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Monday, January 27, 2020

Andy Hardy's "Third Anniversary"

A Family Plan For Everlasting Profit

Shouldn't it be Andy Hardy Meets A Debutante or Andy Hardy Meets The Debutante? We didn’t have debutantes where I came up, so there’s been mystery for me as to precisely what they are. Here’s trivia: Oona O’Neill (later Chaplin) was the “Number One Debutante” as chosen by New York Society in 1942-43, crowned at the Stork Club. I wonder if she was able to explain to raised-in-grinding-poverty Charlie what a debutante was. Andy Hardy’s crush is on Gotham “top Deb” Diana Lewis. He even devotes a scrapbook to her, and brags that she is crazy about him, inviting frankly mean girlfriend Polly and so-called “best pal” Beezy to pull a dirty trick. I was struck again that maybe Andy needed a new steady. He ponders that too in an opening reel, but fails to act on a sensible impulse. Query re rumor: Did Ann Rutherford have a long-term involvement with Clark Gable? I’ve heard she did.

The Hardys may have become too successful for their/our own good, this one overstaying welcome by a couple reels, as if to dare exhibitors pairing it with anything other than MGM shorts or cartoons. A public waited breathlessly for fresh Hardys, each taking profit any “A” could envy. What other series that began as comparative B’s had such a Jetstream? Paramount’s Henry Aldrich group started small and stayed that way. The Hardys were first, however, for folks-like-family served regular as season change or arrival of holidays. Their success created almost a panic to imitate. They answered a need for relaxed familiarity, as television later would. Patrons went to a Hardy knowing precisely what they’d get, which was why they went, and kept going. Were they abashed enough in hindsight to shun Andy Hardy Comes Home in 1958? I’ve read that Rooney got so good as Andy that he virtually directed others at interplay with him, and brought gags for all to implement. I like observing Hardy family protocol, as when meat and vegetables are put before the judge, he serves everyone’s plate, then passes each around, his own last of the lot. That’s five jobs before anyone takes a bite. Meals were work in those courteous days. Did any GPS readers observe such family ritual? We had a “Lazy Susan” where food spun around to whoever wanted it.

Interest sustains in the Andy Hardys for ingénues getting a first or early screen try. There's less of that in Debutante, save Diana Lewis as the title figure who's saved till near the end. She and Mick together on a crowded dance floor look like Munchkins beside other couples (Lewis was five foot one). Up to there is Andy and family touring process-screened New York, father/son stood against rear projections or doubled in longer shots made by a second unit in Gotham. Life lessons are ladled by heavy hand of inflexible Judge Hardy, his lectures more a chore where comedy and music flags, as sometimes here. We want more of Judy Garland than is got, but appreciate two numbers, one of which she “acts” in accord with lyrics, showing how a great artist could put whole narratives across within space of a tune, leaving others to flounder in dialogue. Judy was getting grown enough for fans to wonder why Andy doesn’t shine to her rather than sour Rutherford. They come near a clinch, but formula demanded polite distance, so there’s reconcile with less-pretty Polly for a wind-up. Rooney sold the no-touch myth for interviews to an end --- he and Judy like brother and sister, etc., which I don’t altogether buy; fact the question still engages is tribute to his/her staying power, even unto modern watching on TCM and discs.

Andy and Judge Hardy Cameo in Tex Avery's WB Cartoon, Hollywood Steps Out

It was thought wise to add alleged-cute moppets, thus one Clyde Willson patrons would recognize for adorably gumming up chorus lines in a previous Mickey-Judy barn musical. The business of Andy ordering a swank meal he can't pay for is repeated, or was it? I visualize similar moment from any/all Hardys, or maybe it’s the Warner cartoon, Hollywood Steps Out, where Tex Avery had Andy and the judge put to dishwashing for failure to cover their check. Andy was often penalized for aspiring beyond his roots, as if we from small towns were estopped from crossing the county line. You wonder what MGM staffers who came from the sticks (plenty) thought about that. Was Andy kept pure for being kept away from city life? The Hardys imply yes, the message beat further by horror of the Smith family moved to New York for a Meet Me In St. Louis third act crisis, this on 1944 occasion (set in 1904), and regarded a fate worse than death. Query to those raised or relocated to Gotham: Is it such a place that would bleed out the Andy (or Esther, or Tootie) in all of us? Watching a Hardy makes me want to give my hick town a hug.

