For many years Freddie Bartholomew was one of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's biggest box-office drawing child actors but, like most child stars, he found his popularity waning as he grew into adolescence. In 1938, he was no longer a wide-eyed little aristocratic tyke, but had matured into a handsome - if a tad bit scrawny - teenager, just ripe enough in age to play a second-fiddle beau to the child actor who would succeed him as star of the studio - Judy Garland - in the family melodrama Listen, Darling.
Judy Garland had been signed to a MGM contract in 1935 and had quickly become such a favorite with audiences across the country that within three short years the studio was already preparing an adaptation of Frank L.Baum's The Wizard of Oz to be a starring vehicle for their newfound talent.
Her characters were often shy, giggly, awkward little girls, but they were strangely appealing. Judy had a way of brightening up the screen the moment she walked into a scene and, when she opened her mouth to sing, that powerful voice would transfix audiences. Her singing was very mature and heart-felt for one so young.
Judy had starred in only a handful of roles, her most recent being opposite Mickey Rooney in Love Finds Andy Hardy, when she was cast in Listen, Darling, a light-hearted melodrama aimed towards juvenile audiences. Today, it is remembered primarily for her performance of the song "Zing! Went the Strings of my Heart" ( which Judy kept in her stage repertoire until her final show some thirty years later ) but the film itself has many endearing qualities. It's quite touching, and often humorous.
Judy stars as young Pinkie Wingate who, with her pal Buzz ( Freddie ), will stop at nothing - including kidnapping - to keep her mother ( Mary Astor ) from entering a loveless marriage with the town's pompous banker ( Gene Lockhart ). Together they stow mother and baby brother into the old family trailer and head onto the open road to look for a handsome man who could whisk her mother off her feet. They think it will be a bumpy road to love but their mother quickly catches the eye of two suitors ( Walter Pidgeon and Alan Hale ), who, in Pinky's eyes, are both preferable to the banker.
Freddie Bartholomew and Judy Garland make a winning team of cupids but, since they were at opposite arcs in their careers, this would be their only screen pairing. Bartholomew confessed that he had a crush on Judy during the making of the movie but she only looked upon him as a younger brother, being a whole two years older than he.
Listen, Darling is a sweet film and features that unabashed sentimentality which only MGM could capture on film so well. I especially enjoy it because of the fond memories I associate with the movie. One beautiful Saturday morning, my father, sister, and I were returning home from a camping trip at the lakeside town of Geneva, Ohio, when we stopped at a small library and found a mother-load of classic movies on VHS tape in their collection.... one of which was Listen, Darling. On most Saturday nights we watch MGM musicals or Walt Disney films, so we saw Listen, Darling that very evening to cap off that wonderful day and zing! went the strings of my heart....the film drew me in completely. Its fun camping theme and the spot-on performances from all the principal players made it a delight to watch and it has always remained a favorite.
This post is our contribution to The Judy Garland Blogathon being hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Click here to read more posts about Judy, her films, and her career.