Theater Talk

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Ethan Mordden: When Broadway Went to Hollywood

Mordden discusses his new book, When Broadway Went to Hollywood. With an encyclopedic knowledge of show business history, Mordden explains how, in the late 1920s, top Broadway songwriters were lured to Hollywood by money. Most eventually returned to Broadway to continue creating work for the stage. In addition, Mordden singles out the films he considers most significant of the genre.

AIRED: July 15, 2017 | 0:26:47
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TRANSCRIPT

>> HASKINS: Coming up on

"Theater Talk"...

>> MORDDEN: Kurt Weill went to

Hollywood in the 1930s to try to

get some extra money, too.

He had just come to America.

And Walter Wanger, a very

powerful producer, said to

Weill, "Your music is

distinguished.

I don't want distinguished

music."

>> HASKINS: "Theater Talk" is

made possible in part by...

From New York City, this is

"Theater Talk."

I'm Susan Haskins.

>> RIEDEL: And I'm

Michael Riedel of

theNew York Post, and we are

joined tonight by our good

friend, the historian and writer

Ethan Mordden, who's out with --

What number book is this

for you?

>> MORDDEN: I lost count a long

time ago.

>> RIEDEL: [ Laughs ]

You've written more books than

Shakespeare wrote plays,

I believe.

>> HASKINS: All I know is you're

a shelf in my house --

a whole shelf.

>> RIEDEL: The Ethan Mordden

shelf.

>> MORDDEN: I always wanted to

be a shelf.

>> HASKINS: And you are.

>> RIEDEL: Well, Ethan's latest

book is "When Broadway went to

Hollywood," a history of the

Broadway musical and its

influence on Hollywood,

and Hollywood then sort of

transformed the Broadway musical

in many ways.

>> MORDDEN: Yes.

It works both ways.

>> HASKINS: Although what is the

thesis of this book, to use a

highfalutin word?

>> MORDDEN: The thesis basically

is that it seemed like a great

idea for people from Broadway --

let's say Richard Rodgers,

Cole Porter, Lorenz Hart,

the Gershwins, and so on --

to move to Hollywood, at least

temporarily, and do work there,

because, first of all, they'd

get a national audience.

>> RIEDEL: Right.

>> MORDDEN: Broadway was

somewhat national but not the

way Hollywood was, not the way

the movies were.

Plus, the money was insanely

bigger in Hollywood.

I don't know why.

If you go back to early

Hollywood, I guess it's

Mary Pickford who says,

"Now I want a little more"

to Uncle Adolph Zukor.

"Now I want a little more.

Now I want this."

Finally, he basically wanted to

pay her money not to make films

for other people.

She became too expensive to

employ, and that's when she

became her own producer.

So, Broadway songwriters, even

if you were successful in the

1910s, 1920s, 1930s, you are not

making the money that you would

think there.

>> HASKINS: Well, we have all

these incredibly affluent

theater people here always

grumbling about how the money is

so much less than it is in TV

and movies now.

>> MORDDEN: Yes. It's always

been that way, 'cause Hollywood

was always bigger, and it kept

on -- I'll give you an example.

Irving Berlin was going to write

the score to the Astaire-Rogers

movie "Top Hat."

At RKO, you had a rare producer

named Pan Berman who loved

Broadway songwriters.

He wanted to work with all the

greats -- Jerome Kern,

the Gershwins, Vincent Youmans,

Irving Berlin.

And it's going to be, what,

five songs?

He'll probably write seven or

eight, and they'll end up using

five.

And Berlin -- this is 1935, the

height of the Depression.

'35 was the worst year in the

arts in America.

There were 10 new musicals that

went up on Broadway in the year

1935.

At the end of the '20s, there

were like 60 musicals every

year.

So, meanwhile, Berlin is doing

okay, and he's his own music

publisher, so he's got that

extra thing going on,

and he says to Pan Berman,

"I would like $100,000."

This is the kind of money we're

talking about.

You don't get $100,000 for

writing a full score on Broadway

in 1935.

>> RIEDEL: Right. Five songs.

>> MORDDEN: So, five songs.

