MovieMadness

Who was the best female singer/actress in classic movies

112 posts in this topic

Ginger Rogers, hands down. No debate. (for singing that its)

Acting is a toss up,

 

Edited by: Jezebelle on Jan 14, 2013 4:39 PM

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For me

 

1. Judy Garland (she was very underrated as a dramatic actress)

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2. Streisand

3. Doris Day

4. Ginger Rogers - not a great singer, but she made it work (and how!) with Astaire.

 

 

What about Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich? No love for their singing styles? They did sing in some of their films :) Dietrich even had a singing career after her film career was over.

I love Irene Dunne the actress, but I strongly dislike her high pitched/operetta style singing voice.

 

 

 

I have barely seen any Deanna Durbin films, so I cannot really rate her.

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> {quote:title=markus21 wrote:}{quote}Understandable, James:

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> Still. one can evaluate Durbin's talents and career achievements on their own merits vis-a-vis those of Garland, Day, Dunne, etc. in the same "studio contract player" era, and the for the reasons I've already cited (e.g., Durbin was the only enduring musical actress of that era to make it to stardom and retain it entirely on her own, that she never appeared opposite a comparably popular box office star to ensure the success of her films, that she appeared almost entirely in original stories that had no "market value" for film audiences other than her presence in them, that she was almost always the only singer, and often the only musical presence in her films, etc.) and others, I think she deserves consideration as among the most uniquely gifted and significant musical talents in film.

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> As stunningly gifted and unique as she obviously was, it took MGM (and film audiences) a relatively long time to warm up to Judy Garland's full potential, and Metro had to pull out all the stops (big budget musicals, top co-stars, the finest behind-the-scenes talents to showcase her abilities, original scores from Hollywood's top musical talents, etc., etc.) to do it. Though Garland's appearances in more intimate "Durbin-esque" style films were popular successes and netted her warm notices overall, not a single one created the worldwide sensation Durbin did with press and public in her best vehicles for Universal.

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> As I think Judy's charm and talent are obvious, even in her early films, I'm not sure why it took so long for audiences and her studio to warm to her, but so it was....

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Markus,

 

The old cliche "Out of sight, out of mind" applies very much in the case of Durbin. Unlike Garbo, who became more mysterious when she chose to "disappear", Deanna just became forgotten. Her unbelievable world wide fame at the time hasn't carried over in the intervening decades. I find that to be a shame, but it is what it is.

 

Add Universal's disdain for its past, while MGM (and later Warner) continued marketing its past, and this is the result.

 

As far as Garland's slowness to catch on, it took MGM awhile to figure out how to feature her. Universal and Pasternak knew just what to do to make Durbin a household name.

I wonder if either gal would have been as big a star if their situatons had been reversed studiowise.

 

MGM was also really smart to sign Pasternak to help make Grayson a star. He also produced all of the good Mario Lanza films when he became a household name.

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I have to confess, in reading the posts here, I've become intrigued by Ms. Durbin's work. I saw very little of it a very long time ago, on television, and for whatever reason, I wasn't impressed then. But in going through the list of her movies, many sound like films I would like (though not necessarily the musical ones), with great supporting casts. Let's hope we get to see them soon.

 

 

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{font:arial, helvetica, sans-serif}4. Ginger Rogers - not a great singer, but she made it work (and how!) with Astaire

Said LadyE{font}

 

But I think you meant "made it work For Astaire" because I think his work suffered when she wasn't paired with him. There was no magic and the story didn't capture your attention. There are the few acceptions such as *Easter Parade* or *Funny Face*.

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Well, she did want to become an opera singer (Dunne) She tried out for the Met, but didnt make it.........

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In another forum I belong to, we discussed a similar situation in regards to "Rock'n'Roll" singing. I mentioned a guy I knew in high school who always wanted to be a singer/frontman in a rock band, but his voice was too much like PERRY COMO'S. He'd have done well in these days of the popularity of the Buble/Connick Jr. vocal stylings. But as it was the late '60's, it was no dice. I have no idea whatever became of him.

 

 

What this goes to illustrate is that a vote for the "best" female singer/actress depends heavily on the material given them to perform. One wouldn't give Ethel Merman or Judy Garland the part in a movie about the life of an opera singer, unless they wanted a Dorothy Commingore type of result. Or was willing to dub it. But to present the true voice of any performer, the material would have to jibe with the vocal abilities/limitations of the one chosen for the part. This makes it difficult in these kinds of discussions because, surprisingly enough, studio heads more often than not got it right. Durbin couldn't have done *Meet Me In St. Louis* as well as Garland, and Garland would have seemed ridiculous in most Durbin vehicles. In many cases it becomes an "apples and oranges" arguement.

 

 

In more contemporary times, actor JOHN TRAVOLTA has proven to have an acceptable singing voice, with some well sold recordings to his credit, and even did his own singing in the movie musical *Grease* . But I would hesitate to cast him in "The Vaughn Monroe Story". Unless he was lip-syncing to an overdub.

 

 

Sepiatone

 

 

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> {quote:title=Hibi wrote:}{quote}Well, she did want to become an opera singer (Dunne) She tried out for the Met, but didnt make it.........

Luckily for us she did not make it! ;)

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> {quote:title=Jezebelle wrote:}{quote}4. Ginger Rogers - not a great singer, but she made it work (and how!) with Astaire

> Said LadyE

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> But I think you meant "made it work For Astaire" because I think his work suffered when she wasn't paired with him. There was no magic and the story didn't capture your attention. There are the few acceptions such as *Easter Parade* or *Funny Face*.

Hahaha, you are probably right, with the exceptions that you noted (one of them including Judy Garland, so that's why it worked), I do not find Astaire's-sanse-Ginger musicals as engaging chemistry/story-wise. It was a match made in heaven.

 

I know Ginger Rogers does not get much love on these Boards, but I think she was an amazing entertainer. Her awful autobiography has done a lot to burst a sort of "myth" status she had. I read it recently and it took me a while to recover from all that blandness. What a boring person she was in real life, amazing that she managed to be so entertaining on screen!

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While what you says about an "apples and oranges" arguement" is spot on, but us here are just a bunch of people having a friendly discussion about what is 'best' (or one's favorite).

 

So all we want is ONE name, with the implied understanding this ONE name is just a reflection of each person's taste. (and thus not a true reflection of who is really best, since that concept is folly to begin with).

 

Edited by: jamesjazzguitar on Jan 15, 2013 12:44 PM

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Amen to that James! I understood the question as who was the most entertaining/enjoyable for each individual. Judging singing abilities...well that's another technical discussion. Although Judy Garland's voice is just so unique and so timeless it is hard to argue against her. And again, she was a very underrated actress.

 

I enjoyed this thread very much, I am also intrigued now about Deanna Durbin thanks to Markus's quality posts.

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Of course my top answer to the question posed by this thread is *Irene Dunne*, but I love *Ginger Rogers.* (For me, Dunne is in a different league). I do think that Rogers' movies with Astaire represents the best work for both of them, not just because of their chemistry, but because for a number of reasons those films are something special.

 

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I'm surprised no one mentioned Lena Horne. She had the voice and the right dramatic flair for musicals. Sadly under-used because of skin color, and probably the better choice for Show Boat.(Love Ava in everything else.) But my favorite actress in musicals is undoubtedly Judy Garland. She was an excellent actress in or out of the musical genre. Her performance of Over the Rainbow has never been surpassed. Can you believe they almost left it out? Irene Dunne is one of the best comedic actresses ever, but I'm not a fan of operatic singing.

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Re the Ginger autobio, it was very much written by her, not as told to...I wish I could recommend it, but you would be wasting your money and, more important, your time! I did not even finish it...It really bumped her a bit out of the pedestal I had her as an entertainer. To me, the person and the actor go together.

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> {quote:title=ginnyfan wrote:}{quote}

> > {quote:title=markus21 wrote:}{quote}Understandable, James:

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> > Still. one can evaluate Durbin's talents and career achievements on their own merits vis-a-vis those of Garland, Day, Dunne, etc. in the same "studio contract player" era, and the for the reasons I've already cited (e.g., Durbin was the only enduring musical actress of that era to make it to stardom and retain it entirely on her own, that she never appeared opposite a comparably popular box office star to ensure the success of her films, that she appeared almost entirely in original stories that had no "market value" for film audiences other than her presence in them, that she was almost always the only singer, and often the only musical presence in her films, etc.) and others, I think she deserves consideration as among the most uniquely gifted and significant musical talents in film.

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> > As stunningly gifted and unique as she obviously was, it took MGM (and film audiences) a relatively long time to warm up to Judy Garland's full potential, and Metro had to pull out all the stops (big budget musicals, top co-stars, the finest behind-the-scenes talents to showcase her abilities, original scores from Hollywood's top musical talents, etc., etc.) to do it. Though Garland's appearances in more intimate "Durbin-esque" style films were popular successes and netted her warm notices overall, not a single one created the worldwide sensation Durbin did with press and public in her best vehicles for Universal.

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> > As I think Judy's charm and talent are obvious, even in her early films, I'm not sure why it took so long for audiences and her studio to warm to her, but so it was....

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> Markus,

>

> The old cliche "Out of sight, out of mind" applies very much in the case of Durbin. Unlike Garbo, who became more mysterious when she chose to "disappear", Deanna just became forgotten. Her unbelievable world wide fame at the time hasn't carried over in the intervening decades. I find that to be a shame, but it is what it is.

