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Ziegfeld FolliesHTF.JPG
David Weicker

Ziegfeld FolliesHTF.JPG

In the musical Ziegfeld Follies (1946) only a studio like Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer who had the musical talent both on-screen and off-screen under contract to the studio certainly could afford the monetary expense of such an endeavor. Looking back on the film today its mostly remembered for the musical dance routines by some of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's greatest stars. Of all the performers that were cast in the film Judy Garland always stands out in one of her very best routines "A Great Lady Has An Interview." The sketch was written by Arthur Freed's resident urbane and witty sophisticates: Roger Edens and Kay Thompson. Vincente Minnelli directed the number while originally the musical number was conceived as a gentle parody of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's "Great Lady", Greer Garson. Both her husband Richard Ney and her mother talked her out of performing the skit explaining that it was, "No, it's not for you, dear" so Edens and Thompson reworked the idea to mark Garland's definitive transformation from everyone's favorite girl-next-door to grown-up sophisticate. Now that Garson decided not to do the number it became a number about Garson, lampooning her accent, image, and her dramatic roles. However, the satire was all in good fun, in large part due to the lyrics by Kay Thompson
Though, this was Thompson's first credit on a Judy Garland performance, she had been working with Garland since befriending the young starlet on a radio show in 1939. On top of a successful nightclub career, Thompson would become Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's top vocal arranger and vocal coach, working with Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, June Allyson, and many more. Thompson would not only provide the musical number with a scintillating, ahead-of-its-time be-bop sound but also help Garland find the comedic nuances of the piece. Garland impersonates a cross between: Greta Garbo, Gertrude Lawrence, Katherine Cornell and Beatrice Lillie. Garland portrays a screen legend who meets the press to announce her latest project as she coyly reveals it to be "a monumental biographical tribute to a monumental biographical woman," Madame Crematante - who starved, slaved and pioneered in a Dutch garret whose "magnificent discovery" has benefited the world. That invention was the safety pin. If anything Garland conjures up one specific star in her mannerisms, Tallulah Bankhead. As an imperious coquette, she charms her courtiers with endearments in her trombone-voice, posing, striking attitudes of picturesque hauteur as one immaculately coiffed curl droops purposefully across her forehead. The choreography was staged by Charles Walters that brings a nice rapport between Garland and the all-male dancing gentlemen of the press who are there to interview a Great Lady while paying homage to her Greatness. The set design is both spare and yet overwrought at the same time. Garland makes a regal entrance from a hallway while framing her figure against a glowing crimson background. But its Garland's speech where she gives equal stress to the syllables of words which has a halting, over enunciated and unnatural cadence that is wrapped up in the Great Lady's haughty self-importance. Garland's vocal arrangement of her patter with the chorus boys segues back and forth between patter and singing, all of it contribute to the elegance and eloquence of the musical number. Ziegfeld Follies gave Judy Garland a more glamorous, even sexier appearance befitting her maturity and stature as a top-box-office star. As the chorus boys arrive they explain to the butler that "We don't mean Greta and we don't mean Betta/or Loretta or the Song of Bernadetta." When all members of the press arrive they sing in unison, "She's stupendous, commodious, colossal, terrific!/She's got it! But definitely!"
Even at the age at the age of twenty-three, she is able to conjure up the requisite note of mock-dragon-lady chichi. Moreover, her own unmistakable youth and freshness give extra emphasis to the point of the joke. Flouncing around contemplating the allure of cheesecake over Academy Awards, Garland muses, "What does Betty Grable have that I have not? And what is Ginger Rogers that I am not?" As she explains that she would "like to be a pin-up girl, a cheesecake girl, too." She also wonders if her public would quite forgive her if, "I tried to show the world I'm really hep."
As the chorus boys' clapping becomes more rhythmic which establishes a beat. In fervent recitative, she sums up Madame's travails and triumphs, a cappella save for the staccato applause of her hipster hallelujah chorus, bounding over each others' shoulders the better to attend the Star. Garland's tribute to "the lady with the great invent" is peppered with delicious business - her genteel bump and grind with eyes cast heavenward, as she declares "No baby can do without it," her look of peeve as, in the midst of a climactic high note, the chorus boys encircle her to insist on another final chorus. Garland is glorious in this pale blue, impeccably silky draped gown designed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's top costume designer Irene. Notice the split skirt to allow for dancing, the two trains falling from the back, the slight dolman sleeves, and the huge diamond free-form necklace. The acrobatics of Charles Walters' choreography is delightfully suave, but it's Minnelli's camera work that gives the song its exhilarating momentum. Throughout the number, there is no internal cutting--the last half of the sequence is filmed in one long shot lasting three minutes, the camera swooping around Garland and the cast up to the last instant, when it tracks through a thicket of ecstatically thrust arms to a close-up of this droll Legend, simpering beguilingly above a swarm of white feathers. This and "Limehouse Blues" were the two episodes that had show biz reverberations beyond the natural life of this film. Limehouse -- itself influenced by Oklahoma's innovations in the theater--set the example for a decade of screen dream ballets. Meanwhile, the sound and style of Garland's virtuoso turn was recapitulated by Lana Turner in Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town which premiered on February 14, 1954 which was saluting MGM's 30th anniversary the number was the program's finale. Turner's four chorus boys were new contract actors: Edmund Purdom, Steve Forrest, John Ericson and Richard Anderson. In 1958, Ann Miller recreated the same musical number also on television in 1958 to good notices. Then Kay Thompson herself redid the the number in her celebrated cabaret act of the late 1950's, and echoed in the Broadway of the 1960's with Stephen Sondheim's opening number in the 1964 musical Anyone Can Whistle as a direct, affectionate homage, At the time, it simply signaled a triumphant step forward as Garland's evolution's the silver screen's most prodigal musical Star.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was probably the only Hollywood studio that would spend $3,403,388 million dollars on a Ziegfeld Follies revue-type musical it was a gambled that paid off handsomely for the studio the box-office was over $5.3 million dollars. In London the musical played at the Empire Theater which was its biggest hit for 1946, playing to nearly 112,000 movie goers in three weeks time.
 

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David Weicker
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