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In turn-of-the-century St. Louis, the close-knit Smith family are swept up in the excitement over the impending arrival of the 1904 World's Fair. The Smiths are a happy well-to-do family whose two oldest daughters are preoccupied with the usual dramas of young love. Seventeen-year-old Esther Smith falls in love with boy-next-door John Truett and tries to get him to notice her. Meanwhile, twenty-year-old Rose is preoccupied with getting her long-distance beau to propose before she is deemed an old maid. Their young sister Tootie is an incorrigible tomboy with a morbid streak who constantly stirs up trouble. When their father announces that he is moving the family to New York, the Smiths must decide if they are willing to give up the bucolic charm of small-town life in St. Louis in exchange for the glamour of the big city.
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Producer: Arthur Freed
Screenplay: Irving Brecher, Fred Finklehoffe
Based on Sally Benson's stories in The New Yorker, published in 1945 as the book Meet Me in St. Louis
Cinematography: George Folsey
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Lemuel Ayers, Jack Martin Smith
Editing: Albert Akst
Music: Roger Edens, Georgie Stoll, Conrad Salinger
Costume Designer: Irene Sharaff
Cast: Judy Garland (Esther Smith), Margaret O'Brien ("Tootie" Smith), Mary Astor (Mrs. Anna Smith), Lucille Bremer (Rose Smith), Leon Ames (Mr. Alonzo "Lon" Smith), Tom Drake (John Truett), Marjorie Main (Katie), Harry Davenport (Grandpa), June Lockhart (Lucille Ballard), Henry H. Daniels, Jr. (Lon Smith, Jr.), Joan Carroll (Agnes Smith), Hugh Marlowe (Colonel Darly), Robert Sully (Warren Sheffield), Chill Wills (Mr. Neely), Donald Curtis (Dr. Girard), Mary Jo Ellis (Ida Boothby), Ken Wilson (Quentin), Robert Emmett O'Connor (Motorman), Darryl Hickman (Johnny Tevis), Leonard Walker (Conductor), Victor Kilian (Baggage man), John Phipps (Mailman), Major Sam Harris (Mr. March), Mayo Newhall (Mr. Braukoff), Belle Mitchell (Mrs. Braukoff), Sidney Barnes (Hugo Borvis), Myron Tobias (George), Victor Cox (Driver).
C-113m. Closed Captioning. Letterboxed.
Why MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS is Essential
With its homespun charm and focus on the family, Meet Me in St. Louis captures the warmth and nostalgia of a bygone era. It is widely considered one of MGM's signature films in terms of its style and look and one of the most popular film musicals ever made.
Meet Me in St. Louis stands out as one of the most outstanding collaborations between director Vincente Minnelli and MGM producer Arthur Freed. It is often credited for launching what became known as the Golden Age of the MGM musical. Its success for MGM ushered in a wave of first-rate musicals from the thriving studio-many of them collaborations between Freed and Minnelli--that lasted until the 1960s.
Although Judy Garland was reluctant to make Meet Me in St. Louis at first, her role as Esther Smith is one of the most luminous film roles of her career and the camera has never better captured her beauty.
Meet Me in St. Louis is the film on which director Vincente Minnelli and star Judy Garland first worked together and fell in love. The pair married in 1945 and made four more films together before splitting up in 1951.
Judy Garland debuted three songs in Meet Me in St. Louis, all of which became popular hits: "The Trolley Song," "The Boy Next Door" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" became one of the most beloved holiday standards of all time and has been recorded by hundreds of musical artists.
Meet Me in St. Louis is the film that solidified Vincente Minnelli's reputation as a superlative director. Minnelli had worked on a couple of films previously for MGM, but Meet Me in St. Louis was his first A-list picture in which his talent was given the chance to shine.
The memorable character of "Tootie" Smith in Meet Me in St. Louis is one of child actress Margaret O'Brien's most famous roles. Her work as a troublemaking tomboy with a morbid streak showcased her astonishing talent and almost stole the movie from her co-star Judy Garland.
by Andrea Passafiume
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
On December 2, 1946 Judy Garland, Tom Drake and Margaret O'Brien reprised their roles from Meet Me in St. Louis for a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast.
On April 29, 1959 Jane Powell, Tab Hunter, Walter Pidgeon, Jeanne Crain, Myrna Loy and Patty Duke starred in a CBS television broadcast version of Meet Me in St. Louis.
On June 9, 1966 the St. Louis Municipal Opera presented a stage version of Meet Me in St. Louis with some new songs added.
In 1966 a television pilot was made for a situation comedy based on Meet Me in St. Louis. It starred Shelley Fabares, Celeste Holm, Larry Merrill, Judy Land, Reta Shaw and Morgan Brittany. It was not picked up as a series.
