of which  has put her into many homes - a phenomenon that tends to increase the likelihood of people remembering a performer.

Shaping Her Own Legacy
Durbin has famously remained mum about her career, except for a few missives here and there to publications in order to set the record straight on some bit of nonsense.  Garland, however,  gained notoriety telling tall tales about MGM, etc.  on late night shows and at parties. She was interested in talking about her early career, cashing in on her past work and shaping the public‘s perception of her legacy, which  makes Garland a front-line film and music historian,  perpetuating her own lore.

Accessibility

A star’s legacy also depends on an audience’s accessibility to their body of accomplishments. These days, an entertainer’s work must be available for “ command performances” on a person’s television, computer or  phone. Judy Garland’s films and music have been marketed like crazy; her voice can be legally downloaded as your  phone’s ring tone. On the other hand, as McElwee notes, MCA/Universal has just released a second Deanna Durbin  movie package, but very discreetly. It’s as if they just know the pre-existing fans will be drawn to it like heat-seeking missiles [we are], but will not bother to curry favor with the uninitiated.

Progeny
Judy Garland’s children [Liza Minnelli, Lorna Luft, Joey Luft] are fairly well-known and seem to be attracted to the spotlight a bit. Their presence helps blow the dust off the Garland legend and keep it sparkling and vibrant.

Durbin’s children [Jessica Louise Jackson and Peter David] seem to have avoided the stardom for which their mother is famous, which results in fewer of Durbin‘s fingers firmly clutching the general public‘s sentimentality. [Though, the artist clearly isn‘t interested in having that power again, anyway.]


Durbin’s Retirement
One reason that Garland remains more well-known than the lady who expanded Universal’s status in the studio world, was the highest paid female movie star in the world from 1938 to 1942, who was so popular that the Axis falsely reported her death to demoralize prisoners of war, is due to Durbin’s complete retirement from public life.

Had Joe Pasternak had his druthers and Durbin signed to MGM after she left Universal, McElwee opines that the singer, under Arthur Freed,  would have starred opposite Gene Kelly during the height of his filmic opuses. Perhaps the Kelly films would have broken the string of Miss Fix It stories (which had kept her bound to a formula at her alma mater), producing a fresh career for the movie veteran.

Tied to legendary and innovative musicals from a studio whose rights were eventually sold to Warners - a company that is determined to make the MGM library accessible - Durbin’s second film career might have  been more famous today than her first. The megastar might have been just as iconic these days (if not more so) than Garland because of that extra head start at Universal.

To Sum It Up

Without Oz, Garland
  • would not have had a firm grip on so many audience members’ childhood memories,
  • would have had a narrower fan base without the Oz conduit to her other works, and
  • (like Frank Sinatra) despite a prolific and varied career, would probably be known to the general public primarily as a singer.
However, the scales tip away from obscurity and back to Garland’s favor because of
  • her early and tragic death,
  • her TV shows  and appearances,
  • popular concerts and albums,
  • accessibility of her work (film, TV, music), and
  • offspring who perpetuate her legacy as much as did the star herself.
The performer retains a lesser, but still iconic, status even without the munchkins and melting green-faced lady. Further, the reduced status would, by default, still keep Garland more famous than Deanna Durbin, mostly due to Durbin’s self-imposed exile.


Click to enlarge



More from Greenbriar on Deanna Durbin
More from Greenbriar on Judy Garland

This Week in Classic Movies on the Radio, Nov 14 -20



11/15  - Remember The Day - Screen Guild Theater (click here to listen)
  • Year: 1943
  • Starring: Olivia de Havilland and Walter Pidgeon
  • Genre: Drama 
  • Summary: A schoolteacher recalls a scandal from many summers before. 
  • Line that had me laughing: “I just happened to be staying at a lake about 210 miles from here, so I thought I‘d drop over.”

    11/16 - Carmen Jones - Ford Theater (click here to listen)
    • Year: 1947
    • Starring: Murial Smith, Luther Saxton, Elton J.Warren
    • Genre: Musical Drama
    • Summary: Oscar Hammerstein’s contemporary, English language reworking of Bizet’s Carmen
    • Trivia: The first complete radio performance of the Oscar Hammerstein play. This play would be adapted for a film released in 1954, starring Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte.
     11/20It Started With Eve  - Lux Radio Theater (click here to listen) 

    • Year: 1944
    • Starring:Charles Laughton (reprising his film role), Susanna Foster and Dick Powell.
    • Genre: Comedy
    • Summary: To please his dying father, a man pretends to be engaged to a hat check girl. But the father might not die after all.
    • Trivia:  Susanna Foster takes the radio version of  Deanna Durbin’s role in the film. The year before, Ms. Foster substituted for Ms. Durbin in the Phantom Of The Opera (1943) when the star refused the role.

