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Monday, October 21, 2019

Where Genius Had a Price Tag

Home Front Comedy's Best Friend

I’m at last evolved to a point of liking Preston Sturges. Despite previous complaints of him, something whispered that it was not Sturges’ failing, but mine. Having re-watched most of the Paramount comedies, his greatness finally is plain, but to that add this: Sturges as onscreen funny is matched by fascination with the offscreen man whose luck ran calamitous as any H’wood artist achieving status, and then losing it. I still don’t fully understand how fate could have dealt Sturges such ruin. Did vultures sit in wait for a first slip, and then swoop? Like Orson Welles, Sturges a lot like Welles, there was genius talk, behavior to relish the crown, then collapse the outcome of hubris reckless-displayed. Reading books (the best by James Curtis, plus auto-bio notes Sturges’ widow assembled) made me want to call back decades and say, No, Preston, don’t speak so much truth to power. But to flip side of coin, Sturges had much insight to life, understood reality of people … how else would his pictures be so fine? He could be humble too, sadly where too late being so. There was his last meeting with Paramount heads, them resolved to keep him on humiliating terms or not at all, either OK because they were fed up, and Sturges, alone in this front office arena, begging to salvage the job and place he called home (“I love Paramount!,” to cold response). If ever I wanted a happier dreamland ending, here was it, but not to be. Why couldn’t Sturges the gifted scribe compose a happier life story for himself?

Among Paramount Comedies Not the Brain-Children of Preston Sturges ...

Sturges with Veronica Lake
Was any artist, writing and directing, more valued by an industry than one who over and over delivered great comedy? Think of few that did. Not many, but herewith a few from decades at respective peak: Chaplin in the teens (his summit an ongoing one), Lubitsch for the 20’s and beyond, Capra as 30’s supreme creator, then Sturges, who for wartime years had no peer. His was the Big Brass Band, noisy sure, but wasn’t most of home front humor? To successors, I’ll name Wilder for the 50’s, maybe Blake Edwards in the 60’s, and … Mel Brooks with the 70’s? Do please nominate others, or alert me if I’ve left someone out (not forgetting Keaton and Lloyd, but they weren’t credited for full creative oversee until later scholarship outed them). Anyone with sense knew Sturges was something utterly fresh at humor, plus heart, slapstick, sophistication. They hadn’t seen miracles like his wrought since It Happened One Night. Sturges had been around long enough not to be an overnight sensation, so there was no calling him an upstart, dues paid over a decade writing for others to interpret. Sturges made a gift of his directing debut (The Great McGinty) as demonstration of ability to Paramount, knowing they’d pay dear once he clicked, that a foregone conclusion so far as Sturges saw it.

Sturges worked like a hound, needed (he said) but four hours sleep a night, and did initial features in less time, and for less money, than Para was otherwise resigned to. McGinty was liked, Christmas In July behind it, both profitable. Critics knew oil had been struck, Sturges as back-of-camera “star” more colorful than personalities he wrote for and directed. The Lady Eve was among bigger noises of 1941, as revolutionary laugh-wise as magic conjured by Welles and Citizen Kane from a same year. Paramount understood for comparative lame-ness of humor they otherwise sent forth. Look sometime at Skylark, also from them in 1941(TCM has used it, and in HD). You might be amused, no doubt would be, given time travel to a first-run house hosting hundreds, but Skylark is small beer beside The Lady Eve, this no secret then, let alone now. Racing horse that was Sturges left a Mark Sandrich or Mitchell Leisen at start gates, Para stars known for comedy at their best advantage working for him. Sturges got brasher as he advanced upward, Sullivan’s Travels stops-out when silly, somber where its writer-director went off comedy’s preserve to try something new. Folks arriving in a final third (lots did in days where it didn’t matter what time you showed up at theatres) figured Sullivan's for melodrama, which to showmen meant Buyer Beware. Complaints told Paramount, and Sturges, that there was limit to innovation.

Sturges knew he wasn’t infallible, at least from hindsight: “The ending wasn’t right, but I didn’t know how to solve the problem … There was probably a way of doing it, but I didn’t happen to come across it. It might be profitable for a young director to look at Sullivan’s Travels and try not to make the same mistakes I did.” These were words dictated years past the fall, when perhaps Sturges wrestled with reasons why he lost it all. “Mistakes,” in say, the mid or late 50’s, would read as bold foresight by those watching Sullivan’s Travels from 60’s-forward vantage. Sturges' mood flip would be admired, imitated, by filmmakers later. What was Bonnie and Clyde but bank robbers on a cross-country, Sullivan-like spree? We were less shocked by sudden shifts in it because Sturges laid a template, one with more influence than the writer/director could appreciate during his lifetime (Sturges died in 1959). Of immediate copiers, there were plenty. I wonder if George Stevens’ The More The Merrier would have sprouted without Sturges’ films ahead of it.

