Pixar’s WALL-E & Hello, Dolly (1969): Worlds Apart yet Connected at Heart

Hello, all! I’m coming at you from a very different angle today. My friend over at Movies Meet Their Match is hosting a blogathon this week celebrating Pixar films. Since Hello, Dolly is such an important element in the Pixar film WALL-E as well as a fun, exuberant movie, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to talk about the connection between these two award winning films.

Now, looking at the two photos above you probably think I’ve lost my mind; but remember, looks can be deceiving.

wall-e (2008)

Andrew Stanton, one of the many creative geniuses behind WALL-E, directed and co-wrote the film with Pete Docter, the current chief creative officer of Pixar. Stanton and Docter came up with the idea of a robot who was left on earth after humankind had left due to the overabundance of trash. Tasked with cleaning up the earth, WALL-E lives a life of monotony and loneliness. One day he sees another robot and falls in love. WALL-E goes after her, taking off on an exciting adventure, and brings positive change to those around him.

Stanton had always loved the classic film aesthetic, and for this film he knew he wanted to juxtapose sci-fi with retro. Having been involved in musical theatre in high school he knew he wanted a show tune for the opening of his film. While searching for the right fit he heard Michael Crawford sing the words “Out there” from Hello, Dolly. Stanton knew it was the one.

"I knew it was the weirdest idea I’d ever had, so I kept it to myself for a while until I felt I could better justify its use. Then I realized the song is about these two naïve guys, who’ve never left their small town, and just want to venture to the big city for one night and kiss a girl. That’s my main character!" - Andrew Stanton
The opening credits to WALL-E (2008)

Stanton was intrigued with the idea of making an animated film in a different way than had been done at Pixar – without dialogue. While the whole film could not be presented as such, the first thirty minutes is just that. Stanton knew this approach would require additional story telling techniques. Again, he turned to Dolly for help.

I started exploring the other songs in the play, and when I found ”It Only Takes a Moment,” it just became this godsend because I was always looking for ways to tell the story without the need to use conventional dialogue. This song became a great device for showing WALL-E’s interest in what love is, and it gave him a way to convey his love for EVE. I happened to have read somewhere that holding hands is the most intimate public display of affection, which led to the idea of WALL-E learning that action by watching the movie. Suddenly I was desperate: ”I’ve gotta get a copy of Hello, Dolly! Please, please, please let them show these two lovers holding hands!” And they were! I took that as a sign that it was meant to be to have these songs in the film because Hello, Dolly! was suddenly helping me tell the story. - A.S.
WALL-E and Eve watching the scene of the lovers in Hello, Dolly (1969) holding hands

Hello, dolly (1969)

Hello, Dolly (1969) is a film adaptation of the successful Broadway production of the same name. Based on Thornton Wilder’s play The Matchmaker, the story concerns a widow (Barbra Streisand) who tries to content herself with being the village matchmaker but soon realizes that she is lonely and needs more out of life. Dolly schemes to get Horace Vandergelder (Walter Matthau), the “well known unmarried half-a-millionaire,” for her own and sets up Vandergelder’s shop clerks (Michael Crawford and Danny Lockin) with his love interest and her shop assistant.

20th Century Fox, hoping for another Sound of Music (1965), poured SO much money into the production and it shows. The visuals are stunning – filmed on location in the beautiful Hudson Valley area of New York with costumes by the amazing Irene Sharaff. Sadly, the film did not recoup it’s production costs, a staggering $25 million! Nonetheless, this film deserves to be viewed and appreciated for its scope and heart. The creative team is top notch: screenplay by Ernest Lehman; directed by Gene Kelly; and cinematography by Harry Stradling. Jerry Herman wrote the score and Michael Kidd choreographed the dances. The talented cast sparkles throughout the film with contagious energy and each of the production numbers are pure joy to behold.

Both of these films are love stories, just with very different packaging. For Dolly, her loneliness and pursuit of love pushes the story forward, bringing a whole cast of characters together, making the town a happier and better place. For WALL-E, it is the same. He desires to be loved and his pursuit of Eve leads him to go on a life (and world) changing adventure.

Michael Crawford & Danny Lockin

I’ll leave you with this wonderful story Michael Crawford relayed to Andrew Stanton:

“[Crawford] said when he had to punch the very beginning of the song with the orchestra and say the phrase ‘out there,’ he was never getting it right, and finally [director] Gene Kelly had to come out of the booth and come over to him,” “[Kelly] said, ‘Kid, you gotta sing this like it means more than the world. This is bigger than the universe, just think of the stars.’ And the take that they used was the one where he was thinking of the stars when he sang ‘out there.’ So when he saw the opening of WALL-E and it was just this field of stars, it just blew his mind.”

This post is my contribution to The Pixar Blogathon hosted by Movies Meet Their Match. Thanks for letting me participate, MC. This was so fun! Click here to check out the rest of the entries.

Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!

One Touch of Venus (1948): Awakening the Goddess

Ava Gardner breathing her first breath as Venus, the goddess of love and beauty.

I am always drawn to stories where a character is a fish out of water and must adjust to their new surroundings. This usually leads to many memorable and enlightening moments for both the stranger and those who accompany them. One Touch of Venus is one of those stories.