In 1989 Meet Me in St. Louis was turned into a Broadway musical. It ran for 252 performances.
The original songs in Meet Me in St. Louis, all of them introduced by Judy Garland, became well-known hits. Garland sang "The Boy Next Door" and "The Trolley Song" for years at her live concert shows, and they were always audience favorites. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" became a perennial holiday classic and has been recorded by hundreds of music artists the world over.
Meet Me in St. Louis was also responsible for the union of director Vincente Minnelli and star Judy Garland, who married on June 15, 1945. Their daughter Liza Minnelli was born nine months later. "This is the first picture my father and mother did together," said Liza Minnelli in a 1987 interview. "It's also the first one in which she said she felt beautiful on the screen. In the beginning she hadn't wanted to make Meet Me in St. Louis. Before it was finished, she loved it and the director who expressed his feelings for her in every shot." The couple made several more films together before divorcing in 1951.
by Andrea Passafiume
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
An early draft of the screenplay for Meet Me in St. Louis included a subplot in which Judy Garland's character, Esther, is blackmailed.
The character of Tootie, played by Margaret O'Brien in the film, was based on Meet Me in St. Louis author Sally Benson when she was a child.
There was a number called "Boys and Girls Like You and Me" that was shot for Meet Me in St. Louis, but was cut before the film's release since the film was running too long. The number was sung by Judy Garland to John Truett following "The Trolley Song" as the two visit the construction site for the World's Fair. The song had originally been cut from the 1942 Rodgers and Hammerstein stage musical Oklahoma!.
While MGM wanted director Vincente Minnelli to use their Andy Hardy street set for the film, Minnelli convinced them to have an entirely new St. Louis street set constructed on the backlot for Meet Me in St. Louis.
Director Vincente Minnelli and star Judy Garland fell in love while making Meet Me in St. Louis. They married in 1945, had their daughter Liza Minnelli, and divorced in 1951. In the introduction to Stephen Harvey's 1990 book Directed by Vincente Minnelli Liza Minnelli said, "You can see his love for her in every frame of Meet Me in St. Louis. That's the film where they met and would ultimately fall in love. It's my favorite, for when all is said and done I wouldn't be here if it hadn't been for that movie."
MGM producer Arthur Freed provided the singing voice for Leon Ames in the "You and I" number in Meet Me in St. Louis. Minnelli wanted the father's singing voice to sound real, and not professional.
Reportedly actor Van Johnson was originally hired to play Judy Garland's beau, John Truett, in the film. However, the role was ultimately played by Tom Drake.
The original lyrics to "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" written for Meet Me in St. Louis went: "Have yourself a merry little Christmas / It may be your last." The dark tone of the words were too much and were later changed to the more appropriate "Have yourself a merry little Christmas / Make the yuletide bright." The song went on to become a holiday classic.
The songs "Skip to My Lou" and "Under the Bamboo Tree" were old turn-of-the-century period favorites used with new arrangements in Meet Me in St. Louis.
In the film Meet Me in St. Louis the Smith family, based on author Sally Benson's own family, decides at the last minute to stay in St. Louis and not move to New York. In reality, Benson's family did move to New York and missed the St. Louis World's Fair.
The "St. Louis Street" that was built especially for the film on MGM's back lot was torn down in 1970.
Author Sally Benson's father, Alonzo Smith, bought the actual house located at 5135 Kensington Avenue in St. Louis for his family in 1891. The family moved to New York in 1910. The house was torn down in 1994. Several bricks from the original home were kept and sold as commemorative items with a plaque attached explaining its unique history.
Co-star Mary Astor, who played the Smith family matriarch, loved making Meet Me in St. Louis, but loved it even more when she was able to get out of her restrictive period costume every day. "It was indeed a lovely picture," said Astor in her 1967 memoir A Life on Film, "but I think I remember most clearly the end of the day when I could remove my high button shoes, and get out of the heavy clothes and finally bliss! get out of the damned corset!"
When a rough cut of the film was shown to MGM executives, the general consensus was that it was running too long. Some suggested that the lengthy Halloween sequence was slowing the film down and should be cut. Minnelli was dismayed at this idea since the Halloween sequence was the entire reason he had signed on to make Meet Me in St. Louis in the first place. Minnelli agreed to show the film to the executives without the Halloween portion, but argued strongly that removing it would change the whole mood of the film. To his immense relief, following a screening of the film in which the sequence had been removed, the executives agreed that the footage should remain. Meet Me in St. Louis simply wasn't the same film without it. Instead, the Rodgers and Hammerstein number "Boys and Girls Like You and Me," which Judy Garland sang following "The Trolley Song," was cut.
