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THE PAJAMA GAME (1957)

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I noticed there's no thread about this musical. It was added recently to Amazon Prime. Since I had never seen it before, I watched it last night. 

 

It really has glowing reviews-- from everyday movie watchers to top name critics, and it has a 91% rating on Fresh Tomatoes. 

 

So why isn't this picture discussed more? I can imagine what the original Broadway show was like.

 

Thoughts...?

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I noticed there's no thread about this musical. It was added recently to Amazon Prime. Since I had never seen it before, I watched it last night. 

 

It really has glowing reviews-- from everyday movie watchers to top name critics, and it has a 91% rating on Fresh Tomatoes. 

 

So why isn't this picture discussed more? I can imagine what the original Broadway show was like.

 

Thoughts...?

It's possible there may have been rights issues at some point, because it hasn't been around much over the years. It finally came out during the waning days of VHS, but I think the first appearance on DVD was in the Doris Day Premier Collection, which I considered buying just to get THE PAJAMA GAME. Maybe Warner's was nervous because it featured some of the original Broadway cast; even back in the day, John Raitt and Carol Haney weren't household names and today they may seem too unrecognizable, though Doris' name alone ought to be enough to sell it. Anyway, it has some big things going for it. "Hey There" became a huge popular hit, especially Rosemary Clooney's version. The "Steam Heat" number is legendary; it's what put Bob Fosse on his particular path. The "Once a Year Day" number is a fun example of what Broadway did best, a full-tilt barn burner with everyone on stage.....So your question is a great one. Why isn't it discussed more? Maybe because it's so modest? They did a pretty good job of opening up the stage play, but it still doesn't have the scale of the film versions of SOUTH PACIFIC or OKLAHOMA! It's much more intimate and maybe that works against it in terms of it sticking in the public consciousness. Plus the fact that it hasn't been very available for people to see. Anyway, good job of calling attention to this little gem.

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It's possible there may have been rights issues at some point, because it hasn't been around much over the years. It finally came out during the waning days of VHS, but I think the first appearance on DVD was in the Doris Day Premier Collection, which I considered buying just to get THE PAJAMA GAME. Maybe Warner's was nervous because it featured some of the original Broadway cast; even back in the day, John Raitt and Carol Haney weren't household names and today they may seem too unrecognizable, though Doris' name alone ought to be enough to sell it. Anyway, it has some big things going for it. "Hey There" became a huge popular hit, especially Rosemary Clooney's version. The "Steam Heat" number is legendary; it's what put Bob Fosse on his particular path. The "Once a Year Day" number is a fun example of what Broadway did best, a full-tilt barn burner with everyone on stage.....So your question is a great one. Why isn't it discussed more? Maybe because it's so modest? They did a pretty good job of opening up the stage play, but it still doesn't have the scale of the film versions of SOUTH PACIFIC or OKLAHOMA! It's much more intimate and maybe that works against it in terms of it sticking in the public consciousness. Plus the fact that it hasn't been very available for people to see. Anyway, good job of calling attention to this little gem.

 

Thanks Dougie for commenting. At first I thought maybe the overall subject (about factory workers protesting for better wages) might be something that would turn the public off, but it didn't hurt NORMA RAE. Incidentally, THE PAJAMA GAME and NORMA RAE would make an interesting double feature on TCM one evening. We get two wildly different approaches to the subject, distinguished by the respective time periods and genres. 

 

According to comments made by Janis Paige in 2016, Warners wanted as many of the original Broadway cast to appear in the movie as possible. Though yes, it probably hurt its marketability. Paige, who had Doris' role on Broadway, said the studio felt it only needed one established box office star to carry it. They offered it to Frank Sinatra, who declined, and then to Doris. Paige said if Sinatra had accepted, then she would have been in the movie and Raitt would have been out. As we know Paige had been a Warners contract player in the 40s, so she was more established on screen than Raitt. She would make SILK STOCKINGS at MGM the same year as a secondary lead. And she and Doris costarred three years later in PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES.

 

Going back to the music, Leonard Maltin calls it an exuberant musical and I think "exuberant" is the best way to describe it. The songs are catchy (who doesn't love 'Hernando's Hideaway'), and Fosse's choreography is so amazing, I couldn't help but rewind certain numbers because I just had to see them again. One thing I like is that Doris definitely holds her own, but in a way this is kind of an ensemble musical. And she's not even in the 'Steam Heat' number, so the original Broadway cast is expected to carry the movie without the Hollywood star, at least during those spectacular few minutes.

