Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I Ain't Down Yet...Remembering THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN

Molly Brown: It's not the money I love, it's the not having it I hate.

Happy Hump Day!

Once again, it's Wednesday and it's all about getting over the hump. Whatever that means for any of us. This morning, I got off to a very sluggish start...after a night of bizarre dreams! I felt like I ran the marathon! I woke up with no idea as to what today's blog would be about.
Then I got an instant message from a friend telling me that he and his partner might be splitting up after 14 years.
That his partner is having an affair with TWO men, being verbally abusive to him, and drinking too much!
My question to him is "Why wait?"

He said he had a great strong emotional support system and like "The Unsinkable Molly Brown", he was not down yet!
And a light bulb went off in my head! I thought what a great idea for a blog especially with what this country has been going through this year. Being a country boy at heart, I relate to Molly Brown.
I felt like Molly, not Dolly!, when I first arrived in New York...a hick in the big city!

Born Margaret Tobin in Hannibal, Missouri, one of four children born to Irish immigrants John Tobin (1820 - 1899) and Johanna Collins (1825 - 1905). Margaret Brown's siblings were Daniel (born 1863), William (born 1869), and Helen (born 1871). Added to these, Margaret had two half-sisters: Catherine Bridget Tobin, by her father's first marriage, and Mary Ann Collins, by her mother's first marriage. Both her mother and father had been widowed young. She was also raised like a tom boy until she was about 14.

I feel that it is time for a revival of The Unsinkable Molly Brown! There was talk of this YEARS ago with Debbie Reynolds. I do believe that she and Harve Presnell performed it around the country but alas, it never happened on Broadway! It has not been revived since it's original run.

There was also talk a few years ago with Reba McEntyre in the title role and that idea seemed to have faded away. Boy, what a hot ticket that would be!

Last Friday night, TCM showed it again as part of it's SUMMER UNDER THE STARS series. They were showcasing the films of Debbie Reynolds; now, THERE'S A SURVIVOR!
A little bit about Debbie:
Debbie Reynolds was initially signed at age 16 by Warner Bros., but her career got off to a slow start.
When her contract was not renewed, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) gave her a small, but significant part in the film Three Little Words (1950), then signed her to a seven-year contract.
In her next film, Two Weeks with Love (1950), she had a hit with the song "Aba Daba Honeymoon".
However, it was her first leading role, in Singin' in the Rain (1952), that set her on the path to fame. By the mid 1950s, she was a major star. Other notable successes include Tammy and the Bachelor (1957), in which her rendition of the song "Tammy" reached number one on the music charts, and The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964), for which she received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress. She continues to perform successfully on stage, television and film to the present day.Her personal life has not gone as well. Her first marriage, to popular singer Eddie Fisher, produced a son and a daughter, actress/author Carrie Fisher, but ended in divorce in 1959 when Fisher and her former (and later) friend Elizabeth Taylor fell in love. Her second and third marriages also ended disastrously, each time ruining her financially.

I watched it again last Friday night. It really is a great film and a shame that she didn't win the Academy Award. It was her only nomination.
Even with that film, she had to fight for it.
The studio really wanted Shirley MacLaine for the role.

This time, I really watched it through different eyes. You see I did the show in 1977, when I was 16. And I fell in love with that score. It has always bothered me that most of the score was cut when it transferred to film.
Songs such as "My Own Brass Bed", "Chick 'o Pen", and "Say Yes" were all cut and replaced with "He's My Friend"! This often happens with transfers from stage to screen.

As I watched last Friday night, I heard many of the songs as incidental music. I just sat back to watch a great film and it is!

A.H. Weiler of the New York Times called the film "big, brassy, bold and freewheeling" but added, "The tones are ringing, but often hollow.
Molly is a colorful character all right, and the screen, which is as wide as can be, is filled with vivid colors that help project the fact that this is merely a satisfying musical comedy and not an inspired subject." He continued, "This is not to say that Meredith Willson's score is not tuneful and lilting but to this listener it is good, sweet corn that is more palatable than memorable.
Peter Gennaro, on the other hand, has devised dances that more than complement Mr. Willson's music. They may seem to be improvised but they have the true marks of professionalism in their carefully plotted verve, bounce and exuberance." He concluded, "The Unsinkable Molly Brown, in the person of Miss Reynolds, and the other principals, often mistakes vigor for art. But Metro's lavish and attractive production numbers make up for this basic superficiality. For all of its shallowness, Molly is a cheerful and entertaining addition to the local screen scene."
I have written in the past about my first show,"MAME". With only two lines in that show, I was very excited to just be in a show!

