I just decided that this is what today needs. So, from the 1952 film Singin' in the Rain, here is Donald O'Connor singing the song, "Make 'Em Laugh."
But we'll add a couple of bonus videos to this.
In 1984, on a trip to London, I saw the premiere production of a stage version of Singin' in the Rain, which starred -- and was directed by -- Tommy Steele. It was pretty enjoyable, notably the title song (done in full rain, after surreptitiously rolling out a a full-stage platform with borders to keep the water in (a London revival of which I posted here) and "Make 'em Laugh" done live in one take, no cuts by Roy Castle -- who got a Tony nomination as Harry Secombe's sidekick in the Broadway production of Pickwick. Some of the stunts had to be trimmed down for reasons of reality, but most of it was pretty close. This video below isn't from that original production, but the stage show has had a respectable life, and even went to Broadway a year later and ran for almost a year -- this is from one of those subsequent productions, Scott Barnhardt performing the number in 2007 at the acclaimed Goodspeed Theatre in Connecticut.
Which brings us to one more bonus video.
For the longest time, I confused "Make 'em Laugh" with the Cole Porter song, "Be a Clown," from the 1948 movie, The Pirate, also with Gene Kelly, as well as Judy Garland. I thought maybe they were the same song, and I was confusing one for something else, but wasn't sure.
But then I heard a story told by one of the people in the film -- I don't recall who, if it was Gene Kelly or Donald O'Connor, or the screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green, or a co-producer or who. It could have been Stanley Donen, who co-directed the film with Kelly. But my confusion became clear.
The impetus for making Singin' in the Rain came from Arthur Freed, who headed up a highly-regarded production unit at MGM. Earlier in his career, he had been a successful lyricist with composer Nacio Herb Brown, and he thought it would be a good idea to make a movie built around their library of songs. And Freed served as the film's producer.
At one point, it was decided that they needed a comic number for Donald O'Connor, but there wasn't one that was just right among Freed and Brown's existing work. So, though they hadn't written together for a long while, they were approached to write a brand new song, a comedy piece that was sort of in the vein of "Be a Clown."
A few days or perhaps a week later, Freed came back with that new number, "Make 'em Laugh." And the person telling the story (whoever it was) said, "We realized that they not only wrote a song that was in the vein of 'Be a Clown'...they wrote 'Be a Clown'! And we didn't know what to do. How do you tell the legendary Arthur Freed, a great songwriter and producer of the movie, that he'd stolen from Cole Porter. So, we didn't say anything. And used the song."
It's still a wonderful song. And the "steal" wasn't intentional. And much of the reason for the joy of the number is the great comedy choreography and performance by Donald O'Connor.
And for those who aren't sure that the two songs are really that similar, here is "Be a Clown."
Yesterday, I posted a video of the song, “Give a Little Whistle, from the Disney movie, Pinocchio. In the film, the song is sung by Jiminy Cricket – but in real life, the voice of Jiminy was Cliff Edwards. He was a very popular radio performer in the late-1920s and 1930s who was known as Ukulele Ike.
While tracking that down, I came across a wonderful video of Cliff Edwards himself in person singing an enthusiastic version of “Give a Little Whistle,” and with some nice bonuses on top of it. For starters, this comes from an appearance he made on The Mickey Mouse Club in the late 1950s, so he’s accompanied by the Mouseketeers dancing along during the musical breakers.
But even more fun is that the fellow on his right (your left, looking at the video) seemed familiar to me – and then I finally realized that it’s Clarence Nash. And who is Clarence Nash, I hear many of you ask? He was the voice of Donald Duck! And then later in the song, if there was any doubt of my sense of observation, it’s wiped away as he joins in the singing, as well, as Donald.
(I had reason to meet Clarence Nash in the late 1970s. I told the story here, but the short version was that I was working at Will Rogers State Park at the time, and he showed up with his daughter for a tour of the grounds. There’s more to the story, and it’s a lot of fun, so I think it’s worth checking out, but what was so clear was much pleasure he got doing the Donald Voice for others and seeing them burst with joy, whether adults or little kids.)
But that’s not all. Because on Cliff Edward’s other side, the fellow with the guitar is José Oliveira – who was the voice of another fun Disney character, the Brazilian parrot José Carioca, who was introduced in a 1942 cartoon as the friend of Donald Duck, and more famously starred in The Three Caballeros.