    A Writer's Life: Mary Astor and Rosiland Russell

    While at the public library book sale today, Java ran across a well preserved copy of Mary Astor’s last novel A Place Called Saturday, which was published in 1968. The inside dust jacket assures the reader that, yes, this is Mary Astor the movie star, but “Miss Astor now devotes all of her time to writing novels. So do not write her any more fan letters asking what it was like working with Bogie in The Maltese Falcon or whether Judy Garland was really hard to handle on the set of Meet Me in St Louis, because that was a whole lifetime ago.”

    Or something like that.

    In her 2nd  memoir, A Life In Film, Astor makes note of an old joke about the five stages of an actor‘s career:
    1. Who is Mary Astor?
    2. Get me Mary Astor.
    3. Get me a Mary Astor type
    4. Get me a younger Mary Astor
    5. Who is Mary Astor?

    A pro with both silent and sound movie credits and starting off as a teen with a variety of parts, by her 30s, Astor was continually offered the same supporting mother role from film to film, which the actress found depressing.With her declining stature in show business certain, Astor began novel-writing as catharsis. The star eventually published five novels and two memoirs before her death in 1987.

    Java did not buy the Astor novel, but she did purchase a book that was a couple of shelves down, one that has been on this film fan’s wish list for months: Rosalind Russell's out of print autobiography, Life Is a Banquet (coauthored by Chris Chase).

    From all accounts and reviews, Russell's autobio is filled with as much ebullience as the star herself exudes on the screen.  The title is taken from a famous quote from her tony-award winning role in Auntie Mame, the aunt who teaches her orphaned nephew to grab life by the horns. It always seems as if there is a lot of Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame, especially when one compares her film performance of the role with Lucille Ball's astonishingly depressing version of the same role in the musical Mame.

    One review of Banquet notes that Russell's long, successful career is in part due to her unconventional face, which forced her to concentrate more on acting and comedy than on her looks. An actor whose career trades mostly on her beauty tends not to have a long shelf life in that capacity. As film stars age, they are often given supporting roles, character parts (like Mary Astor), which are usually not as fleshed out as the leads. Ms. Russell's roles, however, seem to have the best of both worlds - the complexity given to lead characters with the fun and familiar quality of a character actor.

    It was fun to find a book each from Mary Astor and Rosalind Russell and discover how each one responded to life.

    Gracie Allen and the Veteran I Never Really Knew

    I can still recall the corners of his mouth slowly fighting gravity, stretching into a smile, as he laid splayed on the couch like a rag doll. He sang the words "College Swing" barely above a whisper before falling quiet again for awhile. That was just a few months before dysarthria  completely robbed him of coherence.

    That day we all watched Gracie Allen chase Edward Everett Horton and Martha Raye chase Bob Hope. I left the room before the movie ended, so I don't know if he ever sang those words again.

    Uncle LSP loved classic movies. He influenced my taste in them, introducing me to the wit of Burns & Allen. When I was a kid, we would randomly sing songs and quote lines from any show or movie involving Gracie. Our uncle would do this in an especially loud voice in order to embarrass his nieces and nephews in public. That was his silly side.

    In the ensuing years (his grown-up years we called them, because he was far less willing to do wacky things), we would see him only during holidays and reunions. He'd send us postcards, recommend books or look us up on social media sites. He was always traveling as part of his job, but that was our uncle - fiercely independent, never content to stay in one spot.

    Uncle was always a lean man, carefully guarding his health for personal reasons and for his National Guard duties. So when the healthiest man in the family became ill, everyone was stunned. When the effects of brain tumors finally made his independence unwise, our young uncle stayed with relatives, much to his chagrin.

    He indulged the nieces once when we offered to make a playlist of Burns & Allen radio broadcasts that he could listen to as he rested, but his interest in anything was waning. The time for frivolity had passed long ago. Some of us learned only after he had battled for his health (and lost) that Uncle LSP had been deployed to Iraq a few years ago without a word to anyone about it. He had a whole other life to which I was not privy.

