Cast & Crew
Billy De Wolfe
Olga San Juan
Radio broadcaster Jed Potter opens his radio program by telling his audience about three performers who were influenced by Irving Berlin's music: In 1919, when the song "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" is a hit, Jed is in love with pretty chorus girl Mary O'Hara. However, Mary falls in love with Jed's former vaudeville partner, crooner and shiftless nightclub owner Johnny Adams. Jed helps Mary get a starring role in a big Broadway production, while Johnny opens and sells a series of clubs. Johnny and Mary quickly fall in love, and on her opening night, she suggests they marry, but he turns her down, insisting he does not want stability. Two years pass, and Jed gallantly helps Mary forget Johnny and eventually proposes, but Johnny reappears, and he and Mary wed. The couple moves from town to town as Johnny opens nightclub after nightclub, and in New York, three years later, after Mary has given birth to a baby girl named Mary Elizabeth, Johnny opens the Top Hat, his most successful club. When Mary learns that Johnny plans to sell it, she issues an ultimatum, but he sells the club despite her protests. Mary and Johnny divorce, and years later, Mary and Jed's show opens in Chicago, where Johnny has just opened a new club. Johnny visits Mary Elizabeth, who realizes that he is her daddy and has him sing her a song about "running around in circles." She also tells Johnny that her mother will be marrying Jed the next week, and Johnny skips town. When Mary and Jed visit Johnny's club to invite him to the wedding, Mary is distraught to find him gone, and Jed realizes she will always love Johnny and calls off the wedding. Despite Mary's admonition, Jed drinks before going onstage to do a dangerous dance on a bridge and falls, ending his dancing career. Jed now relates over the airwaves that Mary blamed herself for his injury, and Jed has not seen her since that night. Jed makes a public appeal during the broadcast for Mary to return to Johnny, who, after touring with the troops during World War II, is in the studio. As Johnny sings, Mary joins him and they embrace. Jed, Johnny and Mary then leave the studio together.
Billy De Wolfe
Olga San Juan
John M. Sullivan
Charles La Torre
John "skins" Miller
Mary Jane Hodge
Mary Jane Shores
Jac Lucas Fisher
William H. Benter
Gordon C. Wood
C. C. Coleman Jr.
Robert Emmett Dolan
Charles Lang Jr.
Paul K. Lerpae
Joseph J. Lilley
Sol C. Siegel
The reason for the retirement, he wrote simply, was "I felt I had gone about as far as I could, and did not want to run out of gas." Not surprisingly, MGM wasn't thrilled with Astaire's decision. After all, he was still under contract, and Blue Skies, his splashy farewell, wasn't even an MGM film. (The studio had loaned him to Paramount to make it.) But eventually MGM gave Astaire its blessing with the provision that if he ever made a comeback, it would be at MGM. "That was entirely satisfactory," wrote Astaire. "I liked MGM and had no desire to go elsewhere in the unlikely event of my returning."
"Unlikely?" Perhaps at the time it seemed so, but in reality, "retirement" lasted less than two years. After Blue Skies, Astaire did enjoy spending time with his family, his stable of racehorses and his plan to open a chain of dance schools, but after a year or so, he started to miss the movies. He was considering calling MGM to get back to work when the studio called him. Gene Kelly had broken his ankle, they said, and would Astaire step in to replace him on Easter Parade (1948)? The answer was yes, and his retirement was over.
Blue Skies was based on an idea by Irving Berlin, who wanted a story spanning thirty years set to his songs written over that same time frame in a loose chronological order with a few new songs tossed in. The result was a movie with too little plot (basically a love triangle between Astaire, Crosby and Joan Caulfield) and perhaps too many songs (just under half the running time is comprised of numbers). With Astaire and Crosby singing Berlin tunes in Technicolor, however, the movie could do no wrong and became one of the biggest hits of the era.
Thirty-two Irving Berlin songs pop up in one form or another (down from the originally planned 42!), including "Heat Wave," "A Couple of Song and Dance Men," "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody," "Puttin' on the Ritz," "White Christmas" and "You Keep Coming Back Like a Song," a new tune which was nominated for an Academy Award. It lost to "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe," from The Harvey Girls. Robert Emmett Dolan's score was also nominated but lost to The Jolson Story.
Blue Skies may offer an overload of riches for its slender plotline, but there are some fine moments here. In "A Couple of Song and Dance Men," the two stars pull a switch, with Bing dancing and Fred singing. Astaire joked to Time Magazine, "Bing is a wonderful performer. But if I said he was a good dancer, it would be the same as Bing calling me a good singer."
