Hollywood Singing and Dancing


Stars, Stripes and Singing: The 1940's PT. 2

"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: January 20, 2020 | 0:51:10




Jones: Please join us now for part two of our look

at Hollywood musicals of the 1940s.

If there was one movie-making castle

that was associated with redefining

the integrated musical,

it was undoubtedly Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

The studio had gathered a host of talent

and mega-musical types.

Their claim was that they had more stars

than there were in heaven.

Jane Powell, Vere Ellen.

♪ Love can be a cup of sorrow

Jones: Lena Horne, while restricted in roles due to her color,

nevertheless shined in cameos.

First of all, you can only talk about Lena Horne

if you understand that she is what I would call

a force of nature.

She was wonderful, she was beautiful,

she's bright, she's smart,

but she was furious

at not being able to get roles that depict her

in other things that she could do.

♪ Tell me he's lazy

♪ Tell me he's slow

♪ Tell me I'm crazy

♪ Maybe I know

♪ Can't help loving

♪ That man of mine


♪ When he goes away

♪ That's a rainy day

♪ But when he comes

♪ That day is fine

♪ The sun will shine


♪ He can come home

♪ As late as can be

♪ Home without him

♪ Ain't no home to me

♪ Can't help loving

♪ That man

♪ Of mine

Jones: MGM would loan Lena to 20th Century Fox

to make "Stormy Weather," where she led an all-black cast

with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson as the romantic lead.

The film featured some of the country's top black artists --

Cab Calloway and his Orchestra, The Nicholas Brothers,

Fats Waller, and Catherine Dunham.

It was a rare opportunity for them to get star billing

since racial segregation in the movies

often restricted their performances to scenes

that could be cut for a film's release in the southern states.

You know, I think you're one of the most beautiful girls

I ever saw.

Do you really?

[ Chuckling ] Yeah.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was the Tiffany of the businesses.

♪ To make you happy, I'll tie your shoes ♪

Jones: MGM gave audiences

another of its stylish youth musicals

with "Girl Crazy," a delightful romp

with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland.

MGM continued to churn out appealing signature pieces.

♪ A love like ours

For me to go home was the sad part.

My God, there was no studio in the world like MGM.

I mean, it was the best.

When you have been with a studio like MGM

and they treated you so well and you've had it so good

and they've done everything they can

to make it happy and comfortable --

'cause, you know, they just plucked me out of the tank

and said, "You're gonna be a star,"

and I said, "No I'm not." They said, "Yes, you are."

Man: Where? where did they find you? That was in the Aquacade

in San Francisco.

And if you've never yearned for something a lot, you know,

it really kind of takes you off guard.

Then because they kept saying more money all the time

and that, "You're gonna be a star, you're gonna be a star,"

and they show me the script of "Bathing Beauty,"

and I said, 'Well, I guess I'm gonna be a star."

Garrett: MGM was like a big city by itself.

When I first came there, I was under contract.

I had just starred on a show on Broadway

and I walked into this big studio and realized

that nobody knew what I did,

and I kind of wandered around.

I didn't know what to do with myself.

It was like such a big, monstrous thing.

MGM was like a university. You walk down the street

and it was just like it was your own hometown.

Once a week, Mr. Mayor had a meeting

on a platform outside the property shop

and talked to everybody -- the crew, casting,

carpenters, hairdressers.

"It's really important to be a family,

and if we're a family, we can make good films.

If we all believe in the business,

we'll all say together and we'll all do good work together,

and we all have to care about what we're doing."

He'd make that pitch, and everybody believed it.

It was the best of all times.

It will probably never be repeated.

Russell: Well, I remember the Judy Garland movies,

and the movies that were made

even before I was working

that were wonderful.

You were all involved in the stories,

and the music was beautiful,

and MGM used to make great musicals.

Jones: And if there was one wizard associated with the MGM castle,

it was producer Arthur Freed.

No one furthered the cause of this new integrated musical

more than Freed, who started out as a songwriter,

then became associate producer on the "Wizard of Oz."

Once he showed his stripes on that film,

studio head Louis B. Mayer gave him creative reign.

Kenrick: MGM, in particular,

had developed a wonderful system --

the unit system --

where a producer had an ongoing team of people

working under him who could create projects

on an ongoing basis.

It was almost like having a repertory company

that made films.

And at MGM, that meant that Arthur Freed

could pick up the phone, could call Kay Thompson

and say, "Kay, have you got any ideas?"

She could then turn around and say,

"Just a minute. Let me go talk to Roger."

Roger Edens. They would then talk to writers.

The writers could be, oh, let's just say

Comdon and Green, fresh from Broadway

and bursting with fresh ideas.

And they could sit down, and they could take their time.

This didn't have to be done overnight

because it was due yesterday.

This is MGM.

You're under contract. You're here every day.

Sit down and work through this.

You look at those movies as compared

to almost every other studio.

There was something a little bit classier about them.

I think it's mostly due to Arthur Freed.

He was a great producer.

Jones: Acting like an impresario,

Freed had brought in other artists to collaborate

as a creative unit.

He had a child prodigy named André Previn

to arrange and compose for conductor José Iturbi.

He had dance director Stanley Donen

to bring in a new look to their musicals.

Stanley was a hard director.

I mean, he was really an old-fashioned,

taskmaster kind of director.

He had a clear vision of what he wanted,

and he wanted it now.

Jones: Donen eventually became a director

of several of their hits.

It would be one of many collaborations

that made Arthur Freed's films raise the bar

on artistic quality.

Caron: He was monosyllabic.

He couldn't string a sentence together.

His words were, "Yep, nope,

terrific, terrible."

But he had a genius instinct.

He could pluck out talent.

He knew when something went wrong.

He knew when it was too slow

or not enough excitement.

Well he had the greatest unit at MGM.

It seemed to me like he must've been

L.B. Mayer's pet or something.

He surrounded himself like a president with a great cabinet.

I remembered that he always had a pocketful of change.

His pockets were filled with change,

and he would jingle it.

And therefore, his fingernails were always dirty.

Miller: He had Roger Edens working with Judy Garland

and writing the arrangements.

He had Chuck Walters directing.

He had Vincent Minnelli directing,

who also did great, great lighting.

He surrounded himself with people

that were genius, really.

Jones: One of those brought into the fold was Gene Kelly.

Stanley Donen had worked with him on choreography

for "Cover Girl," Kelly's breakout film

where he moved from hoofer to lead dancer.

♪ ...wore a tulip

♪ A big yellow tulip

♪ And I wore a big red rose ♪ Jones: Kelly's very first screen role

was in "For Me and My Gal."


What hit us?

Oh, it hit me a long time ago.

♪ The bells are... Together: ♪ Ringing

♪ For me and my gal

Jones: Gene would go on to surpass himself

in "Anchors Aweigh" with stellar dance sequences.

One dance number included his famous duet

with cartoon character, Jerry the Mouse.

♪ One, two, three ♪ One, two, three

♪ La la-la la-la-la ♪ La la-la la-la-la

You see? It's easy!

I don't think Gene ever did anything

that wasn't hard.

He liked that challenge.

MacLaine: I worked with Gene. What a taskmaster he was,

but he was good, he was disciplined,

he was detailed,

and he had a good conceptual sense

of scenic design

Jones: Although as a dancer, Kelly would be the performer

most often compared to Astaire,

he'd move on to direct musicals

with the help of Stanley Donen

under the helm of producer Arthur Freed.



Gene Kelly makes his first big splash

showing his real creative side

when he and Stanley Donen, who helped him,

did the alter ego dance in "Cover Girl" in 1944,

which, done without computers, he dances with himself.

Very tricky to do at that time.



Miller: Of course, Freed was quite lucky that he had Gene Kelly

because Gene Kelly was just an amazing fellow.

I mean, he had the eye of a director.

he had the eye of a producer,

he was a fine actor, he was a singer and a dancer.



When you dance on film, is different.

We both come from the theater,

and when you dance on the stage, it's much different.

And Orson Welles once said

that the camera's kind to some people.

Kelly: There many great dancers who have tried to dance on film,

and I mean great dancers, and it doesn't come off well

and nobody really knows the reason why.

How is it different than the stage?

in terms of more room? Well, you miss the third dimension.

I see. You miss the ambiance

in the group and the kinetic,

the strength, the personality of the body.

You miss all that.

And you also miss the environment.

On the film, as we're being shot, now you're seeing --

I'm looking at the monitor, see my face,

you just see a little bit behind me.

The people in the audience

could see the whole...

I see. I got you. ...with a peripheral vision, you see.

So, it's an entirely different medium.

Jones: Producer Arthur Freed gave directors

like Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen

a chance to experiment and flex artistic muscles

in a way never done before.

One director who would typify the new integrated style

was Vincent Minnelli.

Kenrick: Minnelli was a set designer on Broadway,

and Arthur Freed and Louis Mayer

had this big trust in him.

Minnelli: He said he would only go to Hollywood

if he could learn for a year

and just hang around the set, and he was everywhere.

He was in the film department

where they developed the film, he was in the camera department,

the prop department.

He learned everything.