    Unfortunately, I knew only his silly side.

     Veteran's Day 11/11
    A special thanks to all veterans in the U.S. Armed Forces.

    Pin Up Girl (1944) - starring Betty Grable

    Pin Up Girl (1944) is the movie where alluring movie star Betty Grable makes like Clark Kent and becomes unrecognizable in glasses.



    Missouri canteen "it" girl, Lorry (Grable) wants to join the USO, but ends up working as a secretary in a government office in D.C. While on the town, Lorry pretends to be a famous entertainer and finds herself at the best table in town with decorated Naval hero, Tommy Dooley (John Harvey). She sings a provocative, upbeat song which everyone in the place loves, including her date. Tommy spends the rest of the film trying to meet with her again, relaying messages through a secretary that he doesn't notice is a dead ringer for the woman he's looking for because she's wearing those glasses, you see.

    From www.andibgoode.com

    Oh, c'mon! The woman is not a gorgon; she's just wearing spectacles!

    Anyway...

    As was common for war musicals, the studios would shove in as many stars and spectacular routines as they could; something to please everyone in the audience. These films were shown at home and abroad, to civilians and to the troops.

    In Pin Up Girl we pause the plot for, among other numbers, a moment with the Charlie Spivak band, a roller skating number, a few songs with Martha Raye (I enjoy this comedienne in anything.) and a relentlessly impressive formation with two platoons from the Women's Army Corps.

    Lorry reprises her song, this time in her glasses and pencil skirt from the office (which somehow makes the song even more provocative). Will Tommy recognize her? He still looks confused to me.

    This Week in Classic Movies on the Radio - Nov 7-13

    To listen to these radio plays, click the names of the theaters to go to the broadcast page at the Internet Archive

    11/12 My Favorite Wife  - Screen Guild Theater
    • Year: 1945
    • Starring: Greer Garson and Richard Ney
    • Trivia: Greer Garson played Richard Ney's mother in her first Academy award-winning role and  his first feature-length film Mrs. Miniver (1942). The pair married in 1943.


    11/13 - Magnificent Obsession - Lux Radio Theater
    • Year: 1944
    • Starring: Claudette Colbert and Don Ameche
    • Trivia: This is the radio adaptation of the 1934 film which starred Irene Dunne and Robert Taylor. Jane Wyman  and Rock Hudson would appear in the Universal Studios remake in 1954. Colbert and Ameche were working on the film Guest Wife (1945) at the time of this broadcast.

    Quote of the Day: Leslie Caron

    Even now I feel furious with myself because whenever there's a camera pointed towards me my MGM training makes me smile. I don't like it. You can see it on all the people who came from that era because there was no question of them not smiling for the camera. Even Katharine Hepburn  .  . . if the camera is on her she smiles.

    - Leslie Caron, actress, dancer, entrepreneur

    Doris Day's Recent Interview

    This must be Java's week for studying reclusive stars with double D initials. Actress, singer, activist, entrepreneur Doris Day graciously consented to be interviewed by WNYC music host Jonathan Schwartz last month after many years of having eschewed the limelight (at least where her movie and singing careers are concerned).

    WNYC Culture Producer Abbie Swanson notes:
    Day shares with Schwartz, among other anecdotes, how a car accident curtailed her stint as a dancer, why she turned down the lead in the movie "South Pacific" and the time Frank Sinatra came to her defense at a birthday party.
    Raquelle from Out Of The Past blog notes:
    [The interview is] like you stopped by her house and she sat you down for tea and just talked about her life and career. It feels very personal...
    Read the article and see the photos here: Celebrating Hollywood Legend Doris Day

    Listen to the interview at WNYC or below:



    H/T Raquelle

    For the Love of Mary (1948) - Deanna Durbin's Swan Song

    Love Deanna Durbin. Never really got into that Judy Garland vs.Winnipeg's Sweetheart routine; I like them both. They are highly talented stars whose gifts are nicely preserved for posterity in some of their films.


