Thursday, January 30, 2014

Metro's Golden Stars


Today's flashback still shot is this darling photo of the box-office contract players of MGM studios. Judy Garland is looking cute and chic, Mickey is being adorable Mickey, and Shirley Temple is beaming with pride..and why not? she's holding the "King"'s hand!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The South-of-the-Border Musicals

When Carmen Miranda sambaed her way into the Broadway musical revue scene in 1939, her energetic style and eye-rolling fractured musical interpretations of English words, took America by storm. Soon everyone was swaying their hips to the bongo-beating rhythm of the Bando de Lua and taking six easy dance lessons from Madame La Zonga. 

Meanwhile, in Hollywood, 20th Century Fox was getting their top talents together to produce a colorful musical treat to dazzle the moviegoers and please the president. President Roosevelt, that is. He was reaching his hand across the border to encourage trade and wanted all of Latin America to know we were their neighbors. Darryl Zanuck, always a friend of the Washington politicians, was more than glad to help. He saw the Good Neighbor Policy as a good box-office policy and quickly thrust the studio's loveliest leading lady, Alice Faye, into their most entertaining new musical to date, Down Argentine Way. Alas, the lovely lady had an attack of appendicitis and so the glamorous Betty Grable stepped into a role that would ultimately launch her into pin-up stardom. 

Down Argentine Way tells the story of a wealthy girl who has a romance with a dashing and equally wealthy Argentine horse breeder, Don Ameche. The movie dispensed good cheer and tropical radiance to moviegoers nationwide whilst it gaudily painted a Utopian perspective of the elite Argentine horse set in lush Techni-colors. But, more astonishing than the fiery new Latin scenery it showcased, was the introduction of the much publicized Brazilian sensation, Carmen Miranda. Never was there a performer more delightful and engaging to watch. She was mesmerizing. With arms waving, fingers clicking, and her fruit bowl top jiggling, she cheerfully invited the audience to taste life, love, and romance "The South American Way". In one short musical number she did more to promote South America then ten ambassadors could have. A strong supporting cast which included Charlotte Greenwood, Henry Stephenson, and J. Carroll Naish, and Fox's customary vivid tones and razor sharp imagery helped to ignite Down Argentine Way into a zesty box-office bombshell. 



In 1941, Betty Grable took a trip to the sunshine state in Moon Over Miami and then paused for some dramatic roles in black and white films, which gave Alice Faye plenty of time to recuperate and then have a moonlit romance with Don Ameche south of the border herself - this time in Rio. In That Night in Rio, Don Ameche takes on the duel roles of an aristocratic baron and a debonair entertainer, with Faye playing the baron's confused wife. The story was a reworking of Folies Bergere ( 1935 ) starring Maurice Chevalier. Even though the risque quality of the original was replaced by Ameche's more humorous performance, the film was visually appealing, featured a supporting cast including S.Z. Sakall, J. Carroll Naish, Frank Puglia and Leonid Kinskey and spotlighted some splendid Mack Gordon/Harry Warren numbers, including two of Miranda's most imitated songs, "Chica Chica Boom Chic" and "I'yi, Yi, Yi, I Like You Very Much". 



Having a look-a-like husband must have been too much stress for Faye, for that very same year she was off with the tall, dark, and handsome John Payne for a Weekend in Havana. This light-hearted comedy/musical cast Payne as the son of a ship company's owner who travels to Cuba to handle a case involving one of the company's ships which has gone aground. One passenger ( Faye ) refuses to sign a waiver unless she gets reimbursed for her vacation...now. And with a guarantee that she'll have a good time. Payne undertakes to personally show her a "good time" and ends up falling for her charms instead. 



Weekend in Havana was originally written as a Henry Fonda vehicle, but when he declined the part it was offered to Don Ameche, who also refused. Step in Payne! The movie has a quick pace, beautiful sets, lovely costumes ( by Gwen Wakeling ) and a great supporting cast including George Barbier, Cobina Wright, Leonid Kinsky and Billy Gilbert. Cesar Romero, the debonair dancer, was featured in an entertaining supporting role as Carmen Miranda's wayward beau who had a fancy for the pretty women and high stakes gambling tables. The role suited Romero's personality and gave him a chance to showoff his fancy footwork in several numbers.

In 1942, Fred Astaire danced his way across the border to Argentina with Rita Hayworth, who never looked lovelier than in You Were Never LovelierThis monochrome musical told the story of the Acunas, a rich family who must marry their daughters off in accordance with famiyl tradition...eldest first, down to the youngest. As second sibling, Rita feels the pressure from her younger sisters but has not yet met a man that she liked.....until an American dancer ( Astaire ) stumbles into her life. 

Shortly before the United States' entry into WWII, the US Department of State commissioned a Disney goodwill tour of South America in the hopes that Walt Disney would produce a film based on the material he gathered on the journey...which he did. Nelson Rockefeller guided Walt Disney and a staff of animators, technicians and composers on a several week tour of the samba land. They came back with rumba on their brains, tropical colors in their washes, and a heap of new material to work with, resulting in a series of short cartoons inspired by the colorful nations. The government wasn't all too pleased with this however, since each cartoon would only be valid in the country at head, so Walt Disney had his four shorts strung together and filled with some of the 16mm color footage taken during the trip. What then resulted was a cartoon too long to be a short, and too short to be a feature. Nevertheless, upon its release ( in 1942 ), Saludos Amigos was a tremendous success and unlike the previous Fox musicals, actually showed its audience footage of South America. 



In the first of the four cartoon segments we find Donald Duck, a typical tourist, exploring the surrounding mountainside region of Lake Titicaca with a stubborn llama. We are given a brief aerial tour of the route from Santiago, Chile to Mendoza through the eyes of Pedro, the little airplane, and then Goofy learns the way of the gauchos in the Pampas region. A visit to South America is not complete without seeing the Carnival in Rio and so, in the final segment, Joe Carioca gives Donald a watercolor tour of the continent. 