Meet Me in St. Louis was released in late 1944 to great critical acclaim and a warm response from the public who made it one of MGM's highest grossing films of the year.
The success of the film firmly established Vincente Minnelli's reputation as a fine director as he went on to make some of MGM's best films over the course of his thirty year career. For his future bride Judy Garland, Meet Me in St. Louis helped firmly transition her into adult roles as she maintained her position as the top female musical star of her generation. It also positioned MGM, already the most powerful studio in Hollywood, as the creator of the biggest and best film musicals in the world-a reputation that stayed with MGM for the next 20 years.
by Andrea Passafiume
Famous Quotes from MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS
"Well, Papa, if losing a case depresses you so, why don't you quit practicing law and go into another line of business?" Esther Smith (Judy Garland) to her father, Alonzo Smith (Leon Ames)
"You've just ruined Rose's chance to get married, that's all! That was Warren Sheffield calling long-distance to propose." -- Esther Smith (Judy Garland) to her father, Alonzo Smith (Leon Ames)
"Well, I'll bet there isn't another girl in St. Louis who's had a Yale man call her long-distance just to inquire about her health." Esther Smith (Judy Garland), referring to a phone call received by her sister Rose (Lucille Bremer)
"What do you mean hitting a 9-year-old child? The next time you want to hit somebody, pick on somebody your own size. If there's anything I hate, loathe, despise, and abominate, it's a bully." Esther Smith (Judy Garland) to John Truett (Tom Drake)
"You're the most deceitful, horrible, sinful creature I ever saw, and I don't want to have anything to do with you again." Esther Smith (Judy Garland) to Tootie (Margaret O'Brien), after discovering she has lied about being struck by John Truett.
"You're the first human being I've danced with all evening. It's our last dance in St. Louis. I feel like I'm going to cry." Esther Smith (Judy Garland) to her grandfather (Harry Davenport)
"New York is a wonderful town. Everybody dreams about going there. But we're luckier than lots of families because we're really going. Wait until you see the fine home we're going to have and the loads and loads of friends we'll make. Wonderful friends. But the main thing, Tootie, is that we're all going to be together just like we've always been. That's what really counts. We could be happy anywhere as long as we're together." Esther Smith (Judy Garland) to her sister Tootie (Margaret O'Brien)
"My dear, when you get to be my age, you'll find out there are more important things in life than boys." Rose Smith (Lucille Bremer) to Esther (Judy Garland)
"It'll take me at least a week to dig up all my dolls in the cemetery." Tootie (Margaret O'Brien) when she learns about having to leave St. Louis and move to New York
"For heaven's sake, stop that screeching! That song! The fair won't open for seven months. That's all everybody sings about or talks about. I wish everybody would meet at the fair and leave me alone." Alonzo Smith (Leon Ames) to his daughters as they sing the song "Meet Me in St. Louis."
"Just when was I voted out of this family?" Alonzo Smith (Leon Ames)
"You don't need any beauty sleep." John Truett (Tom Drake) to Esther (Judy Garland)
"A lie's a lie, and dressed in white don't help it." Katie, the Maid (Marjorie Main)
"She may be loathe to say the things a girl's compelled to say to get a proposal out of a man."
"Personally, I wouldn't marry a man who proposed to me over an invention."
--Esther (Judy Garland) and Katie (Marjorie Main) discussing Rose's pending long-distance phone call from Warren Sheffield
"I expect she won't live through the night. She has four fatal diseases."
"And it only takes one."
"But she's gonna have a beautiful funeral in a cigar box my Papa gave me, all wrapped in silver paper."
"That's the way to go if you have to go."
"Oh, she has to go."
--Tootie (Margaret O'Brien) speaking about her doll to Mr. Neely (Chill Wills)
"I'm going to let John Truett kiss me tonight."
"Well, if we're going to get married, I may as well start it."
"Nice girls don't let men kiss them until after they're engaged. Men don't want the bloom rubbed off."
"Personally, I think I have too much bloom. Maybe that's the trouble with me."
--Esther (Judy Garland) and Rose (Lucille Bremer)
"Money! I hate, loathe, despise, and abominate money!"
"You also spend it."
--Rose (Lucille Bremer) and her father Alonzo Smith (Leon Ames)
"If there ever was a time we definitely needed every ounce of allure, it's tonight. If we're going to wreck Lucille Ballard's evening, we've simply got to be a sensation."
-- Rose (Lucille Bremer) to Esther (Judy Garland)
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
Meet Me in St. Louis began as a series of short stories written by Sally Benson that first appeared in the New Yorker Magazine. Under the title "5135 Kensington," Benson's stories were published in the New Yorker from June 14, 1941 through May 23, 1942. Based on Benson's childhood memories, the stories were charming vignettes about the well-to-do Smith family and their adventures during turn-of-the-century St. Louis. Benson published eight stories total in the magazine. However, when they proved to be extremely popular with readers, she put them all together in a book called Meet Me in St. Louis published in 1942 that included four additional new stories, making a total of twelve - each chapter representing one month out of the year.