And Pan says, "We can't go that

high.

$75,000 is the highest we can

go."

And Berlin doesn't like it, and

Pan says, "All right.

Let's compromise.

If 'Top Hat' grosses" --

I forget what it is now exactly.

I think it's something like

$300,000 and change --

"you'll get 10% of the gross --

not the net, the gross."

Berlin thinks, 'cause he's a

good businessman, "No movie

musical has ever grossed

anything like that.

I'll never see a dime of this

offer."

But, okay, he might as well

write it 'cause he can write

songs very easily, and he can

come up with five great songs.

They go ahead, and the movie

comes out, and it's a big hit,

and it grosses $3 million.

>> RIEDEL: Oh, my God!

>> MORDDEN: So, for five songs,

he gets $300,000.

>> RIEDEL: Wow.

>> MORDDEN: You would not get

that for writing 10 musicals on

Broadway in those days.

>> RIEDEL: Right.

>> MORDDEN: Although it is true

that certain hit songs --

Like Cole Porter's big one was

"Night and Day," that is, until

"Don't Fence Me In."

That's his biggest hit ever.

But in the 1930s, let's say --

And no one knows that he wrote

that 'cause it's a cowboy song,

but it is by Cole Porter.

But from "Gay Divorce,"

"Night and Day" was a phenomenal

hit.

It went around the world.

And I believe his heirs are

still dining out -- literally

dining out on -- the royalties

from that one song, but you

mostly don't get hits that are

that phenomenally big.

So, it was the money kind of

thing.

And, ultimately, it didn't work

out.

The money was great, but they

kept coming back from Hollywood

because they had a terrible

time.

>> HASKINS: Well, you said they

derive from antagonistically

different sources...

>> MORDDEN: Yes.

>> HASKINS: ...Hollywood and

Broadway.

>> MORDDEN: Absolutely, because

movie musicals to people in

Hollywood are movies -- they're

not musicals, they're movies --

so that when they're making a

movie of "Annie," the famous

kiddie musical on Broadway, big

hit, they let John Huston, that

fabulous master of the musical

arts, direct it, or even

"A Chorus Line,"

Richard Attenborough.

They always think they're

movies.

>> RIEDEL: Yeah.

>> MORDDEN: And they don't work

the way -- I keep pointing.

That's Hollywood.

This is -- This is New York.

>> RIEDEL: West Coast,

East Coast.

>> MORDDEN: The fact is, the

movie musical, like other

movies, came out of the early

years of the silent film and

developed, you know, and the

silent film finally became, with

"Birth of a Nation," something

that the middle class could

attend, because before that, the

audience was riffraff and

sailors, this kind of thing.

But the stage musical is much

more historically grounded back

to, you know, "The Black Crook"

and so on in the 1860s, 1870s.

It has a completely different

derivation.

The people who are doing stage

musicals are always thinking in

musical terms -- dancing and

people who sing and dance.

Movie musicals, it's totally

different.

For instance, you can have leads

in a movie musical who have to

be dubbed 'cause they can't

sing.

That really couldn't happen --

Yes, you have Rex Harrison and

other novelty stars, like in

"My Fair Lady," that kind of

talk their way through.

>> HASKINS: But he could

enunciate beautifully.

>> MORDDEN: He could, and not

only that -- at a certain point,

you have to sing, "I've Grown

Accustomed to Her Face," and

then you're gonna have to sing.

>> RIEDEL: Is it also a

question, though, Ethan, that

the Broadway composers had more

control in New York, on

Broadway?

>> MORDDEN: Absolutely.

>> RIEDEL: In Hollywood, it was

run by the studio system, by the

despots who ran the studio, and

they didn't much care what

George Gerswhin wanted

or fought for.

>> MORDDEN: Not only that, they

sort of had contempt for them,

and they were angry because they

had to use them because these

were the big names.

Also, they didn't want that

wonderful, innovative,

imaginative touch that people

like Porter or the Gershwins

could bring to a song.

Like, Kurt Weill went to

Hollywood in the 1930s to try to

get some extra money, too.

He had just come to America.

