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'Ernie Looks at Betty Grable in the Movies’
|Millennium Year (2000), found me in the bustling seaside resort of Scarborough, in North Yorkshire, where I stayed at ‘The Esplanade Hotel’ for four days, to celebrate the yearly ‘Betty Grable’s Hollywood’ Convention’. I travelled there with my friend, to meet several other people, who shared a common interest, to celebrate the life of screen icon Betty Grable, the talented star of the 1940s.
For a number of years I had subscribed to the quarterly fan magazine, devoted to her and similar stars, and now it was time to put faces to the names I had seen in print so often, but never actually met.
It was here that I met Tom McGee, who had written Betty Grable’s autobiography called, ‘The Girl With the Million Dollar Legs’. Tom comes from Glasgow, in Scotland, glorified in song by the late (Sir) Harry Lauder; and waiting to greet us in the hotel foyer was Bob Isoz, a friend of Betty’s from way back. He had flown in from his home in Las Vegas, Nevada. The third person was Arthur Nicholson, a life-long admirer of film star Alice Faye, who had travelled from the North East of England, he too liked Betty. I recognised Arthur, as I had previously seen him on the television tribute to Alice Faye, when she appeared on ‘This Is Your Life’.
I considered myself to be very lucky to be in the presence of such authenticators, of the cream of Hollywood’s top talents.
'Betty Grable's Hollywood', the magazine published by TOM McGEE, has ceased publication for the time being. It is hoped to resume publication again soon......
|Anyway to interject, the whole point of this story is to look at some of Betty Grable’s work in Hollywood, and who better to review her films than Tom McGee. You will perhaps think he is slightly biased, considering what he’s written about the star in the past, and, (along with others), he must be her greatest fan! Personally, I don’t think so, because after meeting her in person, I think he possibly got to know a side of her life that we can only imagine.
The reviews are published elsewhere on the Internet, but here they are in story form.
For four days we wallowed in the sheer escapism of a Hollywood icon, with the singing, dancing, acting, as only she could put to an audience that has now become a part of Hollywood past.
To Tom, Bob, and Arthur, my belated thanks, for a wonderful time, and making this octogenarian really happy, and you know what?
We really must do it again sometime in the future!
© Film Guy Ernie (E. E. M.) 2003
Reviews on the work of BETTY GRABLE
|About me: “Hi, I'm Tom McGee. I live in Glasgow in the West of Scotland, and my main claim to 'fame' is the publication of my book 'Betty Grable: The Girl With the Million Dollar Legs' which received excellent reviews (and one not so good!). I have had many letters from readers complimenting me on my work and I am always happy to reply to them. At present I am working on a screenplay for a Scottish-based film company, and am enjoying the experience. My big ambition would be to see my biography on the great Grable being transferred to the screen - or, better still, becoming the basis of a hit Broadway or West End musical. It is always a pleasure to hear from people of different countries”. (1999)
'Hello Frisco Hello' / 'The Farmer Takes a Wife'
|“Hello Frisco, Hello” (1943) found Hollywood legend Alice Faye at the peak of her career, when she made this costume musical drama. She is knockout in all her numbers, particularly so in the title song, and "Doin' the Grizzly Bear." In this one, she is reunited with one of her favourite co-stars, the darkly-handsome John Payne, and the comedy relief comes from old timer Jack Oakie, and June Havoc, who was the character Baby June in the musical "Gypsy" - the sister of the famed Gypsy Rose Lee, who walked out on Mama Rose while a teenager to find fame in Hollywood! A tuneful musical, beautifully photographed in Technicolor. Miss Faye never looked lovelier.
“The Farmer Takes a Wife” (1953) Is a colorful remake of the 1935 Fonda-Gaynor drama, and this 1953 Technicolor musical comes across as fresh, vibrant, and as American as apple pie. The story is based on fact - when the Rome Canal, NY, is under threat from the advance of the railroads. When farmer Dale Robertson is hired to work on the canal, Betty Grable falls for him, but their romance is in conflict with his interest in the land, and her loyalty to the canals. Betty Grable - in her first film after a year-long suspension - is excellent, as the feisty canal boat cook, and showed she had lost none of her glamour during her long absence. A tuneful show, with lots of homespun comedy numbers, the Grable leg show suffers, due to the 1850s costumes, but she does manage a number or two with Broadway dancer Gwen Verdon, as they dance to choreographer Jack Cole's tune. Great support from love rival John Carroll, and some excellent comedy from scene-stealers Thelma Ritter, and Eddie Foy junior. Spectacular outdoor settings, for which the studio built a complete working canal, including locks, on their back lot. Glorious piece of Americana! Well worth seeing if only to watch Grable singing the opening number, "Today I Love Everybody" - a breath of fresh air.
'Give Me a Sailor' / The Lucy Show' (TV):
|“Give Me a Sailor” (1938), Is a typical zany 30s comedy, tailored to the talents of Bob Hope and Martha Raye. Martha plays a homebody, who enters a cake-making competition, but inadvertently, a photograph of her legs is also sent with the cake! Guess what! Martha loses the baking prize but ends up winning the Most Beautiful Legs competition. However, it is nice to see Betty Grable (who plays Martha's young sister), in her pre-stardom days, giving us a preview of what was yet to come. She was maturing nicely - without any mention of her celebrated legs. She sings and dances "What Goes on Here in My Heart" to the backing of Jack Whiting's Orchestra.
Bob and Martha have some fine comedy moments, but Betty is cast here in a strangely unsympathetic role. However all ends happily - as they did in those crazy Thirties comedies. Screwball fun.
“Lucy and Desi: 4 Wins Racehorse” (1952). If you are an I Love Lucy fan, you'll love this ... and if you also happen to be a Betty Grable fan - you've won a watch! Or should that be horse? When Lucy wins a racehorse for her son, she has problems with husband Desi about keeping it. Betty Grable solves the problem, by encouraging Lucy to enter it in a race. Of course, it wins after Lucy steers it in every direction until she eventually passes the winning-post - practically on her knees! Betty Grable, looking very glamorous and still showing a great pair of legs, gets to dance the Bayamo. It is just a pity she hadn't a better dance partner than Desi Arnaz, who seems to bring the normally fast-moving Grable to a canter! Good fun.
'The Dolly Sisters' / Springtime in the Rockies'
|“The Dolly Sisters” (1945): The dangerous casting of established Betty Grable, with newcomer June Haver, set columnists hearts beating wildly, when Fox produced this nostalgic musical. No need to worry. Betty and June performed delightfully in this highly fictionalised biopic of the famed Dolly's. It is almost a re-run of 'Tin Pan Alley' in Technicolor! Fantastic production numbers - especially the 'Darktown Strutters Ball' - elevated this musical into the top class of the genre. Grable and Haver, practically look-alikes, played their parts to perfection. Grable showed some nice dramatic touches in her romantic scenes with the darkly handsome John Payne, in this cavalcade of music which encompassed World War One. Trivia note: Noel Coward, on viewing the film, said: "It's all done by mirrors. No girl on this earth could look like Betty Grable!" but June Haver, more than held her own alongside her well-seasoned 'sister.' A riot of color, fun and some great music makes this a must for all Hollywood Musical fans.
“Springtime in the Rockies” (1942), Was about when Broadway star Grable discovers partner John Payne is a love cheat, she abandons him to take up an offer of work in Lake Louise, in the Canadian Rockies, with former dance partner Cesar Romero. After a week's boozing, Payne eventually arrives at Lake Louise, to try and win her back from smoothie Romero. Traveling companions he finds on the way include Edward Everett Horton, as his valet, and Carmen Miranda plays Rosita Murphy (!) a very unlikely secretary. Love wins in the end. All-star cast, who work well together. Horton is fine as a woman-shy toothpaste heir (he has money!); Carmen Miranda as colourful as ever, and shows a great line in fractured English comedy - her Chatanooga Choo Choo is knockout; and long-legged Charlotte Greenwood has a couple of delightful high-kicks routines. All good fun, set in the beautiful Rockies resort. Betty even has a scene with her husband-to-be bandleader Harry James, who supplies the musical backing, and she does some of her best onscreen dancing with Romero. Trivia note: Betty's first-born was named Vicki (Victoria) after the character she played in this winning musical.
'I Wake Up Screaming' / 'A Yank in the RAF'/ +
|“I Wake Up Screaming” (1941) When ambitious waitress Carole Landis reaches for Hollywood fame, she is found murdered in the apartment she shares with Sister Betty Grable. Suspicion falls on Victor Mature's, Carole's promoter, but Betty believes in him and helps, through devious ploys, to unmask the real killer. Plenty of twists to keep you guessing in this excellent film noir, based on the book by Steve Fisher.
Grable had one number to sing in this but, in order to sustain the dramatic content of the film, it was cut, and Grable's occupation changed from song-plugger to stenographer.
