Thursday, October 9, 2014

Katie Did It - 1951 - A Lost Movie, An Overlooked Career

Katie Did It (1951) has become an elusive sort of “holy grail” quest for me during this year-long series on the career of Ann Blyth.  I left this spot open towards the end of the year figuring I would have either the movie to discuss, or else have a metaphor for reason the bulk of Ann Blyth’s career is largely forgotten and that she is looked upon by those who do recall her work fondly as an “underrated actress.”

Ann plays Katherine Standish, a prudish small-town New England librarian.  Mark Stevens plays a big-city commercial artist who comes to town, causing scandal when he paints Ann in a provocative pose for an advertising campaign.  Directed by Frederick de Cordova, this comedy also features Craig Stevens and Cecil Kellaway.

There are no reviews on the IDMb website, only the sound of crickets.  Critic Leonard Maltin, as posted on the TCM page for this movie, says:

“Ann Blyth is perkier than usual as square New England librarian who becomes hep when romanced by swinging New Yorker Stevens.”

Not much to go on, but “perkier than usual” might seem to indicate that Mr. Maltin has actually seen the film himself.  I wonder.  Even the mighty TCM website (on which I confess, like the IDMb website, I have found disappointing errors from time to time) is otherwise silent on this unaccountably obscure film.

In the timeline of Ann’s movie career, Katie Did It is sandwiched between two big hits: the drama Our Very Own (1950) which we discussed here, and the musical, The Great Caruso (1951), which we discussed here.  It seems to have been obscured by them both.

We do have, however, a brief glimpse into the filming of this movie from an article that discussed Ann’s “first day jitters” at the start of a film.

“Everything is fine until the minute I walk on the set for my first shot,” Miss Blyth said, “Then my knees sort of buckle, sweat trickles out on my forehead and my tongue seems to stick to the roof of my mouth…Yet I feel somehow that if I didn’t feel that way, something would be wrong.”

“At the very beginning, Freddie (director Frederick de Cordova) suddenly switched scenes on me,” she said, “Instead of doing the sequence I came prepared for, he announced we’d shoot an entirely different scene.”

It made her so busy learning new lines and shuffling into another costume, that Ann didn’t have time to remember to be jittery.

“Then he told me that this was a deliberate attempt to put me at ease—after we’d made the scene.  I was rather cross about it at first, until I made the discovery that I’d breezed through the almost-unrehearsed sequence with no trouble at all.”

The movie was never released on DVD or VHS, and to my knowledge, has not been shown on TCM, but I hope someone will correct me.  Failing this, I’m hoping that the film may exist in a private collection or somebody’s warehouse or attic in 16mm form.  If so, I’d be interested in buying it.

No film yet, but the metaphor?  I would hesitate to hang Ann Blyth’s current reputation among many to be an underrated or even unremembered actress just over one “lost” film, not when there are so many other movies to give ample evidence of her being a very gifted actress.  But there is something else niggling in her legacy to classic film buffs.

Here I quote from my discussion on my pal John Hayes’ blog Robert Frost’s Banjo a couple months ago:

Blyth is perkier than usual as square New England librarian who becomes hep when romanced by swinging New Yorker Stevens.Blyth is perkier than usual as square New England librarian who becomes hep when romanced by swinging New Yorker Stevens.Blyth is perkier than usual as square New England librarian who becomes hep when romanced by swinging New Yorker Stevens.
This woman had been the flavor of the month all through the late 1940s and most of the 1950s, on enough magazine covers to choke a horse, and as famous in her day as any young star could be.  Today, she is nowhere to be seen in that kitschy souvenir shop universe where classic film fans can easily snag T-shirts and coffee cups and posters of Clark Gable and The Three Stooges, Mae West and Betty Boop, and, of course, the ever-exploitable Marilyn Monroe.   

Where was Ann Blyth?  She never retired from performing.  She had, unlike most other stars of that era, performed in all media from radio to TV to stage, and was successful in all of them.    Far, far more talented than any other 1950s glamour girl, yet she is not as well known today among younger classic film fans.  I wanted to know why.

Not that I am calling for Ann Blyth key chains and Veda Pierce car mats, but if many have forgotten her reputation as one of the best actresses of her generation—and she was clearly regarded as such by her peers and the industry in the late 1940s and early 1950s—then we have also forgotten about her name and face in popular culture as a star.  This lofty place was undeniably due to her exquisite beauty, for the only thing more prized in Hollywood than talent is being photogenic.  

