Classic movie site with rare images (no web grabs!), original ads, and behind-the-scenes photos, with informative and insightful commentary. We like to have fun with movies!
Archive and Links
grbrpix@aol.com
Search Index Here




Thursday, December 15, 2011

Have Yourself a Merry Little MMISL Christmas --- Part One


I hesitate calling Meet Me In St. Louis my favorite picture of all time, but then I can’t really think of one that's better. Among a wider public, it’s lacked the enduring appeal of The Wizard Of Oz. When I rented St. Louis from Films Inc. for a 1975 campus run, we had barely a row filled. Students were indifferent and townies who'd remember numbered few. We saw this in the forties, said a couple who seemed impossibly old to twenty-one year old me. They’d have been about the age I am now. Many who caught it new lived the era in which Meet Me In St. Louis was set. Some who attended St. Louis’ 1944 premiere would have been attendees at the 1904 World’s Fair that wraps the narrative.


All that’s passed now and we’re left with a show that maybe will remind us of right here where we live, as Judy exclaims at the fade. Certainly for me its setting and incidents evoked happy past times. Lines for MMISL stretched miles past year-end '44 and into ’45. I try to watch every Christmas, being more inclined to follow this Yellow Brick Road than the one in Oz, not least for subversive aspects partly intended (or were they?), plus as many more revealed for passage of time and much-changed attitudes since. The Smiths are a happy singing family enriched by peculiar shadings thought up by artists who did not necessarily come of so functional a background themselves, here striving to portray idyllic home life they imagined others to have had.


From an upstairs window, we see Judy Garland (as Esther) enter. She alights from a horse cart parked on a dirt street, but her clothes are pristine. That contrast made me wonder how anyone at the turn of the century (and before) kept his or her attire clean for even fifteen minutes after leaving the house. Plus she tells mother Mary Astor how hot it was on the tennis court. I’d marvel over anyone engaging exercise in so many layers of dress. Plain to see I’ve lived in this movie a long time. Wonder if Margaret O’Brien got that impression the time we met at an autograph show back in the nineties. I was thrilled talking to Tootie at last. Unlike a lot of after-the-fact whining child stars, she really liked being an actress.





John Truett is the neighbor as played by MGM beginner Tom Drake. Character and actor are tentative, Drake no doubt intimidated by high-powered talent he’s working alongside. Miss Esther, there are mice in the house. Two-of-them. How he over-enunciates that last part might be a dialogue director’s handiwork, or a young actor’s anxiety to recite it plainly. Either way, we flinch. Drake was said (in later years) to have spelled out his one-time employer’s name with as much deliberation: When I was working at Met-ro-Gold-wyn-Mayer. Never just MGM. By then, memories of association with that fabled place were about all he had left.


My Girl's Seated On The Right, But Who Was She?

The house party scene (aka Lon’s Going Away Party) about twenty minutes in gives us first opportunity to see dancers and background players that appear throughout the rest of the film. I developed sort of a crush on one of them and wondered for years who she was. Somewhat tall and dark-haired with real energy vested in a non-speaking role, this girl had a beauty not rooted in 1903 when the story took place or in 1944 when Meet Me In St. Louis was made (she’s seated on the floor lower right in the above group still). I always enjoy spotting said rare specimens. They are what I’d call The Sisterhood Of Louise Brooks, or faces that look good and never mind how long ago.


Perusal of the Judy Garland Message Board provided sort of an answer to the identity of my swoon (she’s also seated beside Esther on the trolley, dressed in blue). According to experts at JGMB, her name was Dorothy Gilmore Raye … but wait… others say the lady was  Dorothy Tuttle Nitch. Both were dancers and occasional bit players in MGM musicals. Neither got screen credit, so it’s difficult confirming parts other than by facial recognition. Trouble is knowing for sure which is who. Dedicated St. Louis fans parse these matters on varied forums and I’m awed by their attention to such detail. It’s interesting to observe young women surrounding Judy Garland and imagine all of them wishing they could be Judy Garland. Did such hopefuls also recognize considerable advantage of being able to go home to reasonably normal lives while she could not?


I wrote previously about the time we visited Suzanne Kaaren. She was the 30’s/40’s starlet who worked variously with Bela Lugosi and The Three Stooges, plus B westerns and odd castings elsewhere. Kaaren also danced in Metro musicals and was among background faces in Meet Me In St. Louis. Suzanne claimed she was considered for the part of Rose Smith, but that Lucille Bremer got it for being friendly to Arthur Freed. The very mention of Lucille prompted dismissive sneers from Suzanne Kaaren. She probably wasn’t alone for objecting to rivals who got casting legs up (or spread) to secure cooperation from producers. Bremer comes across less appealing in part because her St. Louis character is a little cold and manipulative. Was Lucille maybe playing herself? The reaction her name got from Suzanne so many years later furnished a glimpse into hardball politics ambitious players engaged (still do, of course). How much less do we dislike someone for having done us a perceived wrong forty years ago as opposed to just yesterday?


