I’m a musicals geek from way back. My artist father was an ardent admirer of talent and beauty, and introduced me to many of the great movie musicals when I was a little girl. As a result, in my youth I had dreams of becoming a Broadway star. Those dreams were squashed forever when I auditioned for West Side Story in a Cleveland community theater production in my early twenties. I failed miserably at the dance-at-the-gym number. (To dance, you need rhythm and the ability to step-ball-change. I have neither.)
My lack of rhythm doesn’t prevent me from loving musicals, however, it makes me appreciate them all the more. I especially love the old movie musicals from Hollywood’s heyday in the ‘30s-‘50s—like Top Hat, On the Town, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Meet Me in St. Louis, Singin’ in the Rain, Oklahoma, and The King and I. Unfortunately, many of those musicals and their stars are becoming forgotten.
So, I’m going to do my part to keep them alive by periodically writing about them and introducing you to some of the greats (which you may not know if you’re under 40.) Like the fabulous Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland and Gene Kelly, Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds, Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney. (The latter you should know well from watching White Christmas every year—“The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” number with the inimitable Danny Kaye and Vera Ellen is one of the greatest dance duets committed to film.
Then there’s that great musical quartet who produced two of the most enduring movie musicals in the ‘50s: Rodgers and Hammerstein and Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones.
Carousel was one of Dad’s favorite musicals, due in large part to Gordon MacRae’s stirring and tender rendition of “Soliloquy.” I can’t hear “My boy Bill…” without thinking of Dad. The beautiful duet “If I Loved You” between Billy Bigelow and Julie Jordan gave us both goosebumps, and left me with a longtime crush on Gordon MacRae (sealed for life when he sang “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” and “People Will Say We’re in Love,” in Oklahoma.) But it was the heartbreaking “You’ll Never Walk Alone” when Billy Bigelow died that moved us to tears when I was a child.
Less than a decade later that song was sung at my Dad’s funeral.
Dad appreciated great singing and dancing, and passed that appreciation on to his offspring. He revered Mario Lanza and introduced me to the great operatic tenor in “The Toast of New Orleans” with Kathryn Grayson. I still remember and love their gorgeous duet of “Be My Love,” a song that became a bestselling hit for Lanza in the ‘50s.
Another amazing musical performer from the ‘40s and ‘50s my dad introduced me to was Ann Miller, the leggy brunette famous for her machine-gun tap dancing. Many considered her the best and fastest female tap dancer in Hollywood—it was said she could do 500 taps a minute!
She usually played the sassy sidekick and was in a lot of not-too-good movies. Although the movies were forgettable, her dancing never was. To see her in her best films, check out Easter Parade, On the Town, and Kiss Me, Kate.
I’ll leave you with a little more Miller dancing to brighten your weekend.