Casper: Freed allowed him to direct some sequences

like in "Strike Up the Band."

Then there was "Panama Hattie," and he was allowed

to direct the sequences with Lena Horne.

It was his accomplished work in these few musical sequences

that got him the plum role

as director of this black musical

that every director would give his eye teeth to do it.

MGM -- "Cabin in the Sky."

Jones: "Cabin in the Sky" was an adaptation

of an all-black 1940 Broadway musical.

Although the Negro stereotypes are rampant,

this folksy fantasy is enhanced

by the strength of the performers.

Ethel Waters recreates her starring Broadway role.

Eddie "Rochester" Anderson plays her husband

with Lena Horne playing the temptress.

Other top talent like Duke Ellington,

Rex Ingram, Louis Armstrong,

and Butterfly McQueen also appear.

Minnelli: He made the first elegant black film.

It was elegant, and it was a fantasy

and changed the history of black films.


♪ If you meet me in St. Louis, Louis ♪

Jones: Vincent Minnelli's "Meet me in St. Louis"

was what many consider the first masterpiece

of the integrated musical.

Although it showcased Judy Garland,

it's very much an actor's ensemble piece

with music emerging from the character's feelings,

and it's all the result of Vincent Manila's vision.

Minnelli: When they went to do "Meet Me in St. Louis,"

They went into Louis B. Mayer's office

and Louis B. Mayer looks at Debbie

and said, "Well, what's it about?"

And my father said...

♪ Bump, bump, bump went the brake ♪


Well, it's really about a family in St. Louis."

And Arthur said, "Yeah, and what happens?"

And he said, "Well, the father gets an offer

to go to New York,

and, you know, get a better job.

And Mayer said, "Okay, okay. So they go to New York."

And Daddy said, "No, they don't."

[ Laughs ] And he said,

"Well, what happens?" He said, "They stay home."

Well, he couldn't explain what it was about

because it's about people's

personalities in a family.

[ Indistinct chatter ]

♪ Clang, clang, clang went the trolley ♪

♪ Ding, ding, ding went the bell ♪

♪ Zing, zing, zing went my heart strings ♪

♪ From the moment I saw him, I fell ♪

♪ Chug, chug, chug went the motor ♪

♪ Bump, bump, bump went the brake ♪

♪ Thump, thump, thump went my heart strings ♪

♪ When he smiled, I could feel the car shake ♪

Crowd: ♪ Clang, clang, clang

♪ He tipped his hat and took a seat ♪

♪ He said he hoped he hadn't stepped upon my feet ♪

♪ He asked my name

♪ I held my breath

♪ I couldn't speak because he scared me half to death ♪ Hi, Johnny!

♪ Chug, chug, chug went the motor ♪

♪ Bump, bump, bump went the wheels ♪

♪ Stop, stop, stop went my heart strings ♪

♪ As he started to go

♪ Then I started to know

♪ How it feels

♪ When the universe reels

Crowd: ♪ The day was bright

♪ The air was sweet

♪ The smell of honeysuckle charmed you off your feet ♪

♪ You tried to sing but couldn't squeak ♪

♪ In fact, you loved him so you couldn't even speak ♪

♪ Ooohhh

♪ Buzz, buzz, buzz went the buzzer ♪

♪ Plop, plop, plop went the wheels ♪

♪ Stop, stop, stop went my heart strings ♪

♪ As he started to leave

♪ I took hold of his sleeve with my hand ♪

♪ And as if it were planned

♪ He stayed on with me and it was grand ♪

♪ Just to stand with his hand holding mine ♪

♪ To the end of the line

Crowd: ♪ Clang, clang, clang went the trolley ♪

♪ And my heart

♪ Ahhh, ooh

It changed musicals because my father took musicals

out of, "Let's put on a show" --

and, you know, the musical numbers

were always on a stage --

and brought it into everybody's life

in "Meet me In St. Louis."

♪ Oh, meet me in St. Louis, Louis ♪

♪ Meet me at -- [sneezes] Minnelli: It changed musicals.

I mean, people suddenly could really start to sing

in their living room or whatever

because he knew how to make that work.

The first thing that you're hearing singing

is everybody singing ♪ Meet me in St. Louis, Louis

And it's very natural because everybody's excited

about the fair coming to their town,

and so everybody's singing it at the piano,

in the house, so music's in the house.

That's all organic, you know. It seems right.

If you will meet me in St. Louis, Louis

Meet me aaat the fair

Together: ♪ Meet me in St. Louis, Louis ♪

♪ Meet me at the fair

♪ Don't tell me the lights are shining ♪

♪ Any place but there

♪ We will dance the hoochee coochee ♪

♪ I will be your tootsie wootsie ♪

♪ If you will meet in St. Louis, Louis ♪

♪ Meet me aaat

For heaven sakes, stop that screeching.