When previewed, this film (then entitled ‘Hot Spot’), was given the thumbs down by the audience - they thought they were in for a Grable musical treat. Zanuck and director Bruce Humberstone, re-edited the film, and added new key scenes, working day and night to have it ready for its premiere. Reverted to its original title, it soon became a success and is a highly rated movie in its genre.
Laird Cregar steals the acting honours as the sinister detective investigating Landis's murder. And that excellent supporting actor, Elisha Cook Jr., is one of the "red herrings" under audience suspicion. Cameraman Edward Cronjager does much to add to the atmosphere of this classic mystery, with some fine low-key lighting and imaginative photography.
“A Yank in the RAF” (1941), saw playboy flier Tyrone Power enlist in RAF, at the start of WW2. In London he literally bumps into his ex-girlfriend, dancer Betty Grable, and tries to rekindle their romance, in this exciting wartime adventure written by studio chief Darryl Zanuck (under the name of Melville Crossman). Hollywood's first WW2 film is a very authentic account of the early days of Britain at war. Good use of actual aerial battle-scene footage. Betty Grable adds a touch of much-needed sex appeal in her scenes with Power.
In the original story, Power's character was killed in battle, but when the British War Office heard of this, they pleaded with Zanuck to change the ending, as it would have a bad effect on the morale of UK citizens! Zanuck conceded, and Power wins Grable in the end. Oh well, that's Hollywood.
“Song of the Islands” (1942): It's Techicolor gone haywire in this romantic comedy musical when Betty Grable returns to her South Seas island home, and meets up with a rancher's playboy son Victor Mature, and falls in, and out of love - several times. Catchy tunes, lush locations (on the Fox backlot!), and Grable - in a grass skirt - does a mean hula-hula number backed up by a bevy of Hawaiian beauties. Timeless comedy from Jack Oakie, Hilo Hattie, Thomas Mitchell and Billy Gilbert - as a cannibal.
The only question the critics asked was why it took four scriptwriters to put this confection together! Never mind, it helped us take our minds off World War Two. Grable made her best ever entrance in a movie, when she sails into a lagoon singing the title song, it’s fine escapist fare.
'Grable Videography' / 'Pin Up Girl' /' +
|“Biography – Betty Grable” (A & E Biographies), this is a loving, almost totally accurate biography on one of Hollywood's original superstars. Tributes galore from co-workers and friends, including Debbie Reynolds, Alice Faye, Jane Withers, Carol Burnett and tributes from fans and friends, including Hugh Heffner, Mike Levitt and Bob Isoz. However, I was disappointed that daughters Vicki or Jessica did not contribute to this glowing tribute. There are early shots of Betty, (in films like "Happy Days”, 1930), right up to her last screen appearance in 1955. Best moments are of Grable visiting vets hospitals during WW2, and having fun with servicemen at the Hollywood Canteen. We see rare footage of Grable between scenes, out-takes, and having fun at an army base, with Rita Hayworth. Her romantic affairs are also well represented, including Jackie Coogan and George Raft. Her career is extended to include her many tv shows and stage appearances, especially "Hello, Dolly!" The most honest and moving moments, are when Debbie Reynolds is onscreen talking about Betty's troubles in her marriage to Harry James. A gem of a biography.
“Footlight Serenade” (1942), There’s a very authentic backstage feel about this showbiz story of two young chorines.
Betty Grable and Jane Wyman, are trying to reach the big time. The story concerns show-off boxing champ, Victor Mature who is about to star in his own show on Broadway. Grable gets work as a chorus girl. Mature takes a shine to her, but she is already in love with John Payne. Complicated? A little, but it all works out in the end. This black and white musical was just crying out for Technicolor, and studio head Zanuck vowed, on viewing the rushes, that Grable would only be featured in Technicolor in future, even though it added a third to the production costs. Thus she became the first-ever star to have a "colour clause" in her contract. Great musical numbers with Grable partnered by Hermes Pan. Hear her solo, 'I Heard the Birdies Sing', in which she boxes with her shadow is, - if you'll pardon the expression - a knockout! Trivia note: In one scene, a despondent Grable asks Jane Wyman if she would ever become a star. Consulting the cards, Jane replies: "You have as much chance of that as I have of being first lady." ... which is what Miss Wyman would have become had she stayed married to Ronald Reagan! Phil Silvers is very good in an early comedy role.
