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

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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?

Between the two clips, masculinity softened quite a bit. Harold Hill is loud, bombastic, in your face. Toddy is similarly the center of attention, but everything is simply much softer, from the actual volume of his singing but also in reference to his movements and language. Toddy's movements are smoother, more fluid, significantly less aggressive. Similarly, though his interactions with the guests are quite confrontational, his words are not, whereas Harold Hill would have been equally as confrontational.

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1)  In the parts men portrayed in the past, they were rough, tough, very manly men able to outgun and outmaneuver all the bad guys.  They had a certain walk, a certain way of talking, fists were very prevalent - a way to settle things man to man.  One actor off the top of my head who didn't really fit this stereotype was Cary Grant.  But that is for another type of movie - maybe screwball comedies.  Robert Preston doesn't look like he wants to fight in either of these movies or have a showdown with anyone.  He is your regular average Joe.  A con artist in "The Music Man" and there is some con artist in Victor/Victoria.  With that type of character you are trying to convince someone to do something  that isn't really illegal, but could put some money in you pocket.  With Julie Andrews he is trying to convince her to believe in herself.  I have never seen the movie the whole way through, this is just what I've heard and from the clip I saw.

2)  When Robert Preston is in a scene, you know it.  I always admired his talent, singing voice, and his commanding presence.  He uses eye contact when he talks to another actor/actress and is very direct.  He was just a likable guy.  

3)  I have seen him in "How the West was Won", "Finnegan Begin Again", and "Mame".  I hadn't realized that he started acting in 1939.  Robert was always a man's man in each of his movies.  He tried to woo Debbie Reynolds in the first movie by telling her that her hips were just the right size for birthing babies.  No romance.  Straight shot.  In the second he plays a love interest of Mary Tyler Moore's and, again, no tricks or games, he won his damsel without them.  Pretty much the same for "Mame".  I'll have to be on the lookout for some of his earlier movies.  

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During Robert Preston's long career American culture changed greatly.  His roles, as with any actor who made many films over 30 or more years,  will reflect these changes.  Preston was often the second lead rather than the star of A productions and the star of modest budget films during the thirties and forties. In higher budget films, his roles alternated between affable and villainous.  His two films for deMille, Northwest Mounted Police (1940) and Reap the Wild Wind (1942) may be typical of his early villainous characters, likable, but weak, young men who stray outside the law and come to poor ends.  After the war, his characters remained likable, but darker, more villainous con men and outlaws.  His character in Blood on the Moon (1948) is typical; a cheat and liar, friend of hero Robert Mitchum with whom he is has a terrific fistfight and is finally killed.  After The Music Man, the older Preston is still playing the con man, but a softer character.   By the 80's, the culture had changed sufficiently that the open portrayal of a gay man was acceptable.  Westerners were out of fashion.

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1)Male representation changed as the decades passed. In the 30's and 40's males were gentlemanly, romantic and often the center of the story. In the 50's there were  more prominent musical performers, but in the 60's we see the growth of transcendental (as you put it) female roles. Males couldn't stay behind. How do you compete with an Audrey Hepburn ??In the 60's, male characters were either alpha or beta or a combination of both. They had more depth, emotion, and intelligence.

2) Preston had a unique voice and manner of speaking, evident in both movies. He plays a strategist that knows how to influence people with exquisite words and cat-like moves. He exudes charm, confidence and a sense of humor. Quite attractive qualities regardless of sexual orientation. I agree with LynnBlake, that Preston's singing keeps you present with the character.

3) I have not seen too many Preston movies except for "How The West Was Won" and "Reap the Wild Wind". In both cases I remember how he approached the character with integrity and authenticity. He kept it real. What a showman.

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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 showing more emotion in the acting and singing have changed dramatically from the start of musicals to present day.  
     
  2. What other specific qualities do you notice about Robert Preston in either or both of these clips?
    Robert Preston has such a unique voice and presence when he is performing!  You cannot ignore him!  He's a likeable know it all of sorts in Music Man and a lovable cad in Victor/Victoria.
     
  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 him in The Last Starfighter and again his voice and personality is just so engaging and believable, even in a sci fi fantasy film! 

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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?

As we enter the 1960s, the deep bass and baritones of Howard Keel and Gordon MacRae as lusty, confident, masculine leads are replaced with older, limited range singers.  Preston in The Music Man reminds me vocally of Rex Harrison, talk-singing his way through My Fair Lady.  