Yesterday, major league baseball played an official game at the Dyersville, Iowa, location where the 1989 movie Field of Dreams was made. It wasn’t on the same field, but a new one connected to it (with a conjoining corn field) that was constructed to major league dimensions, and with seating for 6,000.
Before the game, they have a lovely ceremony that featured Kevin Costner, who also went to the announcing booth later to talk about the movie with the sportscasters. Very thoughtfully, he said that he gets too much credit for the movie and started praising all those who made the film what it was, started with Phil Alden Robinson, who wrote the screenplay (based on W.P. Kinsella’s wonderful novel Shoeless Joe) and directed the movie. I’ll post the video of the pregame show below.
And there's a remarkable bonus P.S. after that which will boggle you. Honest. If you don't want to read any of this or watch the video, at least jump to that.
But first, a few comments about the documentary that Fox Sports made about constructing this field of dreams and the background on the making of the movie itself. Called If You Build It: 30 Years of “Field of Dreams,” it’s been repeated several times on the FoxSports1 channel since it premiered over the week, and is next scheduled tonight at 10 PM on the channel (which is 400 in my West L.A. Spectrum guide). The documentary is really well done, though I had a rough time watching it for a very personal reason – I came inches from being hired to do the unit publicity on the movie, but in the end wasn’t hired.
I had read several novels by W.P. Kinsella, including Shoeless Joe, and when I read that they were making a movie of it, I was so anxious to work on it. Over a year in advance I tracked down who the executive producer was, a fellow named Brian Frankish, and wrote him. It was much too early to even think of hiring the publicist who’s usually one of the last crew members hired. But we stayed in touch, and six months later (still way early) he had me come in to his office at Universal Pictures to talk. It went so well, and set up another meeting to talk with Phil Robinson. Still far, far in advance of the movie production, but he wanted us to meet.
That meeting with Phil went very well. (We later became friendly through the Writers Guild, and when I reminded him that I was that guy who interviewed with him SO early to do the P.R. on Field of Dreams, he actually remembered it.) Since the movie’s story centers around Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Chicago White Sox (nicknamed the “Black Sox” for throwing the World Series), I brought along my Nelson Fox autographed-model baseball glove and my Luis Aparicio autographed “To Bobby, best wishes") baseball – both the former double-play combination for the White Sox and now in the Hall of Fame. We talked a very long time and a range of subjects, including Kinsella’s other novels. (We disagreed about The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, a novel about the most monumentally epic game ever played, where quite literally the heavens opened.) And when I left, it was pretty clear that I had a big leg up on being hired. But it was still much too early. Nothing was settled.
And then months later, Brian Frankish called me to say he’d been replaced as producer. He was being kept on the film as executive producer, but since it was the producer who hires the unit publicist, the job was no longer certain because the new producers had their favorite publicist, and the job was down to that person and me. It wasn’t hard to guess what would happen. And that’s what happened, and I didn’t get the job.
I never much liked unit publicity, but I really anxiously wanted that job. But I was still so glad that the movie was being made, because I loved the novel. It’s always a bit bittersweet watching the movie, but since it’s so wonderful that transcends all, and it’s a total joy.
Watching the “making of” documentary was a bit tougher for the “This nearly was mine” aspect. However, 30 years have passed, and it's a fond memory just to have crossed paths with it all. (As for "memory," Phil Robison corrected me on some of my recollections that I wrote about in the first draft of this that I posted. Since he was right there in the center of it all, I defer to his recollections on everything here and have made some edits.)
One story that I do remember different from what was told in the documentary is one I'm absolutely sure of -- because I got it years ago...from Phil Robinson. The way the producer told the story about the title of the film changing from Shoeless Joe and becoming Field of Dreams made it seem like he was the one more involved and who gave the news to novelist Kinsella about the change. But while very close to the way Phil tells it, his is a bit different and with much more detail, indeed details that make it clear his version and involvement are the true one. As Phil relates the story, Universal insisted that they wouldn’t release the movie as Shoeless Joe because tests showed that people thought the movie was about a homeless guy. Instead, they gave the filmmakers a long list of other titles to choose from. (The producer said that the studio just gave them the title, here, it's Field of Dreams.) Phil said that the long list of possible titles was really terrible, including one that pretty much gave away the ending. There was only one title that was passable, Field of Dreams, and it one was the filmmakers picked. However, the only thing Phil insisted – because he had built up such a good relationship with W.P. Kinsella by then, adapting his novel – was that he be the one to break the news to him. (Not the producer doing so, as he said.) For all these reasons, though the two are close, that’s why I believe that Phil’s version is the correct one. He had the long relationship with the author. Anyway, he called Kinsella and told him that unfortunately the studio was making them change the title of the movie, and it wouldn't be called Shoeless Joe, like his book. But Kinsella wasn’t bothered, “That’s okay,” he said, “I never liked that title anyway. The publisher insisted on it.” Relieved, Phil asked him what his own title for the novel was. Kinsella answered, “Dream Field.”
