markus21

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  1. That is surprising that she's never been Star of the Month. TCM has certainly saluted her in other ways (e.g, her birthday) on many occasions. As for Miller ditching her heels to dance with Astaire, I recall her laughing about it, saying that she had to do it so she wouln't be taller than he was onscreen. As for her being assigned second leads at MGM, I think she was simply too tall, statuesque and sensual to fit the conventional "ingenue/leading lady" mold of the time. Another interesting tidbit about the TIMES attitude toward Miller and EASTER PARADE. As a lifelong classic film buff, when I was a kid I used to pour over the Sunday TIMES TV section to see what movies were going to be on for the week and read the TIMES' blurb about them. I recall that for EASTER PARADE the paper stated: "Everything a musical should be. Our pet: Fred and Ann's dance to "It Only Happens When I Dance With You." (A number for which, of course, Annie has ditched her heels for ballet slippers!)
  2. I think of WITH A SONG IN MY HEART as schmaltzy in spots, but not silly. To the contrary, it's one of the first musical biographies to show a "darker" side to the hero/heroine's life. For example, it makes no bones about the fact that Jane Froman's first marriage to Don Ross, was one of convenience. She married him out of gratitude and appreciation for what he had done for her career and because they seemed to be a good fit professionally. Although they have only one argument/fight onscreen, the narration, the dialogue makes it clear that they've had many similar ones earlier and the narration (Wayne's throughout the film) at one point states that their marriage had changed and both had said things they could never forget. In the scene where Froman decides to undertake the USO tour she hadn't been able to do earlier because of her accident, nurse Thelma Ritter asks Froman how she thinks Wayne will react to the news. Hayward gives a despondent sigh and "I've had it" glance in Wayne's direction (he's in the other room) and despondently says: "It should be a RELIEF to him." As film historian/author John DiLeo noted of WITH A SONG IN MY HEART in his recent book, TEN MOVIES AT A TIME: A 350 FILM JOURNEY THROUGH HOLLYWOOD AND AMERICA 1930 - 1970. he considers SONG to be "The official kickoff to the 1950s brand of musical biography, though in many ways it's just as its 1940s counterparts. By splitting its attention between showbiz cliches and a story of genuinie pain and courage, it feels like a transition to the better richer biographies to come mid-decade." Recognizing the film's flaws, and that much of Froman's genuinely dark and tragic story is told in a superficial manner, DiLeo nevertheless concludes: "Director Walter Lang delivered an entertaining uplifting drama, a skin-deep and colorfully palatable look at a dark situation.It remains refreshing that WITH A SONG IN MY HEART is a 1952 musical biopic about something other than pendulum career swings or a new show in second-act trouble." I'd agee. The scope of Froman's horrific accident may be underplayed (the film ignores that her other leg was also severely damaged and that one arm was severely lacerated with pieces of glass and metal from the plane that continued to rise to her skin's surface for years), but, as DiLeo notes it's "positively stark" compared to the short shrift given to Cole Porter's crippling riding accident in NIGHT AND DAY, and the Froman/Ross marriage in SONG is a heckuva lot darker than the relentlessly sunny (and fake) retellings of the unions of George M. Cohan in YANKEE DOODLE DANDY and Al Jolson in THE JOLSON STORY.
  3. I agree with everything you said about Judy, Rose, but, as I hope my post suggests, people obviously could relate to Deanna. It's no mean feat to have the world fall instantaneously and enduringly in love with you when "all you do is sing" in the most unadorned circumstances the heavily-stylized, potentially moribund "classical" repertoire. Deanna was consistently praised for bringing qualities of purity, spontaneity, warmth, naturalness and ease to her performances as both a singer and an actress. These are qualities that one associates with The Great American Songbook repertoire, which was the métier for great movie singers like Judy, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Alice Faye, etc., but they are not qualities one generally associates with classical singing. Deanna, more than any other "classical" film vocalist I can think of, including male singers such as Nelson Eddy and Mario Lanza, made classical singing accessible to audiences of all ages, which is why she was so successful as a child singer, and why, unlike Jeanette MacDonald, didn't have to play a member of royalty or an aspiring/successful singer to "explain" her remarkable vocal talents.
  4. Believe it or not, THE NEW YORK TIMES thought Ann Miller was a better partner for Fred Astaire in EASTER PARADE than Judy Garland. In its' review the TIMES said something like: "And Judy Garland gets some stiff competition from the long-legged Ann Miller. Miss Garland is a competent trouper: nimble on her feet and professional sounding vocally, but somehow we feel that Miss Miller teams better with Mr. Astaire." I was surprised when I read that review, because Judy is so delightful in EP, but I agree that Ann Miller was a wonderful talent in her own right. It's no mean feat that she makes us enjoy her musical numbers so much despite the fact that "Nadine" is such an unlikeable character.