MGM producer Arthur Freed came across Benson's stories and found them delightful; he believed they would make the perfect subject matter for a film musical. He envisioned the project as a "sentimental mood piece," a film that would evoke the warmth and nostalgia of a bygone era - something that audiences were hungry for during the war-torn years of the early 1940s.
At first, Freed asked George Cukor to direct Meet Me in St. Louis. Cukor was interested, but was soon called to serve in World War II and was unable to get involved with the film. Next, Freed approached Vincente Minnelli, who was relatively new to MGM. He had directed Cabin in the Sky and I Dood It (both 1943) but hadn't yet solidified his reputation with the most powerful studio in Hollywood.
Vincente Minnelli read the book Meet Me in St. Louis and found it "affecting, humorous, and warm," according to his 1974 autobiography I Remember It Well. The book's Halloween sequence with the children was the clincher for him. "The burning of feet and slashing of throats they envisioned, almost a wistful longing for horror wasn't the sweet and treacly approach so characteristic of Hollywood," said Minnelli. "This was the type of fantasy that real children, raised as the grimmest of Grimm's fairy tales, would have. Yes, I told Arthur [Freed] I would gladly direct the picture."
Freed and Minnelli hired two writers to turn Benson's book into a screenplay. To their chagrin, however, the writers didn't think there was enough of a storyline for a movie so they added a subplot to Meet Me in St. Louis involving the blackmailing of Judy Garland's character, Esther Smith. "This is hardly the stuff of which lyrical evocations of an era are made," said Minnelli, "so I suggested we get another version."
Arthur Freed then hired Fred Finklehoffe to try his hand at a new draft of the screenplay. Finklehoffe wrote the majority of the new script with Irving Brecher, "tightening" it up along the way whenever Minnelli felt it was necessary. This time, the writers found their focus. "They took the very human values of the Benson work - the simple goodness of the time," said Minnelli, "the earnestness and purity of its people, the gentle humor and the laughs of recognition at their universality and constructed a story out of an episode in the book...It revolved around the imminent transfer of the husband to New York and the effect the prospective move has on his family..."
All along Arthur Freed had Meet Me in St. Louis in mind as a vehicle for MGM's top musical star at the time, Judy Garland. He envisioned the rising young actress as the second eldest Smith daughter, Esther, who at 17 is eager to find romance with handsome boy-next-door John Truett. Garland, however, was not interested. She had just turned 21 and had spent years playing adolescents. She saw the role of Esther as just another juvenile part and wanted to graduate to more mature roles like her recent turn in Presenting Lily Mars (1943). She believed that playing yet another teenager would set her career back and told MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer that she wouldn't do it. Mayer, in turn, called Arthur Freed. "Judy says she doesn't want to do the picture," Mayer told Freed. "For once I have to agree with her. I've read it and there's no plot."
Freed was adamant that Meet Me in St. Louis should have Judy Garland as its star. It was a fine part, he argued, in a film that would certainly be something unique and very special. The character was not a silly juvenile but a beautiful young woman whose emotions would run the gamut as she dealt with her first love as well as the threat of her family being uprooted from the only place she's ever called home. Freed's track record at MGM so far had been excellent, and Mayer decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. He told Garland that she was being assigned to star in Meet Me in St. Louis whether she liked it or not.
To play Garland's youngest sister, Tootie, a quirky tomboy with a dark side, MGM assigned one of their greatest assets at the time, child star Margaret O'Brien. Tootie was a significant and complex part requiring a young actress of great talent. O'Brien certainly fit the bill having already tackled some challenging roles in films such as Journey for Margaret (1942) and Jane Eyre (1944).
Actress Lucille Bremer was hand-picked by producer Arthur Freed to play Rose, the eldest Smith daughter. The striking Bremer was a former Radio City Rockette and had enjoyed some success with a nightclub act when Freed discovered her and put her under contract to MGM. According to Vincente Minnelli, Freed felt that Bremer had the makings of a major star. Meet Me in St. Louis would mark Bremer's film debut.
Rounding out the cast of Meet Me in St. Louis were Leon Ames as family patriarch Alonzo Smith, Mary Astor as his wife, Tom Drake as Esther's boy-next-door love interest, Harry Davenport as Grandpa, and Marjorie Main as Katie, the Smiths' no-nonsense maid.
