Cast & Crew
In 1927 Chicago, eighteen-year-old Gene Krupa lugs a set of drums into his parents' apartment, much to their chagrin. Gene's father, who wants his son to become a priest, condemns Gene's "noisy pounding" and childish behavior, then smashes the drums. Defying his father's wishes, Gene joins his friend, Eddie Sirota, in forming a band. Gene's drumming impresses young Ethel Maguire, who dreams of attending the Juilliard School of Music. Upon returning home from a party one night, Gene finds his family huddled in prayer and learns that his father is dying. After his father's death, a remorseful Gene gives up his dreams of drumming and enters the seminary to become a priest. At the end of his first year of training, Gene returns home for summer vacation and Eddie convinces him to play with the band for the summer. Eddie also tells Gene that he has fallen in love with Ethel and intends to marry her. One night, Gene's family pays an unexpected visit to the club in which he is performing. When his mother vehemently voices her disapproval, Gene informs her that he is not retuning to the seminary. Ethel witnesses the confrontation and urges Eddie and Gene to go to New York where there are more opportunities for jazz musicians. The friends all travel to New York together, and three months pass in which Eddie and Gene are unable to find employment. To support them, Ethel takes a job as a switchboard operator. Ethel, who has always admired Gene, confides that she has fallen in love with him, and he reciprocates her feelings. After Gene tells Eddie that he plans to marry Ethel, they are invited to an informal gathering of jazz musicians, including Tommy Dorsey and Red Nichols. When Gene brashly sits in with the band, they are impressed by his drumming. Later, Red hires Gene to perform in the pit band of a Broadway show. As Gene revels in his newly attained glamour and acclaim, he drifts apart from Ethel, who is busy with her work and classes. On the night of Ethel's birthday, Gene is seduced by temperamental songstress Dorissa Dinell, and as a result, misses Ethel's birthday dinner. To make it up to Ethel, Gene invites her to see him perform at a nightclub. When Dorissa arrives accompanied by a famous columnist and a powerful agent, however, Gene eagerly accepts their invitation to join them and asks Ethel to leave. Feeling neglected, Ethel decides to return to Chicago to see her ailing mother. In her absence, Gene becomes obsessed with being a star and rents a lavish, extravagant apartment to solidify his status. On the night of Ethel's return, Gene is too preoccupied with a party to meet her at the train station, and so sends Eddie instead. Ethel arrives to find Gene surrounded by adoring women, and when Dorissa makes a grand entrance, Ethel leaves in disgust. Gene follows Ethel to her hotel, where she informs him that she is ending their relationship. When a despondent Gene returns to the party alone, the predatory Dorissa offers him a marijuana cigarette to cheer him up. Soon Gene, drunk with fame, marijuana and alcohol, alienates Eddie, who leaves his longtime friend. After starting his own band, Gene embarks on a nationwide tour that ends in San Francisco, where he is arrested for possession of marijuana. Although Gene protests that the drugs were planted on him, Dorissa refuses to testify on his behalf, and as a result, he is sentenced to ninety days in jail. Upon returning to New York, Gene discovers that he has been blacklisted as a drug addict. Unable to find work, Gene takes a series of degrading out-of-town jobs, performing in dives and strip clubs, losing his confidence along the way. In Philadelphia, Ethel comes to see Gene and, after telling him that Tommy Dorsey is forming a band, encourages him to apply for a job. When Gene self-pityingly replies that Tommy would never hire him because he is unable to read music, Ethel encourages him to go to school and learn how. Some time later, a humbled Gene comes to see Eddie and make amends. Now able to read music, Gene asks Dorsey for a job. When Dorsey replies that he has already hired Davey Tough to be his drummer, Eddie suggests hiring Gene as a second drummer. At his comeback concert, Gene is heckled by the audience. Davey backs up the shaken Gene, who rallies and wins a standing ovation from the audience. At the end of the concert, the musicians invite Gene to a party, but he turns down their invitation to be with Ethel.
Charles Lawton Jr.
Charles J. Rice
Donald W. Starling
Frank A. Tuttle
Homer Van Pelt
Philip A. Waxman
The Gene Krupa Story
Like most Hollywood musical biographies, The Gene Krupa Story is conventional in its structure and treatment of the title figure and it does have its fair share of clichés about the pros and cons of fame. Still, the film is unique for showcasing some of the most famous and influential jazz musicians of its era. Red Nichols plays himself and drummer Shelly Manne appears as Davey Tough, Krupa's mentor. Anita O'Day performs "Memories of You" in a penthouse party scene and there are appearances by pianist Bobby Troup (as Tommy Dorsey), bassist Al Morgan, and trumpeter Clyde Hurley. Leith Stevens, a child prodigy who became a prolific film composer (Syncopation , Private Hell 36 , The James Dean Story ), adapted and conducted the score. Even Gene Krupa himself was recruited to provide the drumming for Sal Mineo, who expertly mimics his playing and physical tics, right down to the incessant gum-chewing.