>

>

> Add Universal's disdain for its past, while MGM (and later Warner) continued marketing its past, and this is the result.

>

>

> As far as Garland's slowness to catch on, it took MGM awhile to figure out how to feature her. Universal and Pasternak knew just what to do to make Durbin a household name.

> I wonder if either gal would have been as big a star if their situatons had been reversed studiowise.

>

>

> MGM was also really smart to sign Pasternak to help make Grayson a star. He also produced all of the good Mario Lanza films when he became a household name.

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Hi Ginnyfan:

 

It's good to chat with you again. I caught a bit of a TCM showing of a film with Virginia Weidler and Lee Tracy this week and immediately thought of you....I didn't see much of it, but Virginia was cute and capable, as always.

 

As to the points you've raised re Deanna and Judy, I've heard them often, but I'm not sure I buy them.

 

As far as Deanna's legacy is concerned, as I've said before, I think her biggest handicap has been the lack of availability of her films for public broadcasts over the past half century or so. (They haven't been regular TV fare since the 1960s.) This, of course, is in direct contrast to the MGM films of Judy and Greta Garbo (and those of most MGM stars), which have been standard broadcast fare practically since TV became a standard entertainment venue.

 

Whether this scarcity of Deanna's films was due to Universal's "neglect" (and, if this is the case, one could also cite the scarce showings of films starring talented Universal "kids" like Gloria Jean, Donald O'Connor, Peggy Ryan, etc.), or, as one longtime Durbin fan maintains, because Deanna finagled a clause in her 1940 contract that ordered Universal to give her a cut for "any electronic broadcasts" of her products for the studio, is unclear.

 

What is most impressive is the lasting impression that Durbn and her films have made on those who have seen them. In his book THE STORY OF CINEMA, British film historian David Shipman commented that, after Deanna's decision to retire due in part to the poor quality of her final films at Universal-International, she "enjoyed a sweet and satisfying revenge. For if we can go by requests from the public, she invarably heads every list."

 

There seems to be a lot of truth in this. For instance, Shipman has several times noted that according to BBC records, Deanna's films and recordings have been "more requested by the public than those of any other star of Hollywood's great era."

 

Here in America, back in the day when American Movie Classics Channel actually showed "classic" films, according to the introductions given to a handful of her films shown by AMC in the late 1990s, she was the most requested star by viewers of that channel.

 

THE DEANNA DURBIN COLLECTION series of VHS films released by MCA/UNIVERSAL in the late 1990s became the most successful series of films in MCA's "Classic Film" series, outselling those devoted to stars like Claudette Colbert, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and the Universal Horror Series, among others. (In the introductory comments to the Second Set of Durbin VHS films, you can hear a reference to this achievement when the narrator notes that the second set is being released "Due to the unprecedented success" of the first set of films.)

 

As far as Universal's knowing just what to do with Deanna, according to published reports, her debut film wasn't originally conceived as a "star vehicle" for her, but rather as a means of financially strapped Universal's getting rid of as many of its' contract workers as it could as cheaply as possible, and to avoid potential lawsuits by those workers for the abrupt cancellation of their contracts. (Pasternak said he had to threaten Universal with a lawsuit to be allowed to produce a film for the company.)

 

While Pasternak may have had faith in Deanna's potential, what changed the minds of corporate executives was the viewing of the daily rushes of Deanna's work, which proved to be so startlingly good that they decided she was indeed the potential "big star" the studio needed to get out of the red. As a result, Deanna's part was padded and the film rewritten to feature her as its' star attraction. Fortunately, it all worked out spectacularly well, but, like any other performer, Deanna had to prove herself in her first film, and, indeed in the subsequent ones as some naysayers, though loving her work, continued to speculate that audiences would grow weary of watching a maturing adolscent female, however talented and charismatic, onscreen.

 

As for MGM's not knowing what to do with Judy, I think that by 1938's LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY, the studio pretty much had her screen persona set. As "Betsy Booth" in that film, she plays the good, loyal, sublimely talented lovelorn "galpal" of a short-sighted Mickey Rooney who, though appreciating her talents, fails to think of her as a romantic partner.

 

With few exceptions, from LFAH on, Judy's characters are demure, wistful, loyal and lovelorn, and musically, her ballad/torch singing (in almost every MGM film, she has at least one ration of musical self-pity in which she expresses her romantic frustrations in song), are given primacy over her more energetic/peppy numbers. It's not that she isn't given oppportunities to show how wonderfully she can belt out a song, but they're almost always reserved for performance spots, while the ballads/torch songs provide character exposition for the role she's playing. In these respects, I think Judy's image is sort of a "junior variation" on the one 20th Century Fox was crafting for Alice Faye around the same time.

