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The Benny Goodman Story

The Benny Goodman Story(1956)

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Valentine Davies' onscreen credit reads "written and directed by Valentine Davies." According to a 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item, the tremendous success of his 1954 Universal film The Glenn Miller Story convinced producer Aaron Rosenberg to make this film, which he was already developing. When Rosenberg asked Davies, the writer of the 1954 production, to script The Benny Goodman Story, Davies expressed an interest in directing it, and Rosenberg acceded to his request. This was the only feature film that Davies directed. In February 1955, Hollywood Reporter listed Marlon Brando as a possible star, and a November 1955 Hollywood Reporter article reported that Art Gilmore would narrate the film. According to materials contained in the Valentine Davies Collection at the AMPAS Library, Benny Goodman was paid $25,000 for the rights to his story, plus an additional $10,000 for consulting. Ludwig Stossell was originally to play the role of "Prof. Schepp," according to the Davies files.
       Although the events depicted in the film were inspired by real incidents, the chronology was altered. Benny Goodman (1909-1986) began playing professionally at the age of twelve, and while still a teenager, joined Ben Pollack's band. In the early 1930's, Goodman's band, which at the time included Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton, was the first interracial jazz ensemble to appear in public. From 1936 on, Goodman was known as "The King of Swing," and his 1938 Carnegie Hall appearance marked the first time that a jazz band performed in that venerable institution.
       Materials contained in the production files on the film in the AMPAS Library note that Sol Yagel spent two months teaching Steve Allen, who was a pianist and composer as well as an actor and comedian, to play the clarinet. According to the Harrrison's Reports review, Goodman newly recorded all the songs on the film's soundtrack. In addition to the music listed above, a number of Benny Goodman's well-known pieces, including "Goody Goody," were heard briefly on the soundtrack. Studio press notes list the following original Goodman band members as contributors to the soundtrack: Jess Stacey (piano) and Mannie Klein (trumpet). According to a modern source, trumpet player Ziggy Elman's solo in the "And the Angels Sing" number was dubbed on the soundtrack by Klein because, by the time of the film, Elman's lip was permanently damaged.
       Hollywood Reporter news items add Jane Howard and Julie Dorsey, band leader Tommy Dorsey's daughter, to the cast, and state that Steven Ford, Jr. made his debut in the picture, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Barry Truex made his feature film debut in The Benny Goodman Story. Portions of the picture were shot on location in Chicago, according to the Davies files.
       A joint memo issued by the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith praised the film for its "sympathy and dignity in handling Jewish family life, and because it is symbolic of the contributions of Jews to America's artistic and cultural life." The film was also commended for its "handling of the integration of white and negro musicians in Goodman's orchestra. The subject is never raised, but it is quite plain that the test for Goodman was always the competence of the man and never his color."