Birth of the Blues


1h 25m 1941

Brief Synopsis

Jeff grows up near Basin Street in New Orleans, playing his clarinet with the dock workers. He puts together a band, the Basin Street Hot-Shots, which includes a cornet player, Memphis. They struggle to get their jazz music accepted by the cafe society of the city. Betty Lou joins their band as a singer and gets Louie to show her how to do scat singing. Memphis and Jeff both fall in love with Betty Lou.

Film Details

Release Date
Nov 7, 1941
Premiere Information
Memphis, TN and New Orleans, LA premieres: 31 Oct 1941
Production Company
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 25m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7,686ft

Synopsis

As a young boy in 1890s New Orleans, Jeff Lambert instinctively leans toward the jazz music of the local black musicians, despite the severe beatings he gets from his conservative father for associating with them. As an adult, Jeff bails renowned white coronet player Memphis out of jail and forms a Dixieland-style jazz band. The band, billed as the Basin Street Hotshots, is thrown out of a movie theater for playing "black" music and is thereafter rejected from every nightclub and café for the same reason. They finally get a break when Betty Lou Cobb, who has befriended Jeff and is the cause of rivalry between him and Memphis, gets a job singing at the mob-owned Black-Tie Café and insists that she be backed only by Jeff's band. Although the audience is initially resistant to the jazz music, Betty Lou encourages people to dance, and everyone becomes enthusiastic for the "new" style of jazz. As the band brings renown and acclaim to itself and the club, Memphis and Jeff have a falling out over Betty Lou, who rejected Memphis' marriage proposal because she loves Jeff, who is only interested in his music. Jeff insists that the band move on to a better engagement at the Lafayette Café, but Blackie, the owner of the Black-Tie Café, makes good on his threats and raids the Lafayette, where he beats up the band members and severely injures their close friend Louey, who was trying to deliver to Jeff a telegram informing him of an engagement in Chicago. After seeing that Louey will recover, the band members prepare to leave for Chicago, but Blackie's thugs trap them in their apartment. By putting on a record while the thugs wait outside, the band pretends to rehearse and the members sneak out one by one. Finally, only Jeff and Memphis remain and when the record skips, the thugs run in shooting. After they unintentionally shoot their boss, Blackie, the thugs run, but not before Jeff saves Memphis from their attack. Memphis admits to Jeff that he is not a one-woman man, and so when they reach the boat, Jeff and Betty Lou profess their love for each other.

Cast

Bing Crosby

Jeff Lambert

Mary Martin

Betty Lou Cobb

Brian Donlevy

Memphis

Carolyn Lee

Aunt Phoebe Cobb

Rochester

Louey

J. Carrol Naish

Blackie

Warren Hymer

Limpy

Horace Macmahon

Wolf

Ruby Elzy

Ruby

Jack Teagarden

Pepper

Danny Beck

Deek

Harry Barris

Suds

Perry Botkin

Leo

Minor Watson

Henri Lambert

Harry Rosenthal

Piano player

Donald Kerr

Skeeter

Barbara Pepper

Maizie

Cecil Kellaway

Granet

Ronnie Cosbey

Jeff, as a boy

Victor Potel

Trumpet player in beer garden

Jimmie Dundee

Jake, "thug"

