When the silver screen learned to talk, it learned to sing as well. In 1927 the part-talkie 'The Jazz Singer' made its appearance and, through its success, saved the Warner Bros. studio from bankruptcy. Soon every star on every film lot was dragooned into performing in elephantine film reviews whether they had any talent for it or not. Luckily, all the performers we feature here were renowned for their performing talents.
Our title track comes from 'The Broadway Melody of 1938' made a year earlier, and so called to differentiate it from two previous Broadway Melody films (there was still the Broadway Melody of 1940 to come.) Everybody Sing was introduced by the former Frances Gumm, now MGM's wonderfully talented child star, Judy Garland.
Another name change: Alvin Morris became Tony Martin when this charismatic former saxophone player concentrated on his singing, and established himself as a popular film star. In 1941, shortly after his marriage to Alice Faye was dissolved, Martin appeared in a Marx Brothers extravaganza, 'The Big Store' and sang a number of songs including If It's You.
Maria do Carmo Miranda do Cunha was born in Lisbon, but achieved fame in Brazil and subsequently on film in Hollywood as Carmen Miranda. Her vivacious personality, her energetic dancing and staccato singing enlivened many a 20th Century Fox musical. 'Weekend In Havana' also made in 1941 was cheerful escapist fare; When I Love, I Love presents the diminutive fireball in typically ebullient form.
Singer/dancers come no greater tham Frederick Austerlitz - the incomparable Fred Astaire.
In one of his finest films, 'Swing Time' with the help of Jerome Kern's music and a deft lyric from Dorothy Fields, Astaire paid tribute to the legendary Broadway and film dancer, the African-American Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson. The song was Bojangles Of Harlem.
Before her post-war Broadway career, in which she created such roles as Nellie Forbush in 'South Pacific' and Maria in 'The Sound Of Music', Mary Martin had a successful film career. 'Rhythm on the River' paired her with Bing Crosby in a cheerful musical about a failing songwriter, played by Basil Rathbone who engages the couple to write his songs for him. Mary got to introduce the piquant Ain't It A Shame About Mame?
"Goldwyn Cantor-girl-and-gag socko" exclaimed 'Variety' with its usual verbal economy. 'Kid Millions' was another vehicle for one of the stage and screen's most hardworking and animated performers. Edward Israel Iskowitz, better known as Eddie Cantor, a powerhouse personality, known as 'Banjo Eyes' made a terrific impact on stage, radio and on the screen. When My Ship Comes In was a hit both on film and on record.
From the age of five, Mae West had been an entertainer. The daughter of a heavyweight boxer, she knew how to take care of herself. For the film 'I'm No Angel' she wrote the script, loaded with double if not triple meanings, and starred. It was released in 1933, and two years later, Mae was the highest-paid woman in the United States, thanks to her blend of sexual allure, and parody of it. Mae West and her plays and films were frequently attacked by moral reformers; that only made them more popular.
The much married bundle of talents that is Mickey Rooney started life as Joe Yule Junior. He began as a child performer in the family show business act, but soon outstripped his parents when he began a highly successful career in films. As well as the still-remembered Andy Hardy series with Ann Rutherford, he was teamed with Judy Garland in a highly successful series of musicals. An adaptation of the classic Gershwin stage success 'Girl Crazy' (the origin of the current hit 'Crazy For You'), included the exhortation Treat Me Rough.
Whether the comment that "She gave him sex-appeal and he gave her class" was true, or not, the pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers was the greatest song and dance screen partnership of all. In 'Follow The Fleet' Fred was in the Navy, and Ginger was (eventually) his sweetheart. Irving Berlin created a wonderful score that included a fine song, introduced by the former Virginia (Ginger) McMath - Let Yourself Go.
MGM had its Broadway Melodies films, and Warner Brothers had its Gold Diggers. These were not, of course, miners, but dancers out to ensnare rich husbands. Before the main titles of 'Gold Diggers of 1937' flashed up on screen there was dapper juvenile Dick Powell to set the scene with Harry Warren and Al Dubin's catchy With Plenty of Money and You.
