Saturday, June 8, 2013

The End of an Era: Esther Williams 1921-2013

There aren't many of those classic Hollywood movie stars left, and this week saw the end of an era. Swimming star Esther Williams died on Thursday just two months before her 92nd birthday. She was one of MGM's many stars during the 1940s and '50s, but she was certainly one of the most unique stars to appear on the Silver Screen. There were lots of singers, dancers and actors. But as Donald O'Connor says in That's Entertainment --- ". . . there was only one Esther Williams."

She starred in a score of flashy, colorful films that were unlike anything at the time and are certainly unlike anything that's been made since. The plots are quite sappy, but she always had top-notch casts and crew. You weren't really there to watch a story, anyway. You were there to watch Esther swim, dive and accomplish amazing aquatic feats. She swims the English Channel in Dangerous When Wet, she water skies with a whole troop at Cypress Gardens in Easy to Love and she swims in a sunken Ancient city in Jupiter's Darling. But her crowning glory when it comes to one of these water ballets has to be the Hippodrome number in Million Dollar Mermaid. Esther appears as you'll never see her elsewhere. The finale of the ballet shows her rising from the water on a spectacularly lit platform --- and slowly disappearing again amidst a chorus of aquatic ballerinas. And it's all done with a smile.

That's Entertainment is a wealth of appropriate sentiment when it comes to MGM musicals. Frank Sinatra say, "You can wait around and hope, but I'm telling you --- you'll never see the likes of this again." He says it in reference to Fred Astaire, but it is just as true when it comes to Esther Williams. There will never be another performer like her again.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Deanna Durbin (4 Dec 1921 - Apr 2013)

Edna Mae David, alias Deanna Durbin, passed away a few days ago in France at the age of 91. Her son, Peter, released the news yesterday. For the past 60+ years, she has lived in complete privacy in a small town outside of Paris. For twelve years in the 1930s and 40s, she was one of Hollywood's super stars. She made 21 feature films, countless recordings, and was a weekly guest on Eddie Cantor's radio show for a while. At one point, Deanna Durbin was the highest paid actress in the world! However, for Canadian-born Edna, the Deanna craze and fame was an intruder. When the time came, she slammed the door on Hollywood and the glamour with a bang that was heard around the world!

For a previous blog entry that gives a more detailed account of her career, click here. Also, the New York Times is running a full article about her.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Rise Stevens (June 11, 1913 - March 20, 2013)

Rise Stevens was an internationally famous mezzo-soprano. She worked at the Metropolitan Opera in New York for 23 years, and she is considered one of the greatest (if not the greatest) interpreters of the opera Carmen. She could not only sing, but she was also a good actress. Her death scene in Carmen was so realistic that the audience really thought she had been killed by Don Jose!

Like many opera stars, Rise Stevens went to Hollywood to try her hand at films. She didn't like working on pictures, but the couple that she made are fabulous. She felt that film directors were too concerned about "looks", and rightfully so. She recorded all of the songs for her films, but when it came time to actual shoot the scene, the director made her sing an octave lower --- so that her face looked pretty and not contorted with singing. There was no audience to react to the songs or performance, and that was a hard change from someone used to performing on stage.

She appeared in two well-remembered films: The Chocolate Soldier (1940) with Nelson Eddy and Going My Way (1944) with Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald. You can't get better than that! In fact, it was thanks to her role in Going My Way that she studied and sang the role of Carmen. She sings one song from the opera in the film, and so many people sent fan mail and compliments about the song that she decided to pursue the role.

Rise Stevens passed away on Wednesday, at the age of 99 (missing her one-hundredth birthday by less than three months!). Everyone seems to be remembering her for her operatic roles --- Carmen and Samson et Delilah. But I'll always think of her laughing as Nelson Eddy sings The Song of the Flea. Or singing Ave Maria in the basement with Bing Crosby and the Robert Mitchell Boys Choir. Thanks to these film appearances she will be seen and heard by future generations. So, if you haven't seen Going My Way, then be sure to do that soon!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Patty Andrews, 94 - Goodbye to the Andrews Sisters

PATTY ANDREWS (16 Feb 1918 - 30 Jan 2013)

We just found out that Patty Andrews, the last surviving sister of the fabulous Andrews Sisters, died at her home on January 30, 2013. She was 94 years old and was preceded in death by her husband of 59 years.

In the 1930s, a sister group shot to overnight stardom with their hit recording of "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen". They went on to become some of the nation's top selling recording artists of the swing and boogie era. They sang Americans through the second world war and had more Top 10 charted hits than Elvis or The Beatles.

The oldest sister, LaVerne, died of cancer in 1967. The middle sister, Maxene, in 1995. Together, the three sisters recorded over 600 songs and appeared in over two dozen films, as well as guest appearing on almost every major TV show of the 1950s and 60s.