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DAILY DOSE OF DELIGHT #14 (From TWO ROBERT PRESTON FILMS)

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I knew Robert Preston's voice long before I ever saw him act. As a kid, I would borrow Broadway cast LPs from the library and play them over and over. But The Music Man album was on my mother actually owned (along with South Pacific), so I listened to that one a lot. His slightly gravelly baritone had a power to it that could captivate you. 

As I say, it wasn't until later that I got to see the film version of Music Man, and Victor/Victoria wasn't that long after. A commonality I notice is his underplay. He's not a "wide" performer, rather, he keeps his focus and his gestures tight and precise. When he spreads his arms or points in the "Trouble" number, it's controlled, and his movements with the handkerchief in "Gay Paree" are specific and subtle.

Oddly enough, one other performance I know from Robert Preston is strictly audio, the "Chicken Fat Song" he made for the Youth Fitness Program during the Kennedy administration, and which was sent out to public schools all over the country.

 

SIDE EDIT: The kid's show "My Little Pony - Friendship is Magic" created a pair of characters, the Flim Flam Brothers, and gave them a song very similar to Robert Preston's "Trouble" number from Music Man. Not long after, the comic version of the show involved the brothers with a Shirley Jones inspired character, a librarian named Marian.

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As you look back to the masculine performances in musicals of past decades, what changes in male representation, and performance would you say are most noticeable?  It seems that men are shifting to a more softer, but still "in charge" representation in their roles. Less physicality and more sensitivity to still achieve the appropriate ends.

What other specific qualities do you notice about Robert Preston in either or both of these clips?  Preston moves through both film clips with a masterful command of the subject at hand.  He is in charge, making showy pretenses to the knowledge of the vices of pool in the first clip.   In the Victor/Victoria clip, he incites the nightclub brawl without even lifting a finger.   It is all in response to his uproarious insults. 

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1. As you look back to the masculine performances in musicals of past decades, what changes in male representation, and performance would you say are most noticeable?

In the beginning males seemed to be portrayed more as "performers" or perfectly tailored. Once you reach the '60s, they seem more like the kind you'd invite to dinner. More relaxed. (Honestly, it's hard to put into words exactly what I mean.) 
 

2. What other specific qualities do you notice about Robert Preston in either or both of these clips?

I LOVE Robert Preston in "The Music Man." He's super addictive to watch, and absolutely draws the viewer in from the second he appears on the screen. The number in "Victor/Victoria" was also a good example of his charm. 

3. Have you seen any Robert Preston films that are not musicals? If so, what do you notice about his characters and his approach to acting, now that you are more aware of his dedication to working his craft outside of his stage or film work?

I have seen "How the West Was Won." I thought he spoke with a musical lilt even though he didn't sing. He appears to be a very dedicated actor. His training on the stage definitely transfers to the movies...charming, engaging, and professional. 

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I don't have much to add, except that I adore Robert Preston.  I saw the Music Man when I was a young girl, upon the film's release.  I also listened to the original soundtrack from my parent's record collection.  In fact, when my adult son was young, he memorized the song "Trouble".  I'm sure to this day, he forgot the lyrics, but our fond memory remains.  To me, there is no other Harold Hill  other than Robert Preston.  The TV movie remake, starring Matthew Broderick in the role, is in my movie collection.  As much as I like Matthew, he pales in my eyes comparably.  

I also loved Robert Preston in Victor Victoria, one of my all time favorite movies.  He is Toddy.  I especially loved his number at the end of the movie.  :)

One of the non-musicals I saw Mr. Preston in was "How the West Was Won".  I also saw him in the Blake Edwards/Julie Andrews movie, SOB.  I prefer somehow to forget that film though.  

 

 

 

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  1. Have you seen any Robert Preston films that are not musicals? If so, what do you notice about his characters and his approach to acting, now that you are more aware of his dedication to working his craft outside of his stage or film work? This question made me think immediately of "How The West Was Won". Robert Preston played the wagon train master who wants to take Debbie Reynolds as his wife. His character was very straight-forward and direct, self-assured and in control, very much like I imagined Robert Preston to be in real life. Before "The Music Man", Preston seemed to be relegated to being the second fiddle or best friend of the leading man, but somehow he always managed to get you to pay attention to his character. The success of "The Music Man" broke him out of those secondary roles and made him a star. 

