The Case of The Muppet Movie

Well, it’s no secret that we here at The Black Case Diaries are BIG fans of alliteration. So, last week we departed from Musical May, and this month we are heading into…Jim Henson June! Usually, June is the month reserved for June Tunes, but we decided to shake things up this year. This week, we’re covering a Jim Henson film that is near and dear to our hearts. 

From 1976 to 1981, The Muppet Show dazzled audiences everywhere with its chaotic charm. Jim Henson was known everywhere as an innovator, and master entertainer. He took the rigid medium of puppetry, which was known to cater almost exclusively to children, and turned it into something for everyone. So, in 1979 when the Muppets were at their peak popularity, Jim Henson produced their first ever full-length feature film. It was a beautiful musical journey of how The Muppets met and came to be, with a variety of high-profile cameos speckled throughout. 

So this week, we’re moving right along, out of the swamp and on our way to Hollywood! It’s time to explore the Magic Store with The Muppet Movie! 

In the late 1970’s, Jim Henson was one of the busiest men in show business. Caroll Spinney, the man that brought Big Bird to life, called him “the hardest working man I’ve ever met.” In 1977, as Henson juggled The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, holiday specials, and live performances, he started working on The Muppet Movie. 

The film would be incredibly ambitious. No one had ever made puppets the main actors of a feature film before. Of course, Jim Henson could have turned an episode of The Muppet Show into a film. But, instead he did something much more challenging. This film would be the reverse of The Muppet Show. Instead of live actors coming to visit the muppet characters, the muppets were venturing out into the living world. 

Jim Henson brought this idea to Lord (Lew) Grade, the chief of ATV, which was the home of The Muppets. Grade was enthusiastic about the idea, and granted Henson an 8 million dollar budget (quite steep at the time). Filming started in 1978.  

SUMMARY

  • After being discovered by an agent in a swamp, Kermit the Frog decides to head to Hollywood to chase his dream of becoming a professional performer. Along the way, he meets a struggling bear comedian named Fozzy, a talented dog pianist named Rowlf, a beauty queen that happens to be a pig, an alien plummer, and many more! As the group heads to California, Kermit must also escape the clutches of an evil restaurateur that intends to use Kermit to sell deep-fried frog legs! 

MAKING OF THE MOVIE

  • Jim Henson wanted to direct The Muppet Movie himself. But, he was eventually persuaded to allow an experienced filmmaker to come in and take charge. Henson had never shot film, and the producers chose director James Frawley to take the helm. Although this was incredibly frustrating for Henson, he seemed to work well with Frawley. Frawley was familiar with directing quirky material, like episodes of the TV show, The Monkees, and Henson liked his sense of humor.  
    • Frawley performed a screen test, which helped him understand the characters and how they worked, and whether or not they would fit into the real world.
    • In a USA Today article, the director said, “We shot them in and among cows — real locations though — trees, farmland and cars to see if you accepted their reality mixed in with real reality.” 
      • Frawley admitted to not understanding their mechanics and process at first, but he was soon an ally to the muppet performers. Jim Henson had worked with directors in the past that did not understand the physical demands of puppeteering. For this film, performers would often stand in small, claustrophobic places while holding their arms above their heads. In some scenes, they hid in underground cylinders, covered with plywood and dirt. Frawley was sympathetic, and would often shout, “Muppets relax” between takes, so the actors could rest.  
    • Making a groundbreaking film meant solving a lot of problems. Frawley felt that the most difficult scenes to shoot involved driving. The scenes inside the Studebaker forced up to four puppeteers to squish together under the dashboard with their monitors since there was no room for an actual driver. Frawley had the car rigged, so a stunt driver could operate it from the trunk, while watching the road on a monitor! 
    • But the sequence that Frawley felt was the most difficult of all, was the opening shot of Kermit singing in the swamp. Originally, Jim Henson wanted the scene to be in a real swamp, but quickly abandoned the idea. Instead, he shipped in trees from Georgia, and turned a water tank into an incredibly realistic swamp set.
      • Henson had a diving bell made to sit in the four-foot tank. He squeezed inside, and was sealed in. A rubber sleeve at the top allowed him to reach up and control Kermit with one hand, and a wire allowed him to operate Kermit’s banjo movements. Except for a headset that allowed him to communicate with the outside world, and the oxygen being pumped in, Henson was essentially buried alive. The scene took 5 days to shoot. At one point, Henson was sealed in for over three hours. 
      • Any time a muppet was shown with their feet, a creative solution was required to make it happen. For example, one sequence when Kermit walked across the sand in a ghost town, the camera was ground level as someone operated two green legs from above.
  • This movie was written by Jack Burns and Jerry Juhl, the head writers for The Muppet Show. Back when Jim Henson first pitched the show, Juhl was the main writer. But, the network hired comedian Jack Burns to take the head writer title, because he was a more well-known comedian. So, Juhl understood Henson’s frustration when he wasn’t named director of The Muppet Movie. For years afterward, Juhl continued to write muppet content, and is responsible for many of the jokes that we associate with the muppets today. 
    • Juhl and Burns wrote a film that was a nod to old Hollywood. There were elements of classic movie musicals, buddy films, and slapstick comedy. But, Juhl also made sure to incorporate elements of Jim Henson’s own life. Jim Henson had left Mississippi (where there are a few swamps) to achieve his dreams in Hollywood. Like Kermit, he gathered up a group of coworkers and friends that shared his dream of wanting to bring more light into the world. He also fought to escape the clutches of the advertisement business. 
      • In Brian Jay Jones’ biography on Henson, he points to the climactic scene in which Kermit faces Doc Hopper at High Noon, as a true Jim Henson inspired moment. 
      • “Yeah well, I’ve got a dream, too. But it’s about singing and dancing and making people happy. That’s the kind of dream that gets better the more people you share it with. And, Well…I’ve found a whole bunch of friends who have the same dream. And it kind of makes us like a family.” 
      • Jones wrote that Juhl could have lifted those words verbatim from Jim Henson’s mouth. 
  • Filming took a total of 90 days, with many shots done on location in California and New Mexico!
    • The entire film was done in camera with no after effects added. Every scene was choreographed so that the actors knew exactly where to be. It’s a complicated process, because the muppets need to appear autonomous, which means that puppeteers cannot ever appear. 
    • “Simple is good,” was always one of Jim Henson’s philosophies. But, it seemed as if his definition of simple would fluctuate. Writer Jerry Juhl said, “We always used to kid Jim that after telling everybody that ‘simple is good,’ he would turn around and try to produce the most complicated work in the world.” 
      • One notable example of this would be the scene in the film when Animal consumes chemicals and grows a gigantic head. Although some suggested filming the scene using the regular-sized Animal puppet with miniatures, Jim Henson instructed his crew to build a 60-foot Animal head instead, controlled by Frank Oz. 
  • When you’re watching a Muppet movie, you’re witnessing a series of complicated maneuvers by people so talented, that it all looks seamless. Only two characters in the film were operated as suits. Sweetums, the ogre muppet that works at the used car lot, and Big Bird! 
    • Another example of these maneuvers was the scene that included legendary actor Orson Welles. As the group is about to appeal to Welles to become rich and famous, the five or six puppeteers were wheeled on a dolly across the stage and objects in the foreground were used to help conceal them, such as chairs and couches.
  • In the finale we see many of the muppets all together under a rainbow. When watching you may not even think about what kind of an amazing feat this is. You see the muppets as actual characters, but in reality they must be moved by puppeteers. In this final scene there are more than 250 Muppet characters with 137 puppeteers hiding. The scene took an entire day to shoot and several of the puppeteers were called to help from the Puppeteers of America. In the beginning of the day Henson and Oz gave a crash course in the art of cinematic puppetry.
    • We will include in the blog a picture of how they organized where each puppeteer would stand with their characters by numbers written on the ground.
The Muppets.jpg

The Muppet Movie released in America on June 22,1979! It was a critical and commercial success, just like Jim Henson knew it would be. It was one of the most profitable films of the decade. 

MUSIC

  • The music and lyrics were written by Kenneth Ascher and Paul Williams.
  • In an interview with Stephen Deusner, Paul Williams said “Jim instructed us never to write down to children. That was never the point. We were writing the story and the characters. I think the special thing about the Muppets is that they encompass every age.”
  • When Williams was asked about working with his co-writer he said that, “The way Kenny (Ascher) and I write, it’s almost like we’re one consciousness. I probably write about 85 percent of the lyrics and a little bit of the melody as I’m singing, and he writes 85 percent of the music and a little bit of the lyrics. It was a perfect collaboration for The Muppet Movie.”