The songs planned for Meet Me in St. Louis were to be a blend of old and new to fit the story's turn-of-the-century period. "Skip to My Lou," "Under the Bamboo Tree" and the title song were old tunes that had been popular during the film's time period which were given new arrangements to freshen them up for modern audiences. Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin (Best Foot Forward, 1943) were hired to write most of the film's new songs, which included "The Boy Next Door," "The Trolley Song" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." A song written by Rodgers and Hammerstein that had been dropped from the musical Oklahoma! called "Boys and Girls Like You and Me" was also added to the mix. It was to be sung by Judy Garland as she toured the construction site of the World's Fair with beau John Truett. Although the "Boys and Girls Like You and Me" number was shot, it was ultimately dropped from the film.
Vincente Minnelli was a perfectionist and wanted every detail in Meet Me in St. Louis to accurately reflect its turn-of-the-century setting. MGM wanted Minnelli to use the already existing Andy Hardy street on the back lot as the Smiths' neighborhood. However, Minnelli was resolute that a whole new "St. Louis" street needed to be built in order to realize his vision. It was a great expense for the studio, but L.B. Mayer complied and Minnelli got his wish.
Meet Me in St. Louis would be Vincente Minnelli's first Technicolor film. As would become one of his signature stylistic traits, he looked to the art world for inspiration on the visual look of the film. "I felt the whole picture should have the look of Thomas Eakins's paintings," he said, "though not to the point of imitation." He divided the structure of the film into four seasons, each with a strong stylistic impact. "I decided to introduce each segment of the film by using the Smiths' American Gothic house at 5135 Kensington Avenue as a lovely filigreed illustration," he said, "like the greeting cards of that era. Each card would dissolve into the live action of the Smith family."
by Andrea Passafiume
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
When shooting began on Meet Me in St. Louis in the Fall of 1943, director Vincente Minnelli had a very specific vision in mind to bring Sally Benson's quaint childhood reminiscences to life on the big screen. With a talented cast, a first-rate screenplay and a handful of charming new songs, Meet Me in St. Louis had all the ingredients to be a wonderful film.
The entire cast and crew were immediately impressed with Minnelli's attention to detail in every shot. He had consulted author Sally Benson on how the interiors of the Smith home should look, and she had provided a wealth of first-hand information. As a result, the look of each set was near perfection according to the time period. "The only anachronisms," according to actress Mary Astor in her 1967 memoir A Life on Film, "were the girls' long-swinging hairdos. Girls 'put their hair up' as soon as they got out of pigtails, the first instant they were allowed to by reluctant parents. It was a symbol, like the first long pants for boys."
Judy Garland, who at 21-years-old was transitioning into more adult roles, received a whole new look for Meet Me in St. Louis. She had always been insecure about her appearance, having begun her career in the movies during her awkward adolescent years and had faced much criticism for her fluctuating weight and imperfect features. By the time she played Esther Smith, however, Garland had slimmed down and was emerging as a natural beauty, even if she hadn't realized it yet. When she went to MGM makeup artist Dotty Ponedel, who was assigned to the film, Garland showed Ponedel the tricks she had been using up to then whenever she appeared on camera: caps for her teeth and rubber discs she inserted into her nose to change its shape. To Garland's surprise, Ponedel quickly disposed of the items. "You don't need all this junk," she told Garland. "You're a pretty girl. Let's see what we can do."
With that, Ponedel set about transforming Garland by enhancing the natural beauty that was already there. "I raised her eyebrows a bit, and gave her a fuller lower lip," said Ponedel. "I put on a makeup base that was pretty to the eye. I knew it would be pretty to the camera too. I tweezed out some of the hairline." The work was minimal, but the effect was stunning. Garland was the most beautiful she had ever been, which gave her a new confidence. She was so pleased with the results, that she made sure to use Dotty Ponedel from then on as her makeup artist on every feature she made for MGM.
Garland may have been happy with her new look, but she still wasn't pleased about making Meet Me in St. Louis. She didn't take her role very seriously at first. According to Vincente Minnelli, when they first started shooting, Garland was reading her lines in a way that poked fun at the script. At that point Minnelli believed that Garland's co-star Lucille Bremer was doing a better job than she because Bremer understood the role better and delivered every line with utter sincerity. Minnelli took Garland aside and asked her to do the same. "I want you to read your lines as if you mean every word," he advised her.
Judy Garland was also indulging in some bad habits during the making of Meet Me in St. Louis. She would complain of illnesses and headaches, often arriving late to the set and keeping the cast and crew waiting for hours. "Judy was no longer a rotund little giggler, but her growing up was not maturing," said co-star Mary Astor. Astor had played Garland's mother once before in the 1938 film Listen, Darling. "The fun was still there and she seemed to have great energy. But it was intense, driven, tremulous. Anxious. She was working way over the capacities of any human being. She was recording at night and playing in the picture in the day, and people got annoyed when she was late on the set, and when she got jittery and weepy with fatigue. Including myself. I often felt that her behavior during this period was due to bigshotitis and very unprofessional. Making a movie was a communal effort: Everyone depended on everyone else, and for one person to keep 150 other workers sitting around on a sound stage while she fiddled with her lipstick in her dressing room was just plain bad manners."