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

In both films Preston is charismatic enough to pull of both performances.  He has enough smarmy charm to woo Shirley Jones but I don't find him especially swoon-worthy as a male lead.  It's bold irony that Preston barely carries a tune in The Music Man, but his character of Harold Hill teaches the Buffalo Bills to harmonize? duets with lovely librarian Marian? Starts the band? Preston doesn't carry a tune but hands off the music to all of the other musically inclined characters.  In Victor/Victoria, the confirmed heterosexual Preston performs as a stereotypically swishy Carole Todd.  Once again, he's faking his way through what's needed for the definition of his character.

  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?

Unfortunately, I've never seen Preston in any other feature films other than these two and have no frame of reference to respond.

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1) The obvious changes in masculine representations after the 1950s musicals include, the physical appearance and personality traits. As we have discussed in the course, the 1940s musicals had men support the war because they were in the navy or army, which is very masculine. In the 1950s musicals they were strong, fit and very handsome, and popular with the ladies. These clips of Robert Preston show that the men didn't have to be in tip top shape, very handsome and be the alpha male beyond the '60s. The clips show two types of masculinity: the first being smart and confident while being an average man, and the second clip shows what looks like an average man but with a not-so-strict and straight personality and sexual preference.

2) I noticed that Robert Preston is not an old-fashioned actor like those in the 1920s-1950s. He doesn't give the impression that he is playing the role of a character. His acting looks authentic as if he has immersed himself in the character to be the character. Both roles in the two clips are contradicting but they show real-life, ordinary characters that are very believable.

3) I have not seen Preston in non-musicals, but I would like to so I can compare and contrast his acting work. Also, to compare his transition from early musicals to The Music Man and Victor, Victoria.

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1.  During the code era we see Fred and Ginger and men going to war and a lot patriotism in musicals.  There was usually an Alpha Male and individualism was suspicious.  

2.  I can see individualism in both characters.

3.  I don't recall seeing him in other movies except for the Music Man.  A classic! 

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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?

One of the most noticeable changes in masculine performances is that there seems to be more focus on expression and less on dominance. In the past, the idea of the leading man was generally dominant in terms of both performance and portrayal. In most early musicals, we often saw the leading men such as Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby play the suave, sophisticated hero who always got the girl all while managing to sing or dance their way to the top. With Robert Preston's portrayals in both The Music Man and Victor/Victoria, we still see that same sense of sophistication but presented in a much subtle and openly expressive way. Like in the scene from The Music Man, for example. When Robert Preston's character, Harold Hill, attempts to convince the town of River City that they need a boy's band in order to keep them from falling into the temptations of the near by pool hall, he presents himself in such a way that is not only appealing and charming, but also manages to maintain a very subtle sense of control that's both subduing and concise in its execution. The same tropes are also played with Toddy in Victor/Victoria, but in an even more subtle and overt way both in tone and implications.

 

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

Even though, Preston sort of plays both characters in some what similar ways in terms of precision and execution, he manages to have this inexplicable quality of drawing the viewer into the scene no matter what the circumstances. Not only is his range as actor impressive, it's almost down right criminal in the way he can command and control an entire scene with his gestures and expression both visually and verbally. You can this in both of the clips presented. In the clip from The Music Man, we can see how manages to entice the both crowd in the scene and the audience not only with his physical gestures and tone, but also with his projection of confidence by appealing to one's sense of morality. We sort of see that same sense of execution in Victor/Victoria, but in the opposite direction. Instead of appealing to one's sense of morality, he manages to appeal to one's sense of pleasure and sadism through his implications and insults. Of course, both characters have similar motives in terms of manipulating people to get what they want, but Preston plays both of them with such finesse and coordination almost to a point where he makes it seem so effortless and natural.

 

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?

They only film I ever seen him in was The Music Man. However after reading everyone else's posts, I think I'm going to check out his other films as well.

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Male representations in the 60s and beyond are pretty different from musicals of past decades. Men start to become I would say equal to their female costars instead of acting like the alpha of the group. Men could either be very suave or your average joe. Being it was around the time of the sexual revolution it also allowed the openness to sexuality regardless of their sexual orientation. For example, Omar Sherrifs suave, gambler in Funny Girl to Joel Gray in Cabaret.

I notice that in both scenes that he's very good at capturing his audiences attention regardless of how or what lyrics he's singing.