How do we know if a thing is funny, or not, without an audience to confirm it? Most film mavens watch alone, or with one or two doing them the favor of accompany. I looked at No Time For Love this week to compare a boilerplate Paramount comedy with what Sturges was doing for them. It had Claudette Colbert with Fred MacMurray, and was directed by Leisen. I laughed --- alone in the room I laughed --- so guessed this was a riot in 1943. No Time For Love was scribed by four of Para personnel, according to credits, hardly product of a single creative force. Studios functioned best in this way, no one man indispensable to steady outflow of commercial product. Sturges, like other wunderkinds, was more than vague threat to those the system could take or leave, which in Hollywood, as in life, was just about everyone. Sturges' was a bigger talent than anyone’s, and he knew it. Just that was enough to seal his fate. Any little thing that went wrong became a big thing. Sturges’ fifth project was an unpopular idea about the man who developed anesthetic. Called Triumph Over Pain, Paramount let Sturges make it, then took the negative (their option under the contract), and shredded near-whole of what the writer-director did. He begged to be allowed to fix the mess for plentiful and eminently sensible reasons. Head man Buddy DeSylva, who appears to have really had it in for Sturges, said no. Triumph Over Pain went out as The Great Moment, which it was not for pay windows. Para brass held Pain/Moment against Sturges even as he delivered roaring hit that was Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, followed by popular Hail The Conquering Hero. Observers had to wonder how Paramount could let such an asset get away. I am yet baffled. There must have been some serious animus at play here.

Sturges Dictates to Secretary Jean Lavell
It’s sad to read of Sturges falling in with head case that was Howard Hughes. Crazy is crazy however much money you have. Sturges had been raised by oddballs, was distinctly one himself, so being duly tolerant of eccentricity, mistook Hughes’ serious unbalance for that. Fault over The Sin of Harold Diddlebock can be shared by Sturges and Hughes, or maybe the idea of Harold Lloyd coming back under Preston Sturges direction was a flawed one. It pleased Sturges to think that he could revive Lloyd’s flavor of comedy; they actually had much in common, even if outcome for Diddlebock was isolated runs, then withdrawal by Hughes, whose property the negative was. Zanuck of Fox came to a rescue, then wished he hadn’t, as Unfaithfully Yours and The Beautiful Blonde of Bashful Bend both lost money. It was figured that Sturges had lost his touch. That happened to funny folk before, and would again (Wilder a 60’s follower-in-decline). I looked for quotes as to what went wrong for Sturges, one theory advanced by Eddie Bracken, who should know: "Preston had a tremendous ego … Most of his hits came when Jean Lavell was his secretary, and she was the only person he really listened to. There’d be a meeting about a project and if he was going overboard, or becoming excessive, which was his tendency, Jean would tell him, “Why don’t you do this or that instead?” and he might argue, but he’d usually do it. Jean played a large part in the success of Sturges’ great movies … When he left Jean and Paramount and went over to Howard Hughes and Fox, his pictures didn’t turn out so well.” So could it have been that simple? A secretary’s quietly moderating voice? Remarkable how so often it is the littlest things that make all the difference. Not saying Bracken was accurate, but he was there, and the rest of us weren’t. Food for thought, whatever the truth.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

MacDonald Sings In The Here and Now

Broadway Serenade (1939) Another Metro Heart-Throb

'39 was time for Jeanette MacDonald to "go modern," this in deference to patron demand and need for product differentiation at Metro. You couldn't, after all, maintain stars by letting them do identical act over and again (even if it seemed at times like they did). MacDonald had worn period dress since linkage with Nelson Eddy, and maybe there was fear that operettas were getting stale. Anyway, she was re-routed to this, and fresh lead man Lew Ayres, who'd come off more believably as her kid brother rather than husband, as he's posited here. The two begin as a vaudeville team, tensions a result of JMc rocketing to legit stardom. Must husbands of overnight stars always behave so badly? And yet their mates stay loyal, despite luxury and better offers poured over them that certainly would be opted were this real life. As with most super-A's from MGM of this period, Broadway Serenade is over-dressed. Producer committees on the lot saw to that. A single or even handful of voices were no longer enough to see expensive projects through, not unlike movie business done today. Curiosity was there for MacDonald gone modern, as first-run ads attest. Note emphasis on Modern, Hotcha, Hi-De-Ho, each with own exclamation point.