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The first thing that comes to mind as I viewed the clip from "Music Man" is that this character is connected to the part he is playing.  When you compare this to Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly also masculine, they is often a disconnect to the character especially when dancing.  

In "Music Man" we are free from the ballet sequences that do not connect to the characters. 

Preston verbal presentation is also connected to the character.  He is in full command of his performance.  He is the director, the con man, the leader.  This musical has a lot of techniques in group presentations as well as individual performances.

I have not seen other movies with Robert Preston.  I will have to take some time to seek out some mentioned by my fellow classmates. 

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I am unfamiliar with Robert Preston, so this was a treat. In regards to masculinity and male representation, I believe that the men are becoming more comfortable with femininity and disregarding the stereotypical old-fashioned masculine values and traits.

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  1. As you look back to the masculine performances in musicals of past decades, what changes in male representation, and performance would you say are most noticeable?

Drag, swish, and svelte. Men can dress in drag and be masculine. Men can swish and be gay. And men can be svelte instead of muscular.

  1. What other specific qualities do you notice about Robert Preston in either or both of these clips?

His song timing. In "Music Man" his timing is more defined by the song as written, while in "Victor/Victoria" the number is more responsive to the audience as well as the music. The timing is -- gallumping - in the second number. Not the right word, but words escape me due to a neurological disorder, so it's as close as I can come. And it is not insulting... It means more that the second number trills, rests, then trills, rests. then trills and rests again. It's timing. And his performance is excelent in both pieces. The "Trouble in River City" number gives me goose-bumps!

  1. Have you seen any Robert Preston films that are not musicals? If so, what do you notice about his characters and his approach to acting, now that you are more aware of his dedication to working his craft outside of his stage or film work?

Yes, I've seen him as a hard-knock, gritty criminal. His presence is always supportive to others on stage/screen, meaning he doesn't take up too much room. Yet his presence is felt, as would his absence be felt. He gives other performers the leg they need to stand on.

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1 hour ago, crysalong said:

His father-figure opposite Steve McQueen in Nevada Smith is one for the ages. 

Just a quick fyi. Preston played McQueen's father in "Junior Bonner". Brian Keith portrayed McQueen's father in "Nevada Smith".

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I think that the male actors of the 60's didn't have to be alpha males to take charge and they could a verity of roles from the flimflam artist to the gay performer.  They could change characters from one to the other without trouble.

In the Music Man he is in complete control during the whole movie by changing the subject when he is asked about his credentials and when he changes the subject about where he got his degree from. He also shows that he has confidence in the boys that he has in the band and show them that they can do it without any lessons.

I may have seen other Preston movies but at the moment I can't think of any.

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  1. Men no longer rely on alpha male masculinity to play a male role. There is more of a variety of roles available. Men are now able to play second fiddle to a woman, portray members of the LGBTQ+ community, and a plethora of other roles that represent the reality of the world. 
     
  2. His inclusion of other actors and his focus on storytelling make him an effective storyteller. He appears to have the story as a whole in mind as opposed to himself or individual scenes. He is also relaxed while still being intentional with his movements. 
     
  3. I have not seen any other Robert Preston films, but am determined to become familiar with his work. 

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1) As you look back to the masculine performances in musicals of past decades, what changes in male representation, and performance would you say are most noticeable?

I think that male characters showed more emotion, meaning that they talked and moved with more feeling than they did in the past. They didn't care about vanity, or looking like handsome leading man. They became a little less rugged and outlandish; instead they became more subdued and relaxed. In this case, you could take masculinity more seriously than you could, again, in the past. 

2) What other specific qualities do you notice about Robert Preston in either or both of these clips?

To be honest, both The Music Man and Victor/Victoria are the only films of Preston's that I know about. However, I did notice excellent versatility from him. In 'Music', he was masculine, but not overdoing it. He was content and subtle, unlike the other male characters in the film. In 'Victor', he was flamboyant, but he also had control over it. At the time, most gay men were stereotypical, meaning that they were easily cliched and over-the-top. Preston, with his performance, showed that gay men were more than just 'limp wrists' and outrageous clothes and personalities. In both films, he was superb and magnificent. 

3) Have you seen any Robert Preston films that are not musicals? If so, what do you notice about his characters and his approach to acting, now that you are more aware of his dedication to working his craft outside of his stage or film work?

Like I mentioned in the second question, the only films I've seen of Preston's were Music Man and Victor. However, judging by those two films, he seemed like an actor who was perfectly comfortable with himself. He brought his own sensibilities and uniqueness to characters that benefited from his craft. Now, I just want to see everything he ever did.