A department store worker’s world is unexpectedly turned upside down when his kiss brings a statue of Venus to life, setting a series of madcap adventures in motion.

on broadway

Kurt Weill; The Tinted Venus by Guthrie; Cheryl Crawford

The Broadway play One Touch of Venus came to life when costume designer Irene Sharaff presented the novella The Tinted Venus by Thomas Anstey Guthrie to composer Kurt Weill saying that the story would make a great musical.

Kurt Weill, intrigued with the material, brought producer Cheryl Crawford on board and as Crawford wrote in her autobiography, “It could involve the the world as we see it and as the goddess sees it and allow us to compare the two views, which would of course be quite different. I thought it could have social bearing and also be quite amusing.” Cheryl Crawford hired humorist S. J. Perelman and poet Ogden Nash to write the book, with Kurt Weill writing the music and Nash providing the lyrics.

After a share of turn-downs from European stars (including Marlene Dietrich), all-American Mary Martin was chosen to fill the shoes of the goddess Venus. In 1938, Martin made a noticeable splash in a Cole Porter musical singing “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” but her debut as a leading-lady in Venus forever cemented her status as a Broadway star. Martin would go on to originate iconic roles such as the leads in Peter Pan, South Pacific, and The Sound of Music, and win four Tony awards during her lengthy career.

Kenny Baker, a singer who gained fame during the 1930’s on radio’s The Jack Benny Program then appeared in film musicals, was cast as Rodney Hatch. John Boles, a singer and actor of both stage and screen, was cast as Whitelaw Savory.

It seemed that the production was destined to succeed. With direction by Elia Kazan and choreography by Agnes de Mille, who had turned heads earlier that year with her groundbreaking work on Oklahoma!, Venus was a hit. The play ran for nearly two years beginning in 1943. Time magazine concurred that the show left behind “ready made formulas, but where Oklahoma! took the smooth, pleasant low road of picturesque folklore, Venus takes the high road of sophisticated fantasy.”

“Forty Minutes for Lunch” ballet
“Venus In Ozone Heights” ballet
Rodney Hatch & Venus Jones’s meet cute

On film

In 1945, Mary Pickford bought the rights to the play intending to film in Technicolor starring the original Broadway cast. This was abandoned due to Martin’s pregnancy and the property was sold to Universal in 1947. Director Irving Reis was assigned to the picture but dropped out suddenly and was replaced by William Seiter, a director with a touch for musicals (Roberta) and comedy (Sons of the Desert).

As often happened in Hollywood adaptations for the screen, many of the original songs were dropped and in this case, lyrics were re-written. Ann Ronell, most notable for the Disney hit “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” and “Willow Weep for Me,” wrote new lyrics replacing Nash’s “Foolish Heart” with “Don’t Look Now but My Heart Is Showing.”

On to the casting, and boy is it excellent! For the title role, the lovely Ava Gardner was chosen. Ava made her breakthrough in 1946 playing the femme fatale in Universal’s The Killers and was known for her exquisite beauty, glamour, and appeal. Her home studio, MGM, was not quite confident yet in adding her to their galaxy of top stars and often lent her to other studios. Just like her predecessor, Mary Martin, Venus played a significant role in Ava’s career.

Authors Kendra Bean and Anthony Uzarowski elaborate in Ava: A Life in Movies: “Before Venus, Ava’s glamorous image was mainly derived from the studio publicity machine. Now she was finally being given a role that perfectly suited her emerging public persona.”

On December 31, 1947, Variety reported: One Touch of Venus comes to the screen as a pleasant comedy fantasy. Ava Gardner steps into the top ranks as the goddess, Venus. Hers is a sock impression, bountifully physical and alluring, delivered with a delightfully sly instinct for comedy.

After Venus, Ava replaced Rita Hayworth as the love goddess of the movies, and held that position until Marilyn Monroe’s rise in the mid-50’s.

Robert Walker was cast as Eddie Hatch, the object of Venus’s desire. At the time, Walker’s image (to his chagrin) was that of the shy, small-town boys in the war years. He would give the performance of his tragically short career a few years later in Strangers on A Train (1951).

Providing a foil to Hatch is Tom Conway, accompanied by his long-suffering secretary played by Eve Arden. Arden, as always, steals each scene she is in. Dick Haymes stands in as Hatch’s best friend, and Hatch’s fiance is played by Olga San Juan.

I enjoy this movie very much. I feel that Ava Gardner strikes the perfect chord of innocence and sensuality while Robert Walker has the shy, sweet awkwardness down to a tee. Tom Conway and Eve Arden are delightful additions, and it’s fun seeing the whole cast get into their parts and enjoying themselves.

Through my research for this post, I’ve found that Venus is still being brought to life by repertory companies today. It is my dream to catch one of these performances and be swept away by this charming tale once again…

I’ll leave you with a playlist of highlights performed by the original Broadway cast of One Touch of Venus. I would have loved it if more of these made it into the movie, they are SO lovely. Enjoy!

This post is my contribution to Taking Up Room’s Broadway Bound Blogathon. Thanks for letting me participate, Rebecca! I have enjoyed this immensely. Click here to read the rest of the entries celebrating the Great White Way.

6 Favorites from the 60’s: A National Classic Movie Day Celebration

Happy National Classic Movie Day to all! Today, Rick at the Classic Film and TV Cafe is hosting a blogathon encouraging participants to write about their six favorites from the 60’s in celebration of this momentous occasion! This sounded like too much fun to pass up and I’m excited to share my favorites with you. Let the party begin!