By far the best scene in Blue Skies is Astaire's electrifying "Puttin' on the Ritz" number. In fact, it's one of the finest dance routines Astaire ever put on film. Berlin originally wrote the song in 1930 for Harry Richman, a vaudeville artist who used it in a movie entitled Puttin' on the Ritz (1930). Astaire admired Richman and heard him perform the song in a nightclub that same year. Soon thereafter, Astaire recorded it himself. In Blue Skies, Astaire dances while backed up by nine miniature Astaires, accomplished by process shots and split screen photography. Also used was a trick device that makes Astaire's cane seem to leap from the floor to his hand on command. For one portion of the song, he dances in mimed slow motion, and even makes his cane appear to move in slow motion. It's a fascinating "live" effect and more impressive than the camera-induced slow motion he had tried in Carefree (1938) and would try again in Easter Parade. The number was shot after the rest of the film was in the can - and after five weeks of back-breaking rehearsal - making it (supposedly) Astaire's "last" dance.
Astaire wrote of this number: "I was...fortunate in coming up with one of my most useful trick solos, for 'Puttin' on the Ritz.' This was done with a series of split screens to produce the effect of me dancing in front of a chorus of eight images of myself... very complicated stuff, but it worked... [It] was widely publicized as my 'last dance' in a worldwide display. I did a special series of 'last dance' still photographs for various magazines. It was all serious. I meant it and never had any idea that I'd be back to do any more films."
Director Mark Sandrich, whose credits included Top Hat (1935), Follow the Fleet (1936), Holiday Inn (1942) and So Proudly We Hail! (1943), died of a heart attack close to the start of production on Blue Skies and was replaced by Stuart Heisler.
Producer: Sol C. Siegel
Director: Stuart Heisler
Screenplay: Irving Berlin, Allan Scott, Arthur Sheekman
Cinematography: Charles Lang, William E. Snyder
Film Editing: LeRoy Stone
Art Direction: Hans Dreier, Hal Pereira
Music: Robert Emmett Dolan
Cast: Bing Crosby (Johnny Adams), Fred Astaire (Jed Potter), Joan Caulfield (Mary O'Hara), Billy De Wolfe (Tony), Olga San Juan (Nita Nova), Mikhail Rasumny (Francois).
by Jeremy Arnold
Filming began with Paul Draper as Jed Potter. Draper was fired over either his impatience with Joan Caulfield, who was not a professional dancer, or his stutter. He was replaced by Fred Astaire.
This film marked the second time that "White Christmas" was used in a film.
The title card on the viewed print reads: "Irving Berlin's Blue Skies." According to a September 17, 1945 Hollywood Reporter news item, Paramount planned to allot fifty minutes of screen time for Bing Crosby's singing. Of the many Berlin songs that are featured in the film, three were written expressly for the picture: "Running Around in Circles," "You Keep Coming Back Like a Song" and "A Serenade to an Old-Fashioned Girl."
According to Variety, the cue sheet for the film listed forty-two songs, but a number of them were cut before release. Hollywood Reporter news items give the following information about the production: Producer/director Mark Sandrich, who made an earlier Berlin musical, Holiday Inn (see below) with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, was scheduled to make this film, but died of a heart attack on March 4, 1945. On June 21, 1945, Hollywood Reporter announced that, on doctor's orders that he rest, producer Joseph Sistrom dropped his assignment as producer and was replaced by Sol C. Siegel. Paul Draper, who had been a dance director in the 1930s, began shooting the role of "Jed Potter," but was reported out of the picture on July 31, 1945. According to modern sources, Draper was dropped because of a difficulty with his speech. Cyd Charisse and Risë Stevens were considered for leading roles. For the roles of chorus girls, the Goldwyn Girls, Columbia's Cover Girls and Twentieth Century-Fox's Diamond Horseshoe Girls were tested, and a composite group was eventually used. Ten full-sized nightclub sets were built for the film, according to modern sources.
Blue Skies is the film in which Astaire danced his famous "Puttin' on the Ritz" number. Shortly after the film was released, Astaire announced his retirement from films, but he returned to the screen in 1948, co-starring with Judy Garland in Easter Parade (see below) at M-G-M. He made numerous films from the late 1940s through the 1960s and did not completely retire from films until the early 1980s. Irving Berlin was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music (Song) for "You Keep Coming Back Like a Song," and Robert Emmett Dolan was nominated for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture.