Thursday, January 9, 2014

Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid - 1948

Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (1948) is a whimsical tale of true love, wherever you happen to find it—in a fantasy, or your wife.  Or both.

Another long post.  Go long.  I'll hit you in the end zone.

Ann Blyth was still in production on Another Part of the Forest (1948) –which we’ll discuss in a later post—when she was given over to the mad scientist ministrations of makeup genius Bud Westmore to attach a four-foot long mermaid’s tail to her lower body. 
 State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

These were very busy and prolific years for her, from 1948 to 1952.  Half the 32 films she made in her entire career were in just this four-year period, when one production rolled right on into the next.  After Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid, that summer she was slated for location shooting in Utah for her first western, Red Canyon (1949).  Her career was thriving, with what must have been a gratifying variety of roles to display her freshness and versatility.

Ann was 19 years old when the film was made, and William Powell was 55, but the 36-year difference between them did not really make for any awkwardness in the crush the mermaid and the man had for each other on screen, mainly because the crush was so innocent and so was the mermaid. 

For his part, William Powell strolled through his character’s screen midlife crisis with the panache and bemused sophistication of The Thin Man, with that sly humor that uses discretion as a springboard to irony.  He’s perfect in the role.

And in real life, Mr. Powell’s wife, former actress Diana Lewis, who we saw here in Cry Havoc (1944), was 27 years his junior.  So much for impossible age differences.

As for any possible off-screen awkwardness, that was apparently dispelled by the good humor of both leads.  An article by Sheilah Graham in 1949, in a half-mocking, half-admiring tone, noted that Ann Blyth “a devout churchgoer with an innocent smile, peach blossom skin and a wolf-whistle figure” was known at this stage of her career for being shy about kissing too passionately onscreen, or at least, “refuses point blank to go all-out.” 

Mr. Powell, as discreet as his character, Mr. Peabody, apparently handled her discomfort as well any of his own, by remembering first and foremost that they were making a comedy.

Ann said in the interview, “He was kidding all of the time.  I was always afraid he was going to make me laugh as he started to kiss me.  It was such whimsical make-believe that I wasn’t embarrassed when I had to kiss him.”

Mr. Powell’s problems about their age difference ultimately had more to do with his age than hers; he had to carry the mermaid around a lot, which was a remarkable, and exhausting, feat for a man of his years.

The Montreal Gazette felt that William Powell was good but should have been better, but thought Ann “…wears the fishtail as if born to it, gives the just the right suggestion of an untutored but not unknowing denizen of the deep.  It’s her best performance.”  I think they were wrong about Mr. Powell, but Miss Blyth earned the praise.  It’s interesting reading the different reviews how critics seemed not to know how to take this movie.  It was such an offbeat charmer that I don’t think they could categorize it into any familiar pigeonhole.

The New York Times, however, (in a review NOT written by the easily irritated Bosley Crowther) called Mr. Powell’s work “an engaging and highly polished performance” and noted of Ann, “Her costuming places her beyond criticism.”  It’s signed T.F.B., and whoever he was, that’s as stylish a piece of leering as I’ve ever read.

Now, about that costuming.  The effort it took to make the film is as delightfully whimsical as the story.  William Powell may have caught his mermaid fishing, but makeup man Bud Westmore had to create her from scratch.

Photo credit unknown at this time.  I think that's Bud Westmore.

First, you need a young woman, about 5’2”, who doesn’t weigh very much because everybody, not just William Powell, is going to have to carry her around a lot when she’s wearing the tail.  Just as fish are immobile when they are “beached”, so is Ann Blyth when she’s wearing her fish tail—which, despite its inconveniences, she apparently didn’t mind too much.  She recalled in a 2006 interview with Eddie Muller (referred to in our intro post here):

“The good part about that was that I got to be carried around all day long.  Everyone was so good to me on that movie.”

You drop the cooperative girl on a table and get your mad scientist buddies to make a mold of her body by smooshing clay or Play-Doh or Silly Putty, or whatever you have in the junk drawer, from her torso to her toes. 

Photo credit unknown at this time.

