On The Town

This classic is from 1949 and stars Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin, Ann Miller, Betty Garrett and Vera-Ellen.


Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, the film was an instant success and won an Oscar for Best Music.


It is an adaptation of the Broadway stage musical of the same name from 1944.


This movie was the first time a major studio had filmed musical numbers in public areas in New York City.


Gene Kelly insisted that some scenes be shot in the city itself and the studio agreed, but gave them only a week. So the crew tried to keep the location filming as low key as possible; in fact, many of the scenes were filmed from the back of a station wagon.


But location shooting was a novelty and at the end of the"New York, New York" song, when the camera shows the bronze statue in Rockefeller Plaza, you can see people lined up along the wall watching the stars.


Stanley Donen was best known for this film as well as Singin' in the Rain, Charade and 7 Brides for 7 Brothers.


His last directing project was the Lionel Ritchie musicvideo Dancing on the Ceiling in 2003.


Betty Garrett, playing Sinatra’s love interest, Hildy the taxi driver, starred in several Hollywood musicals and had a great career ahead of her but got caught in the Communist scare of the 1950s after she admitted that she had joined the Communist party.


She moved to television and appeared on TV shows like All InThe Family, Laverne & Shirley & The Golden Girls - but her movie career never did recover.

On The Town was the screen debut of Alice Pearce, who plays Lucy Shmeeler, Hildy's congested roommate. She was the only original member of the Broadway cast to have the same role in the film.


Her performance in this film was so well received that she got her own variety show on television. But you’ll probably recognize her for her later role as Gladys Kravitz, the nosy neighbor on Bewitched.


Sadly, when she got the role on Bewitched, she had already been diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer. She kept her illness a secret and died during the show’s second season, at age 48. She won a posthumous Emmy for her role.


And by the way, The Lost Weekend mentioned was the Oscar winning film about an alcoholic.


Jules Munshin, who plays Ozzie, was a vaudeville and Broadway star who appeared in a few Hollywood musicals in the 1940s and on TV shows in the 50s & 60s.


He has a great inside joke in the movie - when Gene Kelly isn’t impressed by the beauty of a passing girl, Munshin asks, "Who you got waiting for you in New York, Ava Gardner?" At the time, their co-star, Frank Sinatra, was having an affair with Ava Gardner.


Vera-Ellen, playing Ivy Smith, Miss Turnstiles, is best remembered for her role in Bing Crosby’s White Christmas. She reportedly had the smallest waist in Hollywood in the 40s & 50s, and when she filmed White Christmas, it was said to be only 17”.


As a child, she went to the same Cincinnati ballroom dance studio as Doris Day and their parents used to carpool together to the dance studio.


Hans Conried, François the head waiter, was a member of Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre Company and also on The Rocky and BullwinkleShow, voicing the character of Snidely Whiplash in the Dudley Do-Right segments.


He also played Uncle Tonoose, on the Danny Thomas TV sitcom, Make Room for Daddy. When he died, he had his body donated to science.

 

The girl from Brooklyn on the subway complaining about working overtime is Bea Benaderet. In the days before TV, she provided the voices for hundreds of characters on radio shows like Fibber McGee and Molly and the Jack Benny Show.  She was also the original voice of Betty Rubble on The Flintstones.


Lucille Ball & Desin Arnaz wanted her to play Ethel Mertz on I Love Lucy but she had already committed to be on the George Burns and Gracie Allen TV show.


You may remember her as Pearl Bodine, Jethro’s mother, onThe Beverly Hillbillies. She also had a starring role in the 1960s TV series Petticoat Junction.


In 1967, she was diagnosed with cancer, and had to leave Petticoat Junction early. She died in 1968 and, on the day of her funeral, her husband suffered a heart attack and also died.

 

Playing the small role of Ivy’s hard-drinking Russian dance teacher is Florence Bates. She was from Texas, spoke Spanish fluently and before she got into acting, in 1914, at age 26, she passed the bar & became the first female lawyer in Texas.


Playing Ozzie’s girl, Claire, the anthropologist in the green dress, is Ann Miller, who had a long career as a singer & dancer in movies, on TV and on Broadway.


Her father was a well-known Texas criminal defense attorney who defended such gangsters as Baby Face Nelson and Bonnie and Clyde.


When she was born, her father had wanted a boy, so he named her Johnnie. She started taking dance classes to strengthen her legs after suffering from rickets and started show biz at an early age.


At 14, she signed a contract with RKO studios by using a fake birth certificate that showed her to be 18. Miller had 3 failed marriages and claimed her difficulty with men was due to her being an Egyptian queen in a past life and executing any man who displeased her.


She also claimed credit for a modern invention. She told a story about how each time she needed to dress fora dance number, the tops of her stockings had to be sewn to the costume she was wearing or they would slip down.


It was a tedious process that had to be repeated each time there was a run or a snag. One day, she suggested to the man supplying the stockings that he add a top to the stockings so they could be worn as one piece....and that's how pantyhose were born.


Her last role was at age 81, in 2001’s Mulholland Drive.

 

Carol Haney was Gene Kelly’s assistant choreographer on the film, who got her break playing Gladys Hotchkiss in The Pajama Game on Broadway in 1954.


The role brought her Broadway success and won her a Tony Award….but the role was an even bigger break for her understudy.


During the show’s run, Haney injured her leg and her understudy took over the role. Legendary Hollywood producer Hal Wallis, who had come to the show to see Haney, saw the understudy instead.


He gave that unknown understudy a movie contract that same night   -  and that launched the career an unknown dancer….named Shirley MacLaine.

 

Some interesting things to look for:

Watch for Sinatra's scene in the taxi, when he & Hildy are singing Come Up to My Place, after they run around the cab.


He rolls the cab window down and when he rolls it back up, he catches his hair and he has to roll it back down…….and notice that he doesn’t miss a beat.


And keep an eye out for a familiar drugstore name and logo that hasn’t changed much in the 65 years since this movie was made.

 

So travel back to New York just after World War II and enjoy the song & dance of On The Town.