Reviews, Reports + Comments

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Report on 1954 & film: “7 BRIDES FOR 7 BROS.” + Q&A with star JANE POWELL & ROBERT OSBORNE

 
Report on 1954 & the film:  SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS

Q&A with ROBERT OSBORNE & film star JANE POWELL


                                                  Information on the FILM Itself


 The year was 1954:  Gasoline cost 29 cents a gallon...  The minimum wage was 75 cents an hour, and the average annual salary was $ 4,700...  Houses cost less than $ 18,000, and new cars could be found for less than $ 2000...  Milk was 92 cents a gallon, bread was 17 cents per loaf, and you could mail a first class letter for 3 cents...

...  Yes, times were a bit “DIFFERENT” then...  In 1954, the FCC first approved COLOR television signals.  As of January 1st that year, there were only 200 color TVs held in private hands in the U.S., and the first real color broadcast that day was the Pasadena Rose Bowl parade...

...  Movie MUSICALS were a “big deal” that year:  There was “A STAR IS BORN”, ‘BRIGADOON”, “ROSE MARIE”, & “WHITE CHRISTMAS”...

...  MGM had another film set for release that year, “SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS”They considered it a “B”-quality type film, & strongly cut their planned budget for it, meaning the director couldn’t do regular “location” shooting with actors for it & had to use painted backdrops instead...

...  The Director of the film was STANLEY DONEN (who I shot some photos of at a special visit he made to the CHICAGO INT’L FILM FESTIVAL in 1985, as shown below)...


...  According to Mr. Donen, the film was shot in two versions:  “widescreen” CinemaScope (which was filmed in the morning) & also in “normal” aspect (shot in the afternoon), because it was feared that not enough theaters would be able to show the widescreen form...  But, the “normal” version (which actually cost more to make) was never released to theaters... 


...  The film’s producer, JACK CUMMINGS, always had Donen as his first choice to be director, since he’d been so successful with “ON THE TOWN” (released in 1949) & “SINGING IN THE RAIN” (released in 1952)...

...  The basis for the movie was a short story by STEPHEN VINCENT BENÉT.  But, because it had been optioned by Joshua Logan for a possible Broadway musical, MGM waited 5 years before acquiring the story for a MOVIE...

...  There were two “working” titles for the film:  "SOBBIN' WOMEN" and "A BRIDE FOR SEVEN BROTHERS"...  The original plan by the Producer was to use previously-written American Folk songs for the musical numbers...

...  But, after spending months searching to find songs that would be “right” for the story, since that proved so difficult, it was decided to contract for an ORIGINAL score (by Johnny Mercer et al) instead...

...  There were to be scenes where the seven “mountain” Pontipee brothers were to brawl with other males from the nearest TOWN.  But, feeling that the audience would have a hard time keeping track of just “who was who” in such a conflict, the studio decided to make all the “Mountain” boys have RED hair to distinguish them...


...  Besides seven singing numbers for the film, it was planned to have four major DANCE numbers. Naturally, they planned to look for a number of men who were DANCERS...

...  But, they eventually decided to have Pontipee brother Gideon played by RUSS TAMBLYN who was an acrobat, oldest brother Adam was played by singer / actor HOWARD KEEL, and Benjamin (who rarely dances) was played by actor JEFF RICHARDS (who once was a baseball player)...


 ...  The other Pontipee brothers were MATT MATTOX as Caleb, MARC PLATT as Daniel, JACQUES D’AMBOISE as Ephraim, and TOMMY RALL as Frankincense (Frank).  The brothers were named in alphabetic “order” according to when they were born--  the oldest being Adam (whose name used the 1st letter in the alphabet), then going down to the youngest having the last alpha name (Gideon)... 

...  Jacques was a ballet dancer, &, per contract, he had to return to the New York City Ballet before the movie was completed--  meaning his role had to filled in by someone else during the last few days of filming (where the brothers are pacing as Howard’s wife is giving birth)...

...  The basic STORY of the film is as follows:  Howard (Adam) wants to find a WIFE, and goes to the town to try to find one...  He meets a girl named Millie (played by JANE POWELL), & somehow talks her into marrying him that very day... 