Saludos Amigos allowed the Disney animators to dabble with new animation "gags" and its commercial success encouraged Disney to produce a similar South American cartoon - The Three Caballeros, released in 1945. This kaleidoscopic film centered around Donald Duck's birthday and the special box he received as a present from his South American pal, Joe Carioca. Inside he finds a reel of film bearing the titles Aves Raras ( rare birds ) which introduces us to a Pablo the penguin cartoon. An old Uruguayan gaucho then tells us the story of another "strange bird" - the flying donkey : the playful Burrito and his young friend Gauchito. Donald opens his last gifts which include a wild rooster and Joe Carioca himself, who then take Donald on a whirlwind flying carpet tour over the beaches of Acapulco. 




Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer missed the Latin frenzy of the early 1940s but decided it was better late than never to join the bandwagon and in 1945 they released Holiday in Mexico starring their newest singing sensation Jane Powell.  In this frothy musical, Jane Powell plays mother to her widowed father ( Walter Pidgeon ) and gets into a tither when she finds out he is about to remarry to an opera star ( Ilona Massey ). A puppy love romance with another MGM juvenile star, Roddy McDowall, drew in the younger crowds.  



Jane Powell was Louis B. Mayer's latest find and Holiday in Mexico was the perfect vehicle to showcase her beautiful voice and delightful personality. Alas, this role would also determine the character for all her future projects with the studio - that of a sprightly ingenue determined to take matters in her own hands with the help of a few benevolent friends - in this case, pianist Jose Iturbi and bandleader Xavier Cugat. 

Iturbi was a famed pianist who signed a contract with Metro in 1943 and, even though he was Spanish, often portrayed Latin Americans. "Turbolent Iturbi", as he had come to be nicknamed, had refused an earlier offer to perform on film but later excepted MGM's request since they allowed him more creative freedom. He also had an easy job of acting, since he portrayed himself! Some of his best films included Anchors Aweigh, Two Girls and a Sailor, That Midnight Kiss, and Three Daring Daughters. 

Xavier Cugat was another talented musician who reached his peak in popularity during the early and mid-1940s when he appeared in a number of MGM musicals with his orchestra and his pet chihuahua, whom he often smuggled under his dinner jacket. Prior to the South American film fever, Cugat appeared in several short films in the late 1920s and 30s : A Spanish Ensemble ( 1928 ), Mexicana ( 1929 ), and Let's Go Latin ( 1937 ). Like Carmen Miranda, he had a magnifico personality that lit up the screen when he appeared and his infectious rhythms always gave the films a boost.  

The studio kept Jane Powell busy in three pictures in 1948 - Three Daring Daughters, A Date with Judy ( also featuring Miranda and Cugat ) and Luxury Liner - before sending her south-of-the-border once again in Nancy Goes to Rio, a tepid - albeit colorful - remake of a Deanna Durbin classic ( It's a Date ). Aside from some cardboard backdrops, very little of Rio is seen while the cameras instead focus their close-up lens on its two leading ladies ( Powell and Ann Sothern ) and the tutti-frutti Carmen Miranda, this time appearing in a refreshing change of role - that of Barry Sullivan's secretary. 



By 1945 Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters were singing "South America Take it Away!" , pleading for them to "take back your samba - ay! - your rumba - ay! - and your conga - ay, yi, yi!" and complaining of aching spines and creaky sacroiliacs. Audiences still adored Latin American themed films in spite of the fun words, but by the late 1940s the movie studios had gone Continental and wanted to showcase the glamorous post-war Paris and London scene. 

One exception however, was Carnival in Costa Rica ( 1947 ), a now forgotten musical starring crooner Dick Haymes, Vera-Ellen, Cesar Romero and Celeste Holm. It told the story of two pairs of Costa Rican lovebirds both trying to thwart their arranged marriages with each other. Anne Revere, J. Carroll Naish, and Pedro de Cordorba rounded out a great cast. Many of the location shots used in Carnival in Costa Rica were filmed just prior to the civil war of 1948, and many Costa Ricans consider this film to be of historical value because of that. 

One of the last forays MGM would take south of the Tropic of Cancer would be Latin Lovers, released in 1953, a vibrantly colored musical featuring the beautiful Lana Turner and a true red-blooded Mexican, Ricardo Montalban. Fernando Lamas, the Beunos Aires born playboy, was originally slated to play Montalban's role, but recently he had broke off an affair with Lana Turner and she insisted he be replaced. They be Latin lovers no more. 

Latin Lovers told the story of the hazards of being a wealthy woman. Nora Taylor, a millionairess, is afraid that every man she meets is just after her money, until she falls in love with Roberto, a man she thinks is a poor farmer...but in fact has a crop of healthy cabbage of his own sitting in the bank. The film featured plenty of samba, romance, lush settings and even a polo playing sequence. 



The south-of-the-border musicals were a product of their time and it is unlikely that a Latin frenzy will ignite in Hollywood anytime again soon, at least not one resulting in such colorful and entertaining musicals. These were stress-free, light-hearted films that captured the essence of South America - the gaiety, the charm, the romance and the hip-shaking splendor of the continent. If you cannot afford a trip to South America yourself, sit back, grab some bananas and a bowl of fruit and enjoy one of these south-of-the-border musicals. Ay yi! they will surely not disappoint you!  

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Nugget Reviews - 8


Son of Ali Baba ( 1951 ) Elctr.


A runaway slave gal gets Kasha, the son of Ali Baba, in hot soup with the wicked caliph when it turns out she is in fact a princess who was supposed to be given as a gift to the visiting prince. Or was it a king? Tony Curtis, Piper Laurie, Hugh O'Brien, Susan Cabot, Victor Jory. Universal Studios. Directed by Kurt Neumann. 

Piper Laurie and newcomer Tony Curtis were such a success in their first film together, "The Prince Who Was a Thief" that the studio reteamed them in this adventure flick. Son of Ali Baba has a rather lackluster plot ( with leading characters named Kashma and Kiki, how can it not be? ) but does feature some swanky Arabian garb and colorful Technicolor sequences. You'd think with all the possibilities of Arabian adventures they could come up with something more ingenious then the same runaway slave plot....

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Tycoon ( 1947 ) 14k 


An engineer, working for a rich tycoon, marries his daughter against his wishes and then must build a bridge the tycoon ordered completed in spite of the setbacks he puts in his way. John Wayne, Laraine Day, Cedric Hardwicke, Judith Anderson, James Gleason. RKO Pictures. Directed by Richard Wallace. 