I actually haven't seen any of his films! I know shame on me! lol

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Daily dose #14

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 masculine performances become more believable. The masculine performances open up the circle of relatability to multiple people groups of both genders.

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

He is so comfortable in his own skin! He is in command of the whole stage…the whole room (or park) is his stage. He is fearless with his audience. He draws all attention to himself!

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?

The roles Preston played, that came to mind most easily, were those he had played in musicals. I did have to research the lists for movies I may have seen in which Robert Preston had acted. I remembered seeing the movie “How the West Was Won” but was hard pressed to recall his role and unfortunately had to refresh my memory. Then, it was “Äh! Yes!”

While my statements are true it does not mean Robert Preston is in any way unmemorable!

It does mean that other roles he played left an indelible impression.

No matter which role…one that came to my memory easily or not…Preston comes across as a “man’s man”. This of course, in some instances, a play on words!

While playing The Wagon Master “Roger Morgan” in the movie “How the West Was Won” he is strong, a true leader, capable of handling any problem situation, an example for other men to live up to…fulfilling the traditional interpretation of the phrase “ä man’s man”.

 While playing “Toddy” in the movie “Victor Victoria” he plays the part of Count Grazinski’s (Julie Andrews) boyfriend…a “man’s” man. I have rarely laughed as hard, at any scene, than I did at Preston’s performance of “The Shady Dame from Seville”. What acting! It seems Preston is willing to do whatever it takes to get his character across to the audience!

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1) The way masculine is shown has changed with the age of music ( looking at Elvis in "Jailhouse Rock") and how they set the standards of how it is viewed even in today's society. I would put Robert Preston at the time before music set the tone of how we view masculine by it's very own artist of that genre at the time. Since he gives off a suave, even charismatic performance  and how he sings just gives off that low, charisma singing to it and even that kind of debonair look he has. But he doesn't look like he's the rough and tough guy that real early actors of that masculine age showed before music hit the scene with it's own version. 

2) In the two different video clips I notice how older apart they are, in one video he looks young and in the next clip, while not old he does have an aged look to him, in the two clips I can see how his singing has changed. In clip one he has this energetic energy to him and just how he draws in the crowd, while in the other one he has this more clam, more charismatic way to him that draws in the audience.

3) The only other movie I had seen Robert Preston in ( which was a long while ago) was from " How the West was Won" which from what I could remember from it was a great movie and he did a terrific and just fantastic job as his performance.   

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Before I get into my observations of the two films, I would like to say that I have been to Meredith Willson's hometown of Mason City, Iowa, which has been stated to have been the real life basis for the fictional River City in "The Music Man." Willson's birthplace is preserved as a museum, and there's also an adjoining tourist attraction called Music Man Square. I have many fond memories of Mason City, and "The Music Man" remains special to me as a result.

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?

Men fit into a more codified gender role in early musicals. They were generally the leader, and didn't tend to subvert their roles in any way. As time passed, the gender roles became more fluid, and male roles far more flexible, less rigid. A gay man would never have been portrayed in the 1930s.
 

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

He's extremely versatile, and engaging. No matter what he's doing, he's the center of attention. He takes charge of the scene, and it very much becomes "his" show. He also truly inhabits his roles, filling them with genuine humanity and pathos.
 

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?

Unfortunately, I have only seen him in "The Music Man." I can see, though, that he was a truly dedicated and talented actor.

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1. I think there are three pretty big changes in male representation in movie musicals from 1930s-1970s: the demure, sophisticated man who was sweet/sensitive and unassuming, graceful dancing and tender crooning, what would be known as a "beta male" type, (Dick Powell, Fred Astaire); the manly, "alpha male" type who took charge and whose presence/swagger filled every room he was in (which also shone through in their confident dancing and bold voices), this was the man's man who could be a soldier or just a good old American stud (Gene Kelly, Bing Crosby); then we have a new type of masculine performance that falls somewhere in the middle, or rather, isn't particularly bound by such rigid gender expectations, the men who run the gamut of emotions in their performances (both in acting and dancing/singing), appearing both sensitive and confident they show there's more than one way for a "man" to be, their appeal may seem niche in some cases but because of their depth and vulnerability they have a wide range of fans and create a place for themselves outside of the "norm" (Robert Preston, Elvis Presley). 

