Sunday, August 2, 2015

From Tallulah Bankhead to Mary Martin

In 1953 MGM distributed the independently produced Main Street To Broadway which (fictionally) documents the behind-the-scenes process of producing a dramatic play on Broadway from origination to opening. Despite the barest plot (attributed to Pulitzer Prize winning playwright/screenwriter Robert E. Sherwood), the producer managed to gather a stellar cast of theatre luminaries. Some of the ensemble play themselves in small scenes that have nothing to do with the plot and some play parts in the screenplay by Samson Raphaelson (Ernst Lubitsch's screenwriter).

The story concerns playwright Tony Monaco writing a play in which he hopes Tallulah Bankhead will star. (Tom Morton plays Tony Monaco, a few years before he took the stage name Tony Monaco and toured in the national company of I Can Get It For You Wholesale.) He meets actress Mary Craig (Mary Murphy from The Wild One) who is ready to quit the New York theatrical scene and go back to South Terre Haute to marry. They fight, they kiss and they fall in love only to be separated by their different worlds.

If for no other reason, this film exists to allow Tallulah Bankhead to caricature herself - something she did often in real life but rarely on screen. Monaco is persuaded by his agent (played by Agnes Moorehead) to write a play that shows off Bankhead as a normal American housewife. (At one point, Bankhead opines "Aren't they writing plays for nice people like ME ANYMORE?!?!") He goes home with Mary - actually follows her in a stalky type thing - and literally dreams up Calico and Lust after watching Mary's parents (Rosemary DeCamp and Clinton Sundberg) living their life. In the dream, Tallulah is dressed in calico and an apron, sewing and welcoming neighbors to the door (although it ultimately turns into a camp version of a Bankhead-type melodrama).

All Tallulah's scenes in a badly digitized TV rip
See below if you want a good version

Another fascinating scenario concerns the evolution of the Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II song There's Music In You. From Hammerstein's lyrical inspiration after seeing playwright Tony and Mary kissing on the street to Rodgers plunking out a tune while Hammerstein sings to the final incorporation of the finished song by Mary Martin in a new (fictional) musical, these scenes mark the only time the two musical geniuses appeared on screen. There's Music In You was written especially for Main Street To Broadway and was considered a trunk song (term for a songwriter's stash of unused material) until 1997 when it was interpolated into the new television production of Cinderella and sung by Whitney Houston. The song was also used in the 2013 Broadway production of Cinderella.

From Tallulah Bankhead to Mary Martin continues after the WORLD INTERNET PREMIERE
of the Mary Martin Sings There's Music In You video compilation.

Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II and Mary Martin in
There's Music In You. Note the spelling of 'Rogers' name in the call board.

Main Street To Broadway also has the following scenes and attributes.
  • Helen Hayes instructs a young actress how to focus before introducing the film and discussing the soon-to-be-demolished Empire Theatre. She returns to narrate the play's opening and list the luminaries attending.

  • Shirley Booth talks with, and signs autographs for, fans and demonstrates why she is so beloved. (See Hazel: The Maid With The Most and See Miss Shirley Booth for more information.

  • Cornel Wilde acts in a workshop reading of the playwright's somewhat misogynistic first play with ingenue Mary.
  • Rex Harrison and then-wife actress Lilli Palmer discuss what's in their refrigerator; Rex wants a bagel and salami.
  • Radio and television's Molly Goldberg, Gertrude Berg, plays Tony's motherly landlady.
  • Ethel Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore and Louis Calhern bail the despondent playwright out of jail and offer him hope after Bankhead rejects the new play.
  • John Van Druten works with Constance Carpenter (as Anna) and the cast of the still running The King And I which he had directed the year before.
  • Al Hirschfeld draws one of his trademark caricatures.

  • New York Giants manager Leo Durocher gets a dugout scolding from Tallulah.
  • After having testified for the House Un-American Activities Committee, Jack Gilford was hired to play behind the bars of the theatre box office as treasurer.
  • Humorist Herb Shriner, father of director Wil (Frasier) and actor Kin (General Hospital), sympathetically plays Mary's hometown boyfriend.
  • Academy Award winner James Wong Howe was cinematographer for Main Street To Broadway.

Main Street To Broadway has never been released on DVD. It was released on VHS tape - a used version of which you can buy on Amazon from a third party for $100. Or you can send me an email and I can send you link to download a nice rip of the VHS for free. Your choice.

Mary Martin's studio version of There's Music In You

Whitney Houston's version of There's Music In You 1997