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Films set in the late 1800s were very popular during the war years, as nostalgia for a more innocent past is always at its highest during hard times. Female fashions reflected this as women piled their hair up in pompadours and wore puff-sleeved blouses in the forties. 20th Century-Fox kept Betty Grable busy making films set during this time period; so much so that the Commonweal magazine, in reviewing Sweet Rosie O'Grady (1943), wrote, "The Betty Grable movies are all pretty much alike. If you liked the others, you will probably like Sweet Rosie O' Grady."
This time around, Grable plays Madeleine Marlowe, a Brooklyn girl who becomes a star on the stage in London. When she returns home to the United States to boost her career, a police reporter, played by Robert Young, looks into her past in order to get a juicy story and discovers that she is really former Burlesque dancer Rosie O'Grady. A feud and inevitable romance ensues.
The books of Edward Van Every and his cowriter Dwight Taylor were announced by Fox as the basis of another Betty Grable film set in the 1880s, Coney Island (1943), but the truth was that the studio couldn't get a rights clearance from the family of Police Gazette editor Richard Fox, on whom the books were based. Fox, afraid that the other studios might acquire the rights first, put out fake press releases. Van Every and Taylor were actually working on Sweet Rosie O'Grady and the police reporter character played by Robert Young was somewhat fictionalized to avoid a lawsuit. The final script was credited to Ken Englund, based on a story by William R. Lipman, Frederick Stephani and Van Every. Former silent film actor Irving Cummings directed, having worked with Betty Grable before in Springtime in the Rockies (1942) and Down Argentine Way (1940).
The star of Sweet Rosie O'Grady was supposed to be Alice Faye, but the actress had just had a baby girl with her husband, band leader Phil Harris, and was expecting her second daughter, so Grable was given the part. Continuing the tradition of pin-up girls marrying band leaders (Lana Turner and Ava Gardner both married Artie Shaw), Grable would marry Harry James at 4:00 a.m. in a room at the Las Vegas Last Frontier Hotel on July 5, 1943. In the cast with Grable and Young were Reginald Gardiner, as Grable's English fianc, Virginia Grey, Adolphe Menjou, and Sig Ruman. Hermes Pan choreographed the film and was the principal dancer in the Wishing Waltz number. Pan, most famous for choreographing the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals in the 1930s, worked with Grable on seven films, including Springtime in the Rockies, Moon Over Miami (1941), and Coney Island.
The film, budgeted at an estimated $1,185,000, grossed three times that amount at the theaters, a testament to Grable's popularity, and was a thumbed-nose to critics like The New York Times critic "T.S." who called it, "Pretty as a bowl of wax fruit and just as dull [...] again offering Miss Betty Grable of the legs divine in an hour-and-a-half long display of assorted poses, suitable for pin-up. In luscious Technicolor that fairly exudes from every square inch of the screen, Miss Grable flounces about a good deal in some low-necked ensembles that resemble nothing so much as an Italian wedding cake. But the real tours de force come when blue-eyed, platinum-haired Miss Grable sings dreamily in a bathtub with soapsuds up to her glistening shoulders, or later when clad in pink tights she again proves that Twentieth Century-Fox has under contract the legs which long since have become immortal. For goo-goo-eyed masculine fanciers of this sort of thing and for those who sigh heavily over sheer prettiness, Sweet Rosie O'Grady will provide compensations."
Producer: William Perlberg
Director: Irving Cummings
Screenplay: Ken Englund (writer); William R. Lipman, Frederick Stephani, Edward Van Every (story)
Cinematography: Ernest Palmer
Art Direction: James Basevi, Joseph C. Wright
Music: Leigh Harline, Charles Henderson, Cyril J. Mockridge, Herbert W. Spencer (all uncredited)
Film Editing: Robert Simpson
Cast: Betty Grable (Madeleine 'Madge' Marlowe/Rosie O'Grady), Robert Young (Sam A. Magee), Adolphe Menjou (Tom Morgan), Reginald Gardiner (Charles, Duke of Trippingham), Virginia Grey (Edna Van Dyke), Phil Regan (Clark - Composer/Vocalist), Sig Ruman (Joe Flugelman), Alan Dinehart (Arthur Skinner), Hobart Cavanaugh (Clark), Frank Orth (Taxi Driver).
by Lorraine LoBianco
The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures, Volume 1, Part 1
Hischak, Thomas S. The Oxford Companion to the American Musical: Theatre, Film, and Television
The Internet Movie Database
Kurtii, Jeff The Great Movie Musical Trivia Book
T.S. "Sweet Rosie O'Grady, in Which Antics of Betty Grable Are Featured in Technicolor, Makes Appearance at Roxy" The New York Times 21 Oct 43
Williams, Michael The Commonweal Vol. 39