2. I noticed that Robert Preston (in both clips) has such graceful control over his motions that even though he doesn't seem to move as fluidly as say, Gene Kelly, he has perfect command in every movement (i.e. when he jumps up on the statue and imitates it in Music Man and when he skillfully avoids the fighting at the end of the Victor/Victoria clip). He also has such a mastery over his voice that just with a few inflections in his singing he can convey the subtlest changes in emotion or add subtext to lyrics that might fall flat with other singers. I was really impressed by how much he alluded to and addressed emotionally in the Victor/Victoria clip; there are several layers to that song (which was undoubtedly necessary given his character and subject matter) that would be worth exploring. 

3. Unfortunately, I have not, but after viewing these two clips, not only will I purposefully seek out The Music Man and Victor/Victoria for viewing, I'll search for other works in his filmography to see how much he brings to all of his film roles now that I know how dedicated he was to his craft. 

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1) I believe that dancing--or the lack thereof--was the greatest change for men in the film musical. Movie musicals in the thirties had Fred Astaire in evening attire, which many in the depths of the Great Depression could only consider to be the stuff of fantasy. This is not to say that Fred was less than manly but he was usually presented as a dancer in rather dandy attire, which to the millions out of work was a dream to get them through the worst times of their lives. Enter World War II and Gene Kelly. This was not a guy in a tux hoofing...this was Superman dancing acrobatically (or acrobatically dancing, you decide). Gene made the average Joe believe that he might be able to do this...after a few beers. Gene was the guy at the plant, your next door neighbor, a real man's man. When we later see Gordon MacRae, Elvis Presley or Yul Brenner onscreen they are actors who can sing but not really dancers; dancing seems to have been an afterthought. The toning down of males dancing in musicals might have been a studio idea based on audience suggestions or a cultural shift that doesn't return until the late 1970's with John Travolta in "Saturday Night Fever" and "Grease" and later with the inception of MTV and music videos, particualary those of Michael Jackson. 

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The alpha male changed in that he wasn't so stern, he wasn't so "my way or the highway." Instead, he would still have a sense of command, but the females were really starting to take over.

They were making their own decisions, and they weren't waiting for a man to come along and save them, so to speak. The men became helpers, guys that would help the lady to get where she

was going, and if they fell in love along the way, so be it. The guys also showed more emotions instead always having to be tough; they could be a little more exposed, to the right person.

In both of these clips it's clear that Preston gave it his all for his roles. He didn't merely play the character, he became the character, allowing the character to have a lasting effect, instead of

something you forgot once you moved on to the next movie.

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

Both characters know how to read a crowd and give them exactly what they want/think they need.  He's part con man and part circus barker in THE MUSIC MAN.  In VICTOR/VICTORIA, his wit cuts like a knife.  He takes no prisoners as he's interacting with the recently seated party.  They encroach on his territory and try their best to insult him, but he gives better than he gets.  And he can hold his own in a fight!
 

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 any number of films and television shows, but I remember him best in HOW THE WEST WAS WON, as the optimistic wagon master, Roger Morgan, who's out to seduce Debbie Reynolds' Lilith.  Well, maybe seduce isn't the right word.  He wants a strong woman who will birth him a house full of children and help him tend his land claim, and he's matter-of-fact in his propositions.  I've seen more romance in horse trading than in Morgan's proposals.  At least he's good-natured about her rejections.

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In the past, it seemed like films were trying very hard to emphasize masculinity and the alpha male. During the 60s, it seems like more sensitive, artistic, intellectual, musical types were popular.

I loved that he was able to depict a gay character without using stereotypes. It was very natural.

I have not seen any other Preston films

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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?

Based on this clip, it’s actually become more toned down. There is no dance choreography, just blocking, the singing has been incorporated into the acting to better serve the character and not necessarily the audience - directly.  

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

His truth to acting takes precedence within his performance, even over the musical number. His voice commands attention above all else. He’s holds himself as a masculine figure.

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?

As this course is my introduction to Robert Preston’s work, I have no other prior reference.

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In these two clips, we see male leads who are far from the well-defined alpha and beta male types of earlier musicals. Now the characters are well-rounded and human, with all the character flaws and range of emotions of men in the real world. The performances and songs are integrated into the story and forward the character development, instead of just showcasing a particular star and his talents. 

Preston stands apart from the crowd; he is not one of them, he is a cut above them. His wordplay is above their heads, he reels them in with trickery and sophistication. In both clips, you sense that he has a secret, is hiding something, is mocking them, is smarter than they are. He is in total control, with swift and agile tongue and feet. And while every movement and word is calculated, he retains a looseness, a genuine quality that feels real, a vulnerability and believability factor that is very appealing. Preston is in the top echelon of movie musical entertainers, a real actor's actor, who will always get the girl or guy and achieve his dreams.

