Mary Got Her Gun
Yesterday I mentioned how when they made the TV version of Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun in 1957, it starred Mary Martin, rather than the original Broadway star, Ethel Merman. Mary Martin had been the star of the national tour after the musical had opened in 1946 -- something that's more impressive than it seems. For a star of Mary Martin's stature to tour the country in a role she didn't originate is pretty uncommon.
I can sort of, kind of understand why Hollywood didn't use Ethel Merman in the feature film. Why, though, she wasn't hired for the TV production, I have no idea. Perhaps she had another commitment, but given that television waited 11 years to do the show, it would seem that waiting a bit longer until she could do the production wouldn't have been the biggest challenge in the world. So, it probably wasn't that. Perhaps it was because Mary Martin had toured the country with the show, and network executives thought she'd be more familiar to them. Perhaps they thought her more low-key style would fit the small screen better (though larger-than-large personalities certainly weren't a problem in the early days of TV.) Maybe it was because Mary Martin had had great live-TV success with a musical previously, having done Peter Pan in 1955 and 1956. It was likely a combination of the above reasons -- or something else.
Still, it must have been hard on Ethel Merman to have been passed by twice. Whether it was more difficult or eased the pain a bit that she and Mary Martin were close friends, it would be interesting to know. That they stayed friends for may decades to follow at least showed that no wall lingered. Hey, in the end, as this show noted, there's no business like show business.
Anyway, we had a video of Ethel Merman in a late-revival of the show. But how about seeing Mary Martin in the role?! As you might imagine, this is a rare clip from that 1957 production. Here she is singing, "You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun."
3/9/2014 02:02:15 pm
Actually, Bob, the choice of using Mary Martin for this particular production over Ethel Merman was a pretty basic one. Not too long after her live TV production of "Peter Pan", she did a limited 10 week run for the Los Angeles and San Francisco Civic Light Opera Company of "Annie Get Your Gun" and "South Pacific" in repertory (talk about a mind boggling season subscription that must have been!!) The director for the Civic Light Opera Company was Edwin Lester. They must have got along like gang busters, because he was also the man who originally approached Mary Martin and her producer husband Richard Halliday about developing "Peter Pan" for the same company before taking it to Broadway. Since they had just had such a success with "Peter Pan", the idea of doing a short theatrical run on the West Coast followed up by another live TV Production with the same production team--Edwin Lester, Mary Martin and Richard Halliday--must have seen like a natural to them. Ethel WAS busy at the time being miserable onstage opposite Fernando Lamas in the show "Happy Hunting", but in this particular case, she never had a chance--not with Mary's husband as the Executive Producer. And Mary Martin IS quite wonderful in the role.
3/9/2014 02:28:28 pm
Thanks much. At least I was in the ballpark with my guesses about Merman being busy and Martin's success with "Peter Pan." But I didn't know about that L.A. production. Interesting.
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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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