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!

The Sunshine Blogger Award – Hello Sunshine!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Paul from Silver Screen Classics has kindly nominated me for the Sunshine Blogger Award! The Sunshine Blogger Award is an award given by bloggers to bloggers who are positive, creative, and inspiring. I’ve been blogging for a little over a month so this is a huge honor to say the least. I am so very thankful! Thank you for your thoughtfulness, Paul!!

I’d also like to thank all those who have supported my blogging efforts and for the kindness they’ve extended in welcoming me to the classic film community. You’ll never know how much your thoughtful comments and supportive words mean to me. I’ve enjoyed chatting with each one of you and look forward to many more wonderful discussions in addition to reading your inspiring articles!

I could go on all day, but let’s commence with the preliminaries, shall we?

The rules concerning the award

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  2. Answer the eleven questions from the blogger who nominated you.
  3. Nominate eleven bloggers.
  4. Create eleven new questions for your nominees to answer.

I am going to make an amend to the nomination with the permission of Katharine Hepburn. “If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.” There are a few questions I have chosen not to answer. Nonetheless, I had a blast answering these questions and coming up with new ones for my fellow bloggers!

Questions and Answers

Which actor or actress who hasn’t received an Oscar do you think deserves one? And for what film?

Merle Oberon. I think she was very underrated. Maybe her beauty overshadowed her abilities. Her Cathy in Wuthering Heights is heartbreaking and worthy of an award, but 1939 was such a monumental year in films and had so many great contenders. I have yet to see her Oscar nominated role The Dark Angel (1935). If anyone has seen that one, please let me know!

Who is your favourite child actor and name a film they were in which you love.

Mary Jane Saunders in Father is a Bachelor (1950). She is a new discovery of mine thanks to Mike at Mike’s Take on the Movies. Read Mike’s review of this adorable film here.

If a biopic was made of you during the classic film era (1920s to 1960s), who would you like to play you and why?

Audrey Hepburn. Who wouldn’t want to be represented by her? She’s elegant, unpretentious, and her good nature shines through her face like a ray of sunshine.

Which famous starry couple (of any time and place) would you want as neighbours?

Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. With their crazy antics and menagerie, they seem like the perfect neighbors to spice up the neighborhood.

If there was ONE actor or actress (living or deceased) whom you could interview for your blog, who would it be and why would you choose that person?

Grace Kelly. She has always held a certain fascination and mystery for me. The films she worked on and people she worked with were legendary. I’d love to hear of her experiences working with them and the making of those films. Her life is so inspiring as well. Coming from a family where only her uncle could appreciate her gifts and interests must have been difficult, but she pressed on despite her family’s disbelief in her abilities. In the end, she outshined all of them.

Which film character’s closet would you love to raid?

Hmm this is a tough one but I’m going to say Scarlett O’Hara. She is the ultimate and cannot be beat! I can’t get enough of the lush fabrics she wears. The robes she wears towards the end of the film are spectacular.

Of all the classic film studios, which is your favourite and why?

MGM. I’m drawn to the glamour of the studio, the plethora of musicals they turned out, the way they used color, the art direction, and the roster of fabulous stars. It’s also pretty fascinating to me how the studio was a whole world unto itself.

Choose a film where you would love to change the ending. Explain what that change would be and why you would do it.

I’d love to change the ending to Sabrina (1954). It always felt off to me that Sabrina and Linus get together. I can’t feel the chemistry between them and I don’t see them lasting for the long haul. I understand that Sabrina brought Linus out and made him realize he was missing something, that he needed something in life more than his corporate world. I would rather have them part as friends where Linus finds someone in New York, and Sabrina goes off to Paris and finds someone wonderful there.

The Nominees for The Sunshine Blogger Award

The Wonderful World of Cinema

Poppity Talks Classic Film

A Vintage Nerd

Watching Forever

Love Letters to Old Hollywood

Silver Screenings

Phyllis Loves Classic Movies

Coffee, Classics & Craziness

The Flapper Dame

A Person in the Dark

Caftan Woman

The nominees above have wonderful blogs and I highly, highly recommend checking them out if you’re not acquainted with them already!