Short Skirts on Not-So-Period Outfits ... Were MGM Ad Artists Trying To Conceal St.Louis' Early Century Setting?

Meet Me In St. Louis paints what seems a vivid and accurate picture of turn-of-the-century life we never knew (unlike many who saw it in '44-45 and did remember 1903). Guests bring instruments to Lon’s going away party. How else would they have had music? It’s hard to imagine households without even a radio. Parents of that era encouraged and sometimes insisted their children learn to play something, be it piano, violin, or washboard. My father was raised near around this time (b. 1907) and packed an unwilling me off to keyboard lessons during fourth and much of fifth grade. That ordeal ended in disaster of a public recital townfolk still chortle over. Sixth grade efforts at mastering the clarinet under the baton of former Our Gang member Priscilla Lyon ended with my dismissal from the band. How common was musical talent among 1903 youth? It would have assured your welcome at parties if nothing else. I should think those who played instruments well would have been most popular among peer groups. It’s a shame recorded music came along to erase such a talent advantage. Maybe without a phonograph’s prop, I’d have applied myself more to piano/clarinet, and been the hit at some latter-day equivalent of Lon’s party.


I finally looked up the Welsh Rabbit John Truett calls "ginger peachy." It was (is?) cheese melted with ale or beer and served over toast. Has anyone out there ever served such a thing? Welsh Rabbit may have been considered a retro dish even in 1944. Maybe it’s a delicacy I’m just too provincial to have heard of. Then there is the "cakewalk." Esther and Tootie perform one at the party. Turns out a cakewalk can be many things, being defined as a strutting dance based on a march, and not confined to a particular type of music. The cake refers to a prize that winners received and ate after a competition. Meet Me In St. Louis revolves around anticipation of the 1904 World’s Fair coming to “Skinker’s Swamp,” which was an actual place. There was a major sequence taking place there with Garland and Tom Drake, including a song, which was cut before release. I’ve posted here one of very few stills I’ve been able to locate from that.

23 Comments:

Blogger Mike Cline said...

My wife makes a mean Welsh Rabbit.

9:17 AM  
Blogger Kevin Deany said...

Stouffers Frozen Foods offers Welsh Rabbit, but they spell it Rarebit.

12:29 PM  
Blogger citizenkanne said...

What happened to the original part one for "Meet Me" posted before the "Taxi!" entry? Or as I liked to call it, "Sexual Perversity in St. Louis".

6:15 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

What a fantastic post! This is one of my three most favorite movies ever, along with SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS and THE SOUND OF MUSIC. I've been collecting stills from it since I was 11 or 12, and happily I have the ones you show here, except for that terrific shot of Esther and Rose with the ice cream; I was always enchanted the ice cream came in little cartons that looked like they go with Chinese food. And I've never seen the bottom still you posted -- loved seeing it!

And what a jolt to have you comment on the exact same chorus girl who's so intrigued me for years. I watch for her in MGM musicals -- her dark hair and large mouth make her easy to pick out of a crowd -- and you can also spot her in YOLANDA AND THE THIEF, EASTER PARADE (during "Stepping Out With My Baby"), and THE PIRATE, among others.

Thanks to a class my parents audited which was taught by Charles Walters circa the late '70s or early '80s, I also got to meet another of the chorus girls, who's in the Trolley Song -- I'm almost 100% positive her name was Dorothy Tuttle, and she was definitely a different chorus girl than the one you're trying to name. Both women were on the trolley. Dorothy was also a Harvey Girl. Like you, I've never been sure of the name of the dark-haired girl.

Lou Lumenick of the New York Post recently interviewed Margaret O'Brien and solicited questions for her on Twitter. I requested that he ask her about the underrated Joan Carroll, who is really perfect as Agnes yet tends to be ignored compared to the other sisters. I was so pleased he did talk to Margaret briefly about Joan:

http://www.nypost.com/p/blogs/movies/dvd_extra_extra_how_meet_killed_7hFbP3qpIJO1yRGiw9vlCJ

I loved your comment "I've lived in this movie a long time." What a great way to put it. Looking forward to Part 2!

