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cclowell38

Best Movie Soprano Voice?

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In the glory days of the Hollywood musical from the 1930s through the 1950s, many talented sopranos became popular movie stars. Some of the more prominent adult ones inlcuded: Jeanette MacDonald, Irene Dunne, and Grace Moore.

 

In response to the critical and popular sensation created by the advent of Deanna Durbin at Universal in the late 1930s, a new wave of gifted adolescent sopranos was promoted and developed by Universal and other studios in hopes of discovering another Durbin. Among the most successful of this group were: Gloria Jean, Susanna Foster, Kathryn Grayson, Ann Blyth and Jane Powell.

 

Which of this talented group of singers do you think had the best voice, and why? Or do you have another favorite you believe belongs on this list, and, if so, why?

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Deanna Durbin would be my choice. At least, she's my favorite movie soprano.

 

Deanna's lyric soprano was so warm, pure and rich and even throughout its' range. A much fuller sound, to my ears, than most of the other movie sopranos. Also, she sang so naturally and artlessly, she made anything she sang seem like the easiest and most natural thing in the world, not an easy task when you're singing some of the most difficult music ever written. Deanna's special vocal qualities, also, it seems to me, made her voice particularly well-suited for that impulsive, pro-active "Little Miss Fixit" screen image Universal concocted for her.

 

Still, I like and admire almost all of the movie sopranos, so I understand it can be largely a subjective choice. It's a great question, cclowell! The classically-trained film vocalists seem to often get overlooked, even by film buffs, but they certainly provided a great deal of pleasure to film audiences for many years. Talented though they all were though, to my ears, Deanna Durbin had the best set of pipes of them all. She was, for me, in a class by herself.

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Hi Markus21:

 

As you know, I discovered Deanna Durbin fairly recently, but I agree she was just wonderful. The voice was absolutely gorgeous and she was a talented and natural actress as well. She also was quite a "looker" as they used to say, which didn't hurt one bit.

 

I agree that Deanna's voice was fuller and richer than those of most of the other movie sopranos. I purchased the BING CROSBY DVD set recently and just watched IF I HAD MY WAY, in which he co-starred with Universal's "successor" to Deanna, Gloria Jean. I actually liked Jean quite a lot. She was pretty and natural in a "Deanna Durbin" way, and her lyric soprano, though very light and thin, had a lovely quality to it. She also wasn't a bad actress.

 

I can see why she became popular, but I didn't think that either vocally or dramatically, she quite measured up to Deanna's star quality or talent. If she ever was used by Universal as a potential "threat" to Deanna, I can see why the studio ultimately chose to stick with Durbin. Jean's well worth checking out, though, in my opinion. I hope they release more of her movies on DVD, or show more of them on TCM or other stations. I'd love to see some of her films with Donald O'Connor, but I don't want to pay the exorbitant price she charges for them on her website. lol!

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Hi cc:

 

Yes, I like Gloria Jean, too. I've seen IF I HAD MY WAY and some of her other films. She was talented and attractive with a lovely voice, but she didn't "grab" me as much as Durbin did when I first saw her. I recently purchased the BING CROSBY DVD set, too, though I haven't watched IF I HAD MY WAY, yet. As I said, I have seen it before, though not for some time, so when I watch it again I'll see if my opinion of Gloria has changed at all.

 

I guess I'd describe Gloria's voice as somewhere between Deanna Durbin's and Kathryn Grayson's. This comparison may do a disservice to all three performers, but I just mean that, like Durbin, Jean's voice was definitely a lyric soprano, however, like Grayson's, the voice was lighter than Durbin's and the coloratura, was, perhaps, a little more fleeting (i.e., rapid) than Deanna's.