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1.    Art (in all forms) always pushes the social envelope much earlier than other aspects of culture. In the 17th century, Shakespeare used cross-dressing effectively in his plays so the roots have been deep in theater productions for centuries. Shakespeare’s actors were all male but the concept of women dressing as men to gain entry into levels of power allowed for double entendres and mistaken identities. However, it was always to get the laugh, and in the end, characters paired off boy-girl. In 1895, in England, writer Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for gross indecency. There were many such cases. There is something about film musicals that makes them an easier vehicle for change. Gestures, dance movements, lyrics, spoken dialogue or music itself is nuanced and can be more subversive or downright confrontational.

 

In the past decades, lead male performers were unambiguous in their sexual orientation. Taking their lead from American icons like John Wayne and the country’s dominance on the world stage, lead roles portrayed American men as we saw ourselves-rugged individualists, successful businessmen, capable leaders. Musicals through the 50’s likewise adopted these attitudes. Although Astaire and Kelly incorporated ballet and tap, it was decidedly dominant, aggressive, athletic even though these two performers were often on the ends of sliding scales of each of those characteristics. Astaire was cooperative, Kelly alpha; Astaire was scheming, Kelly arrogant; Astaire was elegant, Kelly muscular. Whether dancing with a partner or solo, both men overtly masculine. Singers like Gordon McCrae and Howard Keel exemplified the male image with their good looks and masculine bodies.

 By the 1960’s, the film audience was beginning to expand its concept of male mannerisms although it would be decades before the LGBT community was accepted. Although great strides have been made, homophobia is still an issue today. As part of the rebellious nature of the 60’s, at least the younger audiences were open to characterizations that were androgynous or leaned toward realistic portrayals of men but it was still under the veil of the conceit set in more covert locations like the Kit Kat club in Cabaret or in stylized portrayals like Preston’s in Victor/Victoria.  It is still subversive. The latter is made palatable to the audience because Victoria is a female disguised as a male while Preston’s character is a subversive male. By the 1960’s, the gay community had struggled against social stigmas that they were sinful, wicked, mentally deficient, willfully mis-oriented long enough and starting to push back. Audiences were scandalized by Elvis Presley's overtly sexual gestures. The clip with Ann Margret has her mimicking his movements and is often shot behind and below her to tantalize the audience further. Pre-code era clothing, lyrics and movements seem archaic and Victorian compared to the 60's. Rock and Roll unleashed a genie that would not go back in the bottle.

 

2.    First, Meredith Wilson sets up this performance earlier in the “Rock Island” train scene with the glorious syncopated patter of the passengers. The audience knows it is in for a special linguistic, rhythmic ride with Preston as the virtuoso engineer. Preston’s performance is The Music Man reminds me of Gene Kelly. By the time we get into “Trouble in River City,” even before he begins the song, Preston’s gestures are precisely and elegantly choreographed to coordinate with the captivating rhythm of the spoken phrases. His entire body moves on slightly bent knees with a dancer’s grace as he leads into the number. He grabs bystanders by the arm as well as by his rapid-fire sales pitch. Soon, even before his audience starts to sing, he has them in the palm of his hand. His hands pantomime the sordid scenarios he uses to pray on the fears of the naïve townspeople. He modulates his voice and elongates words to entice and give emphasis. Preston does not sing so much as he is an early rapper, speaking in rhythm so hypnotic that everyone falls under his spell. While his hands distract, there are moments when his hips move in a more seductive manner for just a second to symbolize the seductiveness of a scammer. Of course, he uses the entire stage, moving up the steps and around the audience and points to individuals as a technique to connect with each potential customer, breaking the audience down into “sales” pieces yet putting it back together again. At on point, the camera is above him to show his command over the spellbound audience who is now moving and singing in his cadence and acts as Greek chorus to his Oedipus. He has all the qualities of a tent revival preacher which would be familiar to this small town. In the hands of such a manipulator, he builds to a mighty crescendo. Of course, in the end, he ascends equal to the stature of the town’s their local hero’s statue mimicking his frozen stance as the cherry on the top. This is a masterful performance.