'Born to Dance', a 1938 musical smash, boasted a superb score by Cole Porter, a minimal story and some wonderful performances from an impressive roster of stars. Both Frances Langford, who is heard here, and James Stewart, who isn't, sang Easy to Love. It is no disservice to Stewart to claim that, while he offered considerable charm, Frances Langford, a popular and accomplished singer sang the song to perfection.
Having scored a success with the rueful duet, full of touching reminiscence, 'Thanks for the Memory', Bob Hope and Shirley Ross (born Leslie Townes Hope and Bernice Gaunt respectively) would be given another similar song to see if they could repeat their hit. They could. In the film 'Thanks for the Memory' named after their previous success, the pair introduced Two Sleepy People.
Connie (sometimes spelt Connee) Boswell was the most important member of the Boswell Sisters, probably the best of all sister singing groups. From the age of four, Connie was stricken down with polio and normally performed sitting in a wheelchair, while wearing evening dress. Sand In My Shoes was written for 'Kiss the Boys Goodbye', a 1941 hit musical which was a satire on Hollywood's frantic search for new stars - especially one to play Scarlett O'Hara.
For some reason, Paul Robeson was not available to appear on Broadway in the role written for him, Joe in 'Show Boat'. Jules Bledsoe created it instead. However Robeson inherited the role when the show moved to London, and played Joe in James Whale's classic Universal Pictures film - the definitive version, top billing Irene Dunne, Alan Joes and Helen Morgan. Ol' Man River describes the mighty Mississippi up and down which the show boat, the 'Cotton Blossom' sails, bringing drama and excitement to shore dwellers.
20th Century Fox Pictures promoted blonde singing stars in their musical pictures. In the Thirties, their top grosser for many years was warm voiced Alice Jeanne Leppert, better known as Alice Faye. Miss Faye had been spotted in the chorus line of 'George White's Scandals' by bandleader Rudy Vallee. Her thirteenth film was 'Wake Up and Live' that purported to deal with a quarrel between two top American radio personalities. Alice was a radio singer who also dispensed advice.
Harry Lillis Crosby, better known as Bing, enjoyed one of the longest singing careers in motion pictures. 1938's 'Paris Honeymoon' finds our hero in France persuading his fiancee to overlook the charms of a continental nobleman. Of course, the title gives the ending away! One of Bing's hits here was You're A Sweet Little Headache.
The celebrated former lift operator, Miss Orleans and band vocalist Dorothy Lamour was born Mary Leta Dorothy Kaumeyer. The girl in a sarong, she was the love interest, fought over by Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in the famous series of 'Road' pictures. The Moon of Manakoora was featured in 'The Hurricane' starring Miss Lamour with Jon Hall. While our heroine wore a sarong, there was no sign of Messrs. Crosby or Hope.
Al Jolson (Asa Joselson) has the distinction of having not one but two biographical films made about him - 'The Jolson Story' and 'Jolson Sings Again'. You Are Too Beautiful comes from the film known in Britain as 'Hallelujah I'm A Tramp' and in American as 'Hallelujah I'm A Bum'. The film was unusual and ground-breaking - and paid the commercial price. Its wonderful score was written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.
Canada's greatest singing star in the movies was born Edna Mae Durbin in Winnipeg. As Deanna Durbin, with her fresh and lively personality, she made a series of delightful pictures that exhibited her charm, looks and beautiful singing voice. In '100 Men And A Girl' Deanna sang It's Raining Sunbeams and you believed her. Incidentally the 100 men of the film's title were unemployed musicians - Deanna sought to weld them into an orchestra, and to persuade the great conductor Leopold Stokowski to perform with them. Naturally she succeeded.
When Hollywood bought a successful stage musical in the Thirties and Forties, the first thing that happened was that most of the songs were discarded and new ones written. 'Higher and Higher' boasted a fine Rodgers & Hart score on Broadway. The film however added Frank Sinatra, in his first acting role, and a wonderful song - (This Is) A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening.
MICHAEL P. KENNEDY 1994