-We're sorry, Papa. -You know, there's a moment

when you realize that people actually made these movies. [ Exhales heavily ]

So then, you know, I became interested in Stanley Donen

and Gene Kelly and Vincent Minnelli

and the certain specific style

that each one brought to the films that they made.

Casper: The contribution of Minnelli.

He was able to work at the most lockstep of studios -- MGM --

where the director and a director's vision

was squelched --

the directors individuality was squelched --

and he could make this musical an individual piece

and a piece from his heart,

a piece with a Minnelli stamp,

a piece where you could see this music and say,

"Hey that's a Minnelli,"

like you can say, "That's a [indistinct].

That's a Russo."

That's what Minnelli did.

Jones: It was definitely the decade of directors,

and the director who forged a new form of his own

was Busby Berkeley.

Busby Berkeley, who directed a lot of pictures

that Judy and I did and the musicals.

I'd done musicals at 20th Century Fox and all around.

Tune: Well, he invented that overhead shot

and that kaleidoscopic thing.

Busby Berkeley was out there.

It was psychedelic.

Badham: I think that Busby Berkeley

is just so inventive and so clever,

and it's campy but at the same time,

it's kind of wonderful.

Jones: Many musicals have come to film by way of Broadway.

♪ Have endured because they knew the way ♪

♪ To weather things

♪ There were rules to be obeyed ♪

Jones: Summer holiday was a musical version

of Eugene O'Neill's play "Ah, Wilderness."

♪ In a gail, you never fluster ♪

Birchard: It was not unusual to see

what had been a popular show on Broadway arrive on film

and have one or none of the original hit songs.

They'd all be replaced by new stuff

written specifically for the picture.

Jones: "Bitter Sweet" lost all of the distinctive character

of Noel Coward's original staged operetta.

♪ Desiring you

[ Singing indistinctly ]

Jones: "Lady Be Good" took a 1924 stage hit

but kept only the title

♪ Oh, sweet, lovely lady, be good ♪

♪ Oh, baby, be good

♪ To me

Jones: Often, older movie comedies

that had been moneymakers would be turned into a musical

in hopes of cashing in on the cachet.

Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't.

The screwball comedy "Ball of Fire"

was a hit with Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper.

I want to show you what yum-yum is.

Here's yum...

Here's the other yum.

And here's yum-yum.


Jones: A snip-snip here, a little tuck there,

and voilà.

"A Song Is Born" was the resulting musical,

but the Billy Wilder screenplay had changed,

and despite the great jazz numbers,

the newer version didn't quite have the sizzle of the original.

[ Indistinct singing ]

The saving grace of most films

would be a plot wrapped around a score and lyrics

from talents like Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer,

Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart,

Ira and George Gershwin,

Lerner and Loewe, Irving Berlin,

Frank Loesser, or Sammy Khan.

[ Indistinct singing ]



There has to be a good story

and then the musical fits it.

Jones: Jane Russell created a stir in "The Outlaw,"

a drama produced and directed, or non-directed,

by Howard Hughes.

But before she'd break out in her 1950s musical hits,

she starred here in "The Pale Face."

♪ Let's move down to some big town ♪

♪ Where they love a gal by the cut of her clothes ♪

And then there was Bob Hope.

Though not known for his singing and dancing,

he lent his voice and wisecracks to musicals

like "Louisiana Purchase."

Hope was a welcome addition in 1943's "Let's Face It."

It also didn't hurt that some of Bing's melodious magic

rubbed off on him in "Road to Zanzibar,"

"Road to Rail, and "Road to Morocco,"

Together: ♪ We're off on the road

♪ To Morocco

Crosby: We appeared together on the radio many times

before "The Road," doing these kind of jokes

that led Paramount people to believe

that they could create a comedy series for the two of us.

[ Singing indistinctly ]

Jones: Technically the seven "Road" films weren't musicals,

but there was plenty of song and sarong.

And if Paramount Pictures had Bob Hope,

MGM had Red Skelton, another gifted comedian

to spice up their musicals. ♪ There's bound to be talk tomorrow ♪

♪ Think of your lifelong sorrow ♪ ♪ At least there will be plenty implied ♪

Garrett: Working with Red Skelton

was like working with the greatest circus clown.

I used to go home at night with my stomach aching from laughing.


Jones: Red Skelton not only did comedy musicals

but would later take on a more serious role

as a composer in the musical "Three Little Words."