  5. As a big fan of both Deanna and Judy, I've enjoyed reading these comments on their talents and careers, though I must say, I disagree with many of them, and, as Deanna generally seems to be getting "the fuzzy end of the lollipop" in most of these comments, I hope my fellow posters won't mind if I play "Devil's Advocate" in offering an alternate perspective on some of the issues raised when comparing Deanna and Judy: ON UNIVERSAL'S SIGNING DEANNA BECAUSE HER "CLASSICAL" STYLE FIT THEIR MUSICALS BETTER THAN JUDY'S "POP" STYLINGS: I disagree with this. Universal signed simply because of Rufus LeMaire's enthusiasm and as the most cost-efficient way of getting THREE SMART GIRLS produced and, thereby, getting rid of the suit-happy Joe Pasternak and a whole gaggle of contract players they wanted to jettison as a means of recouping the studio's huge financial losses. The fact that Deanna was a classically trained soprno had nothing to do with it. Had Pasternak and LeMaire wanted to sign Judy, the studio would have done so for the same reasons as they did Deanna. What changed the studio's mind was Deanna's exceptional work during the first few days' shooting of THREE SMART GIRLS, in which both her star quality and singing/acting talent were so obvious that Universal was willing to take the risk of upgrading the budget of THREE SMART GIRLS from a "B" film to a (modest)"A," spotlighting Deanna. The enormous worldwide critical an popular success of THREE SMART GIRLS (and the contemporaneous sensation she made and continued to make on radio), encouraged Universal to continue the Pasternak-Durbin-Koster combination and film format, in which Deanna was almost always, without exception, not only the only singer in her films, but the only major musical presence, period, as well as the central character from which all the other characters in her films took their cues. I find it remarkable (and unique among Hollywood musical performers of that era) that Deanna Durbin, who stood out among her child star/performing peers as perhaps the only major star who didn't come from an extensive performing background was able to prosper in that "solo star" format for years. As Professor Ament said in her introductory comments to THREE SMART GIRLS: "The only reason THREE SMART GIRLS is considered a musical is because Deanna Durbin sings in it." The truly remarkable thing to consider is that one could say that about almost any of Deanna's 21 starring feature films. I'm open to suggestions, but offhand I can't think of a single major musical star of the 1930s/40s, child or adult/ "classical" or "popular"/male or female, whose films spotlighted them as the singular musical presence to the degree that Deanna's consistently did. JUDY HAD WIDER APPEAL AMONG AUDIENCES OF DIFFERENT AGES/CULTURES, ETC.: No dis intended on Judy, whose remarkable one-of-a-kind talent and deserved later iconic status as one of the major singer/performers of the 20th century speak for themselves, but during their contemporaneous tenures as contractees to Universal and MGM, Deanna's worldwide popular appeal with audiences of all ages and cultures far outstripped Judy's. For example, Judy's fan clubs were entirely MGM studio generated, whereas Deana created such a hit that her fan clubs began spontaneously and were later absorbed by Universal. Outside the U.S., Deanna was a hugely popular and much beloved star in Europe, Asia South America and Russia. For example, she was the Number One female box office star in Britain (England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales), replacing previous favorite Jeanette MacDonald. The affection of British audiences was such that in 1942, a major movie theatre chain ran a week-long "Deanna Durbin Film Festival" in which her films were shown exclusively, a feat that has never been repeated for any other star. Deanna was the Number One U.S. Box Office Star in Italy in the late 1930s an early 1940s, so much so that, in 1941, Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini wrote an open letter to her in his peronal newspaper, IL POPOLO, in essence begging her to act as a role model for American Youth in rejecting President Roosevelt's efforts to bring the U.S. into the "European Conflict."'; Deanna was the Number One box office star in Japan in the years immediately before, during and after World War II, and, as in Russia and other countries, the ruling elite was often upset that audiences flocked to the Durbin films rather than the propaganda films the ruling regimes were foisting on them. Not surprisingly, her 1943 film HIS BUTLER'S SISTER was chosen by Douglas MacArthur the head of the American Occupational Forces,pa as the first American film to be shown in Japan after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Retitled PRELUDE TO SPRING, it played to packed audiences, despite admission prices that were three times higher than other films. A more touching example of Deanna's popularity was found in the scrapbooks taken from captured and killed Japanese pilots. These scrapbooks naturally contained pictures of families, but many of them had special sections devoted to Deanna, and only Deanna. She was the only American film star so honored. In France, Deanna's 1941 film IT STARTED WITH EVE, was chosen as the first American film to be shown in Paris after the liberation of the city. Riots broke out from audiences scrambling to get in to see the film and police had to be called to quell them. A NEW YORK TIMES article on Spain from 1943 states that "Deanna Durbin is the most popular U.S. star." Small wonder then, that one of the major pieces of propaganda circulated by the Axis powers as a means of demoralizing Allied POWs and soldiers, was that "Deanna Durbin had died" (a particularly tragic death). A TIME magazine article