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Monday, July 22, 2019

Was There Such Craziness Behind Studio Gates?

It's A Great Feeling Captures WB Feeling Circa 1949 --- Part One

Based on a proposition that what went on behind studio gates was even wackier than fun we got in movies. All the studios gave glimpse of inner workings, most averring that stars/staff were plain folks subject to ego and foible that beset us all. Good natured was ribbing of a system actually closed tight to fanbase; the only way pic-goers peeked beyond was via sillies like It's A Great Feeling from WB, Variety Girl out of Paramount, or sundry moments elsewhere where civilians crashed a lot in search of stars or stardom. A lot of gloss was rubbed off by 1949 and It's A Great Feeling, the dream factories less dreamy now that other recreations were taking the place of moviegoing. Still, this was game effort at putting film forth as our best entertainment, and I always come away with a Great Feeling for having watched.

"Two Guys" Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson had been Warner joy boys after model of Bing and Bob for several years. They'd sing, dance, and double-cross in wise-guy way endemic to hopped-up 40's comic partnering. Unlike Hope/Crosby, their effort showed. Overflow patronage shut out of a full-house Road To Rio might head down a block for the latest Two Guys (From Milwaukee, Texas, wherever), postwar comedy's second choice. Morgan was for romance and tuning between quips, him the presumed femme lure, while Carson was lumpen serve of laughs, the sort who'd get the girl only if there was no other man left on earth. Surprising then, was Jack ending up with Doris Day in My Dream Is Yours, a finish that seemed in violation of Two Guy rules, and was, in fact, not part of that ongoing series. Notable too was Doris Day mentioning a few overnights with Jack in her memoir that revealed him as somewhat morose offstage, a not unexpected reality in view of how he sweat so for every laugh.

It's A Great Feeling is sarcastic from a start re Hollywood fakery, as if a war had made us wise to ways of glamour-peddling. Seems Jack Carson is going to direct himself in a musical, and yes, it's Jack playing himself, and no, there's not a person on the Warners lot who can abide him. Central gag is Carson going broke if the pic is cancelled, and Dennis not caring a bit, him on verge of triumph in a New York show (but would real-life WB have let Morgan off the lot to do a Broadway revue?). The reason Jack's been tabbed to direct is fact that no one on staff will meg him. This is where It's A Great Feeling goes in high gear and assures our staying for the length. Three we now revere appear as themselves: Michael Curtiz, Raoul Walsh, and King Vidor, each gagging it up in Technicolor and approximation of whatever perception a then-public had of them.

Curtiz makes with his signature malapropism, Tell him my third no is final!, which would have got reaction from ones that read Hollywood columns salted with samples of Mike mangling his adopted language. Curtiz was by 1949 set up with an "independent" unit at Warners, but wasn't business-savvy enough to realize that Jack L. and minions were loading up his account with overhead and cheating the master craftsman blind. Curtiz confessed his performing discomfit for publicity: Never again will I bawl out another actor! King Vidor sits at a desk, declares he's "a director, not a butcher," then hurls the reject script into a wastebasket. Vidor was less staff man than hire from outside; his recent two for Warners, The Fountainhead and Beyond The Forest, unsatisfactory to Vidor's mind, whatever their buoyed status since.

Raoul Walsh was probably the best and most capable sport, him the ramrod who pushed movies through like beef to market. Here is Walsh's public (and maybe private) persona summed up in seconds. He takes a break from in front of a mock-up airplane, unconcerned by its being a fake and we know it, to tell Bill Goodwin's desperate producer that he'll do anything for the team except direct Jack Carson. "Alright, let's finish up this clambake," says Walsh as he turns attention back to a studio scene and situation he'd handled a thousand times by this juncture of a long career. The credited director of It's A Great Feeling was David Butler, who was used to fluff and had even acted in plenty of it before moving behind cameras. He does a cameo too, coming across as amiable and addressing secretaries as "Honey." I'm guessing Butler was one of those who enjoyed a long run because he knew how to get along with people and a system they represented, to which add fact that Butler was competent and made at least a decent job of all his studio assignments.

Part Two of It's A Great Feeling is HERE.


Blogger Mike Cline said...

Love this movie.

My favorite dialogue:

Day: What would Mr. Carson think?
Morgan: What would Mr. Carson think with?

Sure, ending a sentence with a preposition is a grammar no, but still funny.

7:16 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

I too, always thought the director cameos were about the most interesting thing in the film. Real directors also pop up in FREE AND EASY and ABBOTT AND COSTELLO IN HOLLYWOOD to name a few. And, yes, I like the surrounding movie too, but never knew what to make of that weird eye flutter gag Doris Day keeps doing early in the picture.