The Victor/Victoria scene begins with play with the double entendres associated with the word “gay.” If you turn the sound off, except for the handkerchief, he does not betray masculine behavior. As he comes out into the audience, he is not playing up to men but to the women as this is a mostly heterosexual audience, using the handkerchief as earlier performers would have used a cane, to almost touch individuals. His left hand is occasionally floppish but it is an instantaneous and does not linger. Like the Music Man, Preston glides around the room letting the word “gay” carry the import more than his body. When the song is over and he begins his patter, his left hand fiddles with the kerchief in his pocket much longer than necessary. This is a subtle signal but effective. After his insulting remarks, attention is drawn away from him, ending his performance and charade.

3. Except for watching the Music Man many times, The only other film, and only non-musical, I have seen of Preston’s is How the West was Won where he was just one of a cavalcade of stars. His character was not memorable amid the A-listers. To me, he will always be the Music Man.

 

 

 

 

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As I write this I have A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum on in the background, a musical with con-games on con-games.

The traditional musical hero is a paragon of virtue compared to the heroes of the sixties. Rosalind Russell and Karl Malden con their way through the vaudeville circuit. Unlike the charming gamblers of earlier musicals, Omar Sharif’s Nick gets sent to prison. Guys and Dolls is also built around multiple cons.

Then there’s Professor Harold Hill (not his real name). He’s a notorious con-man. Marion is the moral center of The Music Man.

I found this quote from Donna Feore’s program notes for the 2018 Stratford Festival production of The Music Man interesting:

Quote

Willson puts real people and real love before us, imperfections intact. Harold Hill is a con man, a liar. And yet Willson allows Marian Paroo, the show’s moral compass, to fall for him – but with her eyes open. Marian’s not a librarian for nothing. She fiercely protects the home of the world’s accumulated truth, the library. Harold may attack with his massive charm and may have won over the whole of River City, but he doesn’t fool Marian for a minute. Willson’s voice is loud and clear. Marian doesn’t need anyone. When and if she chooses, she will choose wisely. And Harold, the agent of change, will in his turn be changed. And all, in the end, for the better.

https://cdscloud.stratfordfestival.ca/uploadedFiles/Whats_On/Plays_and_Events/Plays/2018/The-Tempest(1)/About_The_Play/MUS_0146_-_2018_Accessibility_House_Program_FINAL-s.pdf

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- I think a male identity curve evolved...

  • ...from the early musicals of the 30's & 40's when male leads were softer spoken, more genteel like Astaire, Chevalier, Eddy;
  • ...to the 50's when testosterone levels rose with leads like Keel, Kelly, Sinatra;
  • ...and morphed in the 60's to a kind of mélange of male chraracteristics, when male leads became more multi-faceted, dimensional and quixotic. There was no one "type". They were either non-threatening (Frankie Avalon/Dick Van Dyke), heroic (Richard Harris/ChristopherPlummer) funny (Zero Mostel, Robert Morse), sexy (Louis Jourdan/Elvis Presley).

- Preston, as a musical performer, was boisterous, brash & overt. Very in-your-face. Hardly soft spoken. As such, I never really cottoned to him in musicals. I preferred his dramatic performances to his musicals. However, I did enjoy him in "Victor/Victoria". Maybe his gay portrayal tempered his usual bravado.

- I honestly wouldn't say I'm more aware of his dedication to acting. His past roles in dramas (mostly WWII action & westerns) were rather unremarkable, which could be why he never really rose above a supporting player in those pre-musical days. It wasn't until he made his musical presence & talent known that he garnered more notoriety and stardom. In that respect, he was a diverse performer, able to find success in a totally different realm of film & stage.

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1 hour ago, Zea said:

Just a quick fyi. Preston played McQueen's father in "Junior Bonner". Brian Keith portrayed McQueen's father in "Nevada Smith".

You are correct. I’ll fix my original post. 

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The changes in male representation is that there is not an alpha male in the 60s era, I noticed in the second clip that the females are more alpha and the males are more beta. The men do not dominate roles.

In the first clip, Robert Preston is singing and talking fast about a social problem and it captures everyone's attention. He begins talking to one person, then the crowd joins in.

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1.    As you look back to the masculine performances in musicals of past decades, what changes in male representation, and performance would you say are most noticeable?


In the earliest musicals of the late 20s to the early 40s masculinity is defined by suave, witty sophisticates such as Fred Astaire, Maurice Chevalier and Nelson Eddy (Top Hat, The Love Parade, Rosemarie). As we moved into the war years and beyond to the 50s masculinity became more a show of power and strength. Initially, to project America as a strong nation capable through persistence and power to win the war. After the war this trend continued as a sign of the victory America had won. Male musical stars such as Gene Kelly, Howard Keel, and Frank Sinatra (On the Town, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, High Society) along with the, “buddy” films of Hope and Crosby became the norm, the strong, more abrasive, “guy who got the girl” hero trope was born.