ca. 1945, noted that one of the first questions asked by rescued American/Allied POWs was whether Deanna was still alive. The plan also had an unexpected negative impact on regular people in the Axis countries, who also loved Deanna and didn't realize that the reports were false. And no wonder that several sources, including John Kobal's GOTTA SING, GOTTA DANCE, cite Deanna's fan club as "the world's biggest" of that time. JUDY HAD A WIDER MUSICAL RANGE/MORE VOCAL VERSATILITY THAN DEANNA: Again, while I agree that Judy was a wonderfully versatile, one-of-a-kind "pop" vocalist, I disagree that she was more versatile than Deanna. As David Shipman said Deanna "could sing anything within a range from Opera to Swing." As jazz icon Mel Torme stated in his book, MY SINGING TEACHERS: "[Deanna] Durbin was phenomenal. Possessed of a glorious operatic voice, she could and did sing anything put in front of her to perfection." While many may prefer Judy's "pop" singing to Deanna's, Deanna could do a fine job on a "pop" song, while Judy, for all her musical brilliance as a singer/actress had neither the training nor the number of notes in her throat to sing Opera and much classical music. Finally (for now), though it doesn't specifically relate to Deanna or her career, I disagree with whoever said that Universal was a more "conservative" studio, musically that favored "classical music" over "popular." While Universal's musical efforts couldn't compare to the best of MGM's output, during the 1940s, Universal had more young musical talent under contract than any studio, including MGM, and much of that talent (e.g., Donald O'Connor, Peggy Ryan, Grace McDonald, Jane Frazee, the Andrews Sisters, the Merry Macs, etc.) were "pop"/"jazz" talents. Thanks for reading.
  6. You're welcome: I forgot to add that, obviously, Rufus LeMaire didn't show EVERY SUNDAY to Pasternak and Koster when they were looking for a young singer for THREE SMART GIRLS, as EVERY SUNDAY hadn't yet been filmed. Rather, he apparently showed them parts of an Exhibitor's Reel short featuring the two girls. According to Pasternak's memoir, LeMaire first showed them a singing/acting clip featuring Judy. Pasternak and Koster were delighted by Judy and excited at the prospect of signing her, only to be told by LeMaire that Judy was the girl Metro had elected to keep. Dejected, Pasternak initially had no interest in seeing Deanna's clip saying "There can't be two girls like that. Not in the same generation." LeMaire persisted, and Pasternak ultimately relented. Although Deanna's clip was only a singing test, Pasternak and Koster were stunned, not only by the quality and purity of Deanna's voice, but the ease, naturalness and confidence with which she sang, her prettiness, and her extraordinary star quality. Since it was only a singing test, Koster initially expressed some concern over whether Deanna could act, but quickly dismissed it saying: "Sign her. She's wonderful. I'll teach her to act." After confirming that Deanna was still available to be signed, she was immediately signed to appear in THREE SMART GIRLS. Aware of how devastated Deanna was to be dropped by MGM, LeMaire saw to it that her contract with Universal contained a clause stating that the studio couldn't drop her until she had appeared in at least one feature film.
  7. Hi Cakane: Deanna was signed by MGM to a six month contract in November 1935. Louis B. Mayer was out of town when she auditioned for the studio, but his associates were so blown away by her audition that they called Mayer and had her sing to him over the telephone. Mayer immediately ordered Deanna be signed to a contract, sight unseen. Deanna's contract with MGM expired at the end of May 1936 and she was released by the studio. Whether this was an accident (someone mistakenly allowed her contract to lapse) or she was formally released remains unclear, but she was immediately signed by Universal, most likely because Rufus LeMaire newly signed by Universal as a casting director after having been at MGM, brought Deanna and Judy to the attention of Joe Pasternak and Henry Koster, then looking for a young teen singer to play the youngest sister in their proposed film, THREE SMART GIRLS. There is a blurb in THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER (I think) dated June 1, 1936 that announces that Universal has changed "Edna Mae Durbin's" first name to "Diana," and around the same time, there's a photo in the LOS ANGELES TIMES of Deanna an "ten year-old Joan Brodeur (Leslie)" smiling at each other while a court ratifies their contracts with their respective studios: Deanna (Universal) and Joan (MGM). EVERY SUNDAY did not begin filming until late June/early July 1936, but there was a clause in Deanna's MGM contract that allowed Metro to call on her services for up to 90 days following its' cancellation, providing she wasn't working at a project at another studio. Since THREE SMART GIRLS wasn't schedule to begin filming until September, Deanna found herself back at MGM making the short with Judy. Since Judy was by then re-signed to a long-term contract by MGM, the plot of EVERY SUNDAY understandably favors her over Deanna, as Deanna was, by that time, under contract to a rival studio. Ironically, by the time EVERY SUNDAY was released to theaters in late 1936/early 1937, Deanna, having created an instant and enduring sensation on radio as a member of Eddie Cantor's TEXACO TOWN show, and earning unanimous raves for previews of THREE SMART GIRLS, often received more commentary/publicity from the press when ES was shown than Judy did (though the talents of both girls were always warmly commented upon.) Hope this helps
  8. markus21

