Born to Dance

This classic is from 1936 and stars James Stewart & Eleanor Powell.

This is the only musical Stewart ever appeared in and the only movie where he sang a complete song.

Cole Porter picked Stewart for the male lead and had another singer ready to dub his voice, but decided that Stewart sang “Easy to Love” well enough and it is Stewart’s voice you’ll hear.

Stewart later said, "The song had become such a huge hit that even MY singing wouldn't hurt it." Powell’s singing is dubbed.

Some of the musical numbers were recorded in stereo, making it one of the first films to use multi-channel technology.

James Stewart (or Jimmie, a nickname, by the way, that he reportedly hated) was nominated for five Academy Awards, and won a Best Actor award in 1940 for The Philadelphia Story.

When he won the Oscar, he sent it to his father in Indiana, Pennsylvania, who kept it on a shelf in his hardware store for the next 25 years.

Stewart also had a distinguished military career and was a World War II and Vietnam War veteran. In 1940, Stewart was drafted but then rejected because he didn’t meet the weight requirements for new recruits—Stewart weighed 143 pounds, the minimum was 148 pounds. Notice how thin he is thias film.

He went on a weight-gaining diet and was eventually accepted into the Army in March 1941, and became the first major American movie star to wear a military uniform in World War II. While Stewart served as an officer, one of the sergeants in his unit was Walter Matthau.

During the course of World War II , he rose to the rank of Colonel, first as an instructor here in the US, and later on combat missions in Europe. He remained involved with the US Air Force Reserve after the war and retired in 1959 as a Brigadier General.

During the war, his hair started to recede and by the early 1950s, he was wearing a toupee for all his movie roles.

He became famous for his westerns and in most of those, Stewart liked to ride the same horse, named Pie, and he also liked to wear the same hat.

Director John Ford complained on the set of Two Rode Together: "Great, now I have actors with hat approval!". In that film, Stewart and co-star Richard Widmark both wore toupees and both had hearing problems.

Ford was frustrated that the two stars couldn’t hear his directions and said, "Fifty years in this damn business, and I end up directing two deaf hairpieces!"

While always gracious with his fans, Stewart was very protective of his privacy.
One time a nervy family of tourists set up a picnic on his front lawn. Stewart came out of his house and, without saying a word, turned on the sprinklers and went back inside.

He appeared in almost 100 movies and was one of the most respected actors in Hollywood. When he died in 1997, at the age of 89, over 3000 people, mostly celebrities, attended his funeral.

Eleanor Powell, playing Nora, a dancer since childhood, was discovered at the age of 11. When she was 17, she went to Broadway, where she starred in various revues and musicals.

She was dubbed "the world's greatest tap dancer" because of her machine-gun footwork but she preferred ballet and an acrobatic dance style and didn’t tap dance in her early career.

But tap became the rage and, after losing several roles, she decided that she needed to learn. Because of her aerial style, she learned to tap by wearing Army surplus belts with sandbags, like a divers weight belt, to keep her feet on the ground.

A few years later, Powell & Fred Astaire danced to Cole Porter's Begin the Beguine, which is considered one of the greatest tap sequences in film history.

Reports at the time said that Astaire was intimidated by Powell, she was the only female dancer who could out-dance him.

Powell only made 14 films but her movies delighted depression-era audiences with her endless energy and enthusiasm. In the late 1930s, MGM was headed for bankruptcy, but her movies were so popular that she is credited with saving the studio.

She married Glenn Ford in 1943 and retired from show business to raise their son, actor Peter Ford.

Buddy Ebsen, playing Mush, is an actor you’ll recognize from television…... but before achieving fame on TV, he was a song & dance man in the 1930s and 40s.

He was originally offered the role of the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, probably because of his awkward dance style, but then he agreed to switch roles with Ray Bolger, who was cast as the Tin Man.

Ebsen recorded all his songs, went through all the rehearsals, and started filming but had a serious reaction to the aluminum dust used in the silver makeup and was replaced by Jack Haley.

In 1938, MGM offered him a seven-year contract, starting at $2,000 a week, but it gave the studio absolute control over his career, which was standard for the studio system back then.

But Ebsen turned it down and studio head Louis B. Mayer blackballed him for nearly 20 years. Finally, in 1955, he got a role as Fess Parker’s sidekick, on the Disney TV show Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier.

But his real fame came later in two of his own hit TV series; as Jed Clampett in The Beverly Hillbillies and Barnaby Jones. He was an outspoken Republican, and he helped defeat Nancy Kulp, his co-star (as Miss Jane Hathaway) on The Beverly Hillbillies, in her 1984 Democratic congressional bid in Pennsylvania.

He made radio ads for her opponent, calling her “too liberal” and the two didn’t speak for years afterward, but…..they did eventually settle their differences. Ebsen was also an avid sailor and taught sailing to US Navy officer candidates and he competed in the TransPacific sailing race from LA to Hawaii.

Tonight’s musical director was the legendary Alfred Newman, one of the most Oscar-nominated musicians in Hollywood history. His films include Airport, Camelot, How The West Was Won, The King & I and dozens more.

He also composed the 20th Century Fox logo theme that is still used today.
The uncle of today’s singer/composer Randy Newman, he was nominated for an Academy Award 20 years in a row, from 1938 to 1957, including a 9-year stretch when he was nominated for at least two different movie scores every year.

In 1940, he received 4 Oscar nominations for 4 different films! Until 2006, when John Williams received his 44th and 45th nominations, Newman held the record for the most Oscar-nominated composer/conductor ever, with 43, and he won nine Oscars in all.

One last note: one of the chorus girls tonight got the part after being named Queen of the 1936 Texas State Fair. She was crowned by Ginger Rogers and part of the prize for winning was a bit part in an MGM film. Unfortunately, she never made it into another film.