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There's No Business Like Show Business


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*So it was intended to be a vehicle for Merman. I was wondering. Did she really want a film career?*

 

*With CALL ME MADAM a smash hit, FOX fashioned a followup vehicle for Merman with another Irving Berlin score and reteaming Merman with Donald O'Connor.*

 

I've read that the Ethel Merman role had first been offered to Betty Grable, now being unceremoniously deposed from her position as Queen of the Lot at Fox by Marilyn's meteoric rise. Betty is quoted as saying something to the effect of that when she made the similar MOTHER WORE TIGHTS in 1947, it was fun playing a mother of grown children, but in 1954, it hit her as too close to home. I think it was then offered to Alice Faye, who was still angry with Zanuck and content to remain at homw with her growing daughters. So it seems that it went to Merman by default, happily having just had a hit at the studio (her first as a star of a movie) with the film version of CALL ME MADAM.

 

*Unfortunately the film did not do as well at the box office.*

 

The film was a top grosser that year, so maybe this statement should be amended to say " . . . did not do as well at the box office . . . as the studio had hoped", since with that cast, and especially Marilyn in the first flush of superstardom, Fox hoped for a bigger return on its investment.

 

Marilyn had not wanted to do the role, in fact turning it down (she had previously rejected another musical (THE GIRL IN) PINK TIGHTS-which was never made. She only relented on TNBLSB because the studio dangled THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH in front of her, which she craved to do.

 

 

I believe that for the "Heat Wave" number, the censors insisted that the original outfit Monroe wore be changed to something less revealing.

 

*I believe this was Gaynor's last film for FOX (although she made SOUTH PACIFIC under a separate deal) and as usual she is wasted.*

 

The studio wanted her for THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE, but she turned it down, and Sheree North inherited yet another hand-me-down role.

 

*Although Ray was a non-actor I think he does the best he can with a thankless part. FOX signed a whole bunch of teen idols at this time including Fabian, Pat Boone, Tommy Sands and of course Elvis.*

 

Johnny Ray's career took a nose dive after one too many busts by the vice squad.

 

 

Not to get too technical, but in 1954 none of these future teen idols meant anything. It wasn't until 1956 that 20th signed Elvis, followed by Boone and Sands, with Fabian coming in at the end of the decade.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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> {quote:title=FredCDobbs wrote:

> }{quote}Of course she still had a great voice. Perhaps even a better voice than she had in the 1930s.

I totally agree . . .

 