Once you’ve got that done, you start covering her with plaster.  

Thus is an actress turned into an arts and crafts project. 

According to an article by Gene Handsaker in the Milwaukee Journal, the fish tail cost $23,000 to make.  (Life magazine says $18,000.)  “Ann lay on a sort of operating table for three hours while being molded in clay and plaster for the four foot mermaid tail of sponge rubber, she told me on the set of Another Part of the Forest.

“To each scale of Ann’s tail will be sewn a glass jewel for further sparkle—some 4,000 jewels in all…The upper part of this, the biggest rubber ‘appliance’ ever made for a movie, will blend into her torso in a chaste, piscatorial nude effect—if U-I can get that past the Johnston office.”

This “piscatorial nude effect” has to do with the fact—if you can call it a “fact” when we’re talking about a mythical creature—that a mermaid’s upper body is that of a human woman, so there’s a running gag in the movie about covering the mermaid’s naked breasts. 

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

But teasing the censors is the last thing on the agenda.   First, we still have to finish our mermaid.  Once you have the sponge rubber tail, then you’ve got to wrestle it onto the cooperative young woman.  Can’t have been easy to slide into. 
 State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

You need help.  A team of three is good.  Hoist the girl in the air between you and yank that tail onto her.  This pit crew is also available for hire.  Can’t get into those tight jeans anymore?  These boys are professionals.  They know what they’re doing.  Having trouble wrestling your wiggling five-year-old child into a snowsuit?  Just give them a call. 
Ed and Whitey McMahan carry M'lady to the set.
 State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

Then, as we mentioned, the young woman can’t walk in this thing, so she has to be carried like Cleopatra by obliging handsome slave boys to her watery home.  Where she is unceremoniously dumped in the drink.  This is likely not a good time to tell people you have to go to the bathroom.

One more thing.  Lead weights were placed in the bottom of the tail by her feet, some references say 30 pounds, some say 50 pounds—to keep the rubber tail, and the person wearing it, from floating to the surface of the water.  Sounds as ominous as stories of mobsters fitting their victims with “cement shoes”. 

Here are more photos from Life magazine, February 1948.

Newt Perry and Ann
 State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

Once the actress looks like a mermaid, she’s got to be trained to swim like one.  Here’s where Newt Perry and the team from Weeki Wachee Springs in New Port Richey, Florida, come in.  Weeki Wachee Springs was one of those roadside tourist attractions long before we had fast food chains lining every stretch of highway, before expensive theme parks and innumerable corporate-owned enterprises were devised to part you from your money.

Established in the fall of 1947 by Newt Perry, it wasn’t long before Universal-International came in December to build a special set onto Perry’s showcase of “mermaids.”  They were just local high school girls—not in mermaid costumes—frolicking under the water doing tricks and demonstrating scenes of, as the book Weecki Wachee Springs by Maryann Pelland and Dan Pelland notes, “eating, drinking, and even typing underwater.”  Perry devised a system for the beauties to remain under water for longer periods by sneaking breaths of compressed air through rubber hoses.
Newt Perry and Ann
 State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

Most of these photos are from the State Archives of Florida as displayed on the site.  Newt Perry also trained Navy frogmen, helped out on several Tarzan films, and taught his nephew to swim—who was Don Schollander, 1964 and 1968 Olympic Gold Medalist.  A champion swimmer himself, Mr. Perry knew his stuff.

According to author Tim Hollis in Glass Bottom Boats & Mermaid Tails:Florida’s Tourist Springs, “Perry coached Ann Blyth in the proper techniques of underwater breathing, and according to all reports, she was a quick study and a natural athlete.  Though she performed the necessary water close-ups, her acrobatic swimming in most of the long shots was done by the Weekiwachee regulars, primarily Nancy Tribble.”
Mermaid doubles Nancy Tribble and Flo Wilkinson with Ann.
 State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

According to gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, “Between scenes she swam and dived just for the heck of it, while Powell, fully dressed, clung to a rope and shivered.” 
Ann does her own swimming here.
 State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

The cast of Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid arrived in February 1948, and filmed some of the underwater scenes here, and some back at Universal in a water tank.  Andrea King, who played the rival for the affections of Mr. Powell—a rival, as it turns out, for his wife and his mermaid—is quoted on a website devoted to her career as recalling the weather in Florida that February to be cold and rainy, and much of the cast fell ill, including trouper William Powell, though, “you never would have known it.”