And Walter Wanger, a very

powerful producer, said to

Weill, "Your music is

distinguished.

I don't want distinguished

music."

>> RIEDEL: [ Laughs ]

>> MORDDEN: What he wanted was

what Milton Berle called

"lappy."

When Milton Berle would be

talking to his --

This is early TV, of course,

big, famous comedy-variety

show, and it's the reason why

everyone bought a TV in like

1951, was to see Milton Berle.

And, finally, your neighbors

have their own TV.

You don't have to host them

every whatever it was --

"Texaco" -- Saturday night.

And he would say to his writers,

"The jokes aren't lappy enough,"

"lappy" meaning they're so

obvious, they fall into the

audience's lap.

And those are the kinds of songs

that Hollywood likes.

Plus, Hollywood, right from the

beginning, in the movie musical,

1929, was always afraid that if,

let's say, boy and girl are

walking in a forest glade and

he says, "I love you" and she

says, "You do?" --

Now, in a show, you know, the

boys in the orchestra put down

their racing forms and they

start the introductory, and he

sings a love-you song to her.

Well, if they're in a forest

glade in the movie,

the producers think,

"Where's the orchestra?

Has he hired a band to follow

them around to sing, to

accompany him when he wants to

sing to the girl?"

Hollywood has always had that

problem.

They're afraid that the audience

will think,

"Where is the orchestra?

They're in a forest"

or "They're in a living room."

They love backstagers for that

reason...

>> RIEDEL: Right.

>> MORDDEN: ...which kind of

hems you in, because it means

you won't get character songs,

which are the glory of the

American stage musical.

That's where somebody turns to

the audience and sings,

"Wouldn't It Be Loverly?"

She just tears her heart open

and shows you the person that

she is, and you fall in love

with the music.

And because you do, you fall in

love with her.

>> RIEDEL: Who was the first

Broadway composer to go

Hollywood?

>> MORDDEN: Well, I would say

Irving Berlin simply because I

say the first musical is

"The Jazz Singer,"

with Al Jolson, even though it

was mostly silent.

>> RIEDEL: Yeah.

>> MORDDEN: There's that great

scene where he finally returns

home, and there's his mother,

and he's entertaining her at the

piano.

So, we don't have to worry about

the orchestra, 'cause he's

playing, although it was dubbed.

And he sings "Blue Skies."

Now, "Blue Skies" had already

been introduced on Broadway in a

Rodgers and Hart musical, but it

was interpolated.

It was a Ziegfeld show, and the

score wasn't going over,

and so...

So, they used "Blue Skies," and

this is the moment where sound

film simply takes control of the

business, 'cause, I mean, if you

see it, you might say it's

corny, it's hokum, and the poor

mother, 'cause there's only one

mic, and it's hanging over

Jolson, so she gets to say...

>> RIEDEL: [ Laughs ]

>> HASKINS: She gets to cry.

>> RIEDEL: ♪ Blue skies

smilin' at me ♪

>> MORDDEN: Singing away.

But if you see that scene --

I guess it's probably on YouTube

if you want to check --

it is so electric.

'Cause I don't even like Jolson,

I have to say.

I think he's terribly overrated.

And he's strange-looking and

he's strange-acting and he's

full of himself and I hate the

sound of his voice, but he was

electric as a talent.

>> HASKINS: He did it, yeah.

>> MORDDEN: He just --

The screen goes wide when he

does the song.

>> HASKINS: I want to interject

that the wonderful thing about

your book, besides reading it,

is I sit there with my phone,

and you mention these musicals

and these scenes, and then, you

know, Jimmy Stewart, in one of

his early roles, as a singing

sailor.

>> MORDDEN: Yes.

>> HASKINS: And so you go

through the book, and you can

illustrate it for yourself.

>> MORDDEN: Yes. That's the

great thing about --

YouTube has really

revolutionized our understanding

of the arts, and it's amazing

what's on that.

>> RIEDEL: But we have to say,

though, there came a certain

point, though, where Hollywood

started making first-rate

musicals, stuff that we would

consider classics today --

"My Fair Lady."

When does that begin?

When does Hollywood get the hang

of making a Hollywood musical?