Even though this film boasts a great cast, it features too much dust and sweat to be enjoyable and the two lovebirds get into a quarrel midway through which bursts the romance aspect of the picture. But....who can resist the Duke? Especially when he practically builds this bridge single-handedly and pushes every setback out of the way...including the birds. "Get outta the way pidgeons!"

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The Moonspinners ( 1964 ) 14k 


A girl and her aunt travel to Greece where they meet a mysterious young man who disappears altogether one day. The temperamental hotel owner hushes up his absence which only helps to intrigue the girl even more into his whereabouts, and just what mystery does the Bay of Dolphin hold? Hayley Mills, Peter McEnery, Joan Greenwood, Eli Wallach. Walt Disney Productions. Directed by James Neilson.

Before Hayley Mills got herself a nice bob hairdo and played detective chasing her cat, she took a vacation to Greece with her aunt and got herself involved in intrigue....and muuuurder. At least, attempted murder. The Moonspinners tends to get a bad wrap from critics, even amongst Disney fans, but the film is really quite entertaining and holds up well under multiple viewings ( replay value is always a sure sign of a good film ). Location filming and engaging characters make this is a winner in our book. 

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Come to the Stable ( 1949 ) 18k


Two nuns come to Bethlehem to build a children's hospital with no funds, no land and no workers...but plenty of faith! Loretta Young, Celeste Holm, Hugh Marlowe, Elsa Lanchester. 20th Century Fox. Directed by Henry Koster.

"Come to the Stable" -once a big motion picture - has practically fallen into obscurity. For a long time it was not available on DVD and cable channels neglected to play it, but nevertheless fans have always remembered it fondly. And we're among the fans. A simple but lovely plot, fine acting from all the principal players, humorous supporting scenes and great settings make this entertaining to watch again and again. Celeste Holm steals every scene she is in with her French nun performance and received a nomination for Best Supporting Actress but lost that year to Mercedes McCambridge ( All the Kings Men ). 

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Charlie Chan in Panama ( 1940 ) 14k 


Charlie Chan must  investigate a group of travelers, one of whom is suspected of plotting to sabotage the fleet passing through the Panama canal within the next 24 hours. Sidney Toler, Jean Rogers, Lionel Atwill, Mary Nash, Victor Sen Yung.20th Century Fox. Directed by Norman Foster. 

This is one of Charlie's best escapades. The film has a nice sprightly pace to it, a flock of shady characters, nice locales and a good twist ending. Charlie spills some great chanisms too, like "Best to slip with foot rather than tongue". Keep an eye out for regulars Lionel Atwill and Kane Richmond as well as serial star Jean Rogers. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Costume Designer - Travis Banton

For our very first entry in the new Behind the Screen: The Hidden Masters of the Golden Age of Filmmaking series we are going to feature Travis Banton, one of the most recognized costume designers in Hollywood during the 1930s. During his tenure at Paramount, Twentieth Century Fox and Universal studios he created over 250 beautiful gowns for stars such as Marlene Dietrich, Claudette Colbert, Kay Francis, Mae West and Carole Lombard. 

Travis Banton was born in Waco, Texas on August 18, 1894. At the age of two his family moved to New York City where, being surrounded by the fashionable society women of the Big Apple, he formed an early appreciation for beautiful fabric. This fascination led him to study fashion design and art at Columbia University and the Art Students League. 

In 1915, while still a fledgling student, he was given the opportunity to design Norma Talmadge's wardrobe for Poppy, an upcoming film production about to be shot in New York City. He created a beautiful beige tailored suit for Ms. Talmadge with a hat bearing green feathers to showcase her daringly new bobbed hairdo. He was a nervous, awkward youngster but, in spite of a few mistakes in his drawings, Norma Talmadge accepted each sketch with enthusiasm and praise. 


The gowns of Sinners in the Sun ( 1932 )

When World War I broke out, Banton shipped overseas to help fight and his costume-sketching was put on hold temporarily, but upon his return he plunged once again into the never-ending battle of beauteous fashion. His next assignment was to create the wardrobe for one of Hollywood's up and coming stars, Alice Joyce. His pleasant experience with Ms. Talmadge and Ms. Joyce gave him the school-boy illusion that all female movie stars were gracious, charming and patient. As he grew in experience, he later learned otherwise. 


Esther Ralston sharing sketches Banton created for her '27 film, "Fashions for Women"

In the early 1920s Banton was working for famous Madame Frances of New York fashion boutique. One of his spring creations, a bridal gown of bouffant white net, had received wide comment and publicity. It received even more publicity a few weeks later when Mary Pickford chose the gown for her celebrated marriage to Douglas Fairbanks. This only helped to make Banton more famous in the world of fashion and a short time later he opened his own dressmaking salon. Creating designs for the Ziegfeld Follies was only one of the assignments his salon had. In 1924, a phone call from Paramount Studios brought Banton out to Hollywood to sign a contract. 


Dietrich's beautiful fur gown in Shanghai Express ( 1932 )

Once in tinseltown, Banton designed costumes for Pola Negri, Florence Vidor and even the "It" girl herself, Clara Bow, in films such as The Dressmaker from Paris, The Grand Duchess and the Waiter, and Wings. When Paramount's chief designer Howard Greer left the studio in 1927 Banton was promoted to the position and was responsible for dressing the studio's most illustrious stars. 


Mae West in Belle of the Nineties

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s he created an extensive amount of beautiful fashions, notably Mae West's stunning blue velvet gown in Belle of the Nineties ( 1934 ), Claudette Colbert's scantily clad gold and black piece in Cleopatra ( 1934 ), and Loretta Young's lovely satin queen's robe with pearl-studded crown in The Crusades ( 1935 ). 


A stunning fringed evening gown and the famous Cleopatra head mask 

During the 1930s Banton's "look" veered towards dressing the female stars in suits, dress pants and other masculine wear. Carole Lombard and Marlene Dietrich helped to make this style especially appealing in films such as Shanghai Express, The Scarlett Empress, and No Man of her Own.