 

Kathryn definitely had the highest notes of the three girls, and I'd describe her style as probably the most overtly "operatic" of all the "Teen Soporanos." For instance, even when she sang a "pop" tune, like her performance of Cole Porter's "I've Got My Eyes on You" in ANDY HARDY PRIVATE SECRETARY, there was a section in the arrangement for her to engage in some florid coloratura vocalizing between verses. If I recall correctly, they did the same thing with her performance of "I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate" in SO THIS IS LOVE. While it's understandable that the producers of these filims (and probably Kathryn herself) would want to show off her high notes and coloratura dexterity, I actually generally prefer her more intimate singing in numbers like "Time After Time" and "All of a Sudden My Heart Sings."

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Jane Powell is my choice for top movie soprano - with, in my opinion, the most distinctive vocal timbre, the most verve and sparkle, and the most performing versatility.

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Are we counting mezzo-sopranos? Ris? Stevens was a fine mezzo, though she only appeared in two movies -- Going My Way and The Chocolate Soldier. I'm very curious about the Grace Moore pictures. I've never heard her, but understand she was one of the best.

 

Betty Jaynes was slated to be given a co-star treatment, pitting her against Judy Garland after MGM let Deanna Durbin go. Jaynes sang classical to Judy's "hot" in Babes in Arms and was scheduled to have a similar role in The Wizard of Oz before the concept was changed.

 

Irene Dunne is a favorite though. Bell-like resonance and a lot of class. But once again, I haven't seen her best examples. I haven't seen Show Boat and last saw High Wide and Handsome since I was a youth.

 

I'm a big fan of Deanna Durbin, though I realize her vocal limitations. Her numbers were well suited to her though, and her naturalistic acting style I find completely winning.

 

I think some of Jane Powell's best work is in the terrible musical Athena: the worst movie with the best score. She hit the mark with Hit the Deck too. I look forward to catching some of her earlier films one day.

 

cclowell38 wrote, "I'd love to see some of her films with Donald O'Connor, but I don't want to pay the exorbitant price she charges for them on her website."

 

What website is this? Is she selling DVDs that aren't otherwise available?

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Hi ch3:

 

I like Jane Powell a lot, but I must admit I'm not a fan of her early (acting) performances. Her characters (to me) are bratty and sort of mean-spirited and she seems to be trying too hard to put them over. I guess I have a hard time warming up to her for those reasons. I do think she was excellent in her best-known roles in ROYAL WEDDING and SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS. To be fair, of Jane's early roles I've only seen HOLIDAY IN MEXICO, LUXURY LINER and A DATE WITH JUDY so perhaps I should reserve judgment until I see more of them.

 

As for her voice, I think she was a delightful and versatile singer, but personally, I'm not as attracted to that very prominent vibrato in her voice as I am to the smoth pure tone of a Deanna Durbin or an Ann Blyth. Jane's voice sounds a little, I don't know, chillier(?) to me than Durbin's, Blyth's and some of the others (Shirley Jones, for example).

 

Come to think of it, many of the movie sopranos seemed to have a very prominent vibrato in their voices. I wonder why that was?

 

On the other hand, on the basis of a friend's recommendation, I did purchase a CD of Jane's Columbia recordings (which includes several numbers she never sang onscreen), and they are delightful. Makes me wish she'd made more of them. Too bad she signed on with MGM Records, which didn't seem to use her nearly as often or as well.

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Hi Jack:

 

To be honest, I was a little ambivalent about including singers like Rise Stevens, Grace Moore and Lily Pons (who I don't think I mentioned in my original post but definitely appeared in some films) because they were legitimate opera singers who came from the operatic stage, as opposed to movie singers who sang classical music, which was the case with most of the "movie sopranos." Because many of the movie sopranos, at least the younger ones, sang primarily for the microphone, I thought including opera singers like Stevens and Moore might give them an added advantage.

 

That reservation aside, I think it's perfectly okay to include "mezzo sopranos," and Stevens, from what I've heard of her, had one of the best mezzo voices of that era. I must admit, though, that I don't care for her "pop" singing at all. I took a VOICE OF FIRESTONE tape featuring Stevens out of my library a few years back which included several pop songs and, to me, she came across as everything that's wrong when an opera singer attempts "crossover" music: the voice is always warm and rich, but she comes across as formal, pretentious and stiff, at least to me.

