Hollywood Singing and Dancing


Dancing Away the Great Depression: The 1930s

"Hollywood Singing and Dancing" is a thirteen-part series that takes you on the set of some of the most beloved movie musicals of all time. Memorable interviews with stars and people behind the scenes bring tinseltown to life. Starting in the silent era, the series moves through Hollywood's toe-tapping golden years, the iconoclastic 70s and 80s, and ends at the start of the 21st century.

AIRED: December 30, 2019 | 1:00:00



[ Tap dancing ]

There's something that happens in your heart

when you see a musical.


[ Tap dancing ]

The biggest musical star of 1930s film

was the tiniest --

Shirley Temple.

[ Singing indistinctly, tap dancing ]


Moreno: The production numbers were sensational.

Busby Berkeley? Give me a break.

Who does anything like that anymore? That's amazing stuff.

Bing Crosby just made movies, music, singing --

everything he did -- seem so easy.

Fabray: Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy

were stars of their era.

They were perfect for their time.

♪ You're off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz ♪

It was a very special time. That time is no longer with us.




Toward the end of the 1920s, cinema found its voice

and a glorious new genre was born -- the Hollywood musical.

In turn, the 1930s would see the musical bloom

with increasing artistry and variety.

Every studio had its own roster of talented performers

and developed its own approach to making movies sing and dance.

For many filmgoers, the Hollywood musical

gave them escape and hope during the troubled

years of the Great Depression.

♪ Are the stars out tonight?

♪ I don't know if it's cloudy or bright ♪

♪ 'Cause I only have eyes for you dear ♪

D'Angelo: The '30s, when people were so in need of entertainment

just to relieve the challenges of their lives,

and you see mirrored in musicals of those times

people meeting the challenges.

Jones: The Wall Street Crash of 1929 devastated the economy.

Millions became unemployed.

Thousands roamed the country looking for jobs

that did not exist.

As belt tightening occurred in families struggling

to make ends meet, going to the movies

seemed an unnecessary luxury.

The Hollywood musical looked like it

would be out of a job as well.

Extremely popular in the late '20s,

by the start of the '30s

as the novelty of sound pictures faded,

musicals were labeled box office poison.

In 1930, musicals suffered a slump horribly

because all the studios were just churning out

these senseless musicals after musicals after musicals.

I suppose in a way that audiences simply got bored

with these musical 'cause they were very much the same.


Jones: Only a handful of musicals were released in 1931 and '32.

The movie musical was deemed a fad whose time had passed.

Few in the film industry dreamed

that the Hollywood musical would soon have

a tremendous resurgence, that it would be musicals

that would come to the rescue of movie studios

saving them from bankruptcy.


For as the Depression deepened,

audiences wanted to get away from their troubles

and Hollywood had just the ticket.

[ Indistinct singing ]

Masuyama: And what they ended up doing was they were making all sorts

of escapist movies to lure them into

the movie theater, and that was basically the musicals.

Minnelli: Like all of the Busby Berkeley films during the Depression.

They're singing "We're in the money."

So people who could just barely afford a nickel

to go to the movies got to see all this glamour

and the extraordinary kind of lifestyles and so forth,

and they were allowed to dream.

Jones: Even at the start of the '30s,

musicals with big stars still drew audiences.

And one of the biggest stars was Maurice Chevalier.

Chevalier's, you know, real charming debonair character

really caught on with the American audience.

So his films such as "The Love Parade,"

"Love Me Tonight," "The Merry Widow,"

they all made money because they were all wonderful.

One of my favorite musicals of all time was "Love Me Tonight,"

with Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald.

I love that film.

Tune: "Love Me Tonight," you've got to see

Maurice Chevalier peak and Jeanette MacDonald.

♪ Isn't it romantic?

That's from "Love Me Tonight."

♪ He will hear my call and bend his royal knee ♪

It's so delightful. Oh, it's such a good film.

You must see "Love Me Tonight."

I love the writing.

I love the way it was written.

I love the way it was staged.

I mean, it was brilliant.

Mamoulian was an incredible director --

an incredible director.

Masuyama: What Jeanette MacDonald didn't have in her MGM days,

which was sex appeal,

she had plenty of it in the Paramount pictures.

And I think it's because Maurice Chevalier brought it out

in her more than anything

because he was that kind of a character.

The important thing is not to hurry.

Slide: I like her in Paramount.

She's always wearing these sort of scanty underwear

and her lingerie, and she looks good in lingerie.

She has a nice pair of legs.

And I don't think MGM really let us see her legs.

Jones: MGM tried to catch a little of Paramount's magic

by hiring away Chevalier, MacDonald,

and director Ernst Lubitsch

to make "The Merry Widow,"

based on an operetta by Franz Lehar.

♪ I'm going to Maxim's

♪ Where all the girls are dreams ♪

♪ Each kiss go on the wine list ♪

♪ And mine is quite a fine list ♪

It's a pity, in a way, that MGM didn't sort of realize

how good "The Merry Widow" was

and try and keep the two on together as a team.

Jones: But by 1935, Chevalier was tired of Hollywood

and homesick for Paris.