Dietrich in The Scarlet Empress and a sketch for her "Morocco" suit

Fifteen years of the pressure of creating fashions on schedule while feuding with the stars and the executives over costume details were beginning to take their toll on Banton and he turned to drinking. In the late 1930s he was becoming increasingly erratic in behavior, often difficult and not very reliable due to his alcoholism and, at the instigation of his subordinate Edith Head, was forced to leave Paramount Pictures in 1938. After this, he joined Howard Greer's label, Greer Inc. and also designed freelanced for Columbia Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox, where he worked for two years. 


Rita Hayworth modeling Banton's Cover Girl gown

While at Fox, he fashioned the magnificent matador outfits for Tyrone Power and the lovely gowns for Linda Darnell in The Mark of Zorro ( 1940 ) and Blood and Sand ( 1941 ), and created the colorful south-of-the-border inspired dresses for Alice Faye and Betty Grable in the musicals Down Argentine Way ( 1940 ), That Night in Rio ( 1941 ), and Moon Over Miami ( 1941 ). 


Grable's golden gown in Down Argentine Way

Most memorable of all were the fruit-topped concoctions he designed for Carmen Miranda in these films. With beads and fruit galore atop her head she jingled and jangled in tune with the songs that she sang.


The Tutti-Frutti Lady

From 1945-1948 Travis Banton worked at Universal Pictures where he designed the gowns used in films such as I'll Be Yours ( 1947 ), Morning Becomes Electra ( 1947 ),  The Paradine Case ( 1947 ) and Letter from an Unknown Woman ( 1948 ).  


One of his most striking designs though was not a gown at all - it was Kitty March's black negligee in Scarlet Street ( 1945 ). When Fritz Lang and Joan Bennett teamed up again for another film noir, Secret Beyond the Door, Travis Banton was once again called in to design wardrobe, which this time included more contemporary wear, such as the black and white dress suit she wears when she pleads with Michael Redgrave. 

This was one of the last films that Banton worked on before he retired from the hustle-bustle of cinema costume designing and focused all his attention on his fashion salon he set up with the Russian couturier Marusia Sassi. He returned to Hollywood only once, in 1956, to dress the always stylish Dinah Shore for an episode on her Chevy Show. 

Travis Banton passed away two years later, in 1958 at the age of 63, from throat cancer. His last creations were the sumptuous gowns that Rosalind Russell bedecked herself in, in "Auntie Mame" on Broadway in 1956. 

Today, many of Banton's creations can be seen in museums across the nation where they look just as modern and chic as the day he created them. Timeless fashion, now that is the mark of a truly great fashion designer. 

This post is a part of our ongoing series Behind the Screen : The Hidden Masters of the Golden Age of Filmmaking. 


Travis Banton ( 1894-1958 )

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Behind the Screen : The Hidden Masters of the Golden Age of Filmmaking

In celebration of the new year ( alright, so we're a little late ) and our 100th post we wanted to start a new series. So often us bloggers focus our reviews, bios and praise on the celebrated actors and actresses of film and television, and in some rare cases the celebrated directors, costume designers and composers of our favorite films, but how much do we know about, and help share our knowledge of, the hundreds, if not thousands, of workers behind-the-scenes that are practically forgotten today? 


We all know Edith Head, but how many of us recognize the talents of 11-time Oscar nominated costume designer Bill Thomas? We've all heard of Cedric Gibbons and his wizardry with creating sets, but who admires the work of Lyle Wheeler, a marvelous set designer of over 350 films? We all enjoy the films of director Preston Sturges, and will for many years to come, but has Richard Fleischer's legacy been forgotten? We hope not, and in our small way we are going to try and keep the memory of all these talented individuals alive by writing little posts about them throughout the year for our new series "Behind the Screen : The Hidden Masters of the Golden Age of Filmmaking".  Screenwriters, costume designers, make-up artists, set decorators, hair dressers, assistant directors, still photographers, editors, directors....you name it, we'll cover them all. 

To start off the series, we're going to take a look at the costumes and career of Travis Banton. ( Check back tomorrow for this post! ) 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game


Beautiful mountain scenery, a lone car driving down a winding road, and glorious Technicolor....hmmm...which film could it be? We know the answer, but it's for you to solve the puzzle!

If you are not familiar with the rules to The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie game or the prize, just click here

Good luck guessing! 

Monday, January 13, 2014

At Home with Phil Harris & Alice Faye

In 1947 Radio Mirror featured an article on Phil Harris and Alice Faye apart of their regular "Come and Visit with..." series. The subtitle to the article was "How a bachelor's life was changed by three lovely blondes - changed for the happier". While most of the article seems to be true, one little fact was altered...Phil Harris, the popular novelty singer and radio host, was not a bachelor when his life was changed by those lovely blondes. He was married to Marcia Ralston from 1932 up until he met and married Alice Faye in 1941. But oh well, so the fan magazines like to stretch the truth a little.....

Harris built a magnificent ranch out in the Encino foothills ( 4544 Encino Avenue ) and it was here that he met Alice Faye, who lived a short distance down the street in a ranch of her own. Their Dobermans got in a scuffle one day and after they argued about who started the dogfight Phil invited Alice out for dinner. They married in 1941. Alice was a big fan of antiques and old china and when she moved into the house she loved Phil Harris's place just the way it was. As she states in the article : 'I liked the feeling that you could put your feet on anything you liked. The house invited you to let your hair down and relax'.

They kept the house for many years but in 1951, Phil Harris, an avid golfer heard that a new housing development was being created directly on the Thunderbird golf course. He couldn't resist that. The Harris' were the second couple to purchase a home in the new development and, although they intended to use it only as a weekend retreat, ended up remaining in the house until Alice Faye's death in 1998. Their Encino home was later sold to George Gobel in 1957. Only recently did their children have to sell the Thunderbird property, due to its expensive upkeep. You can see a postcard view of this home at the bottom of this article. 

We'd like to give a special thanks to the folks at OTRRpedia for digitizing the following text. Enjoy! 