Dahl: The second film I made with Red Skelton

was "Three Little Words"

and it was different for him

because he was playing a straight part.

He was playing one of the songwriters

And then we stood up and wrote -- ♪ So long

Dahl: He sang a little bit with Fred but not very much.

♪ Who's sorry now? ♪ Who's sorry now?

♪ Who's sorry now? Reynolds: Fred Astaire was with Red Skelton

and they would just kind of play the piano,

and they were songwriters, and they were writing a song,

and then down the steps comes this little girl

and that's me, and I was just 16.

And then I interrupt them 'cause they're playing

♪ I wanna be loved by you

♪ Just you and nobody...

And then the little girl is supposed to sing...

♪ Boop-boop-bee-doop

And that was a big hit in the '30s

and then that song became a big hit

when Carleton Carpenter and I did it.

♪ Ba-dup-bee-dup- bee-dup-bee-dup ♪

♪ Boop-boop-ba-doo

It's the first big money I ever made in my life.

I made $1,500 from that as a record,

and that just astounded my father and my mother,

and we were thrilled.

Jones: And there was Donald O'Connor,

maturing into a top-notch triple threat --


with comedian thrown in.

Reynolds: Donald was from a circus family,

and he was really born in a trunk.

And he went on stage -- crawled on the stage --

when he was three months old. He was so cute.

The audience applauded, and he started to dance...

[chuckling] at three months old.

He lost his diaper and then he really got a big hand.

So Donald was loved.

Even as a young boy, he was always in show business.

♪ He's a Yankee Doodle Dandy

♪ A Yankee Doodle, do or die

Jones: Biographical musicals were on the rise

with an emphasis on the lives of composers.

"Yankee Doodle Dandy" had James Cagney

portray composer George M. Cohan.

♪ She's a Yankee Doodle joy

♪ Yankee Doodle came to London

♪ Just to ride the ponies

♪ He's is a Yankee Doodle Boy


Leslie: He worked very hard to prepare for that.

He danced hard for hours every day --

I'd say three or four weeks at least --

before production began.



♪ Yankee Doodle came to London

♪ Just to ride the ponies

♪ He is a Yankee Doodle Boy

Leslie: One of the numbers we did was "Harrigan."

♪ A! ♪ Double R-I

♪ G-A-N spells Harrigan

Here's the way it was rehearsed.

Jimmy said, "You know this song, don't you?"

And I said, "Yes, yes I know it. I've been practicing the song."

He said, "I'll do the first eight bars and you can do

the second eight bars." I said okay.

"And then we'll get together on the last eight bars"

and then we'll go into the chorus

and I'll do the first part and when it comes to Harrigan

we'll say that together You know, we'll say "Harrigan."

I said okay.

"And on the second chorus, we'll walk up and down a little bit

and we'll sing harmony. Is that alright?"

And I said, "Yes, that's okay." "Wonderful."

Honest to God, that's the way he put it together.

He knew what he was doing every minute.

Jones: Cagney's phenomenal performance

won him 1943's Oscar for Best Actor.

♪ Night and day

Jones: Carey Grant didn't fare as well in "Night and Day,"

as many thought he was miscast as Cole Porter.

♪ You're the top

♪ You're Mahatma Ghandi

The careers of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart

were the focus of 1948's "Words And Music."

"Rhapsody in Blue" took on the life of George Gershwin.

And composer Jerome Kern, who George Gershwin idolized,

had his story told in "Till the Clouds Roll By"

with a host of MGM stars,

including an up-and-coming 21-year-old

named Angela Lansbury.

♪ I don't know why

♪ I am so very shy

♪ I always was demure

♪ I never knew

♪ What silly lovers do

♪ No flirting I'd endure

♪ In all my life

♪ I never kissed a man

♪ I never winked my eye

♪ But now at last I'm going to break the ice ♪

♪ So how'd you like to try?

♪ How'd you like to spoon with me? ♪

♪ I'd like to

♪ How'd you like to spoon with me? ♪

♪ Well, rather

♪ Sit beneath an oak tree large and shady ♪

♪ Call me little tootsy-wootsy baby ♪

♪ How'd you like to hug and squeeze? ♪

♪ Indeed, I would

♪ Dangle me upon your knees

♪ Oh, if I could

♪ How'd you like to be my lovey-dovey ♪

♪ How'd you like to spoon with me? ♪

♪ Well, a daisy

Jones: Occasionally, the bio pic highlighted performers

like the immensely popular "The Jolson Story,"

starring Larry Parks as Al Jolson.

♪ California, here I come

♪ Yeah!

Garrett: I think Jolson really wanted to play himself

but he was too old by then

and he kind of resented that this young whippersnapper

was gonna play him,

and he wanted some big star to play him.

