Metro Takes A Powder --- Part One
What good reason to address Keep Your Powder Dry, another paper napkin MGM release from long ago-far away WWII? By latter half of 1944 when it was made, there'd been thorough inventory of service branches to which
|Laraine Day is WAC For a Day at Real-Life Training Facility|
Powder's camp could house Abbott and Costello given minor-est script adjustment. Nod to reality was publicity's emphasis upon WAC technical advising in all aspects of production, military cooperation and stamp of approval being essential to any war-related studio venture. Laraine Day in fact pulled duty as temporary WAC recruit to get flavor of her part and assure a public that MGM was playing by the service manual. Real uniforms were said to have been issued to the stars. Picture fame in those days came with patriotic responsibilities. Cast members made nice with visiting service-folk, went by hospitals, and kept off-studio time available for morale enhancing at the Hollywood Canteen. Stars performed well over and above calls of duty during WWII, this a must to maintain their public's good will.
I sometimes wonder who among them cringed at the notion of compulsory Canteen appearances, not all celebs being natural glad-handers/dance partners. Putting myself in their place, I'd have been intimidated by the nightly mob. What was it really like for sex symbolic love goddesses suddenly thrust among aggressively male recruits with hands-on access to them? If Lana Turner were me, she'd have run like hell. To appear in Keep Your Powder Dry invited wider participation in aspects of war relief that could use glamour-dusting to raise needed funds and support.
|The Cast Consults a Ouija Board to Relieve On-Set Boredom|
A just-us-girls camaraderie was emphasized in reportage from the set of Keep Your Powder Dry. Revelation years later told all-too-human stories, rivalries being real as ambitions were pursued. Lana Turner and Laraine Day didn't particularly like each other, reflecting character conflicts in the movie. Director Eddie Buzzell told support actress Lee Patrick that she might get some good scenes in Keep Your Powder Dry "if those other bitches will let you." Laraine Day agreed to do the picture upon assurance she'd co-star with Robert Taylor in the upcoming Undercurrent, a promise not kept. She'd leave MGM as a result.
Keep Your Powder Dry was done on sound stages heated to ungodly levels by arc lampage. Cast/crews had to make peace with this, but human bodies could withstand but so much. Variety reported Lana Turner and Susan Peters passing out, Turner carried by ambulance to MGM medics. In years before quiet and efficient central air,
WAC recruiting was also a mission of Keep Your Powder Dry. Why would that branch cooperate with filmmakers otherwise? A positive service image was Priority One. Even though these women were taught manly skills, it was essential that femininity and even a touch of glamour be preserved, thus pairings off in the canteen with servicemen on leave. This was where Metro could test new personalities on six-month option. A Bill Johnson was one. He has dialogue with Lana Turner in what you could accurately call an on-screen screen test, Johnson another newcomer who'd be tried and let go. Competition again. You could say Bill lost his race to another Johnson, Van, or Tom Drake, two from beginner ranks that did make the grade.
|Director Eddie Buzzell On The Back Lot with Lana Turner and Susan Peters|
Once brought aboard, MGM did take care of its own. Those who'd been around long enough and made the right friends could expect protection when chips were down. Lana Turner reported to costume designer Irene for fittings and found the department empty. Irene wasn't showing up for work, but Turner got the blame. When the latter protested to Louis Mayer, he told her allowances must be made for a longtime employee who'd developed a drinking problem. Everyone's business was the company's business, private matters most of all. Turner understood and took the minor rap for Irene.
A short-time later happening would further reveal MGM's generous corporate nature. Keep Your Powder Dry co-star Susan Peters had finished her work and was spending New Year's Day 1945 at a shooting club with husband Richard Quine, an actor and future director. Somehow, her rifle discharged when she reached down to pick it up, lodging a bullet in her spine. Peters had been a prime candidate for top rungs, having made the grade supporting Ronald Colman in Random Harvest and as lead lady to Robert Taylor in Song Of Russia. A brightest career future was interrupted by the event of January 1. To follow press releases and trade talk from there is to open a fascinating window into Gold Age Hollywood's response when real-life tragedy visited one of its own, that subject to be taken up in next week's Part Two.