From the April 1947 issue of Radio Mirror : 

It's very easy to get lost driving out from Hollywood to the home of Alice and Phil Harris. The wandering, crooked road changes its name a dozen times as it climbs up into the Encino foothills from Ventura Boulevard. You have plenty of time to wonder what sort of setting Phil has conceived for the three beautiful, blue-eyed blondes who are the women in his life, his wife, Alice Faye, and their two daughters, Alice, who is five years old now, and Phyllis, who is three. Whatever your preconceptions are, you are certain to be surprised.


The women-folk may rule in numbers, as it turns out, but there is nothing delicate or Dresden-tinted about the sprawling ranch house where the Harrises live. Phil built the place fourteen years ago when he was a confirmed bachelor, and the feminine invasion has only slightly modified its mannish character. The siege of this particular one man's castle began seven years ago when Alice came there as a bride.

"I loved the place just the way it was," she recalls. "I liked the feeling that you could put your feet on anything you liked. The house invited you to let your hair down and relax." She liked the big, rather bare rooms, the massive fireplaces.

She was a little startled - as one is, visiting there today - to find silver-mounted riding saddles - rather than old Georgian coffee pots - in the dining room, and a professional size pool table and enormous gun cases (but no books) in what in most houses would be the library, but she got used to it. So would you. It takes about five minutes for the relaxation to set in.

"I wouldn't have changed a brick or a board of it," Alice confides, "but things happened."

"We didn't expect," she adds, with a broad grin, "to have all these children."

In its original design, Phil's house provided for one "family" bedroom - a good big one, with bathroom and dressing room built to scale. The only other sleeping rooms were the servants' quarters and they were far away on the other side of the house.


The low sprawling house Phil built fourteen years ago.
The first baby's impending arrival five years ago posed a problem. With eight acres to spread out on, there was plenty of room for the house to grow but Alice didn't want to change the compact feeling of it. Consequently, architects and builders were called in, a hole was knocked in the roof, and a second story -a bedroom, two baths and two dressing rooms for Phil and Alice - added. The former "master bedroom" became the baby's nursery.

Now, with Phyllis getting big enough to want a room of her own, the house has growing pains again.

"As soon as we can get materials," Phil says, "we're going to build a suite for the children on top of the garage. They' ll be far enough away from our room to make as much noise as they like." 


The present arrangement makes for one stringent "house rule." No yelling until 10:30 - for mama and daddy, who like to stay up late and chat or play cards with their friends, Mary and Peter Lind Hayes, the Tufty Gaffs, the Andy Devines - don't like to be awakened at six. The white cockatoo Phil brought home with him years ago from Australia had to be housed for this reason a good quarter of a mile away from the house. He wouldn't abide by the house rules.

"The kids are getting more like the cockatoo every day," Alice says. "They refuse to be shushed."

"Oh," she groans, "those good old days, those lovely old days, of sleeping until noon, the breakfast in bed. All gone now."

Breakfast by the big fireplace in the dining room is almost as good as breakfast in bed. The dining room, in fact, is the pleasantest room in the house - and the one most apt to get the play when guests arrive.

It is scarcely a dining room in the conventional sense - rather more a dining-sitting room of the hunting lodge, western ranch variety. It is simply enormous to begin with, and as inviting as a country inn on a rainy day with its bright red curtains, the circle of massive red and white sofas and easy chairs drawn up to the outsize fireplace, the generous sparkle of polished copper and brass.


Phil designed the room, and there was method in his madness. Phil is a hunting enthusiast - and professional enough about it to know that McAllen, Texas, on the Gulf Coast, is the best place in the country to go for white wing dove, Saskatchewan the haunt of Hungarian partridge and prairie chicken, and the wooded flatlands out of Dallas the best place to look for deer. His favorite form of entertaining is to invite his best friends to come and eat the shoot - and to cook the dinner himself.

Such dinner parties are much more fun for the cook if the convivialities go on not too far from the kitchen.

The living room, which in an ordinary house would be called informal, is almost company stuff at the Harrises'. The walls are turquoise (the blondes in the family have had a say in this!) . The same greenish blue is combined with beige in the upholstering fabrics, and the floor is carpeted from wall to wall with a luxurious deep·pile beige rug. This was a big concession on Phil's part. In the sitting.dining room, the floor is cement-painted dark green. The only rugs are hand·braided throw rugs in front of the fire and under the big sawbuck dining table. "I like floors sweepable," says Phil.

"People in California are crazy to spend so much time fussing with details indoors," Alice agrees. "We live outside - around the pool in the summer, down at the stables when it is cool."

The stables are occupied for the present only by Phil's horse, Sonny. But Alice has been riding with Phil in Palm Springs during their frequent desert vacations, and as soon as she is ready Phil wants to buy her a horse of her own. And in a year or two, the children will be old enough for ponies.



Riding, hunting, cooking game dinners for your friends - life is full of wonderful things to do, in Phil's opinion. And he is a little rueful that at present so much good playtime must be spent at work. With two radio shows a week, his own and Alice's on Sundays, and the Jack Benny show on which he is a regular performer, to prepare for, and rehearse, and broadcast, Phil is a busy man.

"I see much too little of my daughters," he says. "Much too little of my friends. Thank heaven my beautiful wife works with me, or I would never see her." It's a hard life, you gather from Phil, this getting rich and famous.

Despite their father's conviction that he is neglecting them shamefully, Alice and Phyllis tell everybody who will listen that their daddy is the greatest man in the world. He can ride. He can shoot straight. He can fix their broken tricycles. And he is the best tickler in the world.

"The girls will do anything," their mother says, "if Phil will promise to tickle them before they go to bed. Eat their spinach, wash their hands before supper, put the toys away - anything."
Tickling is a nightly routine.

"Cissy - Cissy is Miss Griffith, the children's nurse - gets the nursery all neat and tidy, the beds clean and white and crisp, the children scrubbed and beautiful. And then we wreck the place. I am the First Assistant Tickler. If Phil and I can't tickle them to sleep - then Cissy has to finish the job."

Alice shakes her head a little after she tells this story.

"How did two such sane parents get such crazy children?" she wants to know.

"Maybe," she adds on second thought, "it's just Alice. Phyllis thinks her big sister is so wonderful that she is content to parrot everything she says. 


"All day long it's 'Mama, may I have a graham cracker?' from Alice, followed by 'Mama, may I have a gwam cwacker?' from Phyllis. Or 'Daddy, please tickle me,' from Alice, then 'Daddy, pwease tittle me,' from Phyllis."

So far as her parents know, little Phyllis has never had a thought of her very own.
They are a wonderful pair to watch. They look alike - a little like their mother, a little like their father. Cissy dresses them in identical pinafores. They have dolls alike, push-peddle autos alike, cowboy suits alike for visits to Sonny's barn.

"And," says Phil, "if you're going to tickle one of them you'd better have strength enough to tickle two."

"They are tireless," Alice adds. "They have the run of the whole eight acres all day. Signs over all the drives warn guests to be 'Careful, Children.' They run and romp and shout until I'm tired just from watching them. If they have to sit down five minutes for lunch they feel abused."

"And," this from their father, "they are indestructible. One of them will fall down and bruise a knee. Alice will patch it up with stuff from the First Aid box in the kitchen. Before the bandages are put away, the other knee is black and blue. But do they stop running? Not those two."

Energy seems to be a family trait.




Alice finds time for two careers - in films and on the radio - without cutting corners on either of the jobs she considers really important, those as Phil's wife and the children's mother.
Phil, for his part, does five men's work in his profession and still has leisure for more useful "puttering" around the place than many a less harried husband.


Phil wanted a barbecue, complete with turning spit, for outdoor dinners. So he hauled the bricks himself, and built it. Somebody gave him a camellia bush - he transplanted it, cultivated it - now it's blooming wildly in the flower border at the edge of the flagstone patio. One night recently he came home from a rehearsal hankering for an old-fashioned Southern dinner, the fried chicken and cornbread kind of dinner he remembered from his Tennessee boyhood. It was the cook's night out, so Phil cooked it. Before dinner was half done, the smells emanating from the kitchen were so promising that Alice called up Mary and Peter Hayes and the Golts, who came right over to help consume the feast.

"What a household," the guests sighed with satisfaction, as they stretched out after dinner in the roomy chairs around the dining room fireplace.

"What a husband," said Alice.

And the house, her husband's house, she might have added, is not for sale.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Best Classic Movie Songbooks

There are roughly 20 million people in America who play the piano and, of these musically-inclined folk, some several million are film fans as well. After us ivory-ticklers sit watching our favorite classics, such as Bing Crosby crooning "Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ra" in Going My Way, or Kathryn Grayson warbling "Make Believe" in Show Boat, we want to plop down at our piano and play these tunes....even if we can't sing along as well as they can ( quite frankly, in the privacy of our own homes, who cares what we sound like ). So you would think that with millions of movie-loving-toe-tapping piano players in America, movie songbooks would be big business, right? Well, judging from the amount of songbooks that are available to the public...it seems like not. Hal-Leonard Publications and Alfred Publications have currently cornered the market in songbook publishing and while they offer a nice collection, most of the beloved tunes we enjoy listening to in the movies have yet to make it to sheet music format. ( I've been waiting for years to see The Ghost and Mrs.Muir transcribed!! ). 

Since today's selection is quite narrow, below we have gathered together the best songbooks from 1930 onward to the present day. Thanks to eBay and the countless used bookstores that can be found online, these books are quite easy to find now and a mighty fine little collection of film music can be enjoyed by procuring these titles. 


Note : Most of these titles link to Amazon, but when Amazon did not have it, the link takes you to eBay. 

Studio Collections : 


The Music of 20th Century Fox : Volume One 1929-1959  - Alfred Publishing released this fine collection of some of the best songs from the 20th Century Fox films spanning thirty years of its history. Unfortunately, they only scratched the tip of its surface. From a studio that boasted talented composers such as Bernard Herrmann and David Raksin, and featured such actresses as Alice Faye, Marilyn Monroe, and Shirley Temple, an entire book series should have been offered. Pictures and histories of the composers highlight the book. Songs include : Down Argentine Way, Now it Can Be Told, Forever Amber, The Song of Bernadette, An Affair to Remember, The River of No Return, Ruby, and The Theme from Peyton Place. 

Warner Bros. 75th Anniversary Series - This stellar series from Alfred showcases some of the best music of Warner Brothers in four separate books. Each includes original sheet music covers, behind-the-scenes info as well as a great selection of music from some of WB's more obscure films. Songs include : Theme from Rebel Without a Cause, By a Waterfall, Wait Until Dark, A Majority of One, Tall Story, Now Voyager, The Constant Nymph, Forty Second Street, Sonny Boy, Dust be My Destiny, Lady Barbara Theme, The Old Man and the Sea, The High and the Mighty, Be Careful How you Wish, Splendor in the Grass. 

The Paramount Song Folios #1-11 - Great books for the real hard-core Paramount film fan. Most of these songs are otherwise obscure to the average popular music listener. The series also features photographs and biographies "of your favorite bandleaders". Song include : The Fleet's In, I Remember You, That's for Me, With the Wind and the Rain in your Hair, Rhythm on the River, Blossoms on Broadway, True Confessions, Why Fight the Feeling, The Night Has a Thousand Eyes, Golden Earrings. 

That's Entertainment! - 60 Songs from MGM's Greatest Musicals - This book features the songs from all of Metro's most famous musicals, notably the ones that appeared in the That's Entertainment movie series. There is an introduction by Cary Ginell. Songs include : Silk Stockings, Babes in Arms, You Made me Love You, Bless your Beautiful Hide, I Fall in Love Too Easily, Easy to Love, Get Happy, Manhattan, Just One of Those Things, Ten Cents a Dance, A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody, The Trolley Song, Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart. 

The New Illustrated Disney Songbook - This fantastic book includes some of the most beloved songs from the Walt Disney animated and live-action films and includes some beautiful color photographs. Songs : Baby Mine, The Ballad of Davy Crockett, E'vry body Wants to Be a Cat, The Bare Necessities, Jolly Holiday, Love is a Song, Let's Go fly a Kite, Under the Sea, Little April Shower, Bella Notte, When You Wish Upon a Star, Candle on the Water, Fortuosity. 