{font:Arial}From 1943 to 1953, Ethel remained in {font}{font:Arial}New York{font}{font:Arial}, continuing to dominate Broadway. Her only other musical rival at that time was her good friend Mary Martin. It was all too obvious to Ethel during her early years that {font}{font:Arial}Hollywood{font}{font:Arial} was never really going to showcase her as a major star. One would have thought that say MGM would have considered Ethel, especially when the Arthur Freed unit came into being that was the finest ever devised for motion picture musicals. Despite having what most fans would have considered the greatest singing voice of her musical generation, {font}{font:Arial}Hollywood{font}{font:Arial} didn’t see Ethel as attractive enough to find or create vehicles for her talent. In the end, it was always about the the age or physical attraction in general; if a studio felt they would take the time to invest in a performer as major star material. By the late 1930’s, Ethel began to see the hand writing on the wall for any chance in Hollywood that meant a shift to receiving secondary or supporting roles. As far as Ethel was concerned, she was a star of the highest magnitude. She had already proved this the various times she triumphed on Broadway. Sometimes, it was frustrating for her, when a {font}{font:Arial}Hollywood{font}{font:Arial} studio would cast a movie star in the film version of the role she created on Broadway. Yet, Ethel always had somebody of importance in her corner. Staying on Broadway guaranteed her the necessary professional respect. In this case, it turned out to be the greatest composers of American pop music and the musical theater. The list of names would be just about everyone you could think of from the Great American Songbook! These immortal composers, always openly supported Ethel and never did anyone of them waver in their devotion to her. Most of the time, some of the most famous roles of the American musical theater were expressly written for Ethel and no one else! It’s no wonder she turned her back on {font}{font:Arial}Hollywood{font}{font:Arial} or just didn’t really need to be in the motion picture business.{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}As the 1950’s rolled in, Ethel would get a few movie offers, but by that time, she was too expensive and exclusive for any major studio in {font}{font:Arial}Hollywood{font}{font:Arial} able to cut a deal. It wouldn’t be until 1953 and 20^th^ Century-Fox having no option but to cast Ethel in “Call Me Madam,” because the composer Irving Berlin, who was also one of the original Broadway producers, wanted it so! Ethel was at the time, somewhat reluctant to recreate the role for motion pictures. However, what finally sweetened the deal was the studio allowing her something of a freehand at whatever she wanted or to change whatever displeased her! There was no disputing she was show business royalty, one way or another.{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}As it turned out, the 1950’s was the peak period of her career. Since “Call Me Madam” became a box office success, 20^th^ Century-Fox then felt they might strike it rich a second time with Ethel and again with her mentor Irving Berlin. Thus, the great composer and singer were reunited again for an even bigger and elaborate motion picture production, “There’s No Business, Like Show Business.” If this wasn’t enough, what had also kept her star shinning brightly were her frequent appearances on early “live” television; including a few prime time variety show spectaculars. And, her various recordings sold in the millions.{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}When this second film for 20^th^ Century-Fox didn’t fare as well as the previous one, Ethel was quick and smart enough to pack up her bags and head back to the place she always knew was the real, solid calling to her success. Once back on Broadway, from that time on, she had what is considered the most superlative musical career in the history of American Show Business. Ethel was the divine Queen of our American Musical Theater. There simply will never be anyone else to take this throne away from her and what she came to represent.{font}

 

 

 

{font:Arial}When watching “There’s No Business, Like Show Business,” I’m reminded of a main point to the film. This is to have Ethel signify the very essence and glory of popular American entertainment. When the big moment comes for her to belt out the song that is considered the National Anthem of show business, there’s no doubt to feel, her representation is complete, exhilarating and one knows this is a real pro, someone who (like in the movie itself) understands a love to uplift a spirit filled with so much harmonious value. The movie might not be so artistically grand, realistic and it’s not a classic. But, it does have Ethel and that’s saying something really big and important if you know and understand the history of American show business. Whatever other reasons there might have been to making “There’s No Business, Like Show Business,” the movie does in a very strong way, assures the audience of Ethel’s glorious talent. It’s a talent that doesn’t come around very often. It’s a talent that ascertains what the soul of show business is. So, no matter how silly or coy is the movie, Ethel is what it’s really all about. {font}{font:Wingdings}J{font}{font:Arial} {font}

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Ethel was loud and raucous. Her style played a lot better on Broadway, where she could project to the back rows. For film, a performer has to be more toned down. That's the reason why Zero Mostel was not selected for the film version of FIDDLER. His Broadway perfrormance was thought to be too loud and raucous.

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> {quote:title=finance wrote:

> }{quote}Ethel was loud and raucous. Her style played a lot better on Broadway . . . Zero Mostel was not selected for the film version of FIDDLER. His Broadway perfrormance was thought to be too loud and raucous.