Going back to Europe, he would not appear

in another American film

for more than 20 years.



Jones: Most moving musical stars

came not from abroad but Broadway.

The biggest one of them all was Eddie Cantor

who made a film called "Whoopee" for Sam Goldwyn,

and that film was a success enough

that he made films like "Palmy Days,"

then "The Kid from Spain,"

and my personal favorite, "Kid Millions."

"Kid Millions" -- Oh, that was a cute one

set in between New York and Egypt.

Eddie Cantor finds out he's the heir of

this archeologist fellow who passed away --

of course looks exactly like him, is him.

There was nobody better with timing.

When they say timing is everything,

they're talking about Eddie Cantor.

♪ I like the sheikh, I like his daughter ♪

♪ But I prefer her under water ♪

I sort of like them because they're, in a sense,

those '30s Goldwyn musicals are more simplistic

but more pure and beautiful versions of American musicals.

Masuyama: Eddie Cantor Goldwyn Productions were famous for,

well, the Goldwyn Girls for starters,

and the songs were wonderful.

♪ Mandy, there's a minister handy ♪

Slide: With the Goldwyn production numbers,

it's really sort of Eddie Cantor who is holding them together.

Eye candy -- Eddie Cantor films of the '30s were eye candy,

and Eddie had big eyes to go along with it.

Abel: At the time that these movies came about,

he was box office hit number one for three straight years --

"Roman Scandals," again one of his very best.


I was in "Roman Scandals" with Eddie Cantor.

I played a captive prisoner of war,

and Eddie Cantor

was sort of a man of all things around the set.

Well, what are my bids for this sturdy little champion?

What are my bids?

Lady, please don't touch unless you're gonna buy.

And...don't buy.

Stuart: It first-class all the way --

first-class designer, first-class makeup,

first-class everything.

Billy Barty: That was just real working

with Eddie Carter and "Roman Scandals."

I mean, it was an idol to me, Eddie Cantor.

♪ Another bride, another June ♪

♪ Another sunny honeymoon

♪ Another reason, another season for making whoopee ♪

♪ It's not a palace or a poorhouse ♪

♪ But the rent is absolutely free ♪

Malik: He wanted to bring people laughter during the Depression.

That was his main era,

but it wouldn't cost that much to go to a movie.

You know, you could sit and be entertained

and taken away from reality for an hour and a half.

Just things that didn't seem possible in the real world.

He came from New York stage, and it was in the early '30s,

and so New York stage stars were very, very important, very big.

Jones: Another Broadway export to Hollywood

had a slightly different flavor.

The Marx Brothers were stirring up their brand of mayhem

at Paramount.

One of their best films there was "Duck Soup" made in 1933.

"Duck Soup" is an interesting case because a lot of people

consider that their best film, and yet there is no harp solo,

there's no Chico at the piano solo,

which is usually characteristic of their films.

But what there is is 'To War."

♪ They got guns, we got guns

Stoliar: "Duck Soup" is considered today to be the freshest

and probably funniest film they made,

but it wasn't the case in 1933.

Jones: Audiences were not in the mood for political satire.

After "Duck Soup" laid an egg at the box office,

Paramount dropped the Marx Brothers.

[ Explosion ]

Jones: Head of Paramount Adolph Zukor was having success

with another musical comedy import from Broadway.

Lyles: He brought another person from New York

for a picture with George Raft.

I think it was called "Night After Night."

And she was very saucy and sassy

and she sashayed it into a nightclub with her ermine coat

and all of the jewelry, and put the ermine coat

down for the hat check girl,

and the hat check girl looked at her and she said...

Goodness, what beautiful diamonds. Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie.

That scene made Mae West

one of the biggest stars in Hollywood

and helped keep those gates open for a number of years.

And then Mr. Zukor saw this scene.

He said, "She's going to be a big star for us."

Do you believe in love at first sight?

I don't know, but it saves an awful lot of time.

Jones: After that, Hollywood was at her feet for a slew of films

highlighting her oozing sexuality

and risque double entendres.

She could take an ordinary line, and when she go through with it,

it was the most risque thing

that had been on the screen.

Might be mild now, but then it was quite a big thing.

You have a wonderful future.

I see a man in your life.

What? Only one?

Jones: In her pictures,

West always sang a few songs in her distinctive style.

♪ And they call me Sister Honky Tonk ♪

Slide: No, I don't think Mae West is a musical star.

I think she is a comedian of sorts

who had some musical numbers.

She's not a great singer.

I think Mae West sang extremely well.

I worked with her, produced what turns out to be

her last LP, actually, her last musical recordings.

I thought she sang very well. She sang in a white blues style.

[ Singing indistinctly ]

Whitcomb: She learned to sing from the ragtime singers of the period.

Blossom Seeley, Sophie Tucker.

♪ Oh, sonny was a man, but he came to see me sometimes ♪

When she made her films at Paramount,

I think it was better than 90's

where she has the Duke Ellington Orchestra,

and she told me when we worked together that Paramount said,

"You can't have those black guys in the" --

or they would say Negroes then --

"in this film with you."

And she said, "Well, I won't make the film

if they're not in the film."