>> MORDDEN: I would just say the

first movie musical, which is

"The Broadway Melody" in 1929,

even though it's crazy and

bizarre and it's got all these

mistakes in it, some of it is

very sharp and very well

observed, and a lot of the music

is a little crazy, but, for

instance, there's a scene where

one of these rich guys has

designs on the soubrette,

let's call her.

And they're all at a party, and

she's sitting next to him, and

he is all over her in the worst

way.

It is one of the most maddening

scenes in film.

He's just pushing his face next,

and he's grinning at her like

the wolf at the lamb.

She's obviously uncomfortable.

And I keep thinking, "Do you

think she likes that?

You think you're gonna get a

date that way?"

Of course, he's got money, so...

>> HASKINS: Well, that's the

history of the world.

>> MORDDEN: Yes, but that's what

I mean.

In other words, this silly

musical is being honest about

something that we're still

trying to get used to today.

But, at the same time, it's got

that --

There's the marvelous scene in

which all those backstagers

tended to open, in those days --

this is '29, again,

"The Broadway Melody," MGM --

in a music publisher's office,

Tin Pan Alley.

>> RIEDEL: Yeah.

>> MORDDEN: And that's where the

songs are tried out, and there's

this wonderful scene where the

guy is trying out his new song

and everyone is coming in from

the other rooms -- the violin

quartet and the dance group and

the something and the something,

and they're all revving to this

fabulous --

He's singing the title song,

of course.

>> EDDIE: ♪ A million lights

♪ They flicker there

♪ A million hearts beat quicker

there ♪

♪ No skies of gray

on the Great White Way ♪

♪ That's the Broadway melody

Hot dog!

>> MORDDEN: It really is

infectious.

You can see why they all think

this is the next big hit, and

then later, for a reprise, he's

with the two girls.

They're sisters.

And the smart sister loves him,

and the pretty sister is loved

by him.

Smart sister has to sacrifice

for the --

And he sings the song.

I think he's got a ukulele.

>> HASKINS: Mm-hmm.

>> MORDDEN: And you're thinking,

"Okay. There's no orchestra.

It's just the ukulele 'cause

you're just in someone's living

room," and then, suddenly, the

orchestra jumps in, and he says,

"Hey, kids, let's go into our

dance!"

And you're thinking, "That is

the silliest thing on Earth."

But then the end of the movie is

not a kiss panel, as we used to

put it when I was in romance

comic books.

It's the nice sister, to forget

the fact that she had to give up

her man, has gone off on a

vaudeville tour, and she's in,

I think, a taxicab.

You can't tell from looking at

it where she is.

She's with another --

She's with her performing

partner and the agent, and the

agent is one of those

old-fashioned guys that keeps

stuttering.

He's trying to say, "I got -- I

got -- I got --" and then he

gives you a synonym, and that's

supposed to be very funny.

That was a typical gag of the

day.

And he does that and the partner

laughs, and then we see this

poor, self-sacrificing older

sister.

This look on her face is like...

It's so completely inconclusive,

and that's the end of the movie.

>> HASKINS: But it's what --

I think I saw that when I was

12, and I remember that.

It's such a --

Remember that ending.

>> MORDDEN: And remember the mad

scene?

Her mad scene at the dressing

room goes completely to pieces.

So, in other words, what I'm

saying is even the very first

movie musical, crazy though it

is and reckless and bizarre and

accidental, still has these

wonderful touches.

>> HASKINS: And it won many

Oscars.

>> RIEDEL: Mm.

>> MORDDEN: I think it won the

Oscar for best picture.

>> HASKINS: And I think she won.

>> MORDDEN: No, she was

nominated.

She didn't win.

Someone else did.

I think Mary Pickford won

for "Coquette," because, you

know, Hollywood royalty.

We must make kowtow.

But I think the answer to your

question, Michael,

is "Love Me Tonight,"

1932, Paramount.

This is a movie in the

Jeanette MacDonald-

Maurice Chevalier-Lubitsch

style, but it's directed by

Rouben Mamoulian.

But it's sexy and sophisticated,

and it's loaded with innuendo

and it's very charming and it's

very imaginative.

