Simanaitis Says

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I’VE LONG ENJOYED the SiriusXM “Radio Classics” pair of George Burns and Gracie Allen. Her Presidential Campaign of 1940 was one of its highpoints. I’ve also enjoyed the Turner Classic Movies of Fred Astaire, typically accompanied by dancing pal Ginger Rogers.

Recently, a “Radio Classics” rebroadcast had Gracie dreaming herself as Princess Gracie in 1947. And a TCM flick from 1937 had Gracie exhibiting a talent I didn’t know she possessed: being a hoofer worthy of accompanying Astaire. Here in Parts 1 and 2 today (the flick) and tomorrow (the radio episode) are tidbits from both, together with shared links.

A Damsel in Distress. As described in Wikipedia,A Damsel in Distress is a 1937 English-themed Hollywood musical comedy film starring Fred Astaire, George Burns, Gracie Allen and Joan Fontaine. Loosely based upon P.G. Wodehouse’s 1919 novel of the same name, and the 1928 stage play written by Wodehouse and Ian Hay, it has music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin.”

Talk about a rich heritage.

Fred portrays Jerry, a famous American entertainer; George and Gracie are his fast-talking press agent and secretary. Joan is Lady Alyce, a Brit aristo who has a fleeting romance with another American entirely.

False impressions abound, with Jerry and Lady Alyce alternately squabbling and eventually falling in love. Interspersed are song-and-dance settings that have George and Gracie displaying the versatility of their vaudeville background.

Wikipedia notes, “The film was made at George Gershwin’s instigation, an enthusiasm that Wodehouse mischievously attributed to the fact that his novel was about a successful American songwriter named George Bevan. Gershwin died of a brain tumor while the film was in production. The film was released four months after his death.”

Director George Stevens had a work in progress: The nineteen-year-old Fontaine turned out to be not much of a dancer (though “Things Are Looking Up” has a romantic dance scene where she looks just fine with Astaire).

“Things Are Looking Up.” Video from YouTube.

The original choice for Jerry’s pal was a valet portrayed by Charley Chase. However, Chase had to drop out because of poor health, and his part was rewritten for Burns and Allen.

Whisk Brooms. Wikipedia notes, “The choreography explores dancing around, past, and through obstacles, and in confined spaces. ‘Put Me to the Test’: Astaire, Burns, and Allen comic tap dance with whisk brooms, a routine inspired by vaudeville duo Evans and Evans and introduced to Astaire by Burns, who quipped: ‘Gracie and I ended up teaching Astaire how to dance.'”

The Whisk Brooms; video from YouTube.

Fun With Mirrors. Our trio later finds itself in a Fun House with an extended dance number that, Wikipedia notes, “garnered co-choreographer Hermes Pan the 1937 Academy Award for Best Dance Direction. Carroll Clark was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Art Direction.”

The Fun House; video from YouTube.

Percussive Tap. For classic Astaire expertise, check out his percussion-rich “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”

Percussive Dance Extraordinaire; video from YouTube.

Tomorrow in Part 2. We change media from a 1937 movie to a 1947 radio episode of “George Burns and Gracie Allen.” Most appropriately, Gracie dreams of herself as Princess Gracie. The date, November 20, 1947, is key because of another Princess, this one a 21-year-old Brit named Elizabeth. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2023

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