Hayden Stevenson

Stagehand

Jeni Legon

Black girl in jail

Jimmy Lucas

Man outside of jail

Guy Wilkerson

Man outside of jail

Grace Hayle

Fat woman in café

Edward Emerson

Mayor's son in café

John Miller

Skinny man in café

Sarah Edwards

Dowager in café

Brandon Hurst

Headwaiter, Lafayette Café

Roscoe Ates

Hack driver

Bert Roach

Fat man in theater

Nell Craig

Woman in theater

Alice Keating

Woman in theater

Betty Farrington

Woman in theater

Besse Wade

Woman in theater

Bertha Carlisle

Woman in theater

Kathryn Bates

Woman in theater

Pearl Early

Woman in theater

Rose Allen

Woman in theater

Evelyn West

Woman in theater

Payne Johnson

Boy in theater

Mary Thomas

Child in theater

Charles Lane

Theater manager

Richard Keene

Stage man

Ernest Whitman

Fancy-pants

John Gallaudet

Dude in pool parlor

Pat West

Proprietor of pool hall

Wade Boteler

Desk sergeant

Mantan Moreland

Black trumpet player

Sam Mcdaniel

Black clarinet player

George Guhl

Cop

Keith Richards

Man in illustrated slides

Yvonne Jungquist

Girl in illustrated slides

James T. Mack

Crew

Gladys Baxter

Wardrobe woman

Neal Beckner

2nd Camera

Monta Bell

Associate Producer

George Bertholon

Production Manager

Frank Bracht

Film Editor Assistant

Lew Brown

Composer

Ernie Burnett

Composer

"pokey" Carriere

Cornet double for Brian Donlevy

M. Cohn

Wardrobe

Sam Comer

Set dresser Supervisor

John Cope

Sound Recording

James Cottrell

Props

Ford Dabney

Composer

Walter De Leon

Screenwriter

Harry Decosta

Composer

B. G. Desylva

Producer

B. G. Desylva

Composer

Robert Emmett Dolan

Music Supervisor and Director

Jerry Donovan

Stand-in

Hans Dreier

Art Director

Ed Ebele

Prod control Manager

Eda Edson

Dial coach

Eleanor Edwards

Secretary

Gus Edwards

Composer

Robert Ewing

Makeup Artist

Ernst Fegté

Art Director

Byron Fitzpatrick

Stand-in

Arthur Franklin

Music adv

Lee Fredricks

Screenplay clerk

Alvin Ganzer

2d Assistant Director

Erwin Gelsey

Contract Writer

Joe Glover

Dixieland Arrangements

Barclay Grey

Composer

W. C. Handy

Composer

Otto Harbach

Composer

Charles K. Harris

Composer

Earl Hayman

Sound Recording

Edith Head

Costumes

Ray Henderson

Composer

Karl Hoschna

Composer

W. Hurley

Livestock Supervisor

Mary Ann Jones

Hairdresser

R. Krueger

Props

Bert Lawrence

Comedy gags by

Fred W. Leigh

Composer

Leo Lynn

Stand-in

Cecil Mack

Composer

Edward Madden

Composer

Wilkie Mahoney

Contract Writer

William C. Mellor

Director of Photography

Johnny Mercer

Composer

Kerry Mills

Composer

George A. Norton

Composer

Original Dixieland Jazz Band

Composer

Ignacy Jan Paderewski

Composer

Nicolò Paganini

Composer

Henry E. Pether

Composer

Danny Polo

Clarinet double for Bing Crosby

Joe Primrose

Composer

Eddie Prinz

Dance Director

Leonora Sabine

Hairdresser Supervisor

Schuyler Sanford

Assistant to 2d Camera

Harold Schwartz

Unit Manager

Stephen Seymour

Set Dresser

Andrew B. Sterling

Composer

Harry Tugend

Screenwriter

Harry Tugend

Story

Harry Tugend

Assistant Director

J. Vincent

Dialogue Director

Harry Von Tilzer

Composer

Hal Walker

Assistant Director

Paul Weatherwax

Editing

Wally Westmore

Makeup Supervisor

Dan Wyler

Stand-in

Film Details

Release Date
Nov 7, 1941
Premiere Information
Memphis, TN and New Orleans, LA premieres: 31 Oct 1941
Production Company
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 25m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7,686ft

Award Nominations

Best Music Original Dramatic Score

1942

Quotes

Trivia

Bing Crosby's clarinet was dubbed by Danny Polo, Brian Donlevy's cornet by Poky Carriere.

Notes

The following written prologue appears in the onscreen credits of the film: "Dedicated to the musical pioneers of Memphis and New Orleans who favored the 'hot' over the 'sweet'-those early jazz men who took American music out of the rut and put it 'in the groove'." A photographic montage closing the film features Ted Lewis, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, George Gershwin and Paul Whiteman. A St. Louis Post-Dispatch review mistakenly stated that W. C. Handy appears in the montage. A scene from Paramount's 1925 release The Golden Princess, starring Betty Bronson and Neil Hamilton, is featured in this film (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.2171). According to information in Life magazine, the film is loosely based on the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, "one of the first white bands to play in respectable quarters," and the band that young "Jeff" encounters as a boy is loosely based on the Razzy Dazzy Spasm Band, a black group that played along Basin Street in New Orleans. Director Victor Schertzinger died approximately two weeks before the film was released, on 26 October 1941.
       The following information derives from the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library: The film finished four days ahead of schedule and came in $15,000 under budget at a final cost of $857,283; Douglas Gardner and Harry Harvey, Jr. tested for the part of "Jeff" as a young boy. The contractual agreement attached to the main title billing shows that Paramount had the right to bill actor Eddie Anderson as "Rochester," the name of the character for which he was renowned, but could not address him as such in the film. This film marked trombonist Jack Teagarden's feature film debut. Bassist Harry Barris previously played with Bing Crosby in his Rhythm Boys group. Hollywood Reporter news items indicate that Constance Moore, Lillian Cornell and Virginia Dale were teamed to star in the film; Eddie Bracken was initially signed for a comedy role; Ben Holmes was signed to work on the script; Mark Sandrich was originally enlisted to produce and direct; and Monta Bell took over producing when producer A. M. Botsford left Paramount studios.
       The MPAA/PCA files at the AMPAS Library reveal the following information: The initial plot synopsis, dated March 21, 1941, includes the death of the character "Louey," who is killed by a gunshot wound. (In the film he survives a blow to the head). One day later, PCA director Joseph I. Breen reported to Paramount, "While the basic story is satisfactory...the present script cannot be approved for the reason that it contains many unacceptable scenes of the 'red light district' of New Orleans, prostitutes, unacceptable dialogue and the business of two murderers escaping all punishment." Paramount subsequently submitted a revised script and Breen added some other suggestions regarding specific scenes in the script: "We regard it as unnecessary for the proper telling of this story that the colored man, who is thrown out of the saloon, be shown drunk. This...should be omitted"; "Care must be exercised as to the costuming and the dancing of these Negroes if the scenes are to be approved by us"; "It is very questionable as to how the people of the South will react to these scenes showing a white boy playing with the Negro band"; "Any suggestion that the colored girl is acting 'flirtatiously' toward Jeff, a white man, should be avoided. Her speech 'Anything in Memphis that Chattanooga ain't got?' must be read without sexual suggestiveness." Some later suggestions as the script was developed are as follows: "Phoebe's use of the word 'panties' May be deleted by some political censor boards." "The business of Phoebe putting panties on the dolly should be handled carefully."
       John Seitz was listed as photographer in the first Hollywood Reporter production chart listing for this film, but the extent of his contribution to the final film has not been determined. According to the press book, trumpet player "Pokey" Carriere coached Brian Donlevy for this film. A trailer advertising the film featured band leaders Freddy Martin, John Scott Trotter, Ray Noble and Bob Crosby. The Paramount press department cooked up a "feud" between the cities of Memphis and New Orleans to determine which city was the true originator of "the blues" and thus would rightfully premiere the film, resulting in a double premiere in both Memphis and New Orleans. Robert Emmett Dolan was nominated for an Academy Award for Music (Scoring of a Musical Picture) for this film.
       In 1942, a Hollywood Reporter news item reported that the British music publishing house of Campbell, Connelly and Co., Ltd., was suing Paramount over the rights to W. C. Handy's song "Memphis Blues." According to the news item, Paramount obtained rights to the song from the owners, listed as Mercer and Morris, despite the fact that Campbell, Connelly and Co. previously bought the rights. The outcome of the lawsuit has not been determined.