Rhapsody in Blue


2h 19m 1945
Rhapsody in Blue

Brief Synopsis

Fictionalized biography of George Gershwin and his fight to bring serious music to Broadway.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Musical
Biography
Music
Release Date
Sep 22, 1945
Premiere Information
New York opening: 26 Jun 1945
Production Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 19m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
12,522ft

Synopsis

When young brothers George and Ira Gershwin are growing up on New York City's Lower East Side, their mother Rose saves enough money to buy a piano, so that Ira, the eldest, can take lessons. George becomes the student, however, when he demonstrates his natural musical abilities. Under the instruction of Professor Frank, George becomes progressively better at the piano. He first obtains a job as a pianist in a vaudeville theater and then in a music store, but his dream is to become a composer. One day singer Julie Adams comes into the store looking for music to use in an audition. George plays "Swanee," one of his own compositions, for her, but when his boss hears him, he loses his job. Later, George is offered a two-year contract at Harms, another music publisher, and Max Dreyfus, the company head, sells "Swanee" to Al Jolson, who makes it a hit. Despite Frank's warning against squandering his talents on popular music, George takes a job writing songs for the Broadway show Half Past Eight , starring Julie, but the show fails. After the success of George White's Scandals of 1921 , for which George writes the music, his career takes off, and together with Ira, who now writes lyrics, George composes a series of hit shows. After George writes "Blue Monday Blues," a song derived from Negro spirituals, which is not well received, conductor Paul Whiteman asks him to compose a serious piece based on the blues for a jazz concert he is planning, The result is Rhapsody in Blue , and upon hearing his prize pupil's composition being performed for a radio broadcast, Professor Frank dies. Later, when Walter Damrosch of the New York Symphony commissions a concerto from him, George goes to Paris to begin a serious study of music. There he meets wealthy painter Christine Gilbert, who introduces him to Maurice Ravel and other composers. The slightly older Christine and George return to the United States, causing a jealous Julie a great deal of pain. Realizing that George is more in love with his music than with her, Christine leaves George and, after composing another Broadway show, George returns to Paris and completes his concerto. George's father dies of leukemia after advising his son that he was wrong to separate from Julie. While living in Los Angeles, George begins to compose frantically. He wins a Pulitzer prize for the musical Of Thee I Sing and writes Porgy and Bess , an opera featuring black performers. Later, George experiences numbness and headaches. After he collapses during a rehearsal, Julie plans to come to California immediately. In New York, George's friend, Oscar Levant, then performs George's Concerto in F to great acclaim, but the occasion is saddened by the announcement of the composer's untimely death.