I have not seen him in any other non-musical films, but I imagine his stellar approach to acting would make them very enjoyable to watch.

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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?

Older films feature situations “Where men are men, and the women love them”  It’s a bit of an exaggeration, but a good guy was a good guy and villains  were easily recognizable. The situations set the conflict - obstacles to overcome, goals to meet. Later, the lines between good and bad blur - heroes are flawed and often have to overcome their own demons or ghosts. Performances required more depth.

 

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

Every syllable is enunciated perfectly. Writers must have loved him - every word is fully spoken. To match the perfect diction, his face was extremely expressive and sensitive. It gave him great emotional range.

 

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 was hard pressed to think of a non-musical Preston flick, so I went out on the web to research his career and look at some clips. Much of his work was in television. In the musicals, Preston is bigger than life. He constantly moves through the musical numbers and plays to a big audience. In dramatic sequences (Sundowners and some of the TV films) He is much more intimate - he is in the scene and appropriate. In fact, looking at those clips on their own, it’s hard to imagine him strutting all over River City. Yet you pay attention to him. There is always a lot going on in that face. Versatility…

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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?  There have always been beta males (Fred Astaire, Jules Munshin, Gene Nelson, Donald O’Connor) and alpha males (Gene Kelly, Howard Keel, George Chakiris) in movie musicals.  In general, perhaps they were given more sympathetic roles over time? 

2.     What other specific qualities do you notice about Robert Preston in either or both of these clips?  Robert Preston always seemed like an “in the background” performer, meaning his performances never stood out to me.  This changed with “The Music Man” where he is perfectly cast.  He truly inhabits the role.  The same can be said about his role in “Victor/Victoria”.  I don’t think I noticed his versatility before now.

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?  As I mentioned in question 2, his dramatic performances in movie roles from the ‘40s and ‘50s never stood out to me.  He struck me as being a solid supporting actor, but not much more.  I think he came into his own with “The Music Man” and his strength as an actor became even clearer in his subsequent roles.

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1. In the first clip we see that our hero is a con man and alpha male. Although, the character is dishonest, we find ourselves rooting for him. I believe that is due to the talented acting of Preston. In the second clip we see a very different approach to the portrayal of a gay person. I thought that he walked a thin line very well, holding on to his masculinity while at the same time very lightly hinting about his character. I felt like he played a man that happens to be gay rather than a gay man.

2. In "The Music Man" I noticed that many of Preston's movements and expressions had some sort of purpose for every moment in the scene. Whether it was to convey the story line of the picture or to add some kind of humorous thought to make the sequence seem more fun. 

3. Unfortunately I have only viewed Mr. Preston in musicals, so I could not give an opinion on this topic. 

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1.  In 'The Music Man' Robert Preston plays a door to door con-man that yes has a more masculine approach, than in contrast to his role in in 'Victor/Victoria' where Preston plays a more feminine male role on stage, yet is masculine off stage.   I would say what the noticeable difference is that male roles in the 60s males were stuck to the more masculine to fit society, compared to the 70s when gay culture was started to get embraced by the masses. 

2.  In 'Ya got Trouble' Preston is convincing people to buy a boys band before '76 Trombones'.  In the clip from 'Victor/Victoria' he is presented more as a night club singer.

3.  I've only seen Preston in musicals.  I will say though his role in 'Mame' with Lucile Ball he plays a traditional southern man living the fantasies of the past.  Yet showing an incredible amount of humanity to anyone he meets. 

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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?

  • In my opinion, there is an added dimension of "real men" with a softer side and/or a good heart. In earlier years, men in musicals were often cads (such as in the earlier clip from "An American in Paris.")

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

  • (Preston is an early favorite of mine but I will try not to gush). For me, the most notable thing about Robert Preston in musicals is the twinkle in his eye. He seems to be having a ball, regardless of the character, and he takes the viewer along for this fabulous ride.  These are musicals you watch when you need a pick-me-up.

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?

  • Plenty, spanning his career: S.O.B., Semi-Tough , Tulsa, This Gun for Hire , Beau Geste, Union Pacific and How the West Was Won among them. He was always a solid presence in films. But he just kept getting better. He seemed to be hitting a new peak, even in flawed projects, right up until his untimely death in 1987.

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