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Mary Martin and Ethel Merman – Medley on TV in 1953

download (2)In 1953, Mary Martin and Ethel Merman sang a medley on live TV, reprising not only their greatest hits, but also summarizing the entire history of Tin Pan Alley and Broadway from the early 1900s to 1950.

It took me a little while, but I think I’ve accounted for all the songs that they touch on during the 12 minute medley (some of which they only sing for a few seconds). If I missed any songs, please let me know! I’ve tried to provide the exact time on the video when they sing each song and also indicated who sings which songs, though I have not listed reprises of songs. Near the end, there is overlap, as both Ethel Merman and Mary Martin take turns singing various songs while the other sings “Tea for Two,” then they both sing “Tea for Two” together.

  • 1946 – “There’s No Business Like Show Business” from Broadway Annie Get Your Gun (Irving Berlin) – [Ethel Merman: 0.13]
  • 1949 – “I’m In Love With a Wonderful Guy” from  Broadway South Pacific (Rodgers and Hammerstein) – [Mary Martin: 2.13]  
  • 1909 – “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” (Gus Edwards, Edward Madden), seems like ultimate nostalgia song – [Ethel Merman: 3:28]
  • 1905 – “Wait Until the Sun Shines, Nellie” (Harry von Tilzer, Andrew B. Sterling), Mary Martin sang this song with Bing Crosby in Birth of the Blues in 1945 – [Mary Martin: 3.43]
  • 1921 – “The Sheik of Araby” (Ted Snyder, Harry B. Smith and Francis Wheeler), popular around the same time as Rudolph Valentino – Ethel Merman: [3.58]
  • 1926 – “When the Red, Red Robin (Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along)” (Harry Woods), Lillian Roth was known for this song, it also inspired the restaurant chain, Red Robin – [Mary Martin and Ethel Merman: 4.20]
  • 1912 – “My Melancholy Baby” (Ernie Burnett, George A. Norton), also sung in Birth of the Blues – [Mary Martin: 5.05]
  • 1913 – “You Made Me Love You” (James V. Monaco, Joseph McCarthy), Al Jolson, Judy Garland both remembered for this song – [Ethel Merman: 5.42]
  • “1927 – “Mississippi Mud” (Harry Barris), Bing Crosby introduced this song while with The Rhythm Boys – [Mary Martin: 6.16]
  • 1923 –  “I Cried for You” (Arthur Freed, Abe Lyman, Gus Arnheim) – [Ethel Merman: 6.45]
  • 1918 – “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” (John Kellette, James Kendis, James Brockman and Nat Vincent) – [Mary Martin: 6.49]
  • 1917 – “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” (Harry Carroll, Joseph McCarthy adapted from Chopin’s Fantaisie- Impromptu) – [Ethel Merman: 6.54]
  • 1935 – “I’m in the Mood for Love” (Jimmy McHugh, Dorothy Fields), Frances Langford introduced it in the movie Every Night at Eight – [Mary Martin: 6.58]
  • 1931 – “I Love a Parade” (Harold Arlen, Ted Koehler), in movie Manhattan Parade – [Ethel Merman: 7.03]
  • “I’d Climb the Highest Mountain” (Lew Brown, Sidney Clare) – best I can find, it was written in 1926, though Ricky Nelson seems to have made int his own after 1953 – Jolson sang it in 1926 – [Mary Martin: 7.07]
  • 1925 – “I’m Sitting on Top of the World” (Ray Henderson, Sam M. Lewis, Joe Young), Jolson best known for this song, he also sang it in The Singing Fool, his follow-up to The Jazz Singer – [Ethel Merman: 7.11]
  • 1929 – “I Got a Feeling You’re Fooling” (Nacio Herb Brown, Arthur Freed), introduced in The Hollywood Revue of 1929 – [Mary Martin: 7.16]
  • 1928 – “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby” (Jimmy McHugh, Dorothy Fields) – [Ethel Merman: 7.21]
  • 1928 – “I’ll Get By (As Long as I Have You)” (Fred E. Ahlert, Roy Turk), Billie Holiday best known for recording it – [Mary Martin: 7.25]
  • 1950 – “You’re Just in Love” (Irving Berlin), Ethel Merman introduced it on Broadway in Call Me Madam, also in 1953 movie adaptation – [Ethel Merman: 7.30]
  • 1949 – “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair” (Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein), Mary Martin introduced song in South Pacific on Broadway – [Mary Martin: 7.34]
  • 1934 – “I Get a Kick Out of You” (Cole Porter), introduced by Ethel Merman in Broadway musical Anything Goes – [Ethel Merman: 7.44]
  • 1936 – “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (Cole Porter), introduced in movie Born to Dance by Virginia Bruce – [Mary Martin: 8.08]
  • 1938 – “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” (Cole Porter), Broadway musical Leave It To Me! was Mary Martin’s Broadway debut, where she introduced the song – [Mary Martin: 8.36]
  • 1930 – “I Got Rhythm” (George and Ira Gershwin), Broadway musical Girl Crazy, Ethel Merman’s Broadway debut, introduced song, musical also made Ginger Rogers a star – [Ethel Merman: 9.38]
  • 1924 – “Indian Love Call” (Rudolph Friml, Herbert Stothart), Broadway operetta Rose-Marie, immortalized on screen by Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy in 1936 movie adaptation for everlasing lampooning – [Mary Martin: 10.23]
  • 1925 – “Tea for Two” (Vincent Youmans, Irving Caesar), Broadway musical No, No Nanette – another standard that feels like the ultimate nostalgia song – [Ethel Merman and Mary Martin: 10.23]
  • 1933 – “Stormy Weather” (Harold Arlen, Ted Koehler) introduced by Ethel Waters, Lena Horne also known for song in 1943 movie of the same name – Ethel Merman: [10.47]
  • 1932 – “Isn’t It Romantic?” (Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart), introduced in 1932 film Love Me Tonight by Maurice Chevalier – Mary Martin: [11.10]