There's for me a "yes and then a no" to that response . . . Ethel was technically a great singer first and foremost, before the issue of her personality set into motion a perception she wasn't right for the movies. It is in my opinion correct to say, she was high-sounding, making her appear unsuitable for various types of songs that didn't require her strident style. Certainly, her voice and the way she used it was perfect for the "live" stage. Yet, I can't help but think that Judy Garland at times, could also be considered vociferous to a high degree and unlike Ethel, Judy had no discipline that makes the situation rather paradoxical from a standpoint of judging one's singing abilities. Therefore, the issue as it relates to Hollywood, means that visually, Ethel lacked the glamour and an ornamental factor so vital to motion picture production along the lines of a major star. Hollywood could have accepted her style or worked around it. After all, look at all the famous roles she created on Broadway that were later handed over to someone else for the moive version. The greatest of all travesty for Ethel came in 1961, when she was unable to recreate the role of "Mama Rose" for "Gypsy." This was for so many fans a blatant decision that never subsided to the point of accepting Rosalind Russell in the role. No doubt, the issue of being replaced by a major Hollywood star had more to do with the mystique and the singularity surrounding a beautiful persona.

 

As for Zero, well the problem there was in a technical sense, not related to the singing, but a professional disagreement with film director Norman Jewison over the methods Zero applied to his acting. Zero had a reputation of ad-libbing and a need to experiment in order to find satisfaction with his performance. It's believed by some that Jewison felt threaten by Zero, because of the extenstive amount of time Zero had played the role on stage and therefore this might lead to disputed issues concerning the changes and new enviorment of a motion picture version. Like it was with Ethel for "Gypsy," Zero not being cast in the film version of "Fiddler on The Roof" did have some negative repercussions from the show business community, if not, the many fans who saw him create the role of "Tevye." The most important point to this issue of what Zero did for the role, resonates towards an understanding that it was Zero and no one else who later played the role, set the standard or imagery that forever shrouds how the role is presented. This I think, gives the backlash as to what was decided, its fuel and affected the overall response to criticize United Artists and the production company for not having the foresight to consider Zero, regardless of what was concluded to be an obstacle to rightfully cast Zero.

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As a sidebar to the discussion, I thought I 'd mention that I've had the soundtrack LP since I was a teenager and all of Marilyn's songs were sung by Dolores Grey. Marilyn's versions are on all the Marilyn compilation CDs, but at the time of NBLSB, she had a recording contract. (For some reason I'm thinking MGM Records. Decca?) Anyway, whoever she was under contract to, they obviously knew what they had and wouldn't even allow her to appear on the soundtrack LP for her own movie.

(Dolores Grey nailed the songs, naturally.)

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{font:Times New Roman}Magnificent Fred! You sure know how to track them down. What I remember about that film short was having been shot in New York City, at the old Paramount Studios in Astoria, Queens. After a period of time, with the advent of sound looming and the best music talents situation in New York or on Broadway, the studios in Astoria became renowned for their output of short film production. This even continued, by the time Hollywood had become the central hub of major motion picture business in America.{font}

 

 

{font:Times New Roman}In this wonderful short you presented, watching Ethel sing one of the best “torch songs” of the Great American Songbook, she clearly has acquired the influences of Helen Morgan, Ruth Etting and Fanny Brice. It’s about this time in her career Ethel is just getting notice and hasn’t really found her niche. This was the time she was appearing in Gershwin’s big hit show, “Girl Crazy.” Now, it’s obvious that in the Broadway musical, Ethel each and every night “stopped the show” and brought the house down with her rendition of “I’ve Got Rhythm.” This is an interesting situation, in that Ethel is somewhat laid-back for the music film short, singing a tune that wasn’t exactly the style she had just made famous for herself over on Broadway. At the suggestion of George Gershwin, Ethel made a total of ten film shorts at the Paramount Studios. All of them consisted of a variety of musical styles. The best or most popular are the bright and flashy ones of such songs as, “Sing, You Sinners,” and the beautiful, rousing “Shake It!” The blues numbers and romantic ballads Ethel sings are simply copies in technique of the great torch song singers of the era; she isn’t really so original or what some would say doesn't add anything of substance. She would remark years later, “There was that time I spent trying to sound like what I heard from a record, radio or at a nightclub.” Although, Gershwin would be the one to first spur her career onto its rightful heights, Ethel credits composer Cole Porter for getting her out on the straight and narrow of what she could best represent, in terms of her musical abilities.{font}

