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In 1936, MGM had a big hit with Libeled Lady, a screwball comedy starring Myrna Loy as an heiress who sues a newspaper for libel when it calls her a home wrecker. Spencer Tracy played the editor who hatches a scheme to compromise her, with his fiance (Jean Harlow) and a reporter (William Powell) carrying out the plot. A decade later, MGM remade the film as a Technicolor musical, Easy to Wed (1946). This time, the stars were Esther Williams as the heiress, Van Johnson as the reporter, Keenan Wynn as the editor, and Lucille Ball as his fiance. For Ball, it would be her best role and best performance after three disappointing years at MGM. And, in spite of her excellent reviews, it would also be one of her last films under contract to the studio.
In the late 1930s, Ball had reigned as "Queen of the Bs" as an RKO contract player. Frustrated by her inability to get good parts, she moved to MGM in 1943, but after a promising start there in DuBarry Was a Lady (1943), she ended up just as frustrated, playing wisecracking sidekick roles. The part of Gladys in Easy to Wed, though not the romantic lead, offered her a chance to build a character, not just drop quips. She owed her chance to co-star in the film to two old friends.
Edward Buzzell, who had directed Ball in Best Foot Forward (1943), asked the studio to cast her in Easy to Wed. "Eddie Buzzell put me at my ease, and encouraged me to be myself in a way no other director had done before," Ball recalled in her posthumously published autobiography. "He saw the potential in me for humor and pathos I didn't even know I had."
Van Johnson, MGM's most popular younger leading man at the time, was also a close friend of Ball's. He had appeared with Desi Arnaz in Too Many Girls on Broadway, and along with Arnaz, had gone to Hollywood to appear in the 1940 film version at RKO, where they both met Ball. But Johnson's role in that film was small, and he was unable to get work in Hollywood. He decided to return to New York, and at a farewell dinner with Ball and Arnaz, they spotted MGM talent scout Billy Grady. The couple persuaded Grady to give their pal a chance, and MGM signed Johnson. A Guy Named Joe (1943) proved to be Johnson's breakthrough film, and by 1946, he was one of the studio's top moneymakers.
Keenan Wynn had played opposite Ball in Without Love (1945), and was Johnson's best friend (Wynn's wife, Evie, divorced him in 1947 to marry Johnson, but it apparently didn't damage the friendship). And Johnson and Esther Williams had recently co-starred with great success in Thrill of a Romance (1945). Dance director Jack Donohue had also worked with Ball and Buzzell on Best Foot Forward (Donohue would later direct episodes of The Lucy Show and Here's Lucy). So the atmosphere during the production of Easy to Wed was friendly and jokey. On the first day of dance rehearsals, Ball showed up in a wheelchair, one arm in a sling, her teeth blacked out, holding a sign that read, "I am not working for Donohue."
Easy to Wed was one of the top box office hits of 1946, and Ball earned the best reviews of her career. According to Cue magazine," She steals every scene she plays." The Los Angeles Times critic wrote, "She is at her super best." The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther singled out Ball and Wynn for praise. "Both of these pleasant young people have exceptionally keen comedy sense ....Together they handle the burdens of the cleverly-complicated plot and throw their voices and their torsos into an almost continuous flow of gags." The Associated Drama Guild of America named Ball and Danny Kaye "King and Queen of Comedy - 1946."
Ball herself called Easy to Wed "one of the highlights of my movie career." But she also noted, "After knocking myself out, giving my best possible performance in this picture, I expected other good roles to follow. Instead, I was put into a real dog with John Hodiak called Two Smart People ." Ball's contract was up for renewal soon, and in spite of Easy to Wed's success, the handwriting was on the wall about her future at MGM. Ball's husband, Desi Arnaz, had recently been discharged from the army, and was hoping to resume his film career at MGM, where he had remained under contract during the war. But he found that in his absence, the studio was grooming Ricardo Montalban for the musical Latin lover roles that might have gone to Arnaz. So the couple decided to try their luck elsewhere. Arnaz put together a band and took up a nightclub career, and Ball freelanced in films. Together, they also co-starred in a radio comedy, My Favorite Husband, and within five years, they turned to the new medium of television. It was only after I Love Lucy had become a huge hit that they returned to MGM to co-star in two feature films, The Long, Long Trailer (1954) and Forever, Darling (1956).
Director: Edward Buzzell
Producer: Jack Cummings
Screenplay: Dorothy Kingsley, based on the screenplay Libeled Lady, by Maurine Dallas Watkins, Howard Emmett Rogers and George Oppenheimer
Cinematography: Harry Stradling
Editor: Blanche Sewell
Costume Design: Irene
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Hans Peters
Music: Johnny Green
Principal Cast: Van Johnson (Bill Stevens Chandler), Esther Williams (Connie Allenbury), Lucille Ball (Gladys Benton), Keenan Wynn (Warren Haggerty), Cecil Kellaway (J.B. Allenbury), Ben Blue (Spike Dolan), June Lockhart (Babs Norvell).
C-110m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri