Thursday, August 23, 2012

Gene Kelly in Marjorie Morningstar: Dig That Heel!

This is my contribution to the Gene Kelly Centennial Blogathon, hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association, honoring the actor, director, choreographer and all around charmer's 100th birthday. To view the other fantastic contributions about all things Gene, click here.
Not the Gene Kelly I first fell in love with
We all know Gene Kelly is one of the very best dancers in the history of musical film, his only serious rival being the incomparable Fred Astaire (you can easily switch their names in this sentence). Who doesn't love Gene in the rain, Gene in Paris or Gene in his Navy whites?

However, the Gene I first fell in love with is a drop dead gorgeous, doomed, womanizing heel by the name of Noel Airman in 1958's "Marjorie Morningstar." Back in the 1960s, local TV stations easily obtained rights to less than classic films. So, as an impressionable and tender tween stuck at home on a rainy Saturday afternoon, I was introduced to May-December love with all of the glamour and caution Hollywood could provide. It planted a seed of a romantic vision that never left me.
Based on Herman Wouk's 1955 novel of the same name, "Marjorie Morningstar" tells the tale of nice Jewish girl Marjorie Morgenstern and her desire to live the life of an artist and break free from the conventions of the life her parents planned for her. We first meet Marjorie (played by an endearing, yearning Natalie Wood) as a lovely but restless student at Hunter College. She rejects the perfectly nice boy she is dating because she wants more than the predictable life he offers. You see, Marjorie wants to be an actress.

The restless Marjorie and her trouble-making friend, Marsha (played by Carolyn Jones) spend their summer as counselors at a girl's camp in upstate New York. Egged on by Marsha, the 2 girls sneak across the lake to an adult camp called "Southwind." This was the era of the Jewish Alps and the Borscht Belt, terms for resorts where performers went to learn their craft. There, Marjorie meets Noel Airman, the camp's social director and admitted big fish in the little pond. Marjorie also strikes up a friendship with Airman protege and aspiring playwright Wally Wronkin (Martin Milner), but Marjorie falls madly in love with Noel and he with her. He basks in her adoration and her belief in his genius and he encourages her to transform from Marjorie Morgenstern to Marjorie Morningstar (just as he had changed his name from Ehrman to Airman).
Marjorie and Wally openly adore Noel
And thus begins the undoing of Noel Airman. Marjorie's love makes him take a respectable job in advertising, but the office life is not for him. Cruelly, he cheats on Marjorie and flaunts his fling in her face. Still, Noel and Marjorie manage to patch thing up. When former protege Wally pens a hit play, Airman finally takes the leap into the big pond of Broadway professionals with his show "Princess Jones" and fails miserably. He goes back to Southwind, where he once again can be the object of the young girls' adoration and the big fish in the little pond. Marjorie reluctantly faces the truth and leaves him behind while faithful Wally, who has loved her all along, is waiting for her.
He knew the romance was doomed from the start
So, here we have Gene, the egotistical, womanizing, romantic loser - and I love him! He is every young woman's fantasy older man: gorgeous, charming and not too old. I remember feeling envious of Marjorie. If she had to have a doomed love affair, at least it was with Gene Kelly! I know that "Marjorie Morningstar" hardly registers as a blip on either Kelly's or Wood's resumes, but, being that tender, romantic tween at first viewing, I never forgot it. Gene does do some dancing in the film, but it's just a brief scene or two. Imagine how thrilled I was to later learn how well Gene could really dance! 

There are 3 things in this film that I can never forget.

One was Gene's rendition of "A Very Precious Love." I still know all the words. Sigh...
Another was Natalie's metallic weave black one-piece bathing suit that I coveted for years (and which sold for $6,000 at auction)
And, the last was the discovery that Gene was one great kisser.
All of this goes to show that Gene Kelly plays a great, sexy heel. This isn't news, since his great Broadway hit was as that all-time heel of heels, "Pal Joey." This darkness was also on display in "Les Girls" and "Christmas Holiday." 
Behind the blinding smile was a deep darkness that Kelly, the actor, "tapped" into with great result. He never was light as a feather, even when dancing. Instead, an earthly force seemed always to be pulling at him, making him conflicted, complex, intriguing, and oh-so desirable.

31 comments:

Samantha said...

This is great and the constant kissing is just yummy...

Rachel said...

Damn, that first MM still is pretty hot. And in the choice between Martin Milner and Gene Kelly, well, is it any wonder people would gravitate to the heel? Nice tribute.

KimWilson said...

I think all tween girls have one older man crush in their lives. Mine was William Devane, but Gene Kelly was a good choice, too. Kelly did plays cads well. Loved your post.

FlickChick said...

Hi Samantha - yes, repeated kisses by Gene ARE pretty yummy.

FlickChick said...

Rachel - I agree. Natalie just HAD to go for it!

FlickChick said...

Thanks a bunch, Kim. Gene sure was a sexy cad.

Elizabeth Boyde said...

"Oh-so desirable"

Oh yeah!

Great post :)

Dawn Sample said...

I really enjoyed watching Natalie Wood's performance, as a young, New York girl, trying to break into show business, in the 1950s.