More fact than fiction, The Gene Krupa Story avoids sugarcoating Krupa's life and takes a warts-and-all approach which gives the film an emotional honesty that other screen biographies often lack. In fact, Mineo's portrayal of Krupa is so needy, egocentric, manic and ruthlessly ambitious that you may find yourself rooting for his comeuppance which he receives in spades, starting with a drug bust for marijuana. Dave Frishberg, a pianist who played with Krupa, was particularly struck by the accuracy of one key moment in the film. "The scene where the Krupa character drops his sticks during the big solo, and the audience realizes that he's "back on the stuff." I remember at least a couple of occasions in real life when Gene dropped a stick, and people in the audience began whispering among themselves and pointing at Gene."
Although the film does not linger over Krupa's drug problems or his arrest in San Francisco for possession of marijuana - he was subjected to an 80-day incarceration and then released - it was certainly the notoriety that hurt his career and reputation. He never again attained the dizzy heights of success he reached in 1936 as a member of Benny Goodman's big band when "Sing, Sing, Sing" became the drum anthem of the swing era. (Curiously enough, the song is not even heard in the film due to contractual reasons, nor is Benny Goodman introduced at any point as an important figure in the drummer's career). Krupa did manage to bounce back from his misfortunes and land a new gig with Tommy Dorsey's band in 1944 as well as win the Down Beat Readers' Poll for Best Drummer that year. However, by this point, jazz listeners were more interested in the new sounds of bebop and big band music was fading in popularity. Nevertheless, Krupa continued to tour and perform until he suffered a heart attack in 1960. After that he only played sporadically - including several reunion concerts with Benny Goodman's band - up until his death in 1973. The original working title of The Gene Krupa Story was The Drummer Man, based on a screenplay by Orin Jannings whose other work includes Douglas Sirk's A Time to Love and a Time to Die , adapted from the Erich Maria Remarque novel, and She's Back on Broadway , a Virginia Mayo musical. For Sal Mineo, "no role was desired more, or sought more vigorously, by Sal than this one," according to biographer H. Paul Jeffers. "He'd taken up the drums after Rebel Without a Cause  and they'd become almost an obsession...Sal threw himself into the picture as he had with no other, including Rebel. His own life also had much in common with Krupa's. They were Italian, sons of immigrants, who had found their life's calling as boys and had steadfastly and passionately pursued it against all odds."
When Krupa saw the finished film he endorsed Mineo's performance and even awarded the actor with a set of his own drums in appreciation. And he wasn't the only one who was sufficiently impressed. Actor George Raft said at the time that if a Hollywood studio approached him about his life story on film, he'd want Mineo to play him. Even real-life gangster Mickey Cohen said he'd like Mineo to portray him if a film biography of his exploits ever materialized. Mineo, however, never forgot Krupa's generosity towards him and years later made a similar good will gesture to young singer/actor David Cassidy while dining with Cassidy's family. David recalled, "All I could do was talk with him about the Krupa movie. He told me that Gene Krupa gave him a set of his drums. I said, 'Ah, a set of drums!' Nobody had a set of drums. The next day, there in a huge box was the drum set with a bow on it and a note from Sal to me, saying, 'David, here's the drum set that Gene gave me. Enjoy them.'"
Some Trivia of Note:
- James Darren plays trumpeter/vocalist, Eddie Sirota, who was a longtime friend of Krupa. Darren had just completed Gidget (1959) which brought him overnight success as a pop vocalist and a pinup for teenage girls. He followed that success with a top forty hit in 1961 - "Goodbye Cruel World" - and steady work in the movies (The Guns of Navarone , Diamond Head ) and television. In The Gene Krupa Story, Darren gets to croon "Let There Be Love."
- In the role of Ethel Maguire, Krupa's long-suffering girlfriend, is Susan Kohner. Best known for her role as Sarah Jane, the mulatto girl who passes for white in Imitation of Life , she is also the mother of Chris and Paul Weitz, the directors of American Pie  and About a Boy . The real Ethel Maguire married Gene Krupa twice; the first marriage lasted from 1934-1942; the second one dates from 1946 to her death in 1955. Krupa remarried in 1959 (to Patty Bowler).
- Look for Yvonne Craig, the future star of TV's Bat Girl in a minor role and Gavin MacLeod of "Love Boat" fame as Ted Krupa.