So she always championed black orchestras and black performers

and probably learned a lot from their style.

And when she sang, she sang in that manner.

Come along, girls, come on.

[ Singing indistinctly ]

♪ Work your spell on me

Jones: West's films are credited with helping keep Paramount afloat

during the early years of the Depression.

Mae West is unique, but at the same time,

I'm glad there was only one of her.


Jones: Head of Paramount Adolph Zukor was having success


Jones: Jimmy Durante was another unique performer.

The son of a sideshow barker, he began in show business

at the age of 16 playing piano in Bowery nightclubs.

He worked his way up through vaudeville

arriving on Broadway in Ziegfeld's "Show Girl"

and "Billy Rose's Jumbo."

In 1930, he was put under contract by MGM.

♪ I know darn well I can do without Broadway ♪

Wanting to duplicate the success of Laurel and Hardy,

the studio teamed him with Buster Keaton.

They're incompatible comedy styles

made the teaming disastrous for Keaton, then a fading star.

But Durante's star rose.

Nicknamed "Schnozzola,"

he delighted audiences with his bizarre malapropisms

and by singing his own compositions

in his hoarse voice.

That's not all.

♪ Why am I always snubbed

♪ By pretty girls and debutantes? ♪

♪ I know I'm not good looking ♪

♪ But what's my opinion against thousands of others? ♪

Well, he's a comedian basically, and his most famous song being

"Ink a dinka dink, a dinka dinka doo."

♪ Ink a dinka do, a dinka dee, a dinka doo ♪

♪ Bu-bu-bu-bu-bu-bu- bu-bu-bu-bu-boo ♪

Just a crooning.

I'm just a crooning

♪ Ink a dinka do, a dinka dee, a dinka doo ♪

[ Whistles ]

There's a little bit of Bing Crosby and me

[ Chuckles ]

So, you won't talk, huh?

♪ Eskimo bells up in Iceland are ringing ♪

♪ They've made there own paradiseland singing ♪

♪ Ink adinka do, a dinka dee, a dinka doo ♪

♪ A dinka dee

♪ Simply means ink a dinka dee ♪

Hey, that'll do. Get your rinky-dinky doo out of here.

Jones: Head of Paramount Adolph Zukor was having success

Jones: Head of Paramount Adolph Zukor was having success

♪ I surrender, dear

Will you please shut off that noise?

Noise? Mother, that's Bing Crosby.

Another figure whose presence in musical film

is often underestimated is Bing Crosby.

-What's your name? -Bing Crosby.

Oh, I suppose you're going to tell us you're Bing Crosby.

Well, yes. Yes. I'm Bing Crosby.

Announcer: You will now hear Bing Crosby sing "Out of Nowhere."

Oh, Mr. Crosby!

Oh, I'm so sorry. I thought you were Bing Crosby.

Pardon me. Aren't you Mr. Crosby?

And now she thinks you're Mr. Bing Crosby.

No. Mahatma Gandhi.

[ Laughter ]

♪ When I take my sugar to tea

♪ All the boys are jealous of me ♪

Jones: Born Harry Crosby in Tacoma, Washington,

he picked Bing as a nickname from a comic strip,

"The Bingville Bugle."

In college he studied law,

but the siren call of a musical career

beckoned after he got a mail-order drum set

and began singing with a local band.

In 1925, he set out to pursue singing professionally.

♪ Once more to sing love's own refrain ♪

Crosby gained fame on the radio,

becoming a top-selling recording artist.

♪ Auf Wiedersehen, my dear

Here's one of the giants

in the history of popular music period.

He changed the way Americans sang.

He therefore also changed the style

in which songs were written.

As a crooner rather than as a classically trained singer,

here was a different kind of musical sound.

♪ Just one more chance

This is Gracie Allen, and I don't --

Oh, Morton Downey.

No, no. Rudy Vallée.

Gracie, that's Bing Crosby.

Oh, well, now you're gonna change your name?

Nobody will know you. Glad to see you.

Jones: Crosby caught the eye of producer Max Sennett,

who launched him in a series of shorts

mixing singing with slapstick farce.

♪ No

[ Piano keys slam, lion roars ]


These benefited from Crosby's musical talents

while he gained the comic acting skills

that would give him an advantage over straight-laced singers

trying to break into the movies.

Later on, he said that the Max Sennett days helped him a lot.

So later on in his films, if there were comedies,

he would relate back to his Max Sennett days

and refine it for his own talent.

[ Lion roars ]

Not only was he handsome, but he had this voice

that was a bass baritone

that really melted the ladies' heart.

♪ Happiness is there hiding everywhere ♪

♪ You will find

And his personality just kicked in.

He just had it, very unlike the other crooners of the time

who could only sing but no screen personality.

Some of them weren't good looking.

Some of them didn't have the personality on the screen,

but Crosby did.

So that made him into a huge star in the '30s.

[ Singing indistinctly ]

He worked at it. He was a dedicated professional.

But then he just seemed to toss it off.

It was just hard to believe he was reading lines

that somebody else wrote.