Cast

Robert Alda

George Gershwin

Joan Leslie

Julie Adams

Alexis Smith

Christine Gilbert

Charles Coburn

Max Dreyfus

Julie Bishop

Lee Gershwin

Albert Basserman

Professor Frank

Morris Carnovsky

Poppa [Morris] Gershwin

Rosemary Decamp

Momma [Rose] Gershwin

Oscar Levant

Himself

Paul Whiteman

Himself

Al Jolson

Himself

George White

Himself

Hazel Scott

Herself

Anne Brown

Herself

Herbert Rudley

Ira Gershwin

John B. Hughes

Himself

Mickey Roth

George Gershwin, as a boy

Darryl Hickman

Ira Gershwin, as a boy

Charles Halton

Mr. Kast

Andrew Tombes

Mr. Million

Gregory Golubeff

Mr. Katzman

Walter Soderling

Mr. Muscatel

Eddie Marr

Buddy DeSylva

Theodore Von Eltz

Foley

Bill Kennedy

Herbert Stone

Johnny Downs

Dancer

Ernest Golm

Otto Kahn

Martin Noble

Jascha Heifetz

Hugo Kirchhoffer

Walter Damrosch

Will Wright

Rachmaninoff

Tom Patricola

Singer

Robert Sayne

Christine's escort

George Riley

Comic

Virginia Sale

Cashier

Tom Stevenson

Ragged bum

Yola D'avril

Prima Donna

Claire Dubrey

Receptionist

Christian Rub

Swedish janitor

Esther Michelson

Housewife

Robert Wilbur

Piano mover

Ivan Lebedeff

Nightclub guest

Odette Myrtil

Madame DeBreteuil

Jay Novello

Orchestra leader

Leroy Antoine

Bootblack

Jack Chefe

Headwaiter

Charles Waldron

Doctor

Lillian Bronson

Telephone operator

John Henry Morton

Newsboy

Sam Savitsky

Masseur

Broderick O'farrell

Butler

Robert Johnson

Sport

William Gillespie

Porgy

Ernie Adams

Customer in bakery

John Dilson

Music critic

Armand Cortes

Hotel clerk

Jacques Lory

Taxi driver

Edward Harvey

Theater manager

"big" Ben Moroz

Tall man

Jesse Graves

Coachman

Oliver Prickett

Painter

Carl Neubert

Painter

Clay Womack

Man in Turkish bath

Frank Pharr

Man in Turkish bath

Kate Harrington

Music teacher

Walter White

Music teacher

Bernard Deroux

Porter

Fred Dosh

Porter

Harry Seymour

Song plugger

Joe Sullivan

Song plugger

Clarence Badger Jr.

Song plugger

Frank Reicher

Guest

Georges Renavent

Guest

Lynne Baggett

Guest

Elsa Basserman

Guest

Constance Purdy

Party guest

Caroline Burke

Party guest

Milton Mack

Party guest

Joan Winfield

Party guest

Ralph Mccolm

Party guest

Nellie V. Nichols

Other woman

Al Gallodoro

Clarinetist

Crew

Milo Anderson

Gowns

Lou Baum

Unit Manager

Folmer Blangsted

Film Editor

Einar H. Bourman

Wardrobe

Irving Caesar

Composer

J. Will Callahan

Composer

Meta Carpenter

Screenplay clerk

Dudley Chambers

Vocal Arrangements

Harry Chandlee

Contract Writer

Geraldine Cole

Hair

Roy Davidson

Director Special Effects

B. G. Desylva

Composer

Roy Dumont

Wardrobe

Clarence Eurist

2d Assistant Director

Frank Evans

Assistant Camera

Leo F. Forbstein

Music Director

David Forrest

Sound

Al Gallodoro

Clarinet solo "Rhapsody in Blue"

Katherine Garabedian

Wardrobe

George Gershwin

Composer

Ira Gershwin

Composer

Merritt Gerstad

Addl Music numbers Photographer

Morris Goldman

Props

Al Greene

Camera Operator

Ferde Grofe

Orch Arrangements of "Rhapsody in Blue"