SONGS

  • The Rainbow Connection
    • There are a lot of magical moments in this film, but the opening of “Rainbow Connection” is other-worldly. It starts in the sky, as the orchestral opening music fades away, to make room for the humble sound of a banjo. The camera comes in from a wide shot, reminiscent of the opening of “The Sound of Music.” This first song of the movie sets up our main protagonist Kermit so that we see him as a true character and not a pile of fabric. 
    • At the film’s premiere, Jim Henson’s 14-year-old son, John, burst into tears. When asked about it later he said, “I cried in the opening. I still do.”
      • The inspiration for The Rainbow Connection was “When you Wish Upon a Star.” Both songs deal with inner thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
      • The Rainbow Connection is essentially an “I want” song. Linda Holmes from NPR wrote this about the song, “His ‘I Want’ is not just for his own dreams to come true. It’s for those who believe in the enchanting myths that we’ve all written together to be proved right. Someday, he hopes, we will find a thread that makes all this make sense. You know. Life. It’s almost a ‘We Want’ song.”
    • Jim Henson decided that when the audience first sees Kermit he would be sitting on a log. When Williams and Ascher asked Henson what Kermit would be doing, Henson thought briefly and said Kermit would be playing a banjo. Williams and Ascher built from there.
    • Performed at the 1980 Oscars
      • It was named in 2017 by Billboards Andrew Unterberger as one of the 100 Greatest Award Show performances of all time.
    • The song hit number 25 on the Billboard Chart and stayed in the top 40 for seven weeks! 
    • Since then the song has been covered by many artists. It’s wise lyrics may not be grasped by younger listeners but it has the capacity to be appreciated by all. It has been covered by Willie Nelson, Sarah McLachlan, and Jason Mraz.
  • Movin’ Right Along
    • This song comes just as Kermit is able to “convince” Fozzie to come with him to Hollywood. It sets up the beginning of their journey together.
      • This song also shows the audience the chemistry between Fozzie and Kermit, two best friends hittin’ the road together. It sets up the film as a “buddy” and “road trip” movie. It also shows how creative the characters are, as they are singing the song and writing it in real time! 
      • This song is filled with funny asides and is a plucky tune pounded out on banjo. Movin’ Right Along is an absolute jam. It also has a great cameo from Carroll Spinney’s Big Bird! 
    • In January of this year The Muppets social media uploaded a video of current day Kermit and Fozzie singing the tune together via a phone video call as Fozzie does a quick road trip. We will link to the video if you would like to view it.
  • Never Before, Never Again
    • This song really shows Frank Oz’s range, as Miss Piggy sings a love ballad while noticing Kermit for the first time. This song is filled with silly moments of the two Muppets being in love and spending time together, although only in Miss Piggy’s imagination. 
  • I Hope that Somethin’ Better Comes Along
    • This song is unique in that Henson duets himself! In order to accomplish the performance the two tracks were recorded separately and then composited together. 
    • The Muppets constantly walk a line between entertainment for children and adults. It’s tough to say if anyone has ever done it as well as they have. This song has the most grown-up jokes, as Rowlf and Kermit lament their lady troubles.
    • Rowlf the Dog was a very special character for Jim Henson. He was as much Jim as Kermit the Frog. When Jim Henson passed away, Rowlf only made a cameo appearance in The Muppet Christmas Carol, because Brian Henson didn’t want to recast him. 
  • Can You Picture That?
    • Shortly after Fozzie and Kermit meet up, the two encounter Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem (aka the heroes of the film). Hanging out in a church, which they hope to turn into a coffeehouse. Once the band finds out about Kermit’s troubles with Doc Hopper, they decide to help by disguising their car. 
      • This is also the introduction of Scooter, Kermit’s eventual stage manager! 
    • This song is filled with trippy lyrics, and hilarious Animal moments, not to mention it absolutely rocks harder than almost any song ever. 
  • I’m Going to Go Back There Someday
    • When The Muppets break down in the desert, all dreams of Hollywood seem to have been lost. Sitting around a campfire, Gonzo performs one of the most poignant songs of the film. 
    • When Dave Goelz first took up the Gonzo puppet, he was a quieter, more emotional character. He was always very emotive, more so than many other Muppets. As The Muppet Show progressed, so did Gonzo’s character. He became more confident, and hardly afraid of failure as the resident daredevil.
    • But, when it comes time to perform this song, we see the complex emotional side of Gonzo that’s more akin to his original character. “I’m Going to go back there someday,” describes how it feels when you think you have finally achieved your dreams, just to have them fall apart.
    • Just after this song, Kermit goes and has a conversation with his inner self. He feels responsible for everyone’s misery, and wishes that he never left the swamp. Then, he realizes that they came along with him because they believed in the dream, and he owes it to himself to keep trying to achieve it.
    • Kermit says, “I guess I was wrong when I said I never promised anyone. I promised me.” And he looks up just as a shooting star strikes across the desert sky. 
      • The shooting star has been recreated for several other movies in honor of Jim Henson. It was a Christmas tree light rigged to a wire. When Frawley gave the signal, it shot across the other desert stars.
    • After Henson’s passing, I’m Going to go Back There Someday was one of the songs performed for his funeral at St. John’s Cathedral in New York City.
  • America
    • In one of the funniest and most off-beat moments of the movie, Fozzie Bear sings an off-key version of America The Beautiful. The rendition is charming and warm, with Fozzie singing along to the swelling music at the end. This is the kind of moment that really appeals to younger audiences, children that are listening to the songs, but also singing along. It’s also a great representation of the silly shenanigans that often happen on a long car ride. 
  • The Magic Store
    • This song is the big finale, a moment of celebration for our heroes that finally found their way to fame! The group sings to the audience, detailing their paths from being awkward kids in school, to successful entertainers. It’s a song for the audience, inspiring them to follow their dreams, too. 
    • The group starts to perform “The Rainbow Connection” together. Then, the ceiling breaks open and a rainbow appears, distracting everyone with its beauty. The music seems to stall for one haunting moment, except for two notes gently played on the piano. Then, Kermit turns to the camera, and tells us what he learned: Life’s like a movie, write your own ending.

STARRING

MUPPETS

  • Jim Henson: Kermit the Frog/ Rowlf/ Dr. Teeth/ Waldorf/ Swedish Chef/ Link Hogthrob 
  • Frank Oz: Miss PIggy/ Fozzie Bear/ Animal/ Sam the Eagle/ Marvin Suggs/ Motorcycle Guy
  • Jerry Nelson: Floyd Pepper/ Crazy Harry/ Robin the Frog/ Lew Zealand/ Camilla/ Blue Frackle
  • Richard Hunt: Scooter/ Statler/ Janice/ Sweetums/ Beaker
  • Dave Goelz: The Great Gonzo/ Zoot/ Dr. Bunsen Honeydew/ Doglion/ Nigel/ Pig
  • Steve Whitmire: Fletcher Bird

GUEST STARS:

It isn’t The Muppets without some guest stars. The puppeteers on set were thrilled to work with the large group of celebrities that agreed to appear in the film, from Bob Hope to Richard Pryor. 

  • Charles Durning as Doc Hopper (He looks a little like Colonel Sanders)
    • At one point on set, Jim Henson and Frank Oz got into an argument about Hopper. Henson believed that they should redeem the character. He believed that of any villain, and was once quoted saying, “Our villains are innocent, really–and it’s that innocence, I think, that is our connection to the audience.” Oz reportedly responded with, “bullshit.” 
  • Austin Pendleton as Max
  • Edgar Bergen as himself and Charlie McCarthy (you know, that monocle puppet)
    • Of all the celebrities, this was the most revered by the muppet cast. Edgar Bergen was a trailblazing puppeteer that paved the way for Jim Henson and every other performer on set. Writer Jerry Juhl said that watching him perform was like being a child again. 
    • Bergen was ill while filming The Muppet Movie, but agreed to do it anyway. It would be the very last footage of him, as he died that fall. Jim Henson spoke at his funeral, and the film is dedicated in Bergen’s honor. 
  • Milton Berle as Mad Man Mooney
  • Mel Brooks as Professor Max Krassman
  • James Coburn as El Sleezo Cafe Owner
  • Dom DeLuise as Bernie the Agent
  • Elliott Gould as Beauty Contest Compere
  • Bob Hope as the Ice Cream Vendor
  • Madeline Kahn as El Sleezo Patron
  • Carol Kane as Myth
  • Cloris Leachman as Lord’s Secretary
  • Steve Martin as the Insolent Waiter
  • Richard Pryor as the Balloon Vendor
  • Telly Savalas as El Sleezo Tough
  • Orson Welles as Lew Lord
    • Lew Lord is a nod to the head of ATV, Lord Lew Grade!
  • Paul Williams as El Sleezo Pianist
  • Scott Walker as the Frog Killer

AWARDS/ HOW IT WAS RECEIVED

  • The movie grossed almost $66 million in its initial release. Lew Lord certainly made back his 8 million dollar investment. Thanks to the film’s success, several other muppet films followed. 
  • It was nominated for two Oscars, for best song and best score. It won the Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film. 
  • When Jim Henson’s agent Bernie Brillstein saw the film, he said, “Kermit was Jim. Jim believed in the entire world.” 

The Muppet Movie was another triumph by Jim Henson. He took his team of dreamers and continued to push the boundaries of his medium. He found artists that truly understood his vision and songwriters that captured the true magic of The Muppets and what they represented. The Muppet Movie works for many reasons, but one of the most notable is because of how much every single person that touched it believed in its message. This film walks the line between silly and sentimental, displaying a truth that will stick with audiences of all ages. 

The Muppet Movie is beautiful. It’s magic personified. And the best part is that it’s for absolutely everyone: the lovers, the dreamers, and you. 

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, and Carlos!

You can now buy us a Popcorn! @  buymeacoffee.com/blackcasediary   

Thank you to all that support us whether it be through listening, telling a friend, or donating!


Sources:

The Case is Alive (With the Sound of Music) Part 2

So how do you solve a problem like covering the Sound of Music? Well, you cut your episode into two parts, of course! Last week we covered the first half of the film, ending at intermission. We last saw the Von Trapps at their party, with the children singing a farewell song to the guests. After Maria discovers that she and the captain were in love (with the help of the Baroness), she has returned to the Abbey. So, let’s pick up right where we left off, discussing the remaining songs in the film. 