They just came out of him

like it was his own way of talking,

and his singing was so melodious

and so easy and he was captivating.

So as a kid growing up in Nashville,

my parents were Bing Crosby fans.

We had Bing Crosby records,

and I sort of learned to sing

listening to Bing.

♪ For you

♪ For you

♪ All over the highway and over the streams ♪

♪ I fetched the clover I lay at your feet ♪

♪ Oh, there's nothing in this world I wouldn't do ♪

♪ For you

♪ For you

Slide: Initially, he was in some pretty dreadful --

no, very dreadful -- Max Sennett short subjects.

And it wasn't really till he was signed up

as a leading man with Paramount that he made his mark on screen.

Jones: Crosby appeared in "The Big Broadcast" for Paramount,

but his first major hit film was on loan out to MGM

in support of Marion Davies in "Going Hollywood."

Bing played a movie-struck crooner,

Marion the girlfriend who follows him to Tinseltown.

♪ Love after sundown

Slide: The film is supposed to feature Marion Davies

showing off her talents,

but they're rather limited quite frankly,

and Bing Crosby really comes across as the star here.

♪ Take me where the songbirds fill you with sweet refrain ♪

Jones: If "Going Hollywood" didn't give Davies

a much needed career boost,

it certainly helped Crosby,

making him one of the top-10 box office draws in the country.

[ Indistinct ] Good evening, Lady Bear.

Masuyama: And he was so popular that Paramount put him in all these,

well, I should say nonsensical musicals from the '30s.

You have your "College Humor,"

you have your "She Loves Me Not," "Mississippi,"

"Rhythm on the Range," Waikiki Wedding,"

none of them were very distinguishing.

I mean, it was just fluff. All of them were just fluffs.

Jones: Throughout the decade, Bing starred in lighthearted comedies

crooning to a selection of leading ladies

such as Carole Lombard

in "We're Not Dressing."

♪ Well, will you be mine?

♪ Say you'll be mine

You annoy me so, I could slap your face.

Masuyama: And some of them, yes, the scripts were a very, very bad.

Carlisle: But the audiences loved him

no matter what he did because he sang better than anybody.

He sang better than Sinatra.

He had the most beautiful voice,

and he would come into the place where we recorded chewing gum,

drinking cold drinks,

but out would come to this gorgeous voice.

♪ Love thy neighbor

♪ Offer to share...

Sang better than anybody.

♪ Empty saddles in the old corral ♪

Kenrick: Bing Crosby's films done primarily for Paramount

were tremendously successful.

They don't necessarily entertain audiences as thoroughly today,

but the best of his musical films,

which he continued doing right into the 1950s and '60s,

still have that incredible presence,

the warmth of Bing Crosby.

♪ But you smile at me and around I go ♪

♪ On a merry go run a round ♪

Presenting Mr. Al Jolson.

♪ About the moon-a and the June-a and the spring-a ♪

♪ I love to sing-a

Jones: Al Jolson was Warner Brothers Studios' top musical star.

But by the start of the 1930s, his film career faltered.

Greim: I wish that they had done for him

what Samuel Goldwyn did for Eddie Cantor --

was to let him be a singing comedian.

Instead, they put him into these ridiculous

mother-love type roles.

He broke out of it once, but he had to go away

from Warner Brothers.

In 1933, Lewis Milestone

produced a film called "Hallelujah, I'm a Bum!"

which was an independent film

and was released through United Artists.

And this featured the wonderful music of Rodgers and Hart,

and in it, Jolson plays a character called Bumper,

who is the mayor of the hobo community in Central Park.

-Hello, Bumper! -Hello! Hello!

It's a really offbeat role for Jolson,

and the film was shot very unusually.

It's shot all in rhyme.

My noble heart is filled with thoughts of charity.

But from the truth you show a slight disparity.

Jones: But like many other musicals of the era,

it died at the box office.

Birchard: In late 1932, Darryl Zanuck, who was then

a production executive at Warner Brothers,

got the idea that maybe

movie musicals were ripe for a comeback.

And he decided to gamble on making another movie musical

based on a novel called "42nd Street."

Jones: On the surface, its plot merely repeated

the backstage Broadway formula picture.

But Warners had a few aces up their sleeves.

How do you do, ladies and gentlemen?

Jones: Dick Powell had good looks, good voice,

and Hollywood beckoned.

♪ There is gold blue, there is hope in the hearts of men ♪

He had a sweet tenor voice, and the ladies swooned over him

because of his charm and his voice and whatnot.

You can have them all, but just give me Dick Powell.

I wonder what it's like to be kissed by Dick Powell.

Dick Powell, to my mind, is still one of the most

underestimated screen stars of all time.

Handsome, charming, likeable.

You wanted to know him,

and he and Ruby Keeler created genuine chemistry on screen.

But the same is true with any of the leading ladies

he worked with.

He seems like a nice guy who happens to sing like an angel.

♪ For you

♪ The words are in my heart ♪

Stuart: Dick was great.

We didn't have very much acting scenes together.

I had to listen to him sing, which was no problem and lovely

because he had a beautiful voice

and was a good singer.

[ Tap dancing ]

Jones: And then there was Ruby Keeler.