    The corniest musical ever...?

    Hi Top-Billed: Although it has its' schmaltzy moments, and I can see why Bosley Crowther stated in his NEW YORK TIMES review that sometimes Hayward looks as if she's "miming for posterity," I enjoy WITH A SONG IN MY HEART and wouldn't consider it the corniest musical ever made. First of all, I don't consider it a "musical" in the strict sense of that term. It's a biography of a vocalist, but, other than the big production number of the title song and the performance of "The Right Kind," "Jane Froman" is pretty much the only vocalist/musical performer in the film. For a non-singer, especially considering the amount of singing she had to do, I thought Hayward did pretty well overall with the miming to Froman's vocals. As for the story, I think it has some moments of genuine grit. For instance, the film makes no bones about the fact that Froman's first marriage to the David Wayne character was one of convenience and gratitude on her part because he'd done so much for her professionally. She undoubtedly liked him and appreciated all the help he'd given her career, but the film doesn't hide the fact that she wasn't romantically attracted to him, nor that she loved him. As other commentators on the film have noted, it is perhaps the first film biography of a musical performer to do this. And though it doesn't show the two characters slinging insults at each other, the film also doesn't ignore the disintegration of the marriage. After the two of them argue over Froman's performance of "The Right Side," and how they might handle her increasing success over his, the narration makes clear that this was not the first argument they'd had and that both parties were responsible for their problems. ("Both Jane and I had said things that neither of us could ever forget.") And Froman's story was "true", and tragic, since she never recovered the full use of her legs. In fact, the film actually doesn't fully cover the extent of her injuries, which included an arm which still had shards of glass rising up through the skin years after the accident. Froman's pluck and determination to overcome these terrible injuries/setbacks made her a much beloved public figure at the time, and since she was already a very popular, well-known vocalist, with an undeniably unique voice and style, I don't think the public would have stood for a vocal double, however talented.
  9. markus21