Birthday Celebration On The Set

A mild shock in Debutante is Andy calling his father a back wood failure to the old man's face, a slur to Judge Hardy and contrary to what we knew of “Lewis Stone,” that in quotes as his was persona built from silent ground up, us watching every step of a versatile way. To a widest spread of the audience, that is representing all ages, “Lewis Stone” was no rube, nor failure, or even old. His was a rock of integrity as Judge Hardy, but that was not always so. “Lewis Stone” had kept mistresses (Inspiration), broke homes (Their Own Desire), compromised onscreen Garbo, plus plenty I forget, but 1940 viewership had not. Stone saw virtually every change visited upon films and rode them all out. His had been half a dozen distinct images since beginning in 1915. Never will forget the image of stricken Stone flat on his front lawn after running off J.D.’s tossing rocks in his pool, the finish as recorded in a dreadful Babylon book by ghoul-at-large Kenneth Anger (many photos from which haunt me to this day).

William Powell with New Wife Diana Lewis

Rooney said in his book that Metro used him like a field hand through peak of wicket standing; he worked one night to 3AM on Andy Hardy Meets Debutante despite forswear he’d not. MGM brass strung Mick along by telling him what a "grand trouper" he was. Could stress, lack of rest, bad diet, have raised those cold sores MR habitually had on his lower lip? HD-TCM broadcasts make them clinically clear. It’s not just War of Worlds wires High-Def has gifted us, or maybe I look too close for flaws on Hollywood porcelain. Torrid tiltings with Norma Shearer were said by Rooney to have begun around this time, graphic account of which is in his book, but later Mick said he had just been funning us, or the publisher forced the lies on him, or whatever fiction he/we choose to embrace. Rooney spent much resentment over millions he earned for Metro (extent of which he exaggerated to almost comic degree) for which he got back not near enough ( … to support bookies, slow-gaited ponies). Again to Diana Lewis, a rose Metro-grown till fellow contractee William Powell plucked her for his bride, a marriage to last a rest of his life. Did Leo resent having merchandise carried away after time, effort, and dollars developing it? Guess this was inventory written off, factored into yearly overhead, keeping Powell happy valued above making a lower or mid-level star of Diana Lewis.


Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Your column is an interesting reminder that Mickey Rooney was not the top-billed star of the Andy Hardy pictures, as he would have you believe, and that Lewis Stone got pride of place.

I wonder if Rooney might have been telling the truth about his relationship with Judy Garland. The familiar newsreel footage of Mickey and Judy sharing the spotlight at at an opening night has Mickey giving Judy a big kiss, and when they break, Judy is wide-eyed and pleasantly surprised. I've also seen in at least one celebrity biography a reference to Judy calling Mickey, asking him to visit on the night before her wedding to David Rose. Between the lines I thought Judy was giving Mickey a chance to propose himself before it was too late. Rooney might well have been keeping his distance.

Your reference to Diana Lewis's height surprised me. Then I realized why she worked with Buster Keaton, as did other petite leading ladies (Dorothy Appleby, Kathryn McGuire, etc.).

Three intriguing points in one article, John! Very good reading, as always.

8:43 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

I am reminded of the story in which Rooney appeared at a Hollywood celebrity show. Upon leaving for the day (after stuffing, I'm sure, non-reported twenty dollar bills into every pocket he had), he stopped in the hotel gift shop and asked the girl behind the counter if she sold a certain type of cologne. She answered yes and handed him a bottle. Mick broke the seal, splashed a bit of the stuff on his person and walked out, leaving the employee responsible for having to pay for the expensive fragrance. Fortunately, a bystander witnessed the incident, cared enough to purchase the bottle (since Mickey had actually touched it), thus saving the girl probably half a week's pay.

The fall from his high perch to the basement had to be devastating to Rooney.

9:52 AM  
Blogger Tommie Hicks said...

That first image in this essay appears to be a slide. I have assumed that slides faded out about 1930. How long did the slides last? I know most slides shown in cinemas back in the day were for local businesses. The Robey in Spencer WV (one of the longest continually operating cinemas in the US), still shows still image adds, albeit electronically, of local businesses.