♪ Though April showers

♪ May come your way

♪ Just for you, just for you

Garrett: I think Larry in "The Jolson Story"

was the most brilliant job of synchronizing

to the soundtrack of anybody I've ever seen.

♪ They bring the flowers

Garrett: One write-up said his tonsils were synchronized.

They could shoot right down his throat, and his tongue

and everything was working right to the soundtrack.

Jones: Technicolor also rose to prominence in the '40s.

Musicals got the benefit of three-strip Technicolor

which exploded on the screen and films like "Anchors Aweigh"

and "Till the Clouds Roll By."

The process had been perfected in 1935

and the '40s became known as when color reigned supreme.

♪ Long may our fair [indistinct] stand ♪

[ Singing indistinctly ]

♪ She's the fairest in the land ♪

♪ In the land ♪ For the hills of...

Jones: The madcap performance of Danny Kaye

practically knocked your socks off

with the help of films' new vivid colors.

Lyles: I'd never seen anyone perform like Danny Kaye.

He was one of the most unique entertainers

I've ever seen in my life

and as I watched him do his routines,

I said, "My God, how long will it take a man like that

to learn that routine?"

Every phrase every gesture,

it was a beautiful combination of body language,

facial expression,

dialogue, and the way he performed.

♪ Do you get colds in prickly heat ♪

♪ A burning brow and freezing feet ♪

♪ A leaping pulse and jumping toes ♪

♪ A falling arch, a running nose ♪

♪ and hic...cups

♪ Do you get hic...cups

♪ A touch of laryngitis, pharyngitis ♪

♪ Asthma or appendicitis

♪ Hic...[gibberish]

♪ ...cups or rabies

♪ Hic...

♪ ...cups or measles

♪ Have you had a diagnosis

♪ Of cirrhosis by osmosis

♪ With a mononucleosis

♪ Plus sclerosis, plus steatosis ♪

♪ Plus a prognosis of psychosis ♪

[ Inaudible ]

[ Inhales deeply ] Have you ever been short of breath?

♪ Well, cheer up, up, up

♪ Cheer up, up, up, cheer up, up, up ♪

♪ Cheer uh-ha-ha-ha-ha-hap

Wallis: Who could do what he did?

That's, I think, the key

to a great performer --

is that you have something special

that no one else has.

♪ My dear, I'm always thinking of you ♪

Jones: A sizable amount of musical films

were created outside the big-movie studios,

well beyond the borders of Hollywood.

Smaller production companies were producing

hundreds of musical short films

including race films shown at theaters catering to blacks.

Not to be undone by their exclusion in mainstream cinema,

black artists starred in musical race films

that showcased well-known performers such as Cab Calloway.

♪ Couples sway

♪ Taking the pleasure they find ♪

Jones: They also featured upcoming stars

like Dorothy Dandridge.

♪ Easy Street

♪ I'd love to live on Easy Street ♪

♪ If I could live on Easy Street ♪

♪ I'd sit around all day

[ Singing indistinctly ]

Fishburn: Dorothy Dandridge is singular because she was

the first woman of color in our country --

the first black woman --

who was able to lead

with her sexuality

and to exude a kind of sexuality

that was authentic

and non-threatening at the same time.

Dandridge: ♪ 'Cause you know your fortune's made ♪

Man: ♪ And anytime you so desire ♪

♪ There's a man that you can hire ♪

♪ To plant trees

♪ So you can have shade on Easy Street ♪

♪ I'm telling every one I meet ♪

♪ If I just could live on Easy Street ♪

♪ I wouldn't want a job today ♪

♪ So please, go away






♪ Oh, Easy Street

♪ I'm telling everyone I meet

♪ If I could live on Easy Street ♪

♪ I wouldn't want a job today

♪ So please, go away

♪ Don't want no job today

♪ Go away


Jones: Not much storyline but plenty of music,

featuring chorus lines of bronze beauties

with names like Bunny and the Cotton Girls.

You can hear medleys by the Delta Rhythm Boys

or the Mills Brothers.

Comedy bits were big

and of course, there was plenty of tapping.


I would like to play a song of -- of my own arrangement --

"Sugar Town Boogie."


Jones: It was the place to catch specialty acts.

There was even the Sepia Singing Cowboy

in all-black Westerns.

In addition to Paramount Studios,

small independent companies

primarily in New York and Chicago

were contributing to the groundswell of musical shorts.

But Hollywood was the place creating the big spectacles.

1944's musical film "Ziegfeld Follies"

was an extravagant production,

and it would be the only film

where Astaire and Kelly would perform together.