One day Mary Astor had had enough of the inconsiderate behavior and decided to give Garland a piece of her mind. "I walked into Judy's portable dressing room one tense morning," said Astor, "and she greeted me with her usual cheery, 'Hi, Mom!' I sat down on the couch while she went on primping, and said, 'Judy, what the hell's happened to you? You were a trouper once.' She stared at me. I went on, 'You have kept the entire company out there waiting for two hours. Waiting for you to favor us with your presence. You know we're stuck there's nothing we can do without you at the moment.' She giggled and said, 'Yeah, that's what everybody's been telling me.' That bugged me and I said, 'Well, then, either get the hell on the set or I'm going home.' She grabbed me by the hand, and her face had crumpled up, 'I don't sleep, Mom!' And I said, 'Well, go to bed earlier then like we all have to do. You're not so damn special, baby!' and stalked out in my own unthinking high dudgeon. It was some years later before I really knew what she'd been going through."
Garland also hated rehearsing for her scenes, and Vincente Minnelli liked to have a lot of rehearsals. She took to sneaking off the set early in order to avoid them. "She'd get in her car and zoom off before I had a chance to call a run-through;" said Minnelli. "I'd phone to the studio gate to intercept her."
Throughout the Meet Me in St. Louis shoot, Garland continued to have problems. Arthur Freed had a talk with her one day in her dressing room and then told Minnelli what was on Garland's mind. "She said she doesn't know what you want...She doesn't feel she can act anymore," said Freed. Minnelli was worried, but Freed reassured him. "Don't worry," Freed said. "It'll work out. I told Judy you know what you're doing and to trust you." Minnelli remained determined to coax a good performance out of her. "I didn't give up trying to reach her," said Minnelli. "I eventually could tell Judy what I wanted her to do with just a look, but at first I had to find the key words to get her to react. What seemed obvious to me was perplexing to her. Though the lines seemed silly to her, she had to believe in them. Each of Esther's crises, no matter how minor, had to be treated like the 1929 crash. Finally the message got to her...I still don't know how. Once she grasped the motivation, she was as brilliant in the dramatic scenes as she's been in the musical numbers. She was alternately wistful and exuberant, but always endearing."
A former child star herself, Judy Garland couldn't help but be concerned about young Margaret O'Brien. Garland was worried that O'Brien was being overworked on Meet Me in St. Louis and was missing out on her childhood. However, O'Brien herself said in a 2004 interview that while she appreciated Garland's concern, this was not the case. O'Brien loved her time acting, and the child labor laws had been strengthened in the time since Garland had been an underage star. "Tootie was fun because I could do a lot of the things I maybe wouldn't normally do myself," said O'Brien, "and she was really kind of bratty and mischievous, so I loved playing Tootie."
Margaret O'Brien was capable of being mischievous herself on the set of Meet Me in St. Louis according to Mary Astor. "Margaret O'Brien was at her most appealing (I might say 'appalling') age," said Astor. "And she could cry at the drop of a cue. Real tears, an endless flow, with apparently no emotional drain whatsoever. She was a quiet, almost too-well-behaved child, when her mother was on the set. When Mother was absent, it was another story and she was a pain in the neck."
According to Astor, O'Brien liked to have fun with the prop master - the person in charge of all of the movie props. For instance, when shooting a scene at the Smith family dinner table, all of the dishes and utensils had been laid out meticulously. "It was Maggie's favorite form of mischief, when his back was turned," said Astor, "to put things in disorder again, to reverse knives and forks, to put two napkin rings beside a plate. It would drive him nuts. And remember the strong caste system on the sets: she was a star and he was just a lowly property man, so all he could do was to smile and say, 'Please, Maggie dear!' when he'd have liked to have shaken her."
Vincente Minnelli was impressed with Margaret O'Brien's exceptional acting at such a young age, though he found some of her methods "enervating." Minnelli explained, "Her mother and aunt would whisper to her just before we shot the dramatic sequences and, like the salivating of Pavlov's dog, Margaret would get highly emotional and cry. I often wondered what they said to her to get that reaction. I was soon to learn." Minnelli, according to his autobiography, discovered one of O'Brien's techniques during the scene in which Tootie, upset over the thought of leaving St. Louis, tearfully takes a stick to the snow people in the backyard and violently knocks them down. "Her mother came to me," said Minnelli. "'Margaret's angry at me tonight. She doesn't want me to work her up for the scene. You'll have to do it.' 'But how?' I asked. 'She has a little dog,' her mother replied. 'You'll have to say someone is going to kill that dog.'"
