This is my entry in the Stage to Screen Blogathon hosted by the Rosebud Cinema and Rachel's Theater Reviews.
This article is a pastiche of several articles I have written about Marilyn Miller
Back in the 1920s it was inconceivable that Marilyn Miller would someday be largely forgotten. I came upon her quite by accident, seeing her name in books about early Hollywood musicals. I had no idea who this great Broadway star was or why she was so famous. After some furious research I got up to speed, read all I could lay my hands on about her and poured over tons of photos. She was a huge star! Why had I never heard of her? And - more important - how could I see her? Photos are one thing, but I hungered to see her perform.
|Marilyn Miller: One of Ziegfeld's greatest stars|
|The first Marilyn|
|Newlyweds Jack Pickford and Marilyn Miller|
Once movies were all talking, all singing, all dancing, Marilyn seemed a good bet for Hollywood stardom. "Sally" was brought to the screen by Warner Brothers in 1929 and Marilyn was famously part of the package. Her salary was exorbitant and her demands that of a diva. Thrifty Jack Warner acquiesced to her demands and fell for her charms. Marilyn was a gal who knew how to get what she wanted. Filmed entirely in early Technicolor, "Sally" only survived for many years in a tattered black and white version. Seeing Marilyn like this it is hard to fathom her appeal. She looks like a painted doll, as the Technicolor make-up looks flat and harsh in black and white. Added to unflattering looks, her singing voice is less than attractive. However, once she starts dancing, well, it all becomes clear. Filmed in full body shots like Fred Astaire a few years later, her love of dancing and entertaining cuts through all of the technical drawbacks of the era.
Her leading man, Alexander Gray, was a wooden manly baritone, but she has some sweet scenes with Joe E. Brown as a displaced royal down on his luck. One of the supporting stars is Pert Kelton, later the mom in another Broadway to Hollywood film, "The Music Man."
After 2 other films, Marilyn Miller headed back to Broadway. Musicals were dying at the box office and this diva was not interested in failure. Sadly, after one last stage triumph, Marilyn Miller would die in 1936 at the age of 38 from complications related to a sinus infection.
The footnote that Hollywood was to her fabulous career preserved her great stage success. The late twenties and early thirties movie musicals drew scores of Broadway performers to Hollywood. Most tried their luck and headed back east after one or two attempts. The stage and the screen have very little in common when it comes to star power. Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor, who found success in films, were the exceptions. Big stage stars like Fannie Brice, Gertrude Lawrence, Helen Morgan, The Duncan Sisters, Charles King, Harry Richman and Marilyn Miller came and went. In a twist of irony, the medium scorned by the stage served to preserve the work of these artists for future generations.
|Sally's famous "Butterfly Ballet" on Broadway. |
How great it would have been to see this in color