 

Betty Jaynes was another one. A good voice, but impossibly coy and arch in her presentation. She came to films after creating a sensation singing "Mimi" in LA BOHEME for the Chicago Opera, but, based on her performance in BABES IN ARMS, I'm not surprised that MGM abandoned whatever plans it had to build her into a rival to Deanna Durbin. To me it seems she just didn't cut it as a film personality.

 

I'm curious as to what you consider to be Deanna Durbin's "vocal limitations"? As I said, she's a fairly recent discovery to me among movie sopranos, but I've seen several of her films and I'd rate her as easily the finest lyric soprano voice of the movie sopranos, Teen or Adult.

 

I love Irene Dunne.What a wonderful singer/actress she was! But, like Jeanette MacDonald, a more formalized and florid singing style overall than many of the other movie sopranos. Lots of exaggerated consonants and rolled "r"s. Guess this was the style in the 1920s when Dunne and MacDonald came of age, vocally, but, wonderful as they were, purely as lyric soprano voices, I wouldn't put them in Durbin's class. I still love Dunne, though.

 

Re Gloria Jean: the website is gloriajeanchildstar.com. I haven't checked it out for some time, but she was offering VHS copies of her films for, I think, $30. I don't know if she's switched over to DVD by now, but I have seen some of her films available on DVD on Ebay.

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Hi, cclowell,

 

I read your comments with interest - though, obviously, not with total agreement. While Powell's youthful soprano could occasionally be shrill in the upper reaches, I find her rapid-fire vibrato in the lower register to be warm and sexy and instantly identifiable. Check out again, if you will, her stunningly adult rendering of "I Think of You" in HOLIDAY IN MEXICO. I don't think a vibrato is necessarily a vocal debit unless it reaches Bert Lahr wobble proportions.

 

Deanna Durbin undoubtedly had a round, firm, warm tone and was justly celebrated. But when her career faltered in the late forties, it wasn't Betty Jaynes or Gloria Jean or Susanna Foster or Ann Blyth or Kathryn Grayson who stood the Teen Soprano genre back on its feet again and gave it a respectable six-year run. It was Jane Powell.

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Now don't get me wrong; I really do love Deanna Durbin. In fact, that was why I asked about the website. I wasn't sure if "she" was referring to Durbin or Gloria Jean. If it were the former I planned to immediately pull up the site and buy her DVDs, as I'm hungry for more (having bought the "Sweetheart" set when it was released). The limitations I refer to was the size of her voice and dependence on microphone work. She wasn't a stage singer, but she certainly introduced many of her audiences to opera music. Her singing coach was Andres de Segurola, the spanish bass who sang at the Metropolitan and created the role of Jake in Puccini's La Fanciulla del West. He made several movies before moving on to coaching; Durbin being his most prominent pupil. She's perfect in her movies though. Universal took care that her vehicles that flattered her instrument. Sidenote: Durbin was originally hired by MGM to portray Ernestine Schumann-Heink as a girl. Unfortunately, Schumann-Heink died and the project was cancelled.

 

By the way, I attended a screening of Mildred Pierce this past summer when Ann Blyth made a personal appearance. She sang a few stanzas of "Bangles, Baubles and Beads", and I can attest that her voice is still in wonderful shape today. She still has control and a shimmering timbre.

 

As to Ms. Powell, check out "Love Can Change the Stars", the Martin & Blaine song from Athena to hear how well she could mold her lower register to a full, mature and womanly sound.

 

This is an excellent thread, cclowell, thank you! And it's great to see ch3 back on the Board after a [too long] break.

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Hi Ch3:

 

I will give a listen to "I Think of You," and some of Jane's other recordings as you've suggested. As I said, I really do like Jane's work a lot. Some of my reservations toward her work may be due to the unlikable quality (to me) of some of the characters she played in the films I've seen, which I admit is hardly a fair way to judge her abilities as a singer/voice. I do recall liking Jane's lower register very much from what I've heard of it.