Best wishes,
Laura

3:10 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

To Citizenkanne --- That was actually the second time my unexpurgated "St. Louis" column went up and was then taken down. The first occasion was two years ago. I just decided Christmas was maybe not a best time to explore the (many) kinkier aspects of MMISL. What you got in Part One and forthcoming Part Two is a PG version of what was originally an "R" post. In short, I chickened out ...

Laura, your kind comments are welcome as always, and here's wishing you Happy Holidays. A week doesn't go by for me without visits to your wonderful site. You are the best classic film news gatherer anywhere:

http://laurasmiscmusings.blogspot.com/

7:26 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

John, I appreciate your kind words more than I can say. Your feedback is a great encouragement! Thanks very much for the link.

Best wishes,
Laura

12:40 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

To Citizenkanne --- That was actually the second time my unexpurgated "St. Louis" column went up and was then taken down. The first occasion was two years ago. I just decided Christmas was maybe not a best time to explore the (many) kinkier aspects of MMISL. What you got in Part One and forthcoming Part Two is a PG version of what was originally an "R" post. In short, I chickened out ...

BOoooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!

I'm a relatively recent convert to this movie. For whatever reason, I hadn't watched it until a few years ago when I caught it on TCM. Now I watch it every time it's on, regardless of when I catch it. A perfect movie, and that includes its unsatisfying, stiff, and trite ending. Thank you, Hollywood!

I love the fact that it shows at Christmas but includes one of the best Halloween sequences in any film. Also love the attention to detail throughout ... it truly "insists upon itself." Coppola couldn't have done better.

I've seen footage of some alternate ending (?) with a ridiculous "cast-of-hundreds" torch procession, but I've never seen movie footage of the swamp sequence you refer to. Does it exist?

1:21 PM  
Anonymous Chris U. said...

The link Laura posted is truncated. Full link here:

http://www.nypost.com/p/blogs/movies/dvd_extra_extra_how_meet_killed_7hFbP3qpIJO1yRGiw9vlCJ

1:25 PM  
Anonymous Jack said...

Chris, the "torch procession" you refer to was a sequence deleted from THE HARVEY GIRLS, not MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS. Not as much as a single frame of deleted footage from ST. LOUIS has turned up in the MGM vaults, though Garland's truly lovely rendition of "Boys and Girls Like You and Me," a Rodgers and Hammerstein number excised from OKLAHOMA! and sung during the swamp sequence John refers to, is extant, both in its soundtrack rendition and a commercial recording she made for Decca.

John, my experience with ST. LOUIS was much different than yours. I saw it around 1980 in a theatrical showing at the Arts Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, and it played to a sold-out house. I remember that very well because I was able to get in only through a friend at the Arts Center. The CBS station there had the MGM pre-48s for years and years, but ST. LOUIS and HARVEY GIRLS were just about the only musicals out of that package they ever aired. ST. LOUIS was brought out every year, generally just after Thanksgiving.

9:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, man, aint you never ate a piece of cheese melted on a slice of bread? Out in the provinces we called them "cheese puffs".

A great post about a beloved movie. ST. LOUIS is the only Garland film I can watch without her manic neediness giving me the willies.

I received a somewhat violent musical education myself. My piano teacher smacked my fingers with a wooden ruler one time too many--right now she's probably twinkling the ivories on a showboat on the River Styx...Plink-plink-plink.

9:24 PM  
Anonymous Richard said...

What a treat to read this column on the day my blu-ray of Meet Me In St. Louis arrived from Amazon.com...and that blu-ray disc makes it the 4th (or maybe the 5th) version of the film I have purchased due to changing technology.

I love this film very much, Minnelli's artistry is all over every shot. The lighting of every shot, the very-specific set design, all reflect his creativity. The scene of Judy Garland and Lucille Bremer singing together at the piano in a non-essential scene so closely mirrors a Renoir painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I don't know, but I like to think it served as the shot's inspiration.

Judy Garland, IMO, was never photographed as beautifully as she was in this film. The way she looks when the curtain falls in front of her as she finishes singing about "The Boy Next Door" is breathtaking.

The torchlight sequence discussed above is the "March On Little Doagies" outake from The Harvey Girls. Though a few alternate shots ended-up in the trailer, unfortunately no cut footage from Meet Me In St. Louis is known to exist. All that survives of the deleted "Boys And Girls like You and Me" number is Garland's pre-recording, a few stills, and in the sequence at the World's Fair, Tom Drake references the deleted scene via his flat reading of the line "I liked it better when it was a swamp and there was just the two of us."

11:34 PM  
Blogger Dr. Mark said...

"Welsh Rarebit" figures prominently in a GOMER PYLE USMC TV episode- it makes him have nightmares!