As we moved into the 60s the trend again changes. We still have the Alpha males who are strong willed and still get the girl (think Elvis in Viva Las Vegas) but even his character is more humanized, more reflective in nature as we continue to see in the 60s portrayals of a Robert Preston in, The Music Man, of Bobby Rydell in, Bye-Bye Birdie and the transformation of a Rex Harrison in, My Fair Lady.


Though men maintain their alpha masculinity they are more emotive in these latter movie musicals giving more nuanced portrayals of masculinity. Picture the utterly adorable and charismatic Beatles in, A Hard Days Night where the roles are reversed and the girls chase the boys.


2.    What other specific qualities do you notice about Robert Preston in either or both of these clips?


His mannerisms and facial expressions in, The Music Man very much enhance his performance. There is not a moment his hands, arms, face, his entire body are not invested in the Professor and his attempt to cajole the townspeople to close down the pool hall and enroll their children into his imaginary band. He is in constant motion, his words moving along as rapidly as his face and body. I also like how he speaks the lyrics. His singing is clean not breathy, and smooth at times, staccato at times and always authoritative but he does not go legato thus maintaining his commonality with the folk and the energy and seeming objectivity of his shtick.


3.    Have you seen any Robert Preston films that are not musicals? If so, what do you notice about his characters and his approach to acting, now that you are more aware of his dedication to working his craft outside of his stage or film work?


I've seen him in quite a few of his non-musical roles including, Union Pacific, How the West Was Won, Whispering Smith and The Dark at the Top of the Stairs. Robert Preston was always a fine actor giving to the part whatever it demanded of him whether in a western as the heavy or in an Inge inspired dramatic film role. 


As I am now aware of his work with 17 other actors and think upon his growth as an actor I can sense his more nuanced portrayals as time went by. It's a far cry playing the, honest man gone wrong role of Murray Sinclair or the flim-flam artist Prof. Harold Hill to playing Rubin Flood a lost and angry man. But in each portrayal whether comedy, musical or dramatic Preston comes across as an insightful and skilled actor willing to do what he must to be true to the role. I sense something similar to what I witness in Bette Davis. The transparency of an actor intent upon an honest portrayal of the flawed character, both the good and the not so good .

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In The Music Man clip, Preston exudes emotion, but because of the con man nature of Professor Hill, he almost over plays the emotion. I'm reminded of the way that Gloria Swanson portrayed a silent film star when she did Sunset Blvd. There has to be a bit of "overacting" in these types of roles in order for them to be believable. That's not to say that he's a bad actor. I think intentionally hamming up the song makes it all the more effective. In Victor/Victoria, Preston uses the same type of enthusiasm for his acting, but not in a way that's as in your face. There is a softer side to Preston as Toddy. It's not necessarily effeminate in a way audiences might expect a gay man to be portrayed at that time. Rather, it just shows more emotion. Actually, maybe that's a way musicals came to be more disruptive starting in the 60s...men were allowed to show their emotions more. It wasn't just about being a one dimensional con man or "Queen"...each of these characters has a depth that would not have been possible prior to the 60s. 

I can see the dedication that Preston has to his craft. In fact, seeing these two clips makes me want to study his acting more moving forward, which I'm excited about. Both Professor Hill and Toddy show the ability their characters have to weave a spell. In The Music Man, Hill is weaving a spell on the people of the town so he may con them. In Victor Victoria, no such con is taking place, but Toddy provides an elegant story about his Paris. The character's experiences were the experiences of a so far under represented group and so the spell he weaves is almost comfortable (if that is the right word). Whatever it is, he is very charming. In addition, his characters weave a spell for their audiences, so by extension we as the movie audience are caught up in the same spell. Every inch of Preston's movements in both of these characters shows he wants to get into the mindset of these characters. He embodies these two very different characters and above all is very charming.  

