Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ann Blyth - Profession of Faith


On February 20, 1955, Ann Blyth was given the Star of David Award at a charity ball in Los Angeles for her work in support of the Jewish Home for the Aged.  This was only one occasion of many when she had been noted for the charitable work she'd been involved in since she came to Hollywood, including both religious and civic organizations.  On another occasion, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from St. Joseph’s College in Emmitsburg, Maryland, for her years of participation in these activities. 
Charity and civic work played a large part of her private life, but since this series is focused on her career, we’ll cover in this post those professional gigs that combined her acting career with her personal commitment to her faith.
She found herself part of a small colony of Roman Catholic actors in Hollywood, some of whom belonged to the Catholic Actors Guild, founded 1914.  Its first president was Jerry Cohan, George M.’s father.  Other members included Claudette Colbert, Pat O’Brien, Irene Dunne, Wallace Ford, Rosalind Russell, Ruth Hussey, Raymond Massey, Helen Hayes, and Jane Wyatt.
From time to time, some of these folks, Ann especially, appeared in a long-running radio program called Family Theater, which presented literary classics like A Tale of Two Cities, mixed with family dramas and gentle comedy.  The host, usually a guest actor, would remind the audience that praying together as a family would help lead to world peace.  Founded by Fr. Patrick Peyton, who established the Holy Cross Family Ministries, the program featured such other Hollywood luminaries as James Stewart, Bob Hope, and Barbara Stanwyck.  Fr. Peyton, you might recall, coined the phrase: "The family that prays together, stays together."
Ann’s first appearance on the show was in August 1947, and she appeared several times in the show’s run, which ended in 1957.  The Triumphant Hour was a kind of kin to this show, and she appeared on this radio program, and The Joyful Hour in December 1949, playing Mary to MacDonald Carey’s Joseph in The Nativity.  Bing Crosby and Dennis Day were part of a large cast.
In the late 1950s and 1960s, television broadcast The Christophers, where Ann appeared as a guest in a kind of talk show or panel discussion on such topics as: “Gear Yourself to a Fast Changing World” (1963), “Careers That Count” (1958), “You Can Change the World” (1951), “Give Children Good Reading Habits” (1960), and “Teen Agers: Today and Tomorrow” (1965).  “You Can Change the World” is no longer up at YouTube, but it featured a large cast including Irene Dunne, Loretta Young, Ann Blyth, Jack Benny, all in discussion with Fr. Peyton.  Though Jack Benny was along for comedy relief, it was William Holden’s concerned face being among the earnestly staged discussion that just sort of made me smile.
Here is a clip from a Family Theater short in celebration of Easter, with Ann Blyth singing “Come Holy Ghost.”  The clip demonstrates her rich, surprisingly powerful soprano voice, and I particularly like how relaxed she appears while singing, the leisurely pace of the song and her vocal technique itself creating drama.  It's a fine display of both her artistry, and her contentment in singing and in her faith.
A Happy Easter to those who celebrate it.


 
For those of you in the mood for a little Easter OTR (Old Time Radio), have a listen to Ann in "The Arbutus Bonnet," a dramatic episode of Hallmark Playhouse, hosted by author James Hilton, in a script adapted by Jean Holloway (one of my favorite radio and TV writers).  It was broadcast April 6, 1950.  Scroll down to "50-04-06" and download or listen.
Come back next Thursday when we discuss the delightful comedy Sally and Saint Anne, a coming-of-age story where small-town girl Ann Blyth suffers vast growing pains amid a daffy family in a circus of a home.  She has the help of her best buddy, Saint Anne.

 
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Pittsburgh Press, May 8, 1964; also article by Carl Apone, July 28, 1968, p. 13.

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THANK YOU....to the following folks whose aid in gathering material for this series has been invaluable:  EBH; Kevin Deany of Kevin's Movie Corner; Gerry Szymski of Westmont Movie Classics, Westmont, Illinois; and Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.

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HELP!!!!!!!!!!

Now that I've got your attention: I'm still on the lookout for a movie called Katie Did It (1951) for this year-long series on the career of Ann Blyth.  It seems to be a rare one.  Please contact me on this blog or at my email: JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com if you know where I can lay my hands on this film.  Am willing to buy or trade, or wash windows in exchange.  Maybe not the windows part.  But you know what I mean.

Also, if anybody has any of Ann's TV appearances, there's a few I'm missing from, Switch, The Name of the Game, The Dick Powell show, the Dennis Day Show (TV), the DuPont Show with June Allyson, This is Your Life, Lux Video Theatre.  Also any video clips of her Oscar appearances.  Release the hounds.  And let me know, please.

***************************************
In response to the number of kind people who've requested print copies of my eBook Classic Films and the American Conscience, which is a collection of essays from this blog -- I still can't print that book because you wouldn't be able to lift it, and I couldn't afford to print it.  BUT, I'm putting out a new, smaller, collection of essays, some old, some new, from this blog titled Movies in Our Time: Hollywood Mimics and Mirrors the 20th Century.   It will be issued in eBook as well as print, and I'll let you know more about it down the road.  I hope to have it published sometime in May.

 

 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Majority of One - 1961


 
A Majority of One (1961), directed by Mervyn LeRoy is a luminous tribute to the “better angels of our nature,” to the belief that peace on earth begins with an old-fashioned concept called the brotherhood of man, and to the talent of two aging stars who only got better with time.  They are Rosalind Russell, and Sir Alec Guinness.
This is our contribution to the Diamonds and Gold blogathon saluting the actors and actresses in their “over 50” years, hosted by Caftan Woman, who covers the actresses, and Rich at Wide Screen World, who showcases the actors.  Please have a look at these two blogs for a list of great bloggers participating in this event.
 
Rosalind Russell plays an elderly Brooklynite, a widow who lives alone in an apartment cozy with tsotchkes and heavy with the past in the form of family portraits and symbols of her Jewish faith.  In a place of honor on the sideboard is the photo of her late husband, and her son, who was killed in World War II.  Though she is a strong, sensible, and funny woman who dispenses home comforts from an enormous handbag and home philosophy from a giving heart (“You want dietonic, drink water.”), she is still grieving, and chained to what she has lost.

 
Her daughter, played by Madelyn Rhue, is married to a young man in the diplomatic service, played by Ray Danton.  They come for a visit and to break the news that he is being transferred to Japan.  They want to take her with them, but know that convincing her will be difficult, because she is old and set in her ways, because all she knows is Brooklyn, and because of a still not healed resentment against the Japanese, for her son was killed in the Pacific Theater. 
The war was over only just 15 years when this story takes place, and it reflects sentiments common at the time, and also reflects that remarkable change that occurred both in a Japan struggling to throw off years of shame of defeat and poverty to embrace a modern world—modern democracy, modern capitalism—and in America's relationship with its former enemy.  It was still a long time before Japan became an economic powerhouse, but the seeds were being sown, while America changed in its role as victor, to partner, and it left many World War II generation Americans reeling.  Does moving forward disgrace the past?  Is moving forward the only way to really honor the sacrifices made?


Large issues are reduced to small examples of fear and mistrust when Rosalind Russell meets her first Japanese man – and we are set up for open discussion of prejudice by her neighbor, comically played by Mae Questel, who wants to move out of Brooklyn because blacks and Puerto Ricans are moving in.  (If she sounds like—and sings like—Betty Boop, it’s because she is Betty Boop.)
The Japanese gentleman she meets on the ship going over to Japan will figure prominently in their lives.  He is the Japanese delegate to the economic summit that her son-in-law is attending on behalf of the American side.  He is played by Alec Guinness.


There is much humor (including a really charming scene where Russell and Guinness crack each other up and laugh themselves silly), and drama of the gentle, but most honest kind.  Most interesting, what begins as an East-meets-West story quickly becomes a tale of aging, and ageism.  Guinness, a widower whose son was also killed in the war, and whose daughter, too, while serving as a nurse in Hiroshima when it was obliterated, has learned to move on and face the future with dogged determination.  We sense that it is not until he has met Rosalind Russell, that he sees any beauty in life again.  They discuss their lives, their families, their faiths with open curiosity.  They share things about themselves their children do not know. 
When he asks to court her, she is reticent for her children’s sake, and Guinness gives us what should be the motto of the Diamonds and Gold blogathon:

“It is not the children who should instruct the parents, but the parents who should instruct the children.”
“Not in America,” she jokes.

He adds, “You are wise and venerable, and only the venerable have the experience and maturity to understand matters of personal relationships.”
When her daughter and son-in-law object, he calmly tells them, “We have the maturity to weigh such matters, you do not.”

One rarely hears huzzahs for maturity these days, when what is shallow, ignorant, and tasteless is "awesome."


Indeed, one of the chief wonders and pleasures of this gentle movie is that the two aging stars are the stars, not the supporting players, and that the story revolves entirely around them.  Though they have some comic moments, they are not buffoons, and it is never their age that is a butt of jokes.  Miss Russell even gets a few moments of physical comedy, when she thrusts her long legs under the low Japanese table at Guinness’ home, and is helped to walk, a little tipsy from too much sake.  She sways a bit and uses her body almost as she were about to break into the Conga number from Wonderful Town.
When her son-in-law makes a social gaffe at the economic meetings and unknowingly insults his Japanese hosts, she tells him what he did wrong in bowing too low, that it looked like he was making fun of the Japanese.  “It’s very important how you talk to foreigners about the little things.  I know.  I was a foreigner for a long time.  Foreigners are very sensitive people.”  We learn of her trip in steerage from Russia when she was a little girl, and a life lived in a new country where it took a very long time to be accepted.


