Tea for Two
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Tea for Two (1950), loosely based on the 1924 Otto Harbach-Frank Mandel Broadway hit No, No, Nanette, was another upbeat musical that Doris Day would specialize in during the decade. Day needed cheering up after completing Young Man with a Horn (1950), a melodrama loosely based on the short life of musician Bix Beiderbecke. Early in her career, Doris Day had been a big band singer and had a brief and unhappy marriage to musician Al Jordan. Making that film had brought back bad memories and the experience left her depressed. Tea for Two was just what she needed to bring her out of it. "It was my first movie with Gordon MacRae and Gene Nelson, two cheerful, amusing men, and with a funny, warmhearted man who was destined to become a close friend, the marvelous comic Billy De Wolfe. One day on the set, Billy announced that Doris Day was not suitable as a name for me and promptly christened me Clara Bixby, which is what a lot of my friends call me to this day. Billy said I was much more a Clara Bixby than a Doris Day and he was right."
Tea for Two was not without its anxieties for Day, as it was the first film in which she would receive top billing. It was also the first film in which she would dance. As a child, her dream had been to be a dancer. She and a friend won several dance competitions and used their prize money to take a trip to Hollywood where she hoped to meet her idol, Ginger Rogers. She didn't run into Rogers on that trip, but Day's mother decided to move her thirteen-year-old daughter to Hollywood from Cincinnati, believing that her daughter might get into the movies. During their farewell party on Friday, October 13th, 1937, Day left the house with some friends and was involved in a serious car accident that left her right leg shattered. It ended her dream of a dancing career. While she recovered, she spent much of her time listening to the radio and began singing along. "With all that enforced time on my hands, I began to get interested in singing for its own sake. Not with any thought of following it up, but just for my own amusement." Eventually, of course, Doris Day traded dancing for singing and by 1950 was one of the top vocalists in the country. She went to Hollywood in the 1940s and had been signed to a long-term contract at Warner Bros, where she had co-starred in several musicals. But she had never danced in a film and was very nervous about it.
Tea for Two had her working with choreographer Gene Nelson "who was super. His wife, Miriam, was an excellent dancer who helped him with the choreography and who was absolutely marvelous to me. When we first met, during the filming of Tea for Two, I confessed to Miriam my fears and doubts about being able to dance well enough to satisfy the sharp eye of the camera. Of course I knew my leg was all right, but since I don't like to do anything that I can't do very well, I had my doubts that my best would be good enough. Miriam took my hand and said, "Clara, I'm going to work with you, we'll have all the time we need, and I will see to it, I promise you that I won't let anything go by that isn't first-rate. I'll watch you like a hawk. That's going to be my job, just to watch you. Gene will do the overall choreography, but I will be your personal choreographer. Please don't worry. Trust me."
"Miriam was true to her word, but oh, God, was it difficult! I never worked harder at anything than I did at the dances in my films. Hours and hours and hours...It is not easy to recommence anything that you have laid off of for many years and the stretch between my automobile accident and Tea for Two had me stiff and rusty. Miriam worked with me for endless hours, striving for the fluidity and verve that are the hallmark of the professional dancer. And Gene invented and adapted routines for me that were beautifully suited to my abilities. I would drag myself home at night, too tired to move another step, but I kept practicing in my head, watching myself perform, and that did me almost as much good as getting up on my feet and doing it. I rehearsed songs that way too. Not just the lyrics, but the actual rendition of the song, the phrasing, breathing, all of it, without singing a note."
The hard work paid off. When Tea for Two was released in September 1950, Variety called the film "the type of beguiling musical nonsense that practically always finds a ready reception." Day's dancing with Gene Nelson was deemed "expert". The Independent Film Journal wrote "The big news also is that Doris Day dances for the first time on the screen and shows even greater potentialities as one of the top film entertainers." Photoplay added, "Doris Day dances for the first time on the screen, and brings down the house with her I Know That You Know number with Gene Nelson." Bosley Crowther of the New York Times noted the chemistry between MacRae and Day, saying "the two complement each other like peanut butter and jelly" and that "Miss Day can shuffle a graceful pair of legs."
Producer: Williams Jacobs
Director: David Butler
Screenplay: Harry Clork, William Jacobs, Otto A. Harbach (play), Frank Mandel (play), Emil Nyitray (play)
Cinematography: Wilfred M. Cline
Film Editing: Irene Morra
Art Direction: Douglas Bacon
Music: Vincent Youmans
Cast: Doris Day (Nanette Carter), Gordon MacRae (Jimmy Smith), Gene Nelson (Tammy Trainor), Eve Arden (Pauline Hastings), Billy De Wolfe (Larry Blair), S.Z. Sakall (J. Maxwell Bloomhaus).
by Lorraine LoBianco
Doris Day: Her Own Story by A.E. Hotchner
Variety August 1, 1950
The New York Times September 2, 1950
The Internet Movie Database