 

And I agree that a prominent vibrato isn't necessarily a weakness in a singer. It's just that, to my ears, Deanna Durbin's firmer tone seems to suggest greater vocal ease and confidence than Jane's singing. But I admit it's all entirely subjective. For instance, while I can put into words why I prefer Deanna's singing to Jane's, I'm not sure if I could express why I prefer Kathryn Grayson's singing to Jane's, since Kathryn undoubtedly had a prominent vibrato in her singing, too, and I'm not sure her voice is warmer than Jane's. It may simply be a case of my having been exposed to more of Kathryn's body of work than Jane's, but I certainly think Jane was a major vocal talent and one well worth checking out further. I'm keeping an eye out for future Powell film airings on TCM and other sources, and I'll let you know what I think when I see them.

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Hi Jack:

 

Don't worry, I didn't think you disliked Deanna. I was just curious to know what you thought her limitations were.

 

It's true, I guess, that Deanna sang primarily for the microphone, but so did all the movie sopranos once they embarked on their film careers, so I'm not sure if it's accurate to say that Deanna relied on the microphone any more than any of the other movie singers, pop or classical, did. For example, even though movie sopranos like Irene Dunne and Jeanette MacDonald started out on the stage before being signed for films, Deanna's voice, even in her earliest film appearances, still sounds larger and fuller to me than theirs, as it does when compared to the other young film sopranos like Kathryn Grayson, Jane Powell, Ann Blyth, Shirley Jones, and Julie Andrews, all of whom embarked on successful "live'" performing careers when their film careers petered out.

 

Rather, I suspect that because she sang primarily for the microphone, Deanna didn't use all of her vocal resources. She also had to project a very girlish wholesome image with much of her singing. I'm pretty new to Deanna's work, and unfortunately, there aren't any post-retirement recordings of her voice that I'm aware of, but, at Markus's suggestion, I have checked out the adult recordings of some "pop" film singers like Judy Garland and Lena Horne, and I notice that their post-MGM, "live" voices are much richer and freer than they were on studio soundtracks. (In her award-winning show, A LADY AND HER MUSIC, Horne even makes a humorous reference to having to hold her voice in while at Metro in order to sing with a "pretty mouth.") More than the other film sopranos, I suspect Deanna Durbin may also have held back when singing for film.

 

Of course, I realize that it's also possible that the microphone may have enhanced Deanna's natural sound, but I seriously doubt that Universal's recording equipment would have been any more "state of the art" than those of the other studios where MacDonald, Dunne and the other teen sopranos worked, and none of their voices sound as if they have the full-bodied power of Deanna Durbin's. I do know that there was a good deal of interest expressed in Deanna by several "live" entertainment areas including the Metropolitan Opera, Broadway and the concert stage, so at least her voice, whatever its' size, was considered to have potential well beyond the recording studio.

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Hi cclowell,

 

Regarding your preference for Jane Powell's Columbia recordings to her MGM soundtrack output, there's good reason. I came across an interview of Powell from back in the seventies in one of those film nostalgia newspapers. Her remarks about her stunted recording career are instructive. She said she turned down a long term contract with Columbia because, as a young and unassertive MGM player, she felt pressured into signing with the home team. She soon regretted it when it became obvious MGM just treated their recording operation as "a tax write-off." In fact, she claimed that they released the acetate rehearsal recordings (though I'm not sure how comprehensive she meant that practice was). If so, it could well account for the tinnier sound she has on those recordings than on her recordings for Columbia and Verve.

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Thanks for the kind words, though I didn't particularly intend to be "long absent" or quite realize it. I agree with you totally about "Love Can Change The Stars" - a sublime gem of a performance unfortunately set in a cheezy rhinestone of a movie.