The Questions

  1. What are two of your favorite films that have also won Best Picture?
  2. What is your favorite film score?
  3. What is your favorite play to movie adaptation?
  4. What is your favorite decade of film? Your least favorite? Why and why not?
  5. If you could be a character in a film for a day who would it be and why?
  6. What is the latest film related book you’ve read? Share something new you learned from it.
  7. You’re given the chance to recast a film from the golden era. Which film would it be and who would you choose for your dream cast?
  8. Do you prefer Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly?
  9. You’ve walked into a restaurant and have the choice of having five folks from the film industry (actors/actresses/directors/screenwriters/composers etc.) join you for dinner. Who would you choose and why?
  10. What’s a film related item you have on your holiday wish list?
  11. You are given the chance to go back in time and watch the filming of a movie from the golden age. Which is it and why?

Congrats to my nominees!

Just know that there is absolutely no pressure to participate, it’s totally understandable if you choose not to; however, I do recommend it as it is a lot of fun.

I’m extending the invitation to everyone, not only the nominees, to answer as many questions as they’d like in the comment section. I look forward to reading your answers! Until then…

Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!

It’s Not Easy Being Green: Margaret Hamilton and the Oz Legacy

Growing up in a home where classics were loved and appreciated, I remember being quite surprised when my mother told me that the actress who played the green faced, flying monkey commanding witch in The Wizard of Oz in actuality was a dear, sweet lady who loved children and was at one time a kindergarten schoolteacher. That dichotomy has always intrigued me.

When the What a Character! Blogathon came around, I knew exactly who I wanted to write about. Margaret Hamilton terrified children (this one included!) from all over the world, yet she was as different from her onscreen persona as one could possibly be. As a warm hearted woman, consummate professional, and caring mother, she devoted her life to the arts, the well being of animals, and the education of children.

Images: Pinterest

With a clipped way of speaking and a short, curt manner, Margaret is usually seen playing maids, spinsters, and witches. Her characters possessed a strong backbone with a sharp wit and a commanding, oft times, foreboding presence. On a few occasions she did play against type as a trusting friend, a warm companion, and fittingly, a schoolteacher.

Image: https://oz.fandom.com/wiki/Margaret_Hamilton?file=25421fd9-a4da-4919-a423-43f0ee91fdb9.jpg

Born in Ohio in 1902, Margaret Hamilton was drawn to acting an early age, participating in children’s theater and making her stage debut when she was twenty-one. Urged by her parents to become a teacher, Margaret earned her degree in education from Wheelock College in Boston and was a kindergarten teacher for six years before returning to her love of acting. Margaret also found personal happiness during this time, marrying Paul Meserve in 1931.

After appearing in productions for several years at the Cleveland Playhouse, Margaret landed a part in the Broadway play Another Language (1932). MGM bought the property and brought most of the cast members to the studio to produce the movie of the same name marking Margaret’s screen debut (1933).

Images: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Another_Language

Three years later, Margaret and Paul had a son, Hamilton. When the couple divorced in 1938, Margaret was left to single-handedly provide for both her and her son. Never becoming a contract player at any one studio (except for one year at RKO), Margaret freelanced her services in order to work as often as she could for the price that she wanted.

Hamilton Meserve and Margaret Hamilton

Image: https://www.boothbayregister.com/article/my-mom-actress-and-maine-talk-southport-historical-society/119052

By the time MGM was looking for cast members for The Wizard of Oz, Margaret had already done six movies with the studio. Having loved the story ever since she was young, she was delighted when she got the call that they wanted her for the movie. The question remained: which role did they want her for?

“And I asked him [her agent] what part, and he said, ‘The Witch,’ and I said, ‘The Witch?!’ and he said, ‘What else?'”