 

 

{font:Times New Roman}She was an amazing lady. There has never been a performer of her caliber to have worked with so many great song writers of the American Musical Theater! Without getting on top of a “soapbox,” and brag, I’ll just have to say: I take enormous pride in having met and known her . . . And, that’s all I’m gonna say! :8} {font}

 

 

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> {quote:title=DougieB you wrote:}{quote}As a sidebar to the discussion, I thought I 'd mention that I've had the soundtrack LP since I was a teenager and all of Marilyn's songs were sung by Dolores Grey.

Correct. Marilyn did not appear on what was essentially a hybrid soundtrack alburm, because an agreement couldn't be worked out with 20th Century-Fox and even Marilyn, who really didn't care about the issue. However, years later around the late 1970's, the original soundtrack studio recordings of Marilyn were dug up and released on LP and now available on CD. There are also tunes on these various CD's cut from the movie that Marilyn does rather well. Dolores Gray was a wonderful performer, but I'd have to say she wasn't the original . . . After all, with MM and listening to "Heat Wave," Marilyn sure makes the temperature go up! Dolores just doesn't have that allure that came from the impact of having watched MM perform the numer on screen. In fact, that original first LP soundtrack from the 1950's turned out to be an enormous failure . . . Why? It's easy to surmise that enough people saw the movie to know, on first examining the record album, MM was nowhere to be heard.

 

P.S. Oh! I almost forgot . . . That same year of 1954, there was another replacement on a soundtrack album. This time it was for the biggest hit at the box-office, "White Christmas." On the hybrid soundtrack album, Rosmary Clooney who starred and sang so wonderfully in the movie was replaced by Peggy Lee for the record release.

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I think this is one of the worst musicals of the 50s, with the bad plot and acting almost incapable of redemption by the great Berlin music. The great scripts and sophistication of the MGM product of this era -- American in Paris, The Bandwagon, and Singin in the Rain -- outshine this schlock. I can sit through those movies 3 or 4 times a year, but I can barely stand a half our of this one.

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> {quote:title=kriegerg69 . . .}{quote}

Excellent . . . That's perhaps the biggest and best of all the Monroe series of soundtrack releases. One of the best songs and one very close to Marilyn's heart on the album is "Like A Woman Should." Rumor has always been, Marilyn sang the song with "Joe D." in mind. . .

 

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I agree with MP that seeing Marilyn onscreen doing the numbers made a big difference. Dolores Gray made some studio recordings which were patched into the album, but didn't necessarily relate to the musical numbers as seen on film. Dolores was a first rate performer, but the numbers will always be associated with Marilyn, as they should be. I know you're kind of iffy on Marilyn, but my personal feeling is that she was underrated as a vocalist. It was great hearing all her recordings when the compilations finally started coming out.

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Totally agree with you Dougie. As far as the on screen performance of MM, especially Heat Wave and After You Get What You Want I don't think anyone could have done those numbers better. I've always thought Dolores Gray was wonderful. She was under used and I wish she had been in more films, but I'm glad MM got to do those 2 numbers.

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Mitzi Gaynor got along well with Ethel Merman. Ethel would come up with these 'dirty" jokes and have every one in stitches. Ethel at times coukl talk like a truck driver. Unfortunately she treated Marilyn kind of shabbily. Personally if any number should have been cut from the film it has to be the 'tatooed Sailor" bit which I find ridiculous.

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I would have loved to see Dolores perform on screen versions of "Heat Wave" and "After You Get What You Want". I bet they could have been fabulous but quite different than MM's. A Dolores Gray interpretation of "After You Get....." probably very powerful.

 

 

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> {quote:title=lavenderblue19 you mention:

> }{quote}I don't know how Ethel Merman felt or treated Marilyn Monroe, but I've always felt while watching the film that Ethel Merman and Mitzi Gaynor really liked each other. . .