    For The Love Of Mary (1948), a Durbin vehicle that I've watched recently, is kind of forgettable, however.  Its star is charming, of course, but the movie succumbs to the Durbin Film Formula:
    • Deanna Durbin front and center
    • Leading man who is overshadowed by Ms. Durbin's awesomeness
    • Plucky leading lady who is "just an average girl"
    • Hordes of men admiring this "average" girl (who somehow gets everything she wants, wears clothes wonderfully and has a voice so beautifully trained you wonder why she doesn't go to Hollywood and appear in a musical or something.)
    The formula has worked well in some of her other films, but feels leaden here. Of course, these are some of the reasons that their golden goose songstress had a few tiffs with Universal  Studios; it would seem that having constantly to retread this script and play the spunky kid type might have been reason enough for the very adult, self-possessed Ms. Durbin to retire. But who knows?

    For the Love of Mary is a light RomCom which follows Mary Peppertree (Durbin), a White House switchboard operator who takes her job very seriously and is on familiar terms with people in all three branches of government, including the President of the United States (who personally wants to make sure that Mary gets married to someone... anyone, it seems, so he arranges her dates).

    David Paxton (a very charming Don Taylor) interrupts the gaiety with his insistence on speaking with the President about the government's interference of business off the coast of Paxton's island. Mary, the effective gateway guard to the Executive branch, must encounter the tenacious Paxton throughout the course of the film.


    What the movie lacks in . . . something, it makes up for in showcasing just how far into outer space Deanna Durbin's star ascended. This movie was released in 1948.  At this point in history it is not common that a character in a movie gets familiar with the President of the United States, even when he's not in the room (unless the character is an enemy of the state making those typical bad guy snarks, or s/he is the President's spouse).


    The fact that the script allows Mary to be chummy over the phone with the revered leader of the free world - and this is a very prominent, recurring theme for the entire movie (one of the other characters even makes note of it) - suggests that Ms. Durbin was well-liked enough to get away with it. That's popular. Very popular. Mega-star popular.

    In that sense, For the Love of Mary is almost a fitting last film for a leading lady whose characters have charmed guys from paupers to potentates. She's got the President (and the rest of the federal government) in her pocket as well.

    After having played in 1 short film and 21 feature length movies in 13 years (all starring vehicles), Ms. Durbin retired in her late 20s.

    Since then, the star has famously refused all but one interview - a 1983 interview by David Shipman. I'm holding out hope that Ms. Durbin might be receptive to another interview, or even better, write her memoirs or autobiography.

    Author Jeanine Basinger says this of Ms. Durbin's retirement:

    ------------------------------------------------------------
    There was an honest quality about her, and audiences felt it. Whatever motivated her to leave the business- the desire to be real and have a life that made sense- is the truth that audiences felt in her on-screen presence. Durbin connected right to audiences. She seemed to be one of them. The amazing thing about her was that it turned out to be true, She came down off the screen and proved it by rejoining them. Her defection wasn’t a ploy and was never rescinded. . . . Deanna Durbin, that most open and radiant of movie stars, remains more enigmatic than Garbo. She retired and led a normal life, the one thing that seems to have eluded almost every other movie star.
    ------------------------------------------------------------

    Quote of the Day: George Burns

    In what other business can a guy my age drink martinis, smoke cigars and sing? I think all people who retire ought to go into show business. I've been retired all my life.


    -- George Burns, screen and stage actor

    Deanna Durbin - The Last Interview

    Deanna Durbin David in 1981. Click for more info about the photo.
    Image Copyright: NYC Cinema Studies
    The following is a 1983 interview with classic movie star Deanna Durbin, conducted by David Shipman. This is the last known interview with the reclusive film star and recording artist after her retirement from public life in 1949.

    This interview was retrieved on November 5, 2010 from The Judy Garland Message Board.


    Update December 14, 2012 – The interview has been edited for typographical errors only.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    NOSTALGIA: DEANNA DURBIN

    BY DAVID SHIPMAN

    PARIS. No exclamation point. I’ve had Paris. I lived there for five years and what I disliked about the city - the traffic and the prices-can only have increased. Still, I had never seen the Centre Pompidou nor the lady I had come to meet, despite a correspondence that goes back several years. She was once one of the most famous women in the world, which didn’t exactly fit in with her conception of the life she wanted to lead. She was Deanna Durbin and she is now Deanna Durbin David: but recent showings of her films on British and American television and reissues of six LP records have persuaded her to become Deanna Durbin again-for just one evening. The British season came about when a BBC radio programme devoted to the public’s comments on the corporation’s output, established that it received overwhelmingly more requests for her films and records than for those of any other star.