Historians always refer to the

scene in which --

"Isn't It Romantic?"

It's a song.

If you look at the song sheet,

it's, you know, verse and

chorus.

"Oh, that's nice."

But in the movie, it's this

whole musical scene in which

people are conversing to the

music.

They're not song lyrics.

They're speaking lyrics,

so to say.

Sometimes they are speaking.

Sometimes they're singing.

And it travels from Maurice's

tailor shop into this cab.

The music just keeps moving

along.

It picks up people along the

way, and it's traveling to

Jeanette's chateau kind of

thing.

And this is how we're going to

meet -- how boy meets girl.

They haven't met yet, but the

point is Maurice's song is going

to travel us over the

countryside.

A gypsy fiddler is there, the

marching soldiers, and so on.

The song keeps traveling from

person to person.

It's like Tolkien's ring.

It always wants to be with the

most powerful person around.

"I know you're not good, Gollum.

I need this guy.

Don't throw me in the volcano."

So, the music keeps moving along

until it gets to the chateau,

and there's Jeanette, and she

finishes the song for us.

Incredibly imaginative, like the

greatest seven minutes in the

history of the movie musical.

>> HASKINS: What year was that

again?

>> MORDDEN: 1932, and the next

great musical is "Gigi."

>> RIEDEL: I was just gonna say

I was flying back from

Buenos Aires, and I was watching

the movies on that they have

there on the plane, and I hadn't

seen "Gigi" in years.

>> HASKINS: [ Gasps ] "Gigi."

>> RIEDEL: And I put it on, and

I was completely entranced

by it.

That is a perfect movie.

>> MORDDEN: It is.

>> RIEDEL: It's a beautiful

movie and conceived as a movie

musical, right?

Not stage first?

>> MORDDEN: No, no. Absolutely.

And, in fact, it's based on --

Of course, the credits don't say

this 'cause it's always

contractual.

It's based on a little-known

French movie that was based on

the Colette short story.

The short story is like this

long, and all the stuff you know

from "Gigi" is not in the story.

It's in that French movie that

was made in something like 1949.

So, in other words, MGM bought

the movie from, you know, Pathé

or whoever it was and handed it

to Lerner, so to say.

And Lerner used everything in

that movie.

It's never mentioned.

No one seems to know that's what

"Gigi" is based on.

>> RIEDEL: What was the movie

called?

>> MORDDEN: It's "Gigi."

>> RIEDEL: Oh, the original?

>> MORDDEN: Absolutely, and...

there's a wonderful moment in

this, now that we're going to

the "Gigi" movie.

Vincente Minnelli is directing.

Minnelli loves these moments

where, visually, everything

seems to come together for a

moment, and he's decided that at

a certain moment in I think it's

one of the songs now --

I forget now --

the swans have to kind of do

this.

They're floating around in this

little pond.

So, in order to be sure that

that happens, he has penned the

swans in.

You can't quite see it, but

there's this sort of little

fencing, and there are like six

swans there.

And they're filming away, and

you can see the swans keep going

up to the fence and thinking,

"What? Who put this fence here?"

'Cause normally they're all over

the pond.

You almost can hear them saying,

"Take away the fence --

we're swans" kind of thing.

Other than that, though, which

is a wonderful moment to look

for, that is truly --

That is the most --

You can tell even from the

credits, those wonderful

drawings they have...

>> RIEDEL: Yeah.

>> MORDDEN: ...that it truly is

a fine movie.

>> RIEDEL: They filmed it in

Paris, too, and, often, they

would make these movies, though,

in the back lot.

I wonder why they decided to go

on location.

>> MORDDEN: Because, well, first

of all, he wanted to film the

Maxim's scene in Maxim's.

>> HASKINS: In Maxim's, yes.

>> MORDDEN: He had to make a

special arrangement, and that

meant -- I think they had only

two nights, and they had to move

very, very quick.

The atmosphere is incredible.

The Maxim's sequence is

fabulous.

I mean, the first one, when

they're establishing, there's a

young guy, a page, who has a

cane, and he takes your top hat

with the cane, and you see the

orchestra in this little

built-in thing in the back.