...  Jane goes with Howard into his backwoods mountain house.  She’s most surprised to find that he has 6 other BROTHERS living with him there, & that she’s expected to in-effect take CARE of ALL of them--  cooking, cleaning & picking-up after them.  She is none too pleased with that unexpected situation!... 


...  Not only are there lots of brothers, but they’re all generally wild & UNCIVILIZED, & she’s determined to try to “REFORM” them...  Part of that means she realizes that she’s got to help each of them find their OWN WIFE--  which she sees is not going to be “easy”...

...  Howard chances to read a story (based on Plutarch’s “Life Of Romulus”) wherein a Roman group captures some “Sabine” women & makes wives (a/k/a slaves) of them...  Thus, he gets the idea that, to hopefully alleviate the brothers’ “loneliness”, they should go into the town and “SHANGHAI” some women into coming with them to their mountain home...

 
...  Jane doesn’t know what Howard had urged the guys to do...  The Pontipee bro’s then take off to the town to supposedly participate in a community BARN-building venture for a local farmer...

...  Their real goal is to find WOMEN for themselves, & that means having to “CONFRONT” various of the men living in the town-- who don’t like that the brothers are making a “play” for “THEIR” women... 

...  That leads to what today might be called “DANCE-OFFS” as the brothers work to impress the women they like during the barn-raising...  The complex dance routine there took 3 weeks of rehearsals because it’s a very involved setting choreographically...


...  Speaking of choreography, it was done by MICHAEL KIDD--  who was initially very uneager to work on the project (since he wanted to rest after working hard on a Broadway show).  But then, he heard the SCORE, which so impressed him, he became keen to work on the movie (for which he later got much ACCLAIM)...

...  After the Barn-Raising, the brothers make diligent efforts to waylay the women they like, to take them via wagon back to their house in the country...

...  The women are Dorcas Gailen (JULIE NEWMAR, who used the named Newmeyer);  Alice Elcott (NANCY KILGAS);  Sarah Kine (BETTY CARR);  Ruth Jebson (RUTA LEE, using the name Kilmonis);  Liza (VIRGINIA GIBSON); and Martha (NORMA DOGGETT)...      


...  The Pontipees are pursued by townsfolk, & they get away only because of an AVALANCHE that blocks the road to where they live in the mountains...   

...  The women taken by the Pontipees are initially none too “happy” with being kidnapped, & you have various scenes of “CONFLICT” between the women and the brothers...  Jane is infuriated at what Adam had urged the brothers to do, & insists that all the men sleep in their barn rather than be near the upset women...  


...  The 1950’s were a very “rigid” time socially, & the ever-vigilant movie censors were not at all “thrilled” with a line in the song “Lonesome Polecat" which had the Pontipee brothers singing that "A man can't sleep when he sleeps with sheep"...  The only way the producers were able to use that was by making sure there were no sheep actually SHOWN in the same shot with the guys...

...  As I mentioned, the studio had little REGARD for the movie they’d agreed to make, & (after it was filmed in just 48 days), they opened it in a “slot” at New York’s Radio City Music Hall that was originally planned for “BRIGADOON”...

...  To try to “sell” the movie, the marketing people came up with the tagline “LUSTY, MIRTHFUL GIRL-STEALING MUSICAL! . . . with Seven Great Songs!”...  Also used was the description “SINGIN'! DANCIN'! ROMANCIN'!”...  


...  Other descriptions used in print included “The once-in-a-lifetime musical romp!”, “MGM's love-making musical!”, and “A WONDERFUL, YOUTHFUL, LOVIN', KISSIN' MUSICAL ABOUT SEVEN STOLEN SWEETIES AND THEIR SHOTGUN WEDDINGS!”... 

...  To the studio’s shock, the film became a BIG HIT with both critics and the public (including my mother, who always loved watching it on TV), due to the fabulous ENERGY and enthusiasm of the talented cast and the creativity of the score and dancing...

...  SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS” won a 1955 OSCAR for Best Music-- Scoring of a Musical Picture, and was nominated for 4 other OSCARS (including Best Picture)... 