Margaret Hamilton

Image: https://lookingtogod.org/2014/10/29/the-wicked-witch-of-the-west/

Margaret Hamilton as The Wicked Witch of the West is on the screen for a total of twelve minutes; but that was more than enough to cement in the minds of everyone the world wide over, since 1939, what a witch looks like, sounds like, and acts like. The gleeful, maniacal cackle that we can never forget, the nasal intonation of her voice, the black as night dress and tall pointed hat, and the emerald green face and hands all stem from Margaret’s flawless portrayal. The witch is larger than life, menacing and dangerous, and her sarcastic, evil spirit provides a perfect foil for the innocent, optimistic Dorothy. Margaret’s performance in this film made her an icon and would define her for the rest of her life.

Image: https://www.reddit.com/r/movies/comments/2vspl6/margaret_hamilton_the_wicked_witch_of_the_west/

Several times, Margaret reunited with her Oz co-stars, which never fails to make this fan happy. In 1942, she and Toto took to the screen in Twin Beds. Margaret plays the maid and Toto, the couple’s beloved pooch, and in George White Scandals (1945), Margaret tries to keep her brother, Jack Haley, (the Tin Man) from marrying his sweetheart.

Margaret remained lifelong friends with Ray Bolger, and the two starred together in the Broadway play Come Summer (1969) and were cast mates in the fantasy film The Dreamer (1966).

In 1968, Judy Garland appeared with Margaret on the Merv Griffin show, and Judy asked Margaret to reproduce her famous cackle. The response from the audience says it all.

Although thrilled to be a part of one of the most loved movies ever made, Margaret disliked the fact that so many children had been frightened of the witch. Feeling responsible for their terror, she sought to rectify this by appearing on Mr. Rogers television show, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, in three episodes from 1975-1976. You can watch one of her appearances on the show below. It is simply charming.

Image: https://lostmediaarchive.fandom.com/wiki/Sesame_Street_Episode_847_aka_The_Wicked_Witch_of_the_West_Episode_(1976)

In 1976, Margaret appeared on Sesame Street reprising her role as the Wicked Witch of the West complete with green face and costume. I’m sure she never expected the results. Parents and children wrote letters to the producers saying that they wished the witch to never appear on the show again. It caused the children difficulty getting to sleep because of how deathly afraid they were of her. Since then, the episode has not been broadcast on television or seen anywhere else. Read some of the letters that recently surfaced and more about Margaret’s controversial appearance here.

Hamilton Meserve said his mother, “was very concerned about the effect it [the witch] had on small children. She was very aware of the impact it had on kids. Time and again she would literally get down on her knees and have kids touch her face. She would say, ‘I’m a nice lady’ and that the witch was all ‘make-believe.'” Knowing this, I’m sure that Margaret had a hard time when she was not accepted by children because she did love them so much; however, I do think she truly enjoyed her character and didn’t have any regrets.

Images: YouTube (left); IMDB (center); Pinterest (right)

Working in a range of genres, from screwball comedy to horror, Margaret appeared in more than seventy films in a fifty year career spanning radio, television, and stage. Possessing a great sense of comic timing, she held her own alongside some of the greatest comedians in film including W. C. Fields and Mae West (My Little Chickadee), Buster Keaton (The Villain Still Pursued Her), Harold Lloyd (The Sin of Harold Diddlebock), and Abbott & Costello (Comin’ Round the Mountain). She also worked with some of Hollywood’s top directors: Fritz Lang (You Only Live Once); Busby Berkeley (Babes in Arms); William Wellmann (The Ox-Bow Incident); and Frank Capra (Riding High and State of the Union).

Universal Pictures: The Invisible Woman (1940)
Columbia Pictures: City Without Men (1943)
20th Century Fox: Bungalow 13 (1948)
Columbia Pictures: 13 Ghosts (1960)

Images: Imdb

Jean Tafler as Margaret Hamilton

Image: https://www.bykennethjones.com/jean-tafler-and-john-ahlin-conjure-character-actress-margaret-hamilton-in-new-play-my-witch/

80 years after Oz, the life story of Margaret Hamilton continues to enchant and inspire. This past summer a play premiered in Sag Harbor, New York, entitled My Witch: The Margaret Hamilton Stories. How I wish I could have seen it! Here’s the official description:

“The amazing tale of how a gentle kindergarten teacher from Cleveland scared the living daylights out of every last one of us…and the brains, heart, and courage it took to be America’s character woman…If there’s one movie we all share it’s ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ but it is time to pay attention to the woman behind the cackle. Spend 85 wonderful minutes with Margaret Hamilton, for she has true and terrific stories to tell.”

