Thursday, July 28, 2011

My Favorite Actors are Singers; My Favorite Singers are Actors!

Some of my favorite actors are singers and some of my favorite singers are actors and, more often than not, they are one in the same. I don't know what it is, but something about being a good singer makes for a good actor. Maybe it's because a singer is acting a story in a song and must do so on an intensely personal level. It just seems that many performers who are chiefly singers seem to have a naturalness before the camera that is comfortable and intimate. Whatever the reason, they display an ease that is irresistible. Here are a few of my favorites. These performers seem to be able to do it all!

Judy Garland

For me, she is the greatest Hollywood star There was nothing - nothing this woman couldn't do. Singing? No contest. Dancing? Do you hear Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly complaining? Beautiful? Yes. Acting? Matchless. Oh, Judy, let me count the ways!

1. Comedy: Judy was a superb comedienne and was well known to have a terrific sense of humor in real life. Her perfect execution of a Buster Keaton-choreographed routine in "The Good Old Summertime" is hilarious, as is her dancing with an over-amorous but under-sized partner in "Meet Me in St. Louis."
2. Dancing: Did you see her "Be a Clown" in "The Pirate"? "A Couple of Swells" in "Easter Parade"? Or how about "Get Happy" in "Summer Stock"?
3. Beauty: Those big brown eyes, that turned up nose, that adorable smile and laugh. And those legs! She should have thought more of herself, but being surrounded by Lana Turner, Ava Gardner and Elizabeth Taylor at MGM made her feel like an ugly duckling. Someone should have told her that inner beauty shows on the screen, too.
4. Acting: Catch Judy in "The Clock" and tell me this woman was not a brilliant actress. And, if that doesn't do it for for you, check out  "A Star is Born." Actors can study for years and never come close to this woman's ability to make you feel.

Academy Award Nominations: "A Star is Born," "Judgment at Nuremberg"
Academy Award Wins: Juvenile Academy Award for "The Wizard of Oz."

Doris Day
I believe that Doris day is the most under-rated of stars. While not as intense and emotional as Judy, there is virtually nothing Doris cannot do.

1. Comedy: Her strong suit (next to singing). She had great timing and always made her co-stars look good. In film after film she showed them all how it should be done: light as a feather and full of fun.
2. Dancing: Before Doris embarked on a singing career she harbored dreams of becoming a dancer. Her dreams were cut short by an injury, but Doris still had the moves. She did some fine dancing in "Love Me or Leave Me," but she also did some great bad dancing in that film - and that is not easy to do!
3. Beauty - no need to elaborate here. In addition to her lovely face, Doris had a knockout figure and was a great clotheshorse. Her style, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, was the envy of women everywhere.
4. Acting: Everything Doris does looks effortless. When given a role with some meat, she was perfection. "Love Me or Leave Me" is my favorite Doris Day performance, followed by "Calamity Jane" and "The Pajama Game." Alfred Hitchcock, who directed her in "The Man Who Knew too Much," was not an easy man to please and he had nothing but praise for Doris. That pretty much sums it up.
Academy Award Nominations: "Pillow Talk"

Bing Crosby
The granddaddy of them all - so much talent and ability wrapped in the smoothest, coolest most likable personality that ever appeared in movies. In case you need reminding, Bing was an unbelievably huge mega-star whose celebrity topped the charts in recordings,on radio, in film and TV. He was never once caught "acting," but could act anyone off the screen without breaking a sweat. Just dial "O" for O'Malley.
1. Comedy: Bing had a special talent for comedy. He knew his way around a funny line, especially when paired with buddy Bob Hope, and kept the box office humming in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.
2. Dancing: This is one area where Bing gives a game effort, but falls short. Both he and Frank Sinatra (more about him in a bit), seem to only be able to dance below the waist. The upper torso did not cooperate. Oh well, I'll just close my eyes and listen.
3. Beauty: Is there any wonder those young gals swooned for this crooner in the 1930s? Did you see those big baby blues? Bing was mighty attractive and it was never hard to believe that he would end up with Dorothy Lamour (well, most of the time!).
4. Acting: Effortless, no matter how light or heavy. Comedy and musicals were a given, but he could tug at your heart in "Going My Way," and handle the heavy going in "Man on Fire," and "The Country Girl."