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I love how you characterized this as an "ensemble musical". It's certainly in keeping with its union theme and it also helps explain what sets this show apart. As you mentioned, major numbers are performed with little or no participation by the "stars", because the full cast is that seasoned and that good. Maybe this one seems different from other movie adaptations of stage musicals because there were so many Broadway people still in control of the project. I checked the data base and Stanley Donen co-directed with George Abbott, the original director and a Broadway legend. Hal Prince was part of the production team and Bob Fosse was choreographer. (He'd danced in films but became a choreographer in New York theater.) Abbott is also credited as a scriptwriter and producer. It makes me wonder whether the film itself may have been backed by East Coast money. That could explain how film rights may have fallen into question, if some sort of producing partnership were to dissolve later on. (Just speculation.)

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I love how you characterized this as an "ensemble musical". It's certainly in keeping with its union theme and it also helps explain what sets this show apart. As you mentioned, major numbers are performed with little or no participation by the "stars", because the full cast is that seasoned and that good. Maybe this one seems different from other movie adaptations of stage musicals because there were so many Broadway people still in control of the project. I checked the data base and Stanley Donen co-directed with George Abbott, the original director and a Broadway legend. Hal Prince was part of the production team and Bob Fosse was choreographer. (He'd danced in films but became a choreographer in New York theater.) Abbott is also credited as a scriptwriter and producer. It makes me wonder whether the film itself may have been backed by East Coast money. That could explain how film rights may have fallen into question, if some sort of producing partnership were to dissolve later on. (Just speculation.)

 

I think Doris is serving the material instead of making it serve her. If another Hollywood actress had done it, any scenes and musical numbers not featuring her character might have been cut. But in this production, Doris is still the star but the focus does not have to be on her 100% of the time-- which makes it a much more balanced and better film.

 

The rights to Doris' earlier Warner Brothers film YOUNG AT HEART slipped away from the studio, so maybe the rights for THE PAJAMA GAME also were not retained by Warners. 

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I love The Pajama Game. One of the things I like about the film is that it brought together many wonderful performers from the original Broadway cast, including John Raitt, Carol Haney, Thelma Pelish, and Reta Shaw. The Pajama Game won the Best Musical Tony Award in 1955. Great score, great story, great joie de vivre. The original source was the book 7 1/2 Cents by Richard Bissell, based on Bissell's work at his family's clothing company in Iowa.

 

I've seen the show on stage once: a revival in 1974, starring Hal Linden, Barbara McNair, Cab Calloway, Chris Calloway, Mary Jo Catlett, and Tyger Haines.

 

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Thelma Pelish is wearing stripes.

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It's one of my favorite shows.  I've been in it three times, and have directed it, twice.  The film, despite eliminating a couple numbers, never seems short of songs.  Day is perfect in the role, so I have no issue with Paige not being in it.  I do, however, detest the "Once A Year Day" choreography.  Always have and always will.  It is, along with "Get Me To The Church On Time", my least favorite musical number in a motion picture version of a Broadway musical.  In the case of OAYD, it wastes so much great dance music, having virtually zero dancing.  In the case of GMTTCOT, is eliminates all the great dance music (and dancing).  Otherwise, I love THE PAJAMA GAME.

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Pajama Game is a very special Musical to Jazz dancers.

 

Buzz Miller was in the original Steam Heat number on Broadway and in the movie. He would often give lectures to dance students about this and just all that was going on at that time.

 

Shirley MacLaine got her big break in Pajama Game because she was the understudy the night that Carol Haney broke her ankle. According to theater legend, that just so happened to be the night that Hal B. Wallis was in the audience and got to see MacLaine stop the show with the Steam Heat number. Wallis signed MacLaine and she was on to Hollywood.

 

It probably wouldn't have made any difference if he had seen Carol Haney in the number because Carol Haney was already more or less "blacklisted" by Hollywood for musicals. Carol had been Gene Kelly's assistant for a number of years and she virtually never got featured as a dancer in his musicals. So she was left to dance occasionally in the chorus because Gene said she was not "photogenic" enough to be featured. So if her own choreographer-director boss wouldn't feature her as a dancer in his movies, who else would take a chance on her?

 

Kiss Me Kate may be the only time you can find her as a featured dancer in a MGM movie dancing with Bob Fosse, the choreographer. Again it was Fosse who used Haney on Broadway and in Hollywood for the role of Gladys Hotchkiss. Haney won the Tony award for this role, but no movie contract.