  (o_
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Q&A with ROBERT OSBORNE & film star JANE POWELL


On March 24th, I was pleased to attend a “big-screen” SHOWING of the movie “SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS” I’ve just described... 



...  It was a special presentation of TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES (TCM), which was hosting similar distinctive screenings of different films in like 10 various cities around the country, as a prelude to their yearly Festival of screenings with movie stars to be held from April 25th on in Hollywood... 

...  That TCM operation did the same thing LAST year, when they had a Q&A about Hitchcock’s “NORTH BY NORTHWEST” film by bringing in one of its stars, EVA MARIE SAINT ( as I wrote-up & posted at:  http://www.blogger.com/post-edit.g?blogID=1063891215512512347&postID=4594195389217015155 ) ...

...  Like last year, Chicago’s event was held at the MUSIC BOX THEATRE, which opened on August 22, 1929 as a “smaller ... sound-picture theatre”, originally designed to seat 800 in its main room.  Even though I arrived nearly 2 hours before the scheduled start time, there was already a considerable CROWD lined up waiting to get in...


...  Before the start of the main festivities, the audience was treated to a live ORGAN concert of old show tunes on the large organ that’s long been a feature of the venue (and used between films on Saturday and Sunday evenings, for Special Events such as this, for certain screenings of “silent” movies, etc.)... 


...  People so enjoyed the recital, they kept applauding happily after each song, and a number of people came up & took PHOTOS with organist DENNIS SCOTT, who cheerfully obliged them by posing with some of the audience members... 

...  There was an overflow crowd, consisting of people of diverse ages, young to old...  A friend, Adrienne Kahn, came with her grandsons and 16-year-old great-grandson.  She and her friend, Judy Mosely, posed near the stage with a large poster of the event (as shown below)...


...  For the festivities, at 7:30 pm, the Chicago Tribune’s film critic, MICHAEL PHILLIPS, got onstage and said, it was a special honor and pleasure to introduce the “symbol and prime-time host” of TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES, Mr. ROBERT OSBORNE, who got onstage to hearty applause...


[ TCM - TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES is an official AFFILIATE of this web site!...  Feel free to see ADS about some of their offerings near the bottom of the right-hand column... ]


...  Mr. Osborne spoke of how he loves the city of Chicago and this theater (where he also appeared last year).  As he said fervently, “There is nothing like seeing a movie on a BIG screen...”, & the audience clapped in strong agreement...


...  He gave some background on special screenings he’s been doing around the country as a lead-up to the 4-day Hollywood Festival, and said he’s pleased to announce that that event is already completely sold-out there... 

...  They’ll be showing like 50 movies over 4 days, including “THE CONSTANT NYMPH”, “NIGHT FLIGHT” with Clark Gable and various of the Barrymores, Peter O’Toole personally introducing his film “BECKETT”, and  Warren Beatty introducing his film “REDS”...

...  They’ll also have JANE POWELL, introducing her [1951] film “ROYAL WEDDING” done with Fred Astaire--  & it’ll be shown on the very day of a royal wedding in ENGLAND!  Robert kidded that, in effect, the British decided to hold a wedding “after” TCM had scheduled their FILMS to be shown in Hollywood, so this was TCM’s way of “fighting ‘BACK’!”, to which the audience laughed...


...  Robert went on to say that, “We wanted to bring our festival to YOU—”, which is why they’re showing tonite’s SEVEN BRIDES” film in Chicago, as they’re bringing other movies to other cities... 

...  When he asked for a show of hands, only a few people in the audience indicated they had never SEEN tonite’s film--  tho not many had seen it on a “BIG screen” (as opposed to seeing it on TV)...

...  Robert then introduced JANE POWELL, who walked down the aisle to the stage to thunderous applause (& I continued to shoot photos & VIDEO of the event).  She laughed when someone even gave her a “whistle”, as a compliment to how SVELTE she looked...


...  When asked by Robert, Jane said yes, she had done a good deal of WORK in Chicago thru the years, the last one being Stephen Sondheim’s musical play BOUNCE[which Jane, from the original cast, performed at the Goodman theatre from June 30 – August 10, 2003]...