Read a fascinating interview about the play here.

Margaret Hamilton will always be known as the green witch who scared the wits out of children worldwide, but she was much more than that. She was a wonderful actress, devoted mother, and a determined woman who was driven by her passions. She deeply cared for others, gave generously to charities, and became a spokeswoman for the causes she believed in.

Image: Pinterest

fun facts & Trivia

  • Margaret Hamilton had a sister named Dorothy.
  • Margaret was a member of the Beverly Hills Board of Education from 1948-1951.
  • In 1972, Margaret got to “give us Auntie Em” when she voiced the character in the animated feature Journey Back to Oz.

This post is my contribution to the 8th Annual What A Character! Blogathon hosted by Paula’s Cinema Club, Once Upon a Screen, and Outspoken & Freckled. Thanks, ladies, for letting me participate! Be sure to stop by their blogs! To read the rest of the entries about other talented, colorful character actors, click HERE for day 1, HERE for day 2, and HERE for day 3.

Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!

Book Nook – The Charms of Miss O’Hara: Tales of Gone with the Wind & the Golden Age of Hollywood from Scarlett’s Little Sister by Phillip Done

Gone with the Wind. When I first saw it, I fell in love. It had everything a great movie should have: an amazing cast; costumes that took my breath away; elaborate sets; not to mention a glorious score; and a story that is both heartbreaking and strangely encouraging at the same time. Some say there will never be another movie to its equal. Some think it’s vastly overrated. It is certainly controversial by today’s standards, but no matter one’s preference it has certainly infiltrated our culture and become part of our vernacular. Gone with the Wind is here to stay.

Beyond the vastness of the movie and the legend comes a true story about an author who had a chance meeting with the woman who happened to play Carreen in Gone with the Wind. You may also know her as Andy Hardy’s long suffering girlfriend in the Andy Hardy series. Her name? Ann Rutherford. In this delightful biography and tribute, author Phillip Done takes us through his encounters with Miss Rutherford, his visits to her home, and the wonderful stories she lovingly tells about her life as an actress in Old Hollywood.

Reading this book is like sitting down with Miss Rutherford and listening to her recall her life’s story. The book is so warmly written, and her adorable, vivacious personality jumps off its pages. For instance, she refers to Gone with the Wind as The Wind. Miss Rutherford had a wonderful sense of humor, a joy for life, and by the end you feel as if you have gained a dear friend.

Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938) with Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, and Lana Turner

For a number of years, Ann was under contract to the studio who boasted they had “more stars than there were in the heavens.” Ann’s recollections of the inner workings of her most beloved MGM and the glittering actresses who worked there are fascinating. Some of the stars she mentions are Greer Garson, whom she called Greer Dear, Lana Turner, and she reflects on the first time she heard Judy Garland sing (as part of The Gumm Sisters).

Gone with the Wind (1939)
-Screenshot by me-

I particularly enjoyed reading the behind the scenes tidbits on The Wind: how Ann got the part; how she influenced Selznick’s choices in the makeup department; her memories of filming; her opinions of her cast mates; and her exciting experience of attending the premieres and Oscar ceremony.

Ann with Rand Brooks (Charles Hamilton) at the Hollywood premiere – 1939

I also appreciated Ann’s never ending commitment to the promotion of the picture by donating her memorabilia to the Marietta Gone with the Wind Museum in Atlanta and proudly attending various events honoring the film throughout her life.

Olivia de Havilland, Evelyn Keyes, Ann, and Victor Jory at the 1960’s showing of the film

Image: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/37/17/15/371715fed4e28326df0a91ec19a8df8a.jpg

Evelyn Keyes (Suellen O’Hara), Ann, and Rand Brooks (Charles Hamilton) – 2002

Image: https://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/12/movies/12keyes.html

The story of how Ann got into the movies is quite fun in itself, and the lengths she went into preparing for her first roles are both astounding and hilarious; however, that just barely scratches the surface of what this book contains. Throughout her career, Ann worked in radio, television, and built up an extensive filmography. Her leading men included John Wayne, Gene Autry, Jimmy Stewart, Errol Flynn, and Red Skelton.

