The Autumn/Winter 2018 Film Season
An article by Dr Geoff Snell, one of the Musical Museum’s dedicated volunteers and this season’s film programme curator:
So far this year it’s been encouraging to see an increase in the size of audiences attending the Sunday matinée film season at the Museum. The Flying Forties kicked off with Broadway Melody of 1940(1940) and continued with classics such as Anchors Aweigh (1945), Easter Parade (1948) and Busby Berkeley’s 1943 extravaganza The Gang’s All Here featuring Alice Faye and Carmen Miranda. We decided to build on the success of The Flying Forties theme, so it was continued into the Summer Programme with two Rita Hayworth titles, Cover Girl (1944) and You Were Never Lovelier (1942), both of which met with the approval of our growing audience.
The challenge for me is to keep this momentum going, and to find a theme for the forthcoming Autumn/Winter season – after all there are only so many good 1940s musicals to choose from! It’s not as easy as simply picking out film titles either, as first I need to check if the film is available on DVD in a format we can use (ideally not dubbed in Spanish!), and if it is how expensive is it? I then must track down the distributor and make enquiries to see if a reasonably-priced single-screening licence can be made available to the Museum. After many dead-ends – and a lot of head-scratching, I decided to use this film season to follow the careers of two of Hollywood’s starriest divas who made their names in 1940s musicals: Alice Faye and Betty Grable.
Alice Faye was one of the most popular musical stars in the golden era of Hollywood. In fact, she was so successful she had twenty-three hit songs, which is equivalent to Bing Crosby. Irving Berlin said he would choose Faye over any other singer to debut his songs and both George Gershwin and Cole Porter called her the best female singer in Hollywood. Meanwhile Betty Grable was voted the number-one box-office draw by American picture houses in 1943, outranking Bob Hope, Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable, and the films in which she starred frequently broke box-office records throughout the 1940s.
To begin the new season, I have chosen Irving Berlin’s On the Avenue (1937) – one of the biggest hit musicals of the thirties. It features Alice Faye in one of her early roles, here getting third-billing below the big-name stars, Dick Powell and Madeleine Carroll. Despite her subsequent meteoric rise to fame, Alice Faye was sometimes unreliable, not least when she is said to have feigned illness to get out of filming Down Argentine Way (1940) which is when the young Betty Grable stepped into her shoes. Immediately, stories circulated that the two were now rivals and enemies (“Just Fox publicity,” said Faye later. “The truth was we liked each other very much, became good friends and stayed good friends till the day she died.”). But the opportunity gave Grable her first leading role for the studio and so it was thanks to Alice Faye she became a star – in a film which also introduced audiences to Carmen Miranda. Only one year later it was Alice Faye who teamed up with Carmen Miranda with her Chicka Chicka Boom Chick and I, Yi, Yi Yi, Yi (I Like You Very Much) for the dazzling That Night in Rio (1941). Betty Grable will always be known for one famous photograph which is forever associated with our next title: Pin Up Girl (1944). The film capitalised on her iconic pin-up status during World War II. We round off the Faye/Grable series with The Dolly Sisters (1945). This was originally supposed to be a vehicle for Alice Faye’s big comeback, but unwilling to face another exhausting musical, she pulled out and June Haver took her place alongside Betty Grable.
Although Alice Faye and Betty Grable’s careers were intertwined, there’s only one film in which they starred alongside each other when they were teamed in Tin Pan Alley (1940) as singing sisters. It would have been great to see these two great stars together as part of our film season – but unfortunately for us the film isn’t currently available! I will certainly be keeping a lookout for it. I hope you enjoy this film season and please do encourage others to come along.