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Hi cc:

 

As you know, you and I have discussed these talented performers before, so you're also aware that, after Deanna Durbin, Jane Powell is my favorite, and, in my opinion after Deanna, the most talented and versatile of the Teen Sopranos.

 

I agree that Jane's acting in her early roles was a little arch and her characters were sometimes somewhat peevish, but that's what MGM gave her to work with, so she had to make the best of them. Overall, I think she did quite admirably. Though I'm a little put off by "Judy Foster's" treating poor Scotty Beckett like a doormat, and "Tess Morgan's" waspish attitude toward new stepfather Jose Iturbi, even when I didn't like the roles MGM gave her, I found I always liked Jane, which isn't always the case with film performers.

 

I also think Jane had it tougher than many child performers who had lengthy apprenticeships in films before they became stars. As Jane's husband, Dick Moore commented to her a few years back, "You never made a movie you didn't star in!" Like Deanna (who may have been one of the few child film stars who had it worse than Jane since she hit it so big so quickly), Jane had to learn her movie-making craft in the spotlight of the public eye. Her first film for MGM was one of the studio's most lavish efforts of the year: a big, splashy Technicolored extravaganza, with Jane already receiving special billing as "Your New Young Singing Star." MGM clearly had higher expectations for her than it did the more discreetly promoted Kathryn Grayson a few years earlier and for a young girl from Portland, Ore. the adjustment couldn't have been an easy one, and if a little onscreen nervousness is noticeable at times in her early films, she'd be crazy not to be a little edgy during this period of her career.

 

I do agree with ch3 that Jane did have a lovely lower register, and I also find many of her high notes to be charming and full-bodied. Her voice doesn't sound as rich or warm to me as Deanna's, but she definitely had a unique and delightful vocal personality. When one matches her voice to her piquant good looks, and deft dancing skills, I'm not surprised that, like Deanna, and despite arriving on the scene after less successful attempts to turn Gloria Jean, Susanna Foster, Ann Blyth, Kathryn Grayson and others into the next Durbin, she quickly became an audience favorite.

 

And ch3: Always great to hear from you, m'friend! Hope all is well with you and yours. Do you have any new news, Jane-ward?

 

P.S. For anyone who may not be aware of it, today (December 4th) is Deanna Durbin's 85th birthday. "Happy Birthday, Deanna!" May you have as much pleasure on your special day as you've brought to legions of admirers for more than half a century.

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Hi, Markus,

 

Good to see you back in action again, too., and your informed and informing support of JP much appreciated. And thanks for the reminder about Deanna's birthday. I actually KNEW that - but lost track of what day yesterday.. Those teen sopranos are all getting to be gloriously long in the tooth, aren't they? I have the sense that Jaynes is gone, and I'm not quite sure about Foster, not having any information either way. The others all seem to be prospering, though.

 

Unfortunately, all is quiet, as far as I know, on the Powell performing front. The only bit of news is that THREE SAILORS AND A GIRL has been released on CD, and is available at least through Amazon (I haven't been able yet to locate it in my quiet neck of the woods. The recording also boasts a whole extra album of Gordon MaCrae's as well as half-a-dozen extras from Jane. (her KING AND I numbers, as well as her TRUE LOVE / MIND IF I MAKE LOVE TO YOU single on Verve) That's about it.

 

Charlie

 

.

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Hi ch3:

 

Thanks for the background on Jane's tenure at MGM records. It's a shame they didn't make better use of her talents in the recording studio. Columbia clearly had a much better appreciation of her commercial value as a recording artist than Metro, but how could a 19/20 year-old young woman be expected to foresee MGM's cavalier treatment of its' own company? Too bad Jane didn't have someone more savvy looking out for her interests.

 

I've been re-listening to some of Jane's Columbia recordings as I promised. I do like her rendition of "I Think of You" very much, and agree it shows off the wamrth of her lower register to good advantage. I also like her light and fleet coloratura on "The Donkey Serenade," and though I think the arrangement is a little too "operatic," I like her rendition of "Over The Rainbow" quite a lot. I haven't re-listened to all of the recordings, but I think her best performance may be her charming rendition of "MIghty Like a Rose," which I think shows off her vocal personality and talent to particular advantage.

