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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Fox Rainbow Over The Midway

A 1945 State Fair To Celebrate Peace and Technicolor

NYC Roxy Opens With Stage Strength
The 1945 State Fair is a great State Fair, and notable occasion when one of their musicals beat MGM at a game all but conceded to the Lion. The earlier version with Will Rogers and Janet Gaynor was remembered with affection, and in hindsight must have seemed a natural for musical overlay and enhance with color. It was still good business in the 40's to celebrate heartland values. What 20th did for update was add music by sensations of Oklahoma! and Carousel Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, their only movie score. It was a coup for Fox as all the tunes were memorable and big advance over much of what this or any company had cleffed. Tunes from State Fair would equal popularity of those from Meet Me In St. Louis, another that spun gold off commonplace lives set to music. State Fair would resemble St. Louis more than Fox's studied imitator, Centennial Summer.

The Fair cast sang but for dubbed Jeanne Crain, she approaching a career peak and cause for much of $5.6 million State Fair took in worldwide rentals, success matched by The Dolly Sisters and surpassed only by Leave Her To Heaven on '45 Fox ledgers. Footloose reporter Dana Andrews could pass for one of his noir characters before life went wrong. You'd imagine his happy ending with Crain gone sour after the end title, with Andrews back on the road a la Fallen Angel, latter not so removed a setting from bucolia of State Fair. There's none of a dark side to State Fair, however. You nearly taste hot dogs and cotton candy here, beauty of Technicolor closer to reclaim than most from Fox for which three-strip negs were deep-sixed in the 70's, a corporate blunder of epic dimension. State Fair though, looks happily terrific in HD.

Chicago First-Run To 1,535 Seats
And color removes grit of fairground Will Rogers and family attended in 1933, intervening twelve years a salve to showgoer recall of Depression. 1945's State Fair fit ideally an audience revived by wartime prosperity where factory lights stayed lit, with theatre marquees the same. Many a full house for musicals sat as such through dark AM's, result of three-shift work policy and disposable coin in pockets. Every song, it seemed, played to tune of victory imminent by mid-'45. State Fair timed perfect to mere weeks after V-J and fed off a fair held nationwide. World premiere in Des Moines, Iowa (8/29) bought corn belt laurels for Fox and retinue that Variety-termed "farmers and townfolk" could ogle: Dick Haymes, Carole Landis, James Dunn, Peggy Ann Garner, Faye Marlowe, Carroll Dennison, and emcee George Jessel, all contract-bound to 20th and no strangers to personal app grind.


Blogger Mike Cline said...

Hey, it's a grand night for singing.

11:16 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson considers Rodgers and Hammerstein in the movies:

A quick check shows that, in addition to "State Fair," Fox did nearly all the movie versions of Rodgers and Hammerstein ("Flower Drum Song", a middling hit, went to Universal). Was there some kind of long-term deal, or did Fox go after each property individually, or were R&H simply close with a specific exec or producer?
MGM did get some Rodgers & Hart shows, turning them into vehicles for Mickey & Judy and Nelson & Jeannette. The elephantine "Jumbo" must have some stories behind it. Unnamed but clearly identifiable, it achieved a dubious immortality as the movie Ignatius T. Reilly loves to hate in "Confederacy of Dunces."

4:59 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon remembers "State Fair" and some of the artists associated with it:


Once again your writing and ability to cover all the salient points inspire me to go to my drawers (where I keep my DVDs) and fish out the 1945 "State Fair" to watch while I eat lunch, here! Fox keeps threatening to release a big Blu-ray box of all their R&H musicals, but so far haven't, so we have to fall upon our DVDs in those instances where certain titles haven't been upgraded to HD yet.

I was taken to see the last (to date) remake in 1962, with blandly-pleasant Pat Boone, and toothsome Ann-Margret. Dour Tom Ewell was the not-particularly-appropriate substitute for Will Rogers and/or Charles Winninger before him. When my family moved to Redondo Beach in 1970, I remember being surprised to spy Tom Ewell out walking his dog many times, always by himself. One time I was not far from where he was near the beach itself and said something innocuous about his dog, in an attempt to make contact. He merely replied, "She's an old dog and she's sick." And, that was it! Alice Faye was of course also welcomed back (if that's not too sentimental for whatever it really was) to Fox for this remake, but the significance of this was totally lost on me at age 9! I remember a pal of mine who knew Ken Darby saying that as he and Alfred Newman worked on this remake, they both bemoaned memories of the '45 version and repeatedly said to themselves, "Let's face it, it isn't 1945 and this isn't 'State Fair' the way we'd prefer to remember it!" It was a chore for them to do the '62 version, in other words, versus the joy the earlier one had been.

My other chance contacts with people involved with the '45 "State Fair" include about three separate "sightings" of Dana Andrews in the '70s at public events (a screening of "Portrait of Jennie" in 1970 which was attended by director William Dieterle, and which Andrews attended no doubt in order to see Dieterle who he'd worked with before; and, two sightings at the L.A. Music Center, where Andrews was seen with his wife, just another patron like me.) I had an indirect connection or contact with Jeanne Crain. It went this way. I worked on a Disney-produced movie called "Hidalgo" in 2002, and one day I was turning a young stunt man into a faux 'Arab' for a sequence being filmed near Dumont Dunes (not far from Las Vegas), and he mentioned his mother had been in the movies. I naturally inquired who, and he said "Jeanne Crain." Well, that was unexpected! I said, oh, well, she was an incredible beauty, and he was proud of her and said, "Well, she's one of the great moms." Ms. Crain passed away shortly thereafter---according to the IMDB, on December 14, 2003.

Truly, those people inhabited a movie world we can only imagine, and those movies still exert a magical quality even to later generations. You're so right that Fox's decision to junk their 3-strip B&W negs for their early Technicolor films was a terrible mistake, but I'd guess they did it to economize on space during their near-oblivion after "Cleopatra". Isn't this likely? That's a subject for separate inquiry, the whole period when as Richard Zanuck said the place was nearly deserted in the mid-'60s. I had the great good luck to be invited by John Chambers to visit the studio in September 1967, by which time the phenomenal success of "Sound of Music" and some TV stuff had sustained Fox. Chambers had joined the studio to supervise the special makeup demands for a film that was still in postproduction at that time, but which, upon release the following year, would vastly enrich Fox's coffers, too: the original hit "Planet of the Apes".

3:36 PM  

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