Rosalind Russell is a quiet miracle in this role, a departure from her larger-than-life Hildy Johnson or Auntie Mame, and yet still holding court center-stage as few others can.  Her affectionate touching her daughter when she arrives, running her hands along her daughter’s shoulders, face, and hands, always clutching her.  Her deft witticisms and tragic pain that plays out as mere flickers on her lovely, gracefully aging face.
 
Her rigid anger as she recounts on her first meeting with Guinness the circumstances of her son’s wartime death and her burning resentment against the Japanese.  Her flustered moments, her grieving moments, her moments of incandescent wonder.  Most especially, her transformation into a Jewish woman.
This for many might be seen as poor casting, unrealistic in the face of her being a longtime star well known for being cast as what she was – Yankee types (or English types).  That she was in real life an Irish Catholic is too much perhaps for some people to accept her in this role.  I feel she is perfect in the role for two reasons:  First, her dialect imitating a Jewish woman from Brooklyn is perfect.  She nails it.  Her soft inflections, her mannerisms, there is nothing to indicate in her performance that she is not this character.  The only reason she would not be accepted in the role is the fact that everyone knows she is not an elderly Jewish woman from Brooklyn.


And this, second, is why she brings to the role something Gertrude Berg, who played the part on Broadway, could never do.  Miss Russell creates transcendence in the role, the kind of transcendence that is the message of the story, as Guinness’ character puts it, to cross a bridge and achieve “the enlightened spirit,” and passing that enlightenment to her audience.  She is our our stand-in and proxy. 

Gertrude Berg, whom most remember for her The Goldbergs radio and TV show, a pioneer writer and actress, played Jewish.  It was her character, to the point of becoming parody.  She could play Mrs. Jacoby in her sleep, but her familiarity with the role—and more importantly, the audience’s familiarity with her—would not allow for that marvelous transcendence that Rosalind Russell creates.  There is a scene at the end of the movie where Alec Guinness visits her back in her Brooklyn apartment.  She has prepared Sabbath dinner for him, and she lights the Shabbat candles.  She drapes a white lacy scarf over her head, and encircles the flames of the two candles with her hands, then places her hands over her eyes and quietly whispers a prayer.  The action is delicate and womanly.
 
I find this terribly moving especially knowing that she was a devout Roman Catholic, that in these pre-Vatican II days she wore a mantilla to Mass, probably very similar to what she wears on her head in this scene, and that when she says “Amen,” so does the Buddhist character played by Alec Guinness.  It is a moment of reverence, and nobility, when we really think the brotherhood of man is possible.  Gertrude Berg would be playing herself.  Rosalind Russell morphs into a symbol.

 
At this point, one must obviously note the casting of a white Englishman to play the Japanese character.  Here, ironically, we don’t have as much as stretch from the stage version—we may smile that Sir Cedric Hardwicke played the Japanese gentleman on stage.
 
It is perhaps more egregious to some for a non-Japanese to play this role.  However, here, too, I would suggest it is not inappropriate.  He is not making a caricature of the role, in the same horrible way that Mickey Rooney did with the Japanese character he played in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, released the same year of 1961.  The real problem with Mr. Rooney’s embarrassing mugging portrayal in that movie is because he made the character’s being Japanese a joke, instead of making the character’s personality, his actions, and foibles the joke.  If the role had been played by a Japanese man still making the joke his being Japanese with all the stereotyped exaggerations, it would have the same embarrassing effect.

Sir Alec Guinness plays his role with subtle grace, an economy of movement, and if you do not believe he is really Japanese, that is not the point.  He is, like Rosalind Russell, a symbol, an allegory like the tale he tells of the ancient emperor and his commoner bride.
 
 
This is a movie that speaks to the heart and must be embraced the same way, as symbolic and allegorical.  The real brotherhood of man takes place when we walk in each other’s shoes.  Should Chinese native Ang Lee have not been allowed to direct that quintessential English tale, Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (1995) because it was not his culture and heritage?  Should Kazuo Ishiguro not have been allowed to write that English novel of a stately home and an enigmatic butler, The Remains of the Day?

Here is a clip from a Japanese production of the stage musical Fiddler on the Roof.   A Japanese actor playing Tevye sings "If I Were a Rich Man" in Japanese. 



Brotherhood of man, folks.  Just go with it.


