Ready, Willing and Able
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The backstage musical was a Hollywood staple in the 1930s. Standout films of the genre include 42nd Street (1933), Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) and Babes in Arms (1939). Though not as famous as its predecessors, Ready, Willing and Able (1937) is a typical '30s backstage tale complete with an up-and-coming starlet and can't-go-on-without-the-backer storyline. The film is based on a story first published in The Saturday Evening Post by Richard Macaulay. It focuses on two producers (played by Lee Dixon and Ross Alexander) who secure financing for their big show by casting a famous British actress (Wini Shaw) as the headliner. But the show is put in jeopardy when they mistake a newcomer (Ruby Keeler) for the star.
Ruby Keeler's casting in Ready, Willing and Able as the young hopeful was somewhat ironic as it was to be her final film for Warner Bros. Keeler had dominated the studio's musical-comedies in the '30s with hits such as Footlight Parade (1933), Dames (1934) and Shipmates Forever (1935), all of them made with her perennial co-star Dick Powell. She would make only two more films after Ready, Willing and Able: Mother Carey's Chickens (1938), in a role Katharine Hepburn reportedly refused, and Sweetheart of the Campus (1941) opposite Ozzie Nelson.
The real newcomer in Ready, Willing and Able was Lee Dixon, who marked his first starring role in the film. Dixon had a short career, the highlights being The Singing Marine (1937) with Dick Powell and his turn as John Wayne's partner in Angel and the Badman (1947).
Dixon's co-star in Ready, Willing and Able, Ross Alexander, also had a short-lived movie career with a tragic ending. Alexander got his start on the New York stage before appearing in his first film The Wiser Sex (1932). He was soon signed by Warner Bros. and became a contract player. Many assumed Alexander was being groomed for stardom and he appeared in a number of A-pictures and prominent roles such as the Errol Flynn swashbuckler Captain Blood (1935) and as Demetrius in the star-studded A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935).
But in 1935, after four months of marriage, Alexander's first wife, stage actress Aleta Friele, shot and killed herself. Around the same time, Alexander's career took a downturn. He appeared in six pictures in 1936, but only one, China Clipper with Humphrey Bogart and Pat O'Brien, could be considered an A-picture. It seemed the studio had lost faith in him. In September 1936, Alexander married Anne Nagel, his costar in three pictures that year (including China Clipper plus Hot Money and Here Comes Carter). Then, on January 2, 1937, after only a few months of marriage, and close to the one year anniversary of his first wife's suicide, Alexander also took his own life. He was just 29-years old. Ready, Willing and Able would be his final film; it was released posthumously.
Ready, Willing and Able was nominated for one Oscar® for Bobby Connolly's choreography. Connolly, who had staged such Broadway productions as Ziegfeld Follies of 1931 and 1934, Funny Face and Good News, made his film debut as dance director on Moonlight and Pretzels (1933). Some of his most famous Hollywood credits include: dance director on Two Girls on Broadway (1940) and For Me and My Gal (1942); and the staging of musical numbers for The Wizard of Oz (1939).
One familiar face to watch for in Ready, Willing and Able is Jane Wyman. She's eleventh billed in the film as Dot, McNeil's Secretary. The film also features Warner Bros. regular Allen Jenkins. Best remembered for playing cabbies, gangsters and all manner of sidekicks, Jenkins made so many films during his contract run at Warners that he was sometimes referred to as "the fifth Warner Brother." Jenkins plays J. 'Katsy' Van Courtland in Ready, Willing and Able.
Producer: Samuel Bischoff, Hal B. Wallis, Jack L. Warner
Director: Ray Enright
Screenplay: Richard Macaulay, Jerry Wald, Sig Herzig, Warren Duff
Cinematography: Sol Polito
Film Editing: Doug Gould
Art Direction: Carl Jules Weyl
Music: Richard A. Whiting
Cast: Ruby Keeler (Jane Clarke), Lee Dixon (Pinky Blair), Allen Jenkins (J. Van Courtland), Louise Fazenda (Clara Heineman), Ross Alexander (Barry Granville), Carol Hughes (Angie).
by Stephanie Thames