Cast & Crew
At rehearsals for a new Broadway musical revue, Give a Girl a Break , harried young director-choreographer Ted Sturgis is dressed down by the temperamental star, Janet Hallson, who then breaks her contract and walks out. Ted's former dancing partner, Madelyn Corlane, is proposed as a possible replacement for Janet, but Ted insists she has given up show business, and claims that he can turn the right girl into a star. Ted lets the newspapers know that he is looking for an unknown actress to replace Janet, and a throng of hopeful performers shows up at the theater. Ted's assistant, Bob Dowdy, is immediately smitten with pretty young dancer Suzy Doolittle, while the show's composer, Leo Belney, prefers the elegant Joanna Moss. When Ted and Bob go into producer Felix Jordan's office, they are surprised to see Madelyn, who has decided to make a comeback. Ted agrees to audition the three women the following morning, and privately tells Felix that Madelyn left him two years ago for another man. Suzy runs home and shares the good news with her mother, who insists that Suzy skip the date she made with Bob and prepare for her audition. Meanwhile, Joanna rushes to her home and tells all the neighbors in her apartment building that she is going to star in the show. Joanna's husband, Burton Bradshaw, informs her that he has just been offered a job as head of the music department at a small university in Minnesota, but she refuses to leave New York. Madelyn, meanwhile, tells her boyfriend, Anson Pritchett, that she wants to go back on the stage. Anson discourages Madelyn from auditioning, however, and she reluctantly withdraws. Later, when Suzy does not show up for their date, Bob tracks her down at the rehearsal studio and walks her home, and they begin to fall in love. At her apartment, Madelyn is dressing for a costume party when Ted shows up to insist that she audition. Madelyn admits she is afraid of failing the audition, but a spirited dance with Ted restores her confidence. The following morning, after the three women audition, Felix tells Ted and Leo he does not know which one to choose. Misunderstanding a comment Felix makes, Bob runs outside and tells Suzy she has the part. The men continue to argue over the decision for hours, until Felix finally proposes drawing a name out of a hat. Joanna wins the part, and when Felix calls Suzy, she is crushed that Bob misled her. Ted delivers the bad news to Madelyn in person. She takes the rejection gracefully, then breaks up with Anson, telling him she plans to leave town and open a dancing school. On the final day of rehearsal, Ted finds Joanna in tears in her dressing room as Burton prepares to leave for Minnesota. When Burton insists that Joanna go with him, she happily agrees, getting out of her contract by announcing that she is pregnant. Bob races to tell Suzy, who has not spoken to him since the day of the audition, that she will take over the part. When Bob returns to the theater, Ted informs him that he wanted to cast Madelyn but has been unable to find her. Opening night is a success, but Ted remains downhearted about Madelyn. As Ted paces the empty theater after the show, Madelyn enters and tells him she has realized that it was not the stage she wanted to return to, but him. The partners happily kiss and leave the theater together.
Pat Dean Smith
Betty Jane Howarth
Harry Johnson Jr.
William B. Lee
Irving G. Ries
Edwin B. Willis
Give a Girl a Break
Originally intended to be a major MGM film starring Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Ann Miller, the unavailability of the stars and the changes occurring at the studio turned it into a much smaller production for MGM's young star Debbie Reynolds, the dancing team of Marge and Gower Champion, and the newly arrived Fosse, who had quit the Broadway production of Pal Joey to come to Hollywood.
As Martin Gottfried wrote in his book, All His Jazz: The Life and Death of Bob Fosse, "There were residual elements of the big project it had once been, a score by Burton Lane and Ira Gershwin [their only collaboration] , for instance, direction by Stanley Donen and musical supervision by Saul Chaplin. The screenwriters, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, were estimable too, although in this instance they had written a slender story involving three unknown actresses competing for a Broadway role that becomes available when the star walks out."
Rehearsals started in September 1952, but, as Gottfried wrote, "The Champions [Marge and Gower] and Debbie Reynolds, having played small parts in previous MGM movies, snobbishly formed a clique and sniffed at the newcomer....Donen and [the film's musical director] Saul Chaplin, and Fosse were left to become a trio of pals. In fact, Stanley and Saul were to be Bob's only close friends during the lonely, infertile, and frustrating year that lay ahead."