Rosalind Russell is a triumph in this role, but her acting career was growing short largely because of an event that occurred around the time just before this film was made.  She was diagnosed with breast cancer, and underwent a double mastectomy.  She did not make this public at the time, as it would have probably ended her career right there.  The early 1960s was truly a different world, where celebrities did not share this kind of news.  She was in her early fifties when she starred in A Majority of One.  In a remarkable feat of body and soul, she continued to perform sporadically through the 1960s, albeit with discomfort, and she was given another 15 years of life before the cancer returned, metastasized, and killed her. 
We eventually lose our most sparkling diamonds, but they cast a light that lives forever.

A blessed Palm Sunday, Easter, and Passover to those who keep these traditions.  Kanpai! (As Sir Alec and Rosalind say when they toast each other in Japanese.)

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Come back this coming Thursday when our Year of Ann Blyth resumes with a special post for Easter.

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In response to the number of kind people who've requested print copies of my eBook Classic Films and the American Conscience, which is a collection of essays from this blog -- I still can't print that book because you wouldn't be able to lift it, and I couldn't afford to print it.  BUT, I'm putting out a new, smaller, collection of essays, some old, some new, from this blog titled Movies in Our Time: Hollywood Mimics and Mirrors the 20th Century.   It will be issued in eBook as well as print, and I'll let you know more about it down the road.  I hope to have it published sometime in May.

 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Year Joan Crawford Won the Oscar - 1963



“The Year Joan Crawford Won the Oscar” is the teasing title of an episode of Saints and Sinners, in which Ann Blyth guest starred as the anxious wife of a naïve hotel waiter.  He is wounded by a guest in the hotel, a big-shot entertainer, who tries to cover it up.  Reporter Nick Adams, series star, ferrets out the story.
The title of the episode is from a trivia question put to the star-struck waiter, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of Oscar-winning films.  One is inclined to guess that it is no coincidence that “the year Joan Crawford won the Oscar” was also the year guest star Ann Blyth was nominated for the same movie, Mildred Pierce, which we discussed here.  Other than that, the title has no great significance to the story.
Nick Adams stars as a roving reporter, the justice-seeking kind, and John Larkin is his scowling editor.  Set in New York City, the series ran only one season from 1962-63, and was cancelled due to poor ratings after only eighteen episodes.  Well written, the series was spun off from The Dick Powell Theater series the year before, an episode called “Savage Sunday,” which starred Adams in the same role as the crusading reporter, and Ann Blyth as a fellow reporter.  We’ll talk about that episode down the road.  Originally, Ann was slated to join the series when the pilot was picked up.
A UPI syndicated article in June 1962 reported:  “Ann Blyth will strike a blow for femininity next television season by starring in a weekly series playing a chic career girl…Her lines will be as smart and chic as her wardrobe.”

Her role was to be a Washington correspondent for this New York paper, a character called Lizzie Hogan.  It seemed like a new departure, a strong character and interesting woman for her to play, and something new for TV.

“Television actresses are limited to family situation comedies or western heroines,” she said, “and both have become clichés.”

For that reason it must have been an appealing role, but faced with the demands of a series versus having little time with her family, Ann Blyth turned down the part, preferring to make only guest appearances on television.  Lizzie Hogan, girl reporter, was gone, and in stepped Edith Berlitz, the simple wife of a gullible waiter.  (Before this episode was broadcast, she had another turn on Wagon Train in December 1962.)

She employs a soft Brooklyn accent here, easy and natural, and many may have forgotten she is a native New Yorker, after all.  Gentle Edith faces trauma and heartache when her husband Sidney gets involved with a fast crowd.

Sidney is played by Robert Elston, who had a handful of TV guest roles, more experience on stage and as an acting teacher.  He brings breakfast to a roughneck crowd of showbiz types: Robert Lansing commandingly plays a Sinatra-esque nightclub entertainer.  His flunkies include Leon Askin and Harvey Korman before his Carol Burnett sidekick days. 

They are yes-men to the big nightclub star, hangers on with their hands out for favors, a floozy among them for color.  Sidney is enchanted with them.

Kidding around with handguns, Sidney is accidently shot.  Horrified, the showbiz types hustle him out of the hotel, and into a sort of safe house “nursing home” where he can be treated by a less-than-reputable doctor and be paid to keep quiet. 

Ellen Corby, who gets a nice slow close-up, is a hotel maid who leaks the story to the press for a price.  Everybody’s out for a buck.

The story, with its payoffs, its misbehaving celebrities, its press who chase them, is as timely as if it were written today.  Of course, the script is a lot cleaner than if it were written today, and the language and the plot points are more direct, and the journalist is the crusading kind who wants truth and justice, but this was an era on television when progressive attitudes beamed out of cathode ray tubes and anything was possible when done with a noble heart. 

Ann is sweet, a bewildered housewife out of her element, but nowhere near as innocent as her husband is. She tries to talk sense to him, but Sidney is pleased with the attention the big shots are giving him, fawns over Robert Lansing, and wants to join them in their glamorous, swinging lifestyle. 

