Dr. Vanessa Theme Ament

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

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i saw Preston in a movie called "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs" which I think was released in 1960.  I didn't yet know him as a musical actor, but his presence in the movie impressed me.  It was a couple of years later that I saw him in "The Music Man" and I wasn't surprised at his presence in the movie but was surprised that he could sing.  Talk about doing things backwards!!!

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1.Men are starting to be more efeminate as the musicals progress in the 1960s on. The male performances are starting to catch up with society and what is going on at that time and even currently. 

2. Robert Preston shows quite a bit of diversity in these two movies. He also seems a bit more sarcastic in the second film instead of straight laced like the Music Man. He knew how to keep up with the trends in the movies.

3. Unfortunatly I have not seen any other films with Robert Preston in them. I do know that he was very dedicated to his craft and was able to sustain his career for many decades.

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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...

 

I first saw Robert Preston in How the West Was Won. My mother took me out of school for the day to go downtown to see the movie because it was historical and showed the struggles of the early settlers in America.

Robert Preston was a strong character in that film who pursued Debbie Reynolds throughout the story. I always felt bad that Debbie Reynolds never married him, as he was a good catch, as an able rancher. The problem was that his character did not have romantic words for Debbie. He spoke about her strength and fitness to be a good wife on a ranch, which was a necessity, but Debbie Reynolds's character wanted more romantic wooing, I think. She also was very independent and decided her own path. Robert Preston made a great impression on me that day.

Later, I saw him in The Music Man. As the fast-talking con artist salesmen of instruments for a boy's band, he retained that strong, masculine aura. (I did my Masters thesis on song and choreography of three films of traditional Americana, and The Music Man was one of them. Oddly enough, Shirley Jones was in all three, including Oklahoma! and Carousel as well. Therefore, I enjoyed Dr. Aments' side discussion on Shirley Jones quite a bit.). But back to Robert Preston.  In every film, he has always spoken his lines forcefully, and sometimes in a staccato fashion - not stiff, but full of emotion and power.

In Mame, he was again a tower of strength and power as he played the part of Beauregard. Unfortunately, his part was not around long enough in the film, but it did give us the famous "Mame" song.

 In Victor/Victoria which I recently saw for the first time, I was surprised to see him in a role that seemed such as departure for him. But, he did a great job, and again, used that strong personality and stacatto manner which drew the audience in once more.

I always like to see him in movies.  I looked at his filmography on IMDB, and was surprised to see how many films he did as far back as Beau Geste! I will have to keep an eye out for them on TCM.

 

  

 

 

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On 6/25/2018 at 8:55 PM, Dr. Vanessa Theme Ament said:

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 biggest change to appear in later movies is the role of the male. Before their was a lead male and a male who was the friend and then he female love interest. As time went on, that no longer became the case. There were movies starring women with men as the love interest or as a supporting character. 

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I found that in 1960's musicals or films in general men seemed more open to experiment with different types of roles. The 1960's was about change and we see that clearly in performances like Preston gives in "Victor/Victoria". 

I was surprised to learn that "The Music Man" was the first time Preston sang in a film. He seemed so comfortable in his performance. My history with his films started with "The Last Starfighter" then next to "Beau Geste" where I had one of my many "ah-ha" moments and was in awe that he had such a long and prolific career. I think its pretty neat that an actor like him worked in so many various genres throughout his career and was still open to try something new like a musical. To me it just shows how passionate and devoted to his craft that he was and also that he possibly wanted to keep challenging himself. He was one of the rare actors of the silver screen that seemed to be able to do it all and do it well.

 

 

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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?

One of the changes I noticed was how the roles seem to become less about physical strength, and more about emotional strength.  The emphasis is not on how high a man could jump, or how many spins he could do.  The focus is often on how he projects his emotions, his vocal range, etc.

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

His ability to sing complex lines and still make the words understandable is amazing.  His skill reminds me of Danny Kaye and his tongue twisting songs.

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?

My favorite Robert Preston film is actually 1984's The Last Star Fighter.  He was back playing the "flim flam man" role, but this time his goal was to save the galaxy.  He had that same sharp articulated way of delivering his lines just like in The Music Man.

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Despite the two vastly different characters Robert Preston plays in The Music Man and Victor/Victoria his fluid masculinity and generous acting style permeate both and make him utterly believable and timeless. Everytime I see these films I enjoy them because his portrayals are so refreshing and sharp.

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?