Academy Award Nominations: "Going My Way," "The Bells of St. Mary," and "The Country Girl."
Academy Award Win: "Going My Way"

Frank Sinatra
Well ring-a-ding-ding, the Chairman of the Board was a real movie star (besides being one of the greatest recording artists of all time). Frankie showed them all with cool, style and real acting talent. Really, is it fair that one man should be blessed with so much talent? Good thing he decided to share it with us! While movie stardom was just a fraction of what made him famous, he left quite a celluloid legacy of great performances. Miss you like mad, Frankie.

1. Comedy: Frank was an old hand at the funny stuff and could stand toe-to- toe with any funnyman in the business. "Come Blow Your Horn," "High Society" and "On the Town" were extra delightful for his presence.
2. Dancing: See Bing Crosby! Watch Frank and Gene Kelly in "One the Town." Frank's feet are doing the same steps as Gene's, but that upper torso is strictly immobile! At least he did it with a smile.
3. Beauty: I think Frank got better looking as he got older, but try to tell that to the thousands of bobby-soxers who thought he was the living end!
4. Acting: When given the right part (and when he was in the right mood), he was superb. "Pal Joey," "Guys and Dolls," (shouldn't he have been Sky Masterson?), "The Joker is Wild," "The Man with the Golden Arm," "The Manchurian Candidate," and, of course, "From Here to Eternity" - all home runs.

Academy Award Nominations: "From Here to Eternity," "The Man with the Golden Arm"
Academy Award Win: "From Here to Eternity"

Shirley Jones
A favorite of mine who came to the screen at the tail end of the great musical era in films. There is never a false note in her singing or acting. She was the fresh faced ingenue of "Oklahoma" and "Carousel," but could do the hefty lifting in the acting department when given a chance.

1. Comedy: While Shirley was not known as a funny lady, her appearances in musicals required a bit of a hand for comedy. And just in case you need a reminder, her Marian the Librarian was quite an amusing little minx.
2. Dancing: Again, her Marian the Librarian does tear up the library in "The Music Man," and quite nicely, I might add.
3. Beauty: High marks in this department. Shirley was and is an incredible beauty.
4. Acting: while not usually called upon to do anything but sing and be wholesome, sweet and lovely, Shirley's performance as the unlucky Julie in "Carousel" was moving and, playing against type, she showed them all what she was capable of as a prostitute in "Elmer Gantry."

Academy Award Nominations: "Elmer Gantry"
Academy Award Win: "Elmer Gantry"

Barbra Streisand
Second only to Judy as a great screen musical talent. However, since musicals were becoming a thing of the past when Barbra took front and center, she really got to show off her acting (and directing) ability. She has a legion of fans who worship her and she deserves it. The woman is unique, a great actress and one of the finest singers ever.

1. Comedy: Well, she is "Funny Girl" and "Funny Lady." Barbra is a natural comedienne with a self-deprecating sense of humor that can't help but make you smile. Her Fanny Brice in both films is funny and dramatic, but she was just plain funny in "What's Up Doc?"
2.Dancing: Barbra did what she had to do in "Hello Dolly," but can you forget her "Roller Skate Rag" from "Funny Girl"? Takes talent to do that!
3. Beauty: Barbra is unique and not your conventional beauty, but I think she is beautiful. She shows all other unusual girls that beauty is in your individuality and personality, not in a perfect nose.
4. Acting: Even if Barbra did not sing like an angel, she would have made it as a great actress. Aside from her Fanny Brice roles, she did great acting jobs in "The Way We Were," and in  "The Prince of Tides," and "Yentl" (both of which she also directed).

Academy Award Nominations: "Funny Girl," "The Way We Were" and for the song, "Evergreen" from "A Star is Born"
Academy Award wins: "Funny Girl" and "Evergreen" from "A Star is Born"


Elvis Presley
Elvis was a genuine movie star with real on-screen charisma. Too bad he did't get to appear in good films, but he was always fun. We know he could sing, and move, but he was also a very funny fellow who could also handle the acting if given half a chance. In truth, his movies usually stunk, but Elvis always transcended the trash. "King Creole" was halfway good and "Viva Las Vegas" was great fun. If only he was given better chances.

Academy Award Nominations: None
Academy Award Win: None (oh well!)

Cher is another performer who can do it all. Sadly, her screen time has been limited, but when she gets a good role the woman is dynamite! She is beautiful, funny and, although she is a singer, rarely sings in her films. Everyone doubted her, but she has shown herself to be a natural. She is utterly and impossibly believable as the biker mom in "Mask," the spell-binding sculptress in "The Witches of Eastwick," and the Italian-American widow in "Moonstruck." The only thing wrong with Cher is that she does not make enough movies.