    She became famous overnight in Three Smart Girls, a run-of-the-mill feature whose budget was doubled after studio executives had screened the result of her first few days work. The studio was Universal, threatened with closure for some years, but re-established as a major studio because of her popularity. That popularity was due to her “fetching naturalness”, as the News Chronicle put it. There was also the mature soprano voice. She sang operatic arias and songs such as “Beneath the Lights of Home” and “It’s Foolish But It’s Fun”, which became Hit Parade records. Her first screen kiss received more press coverage than any of Elizabeth Taylor’s marriages, and the transition to adult roles was so successful that, as she left her teens, British cinema managers voted her the biggest draw for three years running.-indeed in 1942 the Odeon Circuit throughout the country offered a Durbin Festival, a different film on each of the week’s seven days, and that has been done for no other star.

    However, the poor quality of her later films caused her to retire. She had made just twenty-one films in all, and her career had lasted just thirteen years. Like Garbo, she turned her back on Hollywood: both of them were still young women and both of them refused to even consider further offers. Living since then in a beautiful old farmhouse, just outside Paris with her French husband, she has, during these thirty odd years, refused to see the press-and Monsieur David, champion of guardians, has been the intermediary, patiently explaining that she really isn’t interested in show business, and certainly not publicity. She is finally breaking her silence because she is deeply touched by the reaction of old…and new fans. I doubt whether any other star of her generation has held the love of her fans quite so surely: so many people, hearing that I was about to visit, became emotional and all-too-serous as they made me promise to mention their affection.

    “I knew that sooner or later I would give an interview and decided that I would do it with you. I liked your two books on the stars and such statements you made as, “the system was firmly rigged against the individual in favor of the machine”. I admire you as one admires a scientist who, with a few bones, manages to reconstruct an entire dinosaur. So I am curious to see what you’ll make with the bits and pieces I offer you today…”Why did I give up my career? For one thing, just take a look at my last four films and you’ll appreciate that the stories I had to defend were mediocre, near impossible. Whenever I complained or asked for story or director approval, the studio refused. I was the highest paid star with the poorest material-today I consider my salary as damages for having to cope with such complete lack of quality.”

    “I did not hate show business. I loved to sing. I was happy on the set. I liked the people with whom I worked and after the nervousness of the first day, I felt completely at ease in front of the camera. I also enjoyed the company of my fellow actors, the leading men who were so much older, like Herbert Marshall, Melvyn Douglas, Franchot Tone, Walter Pidgeon, Joseph Cotten, Vincent Price and Robert Cummings. I did two films with my special friend, Charles Laughton. Working with these talented men helped me so very much and I grew up much faster than the average teenager. What I did find difficult was that this acquired maturity had to be hidden under the childlike personality my films and publicity projected on me.”

    I thought it ungentlemanly to ask about money, but asked whether it was true that her father had handled her investments. “Yes, he did before my first marriage, but he was not a broker or a businessman as the publicity department always made him out to be. My father-Lancashire born and raised-had taken his family to Winnipeg, where he worked as a blacksmith for the Canadian Pacific railway. As the cold Canadian winters ate up all the summer savings, he took us all to California where he worked as a welder and held a variety of manual jobs. His clever hands, combined with my mother’s intelligent housekeeping got us all through the Depression. But my father started having trouble with his health. I remember when he came to pick up mother and me from the studio where I had gone for an audition. Dad looked pale and sick. He had fainted twice and the doctor had told him that he had to stop working for quite a while. He was desperate. “Would it help Dad, I asked, if I brought home a hundred dollars a week? The studio wants you to come back tomorrow and sign a contract for me. I’ll never forget the look on his face, the happy tears in his eyes.”

    “I had been singing since the age of goodness-knows. Some neighbors knew an agent, not one of the important ones, and he got a try out for me at the Disney studios for the voice of Snow White, which I didn’t get for they said I didn’t sing like a child. Then he took me to MGM and I sang for one executive who went out and got another executive and I sang again, and I sang again. Each time I sang there was a lot of whispered consultation and someone else was sent for. I must have sung about ten times in all.”

    MGM put her into a short with Judy Garland, Every Sunday, and this particular Hollywood legend is true, that when Louis B. Mayer said “drop the fat one” he meant Garland, not Durbin.