Gene Kelly, I thought, maybe.. miscast as Marjorie's older lover, but.. his dance numbers are amazing as always.

said...

I have the link to the complete film on YouTube, but haven't watched yet for lack of time.
Nice to hear about your story. Even at 19, I still have crushes on "new" actors I know, like Tony Perkins or Tyrone Power.
Greetings!

Perry said...

From Gene Kelly's hometown of Pittsburgh I salute you for this well-done post. It didn't matter if he was a hero or heel, Gene was a charmer.

Classicfilmboy said...

Haven't seen this one but am familiar with it. I'll look it up sometime. Thanks for the review!

FlickChick said...

@ Elizabeth - oh yes he is!!!

FlickChick said...

@ Dawn - it is Natalie's movie, and i guess Gene doe look a tad uncomfortable in his role, but, gosh, he was gorgeous and heartbreaking - I totally fell for him (and am still falling).

FlickChick said...

@ Perry - yay Pittsburgh! And yes - Gene could never be less than charming whatever the role. thanks so much for stopping by.

FlickChick said...

Classicfilmboy - this one hardly gets shown these days. I'm on the lookout for it, myself.

FlickChick said...

@ Le - thanks so much for stopping by. New "old" crushes are always fun and we classic film lovers know all about that!

Christian Esquevin said...

Thanks for covering this offbeat Gene Kelly-Natalie Wood film. I haven't see it either, but will look for it. These type of films round out an actor's (or dancer's) career - so I think they are important too.

FlickChick said...

@ Christian: I had no choice but to pick this film - Gene lured me in. It's funny how an ordinary film can make such an impression on a youthful brain. Just thinking of this film melts my heart.

R. D. Finch said...

FlickChick, I haven't seen this for some time but recall it as being better than many people think. You had some most interesting thoughts on the dark side of Gene Kelly and how he tapped into this more than once. And your post certainly reminded me how gorgeous the young Natalie Wood was!

The Lady Eve said...

FlickChick, I don't remember the last time I saw "Marjorie Morningstar" and don't remember much about it. But you do remind me how poor Martin Milner always seemed to be the also-ran who only every so often won out in the end.

FlickChick said...

RD - Gene always seemed a bit dark to me, which made him so different than all of the other musical stars.

FlickChick said...

Lady Eve - alas, it's true...poor Martin Milner was always lurking in the background! but, with competition like Kelly, what chance did he have?

Caftan Woman said...

Your description of the desirable heel that was Gene Kelly has me sighing from the tip of my toes.

FlickChick said...

CW - a first crush never leaves you. sigh...

Page said...

Hiya FlickChick!
So sorry it's taken so long to get to the reviews.

Before I forget. I love your description of Gene here. Gorgeous. charming and not too old. Boy. if only my neighbor fit that description. He's just funny. Ha Ha

You've certainly given me a lot to consider where this film is concerned. I haven't seen it but because it's not your typical over bloated musical I think I would enjoy it. It certainly looks visually appealing from the screen stills you've provided and it sounds like it has an interesting plot. Perhaps I'll make it a point to see it before doing my bio on Gene later on down the road.

When I started having all of the computer issues I was so bummed that I wouldn't be able to do his bio. share his autograph and photos of mine then all of the research I did on his Hollywood homes. I feel better know knowing you covered so much and did such nice tributes on him. He would be proud.

Really nice contributions to the Blogathon. You've certainly put in a lot of work.

See ya soon!
Page

FlickChick said...

Hi Page! Thanks for the kind words and it's oh so good to have you back!

Ken Anderson said...

Loved this post! Charming, handsome, and a little rough around the edges, I've always thought Kelly made an almost too-convincing heel in this film. Though that side seemed to have been suppressed in most of his other roles, it's the things I've always perceived behind those gleaming smiles that has given credence to all those behind-the-scenes tales of how stern a task-master he could be. I loved your swoony remembrances of this film which brought back a few of my own.

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Ken. I agree that the heel was always there, sometimes just beneath the surface, but still there.

silverscreenings said...

This looks like a pretty good movie! I loved the book, and I'm pleased that they would cast Gene Kelly in the "heel" role. Great review.

FlickChick said...

silverscreenings - I guess it might be just a bit of a stretch to see Kelly as a nice Jewish boy gone bad, but I was blinded by his animal magnetism. Can you blame me?

Lisa said...

I'm sorry I didn't see this until now! I also love this movie and Gene's performance in it, but evidently originally the role was offered to Danny Kaye. Kaye was a logical choice, as his early career was started in the Catskills and at the time he was dabbling in more serious roles. Evidently he turned it down because it was perfect too close to his own background; I believe this is discussed in one of the Kelly biographies. As a Kaye fan I would have loved to see him do it -- he would have been magnificent if allowed to be -- but Gene Kelly is also terrific and very appealing. His dark side is indeed a sexy thing to see! Great post on an almost totally forgotten movie. Great Ed Wynn role, too, as the Uncle and Carolyn Jones also wonderful in it, and Milner, of course!
Thanks for writing this!