Fosse had rented pal Buddy Hackett's Hollywood home and bought a red sports car, but he was still unhappy. He realized that his looks were not those of a leading man, and that he did not want to end up a musical star "wearing a toupee". He also knew, as did everyone else on the picture, that it was not going to be an important film, as Stanley Donen later said, "The idea for the story is so puny that it's not worth spending a year of one's life on it." Still, Fosse put his all into it and as Gottfried wrote, "Donen gave him a good-sized role in Give a Girl a Break, almost as big as Gower Champion's, and the two young dancers had several numbers together. Bob was also to dance with Debbie Reynolds, and Donen found him not only cooperative but 'the hardest worker I've ever known". Like almost everyone who ever worked with Fosse, Donen was awed by his perfectionism, the tireless repetition until he got something right. If there was any problem, it was a back flip that Donen had decided would be the climax of one of Bob's big numbers, and Fosse was scared to try it. The young man had not yet discovered his particular dance style "but when he did," Donen said, "it would be delicate and small with no major physical or athletic moves. He didn't want to do the back flip, but I staged the number doing what I knew, not what he did." A back flip is a backward somersault achieved without touching the ground, "just throwing your feet up in the air," Donen said blithely. It lends the illusion of momentary suspension, the head hovering above the ground, and Donen practiced with Bob for hours, holding an arm behind the small of his back as he flipped. Finally, the director said, "Okay, we're going to do it for the camera, the whole dance right up to and including the flip." And for the one and only time, with nobody behind him for support, Bob did the flip and it was perfect. They had it on film, and that is how it appears in the movie. Donen never did know that Bob flew to New York and spent two days working with Joe Price, an acrobatic teacher, to get the flip right before coming back to do it on camera that one time."
Donen also resorted to tricking Kurt Kasznar to get what he wanted for the Nothing Is Impossible number. Donen wired Kasznar so that he would not fall when he bends over so that he is nearly touching the floor with his nose. Donen also nailed Kasznar's shoes to the floor so that he could not move, and had the stagehands drop a sandbag above his head that would stop right before it hit him. As Donen remembered, "He almost had a heart attack, but it got him to move."
Predictably, the critical response to Give a Girl a Break was lukewarm, but the most devastating criticism seems to have come from Ira Gershwin's wife Leonore, as Stephen Silverman wrote in his book Dancing on the Ceiling, "True, the picture was nowhere near Academy Award nomination, but it wasn't this bad," said Ira Gershwin in regard to MGM's denying the picture a New York opening and national reviews. Others shared the studio's opinion. "On leaving the studio projection room after seeing a rough cut of the film, my wife asked me if I owned any stock in the film company." Gershwin did, one hundred shares, which he had purchased the previous year, and this he reported to his wife, Leonore. Her response: "Sell it."
Producer: Jack Cummings
Director: Stanley Donen
Screenplay: Vera Caspary, Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett
Cinematography: William C. Mellor
Film Editing: Adrienne Fazan
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Paul Groesse
Music: Burton Lane
Cast: Marge Champion (Madelyn Corlane), Gower Champion (Ted Sturgis), Debbie Reynolds (Suzie Doolittle), Helen Wood (Joanna Moss), Bob Fosse (Bob Dowdy), Kurt Kasznar (Leo Belney).
by Lorraine LoBianco
Dancing on the Ceiling by Stephen Silverman
All His Jazz: The Life and Death of Bob Fosse by Martin Gottfried
Stanley Donen by Joseph Andrew Casper
Give a Girl a Break
The opening credits read "Starring Marge and Gower Champion." A August 10, 1951 item in Hollywood Reporter's "Rambling Reporter" column stated that Gene Kelly and Carleton Carpenter would appear in the film. A modern source also claims that Kelly was slated to star in the film, along with Fred Astaire, Judy Garland and Ann Miller.
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1953
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1953