Compared to the past I see more complexity and vulnerability added to the performances indicating that society has loosened its strictures about being identified as either an uber-male or female. Men are allowed to express their feelings more freely and display an openness in their singing and dancing both towards other characters and the props they use. An honesty is revealed, that was only hinted at previously, allowing the viewer to interact with the male performer as well.

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

 While he is as precise, articulate and witty in The Music Man as he is in Victor/Victoria his age makes him exhibit it differently. As young, Harold Hill, he's slick and robust, but as older Toddy, he's become elegant and tragic. Still, the thread that connects the two is the energetic spirit that he brings to each role.  Regardless of his status, he can be counted on to dig deep and persevere. 

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?

No, I haven't seen any of his other films. Now that I know more about his background I plan to see the rest of his work so that I can learn more about him.

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

“You wear your hair in a pompadour.  You ride around in a coach and four.  You stop and buy out a candy store.  An actor’s life for me!”  (from Pinocchio)

1. Musical leading men to this point were sophisticated, gentlemen and above reproach if somewhat roguish lothario Cassanovas.  In these clips, Preston is playing an average everyman con artist and an openly gay man--two characters we haven't seen before, I guess.

2. The art of all actors and performers is that while they must "act" and "perform" for us, they must also make it seem natural.  Like anyone whose been at the game as long and successfully as Preston has, he's playing a version of himself.  

3. But in this Victor/Victoria clip, Preston is also playing a version of Maurice Chevalier.  Like Martin Short (who is also great), he seems to love spoofing playing the ham because, at heart, he's a ham.

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1. Masculine performers of past decades would never have sung or acted about gays. It was an inappropriate and taboo subject. In the past the story lines were simple and similar of man falls in love with girl, man wins girl's heart and usually ending in happy marriage. So the most noticeable changes are ones of sexual representation and performance. 

2. He's more melodically talking to the audience or the people around him. He tells his story not by singing but by an early form of rapping. He expresses himself with hand gestures and his facial expressions. He draws the people in, by getting their attention. 

3. I have not seen any Robert Preston movies, so cannot comment on this question. 

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1. Men in movie musicals of the 1960s and beyond were not required to dress formally in every scene and played characters with more human qualities than just playing a character such as the alpha male in the 1950s.

2. In The Music Man, Robert Preston puts all of his emotion into performing the song "Trouble in River City."  Preston shows a certain level of emotion in Victor/Victoria, but uses more humor in his performance.

3. A movie I saw with Robert Preston that was not a musical was S.O.B.  This was another movie in which Preston worked with Julie Andrews.  The movie is about a director who decides to take his failed movie, and make it more risque in hope of making the film a success and revitalizing his film career.  Preston played the director's personal doctor with the same relaxed sense of humor he used in Victor/Victoria.

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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?

Things are definitely changing. In the past there was either the alpha male or the sidekick beta. Now it seems like things are becoming more true to life. There aren't just two types of men. The mold is being broken. You also have rebellious Elvis and then Preston's character in Victor/Victoria, where he's more complex. 
 

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

He's brilliant in both. These clips really show his versatility as a  actor. Even though he's trying to cheat people in The Music Man, he still has this honesty about him..a genuine quality underneath. The same can be said for Victor/Victoria. He has this confidence about him and you can't help but like him. 
 

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 haven't seen him in anything else, but now I'm more curious to!

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1.  I notice the wide gestures most. Masculinity is often portrayed as restrained and controlled. Masculine men speak little while sparsely interjecting hand and arm movements.  Typically, you only see men raise their hand to attract a waiter for the bill, or hail a cab, or throw a punch. Preston is free with his gestures complimented by the fluidity of the silk handkerchief. Even in past musicals, Astaire and Kelly were allowed free movement while dancing, but otherwise their hands and arms were, say, in pockets. In past musicals, there could never be any hint that a leading man might be gay. Preston's portrayal disrupts those masculine and gay stereotypes. He is wearing noticeable eye makeup, yet he is very cool and even gets in a bit of a fist fight. He is, for all intents and purposes, playing with gender, brilliantly creating a singular performance as a result.

2.  I notice, for the first time as I've been a fan of The Music Man since I was young, Preston appears quite a bit older for a leading man.  Hollywood tried to continue to cast Astaire as a leading man long after it was getting creepy for him to have such young women as love interests.  Preston is paired with a more mature...some could say spinsterish by Marion the Librarian character connotations...Jones.  The teaming works well for both.  I'm not certain Preston as Hill would have worked as well with a younger actress. [By the way, one viewer on live tweet during the TCM showing of The Music Man opined Preston could not dance. I disagree. I am actually in awe of Preston's very fluid, elegant, rhythmic movements, which are profoundly on display in The Music Man and Victor, Victoria.]