SONGS

  • The Sound of Music (Reprise) 
    • The second half of the film opens at the exterior of the Von Trapp Villa. They couldn’t use the real house for the film, so they used the historical Frohnburg Palace! The building is actually a musical conservatory. They had to change a lot for the exterior, like adding gates and trimming shrubs/trees to make it look like a private home. 
    • “The Sound of Music” reappears several times in the film. This time, the children sing it to Uncle Max and the Baroness as they try to get over Maria’s departure. This scene illustrates how miserable the family is without her, especially the captain. We also see the Baroness struggle to connect with the children, even as the captain announces their engagement.
  • Climb Ev’ry Mountain
    • When the children come to see Maria at the Abbey, they pull a rope to alert the nuns that they are at the gate. That rope was a prop, but the abbey liked the prop so well, they asked to keep it. As far as everyone in the movie knows, it’s still there. 
    • When Robert Wise saw The Sound of Music, he felt that the performance of “Climb Every Mountain” was so powerful, it made him want to hide under his chair. Mother Abbess sang the song out toward the audience, which is common for a stage musical. He felt that for the screen, he needed to shoot a much more subtle performance. He knew that if the character sang into the lens, it would be too intense for a film. 
      • In the play, this is a huge, show-stopping number. For the film, it’s more like a quiet, guiding voice. Although she isn’t singing, the song is more about how Maria reacts to it, and so the camera focuses more on her. Never does Mother Abbess look into the camera as she sings, making the song feel more natural and passive. 
    • As we mentioned last week, Peggy Wood wasn’t able to do her own singing. Margery McKay provided the singing voice for Mother Abbess. 
    • Julie cried because the scene was so important for her character.
    • In the very beginning of this scene, Mother Abbess is welcoming a new postulant. When Maria returns to the children, she is wearing the street clothes of that woman!
  • Something Good
    • Christopher Plummer had a very difficult time playing Captain Von Trapp. He wanted to play the part in a cynical way, but the role called for him to be sentimental. He was with screenwriter Ernie Lehman when he wrote the scene just before “Something Good.” He felt that Ernie really deepened the relationships of the characters. 
    • This song takes place in and around the same gazebo as 16 going on 17, with much darker lighting, and little to no choreography. It’s a great way to represent the difference in maturity between the two songs. 
  • Processional/ Maria
    • The wedding of Maria and Captain Georg was filmed in the Basilica at Mondsee. It’s a very popular wedding venue today! 600 locals appeared in the scene to fill out the crowd, and the actual Bishop of the Abbey stood in as the officiant. The entire scene was all shot in one day, which was contrary to many of the other scenes.
      • In real life, they were married at the Nonnberg Abbey! 
    • Julie Andrews still considers this dress to be the most beautiful costume she has ever worn. 
    • The song we hear in this scene is a beautiful choral version of Maria. As we have said before, this film uses reprises to great effect. It’s a perfect call back to the nuns and their frustration with Maria early on in the film, and also serves as their way of saying goodbye to her. How do you solve a problem like Maria? Well, maybe Maria wasn’t the problem. 
      • Irwin Kostal was the composer and arranger for the film, and weaved the themes of its songs seamlessly throughout. In scenes where there isn’t a reprise, the music is still there reminding the audience of how the characters feel. 
    • When the camera pans upward out of the church, we hear the notes of the processional fade away, and into the foreboding ring of church bells. The bells work as an audio and visual metaphor for the end of happier times. As the camera pans down, we see the nazi flag. 
  • 16 Going on 17 Reprise
    • After Maria and The Captain return from their honeymoon, Maria is purposely dressed in more mature clothing than what she wore before the wedding. In this scene, she’s finally in a motherly role. 
    • This reprise represents Leisl’s maturity as well, and the progression of her and Maria’s relationship. Remember, the first time Leisl sang this song, Maria was brand new in the house, and didn’t have her trust. 
    • This song also leads into the scene where The Captain alerts Maria that he has been drafted to be in the Third Reich Navy. From this point on, the film takes a much more serious tone as the family narrowly escapes the country.
  • Edelweiss Reprise
    • For the second and final time, Captain Von Trapp performs Edelweiss at the Salzburg festival. This time the song takes on an entirely different meaning. The first time he sang the song, he sang because he wanted to. Now, he’s singing for his life. The song has such a strong tie to the country that he loves, a country that he has watched disappear under the Nazi regime. It’s his way of saying goodbye, and moves him to tears, as the audience sings with him. 
    • Christopher Plummer said that he wasn’t “entirely sober” for this scene, as the cast had been drinking to keep warm on the cold set. 
    • Because The Sound of Music was the last musical that Oscar Hammerstein worked on before his death, Edelweiss was the last song he had ever written. It was a farewell in many ways. 
  • So Long, Farewell Reprise
    • The last song sung by the Von Trapps at the festival is, “So Long, Farewell.” Not only does this mirror the final moments of the first half of the film, it’s also a harsh comparison between the setting when the song was first performed, and the cold, dark Rocky Riding School where the festival takes place
    • The Riding Hall setting was very cold and damp, and the actors spent a lot of time on the set. The entire location had been carved from stone. 
    • The film’s assistant director recruited hundreds of extras that wore their own traditional Austrian clothing, and sat in as the audience. 
    • Just after this scene, the family hides in the graveyard, trying to escape the nazis. This scene was filmed on a soundstage, and Robert Wise did his best to build as much suspense as possible. Ernest Lehman added the confrontation between Rolfe and The Captain here to add dramatic tension.
    • We learn here that the borders have been closed, and they decide to escape through the Alps. In real life, the Von Trapps actually escaped one day before the borders were closed.  

After the Von Trapps escaped, their villa became the headquarters for Heinrich Himmler, a notorious Nazi leader. His headquarters was on the second floor of the villa, and Hitler himself visited him there. After the war, the villa was returned to the Von Trapps, and they donated it to the church. In the commentary, Maria’s youngest son revealed that Himmler’s headquarters were turned into a chapel. 

CAST

  • Dame Julie Andrews as Maria
    • When Julie Andrews was cast in The Sound of Music, she was fairly unknown as a film actress. The two films that she had acted in (one of them being Mary Poppins) had not been released. Of course she had made her mark on the stage, playing Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. But, was famously passed up for Audrey Hepburn when the play was optioned for film. 
    • Julie had a strong connection to Maria. Both of their lives had been changed by music, and they were born exactly 30 years apart. 
      • Maria Von Trapp thanked Julie for playing her as a “tomboy” because it was true to how she really was. 
      • Christopher Plummer made the comment that this was the most natural role he ever saw Julie play, that this character was the most like her actual self. Robert Wise also shared that Julie is as warm as her character in real life, and they remained friends after the film. 
    • Andrews was jealous that other actors were able to tour the area while they were filming. Her schedule didn’t allow her to do that, even though she was very fond of her costars and wanted to spend time with them. 
      • She actually formed a singing group with some of her costars, to keep their spirits up on long days. They called themselves “The Vocalzones,” which are lozenges that help relieve strained vocal chords. 
    • She was 28 when she played the role, meaning that in real life, she was only 7 years older than the oldest Von Trapp child, Liesl. 
      • She also at this time had a daughter that was only one at the time. She would often sit on Robert Wise’s knee and watch her mother during shooting.
    • Dame Julie is most well known for not only this movie but Mary Poppins, and The Princess Diaries.
  • Christopher Plummer as Captain Von Trapp
    • He was a stage actor before becoming an actor in films and television. He has been in many including National Treasure, All the Money in the World, The Thorn Birds, and Knives Out.
      • While filming the movie, Julie Andrews was a little struck by him. She had seen his stage performances and thought he was a brilliant actor. 
    • After seeing Christopher on stage multiple times, Robert Wise specifically wanted him as the Captain. Wise saw the character of the captain as boring and he thought Christopher would make him more interesting and add a certain darkness to the character.
      • At one point, Wise flew to London to convince Christopher Plummer to take the part. He was concerned that he wasn’t old enough to play the captain, so Wise had a make-up artist show him how he would look in age make-up. Finally, Wise convinced Plummer to take the part.
    • He famously admitted that he did not like children. He called them little monsters and saw them as inconvenient to film production due to labor laws and how long filming could be. He did end up coming to adore the children in this movie.
    • He also famously did not like the movie, often referring to it as “The Sounds of Mucus” or “SNM.” He was also known to have said that, “The damn movie follows me around like an albatross.” 
  • Eleanor Parker as The Baroness
    • An Ohio born Actress she was in many movies and tv series including Caged, The Naked Jungle, and Escape from Fort Bravo. 
  • Richard Hadyn as Max Detweiler
    • He has been in Young Frankenstein, Alice in Wonderland (1951), and And Then There Were None.
    • After filming had wrapped Robert Wise had enjoyed Richards company so much that they often would meet up to chat.
  • Peggy Wood as Mother Abbess
    • She has been in A Star is Born (1937), Mama, and The Story of Ruth.
  • Charmian Carr as Liesl
    • The Sound of Music was her biggest role. 
    • At the time when she was playing the oldest child, a 16 year old, she was about 21. It was her first time away from home. In her book, “Forever Liesl,” she detailed her experience on the set, including interactions with Christopher Plummer that many have raised their eyebrows at. On the audio commentary, she said that he was her favorite thing about making the film. 
  • Heather Menzies-Urich as 13 year old Louisa
    • She appeared in tv movies and shows and the movie Piranha.
  • Nicholas Hammond as 14 year old Friedrich
    • He has appeared in things like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles, and Stealth.
  • Duane Chase as 11 year old Kurt
    • This was his biggest role.
  • Angela Cartwright as 10 year old Brigitta
    • She appeared in the television series Lost in Space and the movie Beyond the Poseidon Adventure.  
  • Debbie Turner as 7 year old Marta
    • This was her biggest role.
  • Kym Karath as 5 year old Gretl
    • She briefly appeared on several television series such as The Brady Bunch, The Waltons, and All My Children.
  • Anna Lee as Sister Margaretta
    • She has been in several things such as What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, General Hospital, and Fort Apache.
  • Ben Wright as Herr Zeller
    • He has done voice work in One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Little Mermaid, and The Jungle Book.
  • Daniel Truhitte as Rolfe, Liesl’s love interest
    • This was his biggest role.
  • Norma Varden as Frau Schmidt
    • She has been in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Strangers on a Train, and Witness for the Prosecution.
  • Gilchrist Stuart as Franz
    • He has been in The Wild Wild West, A Yank in the R.A.F., and Assault on a Queen.
  • Portia Nelson as Sister Berthe
    • She has been in Doctor Dolittle (1967), The Other, and The Trouble with Angels.
    • She was known as a comedic actress, and Julie Andrews loved the character she brought to Sister Berthe, especially at the end when the sister sabotage the Nazi’s cars
  • Marni Nixon as Sister Sophia
    • She was a well known ghost singer for the leading ladies in movies like The King and I, My Fair Lady, and West Side Story. Wise wanted her to be able to step out  of the shadows for this movie and be a face that we all see!
  • Evadne Baker as Sister Bernice
    • She was also known for the movies Shock Treatment and 7 Women from Hell.
  • Doris Lloyd as Baroness Ebberfeld
    • We can’t name all the movies that Doris was in because she had been in 150 movies between 1920 and 1960!

