Hollywood Singing and Dancing


The Golden Era of the Musical: The 1950s

"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 27, 2020 | 0:52:28



[ "Singin' in the Rain" plays ]

D'Angelo: There was a time, a really magical time

when there were extraordinarily talented people.

Gene Kelly and Judy Garland.

Anything that Fred Astaire did.


I grew up watching musicals.

You know, "Funny Face" and "American in Paris"

and all those incredible musicals of that time.

Woman: They were wonderful because it was like another world

and people just naturally just broke into song

when they were having feelings

and it was always gorgeous melodies.

♪ Good mornin', good mornin'

♪ It's great to stay up late

♪ Good mornin', good mornin' to you ♪

Reynolds: In the '50s, we did "Singin' in the Rain"

and then after that came "Gigi."

Wow, what a great picture.

♪ The night they invented champagne ♪

♪ It's plain as it can be

♪ They thought of you and me

They take me to a place that no other entertainment

art form can do.

♪ Getting to know you

♪ Getting to know all about you ♪

Osborne: It was an incredible era, the '50s.

All these things that they'd been working on since sound

came in '29.

All through the Busby Berkeley era,

all through Fred and Ginger era,

all through the Bing Crosby and Gene Kelly

and Rita Hayworth all in the '40s.

The '50s is when I think it all really just kind of crystallized

and was at its best.


[ Laughter ]



By 1950, musical films had plenty to live up to.

The previous decade had produced such dazzling work

as "On the Town" and "Meet Me in St. Louis."

These films had ushered in a new type of contemporary musical

and created a standard

by which all future musicals would be measured.

But the '50s would meet that challenge head on

with masterpieces that have yet to be equaled.

It was a time of innovation.

The 1950s were about to explode

with the use of modern appliances,

the discovery of the polio vaccine

would ease certain fears,

and the U.S. was now the leading world power.

America's cinema reflected this prosperity.

The booming postwar period had brought Hollywood

and its musicals into new technology,

experimentation, and, most of all, inspiration.

The decade began with musical films

bursting with the talent of performers

at their peak.

♪ Who's sorry now?

And there was fabulous Fred Astaire.

After the recent success of his last three films,

his thoughts of retiring were put on the back burner.

Cinema's premier male dancer was now starring

in "Royal Wedding."

♪ Every night at 7:00

♪ You walk in as fresh as clover ♪

Fred co-starred with Jane Powell who would replace

both June Allyson and Judy Garland for the part,

after June became pregnant and Judy turned ill.

♪ There's a carpet of jade around us ♪

The film contains the famous Astaire dance number

where he seemingly defies gravity.


Boone: The great geniuses were competing with each other,

each spurring the other on

to do things like a room turning 360 degrees upside down.

It looked like he ran up the wall, danced on the ceiling,

and came back down and danced on the floor,

and people didn't know that the room itself was turning.

He was in a room that just rotated very slowly

and the cameraman rotated opposite very slowly.

They had to do it primarily in one take

because as soon as the cylinder

started rolling, the cables would get mixed up

so he had to be extremely well rehearsed

and it was, and of course with Fred Astaire

he won't do it until he's well rehearsed.

Astaire would start up the wall.

Then he got onto the ceiling.








Always end up in the chair. going, "Did you like that?"


Like it was nothing.

There never will be, I think,

another as great as Fred Astaire.

Jones: Under the helm of the hit-making producing team

Arthur Freed and Roger Edens,

MGM had started the decade off with a bang.

Irving Berlin's Broadway musical "Annie Get Your Gun"

was brought to the screen

with that bundle of energy, Betty Hutton.

♪ There's no business like show business ♪

♪ Like no business I know

It was a minor miracle that the film was completed at all

since it had faced major problems from the onset.

Originally it begun with Judy Garland,

shooting stopped when she suffered a breakdown.

-Gotta get you cleaned up. -Action!

How'd you get your nose so dirty?

Hey, you cut before I got my line.

When she got very, very ill

and could not do "Annie Get Your Gun"

they had started to shoot and she was just --

she couldn't work, she just couldn't work.

Jones: After Judy was replaced by Betty Hutton, Frank Morgan,

who was playing Buffalo Bill died suddenly

and his scenes had to be reshot.

Co-star Howard Keel broke his foot.

They also switched directors twice,

but once completed it was a smash hit,

nominated for four Academy Awards

and winning one for Best Musical.


MGM released a new color version

of the Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein classic "Show Boat."

