Cast & Crew
At New York's Totten Music Foundation, Professor Hobart Frisbee and his six musicologist colleagues devote themselves to compiling the world's most comprehensive music encyclopedia. When their spinsterly benefactress Miss Totten and her lawyer visit and question the mounting cost of the project, the youthful Frisbee flirts shyly with Miss Totten and engages her in a demonstration of a Polynesian love chant. Taken with the chant, Miss Totten happily re-commits to financing the encyclopedia, on which the professors have already labored nine years. As soon as Miss Totten departs, two window washers, Buck and Bubbles, drop by the foundation and ask the musicologists for help on some radio quiz show questions. The professors are startled by Buck and Bubbles' jazzy renditions of classical pieces, and Frisbee, who is the project's folk music expert, concludes that his section of the encyclopedia is outdated. Determined to catch up on nine years of popular music, Frisbee spends an entire day visiting nightclubs. After inviting a series of distinguished jazz musicians to attend a round table discussion at the foundation the next day, Frisbee encounters sexy nightclub entertainer Honey Swanson. Honey, whose gangster boyfriend Tony Crow is wanted by the police for murder, at first rejects Frisbee's invitation, but changes her mind when detectives from the district attorney's office try to subpoena her. Fleeing the club with Tony's henchmen, Joe and Monte, Honey realizes that the foundation is the perfect place in which to hide until she can reunite with Tony. To the delight of his sex-starved colleagues, Frisbee allows Honey to stay the night, and she joins the round table the next morning. During the discussion, Monte and Joe come to the foundation and meet secretly with Honey and hand her a large diamond engagement ring from Tony. Although Honey knows that Tony wants to marry her only because she would then be unable to testify against him, she happily accepts the ring, as becoming Mrs. Crow will guarantee her a life of luxury. Because the police are still looking for her, Honey must remain at the foundation but makes the best of her situation by teaching the professors about jam sessions. When the foundation's stuffy housekeeper, Miss Bragg, threatens to quit unless Honey is expelled, Frisbee dutifully informs the singer that she must leave. Desperate to stay, Honey tells the smitten Frisbee that she has a crush on him and calls him her "yum yum type." Frisbee tries to resist Honey's calculated seduction, but is finally overwhelmed by her kisses. Later that night, the lovestruck Frisbee announces to his colleagues that he is proposing to Honey. Frisbee asks Honey to marry him the next morning and presents her with a modest, romantically engraved engagement ring. Honey is taken aback by the seriousness of Frisbee's devotion, but before she can turn him down, Tony telephones from a small town in New Jersey, identifying himself as "Daddy." Believing that Tony is Honey's father, Frisbee asks him for Honey's hand, and Tony uses Frisbee's confusion to arrange safe transportation for Honey. Tony instructs Frisbee to drive up to New Jersey with Honey, so that her "sick mother" can enjoy the wedding. Although reluctant to fool Frisbee in this way, Honey agrees to Tony's plan and even locks Miss Bragg in a closet after the housekeeper reads a newspaper article about her and threatens to call the police. On the way to New Jersey with Honey and the professors, Frisbee crashes his rented car, forcing them all to spend the night at an inn. There Honey calls Tony, who ignores her protests and announces that he is picking her up that night. Before the gangster arrives, Frisbee mistakes Honey's bungalow for Professor Oddly's and inadvertently confesses his passion to Honey, who responds with loving kisses. In New York, meanwhile, Miss Bragg escapes from the closet and notifies the police about Honey's whereabouts. When Tony and his gang show up at the inn, Frisbee finally realizes he has been duped and, after misdirecting Miss Bragg and the police, confronts Honey. Although Honey is contrite, Frisbee and his cohorts sadly return to the foundation without her. Miss Totten then arrives and informs them that, because of the scandal now surrounding the foundation, the encyclopedia has lost its funding. Just then, Joe and Monte burst in and announce to Frisbee that because Honey has told Tony that she loves Frisbee, Tony wants to show her what a milquetoast Frisbee is by forcing her to marry him under Frisbee's nose. While a feeble justice of the peace undertakes to marry Honey and Tony in one room of the foundation, Monte and Joe hold the professors at gunpoint in another. After their musician friends show up to continue the round table, Frisbee gets an idea to use the raucous rhythms of their music to cause a large drum to fall from its wall perch onto Joe's head. As hoped, the drum knocks Joe out, while Monte literally has a rug pulled out from under him. With moments to spare, Frisbee then rushes to stop the wedding and beats up Tony. Later, Honey proclaims that she does not deserve to marry Frisbee, but he subdues her protests with kisses.
