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Piano Men


songbird2
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Beginning with Topper, I'll usually pause for even the most medicore movie if Hoagy Carmichael pops up in that flick to spread his laidback charm and coax a lazy tune from an upright piano. Not only was Hoagy a great composer of classic American songs, (Skylark, Georgia on My Mind, I Get Along Without You Very Well, In the Still of the Night, the perennial fave of piano students everywhere,Heart and Soul and one of my all time favorite song titles: I May Be Wrong, But I Think You're Wonderful are just a few of his songs, often written in collaboration with Frank Loesser), but his screen persona had a warmth and naturalness that many serious students of theatre arts would do well to emulate. Carmichael was cool long before Brando or Dean taught the world what that word meant.

 

From Hoagy to Oscar Levant to Eddie Albert to Jose Iturbi--there's something about a guy who plays a piano, (or even a guy who looks as though he pretends to play the piano, such as Cornel Wilde in A Song to Remember). Do you have any favorite piano men or women you'd like to see mentioned?

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I loved An American In Paris, Oscar Levant playing George Gershwin's music,RhapsodyIn Blue.I love all of George Gershwin's music he was an amazing piano player and composer. I like Elton John 's piano playing( Your Song )is a good one.Paul McCartney doing Maybe I"m Amazed always gets me..The piano is a beautiful instrument .I have my mom's piano it was built in1954 in NewYorkand it is a beauty. I have a very soft spot for the piano and for anybody who can play.Good post

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I second TOOMANYNOTES. Chico is pretty talented pianist. I remember Hoagy from a few movies and he certainly seemed the modest type. Looks like he'd be a nice guy to hang out with.

 

I play some myself and I catch myself looking to see if they are really playing or not. It only bothers me if they're really bad at faking it. I always appreciate those who at least put some effort into looking like they knew what they were doing.

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There have been several piano-centric movies: Shine, the story of concert pianist David Helfgott that garnered kudos for Geoffrey Rush. Madame Sousatzka with Shirley MacLaine as the diva piano teacher. L'Accompagnatrice with Romane Bohringer in the title role. The Competition featured Richard Dreyfus and Amy Irving dueling at the keys. Miss Irving pretended to tickle the keys (as Daniel Pollack really played) for Prokofiev's amazing Third Piano Concerto.

 

I'm thankful to films for recording for posterity the playing of Anton Rubinstein in Carnegie Hall when he played Chopin and de Falla; and Oscar Levant's Gershwin interpretations in Humoresque and An American in Paris. He played Tchaikovsky, kitschy Khatchaturian and others, but he knew Gershwin personally and supposedly understood the composer's intentions and interpretations better than anyone else.

 

I understand that Fred Astaire played the piano, and isn't faking it on film.

 

Chico Marx, of course, was king of the "novelty" piano. Victor Borge, another great novelty player, was in several Danish movies in the late 1930's; I wonder if he played the piano in any of them?

 

Switching over to another keyboard, I get a real kick out of the campy kitsch keyboard of organist Ethel Smith. She tore up the stops in movies such as Bathing Beauty and George White's Scandals.

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Borge gave up a career as a legitimate concert pianist for his chosen path. Dudley Moore used to play in Pops concerts with symphony orchestras. Jack Lemmon was a fair amateur.

 

I recall an English film, but not the title, where a concert of Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto takes up a good portion of the film.

 

I recall the Levant piece you speak of and it's always been amazing to watch professionals. It's hard enough to play music of that caliber but to do it from memory is all the more amazing.

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I'm reminded of a very effective romantic, if slightly kitschy forties movie, Dangerous Moonlight(1941) with Anton Walbrook as a Polish pianist/traumatized fighter pilot who plays a piece actually written by British composer Richard Addinsell, "Warsaw Concerto". Walbrook looked exactly like what I once imagined a talented classical musician should appear to be--grouchy, otherworldly, and appealing.

 

*Small Spoiler Below*

 

Another British movie that incorporated piano music into its plot was the original Love Story(1944) with a most enchanting Margaret Lockwood as a pianist with, (dum da dum dum)--one of those movie diseases(!) that cuts short the life of a character but leaves her looking luminously beautiful in the process. Miss Lockwood does a pretty good job of tickling the ivories in this movie, though Harriet Cohen performed the actual music. This movie is set in gorgeous Cornwall and also features a properly romantic Stewart Granger. The "Cornish Rhapsody" by Hubert Bath as well as the "Warsaw Concerto" may both be heard, in part, at the following:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0000060DC/102-2225820-3973731?v=glance&n=5174

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Do you know if Mr. Borge played in any of his Danish movies, movieman? I'd be interested to see some of those early works. I believe the English film you're thinking of is Brief Encounter, which uses the Rachminoff prominently in the soundtrack. We never see it being played live, but there's a scene where the music becomes rather loud until one of the characters interrupts the scene and asks if they can turn it down the phonograph...