    EASTER PARADE (1948)

    What amazes me about Ann Miller's performance in EASTER PARADE (aside from her tremendous talent as a tap dancer...and being one of the few screen dancing ladies who did her own singing!) is that she performed all her musical numbers in a back brace. Prior to filming she had been thrown down a flight of stairs by her intoxicated husband, causing her to break her back and lose the child she was carrying. Her back muscles had not completely healed when the she was cast at the last minute to replace an injured Cyd Charisse in EP, so she wore the back brace throughout the film's production. I'm sure there were days when she must have been in agony, but you'd never know it from her performance. What a trouper! And it paid off, obviously, when MGM kept her under contract, though I sometimes wish they'd given her a musical "lead" rather than her zesty supporting roles. She also got some fine notices for EASTER PARADE, including this one from THE NEW YORK TIMES:
  10. markus21

    The Star Machine

    Perhaps the difference was one of expectation and perception: I agree that OZ was marketed as a lavish film adaptation of a beloved classic. (The publicity for it played entirely on audience familiarity with the book/story rather than Judy's participation in the film and her "regular" billing with the rest of the cast and the film's special introduction pointing up its' "timeless" confirm that the studio was counting on the public's affection for the property more than its' burgeoning awareness of Judy.) Still, OZ had just as long a production history as BLUEBIRD, and while it received warm notices overall, the reviews were not generally raves/ecstatic. Interestingly, given the now iconic status accorded Judy's performance of "Over the Rainbow," both THE NEW YORK TIMES and TIME magazine, for example, both felt the film finally came to life in the OZ sequences while the earlier "Kansas" ones slowed it down. TIME didn't even bother to mention that Judy Garland was in the film and while NYT praised Judy's performance, it made a point of opining that hers was not the outstanding contribution to the film: Judy Garland's Dorothy is a fresh-faced miss with the wonderlit eyes of a believer in fairy tales, but OZ is at its' best when her three travelling companions, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion are on the move.. OZ also took years to earn back its' production costs and only became an acknowledged classic through its' annual showings on television. I haven't read reviews for THE BLUE BIRD (though I have no trouble imagining they were poor overall), but in addition to the points you've raised Arturo, I'd note that THE BLUE BIRD was not nearly as well known as a work of fantasy/children's literature as OZ (at least not in the U.S.) and its' plot was even more fey and fanciful than OZ's. Also, although it may have been marketed as a "Shirley Temple vehicle" in many important ways, it was an atypical one. Not only did it lack musical numbers, but Shirley's character was a baleful brat, resentful of the people around her and her family's impoverished situation, and her "conversion" into the typical Temple "good girl" didn't occur until well into the film. As you've noted previously, Shirley was also maturing physically at this time. Her slightly gawky appearance (only temporary), combined with the public's awareness and appreciation of Durbin's and Garland's spectacular adult vocal gifts compared to Shirley's typical "child's" voice, made her by now familiar bag of tricks seem ordinary by comparison, however artfully and confidently dployed.
  11. markus21