♪ I surrender, dear

Isn't she keen?

♪ I surrender, dear

One day when I was 13, I was walking home from school

with a girl that was a little older,

and she said, "They're having a call for chorus girls today.

Why don't you come over with me?"

And of course I had never been to a Broadway show.

I didn't know anything.

Anyway, I did go with her and danced and...

you know, in the line.

They have a big line up

and each girl steps out and dances,

and as I got out and I really danced,

and I made the chorus.

Masuyama: She was on Broadway as a chorus dancer

when she met Al Jolson, and she became Mrs. Al Jolson

and she came out to Hollywood because Al Jolson did


I made a test for another studio

and they, Warner Brothers, saw it

and then signed me for "42nd Street."

Well, the first picture, "42nd Street," now,

mind you, you'll watch it now and you say,

"Gosh, she can't act, she can't sing,

and she dances like an elephant" is what they all say.

She's often criticized or made fun of

because of her so-called clumsy dancing,

as compared with Ginger Rogers.

But as she explained to me in those early films

she is doing clog dance.

She's doing a Lancashire clog dance.

She was very proud of her English background.

But, boy, can she dance when she taps.

She sort of lights up the screen.

You're beautiful, and what a dancer. Mm-hmm?

Her lack of acting skills or singing skills

made her even more charming.

And, you know, that was the girl-next-door syndrome.

Well, how about a little kiss then?

Uh-uh. I should say not.

She became one of the top musical stars of the 1930s.

Why? Because we liked Ruby.

If nothing else, we felt sorry for a woman who had to live

with Al Jolson that many years.

So Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell would be a team

much like Astaire and Rogers was,

much like MacDonald and Eddie was,

only in this case Dick Powell sang

and Ruby Keeler danced.

♪ Are the stars out tonight? ♪

We had lots of fun.

It was hard work, but it was fun.

Say, did you see me dancing?

Do you crochet too? No, not me.

But I got a tenor voice people come miles to hear.

Here's a sample of it.

[ Singing indistinctly ]

Jones: Warner Brothers also had a secret weapon

by the name of Busby Berkeley.

Kenrick: The definitive person in 1930s musical film

is Busby Berkeley.

He took a genre that was on the brink of death

from a lack of imagination and gave it imagination.

Birchard: He really got his start in musical production in Europe

during World War I doing Army shows.

Berkeley had no background as a dancer or as a choreographer.

He was basically a drill instructor

and he would run these soldiers through these drills.

He would design drill formations

that certainly affected his later work.

Slide: What is amazing is a Busby Berkeley realized

you could do something more with a production number

than just have a line of chorus girls

kicking up their legs.

Jones: Previously, most musical numbers were shot as

if the camera was sitting in the audience of the theater.

Birchard: Berkeley took that one better.

He understood in a way

that nobody making musicals up to that point did

how you could use the camera.

Reynolds: He knew the camera.

The camera, choreograph, the dancers

worked around the shots he had in mind

and his shots motivated all the rhythms

and all the wonderful ideas he had.

Tune: He liberated the camera.

He liberated the audience's imagination,

and he let music speak through the screen

as it never had.

He really used the medium of film.

What I loved was that it looked like the curtain

would open and it looked like it was supposed to be on a stage

and then he would just dispense with that and get in

and do all these amazing things

that could never have been done on a stage

and we didn't care because we were so carried away with it.

Birchard: They were massive intricately designed numbers

but considered rather vulgar and garish at the time

but a lot of fun to watch.


Kenrick: Suddenly instead of just trying to be like Broadway,

the musical film was finding its own visual context

and was able to do things Broadway couldn't do.

That was how he set musical films apart.

Birchard: But most of these Berkeley numbers

in these early Warners pictures,

they're not integrated into the plot at all.

They become set pieces that almost stand alone,

apart from the rest of the film.

Things like the "Lullaby of Broadway" number

in "Gold Diggers" in 1935

or "I Only Have Eyes for You" in "Dames"

or the "Shadow Waltz" in "Gold Diggers" of 1933.

Keeler: The shooting schedule was about six weeks

but then we rehearsed probably six or eight weeks

before shooting, you see?

The story didn't mean a thing as you know.

They were all the same.

Birchard: He had an extravagant sensibility to say the least.

He was a slave driver on the set.

Sometimes he would shoot for.

12, 18, 24 hours a day

when he was in production on these numbers

with 60 or 100 or 120 chorus girls.

Jason: Although his budgets went way over, it was well worth it

because his movies were success financially

so they allowed him to go whole hog on the budget.







At Warner Brothers in the early '30s,

he had carte blanche and he had the kind of budgets

that he could do these kind of wild visual fantasies

that we've come to know as the Warner Brothers

musical style in the 1930s.

It was all about geometry really and angles,

and it was like looking through a kaleidoscope.

That's exactly what it looked like.

It was just amazing how we thought that stuff.

I can see him at night suddenly waking up and saying,

"I know what I'm going to do tomorrow with that piece."

Kenrick: Where did it come from?

Where did those ideas come from?

Birchard: He had a vivid imagination.

