Saturday, February 8, 2014

31 Days of Oscar Blogathon: Sing a Song of Oscar

It's Oscar time.  A time of promotion for the motion picture industry.  A time of excitement and anxiety for the nominees.  And no less a time of interest and opinions on the part of film fans.  Classic fans enjoy 31 Days of Oscar on TCM and the second annual 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon hosted by the intrepid trio of Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken and Freckled and Paula's Cinema Club.

My contribution to the blogathon is a revisit and a revamp of an article first posted on this blog in 2011 which looks at an amazing Oscar record.

During the course of his movie career Bing Crosby introduced fourteen original songs that were nominated for the Best Song by the Motion Picture Academy and four of these songs garnered statues for their composers.

Click on the song title links for YouTube performances from the films where available.

Bing Crosby, Miriam Hopkins, Edward Nugent

1934:  She Loves Me Not

The first of these songs was a tune we associate with another performer.  Jack Benny's theme Love in Bloom by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin was first sung by Bing and Kitty Carlisle in She Loves Me Not.  Miriam Hopkins stars as a nightclub singer on the lam from crooks being hidden by Bing and fellow student Edward Nugent at Princeton.  The comedy was remade as How to Be Very, Very Popular in 1955 starring Betty Grable, Sheree North and Robert Cummings.

Three songs were nominated in this first year of the category, along with Love in Bloom was Eliscu and Kahn's Carioci from Flying Down to Rio and the winner, Conrad and Magdison's The Continental from The Gay Divorcee.

Donald Meek, Madge Evans, Bing Crosby, Edith Fellows

1936:  Pennies from Heaven

The nomination for Arthur Johnston and Johnny Burke's title song Pennies from Heaven must have been especially gratifying for Bing as he was co-producer as well as star of this Columbia Studios release.  Bing plays Larry Poole, an ex-con who sees himself as a modern day troubadour, footloose and fancy free.  His life becomes entangled with an orphan played by the extraordinary child actress Edith Fellows (Five Little Peppers), her doughty grandfather Donald Meek (Stagecoach) and an uptight social worker Madge Evans (Dinner at Eight).  Prominent in the cast was Bing's good friend Louis Armstrong in the first of four films together, plus many TV appearances and a 1960 album, Bing and Satchmo.  This Oscar year is truly a case where being nominated is honour enough as the winner for Best Song was Kern and Fields The Way You Look Tonight from Swingtime.

1937:  Waikiki Wedding (winner)

One of the top box office pictures of the year, Waikiki Wedding starring Bing, Shirley Ross, Martha Raye and Bob Burns is filled with breezy good humour and hypnotically sumptuous cinematography by Karl "Sunrise" Struss.  The lovely Blue Hawaii by Ralph Robin and Leo Rainger was introduced in this film, but surprisingly was not nominated in the Best Song category.  The honour went to bandleader and composer Harry Owen's Sweet Leilani.  The song's inclusion in the film was at Bing's insistence and he set up a trust fund for the royalties to go to Harry's daughter Leilani for whom the song was written.

Sweet Leilani won over competition that included the Gershwin's They Can't Take That Away from Me from Shall We Dance and Fain and Brown's That Old Feeling from Vogues of 1938.  While I think it's a lovely little lullaby, surely Sweet Leilani's win over the Gershwin tune is worthy of debate usually reserved for Best Picture or the acting categories.

Bing Crosby, Mary Martin, Oscar Levant

1940:  Rhythm on the River

This very funny film directed by Victor Schertzinger stars Basil Rathbone as a famous composer who has lost his stuff and "collaborates" with a lyricist played by Mary Martin and a composer played by Bing. Eventually the two dupes discover the truth and set out on their own. Throw in Oscar Levant for the wisecracks and Wingy Manone on trumpet and you have a winner.

Rhythm on the River features my all-time favourite Bing Crosby title track from a movie, but that peppy number didn't find favour with the Academy. It was James Monaco and Johnny Burke's destined-to-become-a-standard Only Forever that was nominated. In another case of losing to a classic, the winner was Leigh Harline and Ned Washington's When You Wish Upon a Star from Pinocchio.