1. THE MUSIC MAN (1962)

Robert Preston shines in his defining role as Prof. Harold Hill, the ultimate smooth-as-silk con man. It’s not until his travels as a salesman take him to a town in Iowa where his whole world begins to unravel from under his feet, forcing Harold to make some important life decisions.

The Music Man is a great time all around, boasting an excellent cast and story, accompanied by a lively score from Meredith Wilson, and beautifully choreographed numbers. But what makes this film even more special to me is knowing it’s been loved throughout the years by my family – three generations to be exact.

Highlights include Hermoine Gingold’s hilarious turn as Mrs. Shinn, Dorothy Jeakins costumes, the “Marian the Librarian” scene, and Susan Luckey, dancer extraordinaire, as the precocious Zaneeta.

2. My fair lady (1964)

A Cinderella story of a Cockney flower girl trained to become fit for royalty. What she didn’t expect was falling for her inhumane teacher along the way, and he in turn, for her.

My Fair Lady is perhaps the wittiest of musicals with not a lagging scene throughout its nearly three hour run-time. George Cukor’s marvelous direction paired with Lerner & Loewe’s brilliant score creates a dreamy confection of sights and sounds. Audrey is wonderfully charming and perfectly convincing in her transformation from a simple flower girl into a regal lady, but it’s Rex Harrison who has the greatest lines and spectacular delivery of them. I love that while he’s busy transforming Audrey externally, his own transformation, unbeknownst to him, is happening internally.

I remember watching My Fair Lady many times as a child and marveling at the scope and beauty of it all. Consequently, this movie was my introduction to Audrey Hepburn – a constant inspiration to me.

Highlights include Audrey Hepburn’s Cockney accent, Wilfrid Hyde-White as the wonderful Col. Pickering, Cecil Beaton’s costumes, Gene Allen’s sets, and a plethora of lovable character actors.

3. west side story (1961)

Leonard Bernstein meets William Shakespeare. Enough said. The combination of the two absolutely sparkles on the screen. A retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in 1950’s New York City with innovative and exciting choreography by Jerome Robbins, directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. This film is an artistic tour de force with excellent performances, glorious music, and a timeless message.

The primary reason one comes to West Side Story is for the phenomenal dancing and music. And led by Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, and Russ Tamblyn, you know you are in good hands. Bernstein’s iconic score possesses a lush, rapturous intensity and wistfulness effectively conveying the emotional range of the story from the thrill of first love, to the hatred of the opposing gangs, to ultimately, sorrow and tragedy. In other words, it all fits like a glove.

Highlights include Natalie Wood’s performance as Maria, Rita Moreno’s passionate Anita, marvelous usage of color by Art Director Boris Leven & Set Decorator Victor Gangelin, affecting screenplay by Ernest Lehman, and snazzy Saul Bass credits.

4. yours, mine, and ours (1968)

In this delightful comedy, two middle aged folks try to resist the attraction they feel towards one another because they are both widowed parents with no less than eight children each! When they get married, they undergo a formidable task – attempting to blend the two families into one.

Yours, Mine, and Ours is a cozy, feel good movie with lots of funny scenarios in tow and literally not a dull moment. With Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda at the helm how can you go wrong? Their chemistry is so sweet and real and makes the film work. Van Johnson also co-stars adding to the fun.

This movie is a reminder that love can bloom anytime, anywhere and that home and belonging is not about blood relations, but rather a coming together of hearts.

Highlights include Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll’s “I Love Lucy” style contributions to the story, the excellent screenplay by Mort Lachman and Melville Shavelson, and the screen stealing capabilites of Eric Shea.

5. the sword in the stone (1963)

Disney’s telling of the legend of the boy who is educated by Merlin the wizard and becomes King Arthur of England brims with charm, humor, and fun. It has a very short run time and is overlooked in the Disney canon nowadays, but I can’t help loving it. As a child I often chose this over many princess movies (which if you know me, is a big deal).

What I love most about The Sword and the Stone are the characters themselves. The short-tempered but good natured Merlin and his crusty sidekick, Archimedes the owl, bicker and fuss like an old married couple. The two of them tickle my funny bone to no end. As they argue over what’s best for the young protege, Wart’s educational journey leads to many misadventures and ultimately, the meeting of Merlin’s nemesis, the mad Madam Mim. Wart learns many life lessons along the way, most importantly, the using of one’s brain over brawn.

Highlights include the squirrel scene, the wizard’s duel, the vocal talents of Karl Swenson as Merlin, Junius Matthews as Archimedes, and Martha Wentworth as Madam Mim.

6. the man who shot liberty valance (1962)

My introduction to this film was on The Essentials one night on TCM. It left such an impression on me that I had the desire to revisit it years later, and it did not disappoint. James Stewart gives a tortured performance of a lawyer seeking to bring law and order to the old West despite opposition from a farmer (John Wayne) and the fearsome outlaw, Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin).

John Ford leads a cast of colorful characters through this poignant drama/western. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a character-driven, thought provoking piece which lingers in the mind long after the film’s end. Wayne and Stewart have surprising chemistry on the screen – their contrasting acting styles and personas aiding the differences between the men. Vera Miles is the girl who captures both of their hearts and for whom sacrifices are made. This film has so much going on underneath the surface of an already great story. The themes – love, honor, hate, and violence – are subtly handled, making this film one that rewards numerous viewings.