The amazing thing is that there was still more Broadway history to go. In 1953, Mary Martin had still not essayed Peter Pan (1954) or The Sound of Music (1959) and Gypsy (1959) was still in the future for Ethel Merman, as well.

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2016 in Music

 

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Hollywood Musicals: The 101 Greatest Song-and-Dance Movies of All Time – Ken Bloom

downloadThe title Hollywood Musicals: The 101 Greatest Song-and-Dance Movies of All Time gives the wrong impression of this book. Although author Ken Bloom says he’s writing about the best movie musicals, I’m not sure that’s entirely what he’s doing. His selection is too idiosyncratic.The Muppet MovieBeach Blanket BingoSunny Side Up (1929)?

Many of the musicals he writes about do deserve to be considered the greatest, but he’s less interested in writing about what makes these musicals work and more interested in exploring the many facets of the movie musical and seems to have chosen his films to allow him to cover as many facets as possible. Dubbing. Adapting a successful Broadway show to the screen. Why studios interpolated songs from their own songwriters into already popular musicals. Disney musicals. Musical biopics. The differences between a slick MGM musical and an anarchic Paramount musical (think Judy Garland vehicles vs. Bing Crosby and Bob Hope movies). His coverage is far reaching: rock musicals, animated musicals, country musicals, even disco (Saturday Night Fever) and stop motion animated musicals (The Nightmare before Christmas).

If you are looking for plot synopses or behind-the scenes explanations about the making of musicals, this is not really the book to read. There are little bios of actors and also – a great strength – bios that highlight overlooked directors (Charles Walters), songwriters (Mack Gordon), musical arrangers (Kay Thompson) and choreographers (Michael Kidd). He also discusses the usual suspects, like Bob Fosse, Busby Berkeley and Rodgers and Hammerstein.

With each musical, Bloom takes the opportunity to discuss one topic. For example, for Pajama Game, he talks about when Hollywood replaces the stage actor who created the role  with a movie actor and the reasons behind this. One of the most notorious examples occurred when Ethel Merman was replaced with Rosalind Russell for Gypsy.  However, because Doris Day was a huge star – and a genuinely gifted musical star – no one complained when she replaced Janis Page. It seems to depend on how well it works out. Another example is Julie Andrews being replaced by Aubrey Hepburn (I’m not sure if people will ever get over that one).