Buck And Bubbles
The Page Cavanaugh Trio
The Golden Gate Quartet
Russo And The Samba Kings
J. Edward Bromberg
O. Z. Whitehead
Paul E. Burns
Karen X. Gaylord
Ludwig Van Beethoven
Gene De Paul
W. Howard Greene
A Song Is Born - A Song is Born
A high-powered group of real jazz greats are featured in this movie, including Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Barnet and Mel Powell. All appear as themselves except for the King of Swing, Benny Goodman, who has his only feature film acting role (in which he doesn't play himself). As Prof. Magenbruch, in fact, he delivers one of the movie's best zingers.
Goldwyn brought Howard Hawks back on board to direct his own remake, and cinematographer Gregg Toland also returned from the original film, this time working in Technicolor. Getting a script, however, wasn't so simple, and ultimately A Song Is Born became the rare narrative feature without a screenplay credit. It does have a story credit, to Thomas Monroe and Billy Wilder no less, and ironically the script was the result of many writers' work - too many, in fact. This was a Hollywood case of writer overload.
Originally, Goldwyn hired Harry Tugend to adapt Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett's Ball of Fire screenplay, which itself had been based on a story by Wilder and Thomas Monroe. After Tugend wrote a couple of drafts, Goldwyn brought in writer after writer for revisions and additional scenes: Phil Rapp, Daniel Fuchs, Melville Shavelson, Robert Pirosh, Ken Englund, Everett Freeman and Roland Kibbee are those known to have contributed (according to Todd McCarthy's book Howard Hawks). Wilder and Brackett felt no connection to the final script and asked not to be credited. Tugend felt that his version, too, had been obliterated by all the rewrites, and he demanded that his name not be used. But Monroe, one of the original story writers, did want a credit, and so his partner Wilder had to have his name included after all.
To top it off, Danny Kaye's personal writer/composer, who had devised most of his songs and comic routines in all his earlier pictures, was having no part of this film. That's because this writer, Sylvia Fine, was also Kaye's wife, and Kaye had recently left her for Eve Arden. With Kaye and Fine separated, Fine refused to take part in any more of his projects. Kaye didn't want anyone else writing songs for him so he simply didn't have any in A Song Is Born. (Eventually Kaye and Fine reconciled, and they remained married for the rest of Kaye's life with Fine managing his career and continuing to write his songs.)
Howard Hawks always said he hated A Song Is Born, but as he never watched the rushes or even saw the final product, the truth must be that he hated the experience of making it. He and Goldwyn had worked together a few times before and had had creative clashes; nonetheless, he came back for A Song Is Born purely because of the $250,000 paycheck it delivered. Hawks, who had just finished shooting one of his best movies, Red River (1948), had almost no interest in the script or the actors and was quite harsh when discussing them in later years. "Danny Kaye," Hawks said, "had separated from his wife, and he was a basket case, stopping work to see a psychiatrist [every] day. He was about as funny as a crutch. I never thought anything in that picture was funny. It was an altogether horrible experience."
Hawks described Virginia Mayo's performance as "pathetic." She had co-starred with Kaye in his last three movies, and Goldwyn promised Hawks that she wouldn't be working on this film. But, Hawks said, "We not only had to take Virginia Mayo, but [Goldwyn] had her run Ball of Fire about twenty times and rehearse with somebody else to play Stanwyck's scenes. She's not Stanwyck, I'll tell you that. So he just loaded the thing up so that there was no chance of making a good scene."
Mayo, for her part, wasn't too fond of Hawks either. She later recalled how Hawks seemed to care much more about her looks than about directing her performance: "He liked every woman to sort of resemble his wife. I had to wear clothes that were patterned after his wife Slim. Even my hairdo was patterned after [hers]." Mayo's singing voice, by the way, was dubbed by Jeri Sullivan.
Red River opened on Sept. 29, 1948. A Song Is Born followed three weeks later. Each had been made for roughly $3 million. In early November, A Song Is Born was the number one movie in the country, and Red River was number two. Still, Red River was a big hit and grossed $4.1 million, while A Song Is Born never broke even. Hawks, however, personally earned much more money directing it.
Producer: Samuel Goldwyn
Director: Howard Hawks
Screenplay: Thomas Monroe, Harry Tugend, Billy Wilder
Cinematography: Gregg Toland
Film Editing: Daniel Mandell
Art Direction: Perry Ferguson, George Jenkins
Music: Hugo Friedhofer, Emil Newman, Don Raye, Gene de Paul
Cast: Danny Kaye (Professor Hobart Frisbee), Virginia Mayo (Honey Swanson), Benny Goodman (Professor Magenbruch), Tommy Dorsey (himself), Louis Armstrong (himself), Hugh Herbert (Professor Twingle).
by Jeremy Arnold
A Song Is Born - A Song is Born
Virginia Mayo (1920-2005)
She was born Virginia Clara Jones in St. Louis, Missouri on November 30, 1920, and got her show business start at the age of six by enrolling in her aunt's School of Dramatic Expression. While still in her teens, she joined the nightclub circuit, and after paying her dues for a few years traveling across the country, she eventually caught the eye of movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn. He gave her a small role in her first film, starring future husband, Michael O'Shea, in Jack London (1943). She then received minor billing as a "Goldwyn Girl," in the Danny Kaye farce, Up In Arms (1944). Almost immediately, Goldwyn saw her natural movement, comfort and ease in front of the camera, and in just her fourth film, she landed a plumb lead opposite Bob Hope in The Princess and the Pirate (1944). She proved a hit with moviegoers, and her next two films would be with her most frequent leading man, Danny Kaye: Wonder Man (1945), and The Kid from Brooklyn (1946). Both films were big hits, and the chemistry between Mayo and Kaye - the classy, reserved blonde beauty clashing with the hyperactive clown - was surprisingly successful.