He used to say he would climb into the bathtub

and get his ideas as he soaked in the tub.

Buzz, what have you got up your sleeve for "Dames"?

Think you'll be able to top the numbers

of "Wonder Bar" and "Footlight Parade"?

Well, I don't like to make any promises, Lyle,

but I really think this picture is gonna top

anything we've ever done.

We have a very huge set over there,

and practically everything moves this being moving pictures.

And the stage begins to move, the girls begin to go up and...


Slide: "Dames," there he really proves that anything goes really

when you're making a production number.

Minnelli: You'd have to watch it. You can't explain it.

Imagine him trying to explain something.

I'm afraid you'll have to see it.

It really can't be described.

You have to watch those films. There's no way to describe it.

And that's what's original.

Nobody else did it.

♪ Are the stars out tonight?

♪ I don't know if it's cloudy or bright ♪

♪ 'Cause I only have eyes for you ♪

♪ You, my dear

Kenrick: Do not forget the songwriters Harry Warren and Al Dubin.

They turned out so many great scores for his films.

♪ Only have eyes for you

♪ I don't know if we're in a garden ♪

♪ Or on a crowded avenue

♪ You are here, so am I

♪ Maybe millions of people go by ♪

♪ But they all disappear from view ♪

♪ And I only have eyes for you ♪


Warner Brothers, the producers of "Gold Diggers" of 1933...

Now take pleasure in presenting for your entertainment...

"Gold Diggers" of 1935.


Stuart: The main thing that I loved about the picture was that

I had a very good part

and the numbers were so spectacular in those days

and especially the song at the very end,

"Lullaby of Broadway."


[ Tap dancing ]






The only ones I didn't like were Busby Berkeley's --

reminded me too much of the Nazi, you know.

I didn't like to see crowds doing all the same step.

I never did like that.


Jones: The latter half of the 1930s saw Warner Brothers

losing its creative talent

and its position is maker cutting-edge movie musicals.

Busby Berkeley was also in decline.

Busby Berkeley left Warner Brothers in 1938

after making "Gold Diggers in Paris,"

which was a disaster.

Not only his regular stars weren't in it,

they cut the budget of the film drastically

and it really shows in the musical numbers.

It's quite sad.

And then he went over to MGM

and everything was fine after that.

He had a good career.

When we were doing "Cabaret," he came to visit,

and we were in the park doing a sequence and he came to visit.

He would -- talked about himself.

"My God, I did this and I did."

Then we all just went, "Oh, yeah. That's fabulous."

"Well, what about this? She was off. Ah, she was crappy.

She was happy I taught her everything she knows."

He was funny.

Jones: With the success of "42nd Street,"

other studios sought to imitate the Warners' formula.

In 1933, RKO came out with "Flying Down to Rio,"

which had production numbers challenging

the outrageousness of Busby Berkeley.

However, the film is better remembered for another reason.

Slide: "Flying Down to Rio" is important of course

because it didn't star Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire,

but a teamed of them for the first time

and I think it gave RKO

the opportunity to realize how talented these two were

and how they complemented each other so well on screen.



Jones: Born Frederick Austerlitz in 1899, Fred Astaire

began dancing in vaudeville at the age of seven

and later gained fame on Broadway and in London.


Astaire became the leading male dancer in movies.

He glided, he floated, he brought elegance and grace

to the movie musical.


Fred Astaire was the most elegant man

that I knew.

[ Tap dancing ]

No matter whether he was dressed in top hat and tails

or sweater and slacks on the screen,

he had a tremendous elegance.


He had genius. He had extraordinary imagination.

He had discipline.

He had to have had discipline

to do what he did for us on the screen

and make it look so effortless like, oh, it just happened.



[ Tap dancing continues ]



I adored Fred Astaire. I just adored him.

He was the kindest man in the world,

the most patient, perfectionistic,

but never a harsh word, never raised his voice.

He was just so wonderful and so one-of-a-kind kind of person.

Every day of my life, I was just kind of awestruck by him.

[ Tap dancing continues ]





[ Applause ]

Jones: Summoned to Hollywood,

Astaire was awarded a small part employing fancy footwork

in "Dancing Lady" with Joan Crawford

as the lady in question.

The next thing he did was "Flying Down to Rio,"

and it was the first time he danced with Ginger Rogers.

Olden: She and Fred were fourth and fifth billed,

the only time she at billing over him, by the way.

Jones: In their supporting roles, Rogers and Astaire

provided the wisecracks until they were called upon to dance

and then they danced their way into a movie legend.

♪ I surrender, dear

Saddler: I saw "Flying Down to Rio" with Fred Astaire.

About that time, I was in high school.

I wanted to be like Fred Astaire.

The success of "Flying down to Rio" did a couple of things,

and one, it helped RKO financially

because they were on the verge of bankruptcy.

So that movie along with "King Kong"

helped the studio get back its financial solvency.

The other thing is that the public

saw these two people on a screen

and said, "Wow, I want to see more of them."

There's many musicals and Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire did

that were just lighthearted

and wonderful dancing and wonderful songs.