Back at Universal to finish up some water scenes between her and Ann Blyth—including a spectacular fight scene we’ll discuss below—Miss King recalled that though the tank was supposed to be heated, the water heater malfunctioned and the water was quite cold in the tank.  “So we tried anyway for about half an hour, but Annie and I just went numb.  I think she got terribly sick after that.”
 State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

And now, the movie…

Directed by Irving Pichel, written by Nunnally Johnson, adapted from the novel Mr. Peabody and his Mermaid.  I lead off with the title card here because this graphic of a mermaid, so coyly curled up with the credits, is the only time you will really ever see a mermaid naked from the waist up in this movie.  Ann Blyth is artfully covered by the edge of a pool and a fortunate camera angle, by a robe, by seaweed, by her flowing curly blonde hair, by a bubble bath, and by her own expressive arms.

William Powell plays Arthur Peabody, a man about to turn 50 years old, a fact which surprises him and depresses him.  He is also just recovering from a long bout of flu, so he and his wife have taken off to restore his health at a Caribbean paradise where it’s warm.

Irene Hervey is his wife, wry and understanding, and we can see from the outset that theirs is a good marriage, with comfortable bantering. 

She is no shrew from whom he is trying to escape, indeed, the only “other woman” he leers at in this entire movie is her, when she is partially hidden from view and he does not at first realize the legs he’s ogling are his wife’s.  She looks good in a bathing suit.  His demonstrated attraction to his wife also takes the smarmy edge of his “romance” with the much younger mermaid.

Andrea King is a visitor to the vacation villa, a singer and performer who blatantly chases after Powell with la-de-da joie de vivre, perhaps with no real design on him except for the fact she’s bored and there apparently seems to be a lack of other men.  And he really is charming.

Clinton Sundberg, who we’ve all seen in minor kindly “everyman” roles—I think my favorite is Judy Garland’s bartender pal in Easter Parade—here gets a larger role as a publicity man for the villa, one of the few Americans on this British protectorate, who is cynical, funny, and even surprisingly a little sinister.  There’s a running gag about his doctor forbidding him to drink or smoke anymore, and how miserably Mr. Sundberg copes with this.

Art Smith, seen at the beginning and the end of the movie, is the psychiatrist to whom Irene Hervey takes Mr. Powell to get him over this mermaid fantasy.  Mr. Smith is an especially understanding fellow, who, like Powell, also likes to fish and is amazed he could have caught a mermaid on a 12-thread line.  A wonderful old character actor (though actually younger than William Powell), he was one of the unfortunate victims of the infamous blacklisting in the 1950s when Elia Kazan threw him to the wolves. 

I won’t go play-by-play with the plot, but here are some delightful scenes to mention: At the beginning of the film when William Powell sits in the waiting room of the psychiatrist’s office and a small boy stares at him, asking his mother, “What’s the matter with him, Mommy?  Is he crazy?”

I like that it’s snowing outside in the city, which gives a great contrast to the sunny paradise he retreats to, representing a rebirth of spirit.  It would have been lovely to have the film in color, but it still manages to take us away to tropical splendor without it. 

Almost the moment he arrives, he hears a musical trilling from some far distance—he alone hears it and we presume it is the fabled siren’s call—but he suspects no mermaid, even when he takes a sailboat to a deserted rocky key and finds an ornamental hair comb.  We will soon see it belongs to the mermaid, whom he hooks on his fishing line.

The fishing scene is good; it takes time and plays out nicely, building suspense.  He hooks the tail of what he presumes to be a large sport fish.  From what we see of the tail, it could be a marlin or a swordfish, or a tuna.  Even in just these scenes of exploring, sailing, fishing—indeed, struggling to land a big fish—William Powell is already exorcising the demons of turning 50.  He’s already proving to himself that life is still exciting and he’s still man enough with strength and vigor to enjoy it.