...  Robert wondered if she “missed” the old days of performing onstage.  Jane said, well, she used to do 8 performances in 7 days, such as at Chicago’s old STATE-LAKE theater, & honestly, “I’m so glad that’s OVER with!”, because it took so much “out” of you to do that much... 

...  But, overall, Jane said she really LOVED being in CHICAGO itself, because it was “so clean, and everyone is so FRIENDLY!”... 


...  Robert asked about her work on the “SEVEN BRIDES film.  She said, she liked that “It was a period piece.”, with some fine music in it.  But no, she DIDN’T expect that it was going to be the big HIT it turned out to be:  “You never know what’s going to HAPPEN to it in the end—”...


...  Jane added that, she feels BLESSED that the film is still being enjoyed and is still “ ‘AROUNDand so am I ! ”, which brought hearty applause from the audience...


...  When asked by a listener what her FAVORITE film roles were, Jane said, “ROYAL WEDDING” and “TWO WEEKS WITH LOVE” [from 1950, with Ricardo Montalban].  With her typical good humor, she commented that, as to her movies, in most of them, “I didn’t do much except CHANGE my CLOTHES!...”


...  Robert asked, was working at MGM a pleasant era for her?  She replied, “Oh, YES!”...  Jane added that, she was working since she was 2 years old, singing & dancing on RADIO at first...


...  She recalled how, at MGM, one day, someone tapped her on her shoulder & said hello.  It was Clark Gable, “But, I couldn’t remember his NAME!... I was so SHY!... ”


...  She loved working with Fred Astaire in “ROYAL WEDDING”.  Her being in it was an unusual situation:  originally, his partner was supposed to be June Allyson--  but she turned up PREGNANT & couldn’t do it...


...  Then, Judy Garland [who she later worked with in 1959’s “MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS”] was scheduled for the “ROYAL WEDDING” role--  but then Judy got ILL, & the coveted role thus went to her opposite Fred!...


...  Jane told how, she’d never met Fred before, &, when she did, his [older] sister Adele was there.  She asked, when had he and Adele [pictured below] first started dancing together?  He replied, it was in 1929, to which she commented oh, that’s the year she herself was BORN [on April 1, as Suzanne Lorraine Burce]!... 


...  She added, that means she’s about to turn 82 this year (which drew applause from the audience)...


...  Robert said, he feels it would be fitting to speak of ELIZABETH TAYLOR who’d just passed away [at 79].  Jane said, they worked together in “A DATE WITH JUDY”  [in 1948, with Jane playing Judy Foster]...


...  Jane said yes, it’s true that she and Elizabeth attended the “Little Red Schoolhousetogether during their MGM years, all the way thru high school...  But, Elizabeth was 3 years younger than her, & most of the young people – including Margaret O’Brien – went to that school... 


...  But no, the really did very LITTLE together, as their main job was to get schooling when they weren’t busy with their ACTING work...


...  Jane volunteered how, Elizabeth asked her to be her Bridesmaid at her then-upcoming WEDDING, & she also asked Elizabeth to be HER bridesmaid at HER wedding, which they both did...


...  As to that sort of “tradition”, & [referring to how Elizabeth eventually had 8 weddings & she had 5], Jane added, “I’m glad we STOPPED that, because it could’ve become a ‘FULL TIME’ job!...”  The audience laughed heartily at that cute comment...


...  But, as to Robert’s question, Jane said yes, as to keeping in CONTACT with Elizabeth, “We’d connect every so often”” after that.  Not long ago, Jane was getting an award.  The plan was for the recipients to get letters from other actors, & one person got a letter from Lauren Bacall...


...  Then, at the award ceremony, they read a letter for Jane that was sent from Elizabeth, and she had a number of SWEET things to say about Jane, which she much appreciated...

...  Their most recent contact was a couple of months ago, when Elizabeth called to compliment her on her work in a recent “LAW & ORDER: SVU” TV show.  She’d been “following” Jane’s work thru the years, & Elizabeth complimented her, saying in a kidding way that, “I didn’t KNOW you could ACT!...”  The audience enjoyed that recollection...