Highlights include Lee Marvin’s performance as the villainous Liberty Valance, John Wayne’s Tom Doniphon, and the symbolism scattered throughout the script and imagery.

Honorable Mention: Born free (1966)

And that’s it! I hope this inspires you to come up with your own list of favorites.

Thanks to Rick at Classic Film and TV Cafe for hosting this blogathon and for letting me participate! Click HERE to read the rest of the entries.

Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!

The Classic Film Fangirling Tag: Unleashing the Inner Fan

Hello, all! I sincerely hope you are keeping well and staying safe. The delightful Miriam @CineGratia and Lee @TotalleeLeeMac have created a super fun tag to get us all out of the slump that we find ourselves in these days and get our brains going! And what better way to do that than to talk about the movies we love. Thanks for putting this together, guys! It definitely got my brain on the right track again – a much needed tonic 🙂 You’ll want to check out their tag videos here and here.

Miriam and Lee have provided 10 questions to answer (which seem harder than they look at first glance!) that you can respond with via social media or a blog post using the hashtag #ClassicFilmFangirlingTag.

So without further ado, let’s begin…

1. If there is one film whose quotations you identify with the most, which one would it be?

If I can twist the word ‘identify’ a bit to mean ‘resonate’ then I would absolutely choose Gone With the Wind (1939). This movie has meant so much to me throughout the years and Scarlett’s famous line “After all, tomorrow is another day” is one of the reasons why. There’s hope in knowing that there is a tomorrow – that things don’t always stay the same, that the future offers new opportunities for personal growth, for fulfilling our dreams, and for the betterment of our world.

2. Name a minor character from a film whose backstory you would love to see explored in a spin-off film of their own.

I’m having a hard time coming up with a backstory I’d like to see but I can think of a sequel! The film noir Leave Her to Heaven (1945) boasts one of the most monstrous female characters in film, but hidden in her shadow is the quiet, meek adopted sister, Ruth (played by Jeanne Crain). At the film’s end it makes me think of what happens to Ruth and Richard after the credits roll. Could they find happiness after what happened? Do the shadows of the past creep into their marriage? I’d like to know…

3. If you could have been an extra in any film, which one would it have been?

For this answer I’m going with Top Hat (1935). I love musicals and where the music is – is where I want to be. Imagine standing on the side lines and seeing Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance together IN PERSON. Absolutely magical…after that experience I could die a happy girl!

Which scene would you have loved to have been part of?

I would love to have been a dancer in the big production number “The Piccolino.” There is some fun, outrageous, Berkeley-esque business going on with streamers and an extravagant big-white-set (Venetian style) that only RKO could produce!

4. If you could have attended any film premiere in history, which one would it have been?

Cat People (1942) was unlike anything audiences had seen up to that time. They were used to “creature features” such as Universal’s string of successful horror flicks, whereas in Cat People the monster was suggested and hardly seen. It would have been fun to be in the audience and get caught up in the story with them – to jump with them at the jump scares, and to scream with fright during the pool sequence.

5. If you could have signed up with a studio of the era which one would you have chosen and why?

This is an easy one for me to answer. I would have gone with MGM. The films they made, the stars and creatives they had under contract are among my personal favorites. I also love the prestige, glamour, and sophistication associated with the studio.

6. If you could take a prop/souvenir from one of your favorite classic films what would it be?

It’s all about the shoes! The Wizard of Oz (1939) contains some of the most iconic images in cinema, and the ruby slippers might just be at the very top of the list. Never failing to bring wonder and magic to audiences of all ages, the slippers are a symbol of adventure, magic, imagination, and a reminder that no matter where life takes us, our home is where our heart truly belongs.

I’ve been fascinated with these shoes forever. Not only are they sparkly, beautiful, and nostalgic, they are the ultimate symbol of Hollywood studio era moviemaking at its finest.

7. Which classic film character’s wardrobe would you most like to raid?

I’ve answered this question on an award post before which I’ll link right here, but there so many beautiful costumes in film that this question could be answered a million different ways! So, today I’m going with Gene Tierney as Lili Duran from On the Riviera (1951) with designs by Oleg Cassini. Not only does Lili have the perfect loungewear (and bedroom), she’s all set for the beach, and the ballroom as well.

8. Which restaurant, cafe, or other eatery featured in a classic film would you love to dine at?

I’ve always been intrigued by The Brown Derby ever since seeing the I Love Lucy episode “L.A. At Last.” The idea that the walls were covered with pictures of the movie stars who floated around in that eatery sounded so exciting! The Brown Derby is featured in some classic movies such as What Price Hollywood (1932).

When I went to Disney World a few years ago, I simply HAD to eat at the recreated restaurant at Hollywood Studios theme park. It was a lot of fun, but imagine my disappointment when no movie stars strolled in!

9. If you could have dinner or coffee (at that place) with a star, who would it be and why?

Again, I’ve answered this on that same award post, but I’m always up for meeting another film star! If I was going to The Brown Derby, I would be remiss if I didn’t choose to go with with William Holden 😉

10. If you could have attended an Oscar gala, which year would you pick?

1940! The energy and creativity that was in the air that night must have been inspiring to absorb, and how thrilling it would have been to see GWTW sweep the awards, to hear Vivien Leigh’s acceptance speech for her Best Actress Oscar, to see “Over the Rainbow” win for Best Original Song. A legendary and unforgettable night to be sure!

And that’s it…Stop by Miriam and Lee’s YouTube channels for some more classic film goodness – you’ll be glad you did!

Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!

Hans Christian Andersen (1952): A Fairy-Tale Feast for the Eyes, Ears, and Soul

“Everything you look at can become a fairy tale and you can get a story from everything you touch.”

H. C. Andersen

This movie is about a spinner of tales, a dreamer of dreams. In order to appreciate the delightful, colorful, smorgasbord that awaits, one must remember that this movie makes no claim in being an accurate biographical account of Andersen’s life. In fact, the title card says it is a fairy tale about the author himself.

Danny Kaye plays the title character. He is lovable, innocent, and optimistic. He is also sensitive and dreamy-eyed and this is where the plot of the film comes in.

Hans disrupts the town he lives in by distracting the children from their schoolwork with his stories. Kicked out of town, he leaves for the grand city of Copenhagen only to fall for Doro, a beautiful ballerina (Zizi Jeanmaire in her film debut) who is wed to her demanding choreographer (Farley Granger). Where and when will outsider Hans find his place in the world?

I love how this film clearly illustrates the impact Hans’s stories have on those around him. To the children he imparts joy, adding more to life than just schoolwork in “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” To some he gives comfort as in “The Ugly Duckling” and “Thumbelina.” When Hans writes “The Little Mermaid” ballet for Doro it becomes a hit for the ballet company and a turning point in their relationship.

For me this movie is like a warm hug. I grew up watching it and singing along to the many delightful songs. Its beauty comes from the simplicity in the story line and Hans’s amiable nature wonderfully displayed by Danny Kaye. The gorgeous Technicolor, stunning direction by Charles Vidor, and cinematography by Harry Stradling doesn’t hurt either 😉 The Little Mermaid Ballet is one of my favorite dance sequences in the movies. The staging is unique, creative, and the choreography beautifully suggests a mermaid’s underwater movements.

Frank Loesser’s memorable score brilliantly inhabit Hans’s world adding to the dreamy quality that blurs reality and fantasy. Composer-lyricist Loesser, whose star was ascending in the music world, was Goldwyn’s choice to write the songs for the film. In 1949, he won the Oscar for “Baby, Its Cold Outside” and the following year he had tremendous success with Guys and Dolls on Broadway. When Goldwyn bought the film rights for the show, he also signed Loesser for Hans Christian Andersen.

In a few ways this movie reminds me of The Red Shoes (1948). The tale of “The Red Shoes” was written by Andersen. Both movies were filmed in Technicolor, contain gorgeous ballet sequences, and share similar themes. If you enjoy The Red Shoes (and who doesn’t?) you might enjoy Hans Christian Andersen as well.

Lastly, I would recommend this movie even for those who aren’t fans of Danny Kaye’s comedic style. The way he interacts with children is a joy to behold and the drama in the script allows him to show more range as an actor, giving one a better picture of the man of many talents.

This movie is perfect for a rainy day, and for those inevitable days when you and I feel lower than low. It will perk you right up and give you something to smile about. Who could ask for more than that?

This post is my contribution to The Classic Literature on Film Blogathon hosted by Paul of Silver Screen Classics. My thanks go out to Paul for letting me participate in this event. Click here, here, and here to read the rest of the entries.

Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!

5 Reasons Why I Admire Esther Williams

My love for Esther Williams began when I was about ten years old while watching Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949), the one movie my family owned starring Esther. Although Esther had only one very short and simple swimming sequence, I was enraptured by her. As a girl who loved everything to do with mermaids (and to be honest, still does), I would then pretend I was Esther in our family swimming pool, mimicking her routine as best I could.

Esther was everything my ten year old self wanted to be – talented, beautiful, intelligent, and strong.

As a teenager I had the opportunity to rent more of scoured the shelves for Esther’s movies from my local library. Dangerous When Wet (1953) particularly stands out in my mind with the unforgettable Tom and Jerry sequence. Others included Neptune’s Daughter (1949), Pagan Love Song (1950), and Bathing Beauty (1944).

A few years ago I purchased a set of Esther’s movies distributed by TCM. Upon viewing these films again I discovered the magic had not faded. I was still captivated by Esther – her grace, style, and the amazing ballets. Wanting to to learn more about the making of these films led me to Esther’s delightful and eye-opening autobiography, Million Dollar Mermaid.

In these pages I discovered that Esther was not only an athletic, glamorous movie star who exemplified an unshakable work ethic, she also had the courage to match it.

5 Reasons Why I Admire Esther Williams

1. Her ability to find a constant in times of trouble

In Esther’s book she recounts a time in her teenage years when she was sexually abused by a trusted, adopted member of the family. Frightened to reveal his identity because of his threats, she kept this to herself for two years. Having been chosen to be part of a prestigious athletic club, she used her practice and training time to escape from reality. In the water, she found her source of comfort. Dominating the water also gave her a sense of control and a semblance of strength.

Here, at least in the pool, knifing through the water, I could be in control, I would be safe – for the moment.”

2. She was the catalyst for the creation of a genre

The Aquacade at the 1939 New York World’s Fair

In the 30’s and 40’s, synchronized swimming gained popularity due to Billy Rose’s Aquacade, a water show that drew in huge crowds and dazzled the public (in which Esther once was the lead female swimmer).

In the movies, a few musicals featured synchronized swimming, such as the Busby Berkeley sequences in The Kid from Spain (1932) and Footlight Parade (1933). But with Esther came the addition of Technicolor and the birth of the aqua musical.