Hello. How are you?

The reason I guess that we never were put together,

he had so many things that he was doing

and I wasn't always at Metro at the time he was.

I came there while he was there.

And then there were things that I had to do,

and we just -- since it took so long

to prepare that kind of a film role

and hoofing that we would do,

we just never [indistinct] for the two of us. That's true.

Masuyama: Hollywood was starting to churn out

all these escapism films

one right after another

even all the way up until '45.

And what's interesting is that some films

that were being made in '45,

some reference to the war had to be cut out afterwards

because the war had ended

and they were about to release a film

in, let's say, August or September of '45.

What do you do? You cut that section out.

Jones: With the end of the war,

the public's moviegoing habits had shifted.

Back in 1939, the average price of a cinema ticket was 23 cents.

By 1946, it had risen to 40 cents

and audiences -- now more discriminating --

demanded more value for their money.

♪ Plenty of sunshine

♪ Heading my way

Jones: In 1946, the Walt Disney Studios

released "Song of the South,"

a blend of live action and animation.

It was based on the popular Uncle Remus stories

of Joel Chandler Harris

and was awarded the Best Song Oscar

for the perennial favorite


♪ Zip-a-dee-doo-dah

♪ Zip-a-dee-ay

Disney: It helped keep us afloat when the war ended.

We were almost broke in 1946,

and it was a pretty iffy company in those days

'cause Walt had spent all his money

making training films, for which you got no money.

And my dad discovered the value

of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" in re-release.

You know, I think it was 1946.

It actually made more money in re-release

than it had the first time around.

And suddenly this big light went on.

That was how we found out

that we had things that had lasting value.

And "Pinocchio" went out

and "Bambi" went out

and "Dumbo" went out.

They really became the rocks on which we could build.

I remember once when the "Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo"

was in town and dad couldn't afford to take us

to the real "Swan Lake,"

so he took us to see "Dumbo."

Remember "Dumbo" the musical?

I saw a bunch of elephants dancing around on clouds.

Tune: "Fantasia's" the best movie musical of all --

great choreography,

great use of color,

great use of the film medium.

And really, if you want to talk psychedelic

before it's time, it's a very heady piece.

It's just such a departure

for Uncle Walt to have done that.

I just applaud him.

He would have to have a whole studio and have control

in order to go that far at that time in history

and it holds up now. It's a masterpiece.

Ladies and gentlemen, don't move, don't stir.

The best is still to come.

[ Indistinct singing ]

Jones: "The Pirate" is a lavishly produced film of the late '40s.

It starred Gene Kelly and Judy Garland

and was directed by Vincent Minnelli

♪ All the world loves a clown

Kenrick: There's some brilliant material in the pirate.

Oh Lord. There's nothing in that film

that isn't absolutely related to character, to plot.

It's all carefully woven together.

Gene created it.

Reynolds: That was his idea to do a pirate

and swinging from big ropes and being curtains

and all of the big sets, and it was really far out there.

It was a fantasy, you might say.


♪ Here's your Easter bonnet

Casper: Judy was splitting up with Minnelli,

and of course some didn't want Minnelli

to direct her in "Easter Parade,"

and he acquiesced Freed.

He put in Charles Walters.

That was Charles Walter's big break.

♪ I'm stepping out with my baby, can't go wrong ♪

Jones: Just before shooting "Easter Parade,"

Gene Kelly injured his ankle and suggested Fred Astaire

as his replacement.

Astaire reworked the dance numbers

and he with co-star Judy Garland

would create one of the most endearing and successful films

of the period.

♪ Fiddle up, fiddle up on your violin ♪

♪ Lay right on it

Jones: Irving Berlin's music was infectious.

So was the magic created by the performers.

Osborne: Irving Berlin,

he would literally think up plot lines for movies

and then sell them to the studios,

and the plot lines always would encompass

like four or five new Irving Berlin songs

and recycled his other songs.

So he kind of kept them back in front of the public

and made money off them again. ♪ Snooky Ookums

Osborne: He went to Fox first with the idea for "Easter Parade"

and asked for so much money,

Fox wouldn't pay it at that point.

So he gave it to MGM, and they did it.


Jones: As the decade was winding down,

the industry was confronted with a slight nuisance

called television.

By 1948, the little box had cropped up

in over 100,000 U.S. homes

and greatly reduced weekly theater attendance.

Grey: For a while there, I think it killed musicals.

They seemed to have to be more spectacular to compete

with television, which is small and intimate.

Jones: There were now four television networks --

ABC, CBS, NBC, and DuMont

"Toast of the Town," later to be known as

"The Ed Sullivan Show,"

would begin a 23-year-run.