 

I don't think I've ever seen Athena (and from the comments it sounds like I haven't missed much), but I do recall hearing Jane's performance of "Love Can Change The Stars" somewhere and liking the song very much. I'll have to keep an eye out for TCM's next broadcast of the movie and check it out more fully.

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Hi Charlie:

 

Aren't those Teen Sopranos a hearty bunch! They really seem to age pretty well and to live to an advanced age while doing so, seemingly proving that singing does have genuine health benefits by so doing. This was a theme of ATHENA, though I don't know how Edmund Purdom's vocalizing could have helped him, since he was dubbed. lol! Is he still alive?

 

I don't know whether Betty Jaynes is alive or not. I do recall checking the imdb site several months ago and not seeing a "Date of Death" listing for her, but she may have dropped so completely out of the public eye that the site has lost track of her. The latest information I could ever find on her were some contemporary newspaper articles detaling various attempts by her to make a late 40s showbiz comeback. She reportedly was the Soprano Soloist for the Sunrise Easter Services at the Hollywood Bowl in 1947 or '48, and received favorable commentary for her appearance.

 

Around the same time she also appeared on a radio show hosted by Don Ameche which offered performing opportunities to performers who had dropped out of the public eye. Jaynes also made a favorable impression on this program and, according to write-ups by Hedda Hopper and other columnists, was reportedly signed by MGM to appear in a Metro musical, but apparently nothing ever came of it.

 

I believe Susanna Foster is residing in a rest home for actors, but I don't recall which one. She may have passed on since the last time I checked on her (some time last year), but, as far as I know, she's still alive.

 

Gloria Jean is, obviously, still with us and recently published her memoir with the assistance of a couple of co-authors. I purchased on online copy from Amazon, and though I found it an interesting "read," I wasn't terribly impressed with it as a memoir/biography I thought the research was shoddy and superficial and the book was somewhat awkwardly structured with intrusive (if occasionally interesting) commentary from Jean and her sister Bonnie thrown in a somewhat haphazard manner.

 

Jean herself, though still an admirable figure to me for surviving the vagaries of her career, came across (to me) as slightly embittered and enduringly resentful of the whole experience. I kept wishing she could find a way to let it go and move on, but, to be fair to Jean, she hasn't, for whatever reason, had the post-film career performing opportunities available to her that Jane, Kathryn and Ann have.

 

I wonder why that is? Even in the 1950s, when she would (I assume) still be a well-recalled showbiz personality, Jean says many in the profession, including several of her co-workers from Universal (e.g., Joe Pasternak, Robert Cummings, Donald O'Connor), gave her the cold shoulder when she contacted them to assist her in making a comeback.

 

Thanks for the information about the THREE SAILORS AND A GIRL soundtrack CD. Although it's not much of a film as a film, it probably provides Jane with her most musically versatile assignment, and I like Gordon MacRae, too. I keep hoping that Rhinestone/Turner will offer some soprano soundtrack compilations along those dedicated to Garland, Astaire, Kelly, etc., but, it appears that, except for Mario Lanza, the producers of these CDs aren't very interested in the classically-trained film vocalists. The idiots! lol!

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I haven't found any notices of Betty Jaynes' (nee Betty Jane Schultz) death. She apparently gave an interview to a Nelson Eddy/Jeanette MacDonald Fan Club magazine sometime in the recent past. I'll bet she's around somewhere; watching TCM. I didn't realize until recently that she'd married fellow MGM singer Douglas McPhail. Apparently it was pretty rocky and didn't last long. She was in Meet the People, which played on TCM a couple of weeks ago as part of Lucille Ball Month; but I must have missed her scene or didn't realize it was her... It's said that she made her operatic debut in Chicago as Mimi in Puccini's La Boheme. She was 15! That'd be unheard of (and unadvisable) today. Her publicists claimed she received "21 curtain calls, the unanimous praise from Chicago critics, brought the orchestra cheering to its feet." ... "Daughter of a deceased Chicago dentist, the blonde-banged youngster began her singing lessons only two years previous, and had never heard an opera until that season. Said Betty Jaynes after reading her notices: ''Now I shall not go to school any more. I shall just sing and sing and sing.' [That's from a 1936 Time magazine.]

