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In 1943, composer Richard Rodgers and writer/lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II began their phenomenally successful partnership, revolutionizing musical theater with their groundbreaking stage production of Oklahoma! The show's success guaranteed that the team would receive offers for Hollywood, and the one they finally accepted came from 20th Century Fox - to write a musical version of the studio's 1933 hit, State Fair. That film, starring Will Rogers, Janet Gaynor, and Lew Ayres, was based on the novel by Philip Stong. The slice of homespun Americana shows how an Iowa farm family's lives are changed when they attend the state fair. Father Abel enters his prized hog, Blue Boy, in competition; mother Melissa enters her prized preserves. And daughter Margy and son Wayne find romance.
Rodgers and Hammerstein liked the original film, and the idea of doing a musical remake, but not the idea of going to California to write it. So Fox agreed to let the team work at home. As Rodgers wrote in his memoirs, "the story, which was set in Iowa, could be filmed in California, while the music and lyrics would be written in Fairfield, Connecticut, and Doylestown, Pennsylvania." Hammerstein also wrote the screenplay for the film. State Fair (1945) would be Rodgers and Hammerstein's only musical written directly for the screen. The score includes several songs which became hits, including "It's a Grand Night for Singing," "That's For Me," and "It Might as Well Be Spring," which won an Academy Award for Best Song. Rodgers recalls in his memoirs that Hammerstein had originally planned to write a song about a girl with spring fever, but discovered that state fairs are usually held in fall. "This gave him a far more original idea: the self-portrait of a girl who shows all the symptoms of spring fever, even though `it isn't even spring.'"
In spite of wartime restrictions, State Fair was given a lavish Technicolor production, and an excellent cast. One of Fox's most promising young ingnues, Jeanne Crain was cast as Margy, although she was not a singer. State Fair made her a star. Crain's singing voice was dubbed by Louanne Hogan, who was put under contract just to dub Crain's vocals. Hogan would also sing Crain's songs in Margie (1946) and Centennial Summer (1946). Co-star Dana Andrews' voice was also dubbed, although he was a trained opera singer. Andrews later claimed that the studio didn't know he was a singer, and he didn't tell them because he figured the singer hired to be his voice needed the job.
Dick Haymes, on the other hand, was a popular crooner who had sung with the Harry James, Benny Goodman, and Tommy Dorsey bands and had his own radio show. State Fair was one of his first leading film roles. Vivian Blaine, who played Haymes' love interest, was a former band and nightclub singer who had been a Fox contract player for several years. But her biggest success would come on the stage as the original Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls (1950), a role she would reprise in the 1955 film version. Dependable character actors Charles Winninger and Fay Bainter rounded out the State Fair cast as the Frake parents. The film was a big success, and after it was released, attendance at state fairs around the country suddenly increased.
Years later, when Fox decided to remake the film, they increased the scope of the film and the budget. Accordingly, the new version of State Fair (1962) was set in Texas instead of Iowa, and boasted several new songs. Oscar Hammerstein had died in 1960, so Richard Rodgers wrote the lyrics as well as the music for the new songs. But critics agreed that bigger was definitely not better, and trashed the remake which starred Pat Boone and Ann-Margret. In 1995, the Rodgers and Hammerstein organization produced a stage version of State Fair, which used as its source the screenplay and score of the 1945 version, and interpolated several additional Rodgers and Hammerstein songs from other musicals. The stage version premiered at the Iowa state fair, and toured for several months before premiering on Broadway. But for most people, the 1945 film musical is considered the best version of State Fair.
Producer: William Perlberg
Director: Walter Lang
Screenplay: Oscar Hammerstein II, Sonya Levien, Paul Green, based on the novel by Philip Stong
Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler, Lewis Creber
Cinematography: Leon Shamroy
Costume Design: Rene Hubert
Editor: J. Watson Webb
Music: Richard Rodgers, music, Oscar Hammerstein II, lyrics
Cast: Jeanne Crain (Margy Frake), Dana Andrews (Pat Gilbert), Dick Haymes (Wayne Frake), Vivian Blaine (Emily Edwards), Charles Winninger (Abel Frake), Fay Bainter (Melissa Frake), Donald Meek (Hippenstahl), Frank McHugh (McGee), Percy Kilbride (Miller).
by Margarita Landazuri