Bathing Beauty (1944)

When Esther Williams signed a contract with MGM in 1941, the studio welcomed their new star with her own stage, Stage 30, and a twenty foot deep swimming pool equipped with a hydraulic lift. Little did Esther know that during her career at MGM she would become a top box office attraction in the 40’s and 50’s, earning the title America’s Mermaid.

3. She loved what she did

Although her job was not an easy one and required hours upon hours of being in the water, insane preparations to make her “waterproof,” and dangerous on-screen stunts, you would never know it for Esther always had a huge smile on her face. Despite the difficulties, she wouldn’t have traded it for the world.

I genuinely loved swimming and being underwater. It appeared as if I had invited the audience into the water with me, and it conveyed the sensation that being in there was absolutely delicious.”

4. She became an advocate for her sport

Bathing Beauty (1944)

According to Esther, “a year after Bathing Beauty (1944), the first synchronized swimming meet was held in Chicago. Then, in 1955, synchronized swimming became a recognized event, and was named a demonstration sport in 1956.” After that it was a struggle for the sport to be accepted into the Olympics. For years it was looked on as nothing more than a showbiz act.

Finally, in 1984, synchronized swimming made it to the Olympic games, and NBC called upon Esther to be a commentator.

I was touched to realize how these girls had seen those movies and gotten together in their little groups and wanted to swim pretty and not fast. They created a sport and went all over the world to teach it and sell it. I was proud to be there when it came into the Olympics. I was proud to be an inspiration, a godmother to a sport.”

5. She never quit the race

While her onscreen persona was one of scrupulous perfection, her real life was far from it. Despite troubled marriages, several on-set life threatening incidents, and criticism from those who did not appreciate Esther’s hard work and dedication to her art and sport, she never gave up.

During some periods in her life she doubted her own importance and abilities. To be a respected actress was something she craved as she was constantly berated about her acting. Over time she realized her unique talent, embraced it, and looked back fondly on all the life experiences she had been given as a result.

I guess that’s what I was trying to tell those Olympic champions when I told them that when they ran into life’s problems, they should never despair, even after temporary discouragement or defeat. I told them they should call upon their inner spirit to see them through. We can’t all win Olympic gold medals. Even I never won one. But the message applies to all of us because each of us in our own way has races to run or swim. And with sufficient endurance and courage, we all can achieve some kind of victory in our lives.”

Please forgive the awful quality of the video, otherwise it is simply delightful!

Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!

Rose Marie (1954): Love Amidst the Rockies

Tomboy meets manly man, falls for his charm, and becomes a “lady” for him. Sound familiar?

Rose Marie has shades of two other highly esteemed musicals of the 50’s – MGM’s Annie Get Your Gun (1950) and Warner Brothers’ Calamity Jane (1953), in which a tomboy gets transformed into a lady. Interestingly, these films also share the same leading man, Howard Keel. What makes Rose Marie unique however, is the style of the music, the casting of the heroine, and the ending of the story.

This 1954 adaptation of Rudolf Friml and Herbert Stothart’s operetta, Rose-Marie, was MGM’s third time bringing this story to the big screen. The first film, now considered to be lost, (1928) was a silent with Joan Crawford playing the lead. The second and best-known version, (1936) starring Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald, gave the team their signature song, “Indian Love Call.” Each time the film has been re-made, the story has changed, but the 1954 version bears close resemblance to the original operetta. While the film only retained three of the songs from the original operetta, it did add five others. The duet “I Have the Love” is exceptionally lovely.

Taking us on this journey into the Canadian wilderness and into the heart of Rose Marie is the lovely Ann Blyth. As the titular character, Ann is sassy and independent, while still retaining her feminine charm. She is the perfect blend of innocence and fire. Unlike Betty Hutton’s Annie Oakley and Doris Day’s Calamity Jane, Ann Blyth’s Rose Marie is not larger than life; quite the contrary. Ann plays the part in an understated fashion. She brings out Rose Marie’s naivety, and her plight to find her proper place in the world. I think this is what made her so wonderful in Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (1948) – her ability to portray a character who is innocent and naive about certain things, but also very vulnerable and emotionally intelligent at the same time. And to play that character in a likable way that does not come across as fake, contrived, or cloying.

Note: I enjoy Betty’s Annie and Doris’s Jane as well; however, I like to note different acting styles and character interpretations. I love the individual qualities each one possesses and appreciate each of them for what they are. The differences are what makes each special, unique, and exciting to watch. We move on… 🙂

Rounding out the cast is Howard Keel, Fernando Lamas, Bert Lahr, and Marjorie Main. The most notable for me was Bert Lahr. I believe this is the second film I’ve seen him in. The first, of course, as the incomparable Cowardly Lion in Oz. He does have a number which is fun to see and makes some of his lion grunts and sounds.

Howard Keel and Fernando Lamas add their rich baritone voices to the mix while vying for the hand of Rose Marie. Keel is well cast as the good-hearted Mountie and Lamas as the ambiguous trapper. In my eyes, these two couldn’t be more opposite – all the more fitting for the story.

MGM pulled out the stops by filming Rose Marie in the Canadian Rockies, and it is simply breathtaking. The gorgeous scenery filmed in eye-popping color enhances the realism of the story and the plight of the Mounties. In addition, the cinematography by Paul Vogel (High Society, 1956) is beautiful and engaging. The film is also the first movie musical to be released in the new widescreen format at that time, CinemaScope.