Anton Grot

Art Director

Ernest Haller

Addl Music numbers Photographer

Ray Heindorf

Orchestra Arrangement

Dubose Heyward

Composer

John Hughes

Art Director

Felix Jacoves

Dialogue Director

Stanley Jones

Sound

Howard Koch

Screenwriter

Jesse L. Lasky

Producer

James Leicester

Montage

Oscar Levant

"Rhapsody in Blue" and "Concerto in F" piano solo

Sonya Levien

Original Story

Nathan Levinson

Sound Director

Ballard Macdonald

Composer

Fred M. Maclean

Set Decoration

Mickey Marigold

Stills

Harold Noyes

Grip

Charles O'bannon

Gaffer

Clifford Odets

Contract Writer

Elliott Paul

Screenwriter

Jim Peters

Best boy

Sol Polito

Director of Photography

Leroy Prinz

Dance numbers created and Director by

Lee G. Roberts

Composer

Robert Rossen

Contract Writer

Ted Schultz

Wardrobe

Tillie Starrett

Hair

Max Steiner

Music Adapted

Joe Stinton

Makeup

Jeanette Storck

Wardrobe

Sally Sweetland

Voice double for Joan Leslie

Ray Turner

Addl piano solo rec

Willard Van Enger

Special Effects

Bob Vreeland

Assistant Director

William Wallace

Stills

Jack L. Warner

Executive Producer

Perc Westmore

Makeup Artist

Paul Whiteman

"Rhapsody in Blue" orch Conductor

Videos

Movie Clip

Rhapsody In Blue (1945) - I've Got Rhythm (Hazel Scott) The real Hazel Scott (seen here) likely never met George Gershwin (played by Robert Alda), but she was known for great performances of his songs, imagined here in the Warner Bros.’ bio-pic, in a Paris nightclub, where he’ll also meet Alexis Smith as fictional Christine, in Rhapsody In Blue, 1945.
Rhapsody In Blue (1945) - A Fella's Gotta Start Somewhere First scene for Robert Alda as grown-up Bronxite George Gershwin, with brother Ira (Herbert Rudley) and parents (Rosemary DeCamp, Morris Carnovsky), when a message from Chico Marx leads to a meeting with an insulting Vaudevillian (Andrew Tombes), in Warner Bros.’ bio-pic Rhapsody In Blue, 1945.
Rhapsody In Blue (1945) - I'm Just A Song Plugger Working in Tin Pan Alley, Robert Alda as George Gershwin (who would have been a teenager at the time) receives the improbably charming and fictional Julie Adams (Joan Leslie), samples his own famous tune, then gets fired by Charles Halton, in the Warner Bros.’ bio-pic Rhapsody In Blue, 1945.
Rhapsody In Blue (1945) - The Blues Will Go On Bandleader Paul Whiteman and impresario George White play themselves after the failure of a Blues number by George Gershwin (Robert Alda), who commiserates with brother Ira (Herbert Rudley) and Professor Frank (Albert Basserman), as a new idea emerges, in the bio-pic Rhapsody In Blue, 1945.
Rhapsody In Blue (1945) - Oscar Levant Oscar Levant carries this Hollywood version of his real-life first meeting with George Gershwin (played by Robert Alda) in director Irving Rapper's Warner Bros. bio-pic Rhapsody In Blue, 1945.
Rhapsody In Blue (1945) - Send That Song Over To Me! Agent Max Dreyfus (Charles Coburn) is so impressed with new client George Gershwin (Robert Alda) that he introduces him to Al Jolson (as himself, in dreaded black-face) over the phone in Rhapsody In Blue, 1945.

Trailer

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Musical
Biography
Music
Release Date
Sep 22, 1945
Premiere Information
New York opening: 26 Jun 1945
Production Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 19m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
12,522ft

Award Nominations

Best Score

1945

Best Sound

1945

Articles

Rhapsody in Blue


"Even the lies about Gershwin were being distorted."
- Oscar Levant's comment on how far the film Rhapsody in Blue veered from the truth about George Gershwin's life.

Hollywood had expressed interest in doing a biography of America's most influential modern composer ever since his untimely death in 1937, but it took eight years to finally get the story on the screen. Part of that time was consumed in legal affairs, obtaining the rights to the Gershwin musical library, but it was just as difficult coming up with a screenplay from a life that was notably devoid of conflict. If what they ended up with was a fiction with the Gershwin name attached, at least Rhapsody in Blue (1945) featured 22 of his greatest songs and excerpts from five of his instrumental pieces, performed by such noted Gershwin interpreters as pianist Oscar Levant, singers Al Jolson and Anne Brown and conductor Paul Whiteman.

Various writers on the Warner Bros. lot labored over the story for years. When playwright Clifford Odets took over the project, he drove his fellow writers crazy playing recordings of Gershwin's music all day to get in the mood. The result was an 800-page screenplay about class struggle, featuring the young Gershwin's battle to rise from poverty to gain international acceptance as a composer. Most readers thought it was more about Odets than Gershwin, so Warners assigned another writer to the project and used portions of Odets' screenplay a year later for another picture with a musical background, Humoresque.