Bing Crosby, Marjorie Reynolds, Fred Astaire, Virginia Dale

1942:  Holiday Inn (winner)

Bing as Jim Hardy and Marjorie Reynolds as "I'm Linda Mason" (dubbed by Martha Mears) introduced Irving Berlin's White Christmas to the world in Holiday Inn. The song is such a part of our lives that I often forget that it also received the honour of an Oscar.

There were quite a few goodies among the nominees that year: Jules Style and Sammy Cahn's It Seems to Me I've Heard That Song Before from Youth on Parade, Harry Warren and Mack Gordon's I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo from Orchestra Wives, Frank Churchill and Larry Morey's Love is a Song from Bambi, Burton Lane and Ralph Freed's How About You? from Babes on Broadway, Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer's Dearly Beloved from You Were Never Lovelier and Ernesto Lucuono and Kim Gannon's title theme from Always in My Heart.

Irving Berlin called White Christmas one of his "round" songs. A tune which seemed to compose itself, it came to him so effortlessly. His enthusiasm for the song never wavered. It seems that way as well with the public who has placed it at the number one of the Billboard charts three times since its motion picture debut.

Bing Crosby, Barry Fitzgerald

1944:  Going My Way (winner)

Leo McCarey's heartwarming episodic feature following the exploits of progressive Father O'Malley and the set-in-his-ways Father Fitzgibbon was an Oscar juggernaut winning 7 out of 10 nominations.  In the win column Best Picture, Leading Actor Bing Crosby, Supporting Actor Barry Fitzgerald, Director Leo McCarey, Original Story Leo McCarey, Screenplay Frank Butler and Frank Cavett and Best Original Song for Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke's Swinging on a Star performed by Bing as Father O'Malley with the Mitchell Boys Choir.

The perennial favourite won over such superb ballads as Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson's I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night introduced by Frank Sinatra in Higher and Higher, Styne and Cahn's I'll Walk Alone from Follow the Boys, and Kern and Gershwin's Long Ago and Far Away from Cover Girl.

Betty Hutton, Bing Crosby

1945:  Here Come the Waves

Here Come the Waves stars Bing as a Sinatra-type balladeer and Betty Hutton as twins, one of whom is crazy about the crooner, so guess which one the star falls for?  Perhaps due to a the films late in the year release (I can find no other reason), the Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer song Accentuate the Positive, was nominated for Best Song for the 1945 awards presented in March of 1946.  The song in the film is presented in a rousing production number and sung by Bing and Sonny Tufts in blackface.  The Oscar that year was awarded to the lovely ballad It Might As Well Be Spring from Rodgers and Hammerstein's State Fair.
Ruth Donnelly, Ingrid Bergman, Bing Crosby

1945:  The Bells of St. Mary's

Father O'Malley is at it again in the charming Going My Way sequel The Bells of St. Mary's co-starring Ingrid Bergman.  When a student at St. Mary's, Patsy played by gifted Joan Carrol (Meet Me in St. Louis, Primrose Path) is in need of a confidence boost O'Malley sings another Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke hit Aren't You Glad You're You into the Best Song category.  The winner that year, as previously mentioned, was Rodgers and Hammerstein's It Might As Well Be Spring.

1946:  Blue Skies

Holiday Inn co-stars Bing, Fred Astaire and composer Irving Berlin reunited for Blue Skies, a Technicolor musical chronicling the career and romantic entanglements of a couple of song and dance men.  The pretty leading lady was Joan Caulfield and comedy support came from Olga San Juan and Billy De Wolfe.  Among the perennial Berlin favourites was a new song You Keep Coming Back Like a Song which received an Oscar nomination.  The winner that year was Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer's On the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe from The Harvey Girls.

Click here to listen to the lovely ballad as sung by the great Ella Fitzgerald on her Grammy award winning album Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Irving Berlin Songbook.   

Charles Lane, Bing Crosby, Jane Wyman
Beverly Washburn, Jacques Gencel

1951:  Here Comes the Groom (winner)

Frank Capra's Here Comes the Groom stars Bing as a foreign correspondent who surprises his stateside fiance with a couple of war orphans.  A top-flight cast including Alexis Smith and Franchot Tone seem to be having great fun in this picture.  Bing and leading lady Jane Wyman duet on Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer's In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening which was recorded live on set instead of using playback.  A winning combination for the audience and a winner at the Oscars.  The last of Bing's four Oscar winning songs.