My introduction to MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS was seeing the entire Halloween sequence on some PBS show when I was about 12. (c.1972) It TERRIFIED ME! I had no idea what it was from (Maybe a Great Directors/Minnelli doc?) or what I was seeing... but it was so vivid (as it still is!) I felt like I was LIVING IT! Surely one of the most horrific childhood things ever put to film.

Seeing it later and now in context with the rest of the film... With the Christmas part... One of the greatest holiday films. Yes, an all-time favorite.

You should give a special link for those interested in the "perversity" aspect you say of MEET ME!

And one more note... the advertisment pic you have from MEET ME that is 3-dimensional, cut and paste media... That must have been a common type from MGM... Have seen other examples at Greenbrier... Someone on an "Antiques Roadshow" had an original of one of those pieces- quite a treat to see- seems to me it was kind of a shadow box...

2:16 AM  
Anonymous DBenson said...

One wonders if Disneyland's Main Street -- and a lot of other period imagery -- is shaped more by this movie than reality.

MMISL offers a persuasive utopia, dust-free clothing and all. It's interesting that the city itself is kept offscreen and big cities are regarded as heck-holes. Also, it abandons the rural small-town ideal that previously defined Good Old Days for mainstream studio escapism.

MMISL trades the farms, barefoot kids and lazy creeks for a very prosperous neighborhood convenient to a metropolis, full of big houses and expansive crop-free yards. Later films like "The Music Man" and "Pollyanna," even though set in the country, upped their gingerbread architecture and period flourishes to MGM or Disneyland levels.

2:48 AM  
Blogger Randy Jepsen said...

Your mystery girl is Dorothy Gilmore Raye not Tuttle Nitch. Both can be seen in a still from THE HARVEY GIRLS. Tuttle Nitch is in the center and Gilmore Raye is to her immediate right. Don`t resemble each other IMO.

5:35 PM  
Blogger Randy Jepsen said...

I made an error in my previous post. Gilmore Raye is to the immediate LEFT of Tuttle Nitch in that HARVEY GIRLS still.

8:33 PM  
Anonymous John Seal said...

The dish is definitely spelled 'rarebit'. I'm from the northwest of England, quite near the border with Wales, and my father has made Welsh Rarebit for many, many years. It is NOT just cheese on toast, though...it also includes egg whipped into the cheese.

9:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...And let's not forget about Winsor McCay's DREAM OF A RAREBIT FIEND comic strip from long-long-long ago. It had some pretty psychedelic imagery. The Welsh comestible must have bewitching effects on its consumers...I think I'll try it.

1:56 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer reflects on MMISL, clarinets, and girls he's known ...


My bete noire was, almost literally, the clarinet. Upon my entry into the fifth grade, my afternoons would be spent in practice, a puddle of spit gradually accumulating under the bell of the instrument. This culminated finally in a Christmas concert at which something vaguely suggestive of "White Christmas" was performed. Afterwards, the futility of the experiment was generally acknowledged and no more came of it. Now I tell people that I love music much too much to inflict myself on it.

As for your enthusiasm for the bit player in the party scene, perhaps you've a little of the Mr. Bernstein character in Citizen Kane, remembering the young woman in the white dress he saw on a ferry boat. It is the same for me. There is always a girl in a white dress, seen once or even twice, and not forgotten. For those I came to know, it is only more so, but also the sense of loss at parting.


By the way, Part Two of MMISL goes up tomorrow (Monday) morning.

8:34 AM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again now: With all due respect to Gone With the Wind, Citizen Kane, The Wizard of Oz, or anything else you care to name, Meet Me in St. Louis is simply as good a movie as Hollywood ever turned out. Period.

John Seal is right about Welsh rarebit; there's more to it than just the cheese sauce. I remember a nice little faux Elizabethan pub in San Francisco called Ben Jonson's (now gone, alas) that did a wonderful job with it. My recollection is that theirs included ham. And it's definitely spelled "rarebit", although it's my understanding that the correct pronunciation is something like "rebbit", which can easily become "rabbit". I know some people who insist on calling it "rare-bit", but they sound to me like people who say "off-ten" instead of "offen". (Or, for that matter, like people who call this movie Meet Me in St. Lewis instead of St. Louie.)

2:20 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon on Rarebits, Forry Ackerman, and perversity in St. Louis:


Hi John,


Another fun one! I KNOW I have to have copied you a million times with my worn-out "trek around Lot 2 at old M.G.M" story dating from the infamous auction there ca. 1970, so I'll spare you a repeat!