What stymied most of the writers was the lack of dramatic material in Gershwin's life. It wasn't that his life was devoid of romance. He was rumored to have had flings with everyone from Adele Astaire to Fay Wray. Friends noticed that he was always proposing to beautiful women, none of whom took him seriously. After his death, a gold-plated key to French actress Simone Simon's Hollywood home was found among his possessions. None of that was considered screen-worthy, so writers Sonya Levien, Elliot Paul and Howard Koch created two fictional romances for the film, one with a young singer (Joan Leslie), the other with a society woman (Alexis Smith), both of whom leave the driven Gershwin rather than compete with his career. With no major setbacks in his career, the writers magnified the importance of "Blue Monday Blues," a one-act opera dropped from George White's Scandals in 1924, and used it as motivation for Gershwin's first serious piece, "Rhapsody in Blue."

To make up for all the fiction in the screenplay, the studio spared no expense on creating the trappings of authenticity. They borrowed several of Gershwin's personal belongings -- including his worktable, a silent piano keyboard he used when he traveled and even some of his paintings -- from his brother, lyricist Ira Gershwin, who also served as a consultant on the production. The art department re-created some of the most famous theatres and concert venues in Gershwin's career, including Aeolian Hall, where "Rhapsody in Blue" premiered; the Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium, the Comedie-Francaise and the Winter Garden, Music Box and Apollo Theatres. For the Porgy and Bess sequence they built an exact reproduction of the opera's original stage setting. They also hired several performers who had introduced Gershwin's music to the world, including Anne Brown, who had sung in both "Blue Monday Blues" and the premiere of Porgy and Bess. Al Jolson, who had introduced Gershwin's first hit, "Swanee," in the musical Sinbad, performed the number in the same costume he had worn in that 1917 show. When band leader Paul Whiteman, who had commissioned and conducted the first performance of "Rhapsody in Blue," showed up for his scenes, the makeup department had to shave off his mustache to put on a fake one more like the style he wore in 1924. Since he'd lost weight recently, the costume department added padding to his clothing so he would look more like himself.

The wisest choice Warners made in seeking authenticity was hiring longtime Gershwin friend Oscar Levant, who at the time was considered the premier interpreter of his works. Not only did Levant record the performance of "Rhapsody in Blue" and "Concerto in F" used in the film, but also he played himself. Some critics even suggested that he had written his own lines. Certainly, his presence -- and his acerbic one-liners -- helped capture the sophistication of the era in which Gershwin reached the height of his fame.

Rhapsody in Blue was one of Warner Brothers' biggest hits of 1945. It did so well, the studio followed much the same formula in filming their 1946 Cole Porter biography, Night and Day (even down to casting a friend of the composer's, this time Monty Woolley, to provide comic relief). It also provided a smashing screen debut for its star, Robert Alda, who delivered a strong performance as Gershwin. Alda would go on to still greater fame as a Broadway musical star, particularly as the original Skye Masterson in Guys and Dolls, before watching his son, Alan Alda, rise to even greater heights.

Producer: Jesse L. Lasky
Director: Irving Rapper
Screenplay: Howard Koch, Elliot Paul
Based on a story by Sonya Levien
Cinematography: Sol Polito
Art Direction: John Hughes, Anton Grot
Music: Ray Heindorf, Max Steiner
Principal Cast: Robert Alda (George Gershwin), Joan Leslie (Julie Adams), Alexis Smith (Christine Gilbert), Julie Bishop (Lee Gershwin), Albert Bassermann (Prof. Frank), Morris Carnovsky (Poppa Gershwin), Rosemary DeCamp (Momma Gershwin), Herbert Rudley (Ira Gershwin), Darryl Hickman (Ira Gershwin as a Boy), Oscar Levant, Al Jolson, Anne Brown, Paul Whiteman, George White, Hazel Scott (Themselves).
BW-142m. Closed captioning.