I would compare Ann’s introspective, working from the inside-out skill as an interpretive actress similar to two other actresses slightly older than she: Teresa Wright and Dorothy McGuire, who both conveyed a soulful depth to their characters.  Neither of those two tremendously talented, and very serious actresses, who cared more for their art than for stardom, could reach the power (or were offered the opportunity) of Ann’s evil Veda Pierce, her venial coquetry of Regina Hubbard, or her sleazy-cum-brokenhearted and ultimately reformed characters she played in Swell Guy and A Woman’s Vengeance.  And neither of them sang.  Ann was a most valuable player. 

Also, unlike those two ladies, Ann actually was as much a “star” as a dedicated actress, who, despite pursuing her purposeful private life with unruffled determination, still seemed to enjoy being a movie star and attending industry functions, cooperative with the publicity department and whatever the studio asked of her.  You can rub elbows with her on the TCM Classic Cruise in two weeks.

She never shirked autograph hounds, but patiently tackled every slip of paper that was shoved in front of her, leaving that bold, elegant signature that, like her beliefs, her manners, and her sense of responsibility, never wavered. 

But, though we might dispense with souvenir kitsch, we also are left a surprisingly scant discography.  Music is a marketable product that lifts the soul and does not just collect dust.  This woman was a beautiful singer, with a trained voice, but where are all the albums?  Celebrities who could sing cranked them out, and those who could not sing still unaccountably found themselves with record deals.  To my knowledge, Ann had made few records.  I have read of her intention to make albums, particularly a collection of Irish songs, and including at least one with her brother-in-law, Dennis Day.  Do they exist?

At the 32nd Academy Awards held on April 4, 1960, Ann Blyth accepted the Oscar® for Documentary Short Subject won by Bert Haanstra for Glass (which I’ve never seen, but even so, I can’t believe it beat out Donald in Mathmagicland, which we covered here.  No really, I’m serious.  Really.  Stop laughing.)

Mitzi Gaynor handed the statue to Ann, and for a moment, Ann Blyth fans, and perhaps even herself, had a fleeting and thrilling vision of the formerly nominated actress (in the Best Supporting category for Mildred Pierce) to finally get her due.  But Ann herself slapped down that daydream and remarked, though clearly excited to be holding the award, “Gee, I guess this is the closest I’ll ever be to getting one.”

Many superb actors and actresses finished their careers without an Oscar®, but we film buffs remember, most defiantly, who they are.  (This clip from the award ceremony is currently on YouTube here.  Scroll to 18:00.)

Surely, being overlooked, or even unknown today, doesn’t all boil down to a film career that lasted only 13 years?  Grace Kelly’s career was even shorter.  Audrey Hepburn’s film appearances stretched over more decades, but she made less films.  Though both were Oscar® winners, deservedly so for those winning roles, neither enjoyed the range of roles, or displayed the acting range of Ann Blyth; neither possessed her powerful lyric soprano (both gamely tried musicals, but had weak, if pleasant, singing voices); and neither, despite their obvious radiant beauty, were more beautiful.  But they had long ago reached icon status and stayed there.

Both gave up films—for long periods or forever—and abandoned Hollywood for Europe.  Ann never walked away from her career, she only modified it to her personal tastes and her family’s needs.  (And her home, for decades, remained in North Hollywood, only a few miles from the studios.)

Is her forgotten status due, perhaps, to a combination of circumstances unique to Hollywood—that because the quiet stability of her private life did not make headlines she therefore couldn’t be exploited for profit, because the bulk of her films are hardly, if ever, shown today, and because, unlike those tragic stars who died young, or younger, she outlived all her co-stars?

Had she done more television, she might have regained recognition among younger audiences. (For instance, like Angela Lansbury, who without Murder She Wrote might be known only to classic film buffs and theatre fans, but not have household name recognition in the U.S. and around the world.) Still, though her staunch fans might mourn her lack of icon status, I doubt Ann would.  Truly, she got the best of the bargain in a rich and rewarding private life—long and happy marriage, five children, ten grandchildren, life-long friends in and out of the entertainment industry, charitable work—and satisfying career in proportions she could deal with, and never expressed regret. 

Have a look at the two videos below at the wedding of the year where the movie star becomes a bride.

The wedding and reception footage begins in this second video at 1:38. Before that we have a glimpse of Stanwyck on location.  This shutterbug really got around.

We have a few more TV appearances to discuss the rest of this month, and then a few more films to round out the series in the coming weeks that demonstrate a variety of genres: a western, a war picture, a bio-pic, musicals…and a look at her “third act” career—as a singer in concerts and nightclubs.

Come back next week to 1979, when Ann and fellow Hollywood star Don Ameche come under scrutiny in a murder only Jack Klugman can solve in an episode of Quincy, M.E.

