MAME is Lucille Ball's TROG?

Mame with Lucille Ball
Trog with Joan Crawford

Lucille Ball in the musical Mame is the subject of a light debate over in a Facebook group that I frequent.

The film today has an amusingly campy legacy. Some have placed it in the so-bad-it's-good category; others say it's just terrible; others say it's a work of art with a few glitches.

Mame  follows the story of an orphaned boy who is sent to live with his wacky aunt - Mame Dennis- and all the adventures they have. Mame is the musical rendition of Auntie Mame. Auntie Mame is a straight play, a Broadway hit and later a film, starring Rosalind Russell. They are all based on a popular novel by Patrick Dennis. These were successful productions. Why is the hit musical play considered a stinker on film?

Oft-mentioned reasons for not calling Mame an all-out classic usually are these:
  1. Lucille Ball's voice clearly cannot sustain the notes in this musical; she should have been dubbed.
  2. Ms. Ball's advanced age makes the character unbelievable as the little boy's aunt.
  3. The Vaseline on the lens, or soft focus, to give the appearance of a smooth face on the star to hide her age is distracting. Why not just hire another actress?
  4. Angela Lansbury was perfect onstage as Mame Dennis; she has numerous films under her belt, but they wouldn't let her star. Anyone else in the film's title role is a travesty.

The Facebook discussion took a slight turn when someone, frustrated with the movie, proclaimed, "Mame is Lucy's Trog," referring to one of the last films of megastar Joan Crawford. Trog was not well-received.

One can understand why the two might be compared. Each film stars a legend of the silver screen in one of her last films. Each film received negative reviews. Both films have become campfests, where newer fans love to laugh at the craziness.

However, there is a difference.

The pedigree of Mame, its classic songs, its star power (in the form of not only Lucy, but supporting cast such as the fabulous Bea Arthur in a scene-stealing role as the best friend) make it the perfect vehicle for the right casting. At the very least, they could have dubbed Lucy's croaky voice, and there would be no doubt that this is a bona fide classic that is worth your time. 

Lucy in Mame is like having a poor driver in a Rolls Royce- in proper hands it would have driven well.  In this case, it is swerving all over the place, but you can still appreciate it.

Trog, on the other hand, is intrinsically flawed. It's a low-budget, sci-fi film about an anthropomorphic monster (a man in an ape-like costume) from an earlier time who kills everyone in sight, except a scientist (Crawford) who understands him. This film takes itself seriously. No one, not even Academy-Award-winning actress Joan Crawford, can elevate this film.

Crawford in Trog is like professional NASCAR driver, Dale Earnhardt, trying to speed around the track in a beat-up Pinto. What you want to accomplish and what can be accomplished, given the tools you have to work with, are two separate things.

The two are not equivalent.

What do you think of Mame? How about Trog? Do the two compare?


  1. I love the musical MAME and saw Ginger Rogers in the title role on stage in London in the 1970s.
    You are so right, that Lucille Ball should never have been cast and that Angela Lansbury should have been allowed to play MAME as she created the role on Broadway and was terrific.

    1. Vienna, wow! You saw Ginger Rogers do it? You must do a write up of that somewhere. Pretty please? :)

  2. Ginger was great in the part . I saw it several times and was privileged to be invited to her dressing room backstage at the Theatre Royal,Drury Lane!
    It's a long time ago but you never forget an experience like that.

  3. It was actually 1969 when I saw Ginger Rogers in MAME at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London - one of my first trips to London. She was terrific in the role. I wasn't at the first night but was privileged later in the run to be invited,with a few other fans, to her dressing room backstage!
    Won't ever forget that. She was so charming to us.

    1. WOW! I'm so happy for you. That must have been awesome.

  4. Well, I never cared for the musical Mame in any form -- for me, the play Auntie Mame, especially with Rosalind Russell, can't be topped. Some of the songs in Mame were enjoyable ... I just don't think it made for a good switch to musical. Lucille Ball was totally miscast, and actually I guess I'm in the "it stinks" category. Sorry, Lucille, I love you otherwise. Trog -- what can I say -- It goes into the "it REALLY stinks" category. I enjoyed this, Java ... really fun idea for an article!

    1. Rosalind Russell is my favorite as well. The person who gets to do the film version is the one whose performance is better remembered for generations. I'm so glad that Russell was able to recreate her stage role on camera.


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