 

And I think it's pretty clear that MGM failed to capitalize on Judy's success in THE WIZARD OF OZ as fully as it should have. Between OZ's release in 1939 and 1942's FOR ME AND MY GAL (the film where Judy was first given the solo, above-the-title top billing of an acknowledged superstar), she appeared in what? 6? 7? 8? films, but only one of them, 1940's LITTLE NELLIE KELLY, can truly be considered a "Judy Garland film."

 

In all the others, she's either providing prominent but definite support for Mickey Rooney in the ANDY HARDY and BABES films, or lending her burgeoning star power to an emerging Lana Turner in 1941's ZIEGFELD GIRL. It's certainly a testament to Judy's growing popularity that she's billed second (after top-billed James Stewart) and before Turner and Hedy Lamarr in ZG, but, on the other hand, her musical moments aside, she has the least well-developed, briefest and blandest role of the three ladies.

 

Why the delay? OZ reportedly gave her a big hit, a hit Oscar-winning song (with which she was instantly identified) and, according to Garland scholar John Fricke, at one point in 1939, Judy was receiving more fan mail than any other MGM star, so where were the "Garland vehicles" as opposed to the "Rooney/Garland" teamings? I get that Mickey and Judy were a box office goldmine for Metro at the time, but during this period he made many films without her, why didn't MGM give Judy a few of her own? And why in the onscreen credits for LITTLE NELLIE KELLY, does she receive prominent BELOW the title billing instead of above-the-title billing?

 

I can think of some reasons for MGM'S reticence, such as the fact that OZ, though very popular, reportedly failed to turn a profit on its' initial release, and since MGM took a similarly leisurely approach to promoting future young stars like Lana Turner, Jane Powell, Debbie Reynolds and, especially Kathryn Grayson to top stardom, maybe it was simply "company policy." But for me the "defense" of Metro that it "simply didn't know what to do with Judy, doesn't cut it by the time of OZ and BABES IN ARMS...if not earlier.

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Marcus,

 

I don't think we're in that much disagreement. I do believe Universal's failure to make digital product available has a lot to do with it. Everyone knows O'Connor from SINGING IN THE RAIN or from Francis movies, not from those matchups with Peggy Ryan and Gloria Jean in the 1940s. And hardly anyone remembers Peggy or Gloria at all. Deanna, who was so much bigger than all of them, has lost popularity too because of it.

 

I also think the fact that the public became less and less accepting and knowledgeable about her type of music doesn't help, either.

 

You are correct that MGM didn't capitalize on OZ as it could have. At least they came back and put her in a musical after OZ instead of another supporting non-musical role in a Hardy pic. BTW, MGM failed to capitalize on Weidler's success in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, either. They tried to just have her play Dinah over and over again in worse and worse projects. But that's off topic...

 

It's also interesting that Garland got billing over Rooney the first time they worked together, then never again.

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Ginny,

 

 

I don't think we disagree that much, either. MCA/UNIVERSAL certainly hasn't been as generous in releasing its' classic film titles as MGM/UA WARNER or whatever the corporation is called now.

 

 

It's interesting about Virginia Weidler's career at MGM. With her role in BABES ON BROADWAY (which at least was a variation on "Dinah Lord") and her subsequent one in BORN TO SING, MGM seemed to be trying to cast her as a junior grade Judy, but overall, I don't think Metro had much interest in promoting a non-singing female adolescent as a movie star. A shame in Virginia's case because she was talented, versatile and likeable.

 

 

I think Judy got the top billing over Mickey in THOROUGHBREDS because of the success of "Dear Mr. Gable." Still, it's interesting that the "Coming Attractions" trailer for THOROUGHBREDS barely mentions Judy, devoting most of its' time to promoting Ronald Sinclair.

 

 

While both FOR ME AND MY GAL and PRESENTING LILY MARS were bright showcases for Judy, I don't think Metro really got behind her as a top star in her own right until MEET ME IN ST LOUIS. Fortunately, the tremendous success of that film, ensured that Metro wouldn't take her for granted as it seemed to in many of her earlier films.

 

 

Incidentally, another of Deanna's achievements as a vocalist was that she was reportedly contacted by the Metropolitan Opera to discuss arranging an audition based on her performances on Eddie Cantor's radio show. She reportedly met with Met directors on her 15th birthday, December 4, 1936...and turned them down, citing her lack of experience on the operatic stage and her contract with Universal and her already overcrowded schedule. Rumors of Deanna's "impending debut" with the Met (and other opera companies) persisted throughout much of the 1940s until she put a stop to them.

 

 

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