It starred Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel

as lovers drawn to the magic and music of the traveling show.

♪ Couldn't you?

♪ Couldn't I?

♪ Couldn't we?

Ava Gardner played a bi-racial singer who loses her job

and her husband as a result of the mixed race laws.

♪ I got to love one man till I die ♪


We went to MGM and did "Show Boat"

and that was really the beginning

of our worldwide recognition.

Saddler: They paid the young dance team on the boat.

Every time they came on there was, you know, electricity.


Jones: There were several stars from the previous decade

whose careers were holding steady and even climbing upward.

♪ Let me warn you fellas I'll be hard to handle ♪

Ann Miller, Cuckoo the Bird Girl

was her title around the set.

She was just so lovable and so much fun to work with.

She was really a very sexy woman.

Jones: That powerhouse Betty Grable had starred

in a couple of films with Dan Dailey

In the late '40s, and they had become a star team.

Now they were teamed again in "My Blue Heaven."

To this day I can turn on a Betty Grable movie

and know that I'm going to be diverted for a little while.

I'm not going to have my view on life expanded in any way.

That's not the point, I'm going to have fun.

♪ How come you do me like you do? ♪

♪ Why try to make me feel

Rooney: She was married to Harry James.

She was vivacious

and everybody enjoyed the numbers that she did.

♪ If you want to be mama's teddy bear ♪

She sparkled.

♪ Down, down, down

♪ You've got to stay down

Jones: Bing Crosby, popular for the past two decades,

continued to croon through the new one.

He kicked off 1950 with "Mr. Music"

playing a sophisticated songwriter.

♪ High on the list

Kenrick: Here's one of the giants in the history

of popular music, period.

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.

♪ And I see you everywhere

Jones: Bing's buddy Bob Hope

was also going strong in musicals.

What do we do when we get to Bali?

Well, you're gonna marry me, naturally.

Aren't you?

Well, I...



♪ You won't say yes and you won't say no ♪

♪ You let my poor heart pound ♪

♪ But you smile at me

♪ And around I go on the merry-go-run-around ♪

♪ You build me up till the sky seems low ♪

♪ Then, plop, I hit the ground ♪

♪ But you hold my hand

♪ And around I go on the merry-go-run-around ♪

♪ When a friend says to me

♪ Where the heck are you bound ♪

♪ What the deuce can I say

♪ Just around and around and around ♪

♪ You won't say leave

♪ And you won't say whoa

♪ I've tried to get unwound ♪

♪ But you kiss me once

♪ And around I go on the merry-go-run-around ♪

Ooh! Oh! Oh!

♪ Oh, you won't say yes and you won't say no ♪

♪ You let my poor heart pound ♪

♪ But you smile at me

♪ And around I go on a merry-go-run-around ♪

♪ you build me up till the sky seems low ♪

♪ Then plop

Hope: We had so much fun doing all of them.

It was an ad lib fest, the guys wrote great scripts for us

but Bing and I had a lot of fun.

Any time we thought we had anything funny we'd do it.

Dumbo, why do you cut into my scene?

Please, I'm singing. Singing?

You'll never go anyplace with your singing

You can't even cry.

I may have a nervous breakdown in the spot.

Have one up in the tree, will ya?

Yes, I'll say hello to your relatives.

[ Monkey chattering ]

The guys on the stage

would let us know if it's funny or not.

♪ You won't say leave and you won't say whoa ♪

[ Scatting ] ♪ I've tried to get unwound

♪ But you kiss me once and around I go ♪ [ Scatting ]

♪ On the merry-go-run-around

I left Metro after about ten films and went to Paramount

to do a film with Bob Hope.

It was called "Here Come the Girls"

with Bob Hope and Tony Martin and Rosemary Clooney.

♪ Be my baby

♪ Take me by the hand

I did a dance with Bob who was of course the clown,

and I had to play it very seriously.

It was terrific.

Jones: Esther Williams was still gliding through her

underwater ballets.

Champion: Esther was fun. She was always late.

All the rest of us had to be there at 7:00

and Esther would arrive at 8:15

and they'd slap something on her and get her down to the set

by 9:00, and she'd worked through the first set up

and then go back into her dressing room

and get finished off on the set.

I remember asking questions "What about our eyelashes?"

Oh, she had special mascara and the makeup didn't run.


Jones: The trilling soprano of former child radio star

Jane Powell rang out in several of the decade's musicals.