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Songwriters : 


Songbooks that spotlight the talented composers and lyricists that made Hollywood music as great as it is. 

The New Sammy Cahn Songbook - Sammy Cahn, one of the greatest lyrisists ever, had an enormous body of work that included many many great film themes. Songs in this book include : Bei Mist Bir Du Schon, Come Fly with Me, Day by Day, Love and Marraige, Our Town, Pocketful of Miracles, Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Best of Everything, High Hopes, The Tender Trap, Written on the Wind.
The Elmer Bernstein Collection - Elmer Bernstein had a very impressive songwriting career in Hollywood and this great collection includes songs from the films The Age of Innocence, By Love Possessed, The Ten Commandments, Cast a Giant Shadow, Walk on the Wild Side, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Man with the Golden Arm, Hud, The Great Escape, Hawaii, The Carpetbaggers and even the theme song to Ellery Queen. How cool is that! 
The Hoagy Carmicheal Centennial Collection - Hoagy Carmichael had a great stage presence and a great flair for pounding out  a memorable melody at the piano. This book includes 56 of his standards, many of which were featured in films. Songs include : Georgia on my Mind, Lazy River ( The Best Years of our Lives ), Skylark, Ivy, Stardust, Two Sleepy People, Heart and Soul and The Nearness of You. 
The Alan and Marilyn Bergman Songbook - The husband and wife team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman wrote a number of great songs throughout the 1970s and 80s. This book includes the songs they wrote for The Summer of '42, Yentl, Tootsie, Best Friends, Fame, Pieces of Dreams, The Thomas Crown Affair, and Fitzwilly but it neglects to include their television hits ( Maude, Good Times, Alice, In the Heat of the Night ). 
The Irving Berlin Anthology - Now what composer is more well-known and beloved than Irving Berlin? One book is just not enough to cover all the wonderful tunes that he wrote for the movies.....but this collection does a nice job of touching on this best. Songs include : Cheek to Cheek, Blue Skies, I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm, White Christmas, Puttin' on the Ritz, There's No Business Like Show Business, How Deep is the Ocean, Change Partners, Alexander's Ragtime Band, This Year's Kisses, My Defenses are Down. 
The Songs of Burton Lane - Burton Lane is usually associated with Broadway, and rightly so, for he composed many great showtunes in his 45+ year career, but he also did a number of Hollywood songs and this book includes a selection from both fields : Finian's Rainbow, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Dancing Lady, Babes on Broadway and Royal Wedding. 
The Johnny Mercer Centennial - Johnny Mercer was one of America's greatest lyricists and this collection highlights 46 of his musical hits, including : Dream, Fools Rush In, Accen-tu-ate the Positive, I'm an Old Cowhand, Hooray for Hollywood, On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe, Too Marvelous for Words, The Sweetheart Tree, Moon River, Laura, That Old Black Magic, My Shining Hour. 
The Songs of Hugh Martin - Martin is best known for being the composer of Meet Me In St. Louis but he wrote a number of great tunes aside from this film. This collection includes 34 of his songs...such as The Boy Next Door, The Trolley Song, Ev'ry Time, Over and Over, Pass that Peace Pipe, On Such a Night as This, Connecticut, and Diamonds in the Starlight. 


The New Henry Mancini Songbook - Now this is truly a fantastic collection from one fantastic composer! Henry Mancini wrote scores of unique, finger-snapping music to countless films from the late 1950s to 1960s. This collection of 88 songs includes his most famous movie and TV themes, Moon River, The Days of Wine and Roses, The Pink Panther theme, The Thorn Birds, Theme from Peter Gunn, as well as some of his lesser-known but equally entertaining scores : Arabesque, Bachelor in Paradise, Dear Heart, Man's Favorite Sport, Moment to Moment, Mr. Lucky, Remington Steele, Soldier in the Rain, The Sweetheart Tree, and Two for the Road.


The Sherman Brothers Songbook - Two brothers who wrote some of the most uplifting and downright cheery music ever created. In the ten years they worked at Walt Disney Studios they wrote over 50 tunes that became beloved classics. Some of 34 songs included in this collection are : Let's Get Together, Hushabye Mountain, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Lovely Lonely Man, The Slipper and the Rose Waltz, It's a Small World, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, The Age of Not Believing, Feed the Birds, Charlotte's Web, You're Sixteen, Winnie-the-Pooh and Ten Feet Off the Ground. 
The Leslie Bricusse Movie Songbook - Leslie Bricusse was one of the most sought after film composers in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This collection highlights some of his greatest film scores, including : Goldfinger, Doctor Dolittle, Talk to the Animals, Happiness, Le Jazz Hot, Thank You Very Much, A Shot in the Dark, Pure Imagination, I've Done Enough, Where are the Words. A seperate book, "The Leslie Bricusse Theatre Songbook" covers his stage work. 


The Songs of Jule Styne - Musicals just wouldn't be musicals without the talent of Jule Styne. This Hal Leonard collection features 61 of Styne's best songs. Make Someone Happy, Let Me Entertain You, Funny Girl, It's Magic, Three Coins in a Fountain, Time After Time, I Fall in Love Too Easily, Diamond's are a Girl's Best Friend and People. 
The Jerome Kern Collection - Jerome Kern's most lasting legacy is his score to the classic stage production Show Boat, but he wrote a number of great songs to films like Cover Girl, Roberta, Lady Be Good, Centennial Summer, Can't Help Singing, High, Wide and Handsome. This book highlights his work on stage and film. Songs include Till the Clouds Roll By, Look for the Silver Lining, Show Boat, Make Believe, Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Why Was I Born, The Folks Who Live on the Hill, Can't Help Singing, Long Ago and Far Away, The Way You Look Tonight and Pick Yourself Up. 


50 Gershwin Classics - Gershwin wrote an unbelievable amount of great music in his short lifetime and this collection includes 50 of his best. His music was recorded by every great performer from the 1930s up until the present time and are a major part of the Great American Songbook. Songs in this book include An American in Paris, But Not for Me, Embracable You, A Foggy Day, I Got Rhythm, Love is Here to Stay, Swanee, Someone to Watch Over Me, Funny Face and 'S Wonderful. 
The Cole Porter Song Collection - This two volume book collection spotlights 100 of Cole Porter's best songs, spanning the years 1912-1958. Each includes song analysis, publicity stills, original sheet music covers and informal shots from his scrapbook. Songs include : So in Love, In the Still of the Night, Don't Fence Me In, Be a Clown, You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To, Begin the Beguine, I've Got You Under My Skin, I Get a Kick Out of You, Night and Day and Easy to Love. 