AWARDS/ HOW IT WAS RECEIVED

  • When test audiences viewed the film, it was clear that it would be successful. But, no one could have foreseen the level of success that this film would achieve.
  • When the film opened in 1965, audiences flocked to it. For the next four years, the soundtrack sat near the top of the Billboard charts, and was number 1 for 70 weeks in the UK. It was nominated for 10 Oscars, and would win 5. The Sound of Music was more than a success, it was a cultural phenomenon. But, critics didn’t like it. For example, in an original review for the New York Times, critic Bosley Crowther said, “The adults are fairly horrendous, especially Christopher Plummer as Captain Von Trapp.Looking as handsome and phony as a store-window Alpine guide, Mr. Plummer acts the hard-jawed, stiff-backed fellow with equal artificiality.” 
    • One critic was reportedly fired for writing an incredibly harsh review of the film! But, it didn’t have any effect on its commercial success. 
  • There were other critics of the film as well. For example, the real Maria Von Trapp was unhappy with the film’s ending, as the family escapes through the Alps. As we said last week, the family would have had to travel 200 miles on foot over the alps to arrive in Switzerland. In response to this criticism, Robert Wise simply said that Hollywood has a way of making its own geography. 
  • Since the premiere of the Sound of Music, it has been translated into at least 30 languages. It was the top grossing film of all time between 1965 and 1972!
  • The film brought thousands of tourists to Salzburg, so they could visit where it was filmed.
  • One wonderful result of the film was an interest in the Nonnberg Abbey. Many young girls all over the world saw this movie and there were several that felt called to become Nuns. The Abbey accepted several new postulants after the film’s release. The Mother Abbess at the time of the 50th anniversary even said that they all love to sing!
  • Another wonderful result is that Julie Andrews was told many times by people that it is the reason they went into theater, became singers, and more!

When the Sound of Music premiered, it looked like nothing more than a blockbuster film. Critics didn’t like it, it was too hopeful, too unrealistic. It was a sugar-coated view of a turbulent time, and audiences ate it up. But as time went on, it became clear that The Sound of Music was much more than that. It is a film that has inspired millions of people, and continues to do so. Its intricate sets, sweeping cinematography, and charming songs, told a story that the world longed to hear. 

The Sound of Music is about so many things: family, romance, war, and the healing power of music. The first act shows us a romance and a family reconnecting through music. The second half shows the family relying on music and each other to help them through incredible challenges. In the 1960’s, Hitler and the second world war was still fresh on the minds of many moviegoers. Some would criticize the sound of music for being optimistic, but audiences yearned for a happy ending. 

And beyond that, this is a film that undoubtedly changed lives. It influenced some to join the theater, and its songs have lifted the spirits of countless people. This film has brought families together, and many of us can’t separate it from some of our happiest movie memories. Even though The Sound of Music was released over 50 years ago, it is still very much alive, and is still one of our favorite things. 

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, and Carlos!

You can now buy us a Popcorn! @  buymeacoffee.com/blackcasediary   

Thank you to all that support us whether it be through listening, telling a friend, or donating!


SOURCES

The Case is Alive (With the Sound of Music) Part 1

In 1965, one of the most popular and influential movie musicals premiered. It was based on a musical by the legendary duo Rogers and Hammerstein, and directed by the same man that brought us the groundbreaking film West Side Story. The film starred film-newcomer Julie Andrews, and a young Christopher Plummer, as their characters fell in love in “the last golden days of the 30’s.” 

The Sound of Music changed film forever. Since its release, it’s estimated to have been seen by over a billion people. It has sold more tickets domestically than any other film, besides Gone With the Wind and Star Wars (not dollars, tickets). It’s a story filled with indomitable spirit, and portrays the healing power of music. The Sound of Music has brought countless families together since its release, and is still delighting audiences to this day. 

As Musical May comes to a close, we’re covering one of the biggest musicals to ever hit the silver screen. So big, actually, that we couldn’t cover it all in one episode. This will be only part one, with part two coming your way next week. So, OF COURSE, we will start at the very beginning, we hear it’s a very good place to start. 

We won’t go too far into the real story, but we will talk about the real Maria, and some of the key differences between the film and what actually happened. 

  • It may surprise you to know that Maria Von Trapp was in fact a real person, and the story you see in the film is very loosely based on a true story. And we mean VERY loosely based. When director Robert Wise took on the project, he specifically didn’t focus on any of the differences between the stage play and Maria Von Trapp’s autobiography. He believed it was his job to adapt the play, and that knowing how inaccurate the details were, would only hold him down throughout the process. 
  • Maria Kutschera (Co-CHAIR-uh) was actually raised an atheist, and changed her religious views as a young woman. She became a nun at the Nonnberg Abbey, and left for a year to visit the Von Trapp Villa to aid one of the children there that had suffered Scarlet Fever. According to Maria’s youngest son, Maria came to tutor his sister since she wasn’t strong enough to walk to school with the other children. 
  • The children loved Maria so much, they asked their father to have her stay. According to The Sound of Music website, they asked their father to marry her. His response was, “I don’t even know if she likes me.” 
    • One of the biggest differences between the real Captain Von Trapp and his fictional counterpart was that he was actually a very warm and loving man from the beginning. According to his children, he was strict, and their house was very structured. He did in fact use whistles to signal to the children as the movie suggests, but he never made them line up in a military style. 
  • The couple married in the late 1920’s, and lived in Austria right as Hitler rose to power in 1938. In this time, they had two more children together, and fled to America with a third on the way. 
  • Some aspects of the film are true, for example the family did win first prize at a choral competition in the Salzburg Festival. But, that didn’t happen just as they fled the country. And one of the film’s biggest differences from the real story is the ending, as the family left by train and did not climb over the alps to freedom. 
    • The ending of the movie did receive criticism, as the family’s plan to escape to Switzerland would not work if they went over the alps. As the real Maria Von Trapp pointed out, they would have ended up in Germany if they had gone that way. 
  • After arriving in America, the family traveled the country as a singing group. They eventually settled in Vermont, and the captain passed away in 1947. In 1949, Maria published a memoir that detailed her life before and after joining the Von Trapp family. This was the basis for the musical.

THE MUSICAL 

  • Richard Rogers was a brilliant composer that had a very successful career with his longtime partner, Lorenz Hart. Together, the two of them worked on over 40 productions until Hart’s death in the 1940’s. In search of a new partner, Rogers contacted a school acquaintance, Oscar Hammerstein. Rogers’ experience with musical comedy worked well when paired with Hammerstein’s operetta style. The men created many hit musicals, like Oklahoma, Cinderella, and The King and I. The Sound of Music was their last production together. 
  • The Sound of Music premiered in November of 1959. It starred Broadway legend Mary Martin in the lead role, and ran for almost 1500 performances, winning 5 Tony Awards. Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse wrote the book that would be adapted into a film.   

SYNOPSIS

  • The nuns at Nonnburg Abbey are at a loss with what to do with their problematic postulant, Maria. Mother Abbess, the leader of the community, asks Maria to travel to the Von Trapp Villa, the home of a wealthy Navy Captain and his seven children. She is to be their Governess, although she has never looked after children before. Although they have a rocky relationship at the start, Maria quickly warms the hearts of the entire family, and teaches the children how to sing. She and the Captain fall in love, just as Hitler begins to take over Austria. 

MAKING OF THE MOVIE

  • The Sound of Music was directed by Robert Wise, a legendary film director that worked on titles like, “West Side Story,” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” He shot on 65mm film and planned to only shoot on location for 6 weeks, which turned into 11 weeks because of intermittent rain. 
    • Much of the film was shot on location in Salzburg. 
  • Ernest Lehman wrote the adapted screenplay, making many changes from the stage production. Many of these changes included changing where the songs were located in the film. For example, “My Favorite Things” was originally sung by Maria while she was at the Abbey, not when she was with the children. Decisions like this really elevated the story and helped the music work better into a film format.  
    • The script was very song heavy, with not as much attention on the characters and story. Lehman changed that, and added a lot of depth to The Captain specifically. There was one instance where he locked himself in a room with Christopher Plummer, as he was trying to write the scene where his character said goodbye to the Baroness for the final time. Plummer suggested that Lehman write something similar to a scene in “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” Plummer felt that Lehman didn’t know what he meant, but he wrote something great anyway. 
  • Saul Wurtzel designed the sets for the film, which were seamlessly edited with locations. For the opening with the Abbey, they were not allowed to even go inside the actual location, and could only get outside shots. So, Wurtzel visited Abbeys all over the country and built a set based on what he found. He was incredibly detailed, even adding moisture to the bricks of the courtyard. 
    • Some sets were actually built in Austria instead of Hollywood, so the actors could run inside and shoot indoor scenes when the weather was bad. Many scenes in the film were shot over the course of several weeks. For example, when Maria is first meeting with Mother Abbess, that was shot in small pieces over a long period of time. The same for when Maria and The Captain have their fight after the children fall in the lake. 
  • Ted McCord was the cinematographer for the film, and had worked with Robert Wise in the past. In many of the film’s scenes, it was actually raining while they needed to shoot. So, they would put a tarp over the actors to keep them dry, and McCord had to match the lighting under the tarp with the light outdoors. 

