Sunday, June 2, 2019

THE SECOND ANNUAL BROADWAY BOUND BLOGATHON: Romanoff and Juliet, 1957 and 1961


Rebecca Denniston of Taking Up Room is hosting The Second Annual Broadway Bound blogathon from June 1st to the 3rd. The blogathon looks at the close ties between the entertainment titans of both coasts. Day One  Day Two  Day Three


The 1958 Tony Awards found Peter Ustinov with two nominations, one for Outstanding Play as the author of Romanoff and Juliet, and one for Distinguished Dramatic Actor as The General in this political satire. The play was produced by David Merrick and staged by George S. Kaufman. 

Peter Ustinov, Elizabeth Allen, Michael Tolan

Romanoff and Juliet began its run of 389 performances in 1957. The General is the head of an almost non-existent military in the tiny, middle-of-nowhere country of Concordia. Circumstances bring the heretofore unknown entity under the undesired attention of both the Americans and the Soviets. Romantic entanglements may prove to be the solution to Concordia's political plight.

Fred Clark, Natalie Schafer, William Greene

The Broadway production featured familiar faces to classic movie and television fans. The American Ambassador and his wife were played by Fred Clark (The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show) and Natalie Schafer (Gilligan's Island). Tom Poston (The Steve Allen ShowNewhart) replaced Peter Ustinov during the show's long run.


The 1961 film of Romanoff and Juliet released by Universal found Peter Ustinov again receiving two award nominations, one from the Directors Guild of America, plus a Golden Berlin Bear nomination at the Berlin Film Festival.

The tiny country of Concordia is an afterthought at the United Nations where it is listed as "P.S. Concordia." Nonetheless, in one of those twists of Fate that Fate loves so much, Concordia holds the deciding vote on a matter of vital importance. Presented with this rare opportunity, the President of Concordia, played by Peter Ustinov, abstains. 

"In view of the fact that in our opinion, the amendment to the amendment of the amendment of the draft resolution is incomprehensible, my delegation regretfully abstains."

The President realizes he has put his little country in a most perilous position, but he could not in good conscious vote any other way.

"To the airport as quickly as possible. We've got to get out of here before the Americans have time to offer us aid."

Sandra Dee, John Gavin

The night of the Independence Day of Concordia celebrations finds Juliet, the daughter of the American Ambassador alone in the President's garden pining for her fiance Freddie, back in New York. That same night Igor Romanoff, the son of the Soviet Ambassador is in another part of the garden quietly criticizing himself as his father made Igor aware that he laughed excessively at the President's jokes. The soft-hearted President directs Igor to criticize himself in the section of the garden where he cannot help but come upon Juliet. Of course, the moody Russian and the romantic American cannot help but fall in love. It is not until the dawn that they discover - horror of horrors! - of the backgrounds that may keep them apart.

Meanwhile, the Americans and the Soviets are in a race to see who will make the first Good Will strike toward Concordia and its precious U.N. vote. It is as was feared by the President and by Otto, Concordia's switchboard operator and the Minister of Everything. The Concordians decide to use the paranoia of the superpowers, and possibly something else against them.

"Our weapon will be laughter; and our cause, love."

The role of Otto (the Minister of Everything), amusingly played by Peter Jones was new to the screenplay. Ustinov certainly knew Jones' value as they were collaborators on the BBC radio program In All Directions.

Tamara Shayne, John Gavin, Peter Ustinov, Akim Tamiroff

The Soviet Ambassador and his wife are played by two-time Supporting Actor Oscar nominee (The General Died at Dawn, For Whom the Bell Tolls) Akim Tamiroff and his actress wife, Tamara Shayne. It is a treat for this fan to see them together in Romanoff and Juliet, which was Ms. Shayne's last screen appearance.

Romanoff and Juliet with its Cold War and political humour is not simply a time capsule of an era. The more things change, the more they stay the same and the machinations of politicians are perpetually ripe for parody and too familiar to audiences of today.


Trivia:
Peter Ustinov, Suzanne Cloutier

Juliet's cast-off fiance Freddie played by Eric Von Nutter becomes infatuated with Igor's cast-off arranged-by-his-parents fiancee who is played by charming Canadian actress Suzanne Cloutier. Cloutier and Ustinov were married from 1954-1971 and had a family of three children. It seems love was in the air for this Cold War spoof inspired by a romantic play by William Shakespeare. 

Can you think of a musical play based on that same Shakespeare story that also premiered on Broadway in 1957 and was also released as an acclaimed film in 1961? There's no prize, but you do get an "aha" moment to enjoy for the rest of the day.















28 comments:

  1. I'm going to have to check this out as I do like Peter Ustinov.

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    1. Ustinov is a treasure. I go for a time forgetting that and then it is a treat to enjoy his work all over again.

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  2. Sounds like a cross between THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL and NINOTCHKA.

    I assume Ustinov directed this (if he got a DGA nomination)? How is he as a director?

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    1. Indeed, Cold War humour has the same strain from Ninotchka onward.

      Ustinov as a film director has only a few credits and all of the movies are those he wrote as well, or collaborated on the screenplay.

      When it comes to Romanoff and Juliet, I think there are some pacing issues and I put that down to writer Ustinov getting too much of a kick out of his own work. It doesn't detract from the overall fun of the movie for me.

      I really enjoy Vice Versa from 1948 with fabulous performances from Roger Livesey and young Anthony Newly which was remade in 1988 with Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage. Also, Billy Budd is quite impressive.

      Ustinov continued writing and directing for the stage after his output of films.

