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"It's a street of despair, but you can still find heaven there. That's the glory of the alley," sings jazz great Louis Armstrong in the title song from Glory Alley (1952). In this case, Glory Alley is a side street in New Orleans' Latin Quarter where Armstrong and his buddies hang out. Ralph Meeker plays Socks Barbarrosa, a boxer who goes off to war and wins the congressional medal of honor but still can't win the approval of his girlfriend's father. Kurt Kasznar plays the father, a cantankerous blind man called the Judge. And Leslie Caron, as Socks' girlfriend, dances and sings to tunes like "St. Louis Blues," accompanied by Jack Teagarden on trombone. But it's Armstrong who gives Glory Alley its true New Orleans flavor. Armstrong plays Shadow Johnson, a well-connected guy who's "the best trainer in the business"; he coaches Socks and also serves as a guide for the blind Kasznar. Shadow also just happens to sing and blow a mean trumpet.
Louis Armstrong, affectionately nicknamed Satchmo, was born in New Orleans on August 4, 1901. For years, publicity bios listed his birth date as July 4, 1900. But in 1983, twelve years after Armstrong's 1971 death, his baptismal record surfaced, listing the 1901 birth date. Still, no matter the date, with Armstrong was born a musical revolution. Considered the most influential jazz musician in history, Armstrong spent his childhood in poverty and discovered at an early age that he could earn a nickel singing on street corners. But Satchmo's big musical break (so legendary that it's taken as fact whether it's true or not) came on December 31, 1912, when Armstrong fired off a gun in celebration of the new year. A nearby cop was not amused and Armstrong spent the next year and a half in a boys' home.
While serving his time, Armstrong joined the prison's band, first as a singer, then moving quickly through roles as a percussionist and bugler, before finally settling on the coronet. He continued playing upon his release in 1914, using borrowed instruments until he could afford his own horn. Still, his sound caught the ear of Joe "King" Oliver, one of New Orleans' jazz masters, who took Armstrong under his wing and became his coach and mentor. A few years later, in 1922, Oliver would invite Armstrong to play coronet with his band in Chicago. From that point on there was no looking back for Satchmo. He made his first recordings in 1923 as a member of King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band and took on the Big Apple in 1924, signing on to play with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra at the Roseland Ballroom. In 1925 Armstrong recorded for the first time as the leader of his own group called Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five.
Pretty soon, Armstrong was a sensation, playing on Broadway, touring the country and, in 1931, appearing with his band in the film Ex-Flame. The next year Armstrong and the band would make a surprise appearance in the Betty Boop cartoon, I'll Be Glad When You're Dead You Rascal You. Armstrong also set out on a European tour in 1932, where a London magazine editor first used the name Satchmo. The nickname, bestowed by fellow musicians, was originally Satchel Mouth. But the shortened version caught on, and followed Armstrong the rest of his career. His grave in Flushing, New York, even bears the nickname Satchmo.
Armstrong appeared in over thirty films, including Cabin in the Sky(1943) with director Vincente Minnelli and two memorable movies with Bing Crosby, 1936's Pennies from Heaven (Armstrong's first speaking role) and High Society (1956). Glory Alley fell towards the middle of Armstrong's movie career, showcasing his musical talent but giving him a bare-bones character to play. Many of Armstrong's film roles simply called for the musician to play himself in movies like Young Man with a Horn (1950) and The Glenn Miller Story (1954). But it was, perhaps, his rendition of a Broadway song that brought Armstrong his greatest film success. His recording of the title song from the musical Hello Dolly was such a big hit that Armstrong was written into the 1969 film adaptation. Though he shared little on-screen time with Barbra Streisand, Hello Dolly was a fitting cap on Armstrong's movie career and the song became one of his signature pieces. The same year he sang the theme song to On Her Majesty's Secret Service, a James Bond spy thriller starring George Lazenby as secret agent 007.
Producer: Nicholas Nayfack
Director: Raoul Walsh
Screenplay: Art Cohn
Art Direction: Malcolm Brown, Cedric Gibbons
Cinematography: William H. Daniels
Costume Design: Helen Rose
Film Editing: Gene Ruggiero
Original Music: George Stoll
Principal Cast: Ralph Meeker (Socks Barbarrosa), Leslie Caron (Angela Evans), Kurt Kasznar (The Judge), Gilbert Roland (Peppi Donato), John McIntire (Gabe Jordan), Larry Gates (Dr. Ardley), Jack Teagarden (Himself).
BW-80m. Closed captioning.
by Stephanie Thames