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Opera star Grace Moore was beautiful, blonde, and compared to most operatic divas, shapely. Those attributes and her lyrical but not always reliable soprano, had previously earned her a contract with MGM. Her first two films, A Lady's Morals (1930) and New Moon (1930) were flops. The studio cancelled her contract. The main problem was Moore's weight. During production of New Moon, her weight began to increase which made her appearance different in each scene. When studio production chief Irving Thalberg told her that she had exceeded her contractual weight of 135 pounds, Moore angrily denied it, but also refused Thalberg's offer to stand on the scale in his office. She left Hollywood in a huff and found that the failure of her film career had caused her asking fee for live performances to be cut in half. She angrily told a reporter, "I'm going to show that crowd. You just watch. It may take a year; it may take five years. But I'm going back there one day, and when I do, I am going to bring Hollywood to my feet." As Bob Thomas wrote in his biography of Columbia Studios' head Harry Cohn, King Cohn, "She achieved her resolve within three years."
"Harry Cohn had been in the opening night audience when Grace Moore starred on Broadway in The DuBarry, a musical that helped restore her fame. After the show closed its successful run, she returned to California for an appearance at the Hollywood Bowl. Edmund Goulding, the director, gave a party in her honor and among the guests was Harry Cohn. "How would you like to make a picture over at Columbia?" he asked. "Why don't you come to see me tomorrow at eleven?" Miss Moore agreed, but she overslept the following morning. The telephone aroused her. "Where the hell are you?" demanded Harry Cohn. "You're supposed to be in my office." She hurried to Columbia Studios, and Cohn offered her a contract for $25,000 per film. She said she would consider it." Moore really wanted to return in triumph to MGM and she knew that Maurice Chevalier wanted her to costar with him in The Merry Widow (1934). She wanted it bad enough to offer to make the film for nothing, she told MGM. But Irving Thalberg said she was overweight and wouldn't photograph well. Jeanette MacDonald got the role instead and Grace Moore signed with Columbia.
The problems started almost at once. Cohn couldn't find the right vehicle for her. Thomas noted, "[Harry's] Brother Jack and other powers of the East declared it would be madness to attempt a film with operatic music; it would never get playing time in the sticks. Columbia's chief negotiator in uneasy situations, Sam Briskin, was directed to get the company out of the contract. He summoned Miss Moore and told her the deal was off; Columbia would buy out her contract. She responded with what was to be recognized as the Moore style. She screamed her refusal and stalked out of the office, slamming the door hard enough to shatter the glass."
Forced to find something for Moore to do, Cohn assigned Everett Riskin to be producer. "The new producer went to work on a romantic story about an American girl who studied opera in Italy under a stern taskmaster and finally achieved success at the Metropolitan. It was a fluffy tale, but Riskin calculated that it might be supported by Miss Moore's ebullience and her renditions of familiar arias. She had her own notions about what she wanted to sing, and she worked her persuasion on Cohn. "Harry, darling, I must sing Butterfly," she urged. "That old thing? You really want it?" said Cohn. "Yes-please." "The former song plugger buzzed the head of the music department on the intercom. "Find out how much they want for Poor Butterfly, he ordered. "No, no," corrected Miss Moore. "I mean the Butterfly by Puccini."
The music for the film, now called One Night of Love , included arias from Carmen, and Ciribiribin, (which would become her theme song), and Un Bel Di from Madame Butterfly. The latter gave the studio headaches as Moore had trouble hitting the high notes. Typically, she flew into a rage and blamed the orchestra and flounced off to her dressing room. When the conductor went to Cohn's office, he asked "Is she at fault or are you?" Stoloff replied "There's nothing wrong with the orchestra. These are the original Puccini orchestrations." Cohn told him to tell Moore that either she went back to the recording stage or she would be responsible for paying the day's salary for the entire orchestra. Not surprisingly, Moore returned and recorded the song.
The final costs for One Night of Love reached $200,000 and Cohn was not confident that it would be successful. But after previews in Glendale (a suburb of Los Angeles) and Santa Barbara were fairly successful, he took Moore and her husband to the Hollywood preview. He was astonished "as the audience interrupted the film with applause and shouts of delight. The ending signaled a thunderous ovation and Cohn recognized his vindication over the taunts of the East. So great was his elation that he bent down to plant a kiss on Miss Moore's cheek. In the confusion he missed her and kissed her husband instead. "My God," he worried afterward, "this will ruin my reputation as a he-Man."
The film was a hit, Grace Moore received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, and One Night of Love was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and won for recording and score. Cohn was right: the film wouldn't play in small towns but as Thomas wrote, "it was the first Columbia film to wind important bookings in the powerful Loews chain of theaters, and that was a milestone in Columbia's progress."
Producer: Everett Riskin, Harry Cohn
Director: Victor Schertzinger
Screenplay: Charles Beahan (story), Dorothy Speare (story), James Gow, S.K. Lauren, Edmund H. North
Cinematography: Joseph Walker
Film Editing: Gene Milford
Art Direction: Stephen Goosson
Music: Alfred Newman, Victor Schertzinger, Louis Silvers
Cast: Grace Moore (Mary Barrett), Tullio Carminati (Giulio Monteverdi), Lyle Talbot (Bill Houston), Mona Barrie (Lally), Jessie Ralph (Angelina), Luis Alberni (Monteverdi's Assistant).
by Lorraine LoBianco
King Cohn: The Life and Times of Harry Cohn by Bob Thomas
Magill's Survey of Cinema edited by Frank N. Magill
The Internet Movie Database