3.  I'm afraid I've not seen or noted any other Preston films.  I saw Victor, Victoria years ago, but (honestly) until this course I had not thought about it much.  I'm looking forward to viewing it anew.  And, my greatest apologies to Mr. Preston and Ms. Ball, but there is no other Mame for me but the great Ms. Rosalind Russell so never could watch the Preston/Ball version.

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As you discussed the changes made to bring audiences back to the movies, I remembered something that happened to me in 1968, when dad took my mom, my brother, and me to the HemisFair ’68 in San Antonio, TX.  We went to a movie with 3 different theaters in it to watch a new widescreen presentation.  As there were only 3 seats available together, my parents sat with my baby brother, and I was seated  a few rows back next to the curtained wall.  As a stranger was next to me, I leaned in to the curtain so that my arm was touching it.  The lights went down and the show began, and I can’t remember the exact scenario, but it was something like a train or wagon with horses headed straight towards the audience.  All of a sudden, after about 5-10 minutes into the show, the curtain next to me immediately went up, making a loud whoosing noise and quickly rubbing against my arm.  I shrieked with horror and nearly had a heart attack, and could hear others in the audience screaming.  I thought that the building was collapsing, and looked for my family.  I saw dad standing up looking for me.  When I looked around, I found that the 3 theaters were actually one large theater, the movie screens were all one screen, and the person on the other side of the curtain was as scared as I was.  There had been 2 curtains in the room, and all of the people seated next to them on either side were shaking, crying, or laughing hysterically.  It was amazing, but I had been so startled at what happened that I couldn’t really calm down.  In retrospect, it probably wasn’t a good introduction to widescreen cinema.

 

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Robert Preston movies, except for “Victor/Victoria” and “S.O.B” (he was a delightful riot in that film), and looking at his resumé on IMDB, I have seen a lot of his films in the long ago past.  In “Music Man”, I admired his intensity, his physicality, and his ability to reel off such complicated lyrics.  He delivered his message about the evils of the pool hall as if he were the “cue” himself, the message “the ball”, and “the pocket” the people’s minds.  As in “Victor/Victoria”, Preston was very effective with his hand gestures and facial expressions, and he used his eyes (and handkerchief) with great effect, especially to coyly accent his effeminate nature as Toddy.  In both films, he is playing against a large crowd of actors, and though they have their parts, it’s hard to take your eyes off of him.  In the “Music Man” clip, I found myself looking back to him for his acknowledgement as the parents, to their horror, realized the truth of his “sermon”, and in “Victor/Victoria”, to see his reaction after delivering his well-honed insults.  He is so convincing in his roles, that you feel like he is the character he’s portraying.  It must be difficult to adjust to the screen after being on stage for so long.  An actor would have to be able to adapt to the intimacy of the camera, and tone down some of his more robust actions.  Preston was a master of both platforms.  The “Eighteen Actors” really paid off for him.

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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?

The biggest change in male respresentation of this time is that the male characters have real flaws. Earlier musicals might have the upright, stoic character (Nelson Eddy) or elegant gentleman (Fred Astaire). Any “flaws” these characters might have are often due to the situation or a misunderstanding (e.g., the female lead may believe the hero is married). In these years, the male characters have true flaws—he is a conman, a gambler, a lothario. I don’t necessarily want to imply that the male is “saved” by the love of a good woman but, instead, comes to realize that his life can be better.

The musicals of this period also do not necessarily have to have the obligatory happy ending. Fanny Brice and Nick Arnstein do not save their marriage, Guenivere leaves King Arthur for Sir Lancelot and the Round Table is destroyed.

 

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

One thing I love about Preston’s performance in The Music Man is that he is so light on his feet and almost “bounces.” I had heard a story that, while in rehearsal for the stage version of The Music Man, dance rehearsals were on one floor of a building (before they moved to the actual venue), singing rehearsals on another, and blocking on yet another. Since his presence was require at all of these, Preston wore sneakers to run from one floor to another. He found that the running up and down stairs gave him a feel for the character who needs to be ready to run away at a moment’s notice. He brings that same energy to the film version.

In Victor/Victoria, he doesn’t play Toddy as completely straight nor as completely effeminate, just human. He only plays the character as effeminate when someone “expects” him to act in that manner, such as in the nightclub scene or when he emphasizes a point to Victoria. And I believe that’s why this performance gained so much recognition.

