Tag Archives: The Sherman Brothers

Maureen O’Hara – As Singer

Classic-The-Parent-Trap-1961-classic-disney-25659872-768-862A little while ago I watched The Parent Trap again after many years and during the movie Maureen O’Hara briefly sings to Hayley Mills a song written by the Sherman Brothers called “For Now, For Always.” Since I am a suspicious person, and because she actually sang well, I wasn’t initially sure if that was truly her singing. Perhaps I should have realized – after all she did some singing in The Quiet Man, too – but I honestly had no idea that Maureen O’Hara was a singer as well as an actor. She just never starred in a musical, as far as I knew (though it turns out that very early in her career she did do a musical called They Met in Argentina, with a score by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, that was supposed to cash in on Down Argentine Way). In her autobiography, she said that she loved singing even more than acting.

Not one of the Sherman Brothers’ (Robert B. and Richard M.) more celebrated or recognizable songs, “For Now, For Always” is still lovely song and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. This song, along with “Let’s Get Together” and the theme song, “The Parent Trap,” were the first songs they wrote for Disney and it allowed Maureen O’Hara to at least sing a little, though the movie still does not pass as a musical.

Maureen O’Hara also sang a few songs in The Quiet Man. Once again, I am embarrassed to say that all these years I have been assuming that it was not really her own voice I was hearing. So often, actors and actresses were dubbed during those years that unless I have some positive knowledge that the actor in question is a singer, I just assume it is not really them (perhaps an unfair assumption).

And what I did not know was that Maureen O’Hara almost got the part of Anna Leonowens in The King and I. Producer Darryl Zanuck wanted her for the role, since she could act, look beautiful and still sing beautifully. She sent Richard Rodgers a recording of her singing some of his songs and after he listened, he said that she did indeed have a nice voice, but that he would not have a pirate queen playing in his musical. Alas for Maureen O’Hara. The world never got to see her in a musical. I think Deborah Kerr did a wonderful job, had sizzling chemistry with Yul Brynner and that The King and I stands as the finest example of successful and believable dubbing (Marni Nixon dubbed for Kerr), but I now kind of wish I could have seen O’Hara in the role, too. After all, if you are making a musical, it always seems like the best thing is to get someone who can actually sing (though I would a thousand times prefer that you dub someone’s voice rather than allow an actor who can’t sing to unleash their sound upon the world).

In this tribute to O’Hara for her 90th birthday, the background vocals are sung by O”Hara herself, singing “Hello, Young Lovers” from “The King and I.”

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Posted by on February 13, 2015 in Musicals, Uncategorized


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Revisiting The Parent Trap (1961)

Parent_trap_(1961)I’ve always had a very deep affection for The Parent Trap, both the 1961 original with Hayley Mills and 1998 remake with Lindsay Lohan. They were movies I frequently watched with my mom. There are not many movies about mothers and daughters – fathers get much more screen time – and when there is a mother, often they come out like Mildred Pierce or Gypsy Rose Lee’s mother. Or they’re too busy suffering à la Bette Davis to actually have a relationship with the child.

And admittedly, The Parent Trap is not specifically about mothers and daughters. It is about two twins, who never before knew each other existed, but who meet and conspire to get their parents back together. But Mom and I never failed to cry whenever Susan/Hallie would see her mother for the first time or when she gets to spend those days talking with her mother and getting to know her. I always thought those were very special moments in the film.

But for various reasons, I haven’t seen either movie in years, especially the original, which I must have seen last when I was in my early teens. However, I was recently watching a movie with Maureen O’Hara and it gave me an irresistible urge to see The Parent Trap again. So I watched it and must confess that I loved it as much as ever.

Hayley Mills as Sharon and Susan

Hayley Mills as Sharon and Susan

The film is less sentimental than I had remembered, partly because it really is less sentimental than the remake (though not exactly Orson Welles, either). Hayley Mills was older than Lindsay Lohan, so the film was less about cute kids and their shenanigans. She was around fourteen rather than Lohan’s twelve, which is only a two year gap, but I remember when I was twelve and my sister was fourteen and it felt like we were worlds apart, she a young lady and I still a kid. Then I became thirteen and the gap promptly closed. Hayley Mill’s Susan and Sharon are girls who are just becoming young ladies, though still innocent, interested in boys and at least aware, relatively, of the sexual dynamics at play.