The strength of the book (apart from the mini-bios and the fun behind-the-scenes pictures, often with actors making peculiar faces) are the little nuggets of observations about musicals (and other things) and what makes them work or not. Here are some that I found most intriguing.

download (1)Fantasy is not easy to do – this observation does not only pertain to musicals, but fantasy in general. He believes that one of the secrets of a good fantasy (like The Wizard of Oz and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) is that the people within the fantasy world must take their world absolutely seriously. There can be no winking at the audience, self-referential humor. The protagonist can find the world a little odd, but the people in it must notice nothing odd at all. Bloom actually believes the same thing about many comedy (he highlights farce).

He also believes that a good children’s fantasy (think Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and The Wizard of Oz) needs to have genuinely frightening villains. Otherwise, there is nothing at stake (he’s not a fan of funny villains from Shrek) and there’s no genuine tension.

Broadway musicals should not necessarily be adapted to the screen too reverently – this is a big pet peeve of his. He finds My Fair Lady far too static and reverential, like a museum piece. I kind of know what he means. There’s a spark missing from the movie that evidently was present on the stage, a liveliness and sense of fun. The film feels a bit stodgy to me.

The Music Man is another example of a film that seems to him too lifeless. His problem with the film version of The Music Man is a little different, however, than that with My Fair Lady. The main trouble, he believes, was that the movie was filmed like a stage play, unimaginatively and statically, often with the camera simply facing the action. He believes that a film director like Stanley Donen (who helped direct The Pajama Game) should have been brought in to help with the camera work and making the film more cinematic.

Bloom also mentions several musicals that he believes were better on film than on the stage, such as The Sound of Music and West Side Story. Apparently in West Side Story, several songs were shifted around and one song – “America” – was changed so that instead of just the girls singing, the boys join in, too.

Academy Award for Best Original Song has seriously gone down the tubes – it used to be that the song nominated for Best Original Song came from a musical and there were plenty of musicals to choose from. In the fifties, that began to change and more and more songs were sung during the opening credits. Now, the songs that win are often sung during the closing credits! Ah well…apparently there have been thoughts that this category should be removed, though I would be mildly surprised if they did any time soon.

63e282b70406b372d51ef4f13e79ae4aPeople actually got tired of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers! – this seems incredible. How could you ever get tired of those two? Nevertheless, it seems to have happened. Not just Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but eventually of musicals. In What The Eye Hears: A History of Tap Dancing, Brian Seibert wonders the same thing about tap dancing. Could people have simply been over-saturated with tap dancing after the fifties? After all, it was everywhere: stage, movies, even TV. Now, as Bloom points out, even many B musicals (though certainly not all) seem like “mini masterpieces” because of the professional know-how and talent that went into them, but they seem to have eventually wearied people.

Though not my grandmother. She didn’t leave musicals in the 1950s; musicals left her. They were her favorite genre (along with Hitchcock), but gradually there were less to see.

Many racist films were not meant to be racist – Many movies that contain racist material were actually trying to be progressive. There were several all-black musicals made (Cabin in the SkyStormy Weather) and given an A musical budget, but lack of understanding prevented them from fully ridding themselves of stereotypical portrayals and even cemented some.

But for me it is a reminder not to condescend to people with “benighted” views. It’s easier today not to be racist because it is not considered socially acceptable to be racist and it’s easier to rid ourselves of stereotypes because people of different ethnicities and backgrounds are much less segregated. Through the internet and social media and even movies and shows, we are less isolated in our own respective cultures. As Bloom pointed out, in the 1930s, most black and white people did not intermix socially. Now, we are even more familiar with how people live in other countries.

It’s doesn’t mean there isn’t racism today, but that it is easier not to be racist. However, at least these people were trying, even if they didn’t fully succeed (though there are numerous examples in films were people didn’t even try).

Here is a quote from Hal Johnson, a black musician and director who was asked by Cabin in the Sky’s associate producer to review the script for possible offensive material.

At the moment, the dialect in your script is a weird but a priceless conglomeration of pre-Civil War constructions mixed with up-to-the minute Harlem slang and heavily sprinkled with a type of verb which Amos and Andy purloined from Miller and Lyles, the Negro comedians: all adding up to a lingo which has never been heard nor spoken on land or sea by any human being, and would most certainly be “more than Greek” to the ignorant Georgia Negroes in your play.

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Musicals as spectacle – I’d like to end this post with a quote by Bloom that ticked my funny bone. He wrote this while discussing the seriously psychedelic The Gang’s All Here, with bananas, almost no plot, Carmen Miranda, Busby Berkeley and floating stars. Seriously, if you have not seen this one, you really should.