The Lawless Nineties (1936) with John Wayne; Of Human Hearts (1938) with Jimmy Stewart; The Adventures of Don Juan (1948) with Errol Flynn

Images: Pinterest

Several surprises lie in wait for those who go on to read The Charms of Miss O’Hara. I don’t want to spoil the fun by giving everything away!

Whistling in Dixie (1942) with Red Skelton and Diana Lewis

For this classic movie fan, this book is paradise. I’ve read my copy twice already, and I know that I will read it again and again. It’s like stepping into a time machine and going back into the glorious, magical days of Old Hollywood led by a friend who knows all the people you’ve always wanted to meet and who’s been to the places you’ve always wanted to go.

Thank you, Phillip Done, for such a wonderful book and tribute to an inspiring lady who was truly as charming as the title indicates.

You can buy today’s lovely book by clicking here.

Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!

-Images are in the public domain unless otherwise noted-

Grace and Kate: The Princess and The First Lady of Cinema

Grace and Kate. Kate and Grace. Could there be two stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age any more different from each other than these two? Both of these women made their indelible mark on film history with their individuality, remarkable talent, and unwavering determination. As different as they were, there still are many notable similarities. My purpose in this post is to uncover those similarities, thereby giving us a double take of these two legends.

-Images are in the Public Domain unless otherwise noted-

The Early Years

Images: https://forums.thefashionspot.com/threads/grace-kelly-3.207135/page-30 (left); Pinterest (right)

Grace was born into a wealthy family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her father, Jack Kelly, was a three time Olympic champion rower who encouraged his family to participate in any and all manner of athletics. Grace’s mother was a champion swimmer who became a physical education teacher for ladies at the University of Philadelphia. She also modeled for a number of years.

Every summer the Kelly family retreated from the hustle and bustle of Philadelphia by vacationing in Ocean City, New Jersey. In Ocean City they enjoyed the beach, boardwalk, and quiet life along the shoreline.

When Grace was a teenager she was part of her school’s hockey and swim teams, and she loved to dance.

Young Grace dreamed of being an actress; however, her parents were not keen on the idea. At nineteen, they permitted her to go to New York to study acting so she could get it out of her system. Little did they know she would be quite successful, and that it would change the course of her life.

Image: Pinterest (right)

Kate was born in Hartford, Connecticut, to a prosperous family. Her father, Thomas Hepburn, was a doctor at Hartford Hospital, and her mother was the director of the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association. Her family had a summer home in Fenwick, a borough of Old Saybrook, where the Connecticut River flows into the Long Island Sound. Kate’s father believed in the importance of physical activity, and Kate learned boating, fishing, and swimming at an early age. She also grew an affinity for tennis and golfing, becoming a state semi-finalist in the latter.

While attending her mother’s alma mater, Bryn Mawr College, Kate grew interested in acting. She participated in some of the college plays and decided that was what she wanted to do. Her parents weren’t entirely thrilled, but Kate pursued her dream nevertheless.

Negotiations, Camera, Action!

In 1952, Grace was offered a role that she simple couldn’t refuse. Mogambo would give her the chance to work with two of her heroes, John Ford and Clark Gable, and the film would be shot on location in Africa; however, in order for her to accept the role she would be tied in to a seven year contract with MGM. Grace made two stipulations: that she could return to her first love, the theater, one out of every two years, and that she would be permitted to live in her apartment in New York City. MGM agreed to the terms, proving that Grace, though still very new to Hollywood, could call the shots.

I signed with MGM because Mogambo offered the opportunity to work with John Ford and Clark Gable, and to make the picture in Africa. If the production had been scheduled in Arizona, I wouldn’t have signed the contract. But I did – at the departure desk of the airport, on my way out of the country.”

Grace kelly

In 1942, Kate really was the woman of the year. Having collaborated on the story with a playwright, she brought the idea for the film to the studio heads at MGM. She demanded a fixed sum for her services as well as for the story writers. When the terms were met, she also chose her director, Stevens, and co-star, Tracy.