♪ Night and day

♪ You are the one

Slide: It's a little hard to believe that she and Astaire

could have got on so well on screen.

They really sort of spark each other.

Jones: Astaire and Rogers were paired again

in supporting roles for "Roberta."

The stars were romantic leads Irene Dunne and Randolph Scott,

with Irene singing the Jerome Kern ballads.

♪ Smoke gets in your eyes

Jones: But once again Fred and Ginger danced off with a picture.

With virtually no plot that plenty of style,

"Roberta" was nominated for Best Picture.

May I present myself, [indistinct]

As Katharine Hepburn once said,

Astaire gave Rogers class.

Rogers gave Astaire sex appeal.

And it's all about chemistry, and they just had it like that.

Olden: The producer of all of the musicals at RKO

was Pandro Berman,

and it was he who had the idea of putting the two of them

together in "The Gay Divorcee,"

and he oversaw all aspects of production

of the subsequent musicals,

so he had this great team around the two of them

and it just made for a happy experience.

Masuyama: Hermes Pan was basically Fred Astaire his right-hand man.

So it could be his stand in,

they look so much like each other.

Olden: Fred and choreographer Hermes Pan would set the numbers

while Ginger was working on another film

so she would be doing a drama or a comedy

while they were setting the dances.

They were well known for almost doing it in one take

but sometimes a technical problem would happen.

I think one of the most famous sequences

is "Never Gonna Dance" in "Swing Time"

when they dance up the twin staircase to the top.

And they had to do that sequence 48 times

before they got it right.

And by the end of the night Ginger's feet were bleeding.

Fred had run out of tuxedo shirts.

I don't think they finished until like 4:00 in the morning,

but they got it.

Fred Astaire did not like these quick cuts

and geometric patterns of Busby Berkeley

and all of the fancy camera work.

When he was doing a dance step,

he wanted his whole body to be seen and he was right.

You want to see what his feet are doing.

And so if you watch those films,

you see they don't use tricksy cuts

and al this stuff to distract you.

The eye should be on Astaire and Rogers, as it is.

Fabray: I think it was in his contract

that he would always be filmed from head to toe --

never show just his face, never show just his feet.

Show his entire body.

Every dance thing you ever see Fred do will be his entire body.

That's pretty smart of him.

Slide: It was wonderful the way that Astaire and Rogers

could command the attention

of all the great Broadway songwriters

and to have their songs specially written for them.

Vincent Youmans with "Flying Down to Rio,"

Cole Porter "Gay Divorcee,"

Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields "Roberta"

and George and Ira Gershwin,

three movies with songs by Irving Berlin.

Rogers: ♪ All my eggs in one basket ♪

♪ I'm betting everything I've got on you ♪

Miss, let me explain.

You know, the clothes that I had bought, I --

When you're talking to a lady, you should take your hat off.

Jones: When they weren't dancing,

they seemed the modern couple --

two independent-minded people

confronting the eternal battle of the sexes.

Olden: There is a lot of miscommunication

as to who's who, he tries to help

and she still gets mad at him,

but then they dance and it's okay.


The films that Ginger and Fred made at RKO in the 1930s

kept RKO Studios afloat.

They not only rescued them

but and helped them make profit.

People would go see those films in droves.

Leslie: I saw every one of them.

They worked very hard to make that look so easy.

And they had wonderful music, and my hat is off to them.


Slide: I suppose in a way it's sort of sad

that those RKO musicals didn't sort of continue further,

but at the same time maybe they'd run their course.

And also it's sort of nice because

after the Astaire-Rogers musicals,

Ginger Rogers did go on and prove herself a

very talented actress in movies like "Roxie Hart."

"Kitty Foyle" was a very important film in her career

where she was nominated

and won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1940.


Jones: Going to other studios, Astaire continued on in musicals

with different dance partners.

It would be ten years before Ginger and Fred

would reunite in their last film together.

Olden: I've heard that the people in the days of the Depression

really needed something to inspire them

and to pull them out of the doldrums

and their films made people happy.


♪ I surrender, dear


Jones: Far removed from the art deco elegance

of the Rogers and Astaire films

was the singing cowboy western,

frequently ignored when talking about Hollywood musical.

♪ Now ride, ride, ride

♪ Down the Lone Star trail

I always have loved Westerns,

but I know I like Broadway as well.

But I think the Western, the musical Western

has been a much neglected form.

♪ I'll greet each day with a grin and say... ♪

Gene Autry and Roy Rogers,

they all were the best.

♪ A long, long time ago

♪ As all you folks should know ♪

Jones: Singing cowboys had been yodeling on the airwaves

as early as 1925,

but it wasn't until a decade later radio star Gene Autry

landed the lead in "The Phantom Empire."

[ Indistinct singing ]

-Whack! -Woof!

-The owl said, "Who?" -[ Whistles ]

Neigh! ♪ Over there in Uncle Noah's ark ♪

Jones: "The Phantom Empire" was of the oddest of genres --

the singing cowboy science fiction cliffhanger serials.

More conventional Western features followed with Autry

always belting out a couple of songs.