My thanks to the gang at the Classic Movie Blog Association for voting this Year of Ann Blyth series as the Best Movie Series for 2014.  Congratulations to all the winners and nominees in all categories.

And congratulations to the three winners of my recent Goodreads Giveaway, who will each receive a paperback copy of my book on classic films: Movies in Our Time - Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century.
Hartford Courant, July 9, 1950, Part II, page 15, syndicated UP article.


As  most of you probably know by now, this year's TCM Classic Cruise will set sail (proverbially) in October, and one of the celebrity guests is Ann Blyth.

Ann will be doing a couple hour-long conversation sessions, and will also be on hand for a screening of Mildred Pierce.

Have a look here for the rest of the schedule and events with the other celebrity guests. Unfortunately, the cruise is booked, so if' you're late, you can try for the waiting list.

I, sadly, am unable to attend this cruise, but if any reader is going,  I invite you (beg you) to share your experiences and/or photos relating to Miss Blyth on this blog as part of our year-long series on her career.  I'd really appreciate your perspective on the event, to be our eyes and ears.  Thanks.
 THANK 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.  And thanks to all those who signed on as backers to my recent Kickstarter campaign.  The effort failed to raise the funding needed, but I'll always remember your kind support.
TRIVIA QUESTION:  I've recently been contacted by someone who wants to know if the piano player in Dillinger (1945-see post here) is the boogie-woogie artist Albert Ammons. Please leave comment or drop me a line if you know.
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.

A new collection of essays, some old, some new, from this blog titled Movies in Our Time: Hollywood Mimics and Mirrors the 20th Century is now out in eBook, and in paperback here.


Kevin Deany said...

I would love to see KATIE DID IT based solely on that red bathing suit she is wearing in the poster. I bet it will turn up one day when you least expect it.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Kevin, you crack me up. Let's hope the movie turns up sometime. Bathing suit. My laugh for the day. (Although I'm sure you're deadly serious.)

Caftan Woman said...

The clip from the wedding was charming. I loved Ann's wave to the fans and their happy response. All so friendly and warm.

Congratulations on a marvelous series. I look forward to each new installment and will miss Ann when 2015 rolls around.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thank you, CW. Note the absence of security. For the motorists passing by, had they not known who the bride was, they might have thought it was any wedding. We had put our stars up on pedestals in those days, and in spite of -- or perhaps because of that do you think -- they were safer among us than mega-celebrities of today, who need bodyguards from whackos, and who need to plan secluded weddings if only to elude the tenacious and exploitive paparazzi.

johnnyc said...

Frederic de Cordova.....otherwise known as Freddie de Cordova, Johnny Carson's producer.

johnnyc said...

I've visited every so often and really enjoyed the series on Ann. Between retiring and going through a big move I lost track sometimes but plan on going through it from the beginning. Thank you for all the time and work you put into this. I'm guessing it was as enjoyable for you as it has been for your readers.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

JohnnyC, thanks so much for your kind comment, and the additional info on de Cordova. Yes, I have enjoyed this series very much. I hope readers have enjoyed it as well.

Anonymous said...

Love the film footage including Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. thanks for sharing.
Your year long project has been awesome. I await your book !
Surely Ms Blyth would respond to an interview request from you?

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thank you, Vienna. I'm eager to push forward with the next phase and work on the book, and I certainly do hope it will be well worth waiting for. Actually, I did write to Ms. Blyth some time back with a request for an interview, but I suggested that she need not reply at all if she was not interested. So, I really did not expect a reply from her unless she agreed. Having had no response, I will assume she prefers not to participate, which is understandable and which I respect.

That film footage is something, isn't it? I wonder how many 8mm home movie goodies there are out there?

Rick29 said...

This is one of those movies that was shown regularly on TV when I was growing up, but now seems to have vanished. I recall it being a pleasant comedy, but, of course, it's probably been four decades since I last saw it.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Rick, you've given me a glimmer of hope. You're the first person I've encountered that's actually seen KATIE DID IT. "Shown regularly on TV..." a bittersweet phrase. Thanks.

SB said...

Now Katie Did I is available in you tube and at a very good picture quality too (480P) and Anne looks delightful.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thank you very much for sharing that info, SB, and you're right, I did see it on YouTube a few weeks ago and was amused that the one movie for which I had been searching finally shows up! I did actually obtain a copy of the film last year just in time to write about it in my book on Ann Blyth's career. But I'm glad now that her fans can watch KATIE DID IT on YouTube - - but do it while you can. Things have a way of disappearing from YouTube without notice.

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