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Performers : 


A selection of books from some of Hollywood's most famous performers. 


The Judy Garland Souvenir Songbook - 68 songs from 23 of her motion pictures are included in this "souvenir" sampler. Selections include music from Meet Me in St. Louis, The Wizard of Oz, That's Entertainment, and The Pirate. The book also includes black and white photographs from her films and a complete filmography and discography. 

Shirley Temple Song Album No.1 & 2 - This series was released when Shirley Temple was at the height of her popularity and it features her biggest hits such as Animal Crackers in My Soup, At the Codfish Ball, The Right Sombody to Love, Little Colonel, Curly Top, Baby Take a Bow, and When I Grow Up. Also, a lovely collection of colorized stills is used as inserts between each song. 


The Deanna Durbin Song Folio - Who can resist Deanna Durbin's angelic voice, or the beautiful songs that she sang in her films? This folio includes some of her most memorable tunes such as Someone to Care for Me, That Certain Age, Serenade to the Stars, My Own and I Love to Whistle but sadly does not include The Turntable Song, Love at Last, Something in the Wind, or It's Foolish but Its Fun. Pooh. It was later re-released as "Songs Deanna Durbin Sings".

Bing Crosby Favorite Songs - this collection was released shortly after Der Bingle's death in 1977 and features his favorite songs which, not surprisingly, include many of his film hits....Sunday, Monday and Always, The Second Time Around, Swingin on a Star, The Road to Morocco, Zing a Little Zong, Going My Way, Moonlight Becomes You and June in January. A nice collection but don't expect to find White Christmas among his favorites. 

The Doris Day Songbook - Brighten up your day, with Doris Day! This book includes "15 cherished fan favorites" such as I'll See You in My Dreams, It's Magic, Pillow Talk, Que Sera Sera, Secret Love, Sentimental Journey, and Teacher's Pet as well as some other songs ( Day classics??? ) : Fools Rush In, Don't Take Your Love from Me, Happy Endings and Quizas, Quizas, Quizas, but it sadly neglects her 1960s hits. Where are Send Me No Flowers, Move Over Darling, Do not Disturb, and Please Don't Eat the Daisies? Oh well, the book has nice cover art anyway. 


The Frank Sinatra Anthology - this stellar series from Hal Leonard combines 200 of Ol' Blue Eyes greatest hits into two compact paperback books. Songs include From Here to Eternity, April in Paris, High Hopes, Young at Heart, Come Fly with Me, In the Still of the Night, Luck Be a Lady, Pocketful of Miracles, The Second Time Around, Too Marvelous for Words, The Tender Trap, Witchcraft, and All the Way. 




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Collections :  


A series of songbooks that combine a wide variety of classic movie themes from all eras.

Robbin's Hollywood Dance Folios #1-18 - Another collection of rare songs for the hardcore classic movie buff. Some of these just elude me entirely.....Okey Toots, An Earful of Music, Ninon, Mississippi Honeymoon, On a Sunday Afternoon, I Got a Feeling Your Foolin, Don't Blame Me, Once in a While, Out of the Deep, With a Feather in Your Cap. Each book includes a nice selection of photographs from the films the songs are featured in. 

AFI's 100 Years 100 Songs - A good selection of classic songs from the films that made it to the AFI top 100 greatest films list. Songs include : Over the Rainbow, As Time Goes By, White Christmas, Mrs. Robinson, The Sound of Music, Make Em Laugh, Somewhere, High Noon, The Rainbow Connection, Tonight, Thanks for the Memory, Puttin on the Ritz, Forty Second Street, Cabaret, Yankee Doodle Boy. 


The Movie Fakebook - 5th Edition 500 Songs and Themes - Although this book features a good selection and some rare movies themes ( see listing ), most of the songs are from films dating from 1965-1995...not what I would call "classic". Oh, come to think of it, it never states it is a classic movie fake book. Barbarella, Barefoot in the Park, breakfast at Tiffany's, Chinatown, Casino Royale, Gigi, Hush Hush Sweet Charolette, Inch Worm, Jingle Jangle Jingle, Kissin Cousins, Louise, Love Letters, Memories, Naked Gun, Odd Couple, Psycho, A Place in the Sun, This is My Song, A View to a Kill, and Tomorrow Never Dies. 

Movie Classics ( World's Greatest Music Series ) - Unlike most of the other movie compilation songbooks, this one is not printed by Hal Leonard or Alfred Publishing but rather by Warner Brothers. So don't expect to see any MGM musicals tunes among here. Although the book featuers alot of new movie tunes it does include some great classics such as Love Theme from Ben-Hur, Laura, Days of Wine and Roses, Blue Moon, The Magnificent Seven, On Green Dolphin Street and Love is a Many Splendored Thing. 


Classic Hollywood Themes - Alfred Publishing put out this Classic Hollywood Themes book in 1997 and they included a really good selection from some of the top composers...Maurice Jarre, David Raksin, Dimitri Tiomkin, John Williams, Henry Mancini....but alas, no Bernard Herrmann. Songs include Casablanca, The Ballad of the Alamo, Cheyenne Autumn, Ziegfeld Follies, The Man That Got Away, Theme from The Apartment, Giant and Evergreen. 

Anthology of Movie Songs - This Hal Leonard book features a good sprinkling of classic film scores mixed in with "new" movie themes such as Dancing Queen, The English Patient, ET, Forrest Gump and Schindler's List. Classics include Theme from Romeo and Juliet, The song from Moulin Rouge, Make Someone Happy, Baby Elephant Walk, The Candy Man, To Sir with Love and Wonderful Copenhagen. 





Did you like our selection? Let us know which songbooks that you enjoy the most, or which ones you would like to see on this list. We'll tweak it until it is just right! 
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