 

However, in the end, Gene Kelly truly respected Haney's abilities and hired her as the choreographer for his Broadway directing debut, Rodgers and Hammerstein's penultimate Musical, Flower Drum Song.

 

Carol Haney was on her way to being a great Broadway choreographer, like her friend Bob Fosse, when she was nominated for a Tony after choreographing Barbra Streisand's starring Broadway debut in Funny Girl.

 

Unbelievably Carol Haney died six weeks after the opening of Funny Girl.

 

So as a jazz dancer whenever I think of Pajama Game, I always think of those two very different dancers who became famous for Steam Heat and who went in two different directions, but will always be remembered for that one Bob Fosse show stopping number.

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A musical that I always think of as a partner to The Pajama Game is Damn Yankees, another Adler/Ross/Abbott musical, with choreography by Bob Fosse. Fosse appears in the film (uncredited), dancing with Gwen Verdon, in the mambo number. Verdon would soon become Fosse's wife.

 

I first saw both films on a double bill at the Devon Theater, Bronx, New York.

 

538fb5d6649343e8147fbb8bb946d4c1.jpg

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A musical that I always think of as a partner to The Pajama Game is Damn Yankees, another Adler/Ross/Abbott musical, with choreography by Bob Fosse. Fosse appears in the film (uncredited), dancing with Gwen Verdon, in the mambo number. Verdon would soon become Fosse's wife.

 

I first saw both films on a double bill at the Devon Theater, Bronx, New York.

 

538fb5d6649343e8147fbb8bb946d4c1.jpg

Dancer Joan McCracken, Bob Fosse's second wife, was responsible for him becoming a choreographer. I read her biography: "The Girl who Fell Down" by Lisa Jo Sagolla--of course, Joan became famous in dance circles as, "the girl who fell down" in the landmark Broadway musical Oklahoma!

 

According to her biographer, Joan convinced producer -director George Abbott to watch Bob Fosse in that Kiss Me Kate piece, "From This Moment On" with Carol Haney, which Fosse had choreographed.

 

With her push and pull, Joan got him into the choreographer position for Pajama Game, which then led to his being the choreographer for Abbott's next hit show, Damn Yankees. By this time, Fosse's position in Damn Yankees had put him in contact with Broadway star dancer, Gwen Verdon, who became Fosse's choreographic muse.

 

Fosse divorced Joan in '59 and married Gwen in '60.

 

This all set Fosse up to be the second greatest choreographer of the Golden Age of Broadway musicals--and that's not a bad position--right behind Jerome Robbins, who did for the Broadway musical in the 1950s what Agnes DeMille had done for the Broadway musical with Oklahoma!in the 1940s.

 

The only time I ever got to see Jerome Robbins' choreography on stage was at the West End in the seventies at a Topol performance of Fiddler on the Roof.

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I want to say thanks to everyone who's been contributing on the thread. Such a good exchange of ideas about this remarkable musical! Fun to see what THE PAJAMA GAME means to those who've had the pleasure to see it on screen or performed live.

 

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It probably wouldn't have made any difference if he had seen Carol Haney in the number because Carol Haney was already more or less "blacklisted" by Hollywood for musicals. Carol had been Gene Kelly's assistant for a number of years and she virtually never got featured as a dancer in his musicals. So she was left to dance occasionally in the chorus because Gene said she was not "photogenic" enough to be featured. So if her own choreographer-director boss wouldn't feature her as a dancer in his movies, who else would take a chance on her?

 

Thanks, Princess, for your lengthy tribute to Carol Haney. I have to admit to being somewhat shocked by Gene Kelly's "not photogenic" comment. That's really rough, because the fact is that he could have really benefitted from partnering her. For all his freewheeling, athletic style, he could still come across onscreen as kind of a stick. I'm sure Carol could have helped loosen him up in the same way Judy really brought Fred Astaire out of himself in the "Couple of Swells" number. What a shame that he never took advantage of what he had right in front of his eyes. Jerry the Mouse was good enough, but not Carol Haney?

 

I had no idea of the "Funny Girl" connection or that she had moved into choreography in such a big way. Good news, though her death so closely following the opening is truly tragic.

 

I recently found a copy of "Sing Out, Louise!" at a local thrift store, which tells personal stories from 50 years of Broadway mucical theater. As a dancer and Broadway enthusiast, you probably know it. I have to tell you that I enjoyed your post as much as anything I read in the book.  Great tribute.