♪ You've heard the songs that a cowboy sings ♪

♪ About the golden west

Jones: Autry's reign as the king of the singing cowboys

remained virtually unchallenged

until after clashing with his studio, Republic Pictures.

Autry walked out on his contract.

Republic responded by replacing him with a contract player

who had previously only appeared in supporting roles.

Cut! [ Buzzer sounds ]

That does it, boys.

He just crashed his way into Republic Studios one day.

♪ Keep a-walking, keep a-walking ♪

Evans: And Roy said, "Well, I just heard that

you were looking for a singing cowboy."

♪ When the sun is setting on the prairie ♪

Jones: Roy Rogers stepped into Autry's cowboy boots

and quickly proved his worth.

♪ Can I find romance in the broad expanse? ♪

♪ Born to the saddle am I ♪

Whitcomb: Roy Rogers, another very underestimated

performer, great singer,

and if you look at his Westerns,

they're wonderful songs.

Jones: Returning to Republic,

Autry had not only to cope with the competition

of Roy Rogers at his own studio

but another rival who had ridden into town.

After an eight-year radio and recording career,

Tex Ritter entered into movies in 1936

making singing westerns for Grand National Pictures.

♪ And a lone star to guide me

♪ Down the trail of my dreams

Jones: Ritter, Rodgers, and Autry

duked it out for supremacy on movie screens

for the remainder of the decade

through the '40s and into the '50s.

The singing cowboy movies were low-budget,

critically scorned, and incredibly popular.

♪ I own 10,000 donkeys and one old mangy mule ♪

Moreover, the singing cowboys were just what the censor

ordered in regards to clean, wholesome entertainment.

In those days, you know, that cowboy could kiss the horse,

but he couldn't kiss the girl.

I'm getting onto my hobby horse, I know,

but you know we hear so much about Rodgers and Hart

and Gershwin, they're all fine porter,

but there are unsung heroes, and those are the guys who wrote

some of the great western songs for the B westerns.

[ Singing indistinctly ]

Jones: Even if he always wore a white hat,

the singing cowboy wasn't always white.

Race films, movies made for African-American audiences,

covered every genre that white Hollywood produced,

including the singing cowboy.

Herbert Geoffrey, later known as Herb Jeffries,

was called the Sepia Singing Cowboy.

He starred in black westerns,

including "Harlem Rides the Range"

and the "Bronze Buckaroo."

[ Men vocalizing ]

African-American cinema existed in the shadow of Hollywood --

separate, unequal,

but what its films lacked in budgets and technical expertise,

they often made up for in sheer talent.

One rising new star was Lena Horne,

who made her film debut in 1938

in "The Duke Is Tops."

♪ You and I have made small beginning ♪

♪ Don't know what our fate is gonna be ♪

♪ Chances are we'll get what we're deserving ♪

♪ We will be the tops, just wait and see ♪

♪ I know you remember all I've told you ♪

♪ We'll see our dreams through

♪ You remember

♪ We'll work hard together while we're dreaming ♪

♪ Our plans have meaning

♪ I know you remember

She was this beautiful girl

who had a style in singing.

She was so sexy.

Boy, what a beautiful girl.

♪ I know you remember


Jones: Some blacks were able to cross over

into Hollywood mainstream musicals.

The premiere tap dancer of the era was Bill Robinson.

Bill Robinson -- he was known as the world's greatest tap dancer.

He was performing the same time that we were.

He started long before we did.

Jones: Nicknamed Bojangles because of his easygoing manner,

Robinson delighted audiences with his fancy footwork

in more than a dozen films and also served

as a choreographer.

For a time, he was the highest-paid black entertainer

in the world.

He adopted us. [ Chuckles ]

He called us his nephews, and we called him Uncle Bill.


Jones: Brothers Fayard and Harold Nicholas

made up a dancing act that started out in vaudeville,

gained fame at the Cotton Club,

and broke into films and a musical short.

They would perform specialty numbers in Hollywood musicals.

Lyles: The Nicholas brothers

were probably the most unique dancing team ever on the screen.

And I remember Fred Astaire saying

that one of the sequences they did in the picture

was the best version of dancing he'd ever seen.

They were absolutely unique and different and how they did it.

[ Tap dancing ]






Nicholas: So, we did a little something for them,

and after we finished doing our dance,

Duke Ellington said, "My goodness."

He said to everybody, "These guys are original."

And I say, "Thank you, Mr. Ellington."

And I say, "You original, too."

[ Chuckles ]


Jones: The great Duke Ellington appeared in a number of shorts

and features for Hollywood.

In "Symphony in Black," made in 1935,

Duke Ellington and his orchestra

played his symphonic jazz piece "A Rhapsody of Negro Life."

This short featured a rare film appearance

by Billie Holiday.

♪ Was when my man walked out on me ♪


Cab Calloway and his orchestra

enlivened not only black films and musical shorts

but also a number of Hollywood feature musicals.

[ Vocalizing ]


When blacks were given a chance to show their stuff

in major Hollywood films,

they were limited to scenes which could be cut out

when the movies were distributed in the southern United States

to avoid offending white audiences.

♪ I surrender, dear
















♪ I surrender, dear


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