MacDonald's character soars in plays that don't look much good, until Busby Berkeley takes over for a final blow-out that dwarfs the rest. Good writing always sniffed around edges of even top-heaviest MGM, thus pungent exchanges among B'way cynics clearly standing in for same-disposed scribes lost in a crowd of credited (or not) scenarists. Big spending was a distraction from much that was wrong at Leo, starriest vehicles left to suffer for too many cooks in too thick broth. Still, there is much to satisfy in Broadway Serenade, and moments plenty where it jumps to (our) attention. Vaude background can’t help but engage. See it for that if nothing else. Did not know till recent that MacDonald kept a detailed diary through her peak career. Might someone publish it, or have they already? Crowds supported a Broadway Serenade because she sang lots in it, and that’s all they needed to know. Is there a performer left that could claim a same? Again these ads, Shea’s pushing Metro shorts, “Pete’s New Hit” for a latest Pete Smith, Weather Wizards, and a “Science Unit,” The Story of Alfred Nobel, one of the John Nesbitt Passing Parades. Then the RKO Orpheum using an MGM “B,” Society Lawyer, for support. Latter is actually a good one, provided expectation is modest. Warner Instant streamed Broadway Serenade in HD before curtain dropped on that enterprise, so know that a transfer has been done, and maybe TCM will get back round to it.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Of Lusty, Loving, Gambling Men ...

Power Propels The Mississippi Gambler (1953)

An 1859 Engraving
They called gamblers on the river “black-legs.” Virtually all were crooked as a dog’s hind leg. In antebellum Vicksburg, they strung up a handful to let the rest know card sharps weren’t welcome. Gamblers thrived in towns along the Mississippi before steamboats arrived in 1811, from there an onward-upward course until at least 500 men (and a few women) dealt pasteboard to suckers all the way up till the Civil War curbed river traffic. Anyone with a poke was fair game, many a chump starting trips flush, exiting gangplanks broke. Games were non-stop day and night, one experienced traveler estimating that not fifteen minutes passed without cards in play. Bartenders and not a few captains were in on shafts, every deck “shaved” or otherwise marked, sealed or no. Connivers got their percentage of yield. You’d not detect a cheat even where you knew full well he was cheating. That’s how expert the best of them were. Pros had no choice but to play false, closing margins for error a first priority. “They must cheat, or starve,” said one observer. After the war, when most of the lice had been cleared, came the rewrite. Gamblers were all of a sudden heroic figures, “the romance of rascality,” some called it. Pretty soon everyone forgot what predators these were, recasting them as gentlemen with a code, fleecing the rich to frequently assist the poor. Dime novels, and then movies getting aboard, made career gambling something to aspire to. History-be-hanged where rose-tint glasses prettied life amidst paddle-wheels and genteel wagering. Of films to celebrate this culture that never was, The Mississippi Gambler stands tallest. Run it to an audience (I have) and chances are they’ll figure it for historic fact and applaud besides (mine did).

The Mississippi Gambler was Universal’s 1953 idea of an ultra-A. In the silents, they’d have called it a Super-Jewel. Tyrone Power was lately loosed from Fox, conflicting data as to whether he was done there or this was his yearly-as-contracted outside pic; in whichever case, there was partnership with Ted Richmond, a busy producer bee for U-I, who steered Power to fifty-fifty split of profits, which thanks to Gambler’s three million domestic rental haul, yielded the actor $750K, money he never dreamt of where laboring for Fox. Postwar percentages gave players glimpse of wealth most never knew existed. Agents-lawyers with capitol gains hoodoo made ripping off tax men a sport nearly fun equal to what sharpers did a century before, minus the tar and feathers, or hemp. This however, was but Power’s turn of the card. Others at U-I, including all who supported the lead man, saw leagues less than what Ty took. Consider sobering statistics: Piper Laurie, his love interest, began her contract with $100, vaulted to $150 a year later. By 1953, just a few seasons after joining U-I, would pay have been so much higher? Then Julie Adams, a starter at $150 … no wonder Power seemed to her like a god off Olympus. I’ll not speculate on what small-part and background young men took home: Dennis Weaver, William Reynolds, Guy Williams. Hollywood then was as now --- live on velvet, or crumbs.