...  Robert recalled how Elizabeth, in her letter to Jane, had commented about how good she was in her career.  Jane said yes, she appreciated that, adding about Elizabeth that, “She was very kind...  And a very FUNNY lady—” who had “a mouth like a sailor in her salty language!...

...  Jane summarized her feeling about Elizabeth by commenting, “She was like every woman wanted to be & not get ‘CAUGHT’ [for doing certain things]!...”

...  A man in the audience commented he’d recently seen “TWO WEEKS WITH LOVE”, & very much enjoyed it--  which Jane thanked him for saying.  She said yes, Debbie Reynolds was indeed  a ball of energy in the way she worked, such as during her cute Abba Dabba Honeymoonsong in it...


...  To the man’s commenting that Debbie seemed quite young in it, Jane said, “Yes, she was a kid – we ALL were, at one time!...” (which brought more appreciative laughs from the audience)...  Jane added that, Debbie had just been put under “contract” by MGM at the time it was made...

...  Robert asked Jane how it was to work with Ricardo Montalban.  “Feisty” Jane said, “He was wonderful...  I would RECOMMEND him!...” (which brought still more laughs)...                


...  A lady in the audience commented on how much she’d enjoyed the “NANCY GOES TO RIO” film [Jane had done in 1950, playing Nancy Barklay, along with Carmen Miranda & others].  Jane thanked her for the compliment, and said, unfortunately, it was not done in Rio--  “We never left MGM [& its soundstages]!...”


...  Regarding the film “A DATE WITH JUDY”,  Robert asked Jane if she had any “pleasant experiences” in working with Wallace Beery.  She said well, NOT much in the way of anything especially “pleasant”, he could be difficult to deal with-- although there were “A lot of FUNNY memories...”


...  Jane explained by saying that, Wallace was “a kleptomaniac!”  He would keep taking costumes and other things from the film HOME with him.  Partly it was because he knew how they’d have to do a number of “reshoots” for the movie, & he would then rent the items he’d stolen BACK to the studio for use in that!  He even did that with a CANOE that plainly said “MGM” on the bottom!...


...  Robert asked her about CARMEN MIRANDA.  Jane responded that, “She was just a dear lady. She was very shy, very quiet...  Very little—”, being even shorter than Jane herself was out of her tall heels...  Jane found her to be “such a kind and gentleperson, who, unfortunately, wasn’t really APPRECIATED until after she’d DIED...  Yes, they’d done 2 movies together ...


...  A man in the audience said his name was Tony, & he and his wife Kathy had much enjoyed watching her in THREE DARING DAUGHTERSwith Jeanette McDonald [from 1948]...


...  He wondered, would she be kind enough to SIGN an item he had from that?...   Jane said well, she appreciated the compliment, but, she wasn’t sure of their time schedule, & it’d be best that he send it to TCM, which would send it to her, after which she’d sign it to “Kathy & Tony”.  He thanked her for that...


...  A lady said, she’d seen Jane appear onstage in Chicago with Howard Keel in “SOUTH PACIFIC”, & wondered when that might have been.  Jane said, whew!, it’s hard to narrow that down, probably some time in the 1970’s...  Michael Phillips piped up, let’s just say it was “between World War II & the ’70’s!”, which Jane said was a good description...

... Another lady in the audience wondered, what was Jane’s favorite song from “SEVEN BRIDES”?...  She replied that, it’d probably be One Year Of Love”, since it was poignant and beautiful”...

...  Robert brought up how MGM had in-effect “dismissed” the “SEVEN BRIDES” film before it was made.  Jane said yes, that was very TRUE:  they had such little regard for it that they’d vastly cut the planned budget for the movie, choosing to instead spend the money on BRIGADOON”, based on the Broadway play of that which they’d just bought...


...  Jane added an “ironic” note:  the Radio City Music Hall [in New York] was considered the “premiere” place to play a movie, & MGM wanted them to accept BRIGADOONto showcase.  But, instead, Radio City chose “SEVEN BRIDESto showcase therethat year!...   The audience applauded upon hearing that...

