Tag Archives: Slang

Bertram Potts from Ball of Fire

“You’re big and cute and pretty…to me you’re a regular yum-yum type.”

An English professor who looks like Gary Cooper? It’s almost too good to be true, but it is true in Howard Hawk’s 1941 Ball of Fire and not even Barbara Stanwyck’s stripper Sugarpuss O’Shea can resist him.

There are many things to admire about Bertram Potts. Besides the fact that he looks like Gary Cooper. He’s a professor of English, and he’s not a stuffy professor of English. When the film opens, he is working on slang for an encyclopedia and he reveals a lively curiosity and interest in new knowledge, especially what he calls “a living language” filled with the slang of ordinary Americans and spoken by characters like Sugarpuss and the garbage man.

In fact, his interest is right in line with real-life authors (like the actual author of the film’s script, Billy Wilder). Raymond Chandler was greatly interested in what he called American English and thought that for a while (namely in the 1930s and ’40s) it was filled with the kind of variety, color, and flexibility often associated with Shakespeare.

It is very appropriate, then, that Bertram Potts should also quote Shakespeare to Sugarpuss. He gives her a ring that is inscribed with the location of the quote from Richard III (she asks who Richard ill is), “See how my ring encircles your finger? That’s how your heart embraces my poor heart. Wear both the ring and my heart, because both are yours.” 

But not only is Bertram Potts erudite, he is also sweet and adorable. He’s completely bowled over by Sugarpuss (“a little sun on my hair and you had to water your neck”), way out of his depth, but it is the sincerity and sweetness of his response that wins her over. Without guile, he assumes her declaration of love is exactly as it appears. He takes her at her word, takes her seriously and treats her as a person of value.

He is also about as nonjudgmental as a person can be. He is, admittedly, angry when he discovers that she used him, but that is not judgmental. But does he mind that she is a stripper? Or the girlfriend of a gangster? He always sees her as a person and never as an example of a certain type of woman…though Mrs. Bragg, the housekeeper for the professors, certainly does. Sugarpuss is simply the woman he loves…and who knows some “mouthwatering” slang.

Bertram Potts (or Pottsie, as Sugarpuss calls him) even gets to be heroic. But not by the traditional beat-the-bad-guy-up method – though he does get to eventually beat the bad guy up – but via intellectual knowledge. He and his fellow professors are able to outwit the villains using their knowledge of history, literature and science.

And he looks like Gary Cooper. The only wonder to me is that Sugarpuss does not fall for him sooner, though she does comment that he doesn’t know how to kiss (“the jerk!”) and looks like a “giraffe.” But he had me at “skidoo” (which he traced from the word skedaddle).

This has been my post for the “Reel Infatuation Blogathon,” hosted by Silverscreenings  and Font and Frock. Be sure to check back for more screen crush posts in the recaps for days 1, 2, and 3 of the blogathon.


Posted by on June 23, 2017 in Movies


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Murder, He Says – the song

I’m not quite sure how I happened upon this song – I think I was looking up songs by Dinah Shore on youtube – but this quirky, jazzy song immediately tickled my fancy and you gotta love the catchy introduction to this song, which brings to mind a kind of lively detective-ish grooviness. I quickly memorized the lyrics and it is a favorite song to sing while blow-drying my hair (why I wait until after my shower to sing this particular song, I don’t know. It’s just a blow dryer song).

In this case, the title of the song does not refer to an actual murder. It refers to murder used as a slang term. The singer is dissatisfied with the vocabulary of her boyfriend, who always exclaims “murder” whenever they kiss. The song then goes on to recount the other slang terms he uses, such as ‘solid,’ ‘Jackson,’ and other colorful expressions that the singer finds markedly unromantic.

The song was written for the 1943 musical movie Happy Go Lucky, with Mary Martin, Dick Powell and Betty Hutton. The lyrics were written by Frank Loesser (known for writing both the lyrics and music for “Guys and Dolls” and “How to Suceed in Business Without Really Trying) and Jimmy McHugh. McHugh is a slightly forgotten composer – definitely unknown compared to George Gerswhin, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hammerstein, even Rodgers & Hart.

However, many of his songs are an integral part of what is known as The Great American Songbook: popular American music from the 1920s-1950s, much of which was written for movies and musicals. Perhaps his most well-known song is “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” – though , ironically, there’s controversy over who actually wrote the song. Many people believe that the song was actually written by Fats Waller, who sold the song to McHugh.

Betty Hutton also recorded the song and her live version is something altogether more peppy than Shore’s. Actually, peppy doesn’t begin to do her performance justice. Bob Hope called her a “vitamin pill on legs.” It’s something to behold.

It is fun to imagine the influence this song might have had on popular culture. I can’t confirm any of this, but I wonder if it is possible to trace the title of this song to the title of Angela Lansbury’s show Murder, She Wrote. I read that the show might have gotten its title from the 1961 movie, Murder, She Said, which was an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel 4:50 From Paddington, a Miss Marple mystery. There was also a 1945 comedy called Murder, He Says, starring Fred MacMurray. One wonders if the song influenced the title of the movie, which in turn could have influenced the title of the Miss Marple movie and then on to the famous TV show. It could just be a coincidence, though.

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Posted by on June 11, 2014 in Great American Songbook


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