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Tragically, Betty Jaynes' husband Douglas McPhail took his own life not long after their divorce. He leads the title tune in Babes in Arms and sings "I Concentrate on You" in Broadway Melody of 1940.

 

One terrific example of Jane Powell's ability in a lower range is her singing in "How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Loved You When You Know I've Been a Liar All My Life?" from Royal Wedding.

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"I believe Susanna Foster is residing in a rest home for actors, but I don't recall which one. She may have passed on since the last time I checked on her (some time last year), but, as far as I know, she's still alive."

 

According to Mongo's Birthday thread, today is Susanna Foster's birthday. He wrote, "Currently ailing, she is at the Actors Fund Nursing Home in New Jersey."

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According to Mongo's Birthday thread, today is Susanna Foster's birthday. He wrote, "Currently ailing, she is at the Actors Fund Nursing Home in New Jersey."

 

Coincidentally, December 6th was also the date of Betty Jaynes's debut as "Mimi," with the Chicago Opera, an achiement which was acknowledged in newspapers around the country. Even prior to her successful debut as "the World's Youngest Opera Singer," Jaynes received a great deal of publicity when she signed a contract with the company a few months earlier in September, 1936.

 

Following Jaynes' successsful debut in Chicago, MGM was quick to pounce, signing Jaynes to a seven year contract in January 1937. The studio initially had very big plans for her, announcing her for the female lead in a remake of The Student Prince with Nelson Eddy considered for the male lead. Allan Jones was also listed as a potential cast member. In addition, Jaynes was also announced to appear in an an original movie to be called E Above High C, and a film version of the Duncan Sisters' play Topsy and Eva, co-starring Judy Garland. As Oz fans may be aware, Jaynes was also reportedly at one point cast in The Wizard of Oz as a singing Princess of Oz (with Kenny Baker as the Prince), but the roles apparently didn't survive rewrites of the script.

 

The Metropolitan Opera's alleged interest in Deanna Durbin also excited a tremendous amount of commetary between her radio debut on the Eddie Cantor show in late September 1936 through 1941/42 when Deanna herself announced that she would continue to concentrate on movie-making and would not be embarking on an opera career in the foreseeable future. One report which appears to be true is that Deanna was contacted by representatives of the Metropolitan Opera on her 15th birthday and offered an opportunity to audition for the company, which she declined to do at the time, though (if I recall correctly) it was reported that she met with the Met executives while in New York for some publicity for the Eddie Cantor Show to discuss the offer.

 

From 1936 through 1942 it was frequently announced that Deanna would be appearing with the Met in the near future, and even the New York Times ran a blurb to dispell rumors that this was all a publicity stunt and to confirm that she had been in New York in 1940 and had met with members of the Met to discuss the possibility of signing with the company. Some reports indicated that the Met was so eager to have her that it offered to subsidize her vocal training until she was prepared to make her debut (around age 20), and that she would first be appearing locally with the Los Angeles and San Francisco Opera companies to acclimate herself to performing on the operatic stage. Deanna's teacher, Andres de Segurola, also frequently commented that he had been in discussions with the Met about retaining her services. Assuming that at least some of the reports of the Met's interest were genuine, one reason for the company's interest may have been a widely circulated report that at one of the last parties given for MGM golden boy Irving Thalberg, 15 year-old Deanna's performance drew a greater audience response than that of legendary soprano Rosa Ponselle. (Thalberg reportedly sent her a large bouquet to congratulate her and it was said to be the last he sent before his untimely passing.)