As an actor, Preston connects with people in the scene, he’s not just singing at the crowd in The Music Man. In “Trouble,”—he speaks with the individuals and with the crowd. Later, in the “Sadder, but Wiser Girl” number, after the line “I hope, I pray, for Hester to win just one more A,” he specifically looks over to the little girl knowing that was something he shouldn’t say in front of an innocent. In this number from Victor/Victoria, he’s not just singing at the crowd but interacting with the individuals.

Many actors haven’t the faintest idea what to do with their hands. Robert Preston and Danny Kaye are the exceptions. Their hands are almost as choreographed as their feet. In this scene from The Music Man, Preston constantly touches the grocer or directs his attention this way and that, pulling people into the crowd, etc. It reminds me of the way a magician uses his hands as a form of misdirection and showmanship.

 

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?

Although I’ve seen Preston in many non-musicals shows, what I always remember (whether he is playing a supporting character or the lead), he is very present in the scene. He was an actor who listened, not just reacted to the other characters in the film. In a made-for-TV film, September Gun, he even has a wonderful on-screen relationship with his dog.

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1) Early movie musicals showed men in the macho role.  They sang and they danced but were all strong, straight-laced men.  The two musicals with Robert Preston showed a different kind of man.  He was able to be soft and tender as well as being manly when the scheme of the movie needed the shift.  Showed movie goers that men had a full range of emotions, only early musicals didn't show all the sides very often....they were either comedians or dancers or singers or actors and emotions didn't go from one gambit to another.

2) Robert Preston is excellent in these films.  He acts like there is no audience and when he speaks with people in a scene or sings to them, he looks them in the eye and is believable in what he is saying and doing.  I love when he get excited and starts speaking or singing a mile a minute.

3) I saw Preston in The Last Starfighter and he was excellent in the non-musical role.  He was so good with this role, that you forgot you were watching a movie and were living the training of The Last Starfighter.

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1. Probably the thing I think is most noticeable is that Preston’s character flaws are addressed, specifically in The Music Man, and he tries to fix them, as opposed to someone like Gene Kelly, who usually used his charm to make you forget about his flaws.

2. Kind of tying into my first point, Preston feels very human here. He seemed to be really good at the method acting practice, as he never feels like an actor pretending to be someone he isn’t. He’s so realistic in it that, if we didn’t know any better, he probably was like that in real life. I’d like to point out that I’m not hating on previous actors for being less realistic. Both work in their own ways, and many of the previous actors were able to capture some of these qualities as well, just not as well as Preston.

3. I’m not really familiar with his other works, but I do like his style and would be willing to check out something else he appeared in in the future.

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1.  Not sure exactly how to write down my thoughts about how masculine performances changed over the decades we are studying except that going back to the early musicals the leading male role seems to be more of a poor soul or down and out character.  When you see Robert Preston's performances in The Music Many and Victor/Victoria his roles are bolder? (shall we say).  The con artist and the role of the down-to-earth, gay male with a touch of sarcasm.

2.  I love the way that Robert Preston takes over the show in both movies, he is fun to watch anytime, though not your average over-the-top handsome actor.  His voice is okay but not outstanding but who cares - his demeanor and movements are enough to capture your attention.

3.  Have not seen Robert Preston in anything else and haven't watched all of Victor/Victoria.  Now I'll have to.

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Q1) I think as you get further away from the first musicals you see men showing more sensitivity and feelings rather than having to be the manly man at all times.  

Q2) Preston has quite a way with his wording...it is very elegant and the while the writer of the music has used certain words to convey the meaning Preston has taken them to another level.  The stresses he places on the words themselves as well as his mannerisms help further convey the story.

Q3) I'm sure I have seen other movies with him and after looking at a list of his movies, I've seen some of them, but don't remember his characters.  It dawned on me that I especially associate him with his Music Man role.

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1. Looking at the past musicals, Preston seems to fit in the consummate performer category. He is suave with a wide range of ability. He can do everything with a grace and ease that is remarkable.

2. In both clips, Preston has command of both situations. His words, looks, gestures, inflections, and expressions combine to keep his audience rapt with attention. This can particularly be seen in The Music Man clip.

3. I have only seen Preston in one non-musical role, Beau Geste. In this role, Preston demonstrates a depth of feeling; however, his versatility as an actor is highlighted in musicals.