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Like others, I grew up with the cast album of The Music Man, so it's that precise, mellifluous voice that comes to mind with Robert Preston. This question is interesting in making me reconsider his personality in terms of gender codes. It strikes me that Preston is a throwback to that gentler, suave, intelligent leading man we saw earlier -- the consummately trained Fred Astaire - Dick Powell type. The performance is delicate enough that it can read as gay when necessary, but yes, deliberately not "flaming".  Preston is a man who also has total control of his body, as a dancer would, in precise careful movements. As such, what sticks out more to me now as an anomaly in the musical theater is what the class is calling the Alpha Male -- burly, aggressive, bull-in-the-china-shop type, the Gene Kelly and Adam (Howard Keel in 7 Brides) as seen in the 50s. In a way, the demands of musicals requires the more subtle, smaller, and precise type of actor. I realize that it's actually more of a challenge to show masculinity in this context. It's interesting to see the solutions to the problem-- over-the-top, really aggressive masculinity, or a number of barely / badly singing leading males (giving the message, I'm not one of those frou-frou musical guys) like Omar Shariff or Rex Harrison, Lee Marvin & Clint Eastwood in Paint Your Wagon. Masculinity is difficult to establish and maintain, it turns out. The clip showing how easily the males in the audience can be offended by threats to their masculinity makes the point very nicely.

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Daily Dose# 14

  • As you look back to the masculine performances in musicals of past decades, what changes in male representation, and performance would you say are most noticeable? Mr. Preston was known for portraying Beta male characters and he was usually cast as second lead. It is at the peak of '60's do we get to see him as a all-round performer. His performances showed a vaudevillian touch even along with the likes of Elvis Presley and the Beatles.

 

  • What other specific qualities do you notice about Robert Preston in either or both of these clips? Mr. Preston was seen in both these clips as a charismatic performer who conquers the complete interaction of his audience even though he ended up in a brawl with one of its audience in the second clip. Well, he was charming.

 

  • Have you seen any Robert Preston films that are not musicals? If so, what do you notice about his characters and his approach to acting, now that you are more aware of his dedication to working his craft outside of his stage or film work? I have seen him in "Reap the Wild Wind" as Susan Hayward's lover. Even though, he is a supporting character in this film. His role did have some swashbuckling moments to show for his love. Here's the clip.

 

 

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A couple of people have mentioned The Last Starfighter, which is interesting to look at in the context of this course—and especially of Music Man. I saw The Last Starfighter in a movie theater when it came out, and the draw for me was Preston. He was marvelous, as usual, and I have always assumed that the role was written for him. I haven’t seen the film again, but I noticed many similarities between Professor Hill and Centauri.

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In both clips, we see Preston perform to audiences in the film.  Two very different audiences. Two very different performances.  He does so with the dry wit of William Powell to my utter delight in both. In The Music Man, we see him masterfully playing on the fear of decent Americans by stirring up fake crises (sound familiar?).  Harold Hill's gift is his understanding of Americana and how to pander to it in Iowa.  In the 60s (this is early 60s), we begin to see the send up of traditional values, decency at the expense of daring to be different, and the community at the expense of the individual. Obviously, Americana is being both appreciated and mocked in their ability to so easily be biased and rigid in The Music Man. Very different from the 40s and 50s.  We're heading back to pre-code, and one can see it here. "Shapoopi" lyrics, Anyone? 

Preston's dry and natural delivery works as a salesman and a performer in Victor, Victoria. As a male lead in the first, he is ducking fights and using his wits to survive as opposed to the alpha male of yore. We see vulnerability both to eminent danger and psychologically. This is the wonderful treat that is Harold Hill. In Victor, Victoria we someone absolutely comfortable in his skin. Preston plays this well also. 

In Victor, Victoria, we are given a frank, sophisticated, funny exploration of culture's attitudes about homosexuality. This was a big deal when it came out. His performance, I believe, is even stronger than the magnificent Julie Andrews, and his is superb. Again, he is not a trope. He depicts a human being who happens to be gay. His dry wit, again, serves the movie oh, so well. His humanity, again, is artfully but naturally depicted by Preston. 

What I think is so unique about Preston is his early adoption of making a musical lead's character so very natural. His characters perform, but while he is playing the character, Preston seems to disappear.  It's really wonderful.

I've seen him in a few TV specials and in one or two other movies, but I wish there had been more room in the movies for him. I realize he was a theater performer extraordinaire, however, I can think of several flicks the would have benefited from his lead or support. I won't name names because I've discovered some sacred cows tend to elicit quite the wrath of some. I own the BlueRay of The Music Man, so I think I will watch it ahead of the TCM schedule and then watch it again.