Brian Frankish also told me a funnier version of the story about the corn that they described in the documentary. They tell the tale well, but don’t have the punch line. There had been a massive drought in Iowa that summer, and corn wasn’t growing anywhere. And without high corn, there was no movie. Production was nearing and the filmmakers didn’t know what to do. Finally, they got the advice about trucking in thousands of gallons of water, and the corn grew – really high. The addendum to this is that someone on the film said to a local farmer how it was a shame they weren’t able to get their corn to grow that summer like they had at the film location. “Hey,” the guy said, “you spent hundreds of thousands of dollars piping in all that water because you’re Hollywood and could do that! We couldn’t. We’re farmers.”
Anyway, the documentary is done very well. My personal hesitancies and hiccups aside, it’s really worth watching, if you can track it down On Demand or on a FoxSports1 repeat.
As for that pregame ceremony with Kevin Costner, here’s the video. It’s about nine minutes long, and admittedly a little corny, but I found it very well done, appropriate to the film, and actually a bit moving at a few points. And if you loved the movie, you likely will think so, too. In the announcer’s booth later during the game, Costner talked about how he didn’t know how the program ceremony would go, but when he heard “that great music” playing, he said he just let it take over and was surprised that it was all as moving as it was.
And this is the great P.S. that I mentioned at the beginning. And it wasn't referenced on the broadcast, because I suspect they didn't know at the time. It was probably only discovered by statisticians later.
The game -- played to honor the movie Field of Dreams, based on the novel Shoeless Joe -- was won in the bottom of the ninth inning when Tim Anderson of the Chicago White Sox, down 8-7 after giving up four runs in the top of the inning, hit a two run home run -- into the corn field! -- to win the game. And the scoreboard exploded with fireworks. The first "exploding scoreboard" in the major leagues having been built by Bill Veeck when he owned the Chicago White Sox. But believe it or not, that's not the point.
This is the point --
Throughout both teams' history playing against each other over a few thousand games, the Chicago White Sox have beaten the New York Yankees with a last-inning, game-winning home run 15 times.
The first time it was done, the game-winning home run was hit by...Shoeless Joe Jackson.
This is the 1992 Kennedy Center Honors presentation for Gregory Peck. The main presenter is Audrey Hepburn who is much too too polite to tell the famous casting story, but only alludes to “your generosity I owe my career.” What that is about is that when the two made Roman Holiday, Gregory Peck was the huge star and had solo above the title billing. She was an up-and-coming ingenue, whose credit for the film was contractually below the title. But before release, Gregory Peck told the studio that Audrey Hepburn's performance was too special and further that if her credit remained below the title he'd look foolish because she stole the movie, so he insisted that she share star-billing with him above the title.
This presentation has far greater clips into Peck's film history than most of these segments, and they're a joy. Unfortunately, the segment cuts off early after only Isaac Stern's music performance and no others – but oh, those clips, it's worth it for them alone
This is a very fun and even more surprising video of Fred Astaire. It's a musical sequence from the movie Follow the Fleet and yet features no dancing. And no singing. But yes, this is Fred Astaire and music. What you get though is him playing the piano -- and absolutely wonderfully. Here he is with "I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket."
Yesterday I mentioned that the song “Old Man River” had been written for Paul Robeson in the original 1927 Broadway production of Show Boat, but a delay in the produced caused a conflict and he had to drop out. He later played the role in the 1928 production in London, and then re-created the performance for the 1936 movie version.
He’s quite great in it. To me, there are two standards for performing this song – Robeson and William Warfield who played the role in MGM’s 1951 color remake. I can’t choose between them, but they each have (for me) the right level of majesty, sadness and power, performed with a vibrant depth.