MUSIC

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  • Songs
    1. The Sound of Music
      • The opening shot of the film is the most iconic. We see some establishing shots of the Austrian landscape, until we pan over a wide open field and Maria singing with her arms outstretched. This opening was the last thing shot on location in Bavaria. 
      • When they originally scouted the location, they asked the farmers that owned the land not to mow the tall grass. When they showed up, the grass had been mowed. The pond in the scene was crafted by the crew, as there was no pond for her to jump over. One angry farmer stabbed the lining of the stream with a pitchfork and drained all the water!
      • The cast and crew all hid in the trees and bushes along the landscape, and Julie was out there all alone. Cameraman Paul Beeson was the only crewmember brave enough to ride outside of the helicopter, as he was strapped to the side with the film camera. Julie walked toward the helicopter and did her memorable turn as she started singing, and the backdraft of the helicopter knocked her down every time. 
      • The trees that she walks past were chopped from somewhere else and stuck into the ground. 
    2. Morning Hymn/ Alleluia
      • The shot where the nuns are all singing Alleluia in a row was the only one done within an actual chapel and not a sound stage.
      • The film was choreographed by then-married Dee Dee White and Marc Breaux. White said that every movement in the Abbey from the beginning until the first song, was choreographed. 
        • The costume designer is actually in this scene, as a nun with a hand on her face. 
    3. Maria
      • This scene features Marni Nixon, the woman that provided the singing voices for Natalie Wood in West Side Story and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady! Robert Wise said that they wanted to honor her by giving her some screen time in this film.
      • Mother Abbess, played by Peggy Wood, also does not sing her part here. Wise wanted her in the film because she was a wonderful stage actress, but the singing was too much for her at this point in her life, as she was in her 70’s. 
      • The choreographers rehearsed this scene while wearing the nun habits, so they had an understanding of how a nun could move in the costume. 
    4. I Have Confidence
      • The cast and crew got a special visit from Maria Von Trapp and one of her granddaughters during filming this song. The pair were so impressed and happy with the set and everything that they wanted to appear in the film. Robert Wise was able to sneak them into the shot but they are hard to see if you are not looking for them! They appear behind Maria in the shot with the fountain.
      • This was a song written specifically for the movie. Wise felt it was a great interpretation of how Maria described this moment in her book. 
      • Julie Andrews actually had a little trouble with one of the lines, thinking that it didn’t make sense. It was, “strength lies in nights of peaceful slumbers.” She decided to sing that part of the song quickly, as if she were rambling, that way she didn’t have to think too much about how it sounded. 
    5. Sixteen Going on Seventeen
      • The scene was actually shot during the daytime, since it costs much more to have a crew stay into the night. The cinematographer and the rest of the crew had to make the scene look like it took place at night for this reason. 
      • This was the absolute last scene shot for the movie. During filming they forgot to cover her shoes in rubber. This caused her to slip and fall through one of the windows, hurting her ankle. They wrapped it up and painted the bandage the color of her tights and finished the shoot. 
      • As Liesl is running towards the Gazebo it is a Gazebo that was built in Salzburg. When they are dancing and close to it it is actually on the soundstage in California. The production team ended up leaving the gazebo in Salzburg as a sort of gift and Salzburg moved it to a public park where many travel just to see it. 
    6. My Favorite Things
      • This song was moved from its original spot in the stage play. In the play the children take a liking to Maria immediately but screenplay writer, Ernest Lehman, felt that it would be more endearing if they warmed up to her. He therefore changed it so the children had a dislike of her in the beginning and so he needed a scene where she could bond with them. This bonding experience became the thunderstorm coupled with My Favorite Things.
      • The scene just before this one, and this song were the first sequences shot for the movie. As Leisl appears in the window, she is covered in water and dirt that the production team had sprayed on her. 
      • In the musical the song is fully sung but for the movie Julie Andrews was told to begin speaking the first line or two before beginning to sing. This was to ensure a smooth transition.
    7. Do-Re-Mi
      • This song was originally supposed to be right when Maria arrived. 
      • In the beginning of the scene, Wise asked one of the boys to throw his ball high into the air, as a way to show the audience the beautiful mountain landscape. 
      • Julie Andrews actually didn’t know how to play guitar, and she felt uncomfortable holding it. She faked it as best as she could. 
      • Julie felt like this song was the quintessential song for the film, because it showed the country so well. There were very many location shots, and they traveled all over Salzburg to get them. This scene is also important because it’s when the children learn to sing, which would become the reason that the captain warms up to them again. 
      • Right after this song, we see the first real signs of trouble with the nazi invasion. After a brief conversation about politics, The Captain gets upset. When the Baroness makes a remark that he seems far away and asks him where he is, he replies, “In a world that’s disappearing, I’m afraid.” 
    8. The Sound of Music (Reprise) 
      • One thing this film does really well is its reprises. In this scene, The Sound of Music returns as the children sing it for the Baroness. When The Captain comes into the room, the children start to cry. It was incredibly emotional on set, even for the director. The children finally feel like he’s coming back into their lives for the first time since they lost their mother. 
        • The Captain says to Maria, “You brought music back into my house.” And he asks her to stay, even though they had just had a fight about the way she’s behaving with the children. 
    9. The Lonely Goatherd
      • This song was also moved by Ernest Lehman from the thunderstorm scene.
      • The Salzburg Marionette Theatre influenced the puppetry during this song. The theater originally performed operas with their marionettes. In 2007 they made a mini production of The Sound of Music! It has now toured the world.
      • Years later in “The Julie Andrews Hour,” Julie Andrews welcomed the real Maria Von Trapp as a guest. Although Maria said she liked Julie’s performance in the film, she felt she needed a little more yodelling practice. Maria then proceeded to give her yodeling lessons. 
    1. Edelweiss
      • Originally, this song was only sung near the end of the film at the festival where the family performs. Ernest Lehman moved this number as well, to great effect. 
      • Christopher Plummer hated playing the guitar. He was used to playing piano, and didn’t want to learn the new instrument because it was so painful to play. 
      • This was Julie Andrews’ favorite song in the film, and the favorite of many of the actors.
      • Plummer did not do his own singing for the film, and Bill Lee’s voice was dubbed in. It was a big moment for the film because it’s the first and only time the captain sings alone, and the flower Edelweiss has such a strong connection to Austria. 
    2. So Long, Farewell
      • So Long, Farewell is one of the few diagetic songs in the film. Just before and after this song, there are some key plot moments happening. 
      • Before the song, the children and Maria are dancing a traditional Austrian folk dance. The choreographers studied many dances to create a dance for the scene, just before The Captain arrives to dance with Maria. 
      • Julie Andrews said that the scene felt as magical as it looked. It was a wonderful experience to shoot, and is the exact moment that the two characters discover that they have fallen in love. 
      • Dee Dee White said that she didn’t realize how instrumental the scene was to the story until she saw it on screen. 
      • So Long, Farewell is a fun little song that appears again later in the movie. When Gretl lies on the stairs, the actress that played Leisl had to come pick her up. She said that she hurt her back carrying her up the steps. 
      • Just after the song, the Baroness visits Maria, and points out to her that she and The Captain are in love. This leads to Maria leaving and heading back to the Abbey.
      • In real life, she only left to discuss what she should do with Mother Abbess, after The Captain had proposed. 

Since this is where the intermission happens in the film, we’re gonna have an intermission of our own. 

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, and Carlos!

You can now buy us a Popcorn! @  buymeacoffee.com/blackcasediary   

Thank you to all that support us whether it be through listening, telling a friend, or donating!


SOURCES

You Can’t Stop the Case

Welcome to the 60’s, Cassettes! Last week, we covered the 1962 musical film, The Music Man! This week, we’re heading to the 1960’s again, but through a film that came out in 2007. Or was it 1988? Discussing movies can get so confusing! 

In July of 2007, the hit Broadway musical Hairspray danced into theaters. It featured the effervescent Tracy Turnblad, a Baltimore teenager longing for her chance in the spotlight. The film boasted bright and bouncy musical numbers, coupled with issues of acceptance and overcoming racial bias. It was an absolute delight; a faithful adaptation with stellar performances from an all-star cast. Much like its Broadway predecessor, it was a critical and commercial success, showing people everywhere that it’s okay to be different. In fact, uniqueness should be celebrated.  

So, get out your cans of hair cement and get those do’s as high as they will go. It’s time to talk about Hairspray! 

QUICK HISTORY OF HAIRSPRAY

  • In order to talk about Hairspray, we’re going to have to head back to the very beginning. Filmmaker John Waters has been producing independent films since he was a teenager in 1960’s Baltimore. Growing up in the area, he was familiar with a program called, “The Buddy Deane Show,” an American Bandstand style show that introduced new music and dance to at-home viewers. 
  • After writing an article about a reunion of the show’s cast, Waters was inspired to write a fictional story about Buddy Deane, set in 1960’s Baltimore, when the show aired. In every film Waters has made up to this point, he featured the actor Harris Milstead, better known by his stage name, Divine. After writing this new screenplay, he asked Divine to appear in the film, and for the first time, he would not have the starring role. 
  • Waters wanted a teenage girl for the lead role of Tracy Turnblad. He held an open call, and cast the then-unknown actress Rikki Lake for the part!
  • After securing other stars like Sonny Bono and Jerry Stiller, Hairspray opened in February of 1988. The film was a success, making John Waters and Rikki Lake a household name. They continued to work together for years afterward, most notably on the film, Crybaby. 
  • In the late 1990’s, producer Margo Lion rented the movie and felt like it was perfect for a musical adaptation. She called up John Waters, who was interested to see how Broadway would interpret his story. They both knew that screen to stage adaptations aren’t always successful, especially when the stage version tries too hard to be the film. Lion wanted to find a way to make a musical that could stand on its own, while still holding onto the heart and soul of the original.
  • Lion tapped composer and songwriter Marc Shaiman, who agreed to the project if his partner Scott Wittman could pen the lyrics. After their songs got John Waters’ stamp of approval, the team pushed forward, securing writer Thomas Meehan (who wrote the book for Annie) and director Rob Marshall (who was also working on the film Chicago at the time.) 
  • For the lead, Marshall (who would later be replaced by director Jack O’Brien) chose Marissa Jaret Winokur, who would go on to win a Tony for the role. In the spirit of the original, the producers decided that they should cast a man for the part of Edna Turnblad. They chose the legendary Harvey Fierstein, who continued on Divine’s legacy as well as anyone could. 
  • The musical opened to rave reviews, winning 8 Tony awards! After 5 years, the musical would be adapted to film, this time with Nikki Blonsky in the role. 

John Waters said of the 2007 film, “I’m proud that I thought up something in my bed in my crummy old apartment… that I certainly think will make Nikki a star,” says Waters, “the way the first movie made Ricki a star and the musical made Marissa a star.”

SYNOPSIS

  • The “Corny Collins Show” in Baltimore is having auditions, and despite being overweight, Tracy Turnblad has her heart set on becoming one of the stars! Using some dance moves she learned from a new friend, Seaweed, she is able to earn a spot in the show and become an overnight sensation. Her father even helps keep her in the spotlight by selling Tracy branded merchandise at his joke shop! As Tracy navigates her new position in the group, she strives to change the popular structure set in place by using her platform to integrate “The Corny Collins Show.” 