By the way, Shirley Jones' Marion is stupendous. Her character is absolutely perfection as played by Shirley.  I was so glad to read Dr. Amnet's extra piece about working with the lovely and equally talented Shirley Jones. She plays Marion sincerely rather than either the shriveled up librarian or the man-crazy final version.  She could have made this character a send-up, but like Preston, both leads are absolutely human.  As written, they could be really 'huge" scene chewing parts, but each actor respectively delivers exceptionally precise, believable, wonderful performances. 

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22 minutes ago, ameliajc said:

It strikes me that Preston is a throwback to that gentler, suave, intelligent leading man we saw earlier -- the consummately trained Fred Astaire - Dick Powell type.

I also find him a wonderful inheritor of the sophisticated, intelligent, dry performance of Dick Powell. Love it!

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1.  As you look back to the masculine performances in musicals of past decades, what changes in male representation, and performance would you say are most noticeable?
 

The most noticeable point I’ve noticed about men and their performances is that as each new decade comes in there is more self-assurance and security within the man’s performance. This can certainly be said of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly in the 30s and 40s but no as much so with Robert Taylor back in the 30s; while he does have a definite likability in his performance he still tends to be somewhat stiff and self conscious. Kelly and Astaire didn’t have this problem although they did play the same type of role over and over again, in general they played their persona and little else. By the 1950s and particularly the 60s, male parts in musicals were slowly but surely becoming more and more well written and fleshed out. Preston gives a very fine example of this in his performance in THE MUSIC MAN and twenty years later in VICTOR / VICTORIA. Two other examples of a great performance in a great role would be Rex Harrison as Prof. Henry Higgins in MY FAIR LADY as well as Richard Harris as King Arthur in CAMELOT. Both these musicals were written and composed by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederic Lowe (who had also written and composed the scripts / scores for GIGI, BRIGADOON and PAINT YOUR WAGON and Lerner had won the screenplay Oscars for AN AMERICAN IN PARIS and GIGI as well). Lerner and Lowe made a particular point about these two roles of Higgins and Arthur which has become a standard for most of, if not all, subsequent productions of FAIR LADY and CAMELOT... a great singer should never play Higgins or Arthur... only a great actor should play Higgins or Arthur. This standard was becoming more and more apparent with the way that male parts were being written and which actors should play them during the 1960s and onward.

 

2.  What other specific qualities do you notice about Robert Preston in either or both of these clips?
 

    Preston is really likeable in both these performances, even though there is an underlying irony in both of them. In THE MUSIC MAN he plays a fraud who’s on the run from the law and in VICTOR / VICTORIA he has a sarcastic side that shows itself numerous times throughout the film (from what I remember of it... I saw it almost twenty years ago). Although I didn’t like either this film or THE MUSIC MAN (I enjoyed them both on stage a great deal more) I saw both VICTOR / VICTORIA and CABARET (another film I haven’t seen in 20 years and I’m looking fwd to seeing it again at the end of this week) as two definite examples of the new wave of musicals that were being made in the 70s and 80s (although the genre itself was pretty much dead by the mid 80s with only ANNIE and A CHORUS LINE as qualified musicals). 

 

3.  Have you seen any Robert Preston films that are not musicals? If so, what do you notice about his characters and his approach to acting, now that you are more aware of his dedication to working his craft outside of his stage or film work?

 

   I did see home video footage of Preston in the original Broadway production of THE LION IN WINTER with Rosemary Harris several years ago and after seeing his performance as Henry II in comparison to Peter O’Toole’s incredibly dynamic interpretation in the film, I was disappointed that he didn’t bring as much of a larger-than-life personality to the part of Henry that he did in either MUSIC MAN or VICTOR / VICTORIA. I read some of the reviews for the original stage production of THE LION IN WINTER and they praised Harris for her great portrayal of Eleanor of Aquitaine (for which she managed to win the Tony award for Best Actress in a play that year) they mercielssly lambasted the play, all unanimously blaming Preston’s performance as the cause of its failure. I’ve yet to see any of Preston’s other non-musical work in film or on stage but I can see why the play ran for only 90-some odd performances... his overall portrayal was a disappiontment. As a side note, an interesting irony is that the play has only been revived on Broadway once (in 1999) since it’s original production, the revival starring Laurence Fishburne and Stockard Channing and despite Channing’s great performance as Eleanor (for which she received a Tony nomination) the play did only didn’t fare any better than the original (closing after only 93 performances).

 

 

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