Wife Linda Christian Is a Visitor To The Set

And yet all was not soft for Power. His then-wife, Linda Christian, had wanted the role Piper Laurie got. He had promised it to her ‘neath softness of sheets. They had even done a test, Ty bragging that “I own half the picture, so I can get my way!” Glare of U-reality left others to tell Linda she was out, Power “in a meeting” and never liking to be dispenser of bad news. The fissure as much as any fouled their marriage … maybe not so much as Ty’s score of willing mattress Anita Ekberg (a Gambler dress extra), whose chicken-scratch love notes Linda found in hubby’s overnight case. Ekberg would do as much mischief to Gary Cooper’s marriage a few years later. That’s what I love about these old stars --- feet of clay, right down the line. Linda Christian wrote a memoir in 1962, Linda: My Own Story, Power not around to say yea or nay to her account. Piper Laurie wrote her Learning To Live Out Loud in 2011, recalled tension in Christian having lost the plum part she got, scars gone in any case by such a late date. Julie Adams’ The Lucky Southern Star, published that same year, had her telling Power on-set how excited she was when the Jesse James crew came near her hometown in 1939, to which he replied “When you were a little girl, no doubt,” both knowing awkward zone she stepped into. But why so aggrieved, Ty, but thirty-eight when The Mississippi Gambler was made? Consider this was 1952, however, a time when thirty-eight was really thirty-eight, every nicotine trace showing up on Power’s face.

A Gambler Stroll Past Famed Notre Dame Cathedral on U-I Lot
Universal-International was seat of stalwart men and sirenous women (that last not a word, but I like it, so hereby invent it). Competition was hot for what stardom U-I could bestow. Jeff Chandler wanted The Mississippi Gambler, but Power left a bigger boxoffice footprint, and so was preferred. Latterly weak ones at Fox saw need for a vehicle that would speak to his strength, The Mississippi Gambler clearly it. Variety reported seven weeks shooting, all upon a backlot or boat pulled up to waterway U had dug. That craft still floated in 1975 when I did a USC summer session and walked decks just like the Fabulous Mark Fallon as essayed by Power, The Mississippi Gambler already a favorite thanks to a 16mm print got from NC’s own blackleg dealer by name of George Ashwell, from whom much ill-got treasure flowed in freeboot collector days. George could smell intense want soon as you’d come through his door, thus a high tab for The Mississippi Gambler on IB Technicolor, being three cartoons in trade, my original print of Deadline USA, plus $150. I felt like a hapless player after Mark Fallon showed his “tens-full” and scooped the pot. The Mississippi Gambler was worth it though, pleased mightily my college audience, a rare time when a finish (Piper finally yielding to Ty’s embrace) got spontaneous and lush applause. Things differed, however, when I ran Gambler to six or so fraternity brothers, each put off by Laurie marrying another guy at the halfway point, one explaining that by surrendering her virtue to the wrong man, she’d no longer be worthy of Power. That made a big impression, showing how invested even 20-22 year old boys could be in one of my old movies.

On-Set Reunion for Power with Former Co-Star Loretta Young

A Grand Winding Staircase Beloved of 50's Universal Sets, Used for Gambler, and in 1957 for Man Of A Thousand Faces

Break Time for Exuberant Ty and Julie Adams

Much of anecdotes real-life gamblers left turn up verbatim in Seton I. Miller’s story/screenplay. He clearly did his research, however The Mississippi Gambler was softened re history. A particular, and vivid, source for Miller was surely Forty Years a Gambler on The Mississippi, by George Devol, published in 1887 and an unapologetic account of his career dealing and stealing. The Mississippi Gambler’s John McIntire, as Fallon partner “Polly,” was based on a device Devol and others often used, coming aboard as a rube, or farmer with “pig money” almost begging to be separated from it. Fallon/Power announces from the go that he will deal only honest cards, which none of genuine articles was dumb enough to try, unless they wanted to go bust on a first trip and ones thereafter. Fallon and Polly escape dry gulchers by bailing off a boat steered close to shore, gold weighing down Polly so he has to discard it all onto muddy bottom, further incident taken from truth. Not trying to propose The Mississippi Gambler as documentary, but writing gives it flavor of the era, Seton Miller a sure-hand at lead man vehicles, having penned for Power (The Black Swan), plus numerous for Cagney, Flynn, Ladd, others. Notable too is Tyrone Power’s great-grandfather, an Irish-born actor/theatrical manager, who toured stateside and left an outstanding memoir, Impressions of America (1836), where he recognized “crying evils” supporting “the course of crime” that gamblers pursued.

