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The Daughter of Rosie O'Grady (1950) is a delightful period musical filmed in vivid Technicolor that is sure to warm hearts during the cold holiday season. Set in 1898 New York City at the end of the Spanish-American War, the story centers on curmudgeonly Irish widower Dennis O'Grady (James Barton) and his three lovely strong-willed daughters: Patricia (June Haver), Katie (Marsha Jones) and Maureen (Debbie Reynolds). As the stubborn father struggles to maintain control of his blossoming girls, he also continues to mourn the loss of his beloved wife Rosie, a vaudeville star whose death Mr. O'Grady bitterly blames on the tough rigors of show business. When middle daughter Patricia is tempted down the same theatrical path by charming vaudevillian Tony Pastor (Gordon MacRae), Papa O'Grady will hear nothing of it, fearing that a similar fate as his late wife's will befall her as well. What can't be denied, however, is Patricia's remarkable natural talent and her strong attraction to the stage--and to Tony as well. Meanwhile, eldest daughter Katie has a big secret that she has been keeping from her father, and it's only a matter of time--say, nine months--before he finds out.
Talented leading lady June Haver had recently made a splash in Hollywood with her portrayal of Broadway star Marilyn Miller in the successful biopic Look for the Silver Lining (1949). She was also being groomed for major stardom at Twentieth Century-Fox on the heels of Betty Grable, one of Fox's biggest stars during the 1930s and 40s. Loaned out to Warner Bros. for the second time to make The Daughter of Rosie O'Grady, Haver was once again paired with Gordon MacRae, who had also appeared with her in Look for the Silver Lining.
The small supporting character of youngest daughter Maureen was written especially for 17-year-old Debbie Reynolds and was her very first speaking role in a motion picture. A Warner Bros. executive by the name of William Orr had recognized her potential as a movie star and asked writers to create a role for her in the film as a means to showcase her considerable charm and help build momentum for her bourgeoning career.
Reynolds, still green in Hollywood at the time, was thrilled at the opportunity to appear in The Daughter of Rosie O'Grady. The director of the film, David Butler, gave her some useful advice. "He understood that I had no idea how to approach a role," explained Reynolds in her 1988 autobiography Debbie: My Life. "'Now don't try and act,' he advised like a kindly uncle. 'Just be you. They've written this to fit you; so just say the words the way you'd say them.'"
One unexpected issue that Reynolds ran into had nothing to do with her performance, but rather with her ears. "During makeup," she said, "they discovered a minor problem. I had ears that stuck out like my father's. I also had baby-fine hair that couldn't hide them. In the picture, they wanted me to wear my hair down. The ears, peeking through my waves like an elf's, spoiled the illusion. They decided to solve the matter by gluing the ears back with liquid adhesive."
As Reynolds began work on the production with her ears glued back, it didn't take long for them to rebel. During one scene in particular Reynolds could feel something was amiss under the hot lights as the cameras rolled. Suddenly in the middle of the scene, one of her glued ears sprang loose from the side of her head. "'CUT!' David Butler yelled," recalled Reynolds. "'GLUE HER EARS BACK!' My face must have turned beet red. Everybody looked at me as if I had two heads. I was horrified."
After Reynolds' renegade ears were glued back again, shooting resumed. "I was afraid to move my head. Every move, every gesture I made, was done as if I were balancing a glass of water on top of my head, wondering when it was going to drop." Once again, however, the hot lights melted the glue and her ears came undone, calling for yet another repair and re-take. Even though she managed to get through the day, she couldn't help but worry and be embarrassed about how her ears had a habit of holding up the shooting schedule. When she brought the matter to her mother's attention, Reynolds was soon taken to a doctor's office for an operation to surgically pin her ears back permanently. After that, needless to say, her ears never came unglued again.
The Daughter of Rosie O'Grady opened in April 1950 to enthusiastic audiences. Over the years it has evolved into a nostalgic favorite just right for family holiday viewing with its heartwarming Christmas-themed finale. Packed with spectacular music and dance numbers, songs in the film include "A Farm Off Old Broadway," "My Own True Love and I," "Winter" and the popular title song sung by Gordon MacRae.
Producer: William Jacobs
Director: David Butler
Screenplay: Jack Rose, Melville Shavelson (screenplay and story); Peter Milne (screenplay)
Cinematography: Wilfred M. Cline
Art Direction: Douglas Bacon
Film Editing: Irene Morra
Cast: June Haver (Patricia O'Grady), Gordon MacRae (Tony Pastor), James Barton (Dennis O'Grady), S.Z. Sakall (Miklos 'Mike' Teretzky), Gene Nelson (Doug Martin), Sean McClory (James Moore), Debbie Reynolds (Maureen O'Grady), Marcia Jones (Katie O'Grady), Jane Darwell (Mrs. Murphy), Virginia Lee (Virginia Lee)
by Andrea Passafiume