Ann, though the timid “little woman” when she braves the lions’ den of showbiz insincerity to visit her recovering husband, has more savvy about evil when she sees it than Sidney.
 
He thinks he can parlay his wound into some kind of assistant’s job, but the egotistical Mr. Lansing, whose charm is fleeing under the pressures of stardom, tells him to get lost. 
There are a couple of showdowns, one physical where a dressing room is wrecked, and one verbal, addressing the moral implications of what has been done and what is to be done.  It’s good dialogue.  Ann’s suspicion about the floozy, “that lady, if you’ll pardon the expression,” her shock at being kissed on the mouth by the creepy Mr. Lansing, and her devotion to her goofy husband—which does not prohibit her from calling him on the carpet—all make for an endearing character.  It's a kind of role she had not played before, a kind of slow-talking Edith Bunker with brains, and it's charming. 

The role of the press is called into question as well in how celebrities are courted, and persecuted. 
 
Look for syndicated entertainment columnist Army Archerd, who gets a cameo playing himself at work on the paper.
"The Year Joan Crawford Won the Oscar" was broadcast January 21, 1963.  It’s currently up on YouTube in four parts, starting here.  The video quality isn’t very good, but enjoy.

Come back this Sunday the 13th for a detour away from the Ann Blyth series for a special post participating in the "Diamonds and Gold" blogathon salute to truly "golden age" actors - that is actors in their senior years still performing in memorable roles.  It's being sponsored by Caftan Woman, handling the ladies, and Rich over at Wide Screen World is showcasing the gents.  My post is on Rosalind Russell in A Majority of One (1961), in which she plays an elderly Jewish woman whose narrow world grows and transcends her Brooklyn apartment, her family traditions, and her faith to include an adventure in Japan, and a Japanese suitor. 

Come back next Thursday when we return to the Year of Ann Blyth series and consider Ann's participation in religious programming on radio and TV, a special post for the upcoming Easter holiday.



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Toledo Blade, Jun 4, 1962, p. 8.
Vancouver Sun June 23, 1962, UPI syndicated article, p. 6.
Youngstown Vindicator April 15, 1962, p.23.

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THANK YOU....to the following folks whose aid in gathering material for this series has been invaluable:  EBH; Kevin Deany of Kevin's Movie Corner; Gerry Szymski of Westmont Movie Classics, Westmont, Illinois; and Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.

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HELP!!!!!!!!!!

Now that I've got your attention: I'm still on the lookout for a movie called Katie Did It (1951) for this year-long series on the career of Ann Blyth.  It seems to be a rare one.  Please contact me on this blog or at my email: JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com if you know where I can lay my hands on this film.  Am willing to buy or trade, or wash windows in exchange.  Maybe not the windows part.  But you know what I mean.

Also, if anybody has any of Ann's TV appearances, there's a few I'm missing from, Switch, The Name of the Game, The Dick Powell show, the Dennis Day Show (TV), the DuPont Show with June Allyson, This is Your Life, Lux Video Theatre.  Also any video clips of her Oscar appearances.  Release the hounds.  And let me know, please.

***************************************
Oh, and while I still have you on the line, here's one more thing.  In response to the number of kind people who've requested print copies of my eBook Classic Films and the American Conscience, which is a collection of essays from this blog -- I still can't print that book because you wouldn't be able to lift it, and I couldn't afford to print it.  BUT, I'm putting out a new, smaller, collection of essays, some old, some new, from this blog titled Movies in Our Time: Hollywood Mimics and Mirrors the 20th Century.   It will be issued in eBook as well as print, and I'll let you know more about it down the road.  I hope to have it published sometime in May.

 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Mickey Rooney - 1920-2014



One of the most talented members of his profession.  The little guy will always cast a long shadow.

Requiescat in pace et in amore.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Once More, My Darling - 1949

 
Once More, My Darling (1949) is one of the funniest comedies of the era, and one of the most charming ever made.  I’m not sure why it’s not more well known because it deserves to be lumped with the greats, especially in the madcap heiress genre.  Perhaps because it is so deliciously offbeat, it requires, just as Robert Montgomery discovers, you have to accept certain things at face value.  Its humor is more gentle and subtle than broad, a kind of hybrid between the screwball comedies of the 1930s and a more wry, introspective humor.
The title comes from the speech star (and director) Robert Montgomery delivers on set as a struggling movie actor. 
It’s a funny scene, where he has trouble proclaiming his love to thin air, so the director gets him a body to talk to—a bored and uncomfortable movie grip played by Jack Overman.  Mr. Montgomery looks equally uncomfortable with this situation, but he plods ahead proclaiming his love to Mr. Overman, who is deeply affected.
 