[ Singing indistinctly ]

♪ Dig, brother, dig

♪ Dig

Studios could still lay claim to megastars

like Judy Garland and Gene Kelly,

who was at the top of his game.

♪ Dig dig dig dig dig

♪ Dig

♪ Shout hallelujah

♪ Come on, get happy

♪ You better chase all your cares away ♪

Moreno: I would go and visit all the sets all the time.

I was there when Judy Garland was singing

♪ Friendly star

♪ Where can you be hiding?

[ Laughs ]

♪ Friendly star

♪ Where can you be hiding?

It was so beyond my frame of reference,

I was a little Puerto Rican girl from New York.

It was just mind blowing.

When Judy Garland sings any ballad

your heart is right there with her.

When she goes into an up tune, you're flying with her

because she puts the raw emotion right there on screen.

♪ That all time thrill

Jones: New Musical stars were on the horizon.

Doris Day was now developing a film presence.

♪ I'm in love, I'm in love

♪ With you

Saddler: She was in a nightclub, The Little Club it was called,

and Warner Bros. was looking for a nightclub singer

for "Romance on the High Seas."

And it was Michael Curtiz who interviewed her.

She said, "I went into his office and I sat opposite

to him and he said, 'So you're a nightclub singer.

Well what makes you think you can act?'"

And that hurt her so badly.

She said, "I never pretended like I was an actress."

She got up and started to go for the door

and he ran and grabbed her

because he recognized she had a gift.

♪ Put him in a box

♪ Tie him with a ribbon

♪ Throw him in the deep blue sea ♪

Jones: Doris would shine in "Tea For Two," hit her stride

in several following movies,

and leave her band singing gig behind.

♪ Enrapturing romance

Saddler: Doris was the biggest moneymaker for Warners

for about four or five years, till she went to MGM.

One of the great talents that I have ever worked with

because she'd never had an acting lesson,

she'd never had a singing lesson.

She could just do anything.

You callin' me a liar again?

Paige: She was totally natural in front of the camera.

Totally natural, and she had that great voice,

that great speaking voice.

So be glad you're in this choice.

And come join us on this voyage.

And she had offbeat looks, which was very important then

because we were very much leading lady or comedienne

or we were very much stylized

in what the public considered us to be.

And here comes Doris with this kooky,

wonderful quality of hers.

♪ I ain't a-swappin' half of Deadwood ♪

♪ For the whole of Illinois

Jones: Debbie Reynolds was on the cusp of breaking out

as a major musical star.

♪ "Aba, daba, daba, daba, daba, daba, dab" ♪

♪ Means 'Monk, I love but you'

♪ 'Baba, daba, dab' in monkey talk ♪

♪ Means 'Chimp, I love you, too' ♪

She's the real deal.

She's a perfect example of somebody who they cultivate.

Jones: 16-year-old Mary Francis Reynolds

entered a beauty contest in 1948

to get the free blouse and silk scarf

given to all the contestants.

Her Betty Hutton impersonation won the day and she walked away

with the title of Miss Burbank of 1948.

A talent scout from Warner Bros.

quickly put her under contract and Jack Warner

changed her name to Debbie.

I was very lucky because it wouldn't happen today.

Today there wouldn't be a Debbie Reynolds

I'd be Mary Frances Reynolds, which is my real name,

but there wouldn't be a Debbie Reynolds

without a talent scout being there

because they were looking for young, fresh talent

that they thought would be amusing or musical especially.

At MGM we must have had about 50 stars, you know,

just walking around the studio.

I remember the first day I saw Clark Gable

I almost passed up

and he looked down at me, he said, "Hi, kid."

I just thought he was the most handsome man

I ever saw in my life.

Tyrone Power, Oh, my goodness.

Peter Lawford, who was so cute.

Howard Keel, I mean, these are beautiful creatures.

And I got to meet all of them.

Jones: Another newcomer in the early '50s also specialized

in that girl-next-door charm.

Mitzi Gaynor went on to appear in some of the well-loved

musicals of the decade.

♪ Les girls

Both Debbie and Mitzi

were capturing the hearts of Americans

with their youthful appeal.

And there was one fresh import from France

who'd do the same with her screen debut

in the decade's first masterpiece.

I had no ambition to be a movie star. None.

Hadn't occurred to me ever.

I was doing ballet with the ballet company of Roland Petit.

I started at age 16 on the stage with him.

Immediately he gave me a little part alone.