Minnelli was reluctant to do something that seemed so harsh, but O'Brien's mother convinced him that it would elicit the emotional response that was needed for her to do the important scene. Minnelli eventually told O'Brien what her mother suggested about her dog, and on cue, the tears began to flow on camera. "She did the scene in one take...mercifully for me...and went skipping happily off the set," said Minnelli. "I went home feeling like a monster...I marvel that Margaret didn't turn out to be one too. That sort of preparation struck me as most unhealthy." In her mother's defense, years later Margaret O'Brien claimed that the story was false. "My mother would never have allowed that," said O'Brien in 2004. "June Allyson was also a big crier at the studio and so we had a little contest going: who was the best crier? So all my mother would have to say if I had a hard time crying was that maybe she'd better have the makeup man come over and spray the false tears instead of my crying the real tears, and that would upset me terribly, and then I would cry."
As shooting progressed on Meet Me in St. Louis, something unexpected and special was happening between Vincente Minnelli and Judy Garland: they were falling in love. "I found Judy's self-deprecating wit disarming," said Minnelli, "and the vulnerability she disguised with it all the more touching. Like everyone else at the studio, I wanted to protect and love her. And Judy was affectionate and loving right back." They had their first date towards the end of shooting with another couple. Soon the two were seeing each other exclusively.
Shooting wrapped on Meet Me in St. Louis in April of 1944. By the time Minnelli started editing the film in post-production, according to his autobiography, he and Judy Garland were living together.
by Andrea Passafiume
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
Although only the climactic scenes of its year-long story span focuses on the winter holiday, Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) regularly shows up on lists of "Favorite Christmas Movies." That's probably because no one can forget Judy Garland's delivery of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" to her screen sister, Margaret O'Brien, who is distraught at the prospect of leaving her beloved hometown. Also likely to remain in the memory is the scene that follows, as little O'Brien, with shocking intensity, destroys a group of "snow people" she has created to represent her once-happy family. The problems have a sunny resolution, but it's the melancholy mood of this particular Christmas that touches the heart.
MGM producer Arthur Freed had settled on Sally Benson's "5135 Kensington" stories as a source for family-oriented, turn-of-the-century nostalgia after he lost the rights to the Howard Lindsey-Russell Crouse play, "Life With Father," to Warner Bros. Benson's stories tell of the day-to-day lives of the Smiths, a St. Louis family with four beautiful daughters whose serenity is threatened when their father accepts a transfer to New York. Freed envisioned the distinguished George Cukor as the ideal director for the project, but settled on relative newcomer Vincente Minnelli after Cukor was pressed into creating training films for the Army. Meet Me in St. Louis, Minnelli's third film, established his reputation as a master of the movie musical and became one of the most memorable vehicles for his wife-to-be, Judy Garland. Among her other musical highlights in the film are "The Boy Next Door" and "The Trolley Song," both of which became Garland standards.
The Minnelli-Garland collaboration did not get off to a happy start, thanks to the director's perfectionism and his star's determination to parody the sweet, naive 17-year-old she was playing. Garland, now in her early 20s, was weary of playing juveniles and wanted to move on to more sophisticated roles. During the first day of shooting, Minnelli demanded endless retakes because of dissatisfaction with Garland's line readings, while Garland was reportedly in near-hysterics and demanded that producer Freed intercede. Gradually, however, Garland began to appreciate her director's vision and settled down to deliver an unaffected performance of great sincerity. Soon she and Minnelli became a couple and were engaged by the end of filming. (They would wed on June 15, 1945, and divorce in 1952.)
Meet Me in St. Louis broke box-office records and won high critical praise including The Hollywood Reporter's description, "a warmly human entertainment which has captured a nostalgic charm rarely if ever equaled on the screen." A critic for Variety wrote, "Miss Garland achieves true stature with her deeply understanding performance."
Producer: Arthur Freed, Roger Edens (Associate)
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Screenplay: Irving Brecher, Fred F. Finklehoffe, from stories by Sally Benson
Art Direction: Lemuel Ayers, Cedric Gibbons, Jack Martin Smith
Costume Design: Irene Sharaff
Cinematography: George J. Folsey
Editing: Albert Akst
Musical Direction: George E. Stoll
Original Music: Ralph Blane, Hugh Martin, George E. Stoll (uncredited)
Principal Cast: Judy Garland (Esther Smith), Margaret O'Brien ("Tootie" Smith), Mary Astor (Mrs. Anna Smith), Lucille Bremer (Rose Smith), Leon Ames (Mr. Alonzo Smith), Tom Drake (John Truett), Marjorie Main (Katie the Maid), Harry Davenport (Grandpa Prophater).