Well, there is a positive and then a negative to that situation, concerning how Ethel and Marilyn got along during the making of the film. To be foreright, along with what was said or known at the time, Ethel for her part, simply ignored Marilyn, when off camera. This wasn't so much interputed as being hositle or Ethel feeling threatened by Marilyn, but from a practical sense, Ethel and for that matter, the rest of the cast members, knew Marilyn really had no interest to be part of the film. She only agreed to be in the movie, after the studio brought the rights to film the hit comedy Broadway play "The Seven Year Itch" and offer the lead role to Marilyn. Had 20th Century-Fox not acquired the rights to the play, it's surmised Marilyn would have walked out on her contract and face suspension. Eventually, this contractual despute occured again, after her appearance in "The Seven Year Itch," ending up on suspension, when she continued to refuse a co-starring role, opposite Frank Sinatra in the proposed musical "The Girl in Pink Tights."

 

One interesting tidbit during the making of "There's No Business Like Show Business," Marilyn had a series of three fainted spells on the set! This led to all sorts of rumors that she might be pregnant. The studio didn't want to play up on this possibility, while the film was being made. Yet, word did get out to some members of the press, wanting to create lots of hoopla about America's hero baseball player (Joe D.) and his movie star wife about to have a family. Joe D. would have welcomed the idea that he and his glamorous wife were expecting. However, Marilyn held a quick, impromptu news conference to deny any pregnancy. During filming, only Donald O'Connor and singer Johnnie Ray conjured up a slight friendship with Marilyn. Dan Daily had already worked with Marilyn, when he was a big studio contract player in the late 1940's and she just a "walk-on" or bit player. Mitiz Gaynor was polite to Marilyn, giving her all the professional courtesy expected, but like Ethel, she didn't have much to say to her off camera. While this movie might have been a big new widescreen vehicle for Ethel, it was Marilyn who brought in most of the publicity or interest from the press and that's usually how it was or to be expected. The biggest fuss and publicity made about this movie, turned out to be the beautiful, white sequined gown Marilyn wore for the number "After You Get What You Want." The Bill Travilla design was quite unique, as its under-lining was flesh-toned and then loosely covered, with sliver-white flowered patterns placed as patches over the various areas of Marilyn's beautiful body that gave off with a highly suggestive point towards appearing as if there wasn't any lining underneath the gown at all!

 

Although, Bill Travilla's most famous gown for Marilyn would be another white, beautified garment for "The Seven Year Itch" and most fans know which one it is, Bill did an exquisite job in dressing Mairlyn for "There's No Business Like Show Business." After the movie was released, his dress shop in Hollywood was overwhelmed with orders. But, his biggest of all year would come next, when he created for Marilyn, what is probably her most iconic of all imagery: The white dress, she wore over the sidewalk subway vent for "The Seven Year Itch." And, just for the record, I was there at 1:00 in morning, on that fateful September date, standing across the street, in front of the Trans-Lux theater, when about thousand people showed up and witnessed an event that is now one of those strange and unexpected, cultural phenomenas of the 20th Century. As special as that early morning turned out to be, unfortunately for director Billy Wilder and the crew, most of us standing there made too much noise and the scene had to be scraped and then reshot back in Hollywood. No matter what, most everyone refers to the scene as it was first shot on location and not the retake that appears in the movie. Oh . . . and as to what happened to the original dress (not one of the extra copies), Marilyn kept it until she died. Years later, actress Debbie Reynolds, who had been collecting Hollywood memorabilia for a museum she created purchased the gown. Then, just this year, the gown was placed at auction and sold for a record breaking, 5.52 million dollars. This is rather funny, when you come to realize, the auction purchase was higher than the entire budget of the original movie! And, that's all I'm gonna say. . .

