Movies Silently is hosting The Classic Movie Ice Cream Social this weekend and has invited everyone to bring their own happy movie, memory, story or even recipe. For my contribution of cheer, I wanted to share a song and dance that always makes me smile.
“Shine On Your Shoes” was written by Howard Dietz (lyricist, also believed to have created MGM’s Leo the Lion mascot) and Arthur Schwartz (composer) for a 1932 musical revue, but the song achieved a more lasting fame (relatively speaking) after being used in MGM’s 1953 The Band Wagon, which features a conglomeration of songs written by the duo from the 1920s and ’30s.
At the beginning of the film, Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire) has just returned to New York after years spent in Hollywood. His career has faded now and he’s returning to his roots on Broadway. But the Broadway he knew from the ’20s and ’30s has changed drastically and in the place of one storied theater is now a hot dog stand and arcade. He mopes around moodily, trying out different games as his mood gradually improves. But what really bounces him back to his old self is a shoe shine.
But if you really want to feel fine / give your shoes a shine…
When there’s a shine on your shoes / there’s a melody in your heart
He bumps into a shoe shiner (Leroy Daniels), who has some great dance moves, and the two of them embark on a completely infectious dance around the shoe shining stand and through the arcade, ending with flags and cheers.
Leroy Daniels was not actually an actor, but a shoe shiner who taught himself to dance as a means of giving himself a competitive edge in a very competitive bootblack business. Check out this article about Daniels (he called himself the BeBop Bootblack) and his subsequent career as a performer after appearing in the film with Astaire. The article also discusses how he was discovered and how Daniel’s shoe shining dance gave Fred Astaire the idea for how to construct the dance.
Apart from the pizzazz and infectiousness of the performers, one of the things I love about the dance is the sheer whimsy of it all as Astaire dances with various arcade games. The machine that opens up to reveal flags and ribbons and steam apparently took a while to build, because director Vincente Minnelli kept wanting it bigger (until it was as big as no machine in an arcade he ever saw), but it cracks me up every time. I don’t know why. I guess because it seems so goofy.
Also, check out all the people walking by who stop or turn around to watch with either faintly puzzled or delighted expressions.
For me, my version of a shoe shine has always been a hair trim. It makes me feel like a new woman and gives me a sense of that buoyancy demonstrated by Astaire and Daniels. Unfortunately, I cannot get a hair trim nearly as often as Fred Astaire could get a shoe shine. But in a pinch, watching a clip of Fred Astaire dance can bring about a similar feeling.
What is your version of shoe shine?