MAKING OF THE MOVIE

  • After producing the wildly successful and heavily awarded Chicago, Craig Zadan and Niel Meron wanted to work on another musical. They had previously worked on projects like “Footloose,” “Gypsy,” and the 1997 Wonderful World of Disney CLASSIC “Cinderella.” 
  • Once the producers were tied to the project, they chose Adam Shankman to direct. Shankman had made films like, “The Wedding Planner” and “A Walk To Remember.” Shankman was not the project’s first pick, as the studio had first tried to get both Jack O’Brien and Rob Marshall, which didn’t work out due to scheduling conflicts. 
  • Adam Shankman has a personal connection to Hairspray. He knew the original songwriters, and was even around when they were writing the tunes for the Broadway show. He attended Hairspray’s opening night on Broadway as well. Because of this Shankman begged to be a part of the production, but was turned down. He was crushed. His agent convinced him to try again, and Shankman said he would only meet with the filmmakers if he was guaranteed to get it. Thankfully, the producers ultimately decided Shankman was perfect for the job. 
  • John Waters gave Shankman advice on how to direct the film. He told Collider about the exchange, saying that: “John Waters, when I first got the movie said, ‘I’m so excited for you, you’re such a fabulous choice for this.’ And I was like, ‘Thought bubble, question mark, what?’ And he said, ‘My only advice to you is you have to do your own thing; you can’t do what I did, don’t do what they did. This story only works if it’s told from a really personal perspective, so don’t try to – in this case, imitation will not be flattery for you, so just go for it.’”
  • Screenwriter Leslie Dixon adapted the story from the stage. She has also written the screenplay for some other known movies such as The Thomas Crown Affair, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Runaway Bride.
  • Once the movie began taking shape investors were needed and the majority that helped fund the movie came from China. In order to draw in these investors (and audiences!) the studio needed a big name. They decided this big name would be John Travolta, the once crowned prince of movie musicals. Although he had not done a musical in 30 years, they knew he would draw the crowds. Travolta, famous for his long deliberations for roles, was hesitant and made the filmmakers wait over a year before making a decision. Travolta in a New York Times interview after being asked about his hesitation said that, “Playing a woman attracted me, playing a drag queen did not. The vaudeville idea of a man in a dress is a joke that works better onstage than it does on film, and I didn’t want any winking or camping. I didn’t want it to be ‘John Travolta plays Edna.’ That’s not interesting. It had to be something I could go all the way with, disappear in, like I did in the Bill Clinton role in ‘Primary Colors’ or in ‘Saturday Night Fever.” When he finally agreed to the part he had one condition, that Christopher Walken play Wilbur so that he was not the only known star in the film. He also wanted an Academy Award winner to play his husband. 
  • How Nikki got the role of Tracy Turnblad
    • There is something magical about finding a fresh face for a starring role. Shankman and the casting director, David Rubin, decided that an open call was best for finding the star for the role of Tracy Turnblad. A few reasons guided them to this decision, because not only were there no overweight teenage movie stars, the first two girls cast as Tracy were unknown actresses. 
    • In each city there were about 300-500 girls to audition! 
    • In open calls you want to keep your ears and mind open to all possibilities so it is hard to immediately say, “yes, this is the person.” Even though they received Nikki Blonsky’s tape early they kept searching, but kept coming back to her. Nikki worked at a Cold Stone Creamery and when they decided to break the news they told her that the director wanted to meet with all the finalists virtually.  When Shankman popped up on her screen he told her to make herself an ice-cream cone because she got the part!! 

MUSIC AND SONGS

  • MUSIC
    • So, the original 1988 film was not a musical, shocking I know! So when Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman sat down to watch the film, they were inspired by various lines and the tone of the film, to write several songs that captured the story and spirit of Tracy Turnblad and 1960’s Baltimore. 
    • Since the film is an adaptation of the musical, it’s structure is a little different. It focuses more on the story, and some of the songs were dropped. While the production lost songs like, “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now,” “The Big Dollhouse,” and “Cooties,” it gained songs like, “The New Girl in Town” and “Ladies’ Choice!”  
  • SO, LET’S TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE SONGS IN THE FILM!
    • Good Morning Baltimore
      • This is the bombastic opening number that incorporates the sounds of 1960’s pop. It starts with an attention-grabbing drum beat, mixed with the peppy vocals of Nikki Blonsky.  
      • Shaiman and Wittman took inspiration from “Oklahoma!” as that musical opens with the number, “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin!’” They wanted the story to welcome the audience and set the tone, as Tracy happily exclaims, “Good Morning, Baltimore!”
      • In this scene, John Waters makes a cameo appearance as “The flasher who lives next door.” The song is funny, and perfectly paints Tracy as the lovable optimist, who sees every day as a new opportunity to make her dreams come true.
    • The Nicest Kids in Town
      • This song introduces Corny Collins, the show that would be the focal point of the film. It’s a snarky song that pokes fun at ensemble shows of the 1960’s era, like The Mickey Mouse Club and of course, “American Bandstand.”
        • “Nice *white* kids who lead the way…” 
    • It Takes Two
    • (The Legend of) Miss Baltimore Crabs
      • The filmmakers intended to replace this song, and several new tunes were written for this purpose. Michelle Pfieffer actually spoke up, and felt that none of the replacement songs gave her character the same amount of depth as “Miss Baltimore Crabs.” So, it stayed in the film!
    • I Can Hear the Bells
      • This is the moment when Tracy falls in love with Link. It perfectly captures the magic of a teen girl’s fantasy and depicts how people can read too much into only a small encounter. This scene sets up the idea that Tracy and Link’s relationship may just be a fantasy, but the film turns that expectation on its head when Link falls in love with her as well.
    • Ladies’ Choice
      • This song was written just for the film, and was a show-off number for Zac Efron’s Link Larkin. 
      • The song was inspired by the sounds of Elvis, obviously style icon for Link as well and popular singer in the 1960’s.
    • The New Girl in Town
      • This song was written for the original musical, but not used in the production. Shaiman added it back into the movie as a song sung on The Corny Collins Show. It worked perfectly as a way to show the culture of the show, and the contrast between the segregated white and black casts.
      • It also frames Amber’s jealousy for Tracy in a clever tune sung in-universe. 
    • Welcome to the 60’s
      • This song is like a coming-out party for Edna’s character, as Tracy convinces her to leave the house for the first time. It reminds the audience that even though these characters don’t have to deal with the nightmare of racism, they struggle with how society perceives them as overweight women.
      • This scene also features the wonderful Jerry Stiller, who played Tracy’s father in the 1988 film! 
      • “People who are different, their time is coming” 
    • Run and Tell That
      • This song is another big number, showcasing the vocal talents of Seaweed (played by Elijah Kelly). Like the other character-driven songs of the musical, this song has a distinct musical style and has elements of R&B. It’s an ubeat look at Seaweed’s perspective, and leads him to inviting the girls to his mother’s record store.  
      • It introduces Seaweed’s younger sister, Lil Inez, and it’s the first time Penny takes notice of her love-interest. As of this time, Penny and Seaweed’s relationship would be illegal. 
    • Big, Blonde, and Beautiful
      • This song has three different perspectives, and cleverly shows the personality and motives of three different female characters. Initially it’s a song sung by Maybelle, but then it is the song that represents Edna becoming more comfortable with her body. Of course, it’s also the song that Velma sings as she intends to seduce Mr. Turnblad. 
      • “Big is back, and as for black, it’s beautiful” 
    • (You’re) Timeless to Me
      • This is the classic number that showcases John Travolta and Christopher Walken’s voices. Travolta was hesitant to take the role since it had been many years since he had starred in a musical, and Christopher Walken isn’t known for his musical abilities. The two make a perfect pair as they sing about each others’ timelessness. 
    • I Know Where I’ve Been
      • The biggest, most heartfelt, and show-stopping song of the musical goes to Motormouth Maybelle. Maybelle is an emotional anchor throughout the story, as she fights for equality on the Corny Collins Show and in life. 
      • In a musical filled with fun, bouncy songs, this ballad lands perfectly with the audience. While Tracy is fighting for integration, this moment isn’t about her. It’s a chance for the audience to really hear Maybelle’s perspective as a black woman in the 1960’s. 
    • Without Love
      • In this song, Zac Efron was forced to make-out with a photo of Nikki Blonsky. Apparently, he had to do that for several takes. 
      • This is the sweet song about young love, and finally unites the two major couples: Tracy and Link and Seaweed and Penny. 
      • Both sets of couples have their challenges, as the group must work to break Tracy out of prison and into the Miss Teenage Hairspray competition. 
    • (It’s) Hairspray
    • You Can’t Stop the Beat
      • The singers referred to this song as, “You can’t stop to breathe,” because there were so many words and so few pauses. Since Queen Latifah was used to performing as a rap artist, she nailed it on the first take. 
      • Rita Ryack (the costume designer) remembers that she at first wondered how Penny Pingleton would get the gown she wears in this final number. Rita decided Penny would have had to make it from her bedroom curtains. For the bottom of the dress, the valance from the curtains were used and hung from the curtain rings.
        • This pays homage to The Sound of Music!
    • Come So Far (Got So Far to Go)
      • An original song for the film, this played at the beginning of the credits with Nikki Blonsky, Queen Latifah, and Zac Efron
    • Marc Shaiman worked the song, “Cooties” into the theme music during the “Miss Hairspray” competition part of the film.
  • Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now was a song that was cut from the production, but it was re-recorded for the film’s soundtrack and credits with all three Tracy Turnblads! Rikki Lake, Marissa Winokur, and Nikki Blonsky all participated.