...  Robert commented, that film of hers “went like gangbustersin how the public RESPONDED to it, & wondered if she & others in the cast “expected” that?... 

...  She said in effect, the degree of acceptance was not expected--  tho everyone felt the DANCING was really fine, as was the cast, and, “the SCORE was magnificent”...  So, she’s very appreciative that it’s still highly-regarded today...      

...  Robert wondered if she “missed” the “old” days of making such films?...  Jane said, NO“I enjoyed what I did when I DID it—”, but she’s had a really fine time SINCE then...  She lives in Connecticut with her husband, & has LOVED that life!...

...  Robert added the information that, Jane had been married for some years to onetime child actor DICKIE MOORE, who was one of the LITTLE RASCALS, & played the son of Marlene Dietrich in “BLONDE VENUS” & gave Shirley Temple her first on-screen kiss!... 

                                             

...  He pointed out Dickie sitting in the audience, to which the other people applauded for him...  Jane said, “I have a WONDERFUL life now, and he’s given me the most wonderful life--!”...

...  Returning to the subject of the SEVEN BRIDESmovie they were about to screen for us, Robert commented on a sort of “GLITSCH” in the making of the film:

...  Most of themale cast was chosen because they could dance well--  but, 2 of the brothers are NOT seen really dancing.  One is the star, Howard Keel (who was mainly there to sing).  The other was Jeff Richards, who played his brother Benjamin...

...  It seems that Director Stanley Donen and choreographer Michael Kidd did NOT want him in the film.  But, MGM had recently signed him to a contract & wanted to “push” & “PROMOTE” him, so they insisted that he had to be used in it...

...  Reluctantly, he was put in the film...  But, whenever the real dance numbers come up, you’ll always see one brother – namely, JEFF’s character – who always “kind of moves towards the BACKof the group & sort of “OUT-OF-SIGHT” as the other brothers are dancing.  Robert kidded, Jeff at times seems to even have trouble clapping properly in-time to the music!...


...  Robert spoke of how they made Jeff’s hair red [as they did for ALL the brothers in various shades]...  [In the film, in the “Barn-Raising” dance number, he’s the brother in the sort of orange shirt;  and indeed, he does go off to the “side” & “back” during dance numbers!...]


...  Since time was running out, Michael Phillips said to Robert & Jane [+ also the audience], Thank you so much for COMING to the Music Box...”

...  Robert thanked Michael for his specially attending the event , and also to the PUBLIC “for your support of TCM”, & he and Jane left the stage to enthusiastic APPLAUSE from the appreciative crowd..
    

...  As Adrienne commented to me about the evening’s event, “I ENJOYED it!  It’s FUN, having them talk about the old days and their relationships with the other stars...”


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...  They then SCREENED the “SEVEN BRIDES” film for the audience...  It’s amazing how well it “HOLDS-UP” after 57 years:

...  The audience laughed regularly at the HUMOR in the movie, such as Jane’s “reaction” to suddenly learning she had 7 rather than just 1 man to take care of at the house...  And at the antics of Russ Tamblyn as brother Gideon (such as how he tries to get his girlfriend to come out of the Reverend’s house so he can kidnap her), etc...

...  Various of the singing numbers by Jane and Howard brought forth special APPLAUSE from the audience after their performances.  The same was true after various DANCE numbers, especially the incredible Barn-Raisingone...

...  It’s a happy, “rollicking” movie, with an effective “period” feel to old-time Oregon...

...  So, a FINE time was had by all at the special event!...



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  (o_
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2 comments:

  1. Hi Thanks For

    Sharing this.

    Regards,
    www.kalyanavaranmatrimony.com

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  2. Just came across this site by accident , while looking up info on Jane Powell. (Yes I've seen ALL of her films,...and I mean the year they came out!:
    At the age of 11, I had a crush on her,..in her very 1st film, "Song of the Open Road".)
    It was great to read the interview, and to see the terrific pics you took of Janie. (You mention taking Video, too!! Have you posted that,..or is it available to view somewhere??) Many Thank.
    Jim Kason Ising2unow@aol.com

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