by Frank Miller
Rhapsody In Blue

Rhapsody in Blue

"Even the lies about Gershwin were being distorted." - Oscar Levant's comment on how far the film Rhapsody in Blue veered from the truth about George Gershwin's life. Hollywood had expressed interest in doing a biography of America's most influential modern composer ever since his untimely death in 1937, but it took eight years to finally get the story on the screen. Part of that time was consumed in legal affairs, obtaining the rights to the Gershwin musical library, but it was just as difficult coming up with a screenplay from a life that was notably devoid of conflict. If what they ended up with was a fiction with the Gershwin name attached, at least Rhapsody in Blue (1945) featured 22 of his greatest songs and excerpts from five of his instrumental pieces, performed by such noted Gershwin interpreters as pianist Oscar Levant, singers Al Jolson and Anne Brown and conductor Paul Whiteman. Various writers on the Warner Bros. lot labored over the story for years. When playwright Clifford Odets took over the project, he drove his fellow writers crazy playing recordings of Gershwin's music all day to get in the mood. The result was an 800-page screenplay about class struggle, featuring the young Gershwin's battle to rise from poverty to gain international acceptance as a composer. Most readers thought it was more about Odets than Gershwin, so Warners assigned another writer to the project and used portions of Odets' screenplay a year later for another picture with a musical background, Humoresque. What stymied most of the writers was the lack of dramatic material in Gershwin's life. It wasn't that his life was devoid of romance. He was rumored to have had flings with everyone from Adele Astaire to Fay Wray. Friends noticed that he was always proposing to beautiful women, none of whom took him seriously. After his death, a gold-plated key to French actress Simone Simon's Hollywood home was found among his possessions. None of that was considered screen-worthy, so writers Sonya Levien, Elliot Paul and Howard Koch created two fictional romances for the film, one with a young singer (Joan Leslie), the other with a society woman (Alexis Smith), both of whom leave the driven Gershwin rather than compete with his career. With no major setbacks in his career, the writers magnified the importance of "Blue Monday Blues," a one-act opera dropped from George White's Scandals in 1924, and used it as motivation for Gershwin's first serious piece, "Rhapsody in Blue." To make up for all the fiction in the screenplay, the studio spared no expense on creating the trappings of authenticity. They borrowed several of Gershwin's personal belongings -- including his worktable, a silent piano keyboard he used when he traveled and even some of his paintings -- from his brother, lyricist Ira Gershwin, who also served as a consultant on the production. The art department re-created some of the most famous theatres and concert venues in Gershwin's career, including Aeolian Hall, where "Rhapsody in Blue" premiered; the Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium, the Comedie-Francaise and the Winter Garden, Music Box and Apollo Theatres. For the Porgy and Bess sequence they built an exact reproduction of the opera's original stage setting. They also hired several performers who had introduced Gershwin's music to the world, including Anne Brown, who had sung in both "Blue Monday Blues" and the premiere of Porgy and Bess. Al Jolson, who had introduced Gershwin's first hit, "Swanee," in the musical Sinbad, performed the number in the same costume he had worn in that 1917 show. When band leader Paul Whiteman, who had commissioned and conducted the first performance of "Rhapsody in Blue," showed up for his scenes, the makeup department had to shave off his mustache to put on a fake one more like the style he wore in 1924. Since he'd lost weight recently, the costume department added padding to his clothing so he would look more like himself. The wisest choice Warners made in seeking authenticity was hiring longtime Gershwin friend Oscar Levant, who at the time was considered the premier interpreter of his works. Not only did Levant record the performance of "Rhapsody in Blue" and "Concerto in F" used in the film, but also he played himself. Some critics even suggested that he had written his own lines. Certainly, his presence -- and his acerbic one-liners -- helped capture the sophistication of the era in which Gershwin reached the height of his fame. Rhapsody in Blue was one of Warner Brothers' biggest hits of 1945. It did so well, the studio followed much the same formula in filming their 1946 Cole Porter biography, Night and Day (even down to casting a friend of the composer's, this time Monty Woolley, to provide comic relief). It also provided a smashing screen debut for its star, Robert Alda, who delivered a strong performance as Gershwin. Alda would go on to still greater fame as a Broadway musical star, particularly as the original Skye Masterson in Guys and Dolls, before watching his son, Alan Alda, rise to even greater heights. Producer: Jesse L. Lasky Director: Irving Rapper Screenplay: Howard Koch, Elliot Paul Based on a story by Sonya Levien Cinematography: Sol Polito Art Direction: John Hughes, Anton Grot Music: Ray Heindorf, Max Steiner Principal Cast: Robert Alda (George Gershwin), Joan Leslie (Julie Adams), Alexis Smith (Christine Gilbert), Julie Bishop (Lee Gershwin), Albert Bassermann (Prof. Frank), Morris Carnovsky (Poppa Gershwin), Rosemary DeCamp (Momma Gershwin), Herbert Rudley (Ira Gershwin), Darryl Hickman (Ira Gershwin as a Boy), Oscar Levant, Al Jolson, Anne Brown, Paul Whiteman, George White, Hazel Scott (Themselves). BW-142m. Closed captioning. by Frank Miller

