Cast & Crew
Poor though they are, Dave and Dora Goodman are determined to secure a good education for their sons. In 1919, Prof. Schepp offers music classes to Chicago's tenement dwellers at Hull House, and although young Benny Goodman dislikes the instrument at first, he becomes an excellent clarinetist by the time he is fourteen. Benny practices his Mozart passages, but when an opportunity to play in a ragtime band arises, he joins the musicians' union and begins his performance career. During a break, Benny listens with awe to the New Orleans jazz band of Edward "Kid" Ory, who advises him to play the way he feels and invites him to sit in. Later, Benny, still two years away from high school graduation, joins the Ben Pollack band and plays at dances throughout the country. On his first visit back home, Benny is dismayed to learn that his father, who always supported his musical aspirations, has been killed in an accident on the way to the train station. The Pollack band secures a job in the speakeasy of Benny's former neighbor, Little Jake Primo, who is now a gangster. There he meets wealthy John Hammond, a jazz lover and music critic, and John's sister Alice, who prefers classical to "hot" music and is uncomfortable in Benny's presence. Pollack's band flops in New York, and Benny, full of ideas but worried that there is no audience for his kind of music, is forced to perform with more traditional dance bands in order to earn a meager living. Still impressed with Benny's talent, Hammond invites him to perform a Mozart clarinet concerto before an audience of blue bloods in the Hammond mansion. Alice is pleasantly surprised by Benny's performance and remarks that although he seems calm and quiet, "all this emotion comes pouring out" when he plays. Benny forms a band and begins to perform on an NBC Saturday night radio program. Admired jazz musician Fletcher Henderson hears the program from his home base in Harlem and is so impressed that he begins to contribute musical arrangements to the band. After the show is canceled, Benny's orchestra goes on tour, but before he leaves, he and Alice declare their strong but confusing feelings for each other. The tour is a failure until the orchestra reaches Palomar, California, where, the group, having won a large following of young fans on the West Coast, is a tremendous success. Benny sees Alice in the audience and plays "Memories of You" for her, and after the show, the two kiss. Benny forms a quartet that includes Lionel Hampton, Teddy Wilson and Gene Krupa, and by the time Benny, his orchestra and his quartet return to Chicago, they are making headlines in Variety . Alice attends the orchestra's New York debut, where a surging crowd dances in the aisles, and later that day, she is relieved to learn that her father approves of the romance. Benny's mother, however, informs her son that his love for Alice is "like a knife in my heart." Worried, Alice visits Mrs. Goodman, who declares that "you don't mix caviar with bagels." Benny is booked into Carnegie Hall, but he wonders why Alice is not planning to attend and worries that "a hall full of longhairs" will disapprove of the orchestra's music. Finally realizing how much Benny loves Alice, Mrs. Goodman secretly invites her to attend the concert, which will feature the orchestra and guest performers Harry James, Ziggy Elman and Martha Tilton. Travel delays nearly cause Alice to miss Benny's triumphant performance, but she arrives in time for a standing ovation and an encore performance of "Memories of You."
Robert F. Simon
Sammy Davis Sr.
John M. Erman
Edward "kid" Ory
Hal K. Dawson
Carli D. Elinor
Steve Allen Jr.
Carlene King Johnson
Leslie I. Carey
Eddie De Lange
B. G. Desylva
Russell A. Gausman
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Joan St. Oegger
Carl Maria Von Weber
Robert B. Wright
The Benny Goodman Story
The film was born out of Hollywood's desire to make lightning strike twice. Universal-International and producer Aaron Rosenberg had scored a huge hit with The Glenn Miller Story (1953), so it was only natural that they make another film biography built around the music of the big band era. Goodman seemed a logical choice, with his rags-to-riches story and his pioneering work in helping integrate the music industry. With the bandleader and many of his associates still alive, Rosenberg saw the potential for another musical extravaganza. Goodman agreed to sell them the rights to his life for $25,000 and took another $10,000 to serve as a consultant. Most importantly, he recorded the clarinet tracks for the film, greatly adding to the picture's musical value.
Rosenberg's first choice to write the screenplay was Valentine Davies, with whom he had worked on the earlier hit. When Davies asked for the chance to direct, the producer said yes, which may have been his biggest mistake. Critics would deride the film's static direction, and Davies would never direct again. His script also failed to capture the real Benny Goodman. The King of Swing would later say that he and his wife laughed at the fictionalized scenes.
An early press release on The Benny Goodman Story stated the studio was considering Marlon Brando as leading man. Although he would have been a horrible mismatch for Goodman physically, his name, at the time, would have sold a lot of tickets. Instead, however, Rosenberg cast Allen, who bore a stronger resemblance to the bandleader. In addition, Allen was an accomplished musician and songwriter, though he had to take lessons with Sol Yaged to learn how to mime playing the clarinet convincingly. In later years, Allen would also prove to be an accomplished actor in stage appearances and television guest shots. In the film, he had little chance to score dramatically. Instead, most of the meatier material went to leading lady Donna Reed and character actress Berta Gersten, the latter cast as Goodman's mother. Reed had only recently won an Oscar® as Best Supporting Actress for her performance in From Here to Eternity (1953) but was having trouble building on her success as a dramatic actress. She would find her greatest fame when she moved into television with The Donna Reed Show in 1958. The Polish-born Gersten was a mainstay of the Yiddish theatre movement in New York and had starred in the pioneering Yiddish-language film Mirele Efros (1939).
Whatever the dramatic failings of The Benny Goodman Story, the selling point was its great music. On the soundtrack, Goodman played everything from swing and jazz to a Mozart clarinet concerto. In addition, the film featured an array of guest stars, including trumpeter Harry James and drummer Gene Krupa jamming on "Swing, Swing, Swing," vocalist Martha Tilton doing "And the Angels Sing," and such Goodman associates as Lionel Hampton, Stan Getz and Ziggy Elman. Sadly, Elman was no longer in condition to render his famous trumpet solo on "And the Angels Sing," so another Goodman band member, Mannie Klein, dubbed it for him. Other Goodman hits on the soundtrack include "Let's Dance," "Goodie Goodie" and "Memories of You," the latter serving as the romantic theme for Allen and Reed.
Though critics were unmoved by the film, praising only the music, it drew heavy praise from humanitarian groups like the B'nai B'rith's Anti-Defamation League for its positive depiction of the Jewish contribution to American culture and the sensitive treatment of Goodman's integration of his band. Sammy Davis, Sr., father of Sammy Davis, Jr., was prominently featured in the film as pianist-arranger Fletcher Henderson, who became a prominent member of Goodman's band in 1939, joining such other music greats as Teddie Winslow and Lionel Hampton.
Producer: Aaron Rosenberg
Director-Screenplay: Valentine Davies
Cinematography: William Daniels
Art Direction: Robert Clatworthy, Alexander Golitzen
Music: Joseph Gershenson, Henry Mancini, Harold Brown, Alan Harding, Fletcher Henderson, Sol Yaged
Cast: Steve Allen (Benny Goodman), Donna Reed (Alice Hammond), Berta Gersten (Mom Goodman), Herbert Anderson (John Hammond), Robert F. Simon (Pop Goodman), Hy Averback (Willard Alexander), Sammy Davis, Sr. (Fletcher Henderson), Jack Kruschen (Charles 'Murph" Podolsky), Harry James, Gene Krupa, Martha Tilton, Lionel Hampton, Ziggy Elman, Stan Getz (Themselves).
by Frank Miller
The Benny Goodman Story
TCM Remembers - Jack Kruschen
Jack Kruschen (1922-2002)
He may have not been a household name, yet his career consisted of over seventy-five films, spanned over six decades, and displayed a strong versatility in playing either dramatic or comic roles with equal effectiveness. He was the definitive, "I can't quite remember the name, but I remember the face" character player who enlivened many films with his robust frame, cherubic face and infectious smile. His name was Jack Kruschen, a superb performer who died on April 2, 2002 at the age of 80, leaving behind a strong body of work that was impressive as any character actor of his generation.