And the next year I was doing a whole ballet

and I was the star of the ballet

and Gene was there on opening night

when he needed a partner for "An American in Paris."

He came to Paris, made a test, and everybody said okay.

Brother, if you can't paint in Paris, you better give up

and marry the boss's daughter.

I threw myself into the film. It was hard work immediately.

Birchard: "American in Paris" was an interesting experiment.

It was built around the songs of the Gershwin brothers

not written for the film.

But the film was essentially built around the songs.

♪ It's marvelous

Jones: Production combined the creative forces of director

Vincente Minnelli with Gene Kelly,

who handled the musical numbers.

Caron: It took a good six months to do all the numbers,

ballet included.

It's a hard, grueling rehearsal,

no air conditioning in those days.


Jones: Having an 18 minute ballet with no dialogue

at the end of the film was definitely risky.





Kenrick: It not only made ballet acceptable

to American general audiences but made it exciting.

It was possibly the first time in musical film

that a performer was also the primary creative force

in the building of certain musical films.

♪ My dear

♪ Our love is here to stay

♪ Together

♪ We're going a long, long way

♪ In time, the Rockies may crumble ♪

♪ Gibraltar may tumble

♪ They're only made of clay

♪ But

♪ Our love is here

♪ To stay





Kelly made the camera move as it had never before

and he made you, the viewer, a part of the action

as never before.

Minnelli was there, of course,

as director of "American in Paris."

But it's Kelly's film as much as it is Minnelli's.

I remember with Gene Kelly's daughter, Kerry,

it was the Black and White Ball in "An American in Paris."

And we went up to the rafters

and threw the black and white confetti with everybody else.

So that was -- [ Laughs ]

We were really young.

Jones: "An American in Paris" flew into the Academy Awards

and swept up six Oscars, including Best Picture.

Thank you to my brilliant associates

who made this possible, Vincente Minnelli, Gene Kelly,

and a great studio with real courage and leadership

who supported me. Thank you.

Jones: And MGM gave a one-two punch

by immediately following it up with what many consider

to be the finest musical film ever produced.

♪ Singin' in the rain

♪ Just singin' in the rain

♪ What a glorious feelin', we're happy again ♪

Marshall: First one that comes out of people's mouth

usually is "Singin' in the Rain."

That was a huge one for me, as well.

Just brilliantly done.

"Singin' in the Rain"

in some ways is a pastiche of other films.

It borrows the ballet sequence from "American in Paris"

and it borrows the buddy's theme from "On the Town."

And it places it in Hollywood at the time of the transition

from silent pictures to sound pictures.

Talking pictures, talking pictures.

Aw, it's just a freak. Yeah, what a freak.

We should have such a freak at this studio.

I told you talking pictures were a menace.

but no one would listen to me.

Jones: Gene Kelly had already shifted from merely being

a dancer-actor to choreographer and director as well.

He, with the help of Stanley Donen,

co-directed the film

as well as danced some of its amazing numbers.


Kendrick: They went through Arthur Freed's

huge song catalog and said,

"What do you do with a bunch of 30-, 40-year-old songs?

What are we going to do with this?

Oh, wait, there's no problem here.

Let's create a plot about what happened when sound came in."

♪ Do do do dee do

♪ Bo do do dee do

♪ Bo do dee do do dee do boo!

"Let's get Gene Kelly involved.

Now who else is in the MGM talent pool right now?

Well, there's Debbie Reynolds, she really hasn't been used

in too much she's done these small roles

it's time she had a big featured role."

♪ All I do is dream of you the whole night through ♪

Well, I was called in Mr. Mayer's office

and so as his little girl I just went to his office,

and his desk was seated up higher so he looked tall

and then he'd be more intimidating.

And he said, "So Debbie, I would like you

to make this movie called 'Singin' in the Rain.'"

I said, "Yes, sir."

He says, "With Gene Kelly."

I said, "Whoa, I'd be thrilled

but I don't dance." He said, "Oh, you will."

So then Mr. Kelly comes in, when he found out

I really didn't dance he was astonished, I think.

And Mr. Mayer simply said, "This is your leading lady.

Teach her how to dance."

Gene Kelly was a great teacher, very demanding, very difficult.

I never went home. I brought my pillows and blankets.

I just kept working like a maniac.

I had to catch up with Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor.

Took a year and a half to make the picture.

And for me to learn how to dance with those two gentlemen

was really a big task.

I'm rather proud of that work.