John Goodno Scored This Meet For Being The Outstanding Exhibitor in Huntington, West Virginia

Mid-January 1953 saw military style campaign that was The Mississippi Gambler’s deep-to-upper-south opening, New Orleans, Memphis, St. Louis each touted as “World Premieres.” 350 “pre-release” runs would follow at cities along the Mississippi, stars aboard for the haul, Power because it served him to serve, Piper Laurie and Julie Adams because publicity was as much, perhaps more, their job than emoting before cameras. Being an actress for U-I meant performing for tie-ins, the women at department stores, doing chat shows for local TV, pulling plow that was lobby lines for autographs that took hours because masses kept coming. This was means, necessary ones, by which U-I kept talent before a public, as formula films weren’t enough in themselves to close a stardom sale. Piper Laurie acknowledged in her book that The Mississippi Gambler was a first “A” film she had been involved with, and who knew if there would be another under U-I tutelage? There was, decades later, a Winston-Salem western show, one of the last, where Piper Laurie set up to sell autographs, by herself, at least when I paused to speak. She was polite if not fully animated, another of those, like Virginia Mayo, who showed up for a North Carolina cowboy meet and then asked herself Why? I looked at this woman with the dupe stills and felt marker and thought how once she did this ritual for hundreds lined in a Loew’s lobby, their idea of glitter-land’s summit, back in the year before I was born. Now it was just me with nobody in front or behind to rush this occasion for meeting Piper Laurie. I told her how much I liked her book and she thanked me for that. It was only after driving out of the hotel parking lot that I realized I’d forgotten to ask for her autograph.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Monroe Takes The Center Ring

Don't Bother To Knock (1952) Intros MM The Star

As admitted before, I’m no authority on acting, not having trod boards except for disastrous go at Shakespeare where I paraphrased dialogue and sounded less like Gielgud than James Best on Dukes Of Hazard. For little as my bouquets matter then, I would say that Marilyn Monroe’s work in Don’t Bother To Knock seems as accomplished as what she’d later do under spell of flim-flamming Actor’s Studio guidance. I’ve read the Strasbergs had quite a racket going on MM. Without over-dwell on Marilyn as victim-or-not, I’ll aver she at least got grossly over-coached, her instinctive gifts suborned to manipulation the well paid courtesy of those who’d exploit her. Don’t Bother To Knock was a first lead-of-sorts for Monroe. She’s billed below Richard Widmark, has protection of character players who help her look good (interesting that one of them, Jim Backus, would do as much for James Dean a few years later). It isn’t a glamour part, and in fact would be a stretch for any actress given the assignment. That Monroe acquits well might have led to further challenging had not glare of publicity made her a biggest sex lure for Fox since Betty Grable. I wonder to what extent the calendar pose impacted, and led to casting that would feed stardom.
She's Hot in Cleveland
So this demonstrated Monroe’s competence as a dramatic actress --- so what? 20th had these in abundance, as did all companies. Ann Bancroft’s role could have been switched with MM and yielded as good result. Problem would have been sales, this where Marilyn really paid as new-minted lead. Poster and art was hers alone, a mini-Widmark peeking in from the side on most displays. A one-sheet, since collectible, is purest pin-up, and made all-day suckers of many who bought admission. They'd understand, however, that boxoffices were like carnival ground, as in seldom getting what posters promised. Monroe demonstrated, in any case, that she could make a small picture pay. Don’t Bother To Knock with anyone else would probably have lost money, as what were Gene Tierney, Jeanne Crain, and Linda Darnell but largely played out? Fox had to keep volume high to keep an oversized engine running, but most of their modest ones fell before emerging colossus that was television, so it must have been refreshing to find someone who could bolster a modest B/W into profit ($484K), and underpaid as she was, MM was it.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Happy Meet of Music and Mirth

Crosby-Fields in Mississippi (1935)

Real Life Showboat and Necessary Companion, the "Atta Boy" Pushing the Mighty "Majestic" From Behind