    “For me this was the end. My dog Tippy and I went for a long walk. I was crying bitterly and decided that I’d kill myself-I couldn’t go back to school a failure. Not many months later, returning from my first publicity trip for Three Smart Girls in New York, I saw huge posters of me all over Hollywood. I had become a star. I was tired, but happy and alive!”

    “Judy soon entered her own period of triumph. Right from the start Judy had an immense talent. She was a professional and had been on the stage since she was two. Her later story is tragic, but I’m certain she could never have given up. She needed an audience as she needed to breathe.”

    There is no need to comment on the difference between their two fates since Deanna exudes happiness. She goes on, “I understood Judy, though. I did some vaudeville with Eddie Cantor when I was beginning in pictures and between our weekly radio show. Eight shows a day! It was very exciting. Contact with a live audience is heady stuff, like the evening I walked in to sing at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City when the entire audience rose to its feet. She laughs. I should have done more live shows”. I point out she did sing extensively for the troops during the War, but that, she says, was a very different emotional experience, remembering one evening when she was lifted on the back of a truck and sang without accompaniment to soldiers about to embark for overseas.

    “I hated being in a goldfish bowl. If I went to New York, I had to stay in my hotel room or go everywhere under guard, whisked away in a big black limousine, terrified that the fans running alongside would get hurt in the traffic. My mother and I were once mobbed in Texas: the police lost control of the crowd and my mother suffered two broken ribs from people trying to reach me. I have never been so frightened. They put me in the town jail for safety and to avoid the mob still waiting at the station, they flagged the train down in the middle of nowhere, where I got on safely.”

    Realizing that at fifteen Deanna had the world at her feet, I wondered about her upbringing. “…very ‘proper’. It was drummed into me that I must never have sex with a man before I was married, and then the next day I was off to the studio where a very different set of rules prevailed.-I must admit that it was lovely to be asked and even lovelier to be able to say no…or yes, - Part of the fun of being asked meant that I wasn’t a little girl anymore…and that is why I wanted to look glamourous. I couldn’t wait to wear low cut dresses and look sultry. I remember the day when Philippe Halsman from LIFE magazine came to my home. He said he was going to photograph me ‘looking like an angel’. I answered that I may not know how I did want to be photographed, but if there was one way I certainly did not want to be photographed it was looking like an angel! He laughed and the picture he took more than satisfied me. I'll admit that for some of my public all of this must have been hard to understand.”

    “My two broken marriages were not an asset either. When my first marriage failed everyone said that I could never divorce. It would ruin the ‘image’. How could anyone really think I was going to spend the rest of my life with a man I didn’t love, just for the sake ‘of an image’?!”

    “The second divorce was traumatic, for there was a child involved. Being the child of a movie star can mean a life even more unreal than that of the parent, and at that point I knew that I didn’t want my daughter to grow up in Hollywood.”

    “Donald O’Connor once said that I was a professional, which, coming from him, pleased me, but that at the time we worked together I was unapproachable…’in a funk’ as he put it. With my second marriage breaking up at that time, I’m sure he was right.”

    In 1950 she left for France where she married Charles David who had directed her in LADY ON A TRAIN. Since then she has resisted some tempting scripts: “I would have had to go through all the paraphernalia…the pre-recording of songs, wardrobe fittings, publicity and so on, not to mention the time this would have taken me away from my family.”

    Joe Pasternak, who produced her early movies, used to telephone whenever he was in Paris. “Are you still happy?,” he would ask, and when she answered “yes”, he would say, “damn, well I’ll try again next time” and hang up.

    “Just once was I seriously tempted, by the prospect of My Fair Lady on Broadway. It was still in an embryonic state just a few songs completed when Alan Jay Lerner came to my home to play them for me. I loved them…but I had my ticket to Paris in my pocket and anyway, Julie Andrews was great and so was Audrey Hepburn in the film.”