I did a good job.

♪ Good mornin'

♪ Good mornin'

♪ We've talked the whole night through ♪

♪ Good mornin'

♪ Good mornin' to you

♪ Good mornin', good mornin'

♪ It's great to stay up late

♪ Good mornin'

♪ Good mornin' to you

♪ When the band began to play ♪

♪ The stars were shining bright ♪

♪ Now the milk man's on his way ♪

♪ It's too late to say good night ♪

♪ So good mornin', good mornin' ♪

♪ Sunbeams will soon smile through ♪

♪ Good mornin'

♪ Good mornin' to you

♪ And you and you and you

♪ Good mornin', good mornin'

♪ We've gabbed the whole night through ♪

♪ Good mornin'

♪ Good mornin' to you

♪ Nothin' could be grander than to be in Louisiana ♪

♪ In the mornin'

♪ In the morning

♪ It's great to stay up late ♪

♪ Good mornin', good mornin' to you ♪

♪ It might be just a zippy if we was in Mississippi ♪

♪ When we left

It was a very good number, you know, all around the house

and up the stairs and over the couch

and see if you lived through the number or not.

[ Laughs ] And we worked so hard on that number.



I passed out once and they had to throw water on me.

It was like a war zone, you know?




[ Laughter ]

Osborne: "Singin' in the Rain" is fabulous

because you've got two guys that are at their absolute peak

as tap dancers. They're so great.

You've got a story that is funny and witty.

Adolph Green and Betty Comden.

This has wit.

I was a contract player at MGM when I was assigned the job

of Zelda Zanders in "Singin' in the Rain"

and I was thrilled to pieces.

It was really a small part but there I was with Gene Kelly

and all these fabulous people.

I was there every single day watching the filming.

I watched almost everything that was filmed in that movie.

I was there. I was a witness.

I saw Donald O'Connor do the "Make 'em Laugh" number...

♪ Make 'em laugh, make 'em laugh, make 'em laugh ♪

...which is just brilliant.

And I don't know how many people know this,

but it had to be shot all over again

because something went wrong with the cameras

and they didn't find it out till the old number was shot.

And Donald had to do it all over again.

I saw the "Singin' in the Rain" number

I saw Gene get very cranky because he got --

he caught a cold from doing all that stuff in the water.


Marshall: In "Singin' in the Rain" he's just had this wonderful night

and he's fallen in love,

and it's not enough just to speak it

or think it or walk down the street.

He starts to dance and he starts to sing

and it feels completely organic.





♪ I'm dancin'

♪ And singin'

♪ In the rain

Kenrick: Musical comedy never had it so good on screen.

It's a perfect film.

You could not remove a single frame

from that film without in some way diminishing it.

♪ You're all my lucky charms

Reynolds: I've always felt that the movie is successful

because it's so appealing to everybody.

I thought that the story was universal and very appealing

and it's lasted all these years

so that proves its point.


Jones: If Gene Kelly reached his peak

as a performer with "Singin' in the Rain,"

Fred Astaire would reach his with "The Band Wagon."

♪ When there's a shine on your shoes ♪

The way that the songs worked, I mean, "Shine on My Shoes"

is probably, I think, maybe two setups, two shots.

And when Fred Astaire goes "Wonderful"...


...Vincent Minnelli's work,

I completely fell in love with Minnelli's work.

Fabray: Roger Edens was the great gifted talent

behind all the singers at MGM.

He would bring you in and work with you

for, oh, maybe two, three weeks

before you had to even start recording or anything.

He found that my best note was a B flat, wherever that is.

He said, "That's your best note.

So when we do "Louisiana Hayride" the top note

that you're gonna sing 'Louisiana hayride'

is gonna be a B flat.

♪ Get goin' Louisiana hayride

♪ Get goin', we all is ready

Minnelli: "The Band Wagon" is my favorite,

my absolute favorite.

I don't know, I just love it and all those numbers

at the end, the last 20 minutes are the musical numbers.

♪ Go on your way

♪ That's entertainment

Fabray: "That's Entertainment." Who knew it was going to become

the great, great song.

♪ No more deal

People wanted to know

how did we do the triplet numbers.

We actually truly danced on our knees.

What they did was they tied our feet up behind our thighs

and then they made a plaster of Paris mold of our legs

in that position. They put the steel rod

down inside of the plaster of Paris mold, bent the end of it

where they put the little shoe, and then we had to learn

how to literally stand up on our knees and dance.