A lot of people miss that.

That's actually what Maxim's

looked like.

>> HASKINS: And so you refer to

it as perhaps the greatest movie

musical of all time.

>> MORDDEN: It is.

That and "Love Me Tonight,"

I guess, are, you know, up

there, but "Gigi" has more

because it's got much more power

in the score.

That really is a tremendous

score.

>> RIEDEL: What about bombs?

What are some of the worst movie

musicals?

>> MORDDEN: There's a great,

long list, and they tend to be

so obscure that, you know, if

you stay up late and tune in to

TCM, you'll immediately

encounter one, like about

3:00 a.m.

>> RIEDEL: [ Laughs ]

>> MORDDEN: If they're not

running a Bonita Granville

festival, they'll be doing --

>> RIEDEL: But how about, like,

"A Chorus Line"?

That was considered a big

fiasco.

>> MORDDEN: Yes, it was, and it

is a fiasco because the director

did not seem --

See, what happened was they

wanted to make a movie of

"Oh! What a Lovely War."

This was 1960s, and everything

had to be -- every musical has

to be filmed.

Every stage musical...

>> RIEDEL: Has to be turned into

a movie.

>> MORDDEN: But that was such a

theatrical --

It was an English musical and so

theatrical, there was no way to

do it.

Attenborough came up with a way

to do it -- a terrible way,

but the movie succeeded...

>> RIEDEL: Right.

>> MORDDEN: ...kind of thing.

So, they thought, "Oh,

Attenborough can film unfilmable

stage musicals," so they gave

him "A Chorus Line."

>> HASKINS: You know, I was

working in the casting office

for that movie, but it was

highly con--

I was too -- I was the girl who

answered the phone.

I was too low on the totem pole

to know about the secret list of

who was in it.

>> MORDDEN: Yes.

>> HASKINS: Well, when they came

out with this cast,

you sort of --

no disrespect, any of you --

you sort of went, "What?"

I mean...

>> MORDDEN: It was a little

confusing.

>> RIEDEL: Michael Douglas

played --

>> MORDDEN: Is there anyone less

like a Michael Bennett-type

director/choreographer than

Michael Douglas?

>> RIEDEL: But they're casting

Hollywood stars.

They're not casting theater

people.

>> MORDDEN: But, you know, there

are probably Hollywood stars

that seem more like

Michael Bennett, and then maybe

you should have put

Michael Bennett himself

into that.

I always feel Michael Bennett

should simply have been given

four cameras, as he was by the

Tony Awards the year that

"A Chorus Line" won and simply

filmed the show.

>> HASKINS: Yes. Yeah.

>> MORDDEN: And then we would

have had a wonderful --

>> HASKINS: But where you and I

disagree, Ethan -- one point --

is "Gypsy."

To me, "Gypsy" was so flawed

because they didn't have

Ethel Merman, whereas you don't

take issue with that problem.

>> MORDDEN: No, but, you know,

and Ethel had been promised the

role, but they were never going

to use Ethel Merman.

If you look at "Call Me Madam,"

for instance, and --

No, not the earlier movies.

Let's forget it.

But "Call Me Madam," 1950,

you can tell she's a --

I mean, Ethel Merman was one of

the greatest stars the musical

has ever produced.

But there's a way she has of

presenting herself that doesn't

work for film if you're gonna be

acting.

And, you know, Madame Rose is an

acting part.

It isn't just a singing triumph.

And I saw the original "Gypsy."

Merman was not only really

marvelous in it, but she got

every laugh.

Only Angela Lansbury has gotten

as many laughs in that role, and

I've seen all the Broadway

"Gypsies" kind of thing.

So I don't think they could ever

possibly have hired --

And, after all, Rosalind Russell

was famous for playing other

actresses' stage roles.

>> HASKINS: But she couldn't

sing it.

>> MORDDEN: Well, Lisa Kirk

could.

The point is they always dubbed.

>> RIEDEL: They always dubbed.

>> MORDDEN: I'll tell you

something, in fact.

