The Biopic Blogathon is hosted by Dr. Annette Bochenek's Hometowns to Hollywood. Begin your journey through interesting life stories by clicking HERE.
Dena Productions, named for Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine's daughter, was formed in 1953 and saw the release of the movies Knock on Wood, 1954, The Five Pennies, 1959, On the Double, 1961, and The Man from the Diner's Club, 1963.
The Five Pennies written by Jack Rose and Melville Shavelson (The Seven Little Foys) and directed by Shavelson looks at the ups and downs of Red Nichols' career, and his triumph as a family man. Shavelson knew what worked for his star as he directed Danny Kaye on On the Double and wrote The Kid from Brooklyn and Wonder Man. Co-producer Sylvia Fine wrote four songs for the film: The Five Pennies, Follow the Leader, Lullaby in Ragtime, Goodnight - Sleep Tight, and contributed the special lyrics to When the Saints Go Marching In.
Note: in the film, Red Nichols played the trumpet for Danny Kaye and Eileen Wilson did the singing for Barbara Bel Geddes.
Loring "Red" Nichols
May 8, 1905 - June 28, 1965
The son of a music professor and a child prodigy inspired by the likes of Bix Beiderbecke, Fate (with a capital "F") had determined that Red Nichols be a musician. Red owned those dots on the bar line. He was a thoroughly polished cornetist who could cut loose with the popular jazz of the era, bringing it to popularity with hundreds of recordings and concert dates. Red and trombonist Miff Mole were an inseparable and unbeatable team in the 1920s and 1930s.
In his various bands, Red Nichols influenced and mentored many musicians including Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Gene Krupa, and Jack Teagarden.
"Red made sure everyone was paid."
- Jimmy Dorsey on This is Your Life, 1956
The course of time found Nichols falling out of favour with the intellectual critics who had discovered the sophisticated style of such as Duke Ellington and Coleman Hawkins. What in an earlier time was an appreciation of a fine musician turned to scorn forgetting that the music world is wide and encompasses many purveyors and many different tastes from audiences who can appreciate more than one thing at a time.
Red was married to dancer Willa Stutsman and the couple had one daughter. During the 1930s Red played in pit orchestras and show bands. He left music and worked at a shipyard during WW2 when he and Willa's daughter Dorothy was diagnosed with polio. After the war, Red revived his band at first in small clubs then progressively larger venues, and toured Europe as a goodwill ambassador. Red was performing in Las Vegas when he passed away in 1965.
Here's a treat, a 1929 medley from Red and the boys!
Danny Kaye, Harry Guardino, Bob Crosby
Ogden, Utah's own Loring Nichols arrived in NYC in the mid-1920s with his cornet, his Dixieland arrangements, and the certainty that "Someday you boys will all be working for me." Work is consistent if not always in line with Red's vision but he is one of those to-thine-own-self-be-true fellows.
Danny Kaye, Barbara Bel Geddes
Red is consistent as well in his personal life. He meets singer (society chanteuse) Willa Stutsman and after her original scorn for the "hick", they form a bond and marry. Like most marriages, they survive their ups and downs by supporting each other through the rough times.
Louis Armstrong, Danny Kaye
Red has the approval and the friendship of his fellow musicians. It is one of the things that keeps him going when times are rough. As he says later in the movie, "There was Louis, there was Bix, and there was me." Red and Louis perform The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Remember, that is Red Nichols trumpet that Danny is imitating.
Red takes the Five Pennies on the road. College dates plus their recordings really put the group on the map. Style-wise The Five Pennies cinematographer David L. Fapp (West Side Story) has fun with Technicolor through the opening credits and montages which advance the years of Red's career.
Susan Gordon as young Dorothy
The early years on the road include Red and Willa's daughter Dorothy. It is a unique and exciting time for the youngster who loves being with her parents. When Willa decides she would like their daughter to be at least 8-years-old before she starts singing in nightclubs, the couple must come to a difficult decision. It is Red who deems a Boarding School the best solution and Daddy's girl Dorothy resents being sent away.
Barbara Bel Geddes, Danny Kaye
When Dorothy is diagnosed with polio the doctors declare that she will never walk again. Devastated, Willa and Red take over her treatment. Red quits the road and the band taking a job in a wartime shipyard, settling down in the sunshine of Los Angeles. The treatment of heat and rehabilitation as outlined by Australian nurse Sister Kenny is their guide.
Tuesday Weld as teenager Dorothy, Danny Kaye
Through the years, Dorothy does walk with braces and a cane. Dorothy has forgotten those early years on the road and, in typical teenage fashion, scoffs at her mother's assertion that her father was once a famous musician. Slowly, Dorothy begins to remember the two separate phases of her life and what her father sacrificed for her sake. She joins her mother in convincing Red to return to what he was meant to do.
Ray Daley (Glenn Miller), Louis Armstrong, Harry Guardino, Danny Kaye
Tuesday Weld, Barbara Bel Geddes, Ray Anthony (Jimmy Dorsey)
Afraid that he has "lost his lip" after all this time, Red struggles with the idea of a comeback and the practice it will take but with the support of his family and old friends we leave him where we met him, back on stage making the music he loves.
Best music, scoring of a motion picture - Leith Stevens
Winner: Porgy and Bess
Best music, original song - Sylvia Fine for The Five Pennies
Winner: High Hopes from A Hole in the Head
Best costume design, color - Edith Head
Best cinematography, color - Daniel L. Fapp
Winner: Most promising female newcomer, Tuesday Weld
Nominee: Best Motion Picture - Musical
Winner: Porgy and Bess
Nominee: Best Soundtrack Album Original Cast Motion Picture or Television
Winner: Porgy and Bess
Writers Guild of America:
Winner: Best written American musical
Danny Kaye and Red Nichols
Note: Look for a quick cameo from Bob Hope. Red led Hope's radio orchestra for a while in the 1930s.
Note: Red Nichols was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1986.