 
Montgomery is actually a lawyer, from a noted family of lawyers, but is bored with the work and, now that the war is over (where he served in the Army in Europe as an investigations officer in the military police), he wants to pursue a fanciful dream of acting.  He is smart, savvy, a bit of a ladies’ man who doesn’t want to be tied down to anything—not a wife, not his family’s law practice, and not the Army.  Unfortunately for him, he’s still considered Reserve status, and is called back to uniform to help in the investigation of a jewel theft that happened late in the war.
When he is called into the colonel’s office, he firmly responds, “I will not go in without my mother.”
He immediately attracts the attention of everyone in the office.  His mother, standing with dignity beside him, is played by theatre great Jane Cowl.  She is an even better lawyer than Montgomery is, and he wants her there as his attorney to get him out of the army.  She doesn’t do it though, because she really wants him to give up this silly acting hobby, get married, and join the law firm.
The case to which Mr. Montgomery is assigned involves Ann Blyth, who plays the daughter of a wealthy American industrialist who spends his time between the US and South America.  The jewel thief, like a lot of shady characters in the post-war years, left Europe for South America, met Ann and attempted to woo her with the stolen jewels.  She is innocent about the heist, but she has publically worn the jewels, notably in a magazine advertisement for perfume she did as a lark.  The government wants Robert Montgomery to woo Miss Blyth himself to flush the jealous bad guy out of hiding so they can nab him.
It’s a simple plot that is carried along with effervescent silliness and beguiling charm.  Robert Montgomery smoothly straddles the savvy and in-control aspects of his character—and helplessly rides the crest of the completely goofy and out-of-control situations in which he finds himself.  He is not entirely a calculating straight man, like, say, Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday (1953), but not entirely a vulnerable and befuddled guy like Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby (1938) who sometimes seems like a sap Katharine Hepburn culled from the herd for amusement.  Montgomery is more mature and adapts to the moment like the kind of good improvisational actor his character yearns to be.
Here Mr. Montgomery plays out the split personality of his character—a capable man able to think on his feet, but also a “romantic dreamer” as Ann Blyth calls him, who prefers dressing in costumes and acting, to a dull law practice.
Ann Blyth, in the role of the heiress he pursues, also has a duality about her character.  She is sure of herself, bursting with a courageous curiosity about the world, and yet utterly naïve.  I love how she plays this socially dysfunctional character, how she speaks and how she moves.  She leans into people, someone who has no concept of “personal space,” and has a slightly nearsighted squint as she navigates conversations, studying the faces of people to whom she speaks like someone who cannot read expressions 
Unlike Hepburn’s rapid-fire take-charge prattle in Bringing Up Baby, Ann enunciates her words carefully in a manner which illustrates perfectly the kind of young woman this is: someone who, having spent many years bouncing between North and South America probably learned English and Spanish together so that neither is her first language or her second language.  Her speech is formal, sounding as if she’s gleaned much of it from 19th century novels, sprinkled with bits of odd-sounding modern slang she’s probably picked up in off moments from the radio.  She’s likely spent the bulk of her lonely life in the charge of tutors.
She is socially awkward, but lacking shyness, charges into social situations like an excited child discovering new friends at kindergarten, and is completely oblivious to what an oddball she seems to others.  This is consistently hysterical, but also I think rather poignant.  She has no siblings, no friends, and has been sheltered in the care of a dismissive father.
He is played by Taylor Holmes, a veteran movie character actor since the silents of the ‘teens, when he wasn’t on Broadway.  Somewhat of an eccentric himself, her father has lately taken to dressing like his hero, Winston Churchill, and has taken up painting to emulate him.  When Robert Montgomery approaches Mr. Holmes for permission to get to know Ann, and accidently knocks over his easel, Holmes launches into a furious tirade in Spanish.  Ann and her father speak Spanish back and forth, she trying to appease him, flinching at his rage.  When Mr. Montgomery requests a translation, Ann replies, “My father wants to beat you up.”
Catch the reference to the pollsters’ recent infamous mistake on the Truman-Dewey election.
Their chauffer, played by my favorite gravely-voiced guy, Charles McGraw, is an ex-boxer, also very protective of Ann, whom he calls by her nickname: “Killer.”  She is an excellent tennis player, and proudly wears a short-sleeved sweatshirt with the name Killer on the front some vanquished opponents gave her because she has a killer forehand.
In her tennis duds is where she first meets Robert Montgomery, and with her hair tucked under her cap, sunglasses, and Killer across her chest, and he at first doesn’t realize this is his quarry.   She doesn’t look at all like the glamorous debutante photo in the perfume advertisement he was given back in the Colonel’s office, in which she wore an evening gown, with a jeweled pendant—one of the stolen jewels—glinting on her cleavage, and on which Montgomery blissfully concentrates when he is shown the ad. 
She was given gallons of the perfume for doing the ad, which she uses liberally ("I practically swim in the stuff") and there is a running gag about the strong scent.
So Montgomery does not recognize her when he first meets her in this tennis getup, but she is drawn to him immediately.  When she remarks, “I’m sorry there isn’t a puddle so I could take something off and spread it for you to walk on,” we might first think she is being sarcastic, as he does.  Very soon, however, it becomes apparent that this is the love-talk of somebody who doesn’t know how strange she sounds.
Some favorite moments in the film:  When Robert Montgomery, unwillingly, brings Ann home to meet his mother on the night his mother is hosting a party at home for some influential friends. 
Ann is clearly the oddball in this scene, and sweetly, and painfully, doesn’t know it.  She eagerly pounces on Jane Cowl, expressing her love for Mother Cowl’s boy Robert.  She announces that she intends to do "the right thing" by Robert and marry him, pleading that Jane be a mother to her, too, since she never had a mother.  Jane Cowl looks at her like she's got two heads.