Finally one of your readers beat me to the punch in mentioning the wonderful silent trick film, "Dream of a Rarebit Fiend". I wasn't aware it was another creation of the amazing Winsor McKay. I thought it was a creation of the pioneering director Edwin Porter. I saw it screened once at Forry Ackerman's house, and the degree of realism and cleverness in the realization of the imagery was really breathtaking, something any true film fan would be equally 'wowed' by. The dish itself does not sound very appealing to me, but I'm sure it helps authenticate the feeling of period in this picturebook movie.


I was going to order this anyhow, because it's my dear daughter's favorite Christmas movie. But, your timely column was an additional spur to action!


Would get a kick out of your reading of some kind of sexual perversity (!) in this movie. I think it managed to elude me...but with you pointing it out, I'm almost fearful I'll 'get' it, too! Maybe I shouldn't read that insightful opinion!


Happy holidays,


Craig


Fearful is right, Craig. Maybe it was better that I kept my twisted reading of (certain aspects of) MMISL to myself.

7:36 AM  
Anonymous r.j. said...

John,

We have a marvelous restaurant/pub out here on Sunset, in Hollywood, called "Cat and the Fiddle" and one of their specialties is Welsh Rarebit. They do it very well, and have had it there many times. This is basically a "British" traditional dish, which might explain why you'd never heard of it, let alone tried it. Traditionally, it is served with bacon slices and sliced tomatoes, and served on toast points or English muffins, and I recommend it, if melted cheese is your thing.

Years ago, I was cast in a comedy role in the most gawdawful pilot I think that ever was done. As memory serves it was called "Patrick's Place" and it was one of those experiences most actors would prefer to forget. Anyway, the "host/singer" of this opus was also the producer and his (business) partner, so I was led to understand, was Tom Drake. One day during shooting he asked me if I knew who Mr. Drake was and he i.d. him by saying he had been "The boy next door". Yes, of course, I answered. I never saw Mr. Drake at anytime while we were shooting, but I understand that his later years were very unhappy ones and as you say he lived on those memories. I could never understand why Metro kept him contract, he seemed to have no talent nor charisma whatever.

Best for the holidays to you and yours, John and thanks for these "swell" posts which never fail to entertain and enlighten!

R.J.

5:47 PM  
Anonymous Ben Gunn said...

My mother adored Tom Drake, and sent off to MGM for a signed photo, which she has to this day.

However, she was disappointed to learn in more recent years that he was gay - a girlhood fantasy slightly shattered....

10:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The two Dorothy's appear as themselves (circa 1992) in the TV doc "MGM: When the Lion Roars" I believe they are shown together commenting on Garland & Minnelli and life at MGM back in those days.

8:30 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

grbrpix@aol.com
  • December 2005
  • January 2006
  • February 2006
  • March 2006
  • April 2006
  • May 2006
  • June 2006
  • July 2006
  • August 2006
  • September 2006
  • October 2006
  • November 2006
  • December 2006
  • January 2007
  • February 2007
  • March 2007
  • April 2007
  • May 2007
  • June 2007
  • July 2007
  • August 2007
  • September 2007
  • October 2007
  • November 2007
  • December 2007
  • January 2008
  • February 2008
  • March 2008
  • April 2008
  • May 2008
  • June 2008
  • July 2008
  • August 2008
  • September 2008
  • October 2008
  • November 2008
  • December 2008
  • January 2009
  • February 2009
  • March 2009
  • April 2009
  • May 2009
  • June 2009
  • July 2009
  • August 2009
  • September 2009
  • October 2009
  • November 2009
  • December 2009
  • January 2010
  • February 2010
  • March 2010
  • April 2010
  • May 2010
  • June 2010
  • July 2010
  • August 2010
  • September 2010
  • October 2010
  • November 2010
  • December 2010
  • January 2011
  • February 2011
  • March 2011
  • April 2011
  • May 2011
  • June 2011
  • July 2011
  • August 2011
  • September 2011
  • October 2011
  • November 2011
  • December 2011
  • January 2012
  • February 2012
  • March 2012
  • April 2012
  • May 2012
  • June 2012
  • July 2012
  • August 2012
  • September 2012
  • October 2012
  • November 2012
  • December 2012
  • January 2013
  • February 2013
  • March 2013
  • April 2013
  • May 2013
  • June 2013
  • July 2013
  • August 2013
  • September 2013
  • October 2013
  • November 2013
  • December 2013
  • January 2014
  • February 2014
  • March 2014
  • April 2014
  • May 2014
  • June 2014
  • July 2014
  • August 2014
  • September 2014
  • October 2014
  • November 2014
  • December 2014