Bing Crosby, JaneWyman

1952:  Just for You

It's Bing and Jane again in the story of a widowed Broadway producer coping, not very well, with his children played by Natalie Wood and Robert Arthur, and finding romance with a musical comedy star. Oscar nominated Zing a Little Zong by Harry Warren and Leo Robin tries to capture some of the joy of the previous year's In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening and comes pretty darn close.  The song would lose to one of the most famous movie songs of all-time, Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington's theme to High Noon.

Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye, Vera Ellen

1954:  White Christmas

Michael Curtiz directed Christmas perennial White Christmas starring Bing and Danny Kaye as successful producer/entertainers falling for singing sisters Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen.  Along the way the quartet help a retired General played by Dean Jagger and give us some favourite familiar Irving Berlin songs.  A new tune gets an Oscar nomination as Rosie and Bing sing Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep. The Academy voters awarded Styne and Cahn's popular theme to Three Coins in a Fountain, overlooking not only Irving, but Arlen and Gershwin's The Man That Got Away from A Star is Born.  Did the Academy members not get just who Ira Gershwin was?

Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra

1957:  High Society

It was big news when Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra were paired in this musical update of The Philadelphia Story opposite Grace Kelly in her final film before becoming Princess Grace of Monaco.  The songs, by Cole Porter no less, included the Oscar nominated True Love presented as a charming duet by Bing and Grace.  Mr. Porter would have to content himself with the thought of the untold number of couples who have taken his gentle ballad to their hearts.  In the Academy's eyes the Best Song of the Year was Livingston and Evans' Que Sera Sera from The Man Who Knew Too Much.
1960:  High Time

Blake Edwards' comedy stars Bing as a retired millionaire taking the time to get a college degree and experience a life he had missed as a younger working man.  Fabian, Tuesday Weld and Richard Beymer are fellow students in this okay-Sunday-matinee type of movie.  Bing falls for a lovely French teacher played by Nicole Maurey and introduces the Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn Oscar nominated The Second Time Around.  Other tunes in the Best Song category were The Green Leaves of Summer from The Alamo, Faraway Part of Town from Pepe and the title song from The Facts of Life.  The winner was the very popular title track from Never on Sunday.

The nature of film and of the music business being what they are in the 21st century, I feel safe in predicting that Bing Crosby's record of introducing 14 Oscar nominated and 4 winning songs will never be equaled.

Impressive though the line-up of songs may be, if I were in charge there would be even more nominees.  For your consideration:

1934:  Here is My Heart, Rainger and Robin's Love Is Just Around the Corner
1935:  Mississippi, Rodgers and Hart's It's Easy to Remember (And So Hard to Forget)
1936:  Rhythm on the Range, Johnny Mercer's I'm an Old Cowhand (From the Rio Grande)
1942:  Road to Morocco, Van Heusen and Burke's Moonlight Becomes You
1947:  Road to Rio, Van Heusen and Burke's But Beautiful 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Blogathon announcement: Diamonds and Gold

Ladies and Gentlemen, please join my friend and yours Rich Watson of Wide Screen World as we host the Diamonds and Gold Blogathon this coming April 12th and 13th.

Fifty is the new thirty!

Polish off that rose-amber spot and turn it on your favourite actors and actresses who ignored the siren call of social security and continued to work their magic on screen in memorable performances into their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond.  Did they convey a fatherly presence, a malevolent influence?  Did they bring a tear to your eye, a laugh to your throat?  Be they coward or hero, friend or foe we want to hear all about them.

On Saturday, April 12th Rich will host your line-up of the great performances of extraordinary gentleman and on Sunday, April 13th yours truly will host a soiree in honour of equally formidable ladies.

RSVP to Wide Screen World or Caftan Woman.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Caftan Woman's Choice: One for February on TCM

"Words with a K in it are funny.  Alka-Seltzer is funny.  Chicken is funny.  Pickle is funny.  All with a K.  Ls are not funny.  Ms are not funny."
- Willy Clark, The Sunshine Boys

Theatrical agent Ben Clark has been hearing theories on comedy his whole life from his Uncle Willy. Willy Clark of the famed duo Lewis and Clark aka "The Sunshine Boys" is a veteran of over 40 years in show business, so if he says words with Ks are funny then you can take it as gospel. Ben is the world's best nephew. He visits his uncle weekly and continues to look for work for the cantankerous senior despite Willy's practically pathological irritability which does not endear him to potential employers. In fact, Willy - to quote Ben - is a "Crazy freakin' old man!" 

