You can always grab my attention with a musical, good, bad, or indifferent. Phil Hall, dug up an interesting case in this week’s entry in his always interesting column The Bootleg Files. “Where’s Charley” starred Ray Bolger, best known by far as the Scarecrow from 1939’s “Wizard of Oz,” starring in a film version of the Broadway musical that had revived his career from a post-Oz rut. The stage play had been a very successful vehicle and the movie was a hit but, according to Hall, the widow of songwriting great Frank Loesser, performer Jo Sullivan, disliked the movie so much she somehow managed to singlehandedly suppress it for all these years.
The sequence featuring the show’s break-out hit, “Once in Love with Amy,” goes on very long and during the later portions you may find yourself recalling Pee-Wee Herman as Bolger gets a bit too silly. With all that, this excerpt — which comes from a badly faded print — shows a nice piece of work. Bolger had real grace enough to get over the fact that he was 48 and playing an Oxford student.
In my experience about 95% of “lost” movies turn out to be disappointments and this looks too stagy and twee. So what? I think it’s high time we were allowed to see it for ourselves, complete with that score by Loesser. You can hear Jo Sullivan talk about her late husband’s work, which included such classic scores as “Guys and Dolls” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” on this Fresh Air interview.
Note for Elvis Costello fans: if that second song sounds extra familiar, “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” is quoted in EC’s great B-side, “Heathen Town.” Remember, the only stake you cannot raise is the one driven through your heart.
If you were listening to NPR news this morning, you might have caught a very nice interview with Jo Sullivan Loesser, the widow of Broadway legend Frank Loesser, best known for his songs for “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and “Guys and Dolls,” a real contender for the best musical comedy score of all time. The occasion is that this is the year Loesser, who died in 1969, would have turned 100.
So, here’s the key number from “How to Succeed,” in which young, extremely fast-rising executive and ex-window washer J. Pierrepont Finch serenades his favorite person in the world. The film version, directed by David Swift, isn’t a particularly brilliant piece of cinema in terms of taking the piece from stage to screen, but it documents the play on film rather nicely, as you’ll see below.
Of course that’s a young Robert Morse up there as Ponty. I’m not sure how widely known it is to younger viewers of “Mad Men,” but Morse is better known these days as the conniving and sagacious Bertram Cooper, until recently the senior mucky-muck of ad firm Sterling Cooper. (Any similarities between the often somber TV show and the sprightly satirical musical aren’t, of course, all that coincidental.) Morse is an even better actor today, but the above shows how skilled he was at age 35 back in 1966-7 (when he still looked about 20). Daniel “Please don’t call me ‘Harry'” Radcliffe, who really is still practically a zygote, is going to be taking on the role shortly on Broadway, which will be interesting.
After he’s done…well, I wonder if Vincent Kartheiser (i.e., Pete Campbell) can sing at all. I’d pay to see that.