Kruschen was born on March 20, 1922 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The son of a watchmaker who later set up shop in Hollywood, he was performing in an operetta at Hollywood high school when a talent scout for CBS radio discovered him. Kruschen was soon doing voice characterizations on popular network programs such as Dragnet, The Danny Thomas Show and Sam Spade. With his gift for dialects (he was most adept at playing ethnic types like Greeks, Yiddish or Italians - a skill finely honed in his radio days), Kruschen was a natural for the movies and soon made his film debut with a small role in the Betty Hutton comedy Red, Hot and Blue (1949).
Kruschen's early career is peppered with a variety of roles like a comical gangster in both Abbott & Costello Go to Mars (1953) and Money from Home (1953) starring Jerry Lewis & Dean Martin; a hard-nosed police detective in Confidence Girl (1952) and Julie (1956), an underrated Doris Day thriller; or doomed victims to alien prey in Sci-fi cult classics: the 1953 version of War of the Worlds (fans remember him as Salvatore, one of the first earthlings to be killed by the invading Martians) and The Angry Red Planet (1959). The roles offered steady work, but not much critical recognition. All that changed when Billy Wilder cast him in the key role as Jack Lemmon's bemused but caring neighbor, Dr. Dreyfuss in The Apartment (1960). As the man who observes the steady stream of women in and out of Lemmon's apartment and the one who saves Shirley MacLaine from a drug overdose, Kruschen offered a wonderful performance - viewing his neighbor's proceedings with a jaundiced eye, yet never letting his disdain overtake his humor and humanity. He was justly rewarded with an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor.
From this point on, Kruschen was seldom out of work, appearing in over 40 films (including a terrific dramatic turn in the original Cape Fear (1962) as Dave Grafton, a corrupt southern bigot) and nearly 60 guest roles on television for the next two decades. Kruschen would later find fame toward the end of his career when he was cast as Papa Papadapolis in the hit sitcom Webster (1985-1987) and would show pleasant variations of the "kindly old codger" throughout the remainder of his career - like his final role in the romantic comedy 'Til There Was You (1997). His death in April this year may have gone largely unnoticed by the movie-going public, but for those of us who treasure the art of the character player, Kruschen's passing was a loss that is fortunately compensated by his strong body of work that will be enjoyed for fans of the late show for many years to come.
By Michael T. Toole
SIGNE HASSO, 1910-2002
Actress Signe Hasso died June 7th at the age of 91. She was best-known for starring in A Double Life (1947) but played numerous Europeans in films during the 1940s. Hasso was born on August 15, 1910 in Stockholm, Sweden and began acting on stage at the age of 13. Ten years later made her first film appearance as Signe Larsson. She was married in 1936 and adopted the last name of her husband, cinematographer and later director Harry Hasso. After a dozen Swedish films, Hasso moved to Hollywood in 1940 where her first screen appearance was an uncredited role in Journey for Margaret (1942). A brief stint at RKO didn't lead to any more promising film parts so Hasso concentrated on her stage career in New York City. Eventually, her film career became more active, thanks to a quick succession of roles, most notably in Fred Zinnemann's The Seventh Cross (1944), Douglas Sirk's A Scandal in Paris (1946) and Henry Hathaway's The House on 92nd Street (1945). However it was her portrayal of Ronald Colman's wife in the Oscar-favorite A Double Life that solidified her fame. But as Hasso continued to act on the stage and TV, her film work began to taper off. She appeared in high-profile thrillers like Crisis (1950), several made-for-TV movies, a few European productions and even the cult murder mystery, Bert Gordon's Picture Mommy Dead (1966). In 1972, the king of Sweden decorated Hasso for her work. Her final appearance was in a 2001 documentary about Greta Garbo.