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  3. Peter Ustinov was earlier married to ISOLDE DENHAM, the half-sister of ANGELA LANSBURY. The marriage was from 1940-50. They had one daughter so TAMARA USTINOV is the niece of Miss Lansbury. Peter and Angela later worked together in DEATH ON THE NILE(79) so by then Peter had been divorced from Isolde for 29 years. Angela also married a man named Peter, her second husband Peter Shaw. They were married more about 50 years until his passing.

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  4. ANGELA LANSBURY & PETER SHAW were married more than 53 years. Speaking of marriages, JOHN GAVIN was married to CONSTANCE TOWERS who did an ep of MURDER, SHE WROTE so she got to work with ANGELA. I remember Constance from the soap CAPITOL where she worked with ED NELSON(another MSW guest star). Later she is better known for being on GENERAL HOSPITAL.

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    1. Constance Towers is one of my favourite actresses and singers. I adore her in films and television. If I am remembering that Murder, She Wrote episode correctly, one of the other guest stars was Patrick Wayne. Connie played opposite John Wayne in The Horse Soldiers. We are getting very neat at drawing these circles.

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  5. It's one of those movies I always want to like it better. I think Peter Ustinov, the actor, needed a director with a firmer hand than himself. Now, to answer your excellent trivia question, that would be WEST SIDE STORY!

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    1. Yes (nodding sagely). As I mentioned above to Rich, the director was much too fond of his own writing for the movie's good.

      Nonetheless, there is good stuff in there and it is worth it. The General's visits to the American and Russian ambassadors cracks me up. The whole bit with the troops faking the battle had some good bits but you could loose the whole thing and the movie would certainly benefit.

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  6. I didn't expect too much when I watched this film, but found myself entertained. I mean, you can't go wrong with Peter Ustinov who is perfect for his role. Sandra Dee is adorable as always. And I loved the spin on the Romeo and Juliet story.

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    1. It is a very clever play/movie and I am sure that with every viewing I will "get" something that went over my head previously. Ustinov was a true Renaissance man.

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  7. I haven't seen this one yet! Thanks for the nice review!

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    1. Thanks. When it comes around, be sure to check it out.

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  8. I'm not an Ustinov fan (he always seemed so enamored of whatever comic shtick he was performing onscreen) but I have to admit, the R&J play's cast, of Michael Tolan, Fred Clark, Natalie Schaefer (wow!), and then Tom Poston sounds positively salivating. I love Schaefer in anything I've seen her; and I bet she was a hoot seen live onstage!

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    1. I imagine Ms. Schaefer as pure energy on stage. Her fellow actors must have had to really be on their game.

      The idea of Tom Poston as The General really tickles me. That era on Broadway is filled with so much I would love to have been able to enjoy.

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  9. I remember FRED CLARK from two BETTY GRABLE movies-HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE (it also had MARILYN MONROE & LAUREN BACALL) and Bettys last movie HOW TO BE VERY, VERY POPULAR with SHEREE NORTH that Im a big fan of.(I mentioned one time of being a fan of Betty.) Fred was also in SUNSET BLVD. and he was in MOVE, OVER DARLING with DORIS DAY, JAMES GARNER & POLLY BERGEN. By the way, do you know the work of Sheree North? She was on TV a lot including THE GOLDEN GIRLS, THE BIG VALLEY and TRAPPER JOHN, MD. MURDER, SHE WROTE alert-Polly Bergen did an ep as did Sheree. One time I mentioned Sheree being in the ep that had BUDDY HACKETT, STEVE LAWRENCE, PATRICIA CROWLEY and GEORGE CLOONEY.

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    1. Fred Clark was so good at comedy that it is easy to forget his skills at drama as well. When I was a kid I knew him from The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show and from guest spots on The Beverly Hillbillies, two Paul Henning shows.

      I adore Sheree North. She was such a fine musical talent and then turned into a quietly flashy (if that makes sense) character presence in movies and television. Her scene with John Wayne in The Shootist is excellent from both of them.

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  10. I haven't hear of this one before, I'll need to check it out.

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    1. The joy of discovering something new among the old keeps me interested.

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  11. I had no idea Ustinov wrote a Broadway play and later starred in the film. As a lover of political satire, I MUST watch this one! Thanks for bringing Romanoff and Juliet to my attention!
    Kisses!

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    1. Ustinov was a wonder and I'm sure you will find to enjoy about Romanoff and Juliet. Thanks so much for visiting.

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  12. How is it I've not heard of this? I think I will adore it when I get the chance to see it.

    You see, this is why I come to you.

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    1. And that is why I am here.

      Every time you introduce me to something new, I feel I must try and top it.

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  13. I've never heard of this one, but it certainly sounds interesting! And it's yet another teaming of Sandra Dee and John Gavin! I always thought they were good together in Imitation of Life. It's kind of funny how their romantic storyline was deemed somewhat inappropriate there, but then they were made a couple in two more films.

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    1. It's funny now that you mention it. I don't even think of Imitation of Life when I watch Tammy Tell Me True or Romanoff and Juliet. Obviously, these actors with a scant decade between their ages were better at their jobs than some might like to admit. You opened my eyes this morning. Thanks.

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  14. This sounds like a fun one. No one whined quite like Peter Ustinov, so the Minister of Everything must have been an awesome part for him. Thanks again for joining the blogathon, Paddy! It's always a pleasure to read your thoughts. :-)

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    1. Thank you so much. I'm a theatre nerd and the blogathon these past two years has been a pleasure for me.

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