When Merman died and the estate

was going over her stuff and

cataloguing, you know, as they

have to, do you know what they

found in her knickknacks closet?

>> HASKINS: No.

>> MORDDEN: The original sound

discs of Rosalind Russell

singing the score to "Gypsy,"

because, you know, Russell did

prerecord it.

>> HASKINS: Yeah.

>> MORDDEN: And even years

later, if someone dared bring up

the fact that she was dubbed by

Lisa Kirk, Russell would say,

"I wasn't dubbed," 'cause she

never probably saw the movie.

I mean, she's on to her next job

kind of thing, and she knows

that she prerecorded it, and,

actually, if you listen

carefully, every now and then,

at the start of a song, it is

Russell, and then, suddenly,

this wonderful, creamy Lisa Kirk

voice comes.

>> HASKINS: Now, I'm gonna ask

you -- there was a problem,

going back to the earlier

musicals.

You point out that Hollywood

wanted the sophistication of

Broadway, but, at the same time,

they were dealing with audiences

across the nation, including

what we now call the red states,

and they were antagonistic

towards it at the same time that

they wanted that sophistication.

>> MORDDEN: This is my theory of

the three audiences.

The first audience is the

sophisticated one that's on the

coasts -- Radio City Music Hall,

the old theater capitals,

Boston, Seattle, L.A.,

San Francisco,

obviously, New York,

and, to a certain extent,

Philadelphia.

>> RIEDEL: Chicago?

>> MORDDEN: Yes, absolutely

Chicago.

That was the second city for

theater.

Chicago, at one point, had 40

theaters -- I mean regular,

you know, play theaters

kind of thing.

But the second audience is like

smaller cities, the Midwest,

less sophisticated, by far, but

somewhat adventurous.

A little bit of adventure is

okay -- not a lot of adventure.

Then you have the third

audience, which is the South and

small towns.

They don't want adventure.

They like their art

well broken in.

They like things that they're

already used to, and they just

get more of it.

>> HASKINS: And, also, they

didn't want Blacks, so they had

to have separate theaters

down South.

>> MORDDEN: Well, yes, there was

the racial thing, too, but, I

mean, even quite aside from

that, in terms of just the art,

the third audience was very

standoffish, unless it was

lappy, basically, and also

simple and basic.

So, the point is you can't have

a really big hit unless you grab

two of the audiences.

You can get the first and the

second.

You can get the second and

third.

You can't get the first and

third, 'cause that would never

happen kind of thing.

"Top Hat," for instance --

huge hit.

It seemed to sweep the

audiences.

I don't know why, because they

were somewhat sophisticated,

those Astaire-Rogers.

I'm sure the third audience

didn't catch all the jokes

kind of thing.

And I have young friends that I

do video night with, and I

showed them "Whoopee!"

which is 1930.

It's basically a filming of a

Ziegfeld hit.

>> HASKINS: Eddie Cantor.

>> MORDDEN: They cut it down,

and they left out some of the

people who just showed up

and sang, you know,

without having --

They keep it to the story.

But it's the original cast kind

of thing, and sort of new score,

and Busby Berkeley doing

choreography.

He wasn't with the show

originally.

And they didn't get --

these guys didn't get --

any of the jokes at all.

Eddie Cantor was a complete --

They had a good time.

They really enjoyed it, and they

were busy picking out the chorus

boy they liked from this number.

"Oh, look -- there he is in the

back row," that kind of thing.

But in terms of understanding

why this kind of material was so

immense in its day --

>> HASKINS: Well, that's very

dated material.

>> MORDDEN: Even "Grand Hotel"

went right by them.

>> RIEDEL: You know what I saw

not too long ago?

"42nd Street."

And I was surprised at how

gritty it was.

It really digs down deep into

the Depression.

>> MORDDEN: Yes, it does.

>> RIEDEL: And these people are

really desperate.

And you get a sense that, if

this show doesn't work, this guy

is gonna be wiped out.

>> MORDDEN: Remember when he

takes Ruby Keeler into his arms,

before she goes out to take over

for the star kind of thing,

he says -- what is it? --

"100 jobs, 100 people."

