Three Daring Daughters
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Jane Powell, Ann Todd and Elinor Donahue play Three Daring Daughters out to breakup mom¿s new marriage to pianist Jose Iturbi (starring as himself) in this 1948 musical comedy. The girls' aim is to reunite their mother (Jeanette MacDonald) with their foreign correspondent father in a simple plot adapted from the play The Birds and the Bees. The story somehow managed to earn the movie a morally objectionable rating from the Catholic League of Decency on the grounds that it "tended to justify as well as accept the respectability of divorce." Other critics targeted the movie on lesser grounds - that it was, as The New York Times put it, a "silly little tale." Still, despite the innocuous storyline, everyone could agree that music took center stage in Three Daring Daughters. And the voices of Jeanette MacDonald and Jane Powell as well as the piano of Jose Iturbi needed no fictional props; they spoke for themselves.
The film Three Daring Daughters was to be something of a comeback vehicle for Jeanette MacDonald, who had not made a picture in five years. Aside from a cameo appearance in the star-studded war effort Follow the Boys (1944), MacDonald's last film had come in 1942, opposite Robert Young in Cairo. That same year, she'd made her final film with Nelson Eddy in I Married an Angel. To many, the end of the popular MacDonald-Eddy pairing signaled the end of Jeanette's Hollywood career (and indeed Eddy's, as neither star would be as successful without the other). MacDonald set out solo to pursue her dreams of opera stardom. But she wasn¿t finished with Hollywood quite yet, agreeing to be lured back to MGM in 1948 for Three Daring Daughters. Castmates on the film remember MacDonald as nothing but gracious, displaying none of the fading diva complex. In fact, Jane Powell, in her biography, The Girl Next Door - And How She Grew, would recall MacDonald being "a very funny lady" and that stepping onto a movie set after five years, made the veteran actress "a bit nervous." But Powell is quick to point out that "[MacDonald] was still the elegant grande dame and everyone treated her with deference."
MacDonald was particularly kind to Elinor Donahue (later of Father Knows Best TV fame) on the set of Three Daring Daughters. Donahue remembered Jeanette as "a very warm person" who "adored animals." Around Christmastime, MacDonald began promising Donahue that she had a wonderful gift for her. It seems she'd purchased a white angora cat for the young actress' Christmas present. But the surprise was foiled when another crewmember beat her to the punch and gave Donahue a cat. A confused Donahue would remark to her mother, "I don't know what I did. I showed Miss MacDonald my kitty, and she got angry." But it was apparently a short-lived misunderstanding. In describing Jeanette MacDonald, Donahue would call her "a beautiful, beautiful lady - as you think of a very rich and beautiful aunt that you don't see very often."
Another interesting Three Daring Daughters story told by Donahue concerns MGM's attempts to bring MacDonald's lofty screen persona down to earth. The powers that be thought it might humanize her to sing You Made Me Love You, a song about the vulnerabilities of love. And while MacDonald didn't want to do it, she went along and sang the song her own way. As Donahue remembers it, "I came out to listen, and I was very puzzled by the singing of [You Made Me Love You]. As only a child would do, I had the temerity to go over to her and say, `You know, you're not singing that right. It's gimme, gimme, gimme what I cry for." And she said, `No dear. That's the way Mr. Jolson sings it - not the way I sing it." And indeed, when watching the film, MacDonald's version of the song comes across not so much with longing but rather with a wistful, yet confident smirk.
Perhaps MacDonald was thinking of her own happy marriage to Gene Raymond. The couple was married in 1937 and by the time Three Daring Daughters rolled around in 1948, MacDonald was still so much in love that she would not remove her wedding ring - even on camera. Her secret, she revealed, was a "ring slipcover" that allowed her to disguise her wedding band when she played a single character or to match the jewelry chosen by the costume designer (either gold or platinum). MacDonald swore that she'd never taken her wedding ring off, not even to read the message engraved inside. "You may be sure," she said, "that I know every precious word by heart, but I have never read it myself. Gene has told it to me. I vowed when Gene put it on my finger that I'd never take it off." And she never had to. In atypical Hollywood fashion, MacDonald and Raymond were married for almost thirty years, until her death in 1965.
A few more things to note in Three Daring Daughters: First, MacDonald's many hairstyles, all wigs, were used to make her look a little closer to the age of the fifty-something Iturbi. There's also an appearance by Moyna MacGill (mother of Angela Lansbury) as Mrs. Smith, a name-dropping dance partner. And while Jeanette MacDonald and Jane Powell performed their own songs, Ann Todd and Elinor Donahue's voices were dubbed by Pat Hyatt and Beverly Jean Garbo respectively. And finally, there is the music. The film is packed with standards from Route 66 to Sweethearts and piano/orchestra classics from the likes of Litsz and Mozart. And a tip of the hat to Jeanette MacDonald, who made just one more feature after Three Daring Daughters. Her last big screen performance came in The Sun Comes Up (1949).
Producer: Joe Pasternak
Director: Fred M. Wilcox
Screenplay: Albert Mannheimer, Frederick Kohner, Sonya Levien, John Meehan
Cinematography: Ray June
Film Editing: Adrienne Fazan
Art Direction: E. Preston Ames, Cedric Gibbons
Costume Design: Irene
Cast: Jeanette MacDonald (Louise Rayton Morgan), Jose Iturbi (himself), Jane Powell (Tess Morgan), Edward Arnold (Robert Nelson), Harry Davenport (Dr. Cannon), Elinor Donahue (Alix Morgan), Ann E. Todd (Ilka Morgan).
by Stephanie Thames