I love when Ann, kneeling on the ottoman before Jane Cowl, sits back on her heels a moment and considers the company in the room, momentarily breathless, with a slight, self-satisfied wiggle, like kids do when they’re pleased.
The well-heeled society ladies and gents are astounded and don’t know what to make of her, but are clearly entertained, and all react comically to her strong perfume.  I love when the wallflower daughter of one them, a brainiac, played by Dee J. Thompson, Mother Cowl has been trying to set Robert up with, stands upon being introduced to Ann, and she towers over her, booming a basso profundo “How do you?”
Ann, the daughter of a wealthy and influential industrialist, is socially equal to everybody in the room, and probably wealthier than all of them put together, but her ignorance on how to fit in puts her at a disadvantage.
The only one she connects with is Mamie, the maid, wonderfully played by Lillian Randolph.  Miss Randolph has a stronger role in this film than most domestics, and not stereotyped.  She has a personality of her own, and is clearly amused and delighted with Ann.  She seems to be the only one who is not repelled by her perfume. 
It’s another telling aspect of Ann’s character that, rather than dismiss a servant without a second look as would most young ladies of her class, she befriends Mamie instantly upon meeting her, telling her a long, involved story about how she came to wear pajamas this evening in order to sneak out of the house.  Ann is a girl whose closest friend is her father’s chauffeur and doesn’t know the difference between the status of the maid and the lady of the house.
I love Montgomery’s discomfort through the party scene and his rising sense of panic: “I may start laughing and crying at the same time.”  As much as I admire Robert Montgomery’s dramatic roles, especially in Night Must Fall(1937) which we discussed here, he really was terrific at comedy, especially in a situation like this where he is a kind of victim.
Another marvelous aspect to the party scene is Ann Blyth’s skillful command of it, how she is the engine that drives the scene, and how strong she is against the veteran actors. 
Another favorite moment is her proposal of marriage to Montgomery in the restaurant.  At this point, we see clearly that she is wooing him, not subtly with coy, inviting feminine wiles, but boldly, probably much in the same manner she has read of the speech and actions of ardent lovers in books, of heroes wooing maidens, of the way the few men who have had access to her, like the jewel thief, have attempted to woo her, grandly and with flourish.  Her lovemaking is necessarily bluntly masculine because she hasn’t the sophistication to lure him any other way.
In this manner does she woo Robert Montgomery, regretting that she cannot give him a scene of orange blossoms like he deserves.  It’s spectacularly silly, and yet somehow touching that she apologizes that the force of her passion and her impatience to marry immediately that denies him, “a big church wedding with your mother and all your friends there.”
He stumbles for an appropriate response, stalling, “Well, yes, it is the most important day in a man’s life.  He gets to wear a cutaway and striped trousers, and then there are the presents…”
Montgomery’s reaction is in keeping with both his mission—to carry on a public romance with her and flush out the jewel thief—and his nature, to be a good actor.  So he goes with the flow on what seems to be an incredible inprov scene dropped in his lap and plays “blushing bride” to her ardent groom behavior.  "You've won me, Killer."
This culminates on a long drive to a wedding chapel in Vegas.  He drives slowly, trying to drag out the miles, hoping everybody from the jewel thief, to the Army, to his mother, to her father will catch up with them before he has to really marry this fruitcake.  She senses his growing anxiety.  Like any thoughtful and concerned groom, she gently asks him if he is nervous about the wedding night.
He responds, “Well, a little maybe.  No more than the average man, I guess.”
She delicately tries to reassure him, as if he were a virgin in a 19th century English novel about to faint in the clutches of a highwayman, “There’s nothing to be afraid of, dear.  I’ll be awfully gentle and tender.”
He shoots her an incredulous look, this devil-may-care bachelor having lost all control of the situation.
We are brought to a kind of Marx Brothers ending in a cheap motel bungalow, and then the final scene moves us to a posh hotel and gambling casino where, curtain call style, we encounter all of the characters one more time as Robert Montgomery searches out Ann Blyth to apologize. 
She is angry and hurt that their “romance” was nothing more than a military mission, but he succeeds in truly winning her at last with his old standby, his “Once more, my darling” movie speech.  Just like the grip at the beginning of the film, she is deeply moved, and he is rewarded by resounding applause by the cast.  It’s an off-beat ending, a romantic comedy that is more comedy than romance, but we have the feeling that these two, so deep in their own fantasies, are probably made for each other.
Another aspect to this film I love is the score by Elizabeth Firestone, a breezy, melodic refrain that I’m surprised was never developed into a popular song.  According to the IMDb site, this film is the first to be scored entirely by a woman.  Daughter of the Firestone tire magnate, Elizabeth Firestone, I believe, worked on the scores of only a couple other movies.
Jane Cowl spent the bulk of her impressive career in heavily dramatic roles on stage.  She died only the year after this movie was made, and came to Hollywood with trepidation.  It was her first movie role in 32 years since she took a brief stab at the silents.  In a New York Times article of May 1949, Miss Cowl confessed that working on this movie was “a terrifying experience.”  Arriving at 5:00 a.m. for makeup to arrive on set at 7:15, “she was as panicky and bewildered as a neophyte."
“'In those opening shots…I found myself almost helplessly clinging to Mr. Montgomery; to such an extent, in fact, that I actually upstaged him.  Luckily he was most kind and understanding.  Those being his scenes, he would gently take me by the wrist and put me where I belonged.  Finally, I told him, ‘If you catch me doing that again, just slap me down.’
“On the second day, still unable to adjust herself to such unfamiliar instructions as: Toe that mark; don’t look too much to the left; don’t look too much to the right—but be perfectly natural, Miss Cowl gave what she described as a ‘wild bleat’ and desperately announced she was taking the first train to New York.  But the next morning, however, she had recovered her accustomed poise…”
After One More, My Darling, Ann would move on to another comedy, Free for All, which we’ll discuss down the road.  That is a weaker film, and surprisingly, has a much weaker role for Ann as a straight-man to Bob Cummings, considering what a fine flare for comedy she exhibits in Once More, My Darling.  There seemed to be an inconsistency in the quality of scripts she was getting from Universal.  She was twenty years old when did this film, already her film career had covered a wide range of roles and genres, even if it was hit-or-miss, and she would continue to play roles roughly around her actual age, and, as far as the script allowed, she was able to display her splendid versatility.  Regina in Another Part of the Forest (1948), which we covered here, is about the same age as Killer Connell, but they could not be more different than night and day. 
I do not believe Once More, My Darling is currently available in DVD, but I hope someone will correct me.  You can find it on YouTube, at least for now.  Two years later, in January 1951, she reprised the role on radio in the Lux Radio Theater, playing opposite Van Heflin. I like him in the role, and he probably would have been great in the movie, but the radio version is not as silly a romp as the movie, partly because it is necessarily abbreviated, and partly because so much of the movie relies on physical comedy.  You can have a listen here at the Internet Archive website.  Just scroll down to the episode.
Come back next Thursday when we jump to 1963, when Ann appeared as a guest in the new TV drama series about New York City reporters, Saints and Sinners, in an episode with the teasingly tongue-in-cheek title, “The Year Joan Crawford Won the Oscar.” 

