Cast & Crew
Twentieth Century-Fox film producer George Jessel is frustrated by the task of making a film about the life of vaudeville star Eva Tanguay, whose madcap antics and signature song, "I Don't Care," earned her the nickname "The I Don't Care Girl." One day, Jessel reviews a script submitted by writers Keene and Lawrence and tells them that they are no closer to revealing the impetuous Eva's true nature than before. Jessel instructs the writers to interview Eddie McCoy, Eva's first partner, and when they question the former song and dance man, he tells them how he met Eva: After Eddie's wife dies, he begins performing alone, but is warned that he is not as good as a solo. Wandering the streets, Eddie stops at a small restaurant and is charmed by the impromptu singing and dancing of Eva, who works there as a waitress. After Eva is fired for breaking dishes, Eddie persuades her to join him, and during the next few weeks, teaches her his routine. Eva and Eddie are a hit during their first appearance, although Eva is distracted by her attraction to singer Larry Woods. Larry's partner, pianist Charles Bennett, is jealous, as he is also infatuated with Eva, and informs her that Larry is married. Infuriated, Eva pours a cup of coffee on Larry before he can explain, then tours the country with Eddie, although he can tell that she misses Larry. By the time they reach New York City, Eddie's weak heart prohibits him from working and Eva continues alone. Eva wows the crowd with her energetic performance, and there Eddie's story ends. When Keene and Lawrence repeat the information to Jessel, he orders them to meet with Bennett, who is now a music publisher. Bennett laughingly tells the two writers that the story Eddie told them was entertaining, but not true. After informing them that Eva had been a café performer before she met Eddie, Bennett relates what really happened when she and Eddie came to New York: At the Alhambra Theater, Eva begs the drunken Eddie to sober up before their performance. Their bickering bothers headliner Stella Forrest, and she complains to Mr. Malneck, the theater's owner. Malneck orders Eva to play that afternoon's show alone, and when she states that she needs an accompanist, he takes her to Stella's room, where she is conferring with Bennett. Eva and Bennett are delighted to meet again, and he stages a sophisticated number for her, which is so popular that Stella orders Malneck to fire Eva. Larry has brought impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. to see Eva, however, and he hires her for his Follies. Later, when Larry and Eva are rehearsing their Follies number, he confesses that he is trapped in a loveless marriage to his money-grubbing wife Polly, but that he has fallen in love with Eva and would marry her if he were free. Softened by his declaration, Eva encourages Larry to get a divorce and promises to marry him. Ziegfeld's touch makes Eva a star, and later, she becomes the headliner of the Follies. On the opening night of Eva's new show, Larry tells her that his divorce will be final soon, and informs her that he will be playing his new operetta for a "big producer" that evening. Later, however, Bennett inadvertently reveals that Larry is auditioning his operetta for Stella, whom Eva has never forgiven for getting her fired. Overcome by her temper, Eva refuses to see Larry, but when she learns that the United States has entered World War I, she realizes that her own problems are insignificant and tells Bennett to arrange a meeting with Larry. Before Bennett leaves, however, Eva learns that Larry will be singing with Stella at a benefit show. Again acting without thinking, Eva arranges to have a man armed with tomatoes in the audience during Stella and Larry's performance. Much to Eva's dismay, Larry has enlisted in the Army and appears in his new uniform, and the shocked audience boos when Eva's helper hits Larry with a juicy tomato. Horrified by what she has done, Eva goes into hiding, and Larry reads that she has announced her retirement. Determined to rouse Eva, Larry asks Eddie and Bennett for help, and they persuade her to visit him by implying that Larry may be shipped overseas soon. At the Army camp, Larry is preparing a service benefit show, but when Eva appears and tearfully bids him farewell before his supposed departure for France, he cannot bring himself to tell her the truth. Eva learns the truth from Larry's lieutenant, however, and a disgusted Eddie and Bennett walk out as Eva and Larry quarrel. When Bennett finishes the story, he confesses that he does not know what happened to Eva and Larry. Jessel is perturbed when Lawrence and Keene tell him that the movie will not have a happy ending, and when his secretary tells him that a gentleman who has been trying to see him for weeks has appeared yet again, Jessel grudgingly admits him. The man turns out to be Larry, and a thrilled Jessel listens as Larry tells him that upon his return from the war, Eva was waiting for him. With their romantic difficulties resolved, Eva and Larry continued in show business and enjoyed their success together.
Willis B. Bouchey
Walter Brennan Jr.
Arthur E. Arling
Johann Sebastian Bach
A. F. Erickson
W. C. Handy
Louis A. Hirsch
Winston H. Leverett
Harry O. Sutton
Egbert Van Alstyne
Joseph C. Wright
The I Don't Care Girl
Gaynor's own musical starring vehicles at 20th included Golden Girl (1951), Bloodhounds of Broadway (1952), The I Don't Care Girl (1953) and Down Among the Sheltering Palms (1953). They are all pleasant films, and The I Don't Care Girl is arguably the most entertaining of the lot, with a particularly sexy and energetic performance from Gaynor, showcased in sizzling and offbeat dance numbers imaginatively choreographed by Jack Cole. But during this same period a phenomenon named Marilyn Monroe was creating a sensation at the same studio, and she would emerge as 20th's big new star and inherit Grable's crown as queen of the lot.
As a musical performer, Gaynor was tremendously more proficient in technical skills than Monroe, a point made evident in a film in which they both appear, There's No Business Like Show Business (1954). But Marilyn had star quality to burn, so 20th put its full concentration on turning Monroe into a movie icon and terminated Gaynor's contract. Gaynor meanwhile moved on to films at other studios, enjoying a success at MGM in Les Girls (1957) opposite Gene Kelly and an even bigger one in the coveted role of Nellie Forbush in South Pacific (1958), which was, ironically, distributed by 20th Century Fox. After 1963 she concentrated on television and personal appearances, where she continues to shine.
In The I Don't Care Girl Gaynor plays Eva Tanguay, a highly successful, Canadian-born vaudeville performer during the early years of the 20th century. Known as the "wild girl" and billed as "the girl who made vaudeville famous," Tanguay had a lusty style and