10:01 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Tommie, to your inquiry regarding slides, this color image for ANDY HARDY MEETS DEBUTANTE is actually from an 8X10 "Color-Glos," as are all the color scenes illustrating this post. MGM issued Colr-Glos still sets during the early 40's, had done so from time to time in the 30's, and would revive the format on occasion even into the 50's.

10:19 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

They used to run all the Hardy films on local TV when I was a kid, saw most of 'em but they always stuck in my craw. Finally swore them off and have not returned since the 60's. Perhaps I should give them another look. I must confess the one continuing character who interested me was girlfriend Polly, as I had a mild old-movie-star-crush on Ann Rutherford (sorry, John!) Liked her in the Red Skelton pictures too.

Henry Aldrich! Now, there was a series! Often hilarious.

12:18 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

In the 2019 movie "Judy", Garland (Rennee Zelwigger) is caught mid-sentence admitting, as I recall, she and Mickey doing the deed twice.

2:24 PM  
Blogger Brother Herbert said...

Glad I'm not the only one haunted by that image of Stone from the Anger book. Sadly his death manner is what persists when I hear his name. Same with Albert Dekker.

2:59 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Depression and wartime audiences may well have been going more for Hardy's idealized world than for any story. Haven't seen "Andy Hardy Comes Home", but in hindsight it sounds like a doomed idea. In '58 they had a choice between destroying the fantasy of the old home town (the very fact of Judge Hardy dying and Andy being a stumpy adult with a notorious offscreen love life), or clinging to it in a way that would have seemed insulting or delusional.

In our own time a generation grew up vicariously attending Hogwarts with Harry Potter; a lot of the merchandise mimics real-world alumni gear. The cynic in me imagines young adults who've discarded their real high school memorabilia but still sport Hogwarts scarves.

3:51 PM  
Blogger Tommie Hicks said...

Someone had hired Rooney to do a commentary track for a DVD anthology of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. They paid Rooney a pile and put him up in a fancy hotel near the recording venue. Rooney was to do a commentary track for the episode he was in. When they rolled the tape the next day, all Rooney would say was "It was forty friggin' years ago. I don't remember it at all. I don't remember a thing about it".

10:22 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

RE Tommie Hicks
Judging from that anecdote, Mr. Rooney was an honest man.

7:38 AM  
Blogger Dan Oliver said...

An honest man would have told them that when they offered him the money.

10:49 AM  
Blogger Neely OHara said...

My late husband interviewed Rooney (he wouldn’t allow it to be called an audition) for a production of House Of Blue Leaves. He recalled that MR referred to himself in the third person, i.e. “Mickey Rooney wouldn’t do that bit of business..., etc...”. The result, I imagine, of having been a commodity since the age of three.

12:02 PM  
Blogger Michael J. Hayde said...

"The cynic in me imagines young adults who've discarded their real high school memorabilia but still sport Hogwarts scarves."

There's nothing wrong with that. No reason not to celebrate something that has cultural importance and resonates emotionally with your youth. I'm old enough to be a grandfather, and tickled to have discarded "official" Superman T-shirts in favor of custom ones that replicate the George Reeves 'S' design.

12:20 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

I'm with Dave K. I have a very low tolerance for the Hardy series. Every time TCM runs a batch of 'em, I think, "Okay, this time I'll watch," and after about a half-hour, am more than done.

Stone is one of those actors who more than lives up to his name: solid, stoic, stern, humorless, and with the emotional range of a fire hydrant.

I wish TCM -- or someone -- would give us the Aldrich series. I never see James Lydon or Charles Smith without thinking of those films fondly, though I don't know if they'll hold up (haven't seen them in nearly 50 years) as poorly as the Blondie series did when I finally re-watched them (though King Features's packaging of them did them no favors).

3:14 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

I right there with you, Michael J. Hayde.

7:56 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Lewis Stone while the top billed star was not the star most patrons of the day went to the movies to see nor is he the star we tune in to watch. Sticking a shop girl for the cost of the cologne was a poor thing to do. Thanks for the post.

6:13 PM  

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