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One difference I've noticed in male performances in recent musicals compared to those from past decades is that there is more animation to the dancing. I'm thinking of Fred Astaire who danced and sang wonderfully. He gave wonderful performances alone or with a partner, but with Robert Preston, he's doing both but there is another element to all this, his acting. We see the same thing in the clip with Elvis and Ann Margaret. All three of their talents are being showcased at one time. Another thing I noticed is that them men do not appear as athletic as say Gene Kelly or Donald O'Connor. We're seeing a different style to their dancing that involves more acting than dancing.

Robert Preston knew how to command a scene. In the Music Man, he has full control of the townspeople who are so caught up in what he is saying that they don't really know that he is conning them. He is just that good in how he uses his voice and body movement. In Victor/Victoria, he doesn't let a loud group interrupt his performance and waits till he's finished to address them using his wit. How hilarious is that scene where he thanks the man for bringing his mother? And he does it so seriously and sarcastically that you can't help but love it. While Preston is obviously a wonderful singer and dancer, it's his acting ability that really makes his characters so strong and so believable. 

I have seen some of Preston's films that are not musicals. While I did enjoy them, I personally love his musicals better. He was a wonderful actor. He was easy to connect with, he just had that everyday guy look and mannerism. It's his musicals though that really showcase what a talent he was. 

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In the earlier musicals men went from the putting on a show, silly guy Mickey Rooney, talented singers and dancers, to lovers like Fred Astaire who made love in his dancing, to Gene Kelly who was a stronger more athletic dancer yet his style so so sexy and gentle like a ballet, to Robert Preston as a more regular guy whether it be that con man or the regular gay guy that existed whether you wanted to see it or not.

Robert Preston has an appeal in both clips, the kind of appeal that a con man would have. He knows his targets and goes after them to what will convince to the end result he is seeking. He seems to have a personality that could sell you anything.

I loved him in The Last Starfighter, 1984, not a musical, which was one of my son's favorite movies when he was little and we watched it constantly. Preston has that same kind of con man or man who would talk you into what he wanted in that movie as well. Maybe it is a piece of his real personality that comes out.

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Robert Preston, although not overly effeminate, was hardly the tough burly he-man that TV and movie heroes are often made of. He definitely portrayed a sensitive side and some of his mannerisms might be construed as a bit feminine, which might appeal to the ladies, but not such that it would lose male viewers. I've always preferred men that weren't afraid to show their emotions and didn't have to be in full control of their relationships. 

Judging strictly from Harold Hill, Preston comes across as someone who can relate to kids and vice versa. When he's talking to Winthrop he squats down to be at eye level and seems to mentally and emotionally connect on the boy's level as well. If this was a true characteristic of Robert Preston the person, he would have made a great father, but it doesn't appear that he had any children. Another thing I learned about Robert Preston the man which impressed me was the fact that he was married only once and the marriage lasted for 47 until his death...somewhat of an anomaly in show business.

I know I have seen one or two non-musical movies with Robert Preston but I can't for the life of me remember which ones. Even looking at his film and television history on IMDB didn't ring any bells or trigger any memories. I would have sworn I had seen him in at least one episode of Murder, She Wrote, but it's not mentioned on IMDB so apparently I was mistaken about that.

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One thing that I don't think I would have thought of before, had I not seen "My Fair Lady" again last night and then am doing this exercise a day late(r) is that Preston ALSO "talks-sings" his musical numbers.  I always knew that about Rex Harrison but kind of forgot about it with regard to Robert Preston.  I love his performance in "The Music Man" but have not been a great fan of "Victor/Victoria" - I think it might be the only performance by Julie Andrews that doesn't please me.  I am not against the material - "The Bird Cage" is one of my absolute favorite movies, but this "V/V" just annoys me.  I think I also remember seeing him in "S.O.B." and "Bells of St. Mary's" (odd pair, no?) and recall that he is authentic no matter what part he plays.  But I don't remember him in them as distinctly as I should to comment more than that.  

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1. Men are able to break out of the more traditional masculine roles that they had been in in musicals of the 1940s and 1950s. There isn't a distinguished alpha or beta male role that male actors have to fit into.

2. Regardless of what Robert Preston is doing, he seems natural and believable. I would honestly not have recognized him in Victor/Victoria after watching the clips from The Music Man

3. I have not seen another movie of his. 

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  1. As you look back to the masculine performances in musicals of past decades, what changes in male representation are that males are less rigid and macho, some are showing a more tender side.
     
  2. I really like the energy that Robert Preston gives to his performance in the Music Man. He is believable as a hustler with a heart. In Victor/Victoria he is also believable as an aging gay man. Although he has some effeminate movements, he still just seems natural and full as a gay male, not pretending to be one.
     
  3. I have not seen any other Robert Preston films.

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