He manages to pull the fish close enough to grasp its tail and flip it into the boat.  He’s won the fight.  Hemingway would be proud.

Then he is astonished to discover at its other end is a pretty young woman.

No more astonished than the dazed mermaid is to discover herself in a boat with a strange two-legged creature.

At first, the mermaid is only a fishing prize to him, and he gleefully carries her into the rented vacation villa as a specimen he hopes to produce before scientists.  She’s a bit faint and peaked lying on his bed, then he realizes this creature needs to be in water, so he fills the tub, while she looks around his room with the wonder of someone who’d never been on land before.  Right at this moment to us, Ann Blyth as the mermaid stops being a myth or a plot contrivance, but a person with whom we can identify, and that goes a long way towards our caring about the relationship between her and Mr. Powell.  Moreover, she is mute, so our compassion rises for this lost soul in a strange place.
At first, Powell has no romantic notions about her, though he warms from regarding her as a fishing trophy to referring to himself as “your old Uncle Arthur” when he swiftly becomes her caretaker.  He is giddy not with love (even when his robe slips from her bare shoulders when she slides into the tub and grins at him from under the water), but in anticipation of the fame and notoriety his accomplishment in landing her will bring—and in a celebratory mood gets a bit tipsy by the time his wife comes home.

Irene Hervey, though she has teased her husband about turning 50, nevertheless is jealous over his attention to Andrea King at the party the night before.  She suspects the splashing she hears in her tub is Miss King, but when she opens the door to confront the other woman, all she sees is an enormous fish tail protruding from a bubble bath.  It seems the mermaid, with childish curiosity, gotten into the toiletries.

Miss Hervey thinks her drunken husband has played a joke on her, and she wants that fish out of her tub.  I like the scene when she’s on the phone talking to a man she’s met at the party (she’s been making friends too) while William Powell carries the mermaid down the stairs.  He’s had a little too much to drink and, in the doghouse with his wife, so he carries the mermaid outside intending to release her back into the ocean. 

But he gets tired hefting her.  “You’re no guppy.”  (One of my favorite lines.)  He sits on the edge of the enormous ornamental fishpond to rest, with the mermaid in his lap, and finally takes a long look at her.  His fishing trophy, his scientific discovery are only a popped balloon—popped by his wife—and he now regards the mermaid in a second look, a second chance at a first crush.

“You don’t want to go back in the sea, do you?  It’s so big, and you’re so pretty.” 

He lightly kisses her, off to the side of her mouth, and the astonished mermaid, uncomprehending eyes wide open, is gobsmacked.  Trying to figure this out, she parts and closes her lips as if to taste the kiss he’s left there.  She likes the sensation and wants to kiss again.

He leaves her in the fishpond, half-pet, half-mistress.

William Powell is so entertaining and so sweet in his role, which is basically comic, but lends it such skillful depth and poignancy. 

Ann Blyth’s work here is luminous and captivating.  It is a non-speaking role, but there is remarkable and touching eloquence in the way her eyes roam over his face, as if trying to read him, trying to understand his words and his facial expression.  Middle-aged Mr. Peabody is wondrous and fascinating to her, and her unlikely crush for him alone adds another level to the comedy, and the poignancy.  We can see why he might take a fancy to her, but her radiant and achingly silent adoration of him is charming.
The funniest scene in the movie is when Mr. Powell heads to a women’s clothing store in town to purchase some sort of top for his mermaid.  His befuddled awkwardness sets the stage for a terrific scene, and he plays the straight man for Mary Field, whom you’ve probably seen uncredited in a zillion movie walk-on parts.  Here she gets a good role as the primly officious clerk, who delights in her soliloquy sales pitches to the uncomfortable Mr. Powell.  She sounds like a Banana Republic or J Peterman catalog description gone amuck. 