 

Whatever the opinions of those around her, Deanna herself appears to have been (sensibly) non-commital to the idea of making her debut with the Met, and several times demurred at the suggestion that she do so as soon as possible. While some interviews quote her as being interested in performing opera, several comments she made around this time state that she felt that her film, radio and other movie-related commitments were too substantial for her to consider taking on another major task like preparing for a debut at the Met. On more than one occasion, she was quoted as stating that "there's no hurry" to make her operatic debut, citing Grace Moore and Lily Pons as two examples of Met stars who didn't make their debuts with the company until well into their 20s.

 

Kathryn Grayson is another movie soprano who reportedly received an offer from the Met to make her debut with the company while still in her teens. The offer reportedly came from Edward Johnson, general manager of the Met at the time, who wanted her to appear in Lucia di Lammermoor. While I've never come across any newspaper reports on this, Kathryn herself has recalled it in several interviews. Although she and MGM major donna Ida Kovernan were very interested in having her appear with the company, Louis B. Mayer reportedly vetoed the offer, feeling it would interfere with the studio's plans to launch her as a movie star.

 

I also recall reading a comment from Susanna Foster that, following her departure from Universal in the late 1940s, she was contacted by the Met about appearing as "Adele" in a production of Die Fledermaus, but that she declined the offer.

 

Incidentally, the first week of December produced a bumper crop of notable movie sopranos, with Deanna Durbin (December 4th), Grace Moore (December 5th) and Susanna Foster (December 6th), all celebrating birthdays (but not birth years lol!) within days of each other.

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If you guys keep up with this excellent thread, I'll have to "bookmark" for later reference! Bravo!

 

And today TCM played Presenting Lily Mars, reminding me of another movie soprano: M?rtha Eggerth (whom, I believe, passed away this past year). She had a great success in Europe, but being Jewish had to escape from her home in Germany during the Nazi reign. She stayed in France before moving on to the US and Broadway before going to MGM where she made Lilly Mars and For Me and My Gal (once again the operatic foil to Judy's hot swing). She possessed a marvelous voice, but the character in today's movie needed to have an exaggerated style, singing nonsensical obligato so that she'd be seen as "square". She had the top notes though and was lovely to look at.

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I hadn't heard of Eggerth's passing, though, given that she would be in her mid-90s by now, I wouldn't be surprised if it happened. I do know that she was still singing as of a few years ago, in fact, there was a compilation of her recordings released a few years back that reportedly included some contemporary ones.

 

In an interview with Opera News several years ago, Eggerth stated that she was induced to sign with MGM (which had been pursuing her avidly for several years) for two reasons: first, that it would enable her and her husband to get out of Europe before the Nazis overran it, and second, because they had promised to star her in leading roles in fiilm versions of operettas like The Merry Widow.

 

When this didn't come to pass, and all Eggerth had to show for her work at MGM were her two supporting appearances in musicals starring Judy, she asked for release from her contract, which was granted. Eggerth and her husband, tenor Jan Kiepura, subsequently starred on Broadway in a production of The Merry Widow, wihch was very successful and, after the Broadway run ended, they toured in the production for a few years. In a more recent interview with The New York Times, Eggerth stated that she had a big musical number in For Me and My Gal wihch drew standing ovations from preview audiences, but was susequently cut from the film because "MGM was doing everything it could at that time to build Judy Garland into a star."

 

I like Lily Mars, a lot. Judy gives a charming performance and is perhaps at her most beautiful in this film: both healthy and vibrant, with, for once, the real MGM glamour treatment to back her up.

 

But I've always felt that "Lily's" mocking of Isobel's Hungarian accent and manner in her parody of "When I Look At You" is perhaps Judy's most unlikeable screen moment. Judy herself does a great job in the number, but even if Lily doesn't like Isobel much, Isobel certainly can't help her Hungarian accent and demeanor, and for Lily to openly savage her in a nightclub/area Isobel frequents strikes me as pretty vicious when one thinks about it.

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