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The New York Times, article by J. D. Spiro, May 15, 1949, p. X5.
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HELP!!!!!!!!!!

Now that I've got your attention: I'm still on the lookout for a movie called Katie Did It (1951) for this year-long series on the career of Ann Blyth.  It seems to be a rare one.  Please contact me on this blog or at my email: JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com if you know where I can lay my hands on this film.  Am willing to buy or trade, or wash windows in exchange.  Maybe not the windows part.  But you know what I mean.

Also, if anybody has any of Ann's TV appearances, there's a few I'm missing from, Switch, The Name of the Game, The Dick Powell show, the Dennis Day Show (TV), the DuPont Show with June Allyson, This is Your Life, Lux Video Theatre.  Also any video clips of her Oscar appearances.  Release the hounds.  And let me know, please.

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Oh, and while I still have you on the line, here's one more thing.  In response to the number of kind people who've requested print copies of my eBook Classic Films and the American Conscience, which is a collection of essays from this blog -- I still can't print that book because you wouldn't be able to lift it, and I couldn't afford to print it.  BUT, I'm putting out a new, smaller, collection of essays, some old, some new, from this blog titled Movies in Our Time: Hollywood Mimics and Mirrors the 20th Century.   It will be issued in eBook as well as print, and I'll let you know more about it down the road.  I hope to have it published sometime in May.