    So she brought up her children: Jessica returned to America to marry while Peter, her son by Charles David, is working there in medical research. I sense rather than see her pride in them and the reason I don’t see it is because her radiance is absolutely undimmed by the years. She speaks with the directness and vitality of the young Deanna, but again I sense an extra enthusiasm when she says that bringing up the children and seeing them happy represents no sacrifice. Now she and her husband indulge their passions for music and travel, combining both with regular visits to the United States, Salzburg, Florence, Prague, Vienna, Glyndebourne and London. They speak enthusiastically about certain of their favorite singers such as Victoria de Los Angeles, Kiri Te Kanawa, Gundula Janowitz, Frederica von Stade and Teresa Stratas…

    Deanna herself still sings. She is grateful to her second film, One Hundred Men and a Girl, for introducing her to Mozart. At the age of fifteen she sang Mozart’s Alleluia with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski conducting.- It is impossible not to say that I would like to hear her sing, which receives a crisp “thank you”. She did not want to continue making films when she left films because the required publicity would have destroyed the privacy she longed for. I wonder, without asking her, whether she might be tempted now. She does turn down all requests to appear on TV shows and does not want a biography done. I did not suggest that any other form of comeback could be considered, even with the children grown up, for I could not imagine her ever being more contented than she now is – and we were talking, one or the other of us, for more than five hours. The waste of her talent is in the past, even if, at a cheerfully admitted sixty-one she looks a mere thirty-five, slim and so attractive that it is a relief when she puts on glasses and looks maybe forty. Because of this youthful appearance, and because I doubt whether she has even glimpsed a beautician since she left Hollywood – she is not only like the young Deanna but uncannily like: candid, sensible, completely without affectation, concerned and captivating company. Like all great stars, and despite her particular qualities, she is mysterious. She is Deanna Durbin – one of the best-loved of all stars. It is to return that love that she has given her first interview in so many years.

    I assure her that many people who asked me to convey messages of affection were not even born when she quit movies. She smiles, too much of a realist to be surprised. And when you’ve been smiled at by Deanna Durbin you stay smiled at, even when the car won’t start, even when another car has gone into its rear on the Avenue de La Chapelle, even on the rainy drive to Boulogne and find the Hovercraft isn’t running.

    Theater Guild on the Air

    Searching for more versions of The Importance of Being Earnest to collect, I stumbled across the John Gieldgud production of Oscar's Wilde's play which was adapted for radio in 1947. Gieldgud and company moved their British production to Broadway for a couple of months that year and appeared in their respective roles for the Theater Guild on the Air (TGA) adaptation on April 13th.

    TGA began airing on September 9, 1945 with "Wings Over Europe," starring Burgess Meredith. The show was home to many adapted plays including "Hamlet," "Victoria Regina," "The Philadelphia Story," "An Ideal Husband" and "The Man Who Came To Dinner." Although this radio show seems mostly to have brought plays to the microphone, it managed to include a few film adaptations as well, such as "All About Eve "(which, is about the theater and feels a bit like a well-crafted play, so. . .).

    You can find Theater Guild on the Air broadcasts at the Internet Archive.

    Update:
    Having spent a few days with Theater Guild on the Air radio broadcasts, I discern a very definite pattern. TGOA adapters seem to take liberties with the source material, more so than any other vintage radio theater program that I've come across.  With Lux Radio, Screen Guild Radio, etc. you'll get an hour-long or 30 minute reduced version of the source (a classic movie, usually) that hits the high points with essentially the same dialogue. Additions would occur if an action wouldn't make sense on the radio [A sight gag, for instance, would be cut or explained in dialogue].

    But with TGOA there seems to be a different philosophy for the scripts: anything goes, almost. For instance, in Pride and Prejudice (Broadcast 11/18/1945) the 5 Bennet sisters are reduced to 3 and the middle class Bennets are the ones giving the extravagant parties instead of the wealthy Bingleys.

    In an Arthur Arent adaption of An Ideal Husband (Broadcast 03/30/1952), Arent gives the lead a few new jokes which do not further the plot but are funny (especially in the way that Rex Harrison reads them off), but why? Isn't Oscar Wilde's dialogue funny enough?

    I'm not complaining really; I just was not expecting this sort of devil-may-care treatment of well-known source material.

    Now I'm wondering what they've done to MacBeth (Broadcast 05/11/1947). This should be interesting.

    CiMBA Winners have been Announced

    Winners have been announced for the 1st annual Classic Movie Blog Association Awards (CiMBA). Congratulations to the participants. We've had some very great contenders this year. With  CiMBA membership growing so rapidly, we're sure to see even more competition in 2011.(Yikes!)


    And thanks so much to everyone who voted for Java's Journey. See you next year.
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