“I was fearless…and lawless.”

katharine hepburn

Woman of the Year (1942) was Kate’s first film with Spencer Tracy, and it was so successful that it led to a series of films they made together, (nine in total) as well as the blossoming of their legendary romance. Kate also signed a contract with MGM during the making of the film.

The Philadelphia Stories

When Grace Kelly set out for New York to pursue her acting career, she applied and was accepted to the American Academy of Fine Arts in New York City. After making her Broadway debut and completing her training at the academy, she played Tracy Lord in The Philadelphia Story for her commencement performance.

Images: https://www.charlestoncitypaper.com/HolyCinema/archives/2018/02/09/3-good-reasons-why-you-should-skip-the-fifty-shades-trequel-and-see-high-society-instead-this-v-day (left); https://www.marieclaire.co.uk/fashion/10-of-grace-kelly-s-most-beautiful-on-screen-outfits-21124 (right)

In 1956, Grace was cast in the film version of the play with a few changes. High Society, as it was now called, was a splashy Technicolor musical, made in the grand MGM fashion. As Tracy Lord, Grace was given a duet to sing with co-star Bing Crosby. MGM wanted to bring in a singer to dub Grace, but Bing insisted that Grace had a good voice and that she could carry her part. The result was pure magic! Grace and Bing’s tender duet, “True Love”, won a gold record – an amazing feat for someone unknown as a singer.

High Society turned out to be Grace’s last film in Hollywood – a fine swan song for the actress who in five, short years rose to the top. When filming was complete she started making preparations to leave America to marry her fiance, Prince Rainier of Monaco.

In 1939, Kate was at an all time low in her career. She had just endured a series of flops which had earned her the label, “box office poison.” She was determined to make a come back and turn things around. A friend of hers, Philip Barry, had just the thing. He wrote a play with her in mind for the lead character. The Philadelphia Story opened on Broadway and was a smash with Kate playing Tracy Lord, the haughty, flighty socialite. Kate had made a risky business move in the venture, but it paid off. She did not ask for a salary, and instead asked for a percentage of the play’s profits. Kate’s boyfriend at the time was the multi millionaire Howard Hughes. He purchased the film rights to the play for her, setting her next move in motion.

Kate sold the rights to MGM studio chief, Louis B. Mayer, for $250,000. Other studios had offered her more, but Kate wasn’t after money; she wanted creative control. In exchange Kate got her pick of the director, producer, cast, screenwriter, and she would play the lead once again.

The Philadelphia Story (1940) became Kate’s ticket back into the ranks of beloved star, and she continued acting into her eighties. She said of her character, “I gave her life, and she gave me back my career.” The film won two Oscars and endures as one of the most loved classics of all time.

Icon Status

Images: Pinterest (left); https://baghunter.com/blogs/news/princess-grace-kelly-history-of-hermes-kelly-bag (middle); Pinterest (right)

Grace is known for her classic, feminine, elegant style. Whether a star or a princess, she always dressed the part beautifully. When she became a bride, she stunned the world with her wedding dress, forever setting the prototype for bridal wear. When pregnant with her first child, she used her beloved Hermes handbag to hide her baby bump. Shortly thereafter, it became known as the “Kelly bag” and remains as such till this day.

Image: http://hamptonroadsfashionandstyle.com/2014/09/top-10-style-icons-of-all-times.html (left)

Kate never followed anyone else’s style – she created her own. She brought menswear inspired clothing into the spotlight, making it more fashionably acceptable for women. Kate loved wearing wide leg trousers, loafers, blazers, and collared shirts. These looks were worn by Kate in her films and her fans imitated her style, setting a trend that has lasted for decades.

And there you have it…two extraordinary ladies that made their place in history by living their lives unapologetically, with a lot more in common than one might think.

Thank you for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!