I had to watch this film twice to fully appreciate it because it took me be surprise. All in all, Rose Marie (1954) is very enjoyable, featuring one of the most beautiful duets, talented singers, nature’s beauty, and produced by the most prestigious studio of Hollywood’s Golden Age. If any of those mentioned above make your heart skip a beat, this film is calling you…

This post is my contribution to the O Canada! Blogathon hosted by Silver Screenings and Speakeasy. Thanks, ladies, for letting me participate! Head over here to read the rest of the posts honoring this vast and beautiful country.

Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!

Portrait of Jennie (1948): The Transformative Power of Art

Weary artist Eben Adams (Joseph Cotten) is struggling to make ends meet. When a chance meeting with a curious young girl, Jennie Appleton (Jennifer Jones), stirs Eben’s creative juices, he begins again on a successful path. Encouraged by a friend and dealer, Miss Spinney (Ethel Barrymore), Eben continues to see Jennie and notices that each time they meet she is years older. He also notices how she talks about things that happened in the past. As their meetings continue, Jennie grows older, and the two fall in love. They realize their lives are intertwined although time and space conspire to keep them apart.

A fantasy picture was a strange choice for Selznick International Pictures to produce, but nonetheless they secured the costs at a low price and went to work at adapting Robert Nathan’s novella for the big screen. Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier were considered for the leading roles before Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotten were chosen.

I have yet to be let down by a performance by Joseph Cotten. As Eben Adams, Cotten is sensitive, vulnerable and believable as the man who fell in love with a woman from the past and will do anything in his power to be with her. Cotten plays his scenes with utmost sincerity, especially the scene with Mother Mary (Lillan Gish) at the convent.

Jennifer Jones delivers as the girl who is mysteriously tied to the past while still being firmly rooted in the present. Jones has the girlish quality that is well suited for Jennie, and as the film says has “big, sad eyes, and something about her that seemed to come from far away.” It must not have been easy acting as a little girl when she was almost 30 but Jones accomplishes it well; however, when she transitions to womanhood, this is where Jones really shines. The delivery of her lines about life, love, and the future are mesmerizing.

Composer Dimitri Tiomkin had the inspired idea of using themes from Claude Debussy for the film’s score. Debussy’s music captures the desperation of a struggling artist, the joyful vitality of childish Jennie, the mysterious, enigmatic quality she possesses, and the longing the lovers have for each other. The song Jennie sings when she meets Eben: “Where I came from, nobody knows, and where I am going everyone goes” was written by Bernard Herrmann, the original choice for composing the film.

Always intent on high quality, Selznick’s decision to shoot in New York City added a realness to the film (a wise choice, as New York has a distinct atmospheric flavor) as well as considerable production costs. The Oscar winning special effects used in the ending of the film are striking, unexpected, and ultimately drove the film way over its budget. According to Selznick biographer David Thomson, Portrait of Jennie was the last film Selznick produced in Hollywood. Although it was not well received on its release, the film has gained appreciation over the years, and is one of Jennifer Jones’ most memorable roles.

Portrait of Jennie is equally about love and the transformative power of art. Eben’s love for Jennie gives him new eyes to see the beauty in the world, transforming his work as an artist and more importantly, as a human being.

There has never been and probably will never be another movie quite like Portrait of Jennie. In a manner similar to The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), this film seamlessly blends the supernatural with reality, the dream world with the real world, and the past with the present. So tastefully done in its execution, the end result is far from saccharine, nor is it excessive. And what has the makings of a sad story is anything but when one looks carefully at the themes contained within. Reflective and romantic, Portrait of Jennie hits all the right notes and is a gem among many in the classic film treasury.

That just barely skims the surface of this beautiful, haunting film. Time and space (see what I did there?) 😉 prevents me from covering all the wonderful character actors involved and going deeper in analysis. I intend to cover that in a future post.

What do you think of Portrait of Jennie?

This post is my contribution to The Leap Year Blogathon hosted by Taking Up Room. Thank you for letting me participate in this event! Click here to read the other timely contributions!

Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!

Grace Kelly: Her Secret Hideaway [UPDATE]

Hello, readers! Some of you may remember an early post on The Classic Movie Muse where I recounted my visit to Newport, Rhode Island, and the story behind Grace Kelly’s stay there while filming High Society (1956), her last Hollywood film. If you haven’t read that post, click here.

Recently I went back to Newport and discovered MORE of this soon-to-be princess’s hideaway…

I was there on a glorious sunny day, not a cloud in the sky, when to my surprise a whole new area of the beach appeared to me. This time around I was visiting at low tide, and the water that had hidden the shore on my last visit had gone, leading me to discover a new, expansive rocky cove.

I noticed an escarpment that looked like it had been traversed many times in the past, but not recently. Was this the path Grace took to and from the beach before the inn staff had built the staircase for her?

As I said in my initial post, I feel so honored to be able to walk in the footsteps of Grace Kelly, and no visit is complete without a time of reflection and thinking of Grace herself. She was a great lady who went after what she wanted with abandon. She was loving, passionate, and gentle. A star whose light on earth was dimmed too soon, but will continue to glow in the cinematic heavens forever.

It’s hard for me to believe how this place, a cherished spot of one of the most famous personalities in history, is still so obscure and unknown; but to me, that is part of the mystery and the beauty that is Grace Kelly Beach.

Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!

It’s Award Time! – The Liebster Award

A few weeks ago Zoe from Hollywood Genes nominated me for the Liebster Award! Thank you so much, Zoe! The Liebster Award is a way to reach out, connect, and encourage each other in the blogging community.

In order to accept this award there are a few rules to follow, so without further delay let’s begin…

The rules for the Liebster Award:

  1. Thank the nominator in your award post.
  2. Place the award logo somewhere on your blog.
  3. You must state up to 11 facts about yourself.
  4. Complete the questions that your nominator provided.
  5. Nominate as many bloggers as you’d like (11 is the maximum).
  6. Ask your nominees a series of questions (11 is the maximum).

11 Facts about Myself:

  1. I watched GWTW as a teen so many times I practically have the movie memorized and can push a play button in my head to “watch it” with sound included.
  2. I was told by two different people in the same day about ten minutes of each other that I look like Anne Hathaway.
  3. The books on my shelves can be divided into mainly four categories: film; fiction; interior design; and music/art.
  4. For a project in high school I had to draw all 50 of the US flags and as a result I still have a pretty good grasp of them.
  5. Classic film inspired me to take up ballroom dancing. I’m no Ginger Rogers, but I intended to develop my skills in this area as I absolutely love it.
  6. As a youngster I would pretend I was Esther Williams in our backyard pool and imitate her routine from the one film I had of hers.
  7. As a kid, I once ate a bowl and a half of plain Cool Whip in one sitting and haven’t touched it since.
  8. I play two instruments.
  9. My favorite classical composers are Debussy, Tchaikovsky, and Rachmaninoff. As for popular music, the Great American Songbook is my jam – Jerome Kern, the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Rodgers & Hammerstein.
  10. The Phantom of the Opera is my favorite stage show. I have seen it three times, and would gladly see it again.
  11. I have never broken a bone – knock on wood!

My 11 Questions from Zoe

What is the strangest or most off-brand topic/thing you’ve blogged about?

I’m afraid I don’t have an answer for this one as I try to keep everything on topic as best I can.

Who or what inspired you to start blogging?

One day after watching a film and looking it up online, I came across some of the lovely blogs that I am in contact with now. I thought, “Hey, I wanna do what these people are doing – to join them by way of spreading and sharing my love of classic movies with others.” These films are too great to be lost to obscurity and deserve to be noticed and appreciated for the wonderful pieces of art that they are.

Recast one of your favorite classic movies (pre 1970s) with modern actors.

VERTIGO (1958)

  • Jessica Biel as Madeleine Elster
  • Daniel Craig as Scottie Ferguson
  • Reese Witherspoon as Midge Wood

Recast one of your favorite modern movies with classic actors.

THE ILLUSIONIST (2006)

  • Ingrid Bergman as Sophie
  • Gregory Peck as Eisenheim
  • Claude Rains as Inspector Uhl
  • Vincent Price as Crown Prince Leopold

What is a book that you would love to see adapted into a film and why? 

I read a book as a youngster that I loved called The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye. It is a lovely tale with a wonderful message about being loved for who you really are – not for money, status, or appearance. The princess in the story is plucky, self-reliant, happy with who she is and takes the reins in delegating how her life plays out.

What do you consider the biggest misstep behind the scenes in the cinema world (i.e. not casting someone for a role, a specific directorial choice, a remake that shouldn’t have happened, an interview that went on to haunt someone, etc.)

No disrespect to Bogie, but if I was casting Sabrina (1953) I would have cast someone else as Linus Larrabee. Maybe Rock Hudson would have worked…I could see him playing the strictly business type turned soft by Audrey’s charms.

What do you consider the most fascinating film community scandal (past or present)?

Too many to name!

Which actor or actress do you think died way too soon and where would you have liked to see their career go had they lived?

Oh, there are so many I could go with here but my heart always goes out to Marilyn Monroe. She had the intelligence and the popularity to go up higher in the industry. She did have her own production company and I’m sure she could have kept going up the ladder if her life had permitted.

Which actor or actress missed their calling in a specific genre and why do you think they would or would have excelled in this vein? 

I would say Merle Oberon. In The Cowboy and the Lady (1938) she showed she had some comedic chops as well as being a fine dramatic actress.

Which 6 guests would you invite to your Hollywood party and why these specific 6? 

Oh yay, I love this question! I would invite Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Grace Kelly, William Holden, Lucille Ball, and Marlon Brando. I think besides being very talented as well as some of my favorite actors, these six would make a fine bunch to give advice about many things and would be all around awesome to hang out with.

Which onscreen outfit would you wear everyday if you could and why did you pick this one?

Grace Kelly’s dress from Rear Window (1954). Because it would make me feel beautiful and the skirt looks roomy enough to move around in and be comfortable. Wearing white all day would make me nervous though! I wouldn’t want to get it dirty 😉

The Nominees

  1. Pure Entertainment Preservation Society
  2. The Classic Hollywood Blog
  3. Classic Film Journal
  4. Femnista
  5. Hollywoodland Photos

My Questions for the Nominees

  1. When did you first become interested in classic film?
  2. What is your favorite movie quote?
  3. If you had to choose 5 movies to take with you to a deserted island what would they be and why those 5?
  4. Who is the latest actor/director etc. that you’ve discovered and where/how did you discover them?
  5. What’s something you’ve learned about yourself from blogging?

Congrats to the nominees!

Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!