    The Star Machine

    Excellent Post, MissWonderly: I would just say that "star power" isn't "almost mysterious," It IS mysterious. If it could be bottled and effectively produced, the studios and other entertainment venues (not to mention the performers who seek stardom) would have done so long ago. Incidentally, in her book THE STAR MACHINE, Jeanine Basinger has some interesting thoughts on the lack of star quality of the early Marilyn Monroe: [Marilyn] Monroe had no impact on audiences in the movie houses I ushered in, not the way I had seen Debbie Reynolds come across in her "Abba Dabba Honeymoon" number in TWO WEEKS WITH LOVE (1950) or Montgomery Clift in his love scenes with Joanne Dru in RED RIVER (1948). No one went 'ooh' or applauded or left the theatre talking about her. I saw and heard a lot of audiences in the years 1948 to 1958 and Monroe didn't reach them the way she reached critics or the way she touched people after her death. Her still photograph had flesh image in the way her movie picture image did not. I think of her more of a phenomenon of photography than of film. When she delivers her famous line in ALL ABOUT EVE, about the producer she's being sent over to seduce and flatter - 'Why do they always look like unhappy rabbits?' - she herself looks exactly like one. Her movie image was strangely enlivened by her death, freshened by tragedy, made dimensional by offscreen facts. Mind you, I'm not saying I agree with Basinger's appraisal, but it's an interesting contradiction to many film fans who find Monroe, practically from the moment she first appeared onscreen, to be the ultimate movie star.
  12. markus21

    The Star Machine

    Another Great Post, Arturo: I find it interesting that all of the reservations you've expressed re THE BLUEBIRD are just as applicable to THE WIZARD OF OZ, yet OZ was perceived as a "hit," perhaps not as big a hit as MGM hoped it would be, but a hit nonetheless, while THE BLUE BIRD was perceived as laying a big critical/box office egg and marked as the beginning of the end of Shirley's career as a box office phenomenon/superstar.
  13. markus21

    The Star Machine

    Hi Arturo: I agree that Universal probably didn't borrow bigger box office names for Deanna's co-stars because they felt she could carry her films on her own. Another factor, at least in the latter part of her career may have been the enormous salary Universal-International was paying her. For several years during the 1940s, Deanna was either the highest, or one of the highest paid women in the country. In fact, I've read that when Deanna complained about the poor quality of her last films under Universal-International, the studio countered that Technicolor and more important co-stars couldn't be retained because her salary had been set against the studio's budget. As Deanna herself later said: "Whenever I complained (about her later films) I was given a raise in salary. I was the highest paid star with the poorest material. Today I consider my salary as damages for having to cope with such utter lack of quality." Still, I don't know of any other Universal star that the studio felt comfortable in promoting in a similar "solo star" manner. They seem to have tried once or twice with Gloria Jean, who was hired to appear in the sort of "child star" roles Deanna had made as Deanna moved into adult roles. I've read that Gloria's first film, THE UNDER PUP was a big hit, but the studio quickly began pairing her with other names (Bing Crosby, W.C. Fields) and only made one other "Gloria Jean" film (A LITTLE BIT OF HEAVEN) before assigning her to its' burgeoning "Youth Unit" (e.g, Donald O'Connor, Peggy Ryan, The Jiving Jacks and Jills, etc.) films. I also agree that Shirley also often didn't have comparably popular stars in several of her films, but several of her films were based on popular properties like POOR LITTLE RICH GIRL, CURLY TOP (DADDY LONG LEGS), REBECCA OF SUNNYBROOK FARM, THE LITTLE PRINCESS, HEIDI, THE BLUE BIRD, with instant "name recognition" for potential audiences, while the majority of Deanna's Universal vehicles were completely original productions (THREE SMART GIRLS, 100 MEN AND A GIRL, MAD ABOUT MUSIC, THREE SMART GIRLS GROW UP, FIRST LOVE, etc.) with no attraction for audiences other than that she was starring in them. Also, Temple's films had "stars in the making" like Gary Cooper, Carole Lombard and Alice Faye, who either were, or soon became top stars in their own right, and, again unlike Deanna's films, in Temple's musicals, she was not the only singer/musical presence in them as performers like Faye, Bill Robinson, Tony Martin, Jack Haley, Buddy Ebsen and others also got their musical moments to lend variety to the proceedings. I've never heard that THE LITTLE PRINCESS was a flop. THE BLUE BIRD, SUSANNAH OF THE MOUNTIES and YOUNG PEOPLE, yes, but not THE LITTLE PRINCESS. I haven't seen it for a while but it seemed like a pretty good Temple vehicle to me (if one could get past her "My Daddy has to go away..." speech, of course.) Thanks again for your thoughts. It's an intriguing topic.
  14. markus21