CAST

  • John Travolta as Edna Turnblad
    • He is of course known for another musical movie, Grease, but also Pulp Fiction and Saturday Night Fever.
    • Edna Turnblad is traditionally played by a man in drag. This tradition began with Divine in the original 1988 film.
  • Christopher Walken as Wilbur Turnblad
    • He has been in such movies as Catch Me If You Can, Pulp Fiction, and Balls of Fury.
  • Michelle Pfeiffer as Velma Von Tussle
    • She has been in Scarface, Batman Returns, Grease 2, and Stardust.
  • Amanda Bynes as Penny Pingleton
    • We of course remember Amanda Bynes from All That and The Amanda Show. She has also been in She’s the Man and Easy A.
  • Allison Janney as Prudy Pingleton
    • She has appeared in movies like The Way Way Back and 10 Things I Hate About You. She has also starred in tv shows like The West Wing and the sitcom Mom.
  • James Marsden as Corny Collins
    • He has been in Enchanted, 27 Dresses, X-Men, and Sonic the Hedgehog (2020.)
  • Queen Latifah as Motormouth Maybelle
    • She is known for Chicago, Taxi, Last Holiday, and many more.
  • Brittany Snow as Amber Von Tussle
    • She is known for the Pitch Perfect Movies,Prom Night, and John Tucker Must Die. Robin and Marci also remember her on American Dreams! Which is of course about a 1960’s Band Stand.
  • Elijah Kelley as Seaweed
    • He was in Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Take the Lead, and the live taping of The Wiz.
  • Nikki Blonsky as Tracy Turnblad
    • Nikki has been in the movies Waiting for Forever, Queen Sized, and Geography Club.
    • According to IMDB Blonsky still turns up at her former employer, which at one point introduced a new creation — Color Me Cotton Candy — in Blonsky’s honor.
  • Tayla Parx as Little Inez
    • She has been in a few things but she is a really talented songwriter and artist. She has written for many well known artists such as Ariana Grande, Nikki Minaj, Alicia Keys, and Fifth Harmony!
  • Jerry Stiller as Mr. Pinky
    • In the original 1988 film, Stiller played Wilbur Turnblad!
    • Stiller is known well for his parts in Seinfeld, Zoolander, Heavyweights, The King of Queens, and many more.
  • ANNNNND… Link played by Zac Efron
    • Known of course for Highschool Musical before this, but also has been in 17 Again and Neighbors.
    • Luckily Zac Efron favored this project over the 2006 High School Musical tour! His dubber from the first HSM movie, Drew Seeley, stood in Efron’s place on the tour.

AWARDS/ HOW IT WAS RECEIVED

  • Hairspray had a budget of about $75 million and had a US Gross of almost $119 million! 
  • After the success of Chicago, Hollywood was interested in adapting musicals again. Films like Phantom of the Opera, Rent, and The Producers weren’t doing well at the box office. When Hairspray came out, it was the tenth movie musical to ever make 100$ million dollars domestically! Some of the other films that passed that mark were, “The Sound of Music” and “Grease.” as well as such animated musicals as “The Lion King” and “Aladdin.”
  • According to New Line, the audience split has been about 65% female and 35% male.
    • Some of that 65% was us! Marci and Robin saw this film when it came out, with Robin’s mom. 
  • The movie was nominated for three golden globes, a BAFTA, and a SAG award. 

In 1988, 2002, and 2007, Hairspray was simultaneously ahead of its time and timeless. It’s a story created by, and for people who feel like outsiders. It cast a man in drag in a major role, starting a musical tradition that lasted through every other adaptation of the story. Hairspray explores fat phobia and racial injustice in a meaningful way. It’s a story with a message for everyone, but especially the people that don’t feel like they have a place in this world. Not only do we have a place, the world will be better the more we embrace our authentic selves and everyone else around us.

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, and Carlos!

Also you can now buy us a Popcorn! @  http://www.buymeacoffee.com/blackcasediary


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The Case of The Music Man

Well, Animation April has come to an end. But, since we’re such big fans of alliteration, we’ve decided to turn this month into Musical May! We each chose a musical to cover this month, which means we’re bringing you three episodes focused on some of our absolute favorites! 

Adam got to choose first! And he picked (drumroll please) The Music Man! Based on Meredith Wilson’s Broadway hit, this film adaptation was released in 1962, starring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones. It was a huge success, and is still considered to be one of the most popular classic musicals among younger viewers. For a lot of us, The Music Man introduced us to musicals. It’s funny and entertaining (although a bit dated) and often it’s a great musical to watch if you’re just getting started in the genre. Plus, its songs are SO DAMN FUN to sing!

So, this week we’re taking a little trip to River City, Iowa where we will pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little, cheep cheep cheep, talk a lot, pick a little more!

Before we dive deep into the history of this movie, let’s talk first about Meredith Wilson, and the original play! Way back in 2019, we briefly touched on this movie in our Case of the Movie Musical: Part 1! So go check that out if you’re in the mood for some classic BCD. 

  • Meredith Willson was a talented flutist, composer, and songwriter from Mason City, Iowa. He wrote The Music Man as a salute to his home state. He was born in 1902, 10 years before the events of the musical, meaning he would have been about Winthrop’s age when “The Music Man” came to town. Imagine young Winthrop growing up to write the story of Harold Hill!
    • When he was in his early 20’s, he actually traveled with John Philip Souza’s band as a flutist. He also played in the New York Philharmonic! After serving in WWII, Willson returned to songwriting and was the music director of ABC radio and TV networks. He’s in the songwriting hall of fame, and even though he’s best known for writing the Music Man, he also wrote a lot of popular songs like, “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas!” He also wrote “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” another great musical. But of course, his crown jewel was The Music Man, an ode to his hometown and state, which earned him a Grammy and a Tony. 
  • Originally, Willson intended on writing a book about the happy childhood he had in Mason City Iowa. In the late 1940’s, he decided to write a play instead, incorporating songs that he had written, and basing some of the characters on actual people! 
  • When Willson had trouble securing the funding for the show, it almost became a TV special for CBS. That deal didn’t come to fruition, and when Willson finally found the support for a stage production, the next hurdle was casting the title role. 
    • Apparently, many potential leads turned down the part, from Danny Kaye to Gene Kelly. The show’s director, Morton DaCosta, eventually selected actor Robert Preston to play Harold Hill, even though Meredith Willson was doubtful he could pull it off, since Preston has never starred in a musical before. 
  • The Music Man premiered on Broadway in December of 1957. It was a critical and commercial success, and had a 5-year run that included 1,375 performances! The show was nominated for eight Tony awards, winning 5, including Best Musical – beating out “West Side Story!”

After its successful Broadway run, it was a no-brainer that this show needed the Major Motion Picture treatment. Warner Brothers purchased The Music Man for $1,000,000 (a fairly nice sum in the late 1950’s)! 

SYNOPSIS: 

The Music Man follows esteemed con man Professor Harold Hill, as he heads to the town of River City, Iowa. He’s been warned that this town is full of people that are impossible to trick, salt of the earth folk that see through every sly-by-night salesman. At first, it seems that this town has met its match, as Hill is able to convince the residents that they are in need of a boys band to keep their children out of trouble. Of course, the local librarian is skeptical, concerned that he will hurt her friends and family by getting them to believe in something and be ultimately let down. Over time, she too sees the magic in the eponymous “Music Man,” just as Harold discovers that his music isn’t really a con at all. 

MAKING OF THE MOVIE

  • In the early 1960’s, Hollywood was past the gigantic, sweeping musicals of its Golden age. The Music Man looked and felt like a stage performance, but with a technicolor pop and innovative camera work.
  • Morton DaCosta directed both the stage and film productions. He brought with him from the stage, choreographer Onna White. White was instrumental in creating the famous “Madame Librarian” dance scene, an iconic moment for the film. 
    • Lead actress Shirley Jones warned Onna that she wasn’t a very good dancer, but Onna assured her that she would be after making the film! 
  • Shirley Jones was actually the first person cast in the movie, since she was already a bonafide film star. The studio wanted a big name for Harold Hill, to draw in even more audiences. They reportedly asked Carey Grant and were considering Frank Sinatra, but it was clear that Robert Preston was the only Music Man for the job. 
    • Cary Grant was even quoted saying, “Not only will I not star in it, if Robert Preston doesn’t star in it, I will not see it.” 
    • Shirley Jones said that  “I don’t know if you knew this or not, but Warner Bros., who produced Music Man, wanted Frank Sinatra to play Harold Hill. They were about to sign him, but Meredith Willson came in and said, ‘Listen, unless you use Robert Preston, you don’t do my show.” And that’s how Preston got the part.’”
  • The sets were simple. Three of River City’s major establishments, City Hall, the library, and the firehouse, were all located in one facade on the Warner Brothers lot. DaCosta was well-known for his inventive camera work, and he used angles and editing to trick the audience into thinking that these were three different structures.
  • The music was conducted by Ray Heindorf, and all of the songs were pre-recorded. It became clear that Preston was a master of performing the songs as if they were live. 
  • The film took nine months to shoot, as each musical number was shot in about three weeks. Only one number was practiced at a time, with intense rehearsals. The goal was to get each scene done in one take, much like watching a musical performed on stage. 
  • When all was said and done, the film premiered in Mason City, Iowa! It was a star-studded event with box socials and band events as well! 

MUSIC

When Meredith Willson sat down to write the music for The Music Man, he wrote new songs and included others he had written over the years. He ended up writing about 40 songs, and only 17 made it into the film. Not all of them were used on the stage, either. Willson obviously took the advice to write what you know. This is apparent in the scene when Harold Hill coaches The Buffalo Bills. He says, “Singing is just sustained talking,” a piece of advice that vocal coaches have been using for thousands of years. In a lot of ways, Harold Hill really is a music man more than a con man. 

So while we’re talking about the music, let’s go over some of the songs from the film! 