Academy Award Nominations: "Silkwood," "Moonstruck"
Academy Award Win: "Moonstruck"

Other great voices who could hold their own on screen: Dean Martin, Bette Midler, Jeanette McDonald, Gordon MacRae, Alice Faye and Deanna Durbin. Did I miss one of your favorites?

I guess if you have the music in you, you can do anything!


Caftan Woman said...

Excellent post. I agree with your thoughts about the personal nature of expressing yourself musically.

Although not known as a singer (he could carry a tune), I put musician turned actor Fred MacMurray in that group. He could play all the notes perfectly, no matter what the role. You need it light? Dark? Physical? Thoughtful? Whatever it called for he, and fellow musicians, could find it.

FlickChick said...

Wow - I didn't know Fred was a musician. Just goes to show you - that musical talent means they can do it all.

Caftan Woman said...

Fred started out playing saxophone in bands, and that's how he came to Hollywood. He still played sax on "My Three Sons". You can catch him singing in "The Princess Comes Across" with Carole Lombard, a terrific mystery spoof/romance set on a luxury liner. William Frawley from "My Three Sons" is in the movie as well.

FlickChick said...

Now that you mention it, I do remember him playing the sax on "My Three Sons," but didn't realize that he actualy started as a musician. I am now going to look for the music in his acting performances! Thanks for the great information.

Diane said...

Oh how I loved this post and love all the music people in it. All of them have made me happy and even sang a tune or two in the shower!

FlickChick said...

Everyone sounds good when singing in the shower - but I doubt I could sound like Barbra or Judy!

The Lady Eve said...

Great blog concept! I was curious who would turn up in your post...and they're all here: Garland, Day, Crosby, Sinatra, Streisand, etc. (tho I'm not a particular fan of Cher or Elvis). Great performers on stage, film, TV. Some on Broadway. Would I love to have seen Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra in person...but you do have me thinking of buying Judy's CBS TV series. A really singular variety show. Thanks again...

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Lady Eve. It's amazing, but without any pretense of being "actors," performers like Judy, Frank, Doris & Bing just blew the acting competition away.

Christian Esquevin said...

A great group FlickChick. I especially like Shirley Jones, and Judy Garland too. And I agree about Fred MacMurray. Irene Dunne was another great one although she is sometimes overlooked. And since you started with Jean Hagan, how about a list of triple threats - singing, acting, and dancing!

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Christian. Agreed that Irene Dunne belongs in a choir of angels. And so glad you like Shirley - she is so talented and lovely. She came along a little too late, but she was wonderful in all of her films.

LucieWickfield said...

I must say, I nearly wept when I read your section on Judy Garland. So many people dismiss her as the cute teen who played Dorothy, without recognizing the tremendous scope of her talent. Have you seen her in Presenting Lily Mars? The scene where she impersonates her russian co-star is superbly hilarious.

FlickChick said...

@ Lucie: Judy could do anything - and brilliantly. Period.

Mark said...

Enjoyed your post very much, and your write-ups on some of my favorite movie singers. Would have enjoyed more attention being paid to some of the "classical" singing stars, especially the underrated Deanna Durbin, who, as Mel Torme opined "was phenomenal. Possessed of a glorious operatic voice, she could and did sing anything put in front of her to perfection."

Of all the great singing stars of the Studio Era, Durbin was the one who had to rely most exclusively on her singing/acting talent to become and remain a star. She was almost always the only singer (and usually the only musical presence) in her films, and, unlike Garland, Day, Streisand, Sinatra, Kelly and the others, she seldom had elaborate production numbers and comparably talented co-stars to help her "sell" her musical performances to audiences.

With only six months under contract to MGM behind her, she became an immediate superstar on both radio and movies, becoming the first true adolecent film superstar and America's first "Teen Idol."

I think she still holds the record for the most consecutive film box office hits attributed to a single star. On her 15th birthday, she was offered an audition by the Metropolitan Opera, which she turned down! And after being publicly credited with saving financially desperate Universal from bankruptcy, she went on to become the highest paid woman in the U.S. for several years.

Her career and talent, and the impact she had on Hollywood and popular culture in general, are ripe for re-appraisal.

FlickChick said...

@Mark: I totally agree that Durbin is ripe for re-appraisal. This is another case of how someone wildly popular in their time is barely mentioned today. Although not forgotten, Crosby is usually "dissed" today - his huge popularity in all mediums almost unnoticed or unknown. I do like Deanna and promise to pursue her more vigorously!