Mayo did make a brief break from light comedy, and gave a good performance as Dana Andrews' unfaithful wife, Marie, in the popular post-war drama, The Best Years of Their Lives (1946); but despite the good reviews, she was back with Kaye in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), and A Song Is Born (1948).
It wasn't until the following year that Mayo got the chance to sink her teeth into a meaty role. That film, White Heat (1949), and her role, as Cody Jarrett's (James Cagney) sluttish, conniving wife, Verna, is memorable for the sheer ruthlessness of her performance. Remember, it was Verna who shot Cody¿s mother in the back, and yet when Cody confronts her after he escapes from prison to exact revenge for her death, Verna effectively places the blame on Big Ed (Steve Cochran):
Verna: I can't tell you Cody!
Cody: Tell me!
Verna: Ed...he shot her in the back!!!
Critics and fans purred over the newfound versatility, yet strangely, she never found a part as juicy as Verna again. Her next film, with Cagney, The West Point Story (1950), was a pleasant enough musical; but her role as Lady Wellesley in Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. (1951), co-starring Gregory Peck, was merely decorative; that of a burlesque queen attempting to earn a university degree in the gormless comedy, She¿s Working Her Way Through College (1952); and worst of all, the Biblical bomb, The Silver Chalice (1954) which was, incidentally, Paul Newman's film debut, and is a film he still derides as the worst of his career.
Realizing that her future in movies was slowing down, she turned to the supper club circuit in the 60s with her husband, Michael O'Shea, touring the country in such productions as No, No Nanette, Barefoot in the Park, Hello Dolly, and Butterflies Are Free. Like most performers who had outdistanced their glory days with the film industry, Mayo turned to television for the next two decades, appearing in such shows as Night Gallery, Police Story, Murder She Wrote, and Remington Steele. She even earned a recurring role in the short-lived NBC soap opera, Santa Barbara (1984-85), playing an aging hoofer named "Peaches DeLight." Mayo was married to O'Shea from 1947 until his death in 1973. She is survived by their daughter, Mary Johnston; and three grandsons.
by Michael T. Toole
Virginia Mayo (1920-2005)
When asked to play without music, Professor Magenbruch (Benny Goodman) says, "You can't play with out music." They answer, "Well, Benny Goodman used to." Magenbruch then says he's never heard of Benny Goodman.
The working title of this film was That's Life. A Song Is Born is a remake of Samuel Goldwyn's 1941 comedy Ball of Fire . Some dialogue from the earlier film was reused in A Song Is Born. Mary Field portrayed "Miss Totten" in both versions. Will Lee, who plays a waiter in the remake, appeared as a gangster named "Benny" in the 1941 picture. Cinematographer Gregg Toland worked on both pictures, although W. Howard Green is listed in early Hollywood Reporter production charts as director of photography on A Song Is Born. According to contemporary news items, Harry Tugend adapted the script of Ball of Fire, which was written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, based on an original story by Wilder and Thomas Monroe, for A Song Is Born. An October 1948 New York Times article reported that Goldwyn originally intended to credit all four A Song Is Born writers, but after Wilder and Brackett asked the Screen Writers' Guild not to be listed on the remake, Tugend, who had disagreed with Goldwyn about the adaptation, also removed his name from the credits. Because Monroe chose to be credited on the remake, however, Wilder was compelled to include his name as a co-story writer.
Although a July 1947 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Carmen Miranda and her ten-piece rumba band, The Banda Da Lua, were reassembling for a part in the picture, they did not appear in the completed film. Modern sources note that Danny Kaye's wife, composer Sylvia Fine, who wrote most of Kaye's songs, offered to write three numbers for the film, to be performed by Kaye, but that Goldwyn did not want to pay the $60,000 she requested and replaced Kaye's numbers with instrumentals. In a modern interview, Howard Hawks stated that he directed the remake only because Goldwyn agreed to pay him $25,000 a week. Hawks also claimed that he was asked not to position "the Negroes and the white musicians too close together" during their scenes. According to a December 1948 Variety item, Lloyd T. Binford, head of the Memphis board of censors, banned the film in that city, complaining that "'it shows a rough rowdy bunch of musicians of both colors. It is supposed to be about the birth of jazz music in New Orleans. There is no segregation.'"