Jones: The film would turn out to be

one of Astaire's best roles since "Top Hat."

And with his signature top hat he did a number

with another distinguished dancer from England.

Jack Buchanan was a great, great musical comedy star in England.

And Fred loved him and he wanted him to play that part.

You can see how great they were

when they did that beautiful soft shoe dance together.

When Jack got over here to America,

he started having trouble with his teeth

and he would make appointments with the dentist

and stuff like that, and we really wound up

filming the whole picture around his mouth.

Jones: The silver screen was encountering plenty

of technological advances.

Technicolor, VistaVision,

Cinemascope, and Stereophonic Sound were on the rise,

but nothing quite compared to the meteoric rise

of the newest foxy blonde,

a breathy wonder named Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn Monroe was one of the most visually dazzling

sex symbols Hollywood ever had.

And she was able to carry a tune, more or less.

I don't know that she really affected the musical genre,

but she certainly gave us some genuinely

memorable performances.

Jones: Carol Channing had originated the role

of Lorelei Lee in the stage version

of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes."

20th Century Fox purchased a ticket for Marilyn Monroe

to come to see "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" in New York,

because they were going to make the movie

with Marilyn Monroe. I don't blame them.

She was so beautiful.

Every single day

and every matinee and evening show

she came to see it for one month.

She was in the third row center.

And the orchestra never saw anybody that beautiful.

They paid no attention to the conductor.

Jones: Marilyn wound up doing the definitive musical film version

and becoming a movie legend.

What Marilyn did was give a very different interpretation

of the material,

and it's an interpretation that works for the screen.

I think Carol's would have worked too

but not in the same way.

She breathed sex appeal.

She smoldered even in just the way she sang.

♪ Then someone broke my heart in Little Rock ♪

♪ So I up and left the pieces there ♪

♪ Like a little lost lamb I roamed about ♪

♪ I came to New York and I found out ♪

♪ That men are the same way everywhere ♪

♪ I was young and determined to be wined and dined and ermined ♪

Russell: Marilyn hadn't even sung before.

So thank God, we had Jack Cole as the choreographer

and Howard Hawks as a director.

And that's why that picture was so good.

♪ And now that I'm known in the biggest banks ♪

♪ I'm going back home and give my thanks ♪

♪ To the one who broke my heart ♪

♪ The one who broke my heart ♪

♪ The one who broke my heart


♪ In Little Rock


Jack Cole was her choreographer and Jack Cole, of course,

is one of the great choreographers of all time.

He really brought jazz to America.

Jack used to do Marilyn while she was singing,

he would be doing her and she'd be watching him

so that she could imitate his moves.

Every little thing, he was so incredible,

he had such an eye for what she had.

She worked every single night with her coach

and she was bound and determined she was going to be good

and she just became very, very popular.

"Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend"

has become iconographic.

How many performers now have tried to imitate it

in one way or another?

And yet none of them capture exactly what she did.

You always get the sense

that what Madonna does, the tongue is in cheek.

There's spoof there.

♪ I think they're okay

With Marilyn, you get the feeling

that this randy little lady

is giving it to you right from her heart.

Chakiris: I was one of many guys in the chorus behind Marilyn Monroe

in the "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" number.

It was really interesting to watch her work.

It took three days to film that number.

But what she did was whenever they'd start a take,

and if for any reason they had to cut for technical reasons

or whatever it was.

She didn't go look in the mirror.

She didn't go to her dressing room.

She went right back to her starting position like we did

and just waited till we started again.

That's how concentrated she was on her work.

She wasn't Marilyn Monroe for nothing.

As a chorus dancer

in the early '50s and that period,

Robert Alton and Jack Cole were the two choreographers

every dancer in town wanted to work for.

Jack had an extraordinary reputation.

He was one of the best choreographers we had.

He was idiosyncratic, when he worked with his own company

he was a tyrant.

When he worked with Jane Russell

or Marilyn Monroe or Betty Grable

he was a pussycat.

It was amazing to watch him.

He would give her a thing to do

for let's say "I've Got a..."

♪ Crush on you

Everything was choreographed, the mouth,

the eyebrow, the look.

Robert Alton, he was an extraordinary man

in film and in the theater.

But there was the "Heat Wave" number with Marilyn Monroe,

and she wanted Jack Cole to do that number.

♪ Moderately high barometric pressure will ♪

♪ Cover the north east and

♪ Where else? ♪ The Deep South

She was right.