    The Star Machine

    Well said, Arturo: Though she had a somewhat rocky beginning at the studio (a year of inactivity with several film projects proposed for her but none greenlighted and then a loan-out to Fox to play a barefoot hillbilly in PIGSKIN PARADE) I agree that MGM always had faith in Judy's potential stardom, and by the time of BABES IN ARMS at latest, realized she'd make a graceful transition from young teen actress to ingénue. Perhaps the reason, she was initially put in relatively inexpensive programmers (pre-OZ) is because OZ had been given the go-ahead and its' hugely expensive production costs made the studio wary about spending any more money on Judy at that time. I also agree that, after OZ's release, MGM sought to cement Judy's new star status by pairing her almost exclusively for a few years with the hugely popular Mickey Rooney in the ANDY HARDY and BABES films. While Judy was Mickey's co-star in these films, the plots centered much more on him than they did on her, and while Judy received warm notices overall, and a handful of sharp-eyed critics singled her out for more substantial praise, the majority of critics when the films were first released reserved the lion's share o praise for Mickey. Thus, Judy was able to increase her stardom onscreen gradually, to a degree that Deanna, over at Universal, was not. In Deanna's case, she was always THE star of her films. Although she appeared with many talented actors, with the possible exception of Charles Laughton, I don't think Deanna ever once appeared opposite a comparably popular co-star to help carry her films to success. Moreover, as reflected in the titles of several of them (e.g., THAT CERTAIN AGE, FIRST LOVE, IT'S A DATE, NICE GIRL?) the films were ABOUT Deanna's maturation onscreen. Fortunately, public interest in her was such that the films were big hits, but I think it's an indication of that interest that Deanna may have been the only child/teen star of her generation to mature onscreen in a completely lineal fashion.
  15. markus21