  • Main Title/Rock Island/Iowa Stubborn
    • For the Main Title track, Pacific Title created miniature music men! Just a bit of early film stop-motion to start off the film.
    • The song Rock Island is actually a favorite of Hugh Jackman, and he’s said that doing the number in High School actually got him interested in Show Business.
    • Iowa Stubborn is one of the bigger numbers of the film, involving most of the ensemble cast. It perfectly captures the attitude of smalltown America. 
  • Ya Got Trouble
    • Preston was perfect at appearing like he was doing the numbers live, but they were indeed pre-recorded! This number is definitely a masterpiece of this.
  • Piano Lesson/You Don’t Mind My Saying So
    • This song, sung by Marian and her mother, sets up both characters and depicts a realistic relationship between a mother and daughter. It also is a great musical representation of how adults can have a conversation with a child present, and the child has no understanding of what they are talking about.  
  • Goodnight My Someone/76 Trombones
    • Arguably the most famous song from the musical is 76 Trombones, the stand-out number where Harold Hill inspires the town to imagine life with a band. It’s the perfect theme song for the character, as he’s attempting to swindle everyone. But of course, the song comes back around at the end, as the boy’s band in town turns out to be more than what they imagined it would be. 
    • Conversely, “Goodnight My Someone” is Marian’s song. She first sings it with her piano student, as she says goodnight to her true love on the evening star. It’s a song defined by innocence and love, and seemingly the perfect foil to Hill’s song. 
    • That’s why it’s perfect that both songs are actually the same melody, with different tempos! By the end of the story, the characters are no longer foils, and the two songs become one in a literal and figurative sense. 
  • Sincere/Lida Rose/Every song by the Buffalo Bills
    • When Harold Hill unites the members of the school board, the rest of the town is skeptical that they will stop fighting. Of course, after the group is brought together with music, they appear multiple times in the show, singing. 
  • Pick a little, Talk a little/Goodnight Ladies
    • Goodnight Ladies was one of the few songs featured in the film that was not written by Meredith Willson. The song was written long before The Music Man takes place, and would very likely be sung by the residents of River City.
    • Pick a Little, Talk a Little is an incredible depiction of gossip in a small community. The film even hilariously places the imagery of hens against the group of women as they pick and talk about Marian’s scandal. 
  • The Sadder but Wiser Girl for Me
    • This song is about how he prefers an experienced woman, either in sex or life. In some ways it’s liberating but in other ways it is insulting and crass.
      • “No wide-eyed, eager,
      • Wholesome innocent Sunday school teacher for me.”
  • Marian the Librarian 
    • As we said before Onna White was instrumental in creating this number. Since Shirley Jones did not feel entirely confident in her dancing abilities she appreciated that the male dancers were able to lead and guide her around the room and the number. She said they were such amazing dancers that they could make anyone look good!
  • Being in Love
    • You know, the bathroom song.
  • The Wells Fargo Wagon 
    • This song has been used in Wells Fargo commercials to promote the bank. According to Google it is one of the four biggest banks in America.
    • This film is still beloved by so many that SNL did a sketch where the wagon was coming and offering the townsfolk of River City bogus accounts.  This sketch addressed the scandal around Wells Fargo while singing the upbeat musical number from the film.
  • Gary, Indiana
    • Ron Howard recently sung a bit of this song (lisp and all) in an interview.
  • Shipoopi
    • For this song, Willson invented the term Shipoopi to mean a woman that won’t kiss until the third date. The song is fun, but seems random, and is often made-fun-of by fans. 
    • This was the biggest dance number in the film, showing off the musical stylings of Buddy Hackett. The scene was shot with an elaborate overhead camera.
  • Till There Was You 
    • According to IMDB, when The Beatles covered this song, Meredith Willson got more money than from the play or show combined! 
    • This turns out to be the love ballad between Hill and Marian, and highlights the emotional moment when he decides to stay for love instead of running for his life.
    • This is the moment when Winthrop angrily confronts his hero, Harold Hill. This causes Harold to really consider his own motivations as he utters the famous line, “I always think there’s a band, kid.” 
  • Beethoven’s Minuet in G
    • Otherwise known as the song used in the Think Method! This little theme gets repeated throughout the film, and ends up saving Harold Hill from getting tarred and feathered at the end! 

CAST

  • Robert Preston as Harold Hill
    • He was a well known Broadway actor that won Tonys for “The Music Man” and “I Do, I Do.” He also did several movies too, like The Last Starfighter!
    • Shirley Jones said of working with Preston, “Sometimes, when an actor has been doing a show for a long time – and he had been doing it for three years when we made the movie – they come to do the film and do things like ‘Listen, why don’t we do it this way’ – they’ll start directing it themselves. He did none of that. He was so open to anything that the director said or anything the actors wanted to do. He was just so marvelous.”
  • Shirley Jones as Marian Paroo the librarian
    • She was named after Shirley Temple! She had several roles and really hoped to play the role of Marian but did not think it was possible until Warner Brothers bought the rights and the rest is as they say…history.
    • Shirley Jones was pregnant during filming! She found out three months into production and when she told Morton DeCosta he assured her not to worry because they would hide it. They used a corset and frilly dresses/ items to help cover her bump and she was told not to let anybody else know. In the scene when she and Robert Preston embraced on the footbridge little Patrick kicked Preston. 
  • Ron Howard as Winthrop Paroo
    • As a boy Ronnie was an incredible actor. He was not a showbiz kid but he was amazing.
    • Winthrop represents every young child in the town, and the child in every adult. 
  • Pert Kelton Mrs. Paroo
    • She began as a vaudevillian with her parents, and so she was an incredible performer. She was the original on Broadway as well and knew everything about the character that she was playing.
    • She was the first person to play Alice in The Honeymooners with Jackie Gleason.
  • Buddy Hackett as Marcellus Washburn, Harold Hill’s inside man
    • In the script they had put Brooklyn because they assumed he could only talk one way. They wanted Hackett because at this time in his career he was very well known and could draw the crowds.
  • Hermione Gingold as Eulalie Mackechnie Shinn the Mayor’s wife
    • The woman that played her daughter said that Hermione played the grand madame from England at all times. Her trailer was completely decorated with bright flowered chintz from floor to ceiling.
  • Paul Ford as Mayor George Shinn
    • He was so sweet and apparently was upset that he was billed over Buddy Hackett. Hackett said that he didn’t care but told Paul to get a ladder and change it if he was so inclined! Hackett however said he didn’t even need his name up there because the only one that gives you billing is the audience.
  • The Buffalo Bills as the School Board (The Barbershop Quartet)
    • The Buffalo Bills were a real quartet from Buffalo, New York. The members changed a few times due to moves and opportunities. Meredith Wilson happened upon them while he hosted his radio show titled “Music Today,” after the quartet won the International Quartet Champions in 1950. He would play their album on the air and became familiar with their work. He travelled to meet them in 1954 and after writing The Music Man he reached out to them to audition for the quartet in his musical. They were immediately hired. 
  • Timmy Everett as Tommy Djilas, the firecracker and love interest to the Mayor’s daughter
    • Timmy was proficient in the theatre as he won the Daniel Blum Theater World Award in 1957 for a supporting role and the Theater World Award for best supporting actor in 1958. He also appeared in a few television shows and things until he sadly passed away at the age of 38. 
  • Susan Luckey as Zaneeta Shinn, (EEEH Gods!)
    • She remembers being cast for the movie because she had done the stage show with Mortin Dacosta. They got along well that she knew she had a very good chance of being cast in the film since he was directing that as well! She did not even have to have a screen test.
  • Harry Hickox as Charlie Cowell the travelling salesman coming to warn the town
    • He was also known for guesting on several tv shows such as Columbo, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and Kojak.
  • Charles Lane as Constable Lock
    • He was also in things like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It’s a Wonderful Life, and The Aristocats.
  • Mary Wickes as Mrs Squires
    • She has also been in the Sister Act movies, Little Women (1994), and White Christmas.
  • Sara Seeger as Maud Dunlop
    • She was in such shows as Bewitched, Dennis the Menace,and The Andy Griffith Show.
  • Adnia Rice as Alma Hix
    • She appeared in just a few television shows, one of which was The United States Steel Hour.
  • Peggy Mondo as Ethel Toffelmier, Marcellus’s love interest
    • She appeared in tv as well like Get Smart, To Rome with Love, and McHale’s Navy.
  • Jesslyn Fax as Avis Grubb
    • She was known for being in the movies Rear Window, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, and Kiss Me Deadly.
  • Monique Vermont as Amaryllis, Marian’s piano student
    • The Music Man was her biggest role. 

AWARDS/ HOW IT WAS RECEIVED 

The movie received critical acclaim and was well liked across the board.

The Music Man won the Tony for Best Musical in the 1957-1958 Broadway season which put it ahead of West Side Story. Unfortunately when the movies were made Music Man won only one Academy Award, for Best Score, but West Side Story won 11. Though West Side Story is still used often in schools and won more awards, The Music Man continues to be a fan favorite today. This is demonstrated by the fact that a remake was made by Disney and released in 2003.

In a 2009 forum, professor Stefan Hall said, “In some ways, The Music Man (1962), based on Meredith Willson’s 1958 Tony Award-winning musical, anticipated the later 1960s as a transitional moment in American culture. While not overtly patriotic (indeed, some might argue the opposite given that the plot involves con man “Professor” Harold Hill’s attempt to swindle the citizens of River City, Iowa), the  film uses early 20th century Americana to comment on the present. The confrontation between the angry mob and Hill (Robert Preston, reprising his Tony Winning Broadway turn), who throws his con in the name of love, presages the conflict between the hawks and doves that would divide the country during Vietnam. Also, the imaginative power of the youth movement, and an equivalent in Hill’s boy band that learns to play instruments without ever touching them via the “Think System.” And it is fitting that part of the film takes place on the Fourth of July, including the famous “Seventy-Six Trombones,” number, because the restoration of faith that reunites Hill with his love interest also  finally roots him in an American home.”

The Music Man is the kind of musical that ends up surprising you. Non-musical fans might turn their noses up at it, as it appears to be just like any other classic hollywood musical. But, this film is different. The Music Man is funny, sincere, and filled with nostalgia. It’s a biting commentary on the world in 1912, the world in 1957, and the world today. In some ways, it’s timeless, while in others it may be a bit dated. But all in all, it’s the classic tale of a lovable con-man that finally meets his match of a town filled with people that makes him question why he started conning in the first place. 

So, even if you don’t like musicals, stop being so Iowa Stubborn, and give this one a try! We promise you won’t be let down. 

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, and Carlos!

You can now buy us a Popcorn! @  www.buymeacoffee.com/blackcasediary

Thank you to all that support us whether it be through listening, telling a friend, or donating!


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