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Thanks, Princess, for your lengthy tribute to Carol Haney. I have to admit to being somewhat shocked by Gene Kelly's "not photogenic" comment. That's really rough, because the fact is that he could have really benefitted from partnering her. For all his freewheeling, athletic style, he could still come across onscreen as kind of a stick. I'm sure Carol could have helped loosen him up in the same way Judy really brought Fred Astaire out of himself in the "Couple of Swells" number. What a shame that he never took advantage of what he had right in front of his eyes. Jerry the Mouse was good enough, but not Carol Haney?

 

I had no idea of the "Funny Girl" connection or that she had moved into choreography in such a big way. Good news, though her death so closely following the opening is truly tragic.

 

I recently found a copy of "Sing Out, Louise!" at a local thrift store, which tells personal stories from 50 years of Broadway mucical theater. As a dancer and Broadway enthusiast, you probably know it. I have to tell you that I enjoyed your post as much as anything I read in the book.  Great tribute.

 

Well looks are part of the "requirements" and clearly Haney wasn't Cyd Charisse.    Ok, Judy wasn't Rita but Judy was a unique and special talent.     It is sad that Kelly couldn't find some role for Haney to feature her abilities.   E.g.  Kay Thompson was featured very well in Funny Face but not as a romantic interest.

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Well looks are part of the "requirements" and clearly Haney wasn't Cyd Charisse.    Ok, Judy wasn't Rita but Judy was a unique and special talent.     It is sad that Kelly couldn't find some role for Haney to feature her abilities.   E.g.  Kay Thompson was featured very well in Funny Face but not as a romantic interest.

I agree that the "Cyd Charisse" roles are best left to Cyd Charisse, but surely something suitable could have been contrived to play to Carol Haney's strengths, which were considerable. Personally, I suspect that the problem lay with Kelly and how he wanted himself to be perceived. If you look at both the "Couple of Swells" number from "Easter Parade" and "Be a Clown" from "The Pirate", with both men partnered with Judy Garland, it seems apparent to me that Astaire was more relaxed and in the moment, whereas Kelly was more focused on the technical aspects of the routine. I think Carol Haney could perhaps have brought Kelly more into the moment if he'd looked beyond an "unphotogenic" surface. Sometimes our eye is surprisingly pleased by what is supposedly not "photogenic".

 

I seem to recall that Kelly used Haney as the template for his animated dance partner in a number from "Invitation to the Dance". How must that have made her feel, to only be good enough to be copied by animators into an idealized image?

 

Anyway, based on "The Pajama Game", I'm a fan and I wish there were more of her on film.

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I agree that the "Cyd Charisse" roles are best left to Cyd Charisse, but surely something suitable could have been contrived to play to Carol Haney's strengths, which were considerable. Personally, I suspect that the problem lay with Kelly and how he wanted himself to be perceived. If you look at both the "Couple of Swells" number from "Easter Parade" and "Be a Clown" from "The Pirate", with both men partnered with Judy Garland, it seems apparent to me that Astaire was more relaxed and in the moment, whereas Kelly was more focused on the technical aspects of the routine. I think Carol Haney could perhaps have brought Kelly more into the moment if he'd looked beyond an "unphotogenic" surface. Sometimes our eye is surprisingly pleased by what is supposedly not "photogenic".

 

I seem to recall that Kelly used Haney as the template for his animated dance partner in a number from "Invitation to the Dance". How must that have made her feel, to only be good enough to be copied by animators into an idealized image?

 

Anyway, based on "The Pajama Game", I'm a fan and I wish there were more of her on film.

 

Well said;  This reminds me of a story between a childhood friend and I.    When we were in our 40s we were talking about movies (I was really into studio-era films and he was NOT),   and the Wizard of Oz came up.   He went on about how beautiful the good witch was and that was one of his boyhood crushes. 

 

I told him the actress was Billie Burke and that she was 55 when she played that part.   I got a loud 'NO WAY".  Well we had big screen T.V. now (back when we were kids that of course wasn't the case),  and I put the film on and showed him the 'off to see the Wizard scene'.     A 50 inch screen shows it all.       He was upset that I messed with one of his most fond memories.  

 

I did explain that Burke was indeed a beauty, a fine and well loved silent film actress (ok I should have let that part out), and still looked fine for a women over 50.      NOT.   The dream was over and I killed it.

 

(PS:  To me Burke's best acting assets was her voice.   It really reals one in.    In OZ it was used to great effect to invoke compassion and kindness,  later on she would use it to invoke an airhead in may fine comedy performances). 

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