Some of the words in this early version will likely sound harsh to today’s ears. Oscar Hammerstein changed them for later editions of the show, but in the original song that he wrote along with music Jerome Kern, this is how it went,
Periodically, we hear about "Desert Island" questions -- If you were on a desert island, what one book would you want? Or what records would you take? Or what movie would you want to have.
All of the other questions aside, when it comes to movies, I think that my Desert Island film would likely be Groundhog Day.
It's not that it's my favorite movie. It isn't, though I certainly like it a lot. And it isn't that I think it's The Best movie -- it's very good, but it's not that good.
The reason why it's my Desert Island movie is that if the very point of the question is that you're going to be stranded for many years and you only have one movie to watch over and over and over and over and over and over again -and apparently have the electricity to run it -- Groundhog Day is a movie that's specifically made to be seen over and over and over and over again. The very point of the movie is the same story repeated endlessly, and you watch the same scenes over and over. And so, it's construction is built in a way that makes those repetitions not only watchable, but fun.
There are other movies that are classics, brilliantly made and a joy to watch many times. But there's a difference between watching many times -- lets say 20 or 30 times, or ever more -- and watching endlessly, many hundreds (or even a thousands) of times over years or decades. No matter how great a movie is, eventually it's going to get tedious the 40th time you've seen it that year. Groundhog Day will likely get tedious, too, eventually -- perhaps after the 300th viewing -- but its foundation gives you a better chance that it will take longer to get to that point. And even then, when it does finally start to get tedious, you'll appreciate the story all the more and begin to empathize with it...
As you might imagine, I've seen Groundhog Day a lot. But I haven't even seen this scene. That's because it was cut from the final movie.
The scene is fun, though it's pretty clear why it was cut and I think rightly so. It's not necessary to the story, although it's enjoyable to see new material. It also comes from Phil's "dark period" and is more directed towards others than himself, so they likely didn't want to too far in that direction. And also they probably figured they had enough in this sequence.. What I wonder is if the scene pays off in some way later.
For those who like to look at the calendar for such things, today is the 77th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944. I thought it would therefore be especially appropriate to post this video. It's the wonderful theme to the movie, The Longest Day, sung and performed most appropriately by the Cadet Glee Club of West Point, along with military band.
I first posted this video five years ago in 2017. It’s my favorite one on the subject – not just for the performance, but for how movingly the video is edited. It's particularly well-done, beginning with a minute of General Dwight Eisenhower's message to the troops before the invasion began, and interspersed with some excellent photos and archival film from the day, amid the soaring music.
By the way, the timpani you hear before the song begins is not only recognizable as the beginning of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, but more to the point, it's the Morse Code for “V” for Victory.
Also, in case you weren't aware, the main theme for The Longest Day, used throughout the film not just in the end titles, was written by pop-star heartthrob at the time, Paul Anka.
On this week’s ‘Not My Job’ segment of the NPR quiz show Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, the guest is screenwriter Kemp Powers, who wrote the movie “One Night in Miami” (for which he got an Oscar nomination) based on his play, as well as the screenplay for “Soul,” which he co-directed and which got an Oscar nomination as Best Animated Film. So, yes, he had a good year. His interview with host Peter Sagal is open, charming, funny and full of fun stories – especially when he gets to working for Pixar. As for the quiz itself, the show always has fun coming up with a top close to the guest’s field, but just a little bit off – this is one of the better ones. Usually I don’t give it away, but since is a pun, and reads better than hearing, I’ll make an exception. The quiz is about “One Knight in Miami.”
I may have posted this on the site before, but if so it was a long while ago, and it's fun enough to see again. If it even is "again."
As has been known from the time the film was released, Audrey Hepburn's performance in the film version of My Fair Lady was enhanced by the use of Marni Nixon dubbing her singing. This is audio matched to the film footage of Hepburn's own singing on two of the songs -- "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" and "Show Me."
She does a pleasant, effective job with them. Her singing is a bit thin, and she probably wouldn't have been able to handle all the song, especially the more soaring ones like "I Could Have Danced All Night," but it's nice that she holds her own here.
The piece is party of a TV production and narrated by Jeremy Brett who played 'Freddie Eynesforth-Hill" in the film, the character who sings "On the Street Where You Live.". It's worth noting that Brett, who did sing in some later productions, was dubbed himself in this one. He also later played 'Sherlock Holmes' in a series of British TV films.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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