The great dramatic spectacles such as Ben-Hur, El Cid, and Lawrence of Arabia were astounding in their scope but they had to be, given their plot. Movies such as the 1997 Titanic may amaze us for their sheer scale but they do not provoke that perfect mixture of awe, astonishment, glee and guilty pleasure boasted by the spectacular movie musical of the past.

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2016 in Books

 

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Video

Six Versions of “My Man” – From Fanny Brice to Glee, Ballad to Broadway

I am fascinated by the different ways people can interpret the same song. Last week, I wrote a post about Billie Holiday and how I came to appreciate her and how the song that helped me to appreciate her was”My Man.” While I was looking up Billie Holiday’s many versions of the song on youtube, I came across several other versions and it was interesting to trace the evolution of the song: ballad, jazz, Broadway; from storytelling to an emotional display. So just for fun, here are six different versions of the song “My Man.”

Fanny Brice recorded this in 1921. She performed the song in the 1921 Follies for Florenz Ziegfeld and also had a hit record. The way she sings, it sounds like a torch song, though it is often described as a ballad. She sings it at the pace of a ballad. She was especially identified with this song. Primarily a comedian, she was also known to be able to break the hearts of her audience. I can understand why. Possibly sung as an interlude and not part of an overall plot, it has a self-contained storytelling quality to it and she even talks some of it.

In 1937, Billie Holiday recorded a jazzy version with Teddy Wilson and His Orchestra. I don’t think it has the depth of her later versions, though, though her work with Teddy Wilson is considered some of the greatest jazz ever recorded.

The words that come to mind are emotional pyrotechnics. In 1964, Barbra Streisand starred in the musical “Funny Girl,” with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Bob Merrill. The story is inspired by the life of Fanny Brice and the musical was later made into a movie in 1968 and included the song “My Man”. An entirely different singer from Fanny Brice, here Barbra Streisand lets ‘er rip, with a touch of defiance for good measure. I’ve always liked Barbra Streisand, partially because she was one of my mother’s favorite singers.There’s something electrifying about her performances and I can’t help getting swept up in it, even if it’s not always subtle.

I am not familiar with Glee, apart from hearsay, but I thought this clip was interesting since it is a direct homage to Barbra Streisand’s version. We’ve come a long way from 1920s ballads/torch songs and 1930s jazz. It’s funny, but although Barbra Streisand sang in Broadway musicals, I never thought of her as a Broadway singer. I think of her as a superior pop singer (that may not be an entirely fair assessment – she is versatile and could sing jazz, pop and Broadway). But this is pure 21st Century Broadway belting. The word for this song is waterworks (cousin to Anne Hathaway’s tearful, choked-up version of “I Dreamed a Dream” in Les Miserables). It is a style of singing that places more emphasis on the emotion the singer is personally feeling than on the words being communicated by the singer. But she seems too young to be singing this song.

Here is a unique example I came across from the soundtrack for Boardwalk Empire (another show I am only familiar with by hearsay). Regina Spekter is the singer and the best word I can think of to describe this song is ironic. She drips irony. She seems to be mocking the genre, the torch song, the eternally suffering woman. Or is she mocking something else? I would be curious to know the context in which this song features in the show. It made me think of a drinking song.

I can’t help including my favorite version of the song again, even though I featured it on my previous post. I mentioned that the girl from Glee was too young; here is Billie Holiday’s most mature and moving version and makes the last several versions seem shallow in comparison. This is the only version I have found where the performer displays heartache and yet dignity at the same time. Most versions I’ve heard are meant to be a raw display of emotion, but so much emotional honesty can also turn you into an object of pity. To have a breakdown in front of someone is to give a little piece of yourself away (Frank Sinatra once said of Judy Garland that “every time she sings, she dies a little”). There is no self-pity with Billie Holiday. She is telling us about her love; it is her decision and she has accepted it. She is not asking for pity. In that way, she retains her autonomy from the audience. She has reserved a part of herself for herself and apart from others and while the song is tragic, you respect her, too. And like Fanny Brice, she has slowed the song way down and is engaging in a sophisticated form of storytelling.

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2015 in Great American Songbook

 

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