There is a hilarious moment when Sharon is trying to get her father to remember her mother and he thinks she is asking about the birds and bees and tries, bumblingly, to explain, though when she figures out what he’s talking about, she says she already knows about that.

There is also far more conflict in the film than the remake or than I had recalled. Besides initially fighting with each other, Sharon fights with her father (played by Brian Keith) about his fiance, Vickie, and she doesn’t speak to him for several days. This is, admittedly, partly a calculated attempt on her part to sabotage the marriage, but it’s still conflict. And there is real, catty animosity between Vickie and Sharon (and really both girls). Even their grandparents have some conflict; their grandmother is imperious and their grandfather puts his foot down at one point.

Maureen O'Hara and Hayley Mills

Maureen O’Hara and Hayley Mills

And of course there is the conflict between Mitch and Maggie. In fact, their surprisingly sexy (for a Disney film) rapport in the film reminded me of a screwball comedy. It is a battle of the sexes, where the women generally rout the men. Poor Mitch never has a chance. He is surrounded by females; his two daughters, his gold-digging fiance and her mother and his ex-wife, all duking it out.

And despite the unifying thread of twins trying to reunite their parents, the film actually has three distinct parts to it, that explore three different forms of relationships in a family.

The first third of the film is about sibling interaction as Sharon and Susan (both played by Hayley Mills) meet at camp. They loathe each other, but after discovering they are actually twins, form a bond and grew to know each other and become allies as well sisters.

The middle part is how children interact with their parents. Susan gets to know her mother (Maureen O’Hara) and Sharon gets to know her father (Brian Keith). And you can see how their mother is rather better at fielding unexpected questions than their father is.

Maureen O'Hara and Brian Keith argue while Leo G. Carrol as Dr. Mosby watches with extreme enjoyment

Maureen O’Hara and Brian Keith argue while Leo G. Carrol as Dr. Mosby watches with extreme enjoyment

But by the third part, the girls actually take a back seat to their parents, who have now met and must do the rest of the work themselves. The twins may have driven Vickie away, but their parents still have to work through their own problems and admit that they miss, need and love each other.

Hayley Mills does a very good job of differentiating the two girls, one proper and more soften spoken and the other brash and tomboyish, even when they are pretending to be each other. Although by the last third of the film the two girls have essentially merged into one while the parents take over. I’ve always been a fan of Hayley Mills. Precocious without being annoying, but also still young and not striving to play wiser than she really is.

But for me a real highlight is Maureen O’Hara. She almost runs off with the picture. Warm and touching as a mother, maternal and feisty, she has excellent comedic timing and was extremely sexy. I love it when Mitch tells Vickie that Maggie is maternal and mature and then Maureen O’Hara as Maggie pops down the stairs, cheerful and gorgeous and meanwhile really socking it to Vickie by gushing over what a sweet child she is. She really does as much as the twins to drive Vickie away, putting her in a healthy tradition of screwball comedians who rout the competition, like Irene Dunne in The Awful Truth and My Favorite Wife.

It was also fun to see all the character actors in this film, actors I now know from other classic movies. Mitch’s housekeeper is Verbena, played by Una Merkel, who I best remember for having a barroom brawl with Marlene Dietrich in the 1939 Destry Rides Again. And Maggie’s father is played by Charles Ruggles, who did a number of Ernst Lubitsch films in the early 1930s, like Trouble in Paradise, and also shows up as the big game hunter in Bringing Up Baby who does loon and leopard call imitations.

But the character I always remembered as a kid was Dr. Mosby, the reverend who is going to marry Mitch and Vickie, though he likes Maggie much better. Dr. Mosby is played by Leo G. Carroll, who appeared in more Alfred Hitchcock films than anyone else, six in total: North By NorthwestRebeccaSuspicionSpellboundStrangers On a Train, and The Paradine Case. Though I always think of him as Dr. Mosby.

This clip shows the film at its screwball best, when Maggie first meets Vickie while Dr. Mosby treats the entire situation as a spectator sport.


Posted by on February 6, 2015 in Comedy


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Revisiting Mary Poppins – A Rediscovery

Mary Poppins1964 – Directed by Robert Stevenson – Produced by Walt Disney – Written by Bill Walsh and Don DeGradi – Based on Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers – Starring Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke,  David Tomlinson, Glynis Johnson, Karen Dotrice, Matthew Garber

I recently watched Mary Poppins for the first time in many, many years. In fact, it was so many years that I had forgotten significant chunks of the plot. I had certainly forgotten how many songs were in it, and how much dancing. And I definitely had forgotten how delightful it was…if I ever properly realized it. Oddly enough, I think I enjoyed it more as an adult than I ever did as a child. Sometimes, I think children’s movies and books are wasted on the young.