She displays a sweater, “Light as a whisper, gay as a sunbeam, wearing it will be an emotional adventure spangled with the moon glow of twilight.”  (I swear, if just one sales clerk ever spoke to me that way, I’d buy everything in the store.  I am so heartily sick of, “How you guys doin’?” when I am not a guy, and they never know the answer when I ask a question and too lazy to find out.  They discuss their personal lives in grating voices with coworkers and I am just a shadow who hands them money when they've paused to notice me.  Oh, for the days of professional sales help.  Call me ma’am, just once, please.)

Miss Field continues her merry prattle, “A gay spectrum of springtime hues—fuchsia, purple almond, banana, marshmallow, peach dream and licorice!”

Mr. Powell replies, “Would you be good enough to tell me something?”
Miss Field: “Enchanted.”  (I love her over-the-top playfulness with proper speech.)
Mr. Powell: “Whatever became of blue?”

She finds he is going to be trouble, especially when he wants to know if someone can swim in her sweaters.

“May I ask is the young lady’s prejudice against swimming in a swimming suit quite deep-seated?”  (One of my all-time favorite lines.  I just love her.  In a way, her intonation and enunciation reminds me of a reformed Eliza Doolittle when she is carefully trying to explain to Freddy Eynsford-Hill that, “Them she lived with would have killed her for a hat-pin, let alone a hat.”  Her careful stroking of the difficult language as if to tame it.)

Mr. Powell just realizes he could buy his mermaid a two-piece swimsuit instead of a sweater and she could just wear the top part.  But Miss Field, Saleswoman of the Year, insists they do not sell half of a bathing suit.  She holds one up, “The diaper model.  Provocative, n'est–ce pas?”  (She’s straight-faced, slam-dunk hysterical.)

Nobody in the movie calls these two-piece suits a bikini, but the name, as well as the design, was still quite new.  They arrived in 1946, about a year and a half before this movie went into production, and were named by the designer for the Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific, where the U.S. conducted its first peacetime nuclear test explosions.  He wanted the swimsuit to similarly bear (or is that bare?) the reputation of an intense "reaction".

Mr. Powell buys three bikinis, and next we see him sitting by the fishpond, separating the panties from the bras with delicate thoroughness as the mermaid solemnly watches. 

He gently begins his lecture: “Darling, I don’t want to offend you, but you’re not dressed for company.”  (Another favorite line.)  He tries to explain modesty to her, but she is uncomprehending. 

She plucks one of the bras he has displayed on the edge of the pond for her perusal, and she places it on top of her head.  She has no idea what to do with it.

He stretches a bra across his own chest to demonstrate, but she’s not interested.  She wants attention.  She wants him to kiss her again, but he won’t and gently remonstrates her, too, that she must also stop eating the expensive rare tropical fish in the fishpond.  The camera cuts over to a neat lineup of fish skeletal remains on the side of the pool.  He wants her to eat canned sardines instead.

She is upset and starts to tear up (and for me, as silly as this scene is, it’s as heartbreaking as when you see a toddler’s face fall when he is told “no”).  She just wants to be loved.  She just wants this wonderful male two-legged creature to talk sweetly to her again and leave soft kisses on the side of her mouth.

He comforts her and is amazed by her.  “My age means nothing to you, does it?”  She explores his face with her adoring eyes, and now he’s a goner, pleasantly lost in the first flush of his second spring.

But the mermaid can also be quick to anger.  She does not like Andrea King messing with her male two-legged creature.  She hisses when Mr. Powell talks about Miss King.  Here Ann Blyth is dubbed (not for the last time in her career—but we’ll get to The Helen Morgan Story eventually).  According to a syndicated article in the St. Petersburg Times, Gene Fowler, Jr., assistant producer, could not find a suitable sound for a mermaid snarl, so they took a crew to the San Diego Zoo and found the sound they wanted from an irritable ocelot.  They recorded him on tape, and the sound of the ocelot snarl, played backwards, is apparently what we hear on screen.