- Susan Oliver, who got her start in television, makes the most of her role as Dorissa Dinell, the wickedly seductive singer who introduces Krupa to pot. Dinell is not a real person but an amalgam based on a number of women in Krupa's life.
Producer: Orin Jannings, Philip A. Waxman
Director: Don Weis
Screenplay: Orin Jannings
Cinematography: Charles Lawton, Jr.
Film Editing: Edwin H. Bryant, Maurice Wright
Art Direction: Robert Peterson
Music: Leith Stevens
Cast: Sal Mineo (Gene Krupa), Susan Kohner (Ethel Maguire), James Darren (Eddie Sirota), Susan Oliver (Dorissa Dinell), Yvonne Craig (Gloria Corregio), Lawrence Dobkin (Speaker Willis).
by Jeff Stafford
Sal Mineo: His Life, Murder and Mystery by H. Paul Jeffers
Gene Krupa by Bruce Crowther
www.afi.com (American Film Institute catalog)
Contemporary Musicians, December 1994, Volume: 13 (Gene Krupa Biography) by John Cohassey (www.gkrp.net/genebio.html
The Gene Krupa Story
The working title of the film was The Drummer Man. Orin Jannings' onscreen credit reads "written by Orin Jannings associate producer." Although an October 1958 Daily Variety news item noted that Leo Brandt was hired to be producer Philip A. Waxman's assistant, the extent of Brandt's contribution to the released film has not been determined. A June 30, 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that the following musicians had been signed to pre-record the musical numbers heard in the film: Benny Carter, Henry Beau, Eddie Miller, Dave Pell, Jerome Casper, Barney Kessell, Joe Triscari, Ray Triscari, Pete Candoli, Conrad Gozzo, Clyde Hurley, Ed Kusby, Murray McEachern, George Roberts, Elmer Schneider, Jess Stacy, John Williams and Jerry Williams. Although Hollywood Reporter news item place the following actors in the cast: singer Mimi Dillard, John Sebastian, stripper Candy Barr, Cosmo Sardo, Snub Pollard, Arthur Walsh, David McMahon, Charles Tannen, Ellie Kent, Frank Allocca, Shirley Kilpatrick, Morgan Jones, John Perri, Marie Ardell, Jonnie Paris, Marjorie May, Phyllis Planchard, Joan Haig and Barbara Haig, their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed.
Gene Krupa (15 January 1909-16 October 1973) was widely considered to be the first drum "soloist." Before Krupa, drummers had been principally timekeepers or noisemakers. Krupa changed that by interacting with the other musicians and introducing the extended drum solo. He is also considered the father of the modern drum set. Krupa convinced H. H. Slingerland, the owner of Slingerland drums, to make tunable tom-toms. Up until then, tom-toms had "tacked heads," which left drummers little ability to change their sound. As noted in a Krupa biography, many of the events depicted in the film paralleled those in his life. Krupa's parents wanted him to go into the priesthood, but his ambition to be a drummer was too strong and he gave up the idea of being a priest. Krupa, who had never learned to read music, moved to New York in 1929, and was recruited by band leader Red Nichols to play in George Gershwin's Strike Up the Band. In 1934, record producer John Hammond recruited Krupa for Benny Goodman's orchestra. The national radio broadcasts of Goodman's orchestra brought a great deal of attention to Krupa's drumming, and his performance in the 1936 Goodman hit song "Sing, Sing, Sing" became the classic drum anthem of the Swing Era. "Sing, Sing, Sing" was not included in The Gene Krupa Story, however.
In 1938, Krupa, whose looks and charismatic performances made him popular with young audiences, left Goodman's group to form his own orchestra, which featured trumpeteer Roy Eldridge and singer Anita O'Day. The band enjoyed great popularity until 1943, when Krupa was arrested in San Francisco for possession of marijuana. Krupa was sentenced to from one to six years in prison, but after eighty days, was released on bail pending an appeal. Although the charges against Krupa were eventually dismissed on the grounds that they were improperly filed, his arrest caused the breakup of his band. Krupa's final public performance was on August 18, 1973, when he reunited with the old Benny Goodman Quartet.
Musician Shelly Manne first portrayed fellow drummer Dave Tough in the 1959 Paramount release The Five Pennies. The Gene Krupa Story was the last of a number of motion picture biographies about contemporary musicians, singers and band leaders that began in the mid-1940s with productions such as the 1945 Warner Bros. picture Rhapsody in Blue, about composer George Gershwin (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). Other examples of the musical biographies include the 1954 film The Glenn Miller Story (see below) and the 1956 picture The Benny Goodman Story, both of which were produced by Universal.
Released in United States Winter January 1960
Released in United States Winter January 1960