With all due respect to Robert Alton,

Jack Cole was the right choreographer for her.

♪ 105?


Man: The musical that is more than a musical

because it is a drama about real people.

[ Gunshots ]


Jones: Musical dramas in the form of biopics were popular.

And the more tragic the life, the better Hollywood liked it.

There was "Love Me or Leave Me" with Doris Day

playing against type as tough, ambitious singer Ruth Etting,

bound to an abusive boyfriend.

♪ Forget your troubles and just get happy ♪

"With a Song in My Heart"

had Susan Hayward playing Jane Froman

overcoming a physical handicap.

♪ Sing, you sinners

Hayward returned for another musical tearjerker

as alcoholic singer Lillian Roth

in "I'll Cry Tomorrow."

Musician stories were always a favorite.

Vaudeville star Eva Tanguay had her story told

in "The I Don't Care Girl."

♪ Zag Zag

♪ Finicula ♪ Finicula

♪ Zoom zoom

There was "The Glenn Miller Story."


"The Eddy Duchin Story."

"The Benny Goodman Story."

Opera legend Enrico Caruso's life was told in

"The Great Caruso" with newcomer Mario Lanza

in the title role.

[ Singing in Italian ]


Lanza had been performing in concerts

when studio head Louis B. Mayer saw him

and signed him to a seven-year contract.

He was first teamed with Kathryn Grayson

in "That Midnight Kiss."

Audiences couldn't get enough of his incredibly rich voice.

After he was given the lead in "The Great Caruso,"

his star skyrocketed.

His powerful tenor graced several films

that briefly helped revive the interest in Arias

that had faded from the days of Nelson Eddy

and Jeanette MacDonald's operatic musicals.

[ Singing in Italian ]

"Mr. Imperium" with Ezio Pinza and Lana Turner also

capitalized on the operatic sound.

♪ Andiamo

♪ Andiamo

♪ My bambina, cara mia, look around you ♪

♪ What a beautiful show

♪ Oh come with me

♪ Presto

♪ My love

♪ The sun is high above

♪ Andiamo

♪ Andiamo

♪ What a glorious spring

♪ How ♪ Allegro

♪ How

♪ Ah, what I feel the spring

♪ And we are alive to each other and so ♪

♪ We sing fortissimo


When it came to movie musicals, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

was still top dog as it had been since the '40s.

Man: And there's more fun to come.

But things are really humming out at the MGM Studios.

The big sound stages are crowded with exciting activity.

Lights are blazing.

Cameras ready.

Alright, here we go. Quietly. Raw.

-Quiet, please. -Action!

Osborne: I think MGM had an early stake on it because they were smart,

those people like Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg.

They saw what was coming and they also knew

that they were a leader in the industry

and they want to remain a leader.

There was a university.

You took lessons all day, you took voice lessons.

Another teacher taught you had a phrase, and another teacher

taught you how to speak because most of us had --

[ Southern accent ] I had a country accent,

you know, I was from Texas, and I kinda talked like that.

And my voice was a little bit higher.

[ Normal voice ] So they had to lower that.

You studied for years and years and years.

The only thing we didn't get was a degree.

MGM at that time was Fantasy Island.

It was paradise. It had all the great stars.

Paige: MGM was something else, you could walk down the lot,

you'd see Cyd, you'd see June Allyson,

you'd see Gloria DeHaven.

You would see Jules Munshin, Lena Horne.

I saw Lena Horne walking toward me one day.

She was so beautiful, and and as a kid from Tacoma

who had only seen these people on the screen

you just stop and gape and they were always so gracious.

What a time it was.

Jones: Many performers relied on help

from behind the scene talents in MGM's creative arsenal.

Two of those talents were Roger Edens and Kay Thompson.

Oh, Uncle Roger. Well he was sensational.

He and Kay Thompson were these two powerhouses

that did all of the arrangements and, you know, everything great

you see at MGM was their work.

My godmother, Kay, was extraordinary.

Jones: Kay Thompson was a composer, arranger, and vocal coach

who also performed occasionally.

♪ I'm in love with a wonderful guy ♪

♪ I'm in love with a wonderful guy ♪

She had her hand in the vocal for films

that included "The Harvey Girls" and "The Kid From Brooklyn."

It was an amazing time for MGM,

an incredibly prolific period of musicals.

Other movie studios were also cashing in

on the public's interest in musicals.

At other studios, what they tended to do was build something

almost like a unit around a particular star.