When Andrea King stops by, the mermaid spies on her overt flirtation with Mr. Powell and becomes jealous.  When Miss King teasingly strips off her evening gown and dives into the fishpond in her unmentionables, the mermaid sneaks up on her in the murky depths of the pool, and grabs her.  There’s a vigorous fight underwater between them, no doubles here—it’s really Ann and Andrea in an oxygen-deprived soggy girl fight—and the mermaid bites her leg.  Andrea can kick her way to the surface, but Ann’s got 30 to 50 pounds of lead weights in her tail keeping her nicely submerged.

In the middle of the night, Powell hears the mermaid’s trilling, and sneaks out to the pond to find her sitting on the edge of the pool in Miss King’s gown as a trophy (Miss King, terrified, has run off without it), which she wears like a debutante to impress him.  With great tact and understanding, he compliments her appearance, and she clings to his hand, kissing it.

But his wife is fed up with him, sure that he’s carrying on with Miss King, so she leaves him.  When she disappears, the local authorities think he murdered her, and now poor Mr. Powell has to get the mermaid back to the ocean and get back his wife.

A nice shot here when the mermaid overhears Powell telling the sardonic Clinton Sundberg that he’s in love with a mermaid, and she responds silently with a brilliant, ecstatic smile.  The only thing better than your male two-legged creature telling you he loves you, is hearing him talk about how much he loves you to somebody else.

Ann Blyth has some clever and remarkable stunts to perform underwater, most especially the fight scene, but also a bit where she swims around an enormous castle-like structure, where she cries underwater into a handkerchief and blows her nose, and gathers up her comb collection when Mr. Powell tells her they have to leave this place.

Their adventure culminates on a rock at sea, with the British authorities after them.  It is a tragic moment when he sees he cannot stay with the mermaid, and must let himself be taken back to the land.  He reunites with his wife, and gives her a present: one of the mermaid’s ornamental combs.

I think the above–mentioned New York Times reviewer hit the nail on the head when it comes to the ending of this movie: “Mermaids are not good subjects for cinematic comedy, since they just can’t settle down and live happily ever after.”

True, for though we may be happy for the Peabodys’ reunion, there is a sense of sadness that we don’t know what happened to the mermaid, and wonder if she will ever find another male two-legged creature to love her.

Ann Blyth and William Powell parted with a happier mood.  In the 2006 interview with Eddie Muller, referred to in our intro piece and posted on The Evening Class blog transcript of the event, she recalled of Powell:

He was so dear, tender…I had asked him for a picture at the end of the movie and he took several lines from the movie and wrote them on the picture.  Actually he taped it to the picture and said, "I like you.  I like you very much."

You can watch Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid currently here at YouTube.

Come back next Thursday when we jump eleven years later to 1959 and a new medium—television—for Ann Blyth’s first of five appearances on the western Wagon Train.  It’s The Jenny Tannen Story, where she has a dual role of a cold, bitter woman, and the young daughter who travels across the continent to see her.  This one’s dedicated to your friend and mine, the Caftan Woman, for her particular fondness for this episode.  It was during the filming of this episode that Ann was surprised by Ralph Edwards on This Is Your Life.  We'll talk about that too.


Evening Class blog, July 28,2007, transcribed interview of Eddie Muller with Ann Blyth at the Castro Theatre, San Francisco, July 2006. website, Florida Photographic Collection of the State Archives of Florida.

Hollis, Tim.  Glass Bottom Boats & Mermaid Tails: Florida’s Tourist Springs, (Mechanicsburg, PA, 2006) p. 99.

Life magazine, February 9, 1948, pp. 91-94.

The Milwaukee Journal, article by Gene Handsaker, December 18, 1947; article by Sheilah Graham, August 22, 1949, p. GS1.

The Montreal Gazette, October 23, 1948, p. 21.

The New York Times, review by T.F.B., August 14, 1948, p. 6.

Ocala (Florida) Star Banner, April 14, 1981, p. 10A

Pelland, Maryann and Dan Pelland.  Weecki Wachee Springs (Charleston, SC., Chicago, Portsmouth, NH, San Francisco, 2006), p.7

St. Petersburg (Florida) Times, December 10, 1947, p. 14; April 4, 1948, p. 34

Youngstown (Ohio) Vindicator, syndicated article by Hedda Hopper, March 8, 1948, p. 16.