That was 1975 with The Theatre Of The Republic in Conway, South Carolina. After that in celebration of the Bicentennial, the Theatre did "The Pursuit of Happiness". I auditioned...too young.
But then in 1977, I was told about "The Unsinkable Molly Brown". It was going to be the theatre's fall production. I was also told that Molly had two brothers! Maybe there was something for me, finally!!
I went in and auditioned. I felt (and KNEW) that my audition for THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN was much better than my audition for MAME.
A few weeks later, in school, Lisa Simmonds, the daughter of the director, told me that I had been cast but that she was sworn to secrecy. I practically flew home! That night I got a call from Linda, the director, telling me that I had been cast. When I asked her what role, she told me I would find out at the first rehearsal but that she felt I would be happy. I just KNEW I was going to be one of the brothers!

When we showed up for the first rehearsal, Linda started handing out the scripts to each of the actors and announcing what role they would be playing. I sat there as each of the parts were given out...including the parts of the two brothers! Was I going to be in the chorus...although I couldn't dance and no one thought I could carry a tune? The last script was given to me. I had been cast as Roberts, the butler (first of Mrs. McGlone and then Molly Brown) Really!?!?! Was this a mistake!?!?! My first honest to God part in a show! Tears are welling up in my eyes as I think of that moment. They trusted me enough with a real part! Many of the cast members who were also in MAME applauded when my name was announced. I went to Linda after the first rehearsal and asked how I got the part. She said it was obvious to her how much I wanted it and she also observed how hard I worked on my two lines in MAME! She felt that if I was willing to work that hard on two lines, imagine what I would do with a role. I threw myself into the show with a ferver! I learned early on how I could elicit a laugh with just a raised eye brow or a slow turn to the audience. Timing was something that I did have...from the very beginning!

As the rehearsal process got underway, insecurity set in! After the run through each night, the cast would sit on the stage as Linda gave notes. After three nights of not getting notes, I thought I must be awful. I even thought I could possibly be replaced! On the 4th night, I went to Linda and I told her to be honest with me. What was wrong with my acting? She said, "Ricky, what are you talking about? Your instincts are perfect. Trust me, when you need notes, you will get them!"

My first validation that I was an actor. When the show opened, I received nice reviews and the audience howled every time I made an entrance or exit. The bug had bitten HARD! After that I went on to do THE NIGHT OF JANUARY SIXTEENTH, CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN, and OLIVER with the theatre before moving to NY. I also did MARAT/SADE with The University of South Carolina at Coastal College. I was on my way!
Years later, Tammy Grimes, would be sitting in the audience of my show. For her to tell me that I was a great entertainer was icing on the cake.
I also have been to Molly Brown's home in Denver, Colorado...nothing at all like the ostentatious home depicted in the film.

Grimes was born in Lynn, Massachusetts, the daughter of Eola Willard (née Niles), a naturalist and spiritualist, and Nicholas Luther Grimes, an innkeeper, country-club manager, and farmer.

She attended high school at the then-all girls school, Beaver Country Day School, in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. She attended Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, and then studied acting at New York City's prestigious Neighborhood Playhouse.

Known for a self-created persona described as "a daffy but endearing pseudo-English eccentric" with a "slightly askew accent that is two parts Grimesian British to one part British British" and a distinctive singing voice one critic called "a low, throaty quiver, a hum that takes wings", Grimes made her debut on the New York stage at the Neighborhood Playhouse in May 1955 in Jonah and the Whale.
She made her Broadway stage debut as an understudy for Kim Stanley in the starring role in Bus Stop in June 1955.
In 1956, she appeared in the off-Broadway production, The Littlest Revue, and in 1959 had the lead role in the Broadway production of Noel Coward's play Look After Lulu!, after she was discovered in a nightclub by the playwright.

The setting for the show is turn of the century America.

Margaret Brown (née Tobin) (July 18, 1867 – October 26, 1932) was an American socialite, philanthropist, and activist who became famous due to her involvement with the 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic, after exhorting the crew of lifeboat 6 to return to look for survivors. It is unclear whether any survivors were found after life boat 6 returned to search.
She became known after her death as "The Unsinkable Molly Brown", although she was not called Molly during her life. Her friends called her Maggie.

Shamus Tobin: Molly sure know what she was doin' when she made this place red. The blood don't show.

The Unsinkable Molly Brown is a musical with music and lyrics by Meredith Willson and book by Richard Morris. The plot is a fictionalized account of the life of Margaret Brown, who survived the sinking of the RMS Titanic, and her wealthy miner-husband.

It starred Tammy Grimes and Harvey Presnell and ran for 532 performances before closing.

Shamus Tobin: At last, this place looks lived in!

The Unsinkable Molly Brown is a 1964 American musical film directed by Charles Walters. The screenplay by Helen Deutsch is based on the book of the 1960 musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown by Richard Morris. The song score was composed by Meredith Willson. Debbie Reynolds was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress, but lost to Julie Andrews in her debut film, Mary Poppins.

Rescued from the Colorado River as an infant and raised by Shamus Tobin, tomboy Molly Brown is determined to find a wealthy man to marry. She journeys to Leadville, Colorado and is hired as a saloon singer by Christmas Morgan. After miner Johnny Brown renovates his cabin, the two wed, and he sells his claim in a silver mine for $300,000. Soon after the money Molly hid in the stove accidentally is burned, Johnny discovers the richest gold vein in state history.

The Browns and Shamus move into a Denver mansion, and Molly sets out to improve her social status by trying to ingratiate herself with the city's elite, all of whom snub her and her nouveau riche ways. She and Johnny go to Europe, where they are embraced by royalty, and the couple return to Denver with their new friends. Molly's plan to introduce them to the people who formerly rejected her is derailed by Johnny's rough and tumble friends, whose unexpected and boisterous arrival ruins the gala party Molly is hosting.

Molly decides to return to Europe, leaving Johnny behind. She initially falls for the charms of Prince Louis de Lanière, but eventually decides she prefers to live with Johnny in Leadville. Setting sail for home aboard the Titanic, she becomes a heroine when the ship sinks and she helps rescue many of her fellow passengers. When her deed makes international headlines, Molly is welcomed home by Johnny and the people of Denver.

Harve Presnell was the sole member of the original Broadway cast who was invited to reprise his stage role in the film.
AKA George Harvey Presnell

Born: 14-Sep-1933
Birthplace: Modesto, CA
Died: 30-Jun-2009
Location of death: Santa Monica, CA

Although Tammy Grimes had originated the title role and had won the Tony Award for Best Actress for her performance, MGM executives wanted Shirley MacLaine for the film. After she signed, producer Hal Wallis claimed she was under contract to him, and MacLaine was forced to withdraw from the project. When Debbie Reynolds was cast instead, MacLaine publicly accused her of agreeing to accept a lower salary in order to land the role, and director Charles Walters, who preferred MacLaine, tried to persuade Reynolds to turn down the part.

Exteriors were filmed in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in western Colorado.

Only five of the seventeen musical numbers from the stage musical were used in the film, and Meredith Willson wrote "He's My Friend" to extend the song score. Peter Gennaro, who had choreographed the original Broadway production, staged the musical sequences.

The film was the third largest grossing attraction of 1964, earning $7.5 million at the box office.

Here's to an INCREDIBLE day for ALL!


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  1. I saw Carleton Carpenter playing Linus in "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" in San Francisco. The entire cast was made up of many of the older character actors we love. Joanne Whorley was brilliant as Lucy.

  2. An interesting note about the film version of "Molly Brown". Although both Debbie and Shirley fail to mention it in interviews and/or books, Hedda Hopper made the official headline announcement on March 2, 1962 that "MGM buys Molly Brown for Doris Day". It was repeated in various news stories including pieces in the Chicago Tribune, Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. At the time "Jumbo" starring Miss Day and directed by Charles Walters who was to direct "Molly Brown", was in production and everyone expected it to be a huge hit. It was only after it was released later that year and proved less than a smash that MacLaine was approached. Walters confirmed this to me in a taped interview in the 1970's. He had been reluctant to work with Miss Day in "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" when first approached in 1959 but had grown to respect her tremendously. When they worked together on "Jumbo", the film - amazingly for a musical - came in under schedule and under budget. He desperately wanted Miss Day for the role of "Molly Brown" feeling that she could channel some of her "Calamity Jane" role for the tomboy scenes. He told me that "...if Doris ahd played the role she would not only have been nominated for an Oscar but she would have won for the role." Paul Brogan