When we finished watching my sister turned to me and said with some awe:

I love their expressions here

I love their expressions here

“That was really, really good.”

And I felt the same way.

I had been thinking about Mary Poppins because I had been reading about Saving Mr. Banks, which I haven’t seen yet, but want to. I was also in something of a Julie Andrews phase (Sound of Music, My Fair Lady Cast Recordings), so we put it on.

And were enchanted like a couple of children. My sister was reduced to a puddle of giggles during the entire “Step In Time” sequence. She said she had never realized just how whimsical it was; all these grown men quite joyously flapping like birds just because they can.

And is there anything better than Julie Andrews’ prim walk and demeanor as she does the most extraordinary things? And you’ve got to love anyone who wears pink shoes with a red dress, with soot on her face, marshaling her charges like a general, quite calmly explaining to their father that she never explains anything.

Notoriously, Jack Warner passed over Julie Andrews when he produced the film version of My Fair Lady. She was still relatively unknown outside the theater, despite the euphoric reviews of both the musical and her performance as Eliza Doolittle. So Audrey Hepburn was cast instead. However, our loss was also our gain. I guess we never could have had it both ways, since Mary Poppins and My Fair Lady were filmed at the same time.

Walt Disney was considering many different actresses (like Angela Lansbury) for the role of Mary Poppins, but when he and others saw Julie Andrews’ performance during The Ed Sullivan Show from the musical “Camelot,” they knew she was the one they wanted (see here for performance with Richard Burton of “What Do The Simple Folk Do”).

The book’s author, P.L. Travers, was less enthusiastic and told Julie Andrews that she was too pretty to play the part, but that she had the nose for it.

Dick Van Dyke is likewise utterly winning as Bert – who was created as a composite of many characters that appear in the book. He said in an interview that he was once listed in a British paper as having one of the worst accents ever, but his unique blend, of whatever it was, has its own charm and fits naturally in a film that is partially impressionistic, anyway.

Dick Van Dyke had never danced before making Mary Poppins, which I had not known. Apparently he did mime in his early career, so that may account for his good body control. The one things that usually tips me off if someone has danced before is how in control their movements look while dancing.

One thing that cracks me up about Mary Poppins is that she’s a bit of an egoist (though not as strongly as in the books). She primps, keeps a rather large mirror in her room, and declares herself to be “practically perfect in every way.” Also, if you think about it, the chalk/cartoon world they go to is all her doing, so when the penguins declare she’s their favorite person, all the farm animals sing about how much they love her and the jockeys let her win the horse race, it could be seen as an ego trip for her…all harmless, of course.

mary-poppins-w1280[1]Another interesting bit I heard in the documentary that was on the Mary Poppins: 40th Anniversary Edition, was that for the robin that sings with Mary Poppins during “A Spoonful of Sugar,” they hired a professional whistler (I didn’t know those existed), but Walt Disney thought he had no personality so Julie Andrews did it herself.

There is something slightly unreal, magical, impressionistic, about the film. The backgrounds are painted mattes, which contribute to that feel. The music, especially songs like “Chim Chim Cher-ee” and “Feed the Birds” also contribute – suggesting a world beyond what we see. Mary Poppins admonishes Michael: “Never judge a book by it’s cover. I’m sure I never do.” And Bert sings:

Up where the smoke is all billowed and curled

“Tween pavement and stars, is a chimney sweep worldmary_poppins_chimney_sweeps[1]

When there’s hardly no day nor hardly no night

There’s things half in shadow and halfway in light.”

But in a poignant way, Mary Poppins kind of takes the magic world away with her. The children will never again jump into chalk pavement pictures or laugh on the ceiling. It makes me think of Peter Pan a little bit. There is a magic beyond, but we don’t live with it. It was just a moment when somebody lifted the curtain for us to see.

Mary Poppins won 5 Oscars: Best Leading Actress (Julie Andrews), Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Original Song (“Chim Chim Cher-ee”), and Best Music: Original Score (Richard and Robert Sherman). Julie Andrews was the “sentimental favorite” to win, partially because of being overlooked for My Fair Lady. During her acceptance speech, Julie Andrews was able to thank Jack Warner for making it all possible (see here).



Posted by on March 21, 2014 in Movies


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