George Burns as Al Lewis

When Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys opened in 1972 it was the 11th Broadway hit for the Emmy, Tony and Pulitzer Prize Award winning playwright. It was inevitable that the play would make the transition to the big screen and just as inevitable, in the ways of Hollywood, that the original cast of Jack Albertson as Willy Clark and Sam Levene as Al Lewis would not be used in the movie. The inspired first choice for The Sunshine Boys were the consummate funny men Red Skelton and Jack Benny.

Red Skelton declined the offer as he was doing better financially on the road than the film prospect could offer. Tragically, Jack Benny would be diagnosed with the pancreatic cancer which would take his life. Jack, bless his soul, recommended his lifelong friend George Burns as his replacement. George had not appeared in a movie since 1939s Honolulu and his narration of 1956s The Solid Gold Cadillac, but this "gift from Jack" as Burns called it, revived his career in a big way. George Burns won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor of the year and became a recording artist, best selling author and a movie star!

Richard Benjamin as Ben and Walter Matthau as Willy

Oscar winner for the supporting role of Willie Gingrich in The Fortune Cookie, Walter Matthau was cast as Willy Clark and would receive an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for this role.

A good 20 years younger than the character of Willy Clark, Matthau is a total hoot as the grumpy golden-ager. Willy becomes apoplectic upon taking his first breath in the morning and nothing that occurs during the day lessens his attitude. On the other hand, Al is so easy-going that he might be comatose. Their long association makes each fellow the key to the other's exasperation.

Richard Benjamin gives a note-perfect performance as the harried nephew, Ben. The lengths to which Ben Clark goes to take care of his uncle surpasses human understanding, as is the length of aggravation Willy heaps on Ben with a mix of glee and insensitivity. It seems Richard Benjamin's Oscar nomination was lost in the mail. However, he did receive a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture, while that organization gave both Matthau and Burns statues for Best Motion Picture Actor - Musical/Comedy. I doubt anyone complained about the disparity in the category designations. After all, recognition is recognition.

Al Lewis and Willy Clark - The Sunshine Boys
George Burns and Walter Matthau

In The Sunshine Boys Ben Clark has found a sure-fire job for his Uncle Willy. The ABC network is planning an all-star program on the history of comedy and naturally, there is a spot for Lewis and Clark. Surely the two men can put aside the differences that ended their partnership for this opportunity. There is much humour in Ben's efforts to bring the two former partners together. A favourite scene is set in Willy's apartment as the two set up to rehearse a sketch. Priceless!

The Sunshine Boys marks the first of five movies based on Neil Simon's work that would be directed by Herbert Ross. Oscar winners The Goodbye Girl and California Suite would quickly follow.  Simon said of Ross, "I think Herb Ross is the best director I've worked with in films. The others just don't understand my material as well."

Supporting players in the film include Lee Meredith (The Producers) from the original Broadway cast as the nurse in the famous "Doctor" sketch and Rosetta LeNoire (TVs Family Matters) as Willy's beleaguered nurse. Look for Tony winner Ron Rifkin as the TV special's director, Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham as a mechanic, Howard Hesseman (TVs WKRP in Cincinnati) as a commercial director, and Fritz Feld (Bringing Up Baby) as an actor.

TCM is screening The Sunshine Boys on Friday, February 21 at 6:00 pm during its yearly 31 Days of Oscar festival. The Sunshine Boys is a very funny movie. The nostalgic and knowing script has a clear-eyed affection for its characters. Don't miss it!

Noted pairings in The Sunshine Boys:

Tony Randall and Jack Klugman appeared in a Broadway revival in 1997 that ran for over 200 performances.

Peter Falk and Woody Allen made a TV movie in 1996 that updated the duo from vaudevillians to early TV stars.

In 2011 Dick Van Dyke and Jerry Van Dyke appeared in a limited-run fund-raising production for the Malibu Stage Company.

In 2012 Danny DeVito and the late Richard Griffiths starred in a well-received production in London. Judd Hirsch took over for Griffiths when the production moved to the States.

I shouldn't be surprised if a local company near you has plans for a staging.


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