So for example, there was a group of people

who usually worked with Betty Grable,

a group who usually worked with Frank Sinatra at his studio.

That was how most of the other studios handled it.

The Hollywood system really was terrific

because they bought things for you.

They bought scripts, they bought books for you.

They had an idea how they wanted to build you.

And you built those people into stardom.

I mean, look at Elizabeth Taylor,

look at Judy Garland, I mean, these were people built.

In Detroit, they make automobiles, here in Hollywood

these are dream factories, Paramount's a dream factory.

Minnelli: We all kind of grew up around what the factory business

was where we were born,

and that was Hollywood, it was a factory town.

It was a schedule town.

You got up on schedule, you went to work on schedule,

you finished on schedule, you ate dinner on schedule.

It was interesting because in those days, each studio

had a head that really what I call minded the store,

sometimes they were autocratic.

Sometimes they demanded but they were there with --

it was a hands-on operation and Harry Cohen

was probably the most hands-on operator of any of the heads.

Well, Louis B. Mayer was pretty hands-on.

Sidney: He made the picture business.

He created a studio system.

He had one thing better.

If you said, "Mr. Mayer, there's a fellow down the street

that has mousetraps better than anybody."

He said "Sign 'em."

Said "We don't need mousetraps."

He said, "Sign 'em anyway."

Jones: George Sidney had directed many musical hits

for Louis B. Mayer.

Sidney: He wanted quality.

He came down to the set one day and he called me aside,

he said, "Boy, how is it going?"

I said, "It's going fine, but their production,

you know, I'm a couple of days behind

and they're really getting on my back."

And he said, "Are you getting what you want, boy?"

I said, "Yes, sir."

He said, "Well..." he said,

"If you tell anybody what I'm telling you,

I'll say it's a lie."

He said, "You make the picture you want to make."

Jones: As with producers, film directors were certainly

an important part of the equation.

By the '50s, the musicals had created virtual stars

out of directors like Vincente Minnelli.

He took simple material

and handled it in a very sophisticated way.

That's the key to his genius.

They learned to trust him.

When he said he had an idea for something everybody said,

"Ah, it's Minnelli so it's okay, it'll work."

Marshall: The musicals of Vincente Minnelli,

"Gigi," "American in Paris,"

I mean, I think he has such a touch.

He really understood the musical genre.

I think it's in your bones.

Besides making the most serious drama in the world,

the hardest thing to do is a musical

because you have to approach it with the same exact intentions

that you would a serious drama.

The great musical directors like Vincente Minnelli,

these are brilliant masters who really understood the genre.

Whoa! Whoa! [ Whistles ]

Jones: Other influential directors were now displaying

their craft in major musicals of the period as well.

Mervyn LeRoy, who is not known as a musical director,

he was known as Edward G. Robinson's director,

he was our director,

and when it came to the fashion show sequence,

Mervyn LeRoy said "I haven't a clue how to direct this.

Get Vincente Minnelli to do it."

So Vincente Minnelli, Liza's father, came on the set

and made a whole 20-minute fashion show.

Now I don't know a director --

I didn't know one then or today,

who would be sure enough of themselves,

not humble enough, but sure enough of themselves

to say "Get Vince Minnelli to do this

because I don't know what I'm doing.

I belong with Edward G. Robinson."

He was that kind of guy.

Jones: Choreographers are also making their mark

and the movie musical

and dancing would often take center stage.

♪ The groom's waiting at the altar ♪

♪ Here comes the bride

Osborne: "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

one of the great dance musicals of all time,

thanks to Stanley Donen and Michael Kidd,

who did the choreography.

Without exception when Michael Kidd is the choreographer,

something wonderful is about to happen.


[ Cheering ]

And men can look like men without having to make

any apologies for the fact

that they are dancing.

Guys doing pirouettes with axes.

You know, it couldn't get any better now.

♪ I'm a little old hoot owl

That was what musicals was all about.

It was moody and it had a great look to it.

♪ The trees

♪ 'Cause I ain't got no

♪ Little gal owl fowl

♪ Here to shoot the breeze

♪ Ooh ooh ooh

♪ Ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh

♪ Can't shoot no breeze with a bunch of trees ♪

♪ Ooh ooh ooh

Brilliant, and everyday activity converted into art.

That's what dance can do at its best.










♪ Every night at 7:00

♪ Every time the same thing happens ♪

♪ I fall once again in love

♪ But only with you




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