    The Star Machine

    Hi Speedracer5: Thanks for the compliment! I'm glad you enjoyed my comments, but I think I should clarify one or two of them. I agree that OZ was Judy's breakthrough role. As I said, it enabled her to make the transition from starlet to star. Among other indications of her new, more important status at MGM because of OZ: she won a special Oscar for her performance, had a hit recording with "Over the Rainbow" (which also won an Oscar) and, at the premiere of BABES IN ARMS later in 1939, she planted her hands and footprints in the forecourt of Gramann's Chinese Theatre. I think the studio also gave her her own trailer (either her first or more lavish than the one she'd had before) and she also got a raise in salary either just after OZ completed or early in 1940. I'm simply surprised (and puzzled) that in Judy's case, MGM didn't seem to capitalize on her success in OZ as quickly as it did with initial successes by other MGM contemporaries like Eleanor Powell and Greer Garson. It's true that Judy's partnership with Mickey Rooney was box office gold, but her few films without Mickey in the years immediately following OZ are either pretty modest by MGM's standards (LITTLE NELLIE KELLY) or lavish top-heavy multi-star vehicles (ZIEGFELD GIRL), in which Judy is only one of several "names." FOR ME AND MY GAL, Judy's first real "adult" role and the one in which she first received solo above-the-title billing, is interesting. It's a relatively modest film production-wise, but it contains many musical numbers and talents (e.g., Judy, Gene Kelly, George Murphy, Marta Eggerth, Lucille Norman, etc.). It may be modest, but MGM felt confident enough in Judy's star power by this time that it gave her an unknown, untried leading man in Gene Kelly, who makes his film debut here. (It's obviously also a compliment to Kelly that MGM felt he could carry his share of the script's demands well enough to be Judy's leading man!) Judy's next solo vehicle, 1943's PRESENTING LILY MARS, was the first MGM film produced by Joe Pasternak, who had been credited with making Deanna a star at Universal. It's budget and presentation were so modest that, according to Pasternak's memoir, Judy (because she "listened to the wrong people, who told her the film would be a disaster and would set back her burgeoning superstar status) went behind his back and complained about the film and Pasternak to L.B. Mayer, who called Pasternak into his office and demanded that an elaborate number be shot for the film's finale showing "Lily" as a Broadway star (and one the studio could heavily promote in its' advertising for potential audiences). This number was given over entirely to the burgeoning Freed Unit, and led to an inadvertent estrangement between Judy and Joe Pasternak that was only resolved when Judy was chosen to replace June Allyson in 1949's IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME six years later. I singled out MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS because it has none of the modest aims and budgetary restrictions of Judy's earlier post-OZ star vehicles. It's not only shot in gorgeous Technicolor with top production values behind the screen, and was given almost a year to shoot, but the studio built an entire street of houses for that film. Also, after the film's huge success, Judy not only never again had to play a "teenager" onscreen, but she never again set foot in front of an MGM camera without the studio's finest talents backing her up. As for Judy's early pre-OZ films, I agree that some of them aren't very good. Her role in THOROUGHBREDS DON'T CRY was clearly written at the last minute to capitalize on the hit she'd made with "Dear Mr. Gable" in BROADWAY MELODY OF 1938, and the film is really a vehicle for Mickey Rooney and Ronald Sinclair (who gets the majority of screen time in the "Coming Attractions" trailer for the movie). On the other hand EVERYBODY SING, though somewhat loud and shrill, overall, I think does give Judy a leading role (it's her character that saves her crazy family from financial disaster), in a very "Deanna Durbin-esque" type role as an independent, pro-active, "Little Miss Fixit." LISTEN, DARLING, though it has a modest budget, also gives Judy a pretty good role, I think, in a story that again is similar to the sort Deanna was making at Universal at that time. In both LISTEN, DARLING and Deanna's MAD ABOUT MUSIC, each girl brings romance to her widowed mother. A key difference for me is that in DARLING, the primary "Fixit" character is not Judy, but Freddie Bartholomew, who plays her pal. Freddie's the one who suggests they trick Judy's mom Mary Astor, into the family trailer and hit the road to find her a better husband than stuffy Gene Lockhart. While Freddie does the scheming/planning and the work of finding Astor a husband, Judy provides the "heart" of the film by tearfully revealing to Astor that she knows how unhappy Astor really is at the prospect of marrying Lockhart and, later, tearfully asking nice rich guy Alan Hale to adopt her and younger brother Scotty Beckett so that Astor can shack up with free spirit Walter Pidgeon. In this way, I think of LISTEN, DARLING as a precursor to the Mickey/Judy musicals, in which Mickey invariably provides the drive and energy in "putting on the show" and Judy provides the "heart," both by pouring out her frustrations in song that Mickey doesn't think of her romantically, and by more or less acting as his conscience when his head becomes too swelled with incipient success (e.g., when he wants to dump Virginia Weidler and orphans in BABES ON BROADWAY after it looks like he, Judy and the other kids will get their shot at Broadway stardom without the kids.) It IS interesting to me that Deanna was much more successful going solo in the "Little Miss Fixit" role than Judy was. Time and again, in Deanna's films, she's not only the only singer, but often the only musical presence period, in films that, while they give her several opportunities for song, are not true "musicals" of the type that Judy was making at MGM (and would ultimately make Judy a superstar.) In the non-musical sections of her films, Deanna embodies both of the qualities partitioned between Garland and Rooney at MGM. At Universal, Deanna is both the primary motivator/mover/shaker, she also provides the "heart" of her films by showing an adult character (such as screen Dad Charles Winninger in THREE SMART GIRLS and THREE SMART GIRLS GROW UP) the error of his ways. I think L.B. Mayer's attitude toward Judy was somewhat ambivalent. Yes, he referred to her as "My little hunchback." On the other hand, he dissuaded Judy's mom from getting Judy released from her MGM contract because Judy was unhappy about her inactivity during her first year at Metro. Mayer reportedly asked Ethel for more time to build Judy into a star, and, of course, he turned out to be right, though it took a little while to get there

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