Monday, April 2, 2018

A Great Month for William Holden Fans

When I was just starting elementary school back in Los Angeles, I learned one thing about show business -- if William Holden was starring in a new film, we'd be going to the drive-in movies.  I'd sit happily in the back seat of the Plymouth with my little sister.  Both of us would have our pajamas on underneath our street clothes.  Our film fan parents would be in the front seat. Mom and Dad loved William Holden.  They really didn't care what the critics said.  If Holden was onscreen, that was a good enough reason for them to go the movies and do their own review.  That's what you call star power -- and William Holden's star power really beamed at full capacity starting about 1950.  I'm proud to report that I picked up the love for William Holden from Mom and Dad.  The talented, handsome, intelligent and gracious film actor is in the TCM (Turner Classic Movies) prime time spotlight every Monday this month.  This year marks the centennial of the late star's birth.  Very late in tonight's line-up are two of my favorite William Holden movies.  They're films I always loved seeing on TV if they aired when I got home from school or during my summer vacations.  The first one I write about is a comedy with musical numbers.  It's the movie that gave us the beautiful Johnny Mercer classic song, "I Remember You."  It's a movie I'd put on a double bill with Billy Wilder's SUNSET BLVD.  The movie with the Johnny Mercer songs is 1942's THE FLEET'S IN.
This was obviously a movie made to entertain wartime audiences and probably also entertain the troops.  The plot is paper thin.  A bunch of sailors on leave make a bet that their shy, handsome bookworm sailor buddy can't kiss the ice princess singer who headlines at a swanky San Francisco nightclub.  She's called "The Countess" and she's well-played by Dorothy Lamour.
Lamour looks luscious.  For that matter, so does young and fresh-faced William Holden.  This movie was one of the first ten he made in which he had a speaking part.  The Countess has a roommate who's also a performer at the club.  As the comic sidekick roommate -- and making a big, brassy impression with her first film role -- we see Betty Hutton.  This was her first movie...and the first time we saw her teamed with Eddie Bracken.  They'd go on to make the 1944 Preston Sturges classic, THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK.  For THE FLEET'S IN, Betty belts out "Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing in a Hurry."  Dorothy Lamour does a silky rendition of "I Remember You."  Helen O'Connell, vocalist for Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra, does their hit song, "Tangerine."
Did you ever see that brilliantly bad movie, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS?  If you did, you remember the friction between Broadway diva Helen Lawson and newcomer Neely O'Hara.  That friction was based on the real-life situation between Ethel Merman and Betty Hutton.  Merman was in rehearsals for the new 1940 Cole Porter show, PANAMA HATTIE.  A newcomer named Betty Hutton had a couple of number in the show was getting great buzz in the out-of-town tryouts.  Reportedly, Merman had Hutton's numbers cut on opening night.  Heartbroken Hutton went to Hollywood where, in time, she'd star in the film version of one of Merman's biggest Broadway hits, ANNIE GET YOUR GUN (1950).  Betty really wanted the part originated by Merman in the Irving Berlin musical. THE FLEET'S IN launched Hutton's rise to Hollywood stardom.
"I Remember You" is one of my favorite songs of all time.  I have two good friends who are jazz singers and they both have a book of songs co-written by Johnny Mercer.  Even though that song is now a standard and one of his most popular, it wasn't in the book.  Why?'s the story:  When Johnny wrote "I Remember You," he wrote it with someone in mind and heart.  He'd fallen deeply in love with Judy Garland, but she was engaged to and married David Rose.  Mercer was also married.  Mrs. Mercer knew about the affair and, reportedly, was a bit sensitive about that song.  Mercer and Judy would work together on the MGM musical, THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946).  He'd win a Best Song Oscar for it. ("On the Atchison, Topeka and the Sante Fe")
So...why would I put THE FLEET'S IN on a double bill with Billy Wilder's SUNSET BLVD.?  In the first 15 minutes of the movie, we see Holden as the broke screenwriter in a pitch meeting with a bald Paramount producer named Sheldrake.  Joe Gillis (Holden) is desperately pitching ideas for scripts because he's desperate for income.  His car is about to be repossessed.  Sheldrake asks, "Do you have anything for Betty Hutton?  We're always interested in a Betty Hutton."  The brassy blonde babe who made her 1942 big screen bow with Holden in THE FLEET'S IN was one of the top stars on the Paramount lot come 1950.

A good buddy and mine who also digs classic films and tales of old Hollywood once said, "William Holden owned the 1950s."  I agree. Think about the Best Actress Oscar race for that year alone.  Gloria Swanson was up for SUNSET BLVD. and so was Judy Holliday for BORN YESTERDAY.   Holden was the leading man in both films.  Both were nominees for Best Picture.  Holden would take home a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Billy Wilder's STALAG 17.

Also in the 1950s, he'd make a cameo appearance in one of the funniest I LOVE LUCY episodes.  The Ricardos and the Mertzes were in Hollywood.  Lucy Ricardo has a very close encounter with movie star William Holden at the famed celebrity-heavy Brown Derby restaurant. The Lucille Ball and Bill Holden association goes back to a 1949 comedy that always tickles me.  It's called MISS GRANT TAKES RICHMOND.
This is a low budget, big fun comedy with Lucy as the worst student in a secretarial school.  She's Miss Grant.  He's Mr. Richmond, the guy who hires her to work for his realty company.  But the realty company turns out to really be a front for a bookmaking operation.  Folks place bets on horse races.  Hijinks ensue.  For me, this movie was fun to watch because it sailed on the energy of Lucille Ball and William Holden.  It's cool to see it now because, in 1949, Lucille Ball's film career was warm but not hot.  The same applied to Holden.  But, when they reteamed a few years later for I LOVE LUCY, they'd both become two of the hottest stars in Hollywood.

The TCM salute to William Holden starts tonight at 8p ET with GOLDEN BOY co-starring Barbara Stanwyck followed by EXECUTIVE SUITE, also co-starring Barbara Stanwyck, at 10p ET.  A couple of other Holden movie play after that.  Then...THE FLEET'S IN at 3:30am ET followed by MISS GRANT TAKES RICHMOND at 5:15am ET.  That's all tonight, April 2nd, on TCM.  Enjoy.

From THE FLEET'S IN, here is "I Remember You" sung by George Michael.

1 comment:

  1. Reading this was a real treat. I didn't appreciate William Holden until many years later, but as a kid I saw "The Fleet's In" and discovered Betty Hutton. Have been in love with her ever since. Thanks for your intelligent and informative posts (and podcasts) which are an oasis in an internet sea of film blogs by people whose idea of classic film extends only as far back as "Grease."


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