 UPDATE:  This series on Ann Blyth is now a book - ANN BLYTH: ACTRESS. SINGER. STAR. -

The audio book for Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is now for sale on, and on Amazon and iTunes.

Also in paperback and eBook from Amazon, CreateSpace, and my Etsy shop: LynchTwinsPublishing.

 "Lynch’s book is organized and well-written – and has plenty of amusing observations – but when it comes to describing Blyth’s movies, Lynch’s writing sparkles." - Ruth Kerr, Silver Screenings

"Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a poignant and thoroughly-researched mosaic of memories of a fine, upstanding human being who also happens to be a legendary entertainer." - Deborah Thomas, Java's Journey

"One of the great strengths of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is that Lynch not only gives an excellent overview of Blyth's career -- she offers detailed analyses of each of Blyth's roles -- but she puts them in the context of the larger issues of the day."- Amanda Garrett, Old Hollywood Films

"Jacqueline's book will hopefully cause many more people to take a look at this multitalented woman whose career encompassed just about every possible aspect of 20th Century entertainment." - Laura Grieve, Laura's Miscellaneous Musings''

"Jacqueline T. Lynch’s Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is an extremely well researched undertaking that is a must for all Blyth fans." - Annette Bochenek, Hometowns to Hollywood

Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. 
by Jacqueline T. Lynch

The first book on the career of actress Ann Blyth. Multitalented and remarkably versatile, Blyth began on radio as a child, appeared on Broadway at the age of twelve in Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, and enjoyed a long and diverse career in films, theatre, television, and concerts. A sensitive dramatic actress, the youngest at the time to be nominated for her role in Mildred Pierce (1945), she also displayed a gift for comedy, and was especially endeared to fans for her expressive and exquisite lyric soprano, which was showcased in many film and stage musicals. Still a popular guest at film festivals, lovely Ms. Blyth remains a treasure of the Hollywood's golden age.


Melissa Clark said...

Wonderful look at this movie - makes me want to watch it again and pay special attention to Ann Blyth's performance. I enjoyed the behind the scenes information about how Blyth was transformed into a mermaid. She looked so sweet and beautiful in her costume, but what a hassle!

Too funny that her hissing was dubbed by an ocelot. The magic of the movies, LOL.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks, MC. Magic of the movies is right, but as much hassle as it was for the actress, we can imagine it must have been really fun to be a techie and figure out how to make all this stuff.

Caftan Woman said...

I could actually hear the actors in my head reading the dialogue you presented from the movie. It's such a charmer and your look at all the details that go into making the movie come alive with such ease were very interesting. My admiration for the performances greatly increased.

PS: While playing at my housework this morning I started to sing "The Tomorrow Waltz" and I swear one of the cats looked at me in a way that said "You're no Ann Blyth.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

I must say, your cats are very disrespectful. What do they know? Are they music critics?

DorianTB said...

Wow, Ann Blyth is busting out all over! :-) I'm pleased to have caught up with MR. PEABODY AND THE MERMAID in your Blyth-a-Thon. I always love William Powell, and I'm enjoying seeing Ms. Blyth in this charming role! It was great fun to see how the piscatorial F/X was done -- boy, was Ann a trouper, or what? Like the film itself, the film is both funny and poignant. I especially loved your comments about Mary Field as the saleslady; she's one of my favorite character actresses. I'm still laughing over: “The diaper model. Provocative, n'est–ce pas?” "Slam-dunk hysterical" is the perfect word for this"! BRAVA to you on a great post, Jacqueline!

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks very much, Dorian. I can just imagine Mary Field smiling when she read her script, probably thrilled she'd gotten such a great part with those wonderful lines.

Rich said...

Somehow, I get the feeling you've nursed this grudge against modern salespeople for awhile.

This movie sounds quite different from Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah's 'Splash.' It almost seems like the mermaid gimmick is just that - a gimmick. I don't get the impression that she absolutely had to be a mermaid for this story to work. Perhaps I'll watch it myself and decide on my own. This does seem like a somewhat challenging role for a 19-year old actress.

grandoldmovies said...