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Last year, Debbie Reynolds appeared on Oprah's show with some of the costumes she had collected over the years and spoke of the upcoming auction. She brought Marilyn's while dress from the *Seven Year Itch* with her. It had faded to beige and she did make mention of that. Over 5 Million for that dress! Imagine what Travilla would have thought about that! MP, do you happen to know what happened to the fabulous Hot Pink gown he designed for Marilyn for the Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend number? Travilla was a Genius.

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> {quote:title=lavenderblue19 you ask: }{quote}MP, do you happen to know what happened to the fabulous Hot Pink gown he designed for Marilyn for the Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend number? Travilla was a Genius.

I totally agree that Bill Travilla was on all counts, when it came to costume design, *A Genius*.

 

{font:Arial}In talking about that hot pink dress, well, this leads us down a path towards a bit of controversy. The now famous pink dress worn by Marilyn in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” is believed by reliable sources to have deteriorated while it was in storage at the 20th Century-Fox vaults. The gown as a whole was never meant by Bill Travilla to have an after-life as a marketed item. The reason for this was because Bill sort of custom built the dress specifically around Marilyn’s body. This was one of the rare times he referred to an item he created as a “costume” and not a real gown or garment to be regularly worn by any woman. It was as he once said, “a specialty.” The best available black-felt was stitched and glued within the silk satin strapless{font}{font:Verdana}{color:black} {font}{font:Arial}dress, in order to give it an almost seamless, stiff appearance. At times, it appears as if Marilyn is something of a statue or manikin come to life! Adding the wonderful lighting and Technicolor, it’s no wonder the gown glowed and simmered on screen.{font}

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

{font:Arial}In 2010, a dress appeared at auction, said to be the famous pink one from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” There was never any clear cut proof or information available to say where the dress had actually come from. What bothered many experts and authorities on costume design was that the material and colors hadn’t really faded much with time. This made some feel the dress was suspect and may have been a good copy. The estate of Bill Travilla didn’t interfere with the authenticity of the dress, only to say that could have been an extra one made, as was the case for some films, due to fear of damage and to save time, without the need to wait for a new one to be sewn. One very, very interesting point to this dress at auction was that the black-felt lining was missing from within the gown. This gave the big reason to feel that Marilyn probably never was in the dress! The issue of the black-felt lining is important, because without it, Marilyn couldn’t have kept the costume on comfortably enough to keep it from either ripping or simply slipping off! One expert at auction remarked, “All we need to do is measure the damn thing from the inside and see if it matches Bill’s size measurements for Marilyn at the time the dress was made!” This was not done and simply added to the speculation over whether or not the dress was indeed real enough to have been actually worn by Marilyn.{font}

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

{font:Arial}The dress sold at a price of 310,000.00 dollars. There is also one other pink dress known to be in existence, in the hands of a private collection. While it’s possible the other dress might be a legit copy, made by Bill, the dress is also rather bright and clean looking, thus suspect to be designated as the one and only, original item worn by Marilyn in the film! Each dress or garment made at a studio is given a lot number or catalog code. Both known pink dresses have what appears to be credible, attached tagging from 20th Century-Fox. Although, this point of the tagging might have made the auction sale, with its winning bidder not look so questionable or ridiculous, the simple element of time and circumstance didn’t appear to have shrouded the dress. I’m reminded of a classic painting that with time has a few cracks and fades of color here and there. Of course, sometimes an item can look as good as it did when first created. But, we have to really ask ourselves: “Is it really supposed to look so new?” Is it conceivable, if Marilyn wore the dress on that one day she shot the scene, only once, it might be practical to feel, if properly cared for, the dress might not disintegrate, lose a few stitches or fade and perhaps the material not have a typical shift from its once obvious fresh scent? I’m not an authority on this subject, except that a famous designer once told me, quote: If Grace Kelly had worn a certain, beautiful dress in a movie . . . It’s fair to say that years later, the dress will absolutely never look as clean and smell as good as on that first day, I sewed her into it,” unquote. B-) {font}

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