C-113m. Close captioning. Descriptive Video.
By Roger Fristoe
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
AWARDS AND HONORS
Meet Me in St. Louis was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Cinematography, Best Original Song (for "The Trolley Song"), Best Musical Score and Best Writing, Screenplay.
Young Margaret O'Brien won a special Academy Award as the Most Outstanding Child Actress of 1944 for her performance as Tootie in Meet Me in St. Louis.
In 1989 Meet Me in St. Louis won an ASCAP Award for the song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" which they named the Most Performed Feature Film Standard.
In 1994 the National Film Preservation Board added Meet Me in St. Louis to the National Film Registry.
The National Board of Review named Meet Me in St. Louis one of the top ten films of 1944.
In 1945 the Library of Congress selected Meet Me in St. Louis as one of 7 films to be the first inclusions in the library's film collection.
In 2005 the American Film Institute ranked Meet Me in St. Louis the 10th Greatest Movie Musical of All Time.
In 2004 the American Film Institute ranked "The Trolley Song" from Meet Me in St. Louis as the 26th Greatest Movie Song of All Time.
In 2005 Time Magazine named Meet Me in St. Louis as one of the Top 100 All-Time Movies.
In 2004 the American Film Institute ranked "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" from Meet Me in St. Louis as number 76 on its list of the Greatest Movie Songs of All Time.
THE CRITIC'S CORNER MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS
"All of these bits of family humor-and several more in the same vein-are done in a manner calculated to warm and enthuse the heart. The Smiths and their home, in Technicolor, are eyefuls of scenic delight, and the bursting vitality of their living inspires you like vitamin A. Miss Garland is full of gay exuberance as the second sister of the lot and sings...with a rich voice that grows riper and more expressive in each new film...Little Margaret O'Brien makes a wholly delightful imp of Satan as Tootie, and Lucille Bremer is lovely and old-fashioned as Rose, the nubile sis. Marjorie Main as Katie, the maid; Harry Davenport as Grandpa and Tom Drake as the boy next door are only three of the several excellent members of the cast. Vincente Minnelli, in his direction, has got all the period charm out of ladies dressed in flowing creations, gentlemen in straw 'boaters' and ice-cream pants, rooms lush with golden-oak wains-coating, ormolu decorations and red-plush chairs...In the words of one of the gentlemen, it is a ginger-peachy show."
The New York Times
"Meet Me in St. Louis is a musical that even the deaf should enjoy...one of the year's prettiest pictures...Meet Me in St. Louis has a good deal more substance and character than most musicals...The solidest single achievement of the movie, in fact, is to give the Smiths something to be sorry about: the real love story is between a happy family and a way of living. Technicolor has seldom been more affectionately used than in its registrations of the sober mahoganies and tender muslins and benign gaslights of the period. Now and then, too, the film gets well beyond the charm of mere tableau for short flights in the empyrean of genuine domestic poetry. These triumphs are creditable mainly to the intensity and grace of Margaret O'Brien and to the ability of Director Minnelli and Co. to get the best out of her. Her song (Drunk Last Night) and her cakewalk, done in a nightgown at a grown-up party, are entrancing little acts. Her self-terrified Halloween adventures, richly set against firelight, dark streets and the rusty confabulations of fallen leaves, bring this section of the film very near the first-rate."
- Time Magazine
"Captivating musical based on Sally Benson's slice of Americana."
Leonard Maltin, Movie and Video Guide
"Garland achieves true stature with her deeply understanding performance, while her sisterly running-mate, Lucille Bremer, likewise makes excellent impact with a well-balanced performance."
"Most of its rather pretty new and old tunes are sung in an up-to-date chromium-and-glucose style which bitterly imposes on one's ability to believe that the year is 1903; and most of its sets and costumes and colors and characters are too perfectly waxen to belong to that or any other year. Indeed, this habit of sumptuous idealization seriously reduces the value even of the few scenes on which I chiefly base my liking for the picture; but at the same time, and for that matter nearly all the time, it gives you, for once, something most unusually pretty to watch. I can't remember ever having seen studio-sealed Technicolor better used...."
- James Agee, The Nation
"Wonderful M-G-M musical....Film is a warm, unsentimental tribute to family, home, and tree-lined America. Garland and O'Brien give lovely performances."
- Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic
"A family group framed in velvet and tinsel...it has everything a romantic musical should have."
- Dilys Powell 
"Patchy but generally highly agreeable musical nostalgia with an effective sense of the passing years and seasons."
- Halliwell's Film Guide
Compiled by Andrea Passafiume