“Pin – up Girl” (1944), featured Grable playing Lorry Jones, a stenographer and part-time USO entertainer, in this WWII flagwaver. Slight plot concerning fibber Lorry, who gets herself into all kinds of bother, with her fancy tales. But she bites off more than she can chew, when she upstages Martha Raye, for the attention of Gaudalcanal hero John Harvey. An unlikely plot, but Grable's sense of comedy, and some expert dancing - with Hermes Pan - gives it lift off. Good support from Raye, and Joe E Brown. The finale must be seen to be believed! Grable as a drill sergeant? However it’s a perfect piece of parade-ground marching, and should be in every military manual! Great fun, if you ignore the plot!
'Down Argentine Way' / 'Mother Wore Tights'
|“Down Argentine Way” (1940), For this, Grable was pulled from a Broadway show, to replace an ailing Alice Faye in this musical/travelogue. She made the most of her big break. Silly story about racehorses, but the moment Betty steps onto the dance floor, and goes into the title number, the viewer is well and truly hooked. Her first major appearance in Technicolor, ‘La Grable’ was a knockout - peaches and cream ... all over! Lively comedy, hot dance routines from the Nicholas Brothers, and the U.S. screen debut of the Brazilian bombshell, Carmen Miranda. Trivia note: columnists wrote of this as Grable's comeback movie - but it was only the start of her glittering 14-year reign at 20th Century Fox, as their top musical attraction. Well worth viewing.
“Mother Wore Tights” (1947) Here’s a shock: This film opens with a shot of Betty Grable in a rocking-chair busily knitting! But not for long! We are quickly whipped back in time, to the end-of-term musical at Oakland High, and there is Grable, a lovely, leggy teenager dancing her heart out. This was the first teaming of Grable and Dan Dailey, and he proved a lively partner. The couple hit it off right away, and their screen charm came over well, in this touching family story, of the problems this vaudeville pair had bringing up a family while still 'on the road.' Betty and Dan fairly romp through some fine singing and dancing. It’s easily one of Betty's finest movies.
Betty Grable: The Pin-Up Girl (Soundtrack Anthology) :
|Is an excellent example of the musical talents of Betty Grable, who was much underrated as a singer. Check out her lively duetting with Alice Faye, from "Tin Pan Alley". ‘Kindergarten Conga’ (from Moon Over Miami) is also a showstopper - you can practically 'see' her dancing!
I also loved the touching ‘I'm Always Chasing Rainbows’ (‘The Dolly Sisters’), and her wonderful version of ‘Sing Me A Song of the Islands’. A magical musical item and a must for all Grable fans, and those interested in the classic 20th Century Fox musicals of the Forties.
This ends the reviews by TOM McGee
Betty Grable was Hollywood's Greatest Musical Star!
|The photographs are not from the films mentioned.
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and now for something completely different:
If I have wounded any soul today,
If I have caused one foot to go astray,
If I have walked in my own will full way -
Good Lord, forgive!
If I have uttered idle words or vain,
If I have turned aside from want or pain,
Lest I myself should suffer through the strain -
Good Lord, forgive!
If I have craved for joys that are not mine,
If I have let my wayward heart repine,
Dwelling on things of earth, not things divine -
Good Lord, forgive!
If I have been perverse, or hard, or cold,
If I have longed for shelter in Thy fold,
When Thou has given me some part to hold -
Good Lord, forgive.
Forgive the sins I have confessed to Thee,
Forgive the secret sins I do not see,
That which I know not, Father, teach Thou me -
Help me to live.
May I become at all times, both now and forever
A protector for those without protection
A guide for those who have lost their way
A ship for those with oceans to cross
A bridge for those with rivers to cross
A sanctuary for those in danger
A lamp for those without light
A place of refuge for those who lack shelter
And a servant to all in need.
|A group of students were asked to list what they thought were the present “Seven Wonders of the World". Though there were some disagreements, the following have received the most votes:
1: Egypt's Great Pyramids
2: The Taj Mahal
3: The Grand Canyon
4: The Panama Canal
5: The Empire State Building
6: St Peter's Basilica if
7: China's Great Wall
When gathering the votes, the teacher noted that one quiet student hadn't turned in her paper yet. So she asked the girl if she was having trouble with her task.
The girl replied, “Yes a little. I couldn't quite make up my mind because there were so many”. The teacher said, well, tells us what you have, and maybe we can help. The girl hesitated, then read, " I think the seven wonders of the world are:
1: To see
2: To hear
3: To touch
4: To taste
5: To feel
6: To laugh
7: To love.
The room was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop. Things we overlook as simple, ordinary, and take for granted, are truly wondrous!
A gentle reminder - that the most precious things in life.... cannot be built by hand - or - bought by man.
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