Thursday, December 28, 2017


Here's a tip on a movie musical that airs tonight on TCM (Turner Classic Movies).  It stars a woman who's the reason why I turned down TV work with Geraldo Rivera.  The musical is one of those old Hollywood movies that was delightfully lampooned in one of the old movie take-offs we came to love so much on THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW.  I belly laughed out how accurately Carol Burnett recreated a hospital love scene that immediately follows the scene in which the leading lady in is a serious car crash on a country road -- but survived it without getting a single smudge on her designer gown.  The movie is THE DOLLY SISTERS with Betty Grable, a major Hollywood musical comedy star.
 In 1953's HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, a popular comedy with a plot that she'd done in her earlier movies, Betty Grable played Loco, the model who loved to eat.  Lauren Bacall (left) and Marilyn Monroe (right) co-starred.
20th Century Fox became famous as the studio of "The Fox Blondes" who were mostly featured in deluxe musicals.  From singer Alice Faye in the 1930s and ice skater Sonja Henie to musicals starring Marilyn Monroe in the 1950s, Fox had a thing for blondes.  Betty Grable was the studio's hottest blonde of the 1940s.  She could sing and dance.  In the 1930s, just like Lucille Ball, Grable was seen in bit parts in Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers RKO musicals.  By 1940, Grable was a new Fox star and by 1943, she was a top Hollywood box office star and one of Hollywood's highest paid women.  Plus, she was a top, truly iconic pin-up for soldiers during World War 2.  Her legs were famous and she was glad to show 'em off in her movies.
Her musical comedies often seemed to have similar plots, but the audiences apparently didn't care.  They were feel-good movies and Betty had a snappy, warm personality that moviegoers loved.  THE DOLLY SISTERS, a loosely-based show biz biopic, was one of her biggest Fox hits.  In a current podcast, I tell Keith Price, my partner and producer, about a new documentary on Netflix.  It's about the amazing, creative and innovative Hollywood costumer designer named Orry-Kelly.  Betty Grable rarely looked better in a Technicolor musical than she did wearing Orry-Kelly creations in 1945's THE DOLLY SISTERS.
The other sister is played by blonde June Haver (right).

WARNING:  This is one of those 1940s Hollywood musicals that has a blackface production number.  So be prepared.  On a personal note, I love TCM.  I have since 1999 when I started watching.  I love that I can see old films uncut and commercial free and I understand that Hollywood, for all its faults, is more enlightened about racial images today than it was then.  However, as a person of color, it does get frustrating when I see more blackface numbers in old movies presented than I see African-American hosts or guest co-hosts throughout a year in segments on TCM.  This year was no exception.

Betty Grable was one of those stars from Hollywood's Golden Era who got to be a guest and have fun on THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW.  And, yes, her legs still looked great.  In the 1960s, Betty Grable did TV commercials and had Broadway success when she went into the HELLO, DOLLY! starring role.
In the late 80s and into the 90s, Geraldo Rivera had a daytime TV show.  His show contacted me a few times after my VH1 years to come on and do celebrity gossip.  I politely turned down the offers.  Why?  Because of something I heard about Betty Grable.

When I was a kid and very young classic film fan growing up in Los Angeles, I also read the entertainment columns in the newspapers.  Joyce Haber was the powerful entertainment news/gossip columnist for THE LOS ANGELES TIMES who followed Hedda Hopper.  Haber could be downright bitchy in her column.  Bitchy and hurtful.

Betty Grable had been hospitalized.  Columnist Joyce Haber, so the story goes, put a call in to one of her night-shift hospital contacts to find out what was ailing Grable.  Haber was told allegedly, by the non-official source, that Betty Grable had lung cancer.  It was prognosis negative.

Haber printed the sad news that Betty Grable was terminally ill.  The beloved movie star apparently read the news in the early morning edition before her doctors had been able to tell her in person.  Joyce Haber was let go from THE LOS ANGELES TIMES.

That L.A. story has stayed with me for years and that is why I wouldn't do celebrity gossip on TV.  Betty Grable died of lung cancer in 1973 at age 56.  Joyce Haber died in 1993.

Betty Grable delights in THE DOLLY SISTERS on TCM tonight at 8p Eastern.  Go to my podcast to hear more about the film's costume designer, the openly gay and outspoken Orry-Kelly, and another film he contributed to, AUNTIE MAME:

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