Anchors Aweigh (1945) – A Man and a Mouse

Anchors Aweigh is a delightful, breezy piece of entertainment released in 1945 by the master of musicals, MGM. The movie features Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly as sailors on leave in Hollywood, USA, looking to pick up dates. One is an experienced “sea wolf” (Kelly) and the other is shy and naive (Sinatra). The woman in their lives (Kathryn Grayson) is an extra at MGM trying make it big at the studio as a musical star.

“Screenland, April 1945”

Anchors Aweigh packs quite a punch in the talent department. The film was directed by George Sidney who was just coming into his own with the previous year’s hit, Bathing Beauty. Sidney would go on to direct Annie Get Your Gun (1950) and Show Boat (1951), two of the studio’s most successful musicals during the 1950’s. The producer, Joe Pasternak, suggested the pairing of Sinatra and Kelly which turned out to be magical. The two bounce off of each other so well, and you truly believe that they have been friends for years. Sinatra and Kelly would go on to make two other pictures together, but this is my favorite of the three.

Anchors Aweigh marked a turning point in Sinatra’s career. He danced (taught by Gene Kelly), appeared in color, and starred in an MGM musical, all for the first time. Sinatra was already a beloved singer, but his role as Clarence was his first successful venture in movies. He made five other films before Anchors Aweigh, but this one endeared him to his fans and grew his audience.

Gene Kelly is in his prime in this film. He had just hit his stride at Columbia Pictures in Cover Girl with Rita Hayworth (1944). In it he was given creative control of the dances, as Columbia was inexperienced in making musicals. He blew every one away with his work in Cover Girl that by the time he returned to MGM they were ready to hand over the reins for his next musical.

Gene Kelly’s choreography is absolutely delightful in this film, and we get quite a few dances in a variety of styles. The most famous of these routines is “The Worry Song” where Gene Kelly dances with Jerry the Mouse (animated flawlessly by Hanna and Barbera). The desire to do something never done before prompted this dance routine. It was planned out by Gene and his assistant, Stanley Donen.

“Stanley Donen and I sat around for a couple of days trying to think of something and after one long period of silence Stanley suggested, ‘ How about doing a dance with a cartoon?’ This was it…I get all the credit for this, but it would have been impossible for me without Stanley, he worked with the cameraman and called the shots in all these intricate timings and movements. It wasn’t easy for the cameraman-he was being asked to photograph something that wasn’t there.”

gene kelly

The sequence is sheer heaven and a technical tour de force. One can’t help but be amazed by this number, and the pure joy that flows from Gene’s performance is utterly contagious.

Let’s talk about the score for Anchors Aweigh. From “Jealousy,” sung by Grayson, to “If You Knew Susie,” sung by Kelly and Sinatra, to the magnificent rendition of Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” performed at the Hollywood Bowl-this movie is a musical treasure chest! The one song I’m not a fan of is “All of a Sudden My Heart Sings,” a solo by Grayson. It never quite gets off the ground and slows the whole movie down. Jule Styne (of Funny Girl fame) and Sammy Cahn wrote six new songs for this movie. One of which, “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” was nominated for an Oscar.

Image via: https://journeysinclassicfilm.com/2015/07/17/anchors-aweigh-1945/

Did you ever wish you could go back in time and wander through the front gates of MGM? Me too! This film affords us the opportunity to do so! There’s footage of the MGM commissary, the Thalberg building, a recording stage, and the backlot. We get a very rare glimpse of a fleeting time in history, all in glorious Technicolor.

All in all, this movie is a time capsule. It’s for lovers of the MGM musical, of the joy of dancing, of the American spirit.

Awards & Trivia

  • Anchors Aweigh won the Oscar for Best Musical Score: Georgie Stoll
  • Anchors Aweigh earned Gene Kelly a nomination for Best Actor
  • Anchors Aweigh was nominated for Best Picture and Best (Color) Cinematography
  • Jose Iturbi, the Spanish conductor and pianist, plays himself in this film
  • A cutout of Esther Williams appears in a shop window as the sailors walk the streets of Hollywood. See if you can spot it!
Kelly, Sinatra, and Williams behind the scenes
Image via: http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/10/Anchors-Aweigh/tcm-archives.html#tcmarcp-199925

To buy today’s movie, click here!

Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!