I have a question about Astaire, Garland and Kelly.
In 1943's The Sky's the Limit, there was Fred as a decorated serviceman on leave. He's flown missions in World War 2. Here he is with a squadron member, played by a young new actor named Robert Ryan. These war heroes have become celebrities.
On a personal note, when I returned from my partner's funeral in 1994, I felt like my heart and soul had been torn right out of me. One of my best friends came to visit and comfort me. I was so angry that such a good, kind man had died young. I was angry at the world and angry at the disease that took his life. I asked my friend to help me throw out all the liquor I had in my apartment -- because I felt like I just wanted to drink heavily and break things. Reportedly, some viewers complained about the amount of glass Astaire's character breaks in the "One For My Baby" number. I understand his rage. That was a great, bold and truthful acting choice for Astaire's routine.
Today, Meryl Streep or Cate Blanchett would probably be asked to perform this number.
Judy was one of Hollywood's ultimate triple threat entertainers. She could sing, she could dance, she could act. She got two Oscar nominations to prove it. In Summer Stock, she and Gene Kelly teamed for the third and last time in a musical for MGM. Garland does some of the best dance work of her film career in this musical with Kelly as her partner. In the "Portland Fancy" barn dance number, she's so good that you almost watch her more than you watch Kelly, who had way more formal dance training that she did.
This was also the first and only film that put Judy Garland on a tractor.
This was Judy Garland was she was still in her 20s. She and MGM came to a mutual agreement to part ways. She'd been a contract player for 15 years. Summer Stock (1950) was after The Wizard of Oz, after the enormous success of Meet Me in St. Louis and years before wowing movie critics with her musical/drama comeback performance in George Cukor's masterpiece, A Star Is Born. Garland's performance put her in the Oscar race for Best Actress of 1954. She introduced the song, "The Man That Got Away" in that remake. In the 1960s, she'd be a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for her dramatic work in Judgment at Nuremberg.
Gene Kelly would go on to even greater artistic achievements as choreographer and performer in An American in Paris, Oscar winner for Best Picture of 1951, and the much-acclaimed 1952 musical, Singin' in the Rain.
Fred Astaire would go on to rave reviews in one of MGM's biggest gems in its crown of movie musicals. The Band Wagon (1953) is one of the most sparking of classic Hollywood movie musicals and one of Astaire's finest films. If it was showing on a cineplex today, his "Dancing in the Dark" number with Cyd Charisse alone would be worth the price of admission. With the "Girl Hunt" jazz ballet number, Astaire reinvented himself as a dancer -- a dancer who'd made Hollywood history in original screen musicals co-starring Ginger Rogers in the 1930s.
I watch television today and shows like The Voice, American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance remind me of Addison DeWitt's remark to an aspiring actress in All About Eve: "That's all television is, my dear. Nothing but auditions."
If Fred Astaire, Judy Garland and Gene Kelly were alive today and in the age categories they were in those three musicals that aired on TCM, would work could those Hollywood legends hope to get in Hollywood today? The movies, especially musical movies, made them international stars and show business legends. To see them on TCM in those three movies and know that they each had bigger successes yet to come was really something.
What would Hollywood do with those iconic triple threat talents today?