HERMAN COHEN, 1927-2002
One of the key producers of B-movies, Herman Cohen, died June 2nd at the age of 76. Like most producers, his name wasn't generally known outside the industry or the realms of film buffs but most people never forget the titles of his films: I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), Horrors of the Black Museum (1959) and the not-quite-immortal Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952). Cohen was a Detroit native, born August 27, 1927. He entered the film business in the smallest possible way, as a 12-year-old janitor, often accepting passes for his family and friends instead of wages. Cohen served in the Marine Corps (several articles incorrectly say the Army) before becoming a publicist at Columbia Pictures. By 1951 he was working as a producer's assistant on low-budget independent films, mostly for Realart Pictures run by another Detroit native Jack Broder. Soon Cohen was producing his own movies, including Westerns and mysteries, until hitting big with the famous I Was a Teenage Werewolf. Starring a then-unknown Michael Landon (under personal contract to Cohen who later tore it up so Landon could appear in Bonanza), the film was made for $100,000 but in just a few months grossed over $2 million. Cohen didn't hestitate to turn out I Was a Teenage Frankenstein and Blood of Dracula by Thanksgiving of that same year and before long had made several films that continued to earn money for years to come. (One TCM writer remembers Horrors of the Black Museum turning up in a small Alabama town in the early 70s, over a decade after its initial release. The film is scheduled for a DVD release with a Cohen commentary from VCI Entertainment.) Cohen also made several films in England including The Headless Ghost (1959) and the cult favorite Konga (1961) where Cohen even paid RKO $25,000 for the rights to use the title King Kong in publicity for his own film. Cohen's later movies included a spaghetti Western and Joan Crawford's final acting role Trog (1970). In the 1980s Cohen ran a company, Cobra Media, that distributed some films and licensed material such as Teenage Werewolf to Landon for use in one of his Highway to Heaven episodes.
By Lang Thompson
TCM Remembers - Jack Kruschen
Valentine Davies' onscreen credit reads "written and directed by Valentine Davies." According to a 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item, the tremendous success of his 1954 Universal film The Glenn Miller Story convinced producer Aaron Rosenberg to make this film, which he was already developing. When Rosenberg asked Davies, the writer of the 1954 production, to script The Benny Goodman Story, Davies expressed an interest in directing it, and Rosenberg acceded to his request. This was the only feature film that Davies directed. In February 1955, Hollywood Reporter listed Marlon Brando as a possible star, and a November 1955 Hollywood Reporter article reported that Art Gilmore would narrate the film. According to materials contained in the Valentine Davies Collection at the AMPAS Library, Benny Goodman was paid $25,000 for the rights to his story, plus an additional $10,000 for consulting. Ludwig Stossell was originally to play the role of "Prof. Schepp," according to the Davies files.
Although the events depicted in the film were inspired by real incidents, the chronology was altered. Benny Goodman (1909-1986) began playing professionally at the age of twelve, and while still a teenager, joined Ben Pollack's band. In the early 1930's, Goodman's band, which at the time included Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton, was the first interracial jazz ensemble to appear in public. From 1936 on, Goodman was known as "The King of Swing," and his 1938 Carnegie Hall appearance marked the first time that a jazz band performed in that venerable institution.
Materials contained in the production files on the film in the AMPAS Library note that Sol Yagel spent two months teaching Steve Allen, who was a pianist and composer as well as an actor and comedian, to play the clarinet. According to the Harrrison's Reports review, Goodman newly recorded all the songs on the film's soundtrack. In addition to the music listed above, a number of Benny Goodman's well-known pieces, including "Goody Goody," were heard briefly on the soundtrack. Studio press notes list the following original Goodman band members as contributors to the soundtrack: Jess Stacey (piano) and Mannie Klein (trumpet). According to a modern source, trumpet player Ziggy Elman's solo in the "And the Angels Sing" number was dubbed on the soundtrack by Klein because, by the time of the film, Elman's lip was permanently damaged.
Hollywood Reporter news items add Jane Howard and Julie Dorsey, band leader Tommy Dorsey's daughter, to the cast, and state that Steven Ford, Jr. made his debut in the picture, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Barry Truex made his feature film debut in The Benny Goodman Story. Portions of the picture were shot on location in Chicago, according to the Davies files.
A joint memo issued by the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith praised the film for its "sympathy and dignity in handling Jewish family life, and because it is symbolic of the contributions of Jews to America's artistic and cultural life." The film was also commended for its "handling of the integration of white and negro musicians in Goodman's orchestra. The subject is never raised, but it is quite plain that the test for Goodman was always the competence of the man and never his color."
Released in United States February 1956
Released in United States Winter December 1955
Released in United States February 1956
Released in United States Winter December 1955