A few days later,

the "Milton Berle Show" premiered on NBC.

[ Cheering ]

[ Applause, whistling ]

♪ What's the good word tonight

[ Indistinct ]

Now, do me a favor, kids, and don't ask me now.

Champion : Television gave him a lot of problems

that they hadn't anticipated

like people actually --

even with their seven-inch sets...

...sitting down and having all their neighbors in

to watch Ed Sullivan.

Jones: Studios fought back by using visual elements

that television couldn't.

Of course, it was Technicolor way before color TV.

With all the technical innovations, however,

the true innovation had occurred on the screen itself.

The new style was now apparent.

♪ New York, New York

♪ New York, New York

♪ New York, New York

♪ It's a wonderful town

[ Laughs ]

Jones: The reincarnation of the musical

reached its pinnacle in 1949

with "On the Town."

Eh, what can happen to you in one day?

What do you think you're gonna do?

[ Howling ]

♪ New York, New York

♪ A wonderful town

♪ The Bronx is up and the The Battery's down ♪

♪ The people ride in a hole in the ground ♪

♪ New York, New York

♪ It's a wonderful town


Bostwick: "On the Town" -- I mean, they said that was like

the first musical that they ever shot

on the streets of New York,

you know, and you really get a flavor of the place.

That was a great musical.



The only problem I had was I love New York

and I had a ball every night.

I would go out after a shooting...[laughs]

...and then I'd come in the next morning

and I'd have circles, and Gene Kelly would say,

"Well, Ann, where were you last night?"

♪ One day, one night

♪ That's the pity

Miller: The number I did, "Prehistoric Man,"

I did this big tap number,

and during the rehearsal, my skirt flipped out

and it hit one of the bones of the dinosaur

and the whole thing fell down.

Oh, my word, that was a disaster.

So they had to send us all home

while they put the whole thing back up together again.

Jones: Although they didn't shoot the entire film in New York,

the six principal players

were able to do several exterior scenes there.

Here was a vitality that the old musicals lacked.

Previously, actors were often stationary

while singing, almost posing.

The newer musicals had more realistic settings

and used natural actions within the choreography.

Masuyama: "On the Town" basically integrated

all the key elements

from what musicals were for the past 20 years.

♪ New York, New York

♪ A wonderful town

♪ The Bronx is up and The Battery's down ♪

♪ The people ride in a hole in the ground ♪

♪ New York, New York

♪ It's a wonderful town


♪ Manhattan, women are all in silk and satin ♪

♪ So the fellas say

♪ There's just one thing necessary in Manhattan ♪

♪ When you've got just one day ♪

♪ Got to pick up a date, maybe seven or eight on your way ♪

♪ In just one day

♪ New York, New York

♪ A wonderful town

♪ The Bronx is up and The Battery's down ♪

Jones: It would end the decade on a high note,

a landmark that showed the heights

that artistry could reach.

♪ It's a wonderful town


The reason for calling the '40s a golden era

is because they were beautifully crafted, beautifully made,


by people who were real professional.

I feel very lucky that I was part of that,

particularly at MGM.

Well, if you did it right,

the fantasies were wonderful.

People bursting into song to tell about

how they feel, what they want.

That rhythm of a song, that's our heartbeat.

Those movies were so beautifully crafted

and the Arthur Freed musicals

and so forth from MGM and the Berklee stuff.

It's one of the great original American heritages.

Jones: The end of the decade

would see Fred Astaire

reunite with Ginger Rogers once more.

It would see the departure of certain stars

and the continued strength of others.

It had been a period where film innovation broke through

and musical milestones

had been reached,

where the crafting of a Hollywood musical blossomed

to eventually emerge as the forerunner

of even greater musicals of the '50s.

Fortunately for us, many of the musical stars

would continue to burn brightly in the next decade

and create indelible imprints in our hearts.

♪ Dreams I know can never come true ♪

♪ Seems as though I'll ever be blue ♪

♪ Who means my happiness

♪ Who would I answer yes to

♪ Well, you ought to guess who

♪ No one but you








♪ Who's the one you really care for ♪

♪ The one you care for ♪ Can it be?

♪ Can it be? ♪ Can it be?

♪ Who can it be? ♪ Who can it be?

♪ You'll never guess who has stolen my heart away ♪

♪ Dream the dreams I know can never come true ♪

♪ Seems as though I'll ever be blue ♪

♪ Oh, who means my happiness

♪ Who would I answer yes to

♪ Well, you ought to guess who

♪ Who

♪ No one but you

[ Indistinct singing ]

♪ Who

[ Applause ]


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