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As you mentioned Songbird, Jose Iturbi was amazing on the piano. "Deep In My Heart" featured Jose Ferrer playing the part of Sigmund Romberg and it was well acted. Not sure if Jose played the piano in reality, but I enjoyed seeing him in this role. Upon watching Cesar Romero's biography, I came across an interesting skit he did on "The Dick Powell Show". It featured Cesar playing the piano and doing silly things like sitting on the keys and looking puzzled into the crowd and everyone was heard laughing. Two other people that come to mind are Danny Kaye(A Song Is Born) and the little girl who played Dinah(The Philadelphia Story).

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JackBurley:

 

I'm sorry, I didn't express myself very clearly. It was a concert and the movie plot involved something around the concert. It wasn't "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (wither version) and I seem to recall a woman played but I wouldn't swear to that thought. Thanks for the thought though.

 

I don't know much of Borge's film history. I do have a "Best of" kind of DVD and it shows a short he made in Denmark about a band in a park and he played all the parts. (At least when close-ups were done.)

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  • 1 month later...

Hello all,

 

I hung out here at TCM for a while and then vanished, but now I'm back with an invitation to see WHY I vanished and what I was doing all that time. This seems like a proper place to explain.

 

When I first popped up here, I mentioned my own fascination with pianist Jose Iturbi. He's all-but forgotten now -- the best place to find his name mentioned is right here at TCM -- but there was a time when his name was a household word. He made seven movies for MGM and gave the world a great time in all of them; he also ghosted piano in two movies, I believe for Columbia.

 

I hope you'll pay a visit to my website -- which has the virtue of being the ONLY website on the entire internet dedicated to Jose Iturbi. This website has been my waking and sleeping obsession for months now. It still isn't finished, but there's currently more about him than you'll find in any library, including a large section on his movies, including photos.

 

Please drop by.

 

www.manyfountains.com or www.joseiturbi.com

 

will both get you there. Let me know what you think. As I said, it's still a work in process, but anyone interested in Iturbi, old movies, or music should find something of interest!

 

The Trout in the Milk

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Hello Trout,

 

Yes, I do remember you from a while back and wondered where you'd gone.

As I recall you said you rode motorcycle without your helmet, is this correct or was that someone else?

I'd hoped that you hadn't fallen victim to a head injury. But, glad to hear you're OK and Iturbi-ing it up!!!!!!!

 

I went to your Jose Iturbi site and it looks very, very good and lots of information. Can't wait to see your 'Gallery' section though.

 

Congratulations!! And, let's hear from you on some of our new threads since you've been gone. Your input was always valued and let's hear more......

 

Larry

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Larry,

 

I do ride a motorcycle -- but I also DO wear a helmet. You got it half right!

 

The gallery section will probably be last. Right now I'm working on Iturbi's radio performances. I'm not even up to 1940 yet!

 

Thanks for the invite to return. I never meant to drop out, it's just that I am ever-so-SLIGHTLY obsessive and when I get to working on something, it's hard to tear me away. Even my Jenny -- motorcycle extraordinaire -- was sadly neglected while I was rooting out Iturbi's story.

 

Trout

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Hi metsfan,

 

Are you an Iturbifan as well as a metsfan? :-)

 

If you mean "The Art of Jose Iturbi" DVD yes, I have it and thanks for asking. It's a terrific collection of several of his performances on the Bell Telephone Hour tv show, and has the added distinction of being the only known existing recording of his own composition, Fantasie, which he had written for Amparo several years before.

 

There is another new release I highly recommend to any Iturbi fans, although you will have to go through Amazon FRANCE to get it. It's called Les Rarissimes de Jose Iturbi, and is a two CD set, digitally re-mastered, with some of his best work featured. Much Chopin and Debussy, and also a real treat if you like Amparo and Jose working together -- a gorgeous, misty rendition of de Falla's "Nights in the Gardens of Spain" with Jose conducting and Amparo on the piano.

 

Enjoy...

 

Trout

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Yes, I'm a huge Mets fan and I became an Iturbi fan this year after seeing a few films he was in. I still have to learn more about this talented man and your site is just perfect to read up on him. Thanks again for taking time to honor one of the piano greats and for the suggestions. I will have to get the dvd soon on ebay.

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