Presenting Lily Mars
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Judy Garland was already a screen veteran at the ripe old age of 19 in 1943, when she starred in Presenting Lily Mars, a coming-of-age musical for producer Joseph Pasternak, the former-Universal honcho who had tried to get her for his studio years earlier when she was first starting out. Although by the time the film came out Garland was already a divorcee who could only sleep by washing down sleeping pills with a generous dose of vodka, she was still cast as the eternal innocent. It wasn't until the film's finale that MGM allowed her to appear as an adult for the first time in a musical number.
MGM had originally bought the rights to Booth Tarkington's 1933 novel about a small-town girl who rises from the chorus to become a star as a vehicle for Lana Turner. But as the film's producer, recent arrival Pasternak, looked at the script, it seemed too lightweight for the glamour girl, who was being groomed for more dramatic roles. Instead, he suggested the studio add songs to make it more suitable for either Garland or Kathryn Grayson. Pasternak had tried to put Garland under contract when he was at Universal in the '30s, but when MGM decided to keep her, he snatched up another young singer the studio had just let go, Deanna Durbin. After turning Durbin into a star, he even tried unsuccessfully to borrow Garland so the two could team up (they had done the 1936 MGM short "Every Sunday" together) for a musical version of Little Women. With his move to MGM, he finally had the chance to work with Garland.
Presenting Lily Mars would give Garland one of her last juvenile roles at MGM. In some ways, it marked her coming of age on screen as she was paired romantically with adult star Van Heflin. The film also gave her one of her many on-screen musical highlights, as stage newcomer Lily realizes that the theater's cleaning lady (Connie Gilchrist) is a former star, and they duet to "Every Little Movement."
At the time, MGM was working Garland mercilessly. She was finishing shooting on For Me and My Gal (1942), with Gene Kelly, as she started musical rehearsals for Presenting Lily Mars and would start musical numbers for her next film Girl Crazy (also 1943), while completing the earlier picture.
Originally, Garland had filmed a patriotic finale for the film built around the song "Paging Mr. Greenback." When studio head Louis B. Mayer and his executives saw the rough cut, however, they thought the number didn't live up to the rest of the film. With Pasternak's approval, he assigned his resident musical genius, producer Arthur Freed, to come up with a new finale. Garland would spend three months shuttling between the sets of Girl Crazy and Presenting Lily Mars until the sequence was shot. And since the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra was already appearing in the other film, MGM recruited them for this one as well.
The result was a medley of popular classics anchored by "Broadway Rhythm," which Freed had co-written for Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935). Back then, Eleanor Powell had danced one of her quick-fire, sexy tap solos to the tune. This time out, Garland did some pretty impressive hoofing of her own, partnered by future director Charles Walters. A former chorus boy now moving into choreography, Walters had been brought to MGM at Gene Kelly's request to help with the dances on Du Barry Was a Lady (1943). When Mayer saw Walters dancing with Garland, he considered signing him as a musical star, but Freed convinced him that the dancer's career lay behind the cameras. Walters would go on to become one of the studio's top directors, working with Garland again on Easter Parade (1948).
MGM hailed the "Broadway Rhythm" finale as Garland's first appearance on screen as an adult (she actually had played a married woman who dies in childbirth in the early scenes of Little Nellie Kelly in 1940). For the big number she was decked out in an adult evening gown and appeared with her hair up for the first time on screen.
Garland's move into adulthood in Presenting Lily Mars was a case of too little too late for many critics. Although, as ever, they hailed her ability to sell a song and her effortless transitions from comic to dramatic scenes, most complained that the studio had stuck her in juvenile roles for too long. They weren't too crazy about the film either, with the New York Times critic dismissing it as "glorified monotony." The fans loved it, of course, easily pushing the picture into the profit column. The critics would have to wait a little longer for the adult Garland. She would follow Presenting Lily Mars and Girl Crazy with a character two years younger, Esther Smith in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), before graduating to adult roles for good as the young war bride in The Clock (1945).
Producer: Joe Pasternak
Director: Norman Taurog
Screenplay: Richard Connell, Gladys Lehman
Based on the novel by Booth Tarkington
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg Art Director: Cedric Gibbons, Harry McAfee
Music Director: Georgie Stoll
Principal Cast: Judy Garland (Lily Mars), Van Heflin (John Thornway), Fay Bainter (Mrs. Thornway), Richard Carlson (Owen Vail), Spring Byington (Mrs. Mars), Martha Eggerth (Isobel Rekay), Connie Gilchrist (Frankie), Leonid Kinskey (Leo), Ray McDonald (Charlie Potter), Marilyn Maxwell (Chorus Girl), Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra, Bob Crosby and His Orchestra, Charles Walters ("Broadway Rhythm" Dance Partner).
BW-104m. Closed captioning.
by Frank Miller