He says, basically,

"It's up to you."

This is where he says, "You're

going out there a youngster, but

you've got to come back a star."

And she just is limp.

Good old Ruby Keeler.

"The camera isn't on me,

so why should I act?"

>> RIEDEL: [ Laughing ] Right.

>> MORDDEN: Not that you can

anyway.

But the point is, yes, it is.

It's very much a Depression,

and you notice, by the way, that

the musical numbers are all

bunched up, except for one early

rehearsal of "You're Getting to

Be a Habit with Me."

They all come at the end because

there had been a --

Musicals had been so unpopular

that Darryl Zanuck, who was in

charge of this at Warner Bros.,

decided, "Just in case musicals

aren't coming back yet,

we can cut all the numbers out,

and we still have" --

See, that's another difference

between the Broadway and the

Hollywood musical.

You take the songs out of a

Broadway musical, and the story

is incoherent.

>> RIEDEL: Right. Right.

>> MORDDEN: But you can take the

songs out of most Hollywood

musicals -- not "Gigi," but most

of the ordinary ones -- and

everything is still intact.

>> HASKINS: Well, look what

Bob Fosse did with "Cabaret."

>> MORDDEN: Yes. Now, that's an

interesting case of a filming

that is very different from the

original but is good.

Normally, I think --

>> RIEDEL: But they made the

decision in "Cabaret" that all

the songs were gonna be done in

the cabaret.

>> MORDDEN: Well, and not just

in the cabaret, but they all had

to be things that people really

would be singing.

For instance, at one point, you

hear "Married" on a Victrola.

>> RIEDEL: Yeah.

>> MORDDEN: That's okay.

And, of course, remember, they

sing "Tomorrow Belongs to Me,"

and it's outdoors at a whatever

it is.

But, in other words, you

couldn't have boy and girl in a

meadow, singing "I love you"

in that.

>> HASKINS: But they cut a lot,

and, also, Fosse didn't want

Joel Grey.

He didn't want him.

>> MORDDEN: I didn't know that.

Is that true?

>> RIEDEL: Yeah, it's true.

Yeah. Fosse didn't want him.

He had to fight for the part.

>> MORDDEN: Now, that is odd,

since Joel Grey is so, you know,

attached to that.

>> RIEDEL: Identified with that

part.

He wanted Alan Cumming.

No. I'm kidding.

>> HASKINS: No, he wanted

Bob Fosse is what he wanted.

>> MORDDEN: Well, you know, he

never -- Fosse never gave up

wanting to get back on stage or,

you know, on film.

He always was an entertainer.

>> RIEDEL: Yeah. All right.

We got to wrap it up.

"When Broadway Went to

Hollywood," a new book by

Ethan Mordden.

I want to run to my Netflix

account now and look up all

these.

>> HASKINS: We have all these

movies to watch.

>> RIEDEL: I still think,

'cause I saw it as a kid --

I know everyone says it's a

terrible movie.

I thought it was enchanting.

I think Lucille Ball

in "Mame" was --

>> HASKINS: Oh, my God!

>> MORDDEN: I know people who

love it.

>> RIEDEL: I have a soft spot in

my heart for Lucille Ball and

Bea Arthur in "Mame."

Sorry, Angela Lansbury.

I love you.

>> MORDDEN: That moment in the

title song when the guys all go

down on one knee as she moves --

she looks so gallant and

wonderful to me there.

>> HASKINS: It took a lot of bad

Lucille Ball performance to get

to that.

>> MORDDEN: Well, you know,

Angela Lansbury always says that

the day she knew that she wasn't

gonna get the film was when she

saw Lucille Ball backstage.

>> HASKINS: Hanging around

backstage.

[ Laughs ]

>> RIEDEL: The book is "When

Broadway Went to Hollywood,"

by Ethan Mordden.

Thanks a lot for being our guest

here on "Theater Talk."

>> MORDDEN: Thank you for having

me.

>> HASKINS: Our thanks to the

Friends of "Theater Talk" for

their significant contribution

to this production.

>> ANNOUNCER: We welcome your

questions or comments

for "Theater Talk."

Thank you.

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