I had showboats figured for amusement palaces lazily floating down river to minstrel tunes and roisterous comedy. Steam-huffing engines drive paddlewheels as hundreds are entertained in a theatre linked to gambling tables adjacent to dining halls. All this aboard a craft set upon the Mississippi or Ohio Rivers, more legend, as it turns out, than fact. I was frankly shocked by the separation of real from imagined. Turns out showboats didn’t even operate on their own power. What steam there was came courtesy a tow craft situated behind the showboat, latter not only pushed from thither to yon, but often as not sat upon a barge to ease floatation. Sounds cumbersome, far from romance of the river as seen in varied versions of Showboat and whatever other films set their action aboard. One that stands out is Paramount’s Mississippi, where W.C. Fields drove the pilot wheel and Bing Crosby sang when not besting Fred Kohler in a fight-to-death. 75 minutes to glory in, remade from a silent, then a talkie with Buddy Rogers. One of the Bing Crosby collections has Mississippi on DVD. It is as pleasing as anything Crosby or Fields ever did.

Edward Sutherland Directs Bing Crosby and Joan Bennett

Irvin S. Cobb Is a Visitor To The Set

Mississippi melds Bing Crosby for music with W.C. Fields for comedy, an even match with no sense of competition or Fields trying to wrest scenes from the singer. He understood benefit of sharing with a biggest of Paramount names, the Fields humor more effective for being spotted throughout rather than him having to haul all of six or seven reels. Fields was still this side of starring vehicles in any case, being part of laugh ensembles from Million Dollar Legs, to International House, Six Of A Kind, whatever made for name-crowded marquees. For many, he still works best when not headlining, the Fieldsian highlights of Mississippi featuring some of his best work, plus his being ideal-cast as a showboat skipper. A Crosby audience that might otherwise ignore Fields got exposure to him here, Mississippi brief enough so that we don’t resent music at expense of comedy, or the reverse. In fact, both work well, outstanding Rodgers-Hart tunes at Crosby’s service, which we enjoy hearing even when they interrupt a Fields routine. Romance as salve to slapstick was ingrained reality of the mid-30’s. Here it works to satisfaction of all, Fields more fortunate in this respect than Laurel-Hardy or the Marx Bros. elsewhere.

Fields had gag men always on alert for ideas he could use, comics at liberty, humor scribes, vaude vets, all kept as friends because Fields liked their company, and they knew his persona well enough to nourish it with bits. Fields had freedom too to ad-lib or show up with useful stuff dreamed up the night before or morning of. James Curtis tells much in his W.C. bio of Fields the architect and ongoing manager of a screen image always in progress toward goals he sought, that meaning sometimes a balk at business he knew did not jibe with the character and/or talent. For instance, a calliope Paramount built at great expense and expected Fields to play for a set-piece (presumably filmed, certainly mentioned in publicity for Mississippi, but not seen by the public). Fields knew it was wrong for him, explained why, then stood ground against using the device. The great ones had instinct for what they could, or should not, attempt. We’ve read the brouhaha over Judy Garland and Annie Get Your Gun. She fought, resisted, wouldn’t show, then finally was replaced. It has been suggested, rightly I suspect, that Garland knew from outset she was wrong for this part, “acted out” rather than owning-up to what her senses told her was miscasting. How many actors had enough sense of self, or better put, humility, to admit they weren’t right for a role, or that comedy of particular sort would not play to their strength? Fields, like many if not most others, lodged his complaint by indirection, as in not cooperating. How could he play a routine he didn’t fully believe in?

Fields as "Champion Calliope Player" Did Not Make a Final Cut

The Fields of Mississippi is more a known quantity than the Crosby of Mississippi. Here was real departure from froth the crooner had so far engaged, Booth Tarkington’s source story one that Crosby would have to accommodate rather than have it accommodate him. As gentle scion of the North, Crosby disdains a challenge to duel and is branded a coward by his southern fiancée and family, us left to wonder if they have a point, considering “Tom Grayson’s” soft nature and appearance. Not before had Crosby been called upon to assume fighting stance, his new identity as “Colonel Steele, The Singing Killer” bought with blood he spills in a ferocious brawl with Fred Kohler, as vicious an opponent as any (in fact, many) series western name ever met. Is this the only fist meet Crosby had in all of a career? I’ve not seen whole of his output, so that question I will put to readership. Surely screen-Bing never fought and killed a man over years he entertained in films and on TV. Emphasis on Crosby v. Kohler is to make point that both Crosby and Fields of Mississippi register strong, us not waiting for either to go off so the other can come back on. I don’t think Fields ever co-starred so felicitously with an equal name, Mae West being sole other time it was tried, and to my mind, her stint with Bill ran second to Crosby’s.
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