Such a lovely, and lovingly penned, review on this delightful movie. Thanks so much. And I must tip my hat to Miss Blyth for performing in that rubber tail; it must have been hot and uncomfortable, but she never showed it in the film. What a trouper!

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Rich, modern salespeople could take a lesson from Mary Field.

As for the mermaid being a gimmick to the story, it's based on a novel and it's fantasy. Like Harry Potter. The real theme to the story is reaching middle age.

Grandoldmovies, thank you so much for your kind remarks. I agree, Miss Blyth must have been quite a trooper.

Yvette said...

Fabulous post, Jacqueline. I first watched this movie with my mom. I think it was on Channel 11's Million Dollar Movie. But maybe not.

We might have seen it on the big screen the first time. Can't remember the details.

At any rate, I'm going to watch it again. (Thank you, youtube.) So much of the story remains lost in the mists of time for me.

I just know that my mom and I loved the movie. William Powell and Ann Blyth - what's not to love?

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks, Yvette. The Million Dollar Movie, I love it. Pre-TCM nostalgia. I'm glad you finally get to watch it again.

Rick29 said...

Thanks especially for the fun background details about the production (e.g., Ms. Blyth's glimmering mermaid tale). I always thought this was a cute movie...though I am partial to Glynis Johns' mermaid in MIRANDA.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks for stopping by, Rick. The lure of the siren's song is pretty irresistible, no matter who the mermaid is.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kevin Deany said...

It's been years since I've seen it, but I remember liking it and definitely should see it again. Universal was well known for their monster make-ups and other fantastic costumes, but I always thought the mermaid costume got short shrift. Perhaps because its a gentler fantasy than the usual Frankensteins, Draculas and Wolfmans. It's a great mermaid costume.

I know this is an Ann Blyth-centric feature, but I must add I always thought Andrea King looked a lot like Ida Lupino, and wondered if that's why she didn't have a bigger career. I always liked her in everything she did.

OK, back to Ann Blyth.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

I agree, Kevin, the mermaid suit is nifty. It's a wonderful piece of costuming and I liked reading how it was concocted.

That's an interesting idea about Andrea King looking like Ida Lupino. That never occurred to me.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful detailed review - as we have come to expect from you.
I've never seen this film but can't wait now. It sounds such fun. I think we are all going to learn so much about Ann Blyth this year - and hopefully see more of her films and Tv work.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thank you so much, Vienna. I wish more of her films were easier to find.

Page said...

You wont see me complaining one bit about your long posts! WOW! So much to discuss.
First though, Thank You, Sheilah! I might just have to borrow 'wolf-whistle figure'. Love that one!

These photos are delightful! I get a kick out of seeing the behind the scenes glimpses so seeing how Ann prepared and got stuffed into that mermaid tail. What fun! Was she also getting spray tanned or air brushed in that one photo? That had to have taken hours every day in the makeup chair.

You know, I've seen so much talk recently about young starlets dating or marrying older men and I thought to myself, these people would die of shock if they knew about all of the age disparity in the early days of Hollywood. Hello, Charlie Chaplin, Errol Flynn, Barrymore, Jerry Lee Lewis. The list goes on and on.

I've really enjoyed your look back at Ann's life and career so far, Jacqueline and I can't wait to see what's next on the agenda. She really was a fascinating little pixie with a lot of talent. You also reminded me that I haven't seen this film since I was a teenager but I'd love to see it again.
All the best!

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks so much, Page. I really appreciate it. Those columnists back in the day were something. Often condescending, wielding quite a bit of power, but always entertaining.

I'm not sure if that's Ann getting spray painted or the fish costume. I wish some of those old makeup folks were still around to tell us about their work. I hope you can catch "Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid" on YouTube one of these days.

Callie Shaw said...

This is one of my favorite movies. Ann was wonderful as a mermaid, and the playful look she had on her face just before she grabbed the other woman underwater and bit her on the leg!

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Welcome, Callie! I agree, Ann was truly a delight in this movie.

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