Quotes

Trivia

Louanne Hogan dubbed Joan Leslie's singing

The Catfish Row set seen in the "Porgy and Bess" sequence is an exact duplicate of the original 1935 set for the first Broadway production of the opera.

Notes

George Gershwin was born in Brooklyn, New York on September 26, 1898. As depicted in the film, he began his musical career selling songs for the Remick publishing company when he was sixteen years old. Later he worked as a rehearsal pianist. When he was twenty, he was commissioned to write the score for La La Lucille and then wrote the music for five of George White's Scandals. He attracted the attention of serious composers with Rhapsody in Blue, which was first played by Paul Whiteman at the Aeolian Hall on February 12, 1924. His opera Porgy and Bess was the first to use an all-black cast. Although Gershwin had many romantic attachments, there was no counterpart in his life to the character of "Julie." He died of a brain tumor at age 38 on 11 July 1937.
       This film marked the motion picture debuts of Broadway actors Robert Alda and Herbert Rudley. Although Daily Variety lists the preview running time as 143 minutes, the Variety review gives a running time of 130 minutes. In the film, Al Jolson sings "Swanee," the song he made famous, and Anne Brown, the original "Bess," sings "Summertime" from the opera Porgy and Bess. According to Variety, the unbilled Tom Patricola "reprises 'Somebody Loves Me' as he did in 'Scandals.'" Paul Whiteman also re-creates some of his real-life numbers. Press releases included in the file on the film at the AMPAS Library add the following information about the production: Clifford Odets wrote an early version of the screenplay and Robert Rossen was at one time assigned to work on the script from an outline prepared by Ira Gershwin and Kathryn Scola. (Although Odets and Rossen are mentioned in production files for the film, Scola is not.) Five original paintings from George Gershwin's personal art collection were loaned to Warner Bros. for use in the film. These included "Army Doctor" by Amedeo Modigliani; "Abstraction" by Antoine Masson; Georges Roualt's "Three Clowns;" and Maurice de Vlaminck's "Near Paris." Another press release notes that John Garfield was tested for the lead. An July 8, 1945 New York Times article reports that Oscar Levant wanted the filmmakers to include a scene in which he quarrels with George Gershwin-as he frequently did-but the studio thought that an argument would put too much strain on the relationship between the two men as depicted in the film. Hollywood Reporter news items add the following information about the production: Cary Grant was considered for the role of "George Gershwin." Kay Swift worked with Ira Gershwin on the musical arrangements. Oscar Levant dubbed Robert Alda's piano playing. Several theaters, including The Apollo, the Aeolian Hall, Times Square Theater, The Music Box, Carnegie Hall, Lewisohn Stadium, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium and His Majesty's Theatre in London, were recreated for the film. Nathan Levinson's sound recording was nomimated for an Oscar as was Ray Heindorf and Max Steiner's score. Gershwin's Variety obituary notes that the rights to most of his music were controlled by the Warner Bros. publishing group. In 1946, Hollywood Reporter reported that Chico Marx sued Warner Bros for $200,000 for damages and "payment owed for services rendered." Marx alleged that the filmmakers used his name "many times" in the film. Studio officials admitted that Marx's name had been used in the film, but were unclear about what services the comedian had rendered. The disposition of the suit is not known.
       The film received Academy Award nominations in the Music (Scoring of a Musical Picture) and Sound Recording categories. Although modern sources state that Joan Leslie's singing voice was dubbed by Louanne Hogan, Leslie's voice was actually dubbed by Sally Sweetland.