10:09 AM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

Does "a few overnights" with Jack Carson mean what Stinky thinks it means? If so, Stinky is shocked!

Shocked that Jack Carson could be morose after an overnighter with Doris Day.

3:04 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Yes, the eye-flutter business totally pulled me out of, what was 'til then, a pleasant way to kill a Sunday afternoon. I think Jack Carson is one of the more underrated actors (both comedy and drama) of his time. Still remember him as the slimy car dealer in a "Twilight Zone" episode.

Oh, and that photo featuring Patricia O'Neal holding flowers -- the guy on the left looks just like CNN's Jake Tapper.

3:34 PM  
Blogger shiningcity said...

Actually the rather morose looking guy was Errol in the final scene. Should of had him give one of his mega watt smiles with a wink to the audience.

7:55 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer ponders Doris Day vis-a-vis Jack Carson:

I confess that I've mixed feelings about Doris Day spending "a few overnights" with Jack Carson.

On the one hand, it's deeply offensive to my sense of aesthetics.

On the other, it suggests a world of miracles where anything is possible, even for me.

11:46 AM  
Blogger lmshah said...

Those so aesthetically "mixed" about a Jack Carson-Doris Day dalliance seem to forget that Carson was also married for a time to Lola Albright, another Hollywood fabulous babe. He did Albright----I mean ALRIGHT for himself.


10:38 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Unfailingly informative Craig Reardon has his memories of the Warner Bros. lot (Part One):

"It's a Great Feeling" is cheesy but a lot of fun. I don't know if you had a chance to touch upon all the delightful and 'free' environments in the studio that were available to this production. Many of these hadn't changed one iota by the time Yours Truly first took their Studio Tour--though less celebrated than Universal's, at least as much fun (and still ongoing!) I was able to take it in 1973, so I saw things there that have since been paved over or turned into what ever studio needs: more office buildings (Zzzzzzz....)! One landmark item was a remainder of their 'famous' (well, if you're a WB addict like me) Western town street. But to be fair, anybody can still see it. Just put on your DVD (or Blu-ray if you like you low comedy in high def!) of "Blazing Saddles", as movie-lover Mel Brooks stages a final rout with some great almost aerial views of this same vintage lot, which give you a very good look at the Western 'district', which was hard on the border of the 'small town America' exterior sets that to my knowledge at least are still there and let me just say "The Music Man" to sum them up, and their almost as famous side street of N.D. 'small town America homes', which saw service in more WB movies and TV shows than I can even imagine. The last time I was working regularly on the WB lot was on a TV series that used if for home base, a fantasy about the FBI called "Without a Trace" (of realism...?) We shot all OVER that lot and as a lifetime film nut I can't tell you how much fun that was, because SO much of the structures there harken back to as long ago as the 1930s. Take for instance the famous row of brownstones in front of which a lot of gangsters shot it out with pursuing coppers (more-or-less accurate description!) I remember one night where 'we' (the TV show's company) shot into the evening and the art department had 'dressed' one of the stairways leading up into the otherwise fake-front brownstones so that, of course, it would appear as if they actually led to an apartment. (The apartment was a separate, temporary set on one of the two stages the show permanently occupied during its 8-year run.) In order to be out of camera range and also get out from underfoot of essential personnel, I as a makeup man (along with some costume folk, possibly others) ducked into available space, and suddenly looking around me I realized I was literally looking at good, solid studio carpentry dating back to the 1930s, no question about it. How did I know? Well, two things. Wood was very dark and aged from decades of aging and water trickling through the roof...but also, being 'under cover', in remarkably good shape. But, also, the dimensions of the wood were the old, true dimensions. Many may not be aware nor care that a "2 x 4" was once 2" by 4" in dimension. They might not know that today's 2 x 4s AIN'T! They're about (without knowing absolutely) 1/2" less in either dimension. Point is, the old, original 2 x 4s look odd now, in comparison, and super robust. All the construction in those set fronts was old and original 2 x 4s. We also shot in several of those 'houses' on that short suburban 'street' near the 'public square' I referred to before. You could literally sit in one of these shells (albeit normally 'dressed' by the art department so that the room one would immediately step into off the street appeared to be in a real home, vs a hollow simulation) and imagine that Humphrey Bogart or James Cagney was somewhere else on the lot shooting a picture. They were old enough.

2:32 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two from Craig Reardon:

"It's a Great Feeling" also shows many of the actual dressing room buildings and executive buildings at the northern end of the lot on Olive Blvd. as they were in 1949, which I'm sure were very much as they were in 1939, you know. I love the glimpse you get of the big staircase put together for "The Adventures of Don Juan" you see in one scene. There's also a short scene in a soda shop, and I wonder if that might not once have been built in (in reality) along Olive? Probably not, but there were always mystery windows there in the '70s which seemed to me as if they might once have been more than simply more 'window dressing' (fake) to dress up the perimeter of the studio property (?) There are of course other enjoyable glimpses of WB in other films and shorts they made, with the most obvious being "A Star is Born" from 1955.

I like Jack Carson but boy, you are right on about his strenuous delivery. He's made SUCH the butt of an unending joke in this movie that I have to give the guy props for taking it on the chin constantly all through it. They'd BETTER have given him the girl at the end! Although I seem to recall that she defaults at the VERY end to her boyfriend from the small town she comes from, who (except by name) turns out to be Errol Flynn (!), in this virtual catalog of whoever was left under contract at WB at that time...even Ronnie Reagan! Back to Carson, I chuckled at your rather harsh characterization of him, as far as his prospects getting a girl, but remember, this guy was married to Lola Albright, who was a living doll. As boys, we can't always account for what it is that makes a given guy attractive to a given girl. I sure as hell can't. As far as a 'morose' side, you don't have to look any further than the aforementioned "A Star is Born" to see that on full display. When he decks the James Mason character his anger and brute force are quite the negative correction to his dopey bully from some pictures--blustering but basically harmless--or his jokey, jokey lighter weight stuff. And of course his turn in "Mildred Pierce" is a compromising, compromised character too. I happen to feel he was a good actor in the final analysis but I can see where his style might wear thin for many. You know that his original performing partner was Dave Willock, the ubiquitous little 'everyman' in a ton of movies (including WB) who NEVER became a star or anywhere near as big a name as his former comedy partner Carson. (Although he outlived him by a decade or two; I guess that was one kind of 'revenge'.)

2:33 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Three from Craig Reardon:

I was highly amused very recently to find out that it was Willock of all people who they got in to impersonate Frank Sinatra supposedly impersonating a gypsy in the entertaining "whodunnit" "The List of Adrian Messenger" in 1963, which was an early influence on me eventually going into movie makeup. The gag was that there were like five big stars of that day 'disguised in plain sight' and you could try to guess who they were. It was a big cheat as only one, maybe two of them, were really behind the masks (more than makeups, they were character masks), namely Robert Mitchum and maybe Tony Curtis. And the star, Kirk Douglas, wears a disguise in one scene in the film proper, and it's a breeze identifying him in spite of the heavy coverup. But the advertised Sinatra, and also Burt Lancaster, are out-and-out cheats. They only show up to pull off the very lightly-adhered masks at the end and they (and the movie) are fooling nobody. But I never knew before recently that it was Willock--really, a kind of brilliant choice, physically--who filled in for Sinatra in the brief scenes in which the latter is supposed to have been performing in disguise. (Likewise, the busy character actor Jan Merlin generally carries the water for Kirk Douglas's sinister lead character who is supposed to be behind a series of makeup disguises as the secret assassin working his way up to a huge inheritance a la Richard III. It's generally Merlin, vs. Douglas, really suffering under all these stultifying makeups of variable quality.) And I risk repeating myself, again, but I MET Dave Willock, who worked in a well-known art supply store in North Hollywood in the late '70s and early '80s, as their AIRBRUSH expert. Yes. You read that right. And what's more, if you had a technical question, they'd say, "I'll go get Dave", and out would come this diminutive old guy who was still, to me at least, recognizable as Dave Willock!

Another portion of "It's a Great Feeling" I really enjoy is a glimpse inside the actual WB recording stage, with the full orchestra there, being led by WB career-long musical whiz Ray Heindorf. Heindorf's brilliance as an arranger and orchestrator lent real vitality and bounce to a lot of WB films, like this one, or the earlier "Thank Your Lucky Star", or looking further ahead to "Damn Yankees", "The Pajama Game", and "The Music Man". He WAS WB's long-term music man, mainly when the accent was on the contemporary musical scene, the 'pops'--versus the symphonic melodramatic music that guys like Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Max Steiner practically invented for the movies. (And Heindorf even worked with Korngold, doing some orchestrating for him, definitely on "The Sea Hawk".)


2:34 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Dave Willock also doubles for Sinatra (surrounded by young fans) in MA AND PA KETTLE ON VACATION -- makes me wonder if the gag appearance was intended for Sinatra while he was filming MEET DANNY WILSON at Universal.

8:08 PM  

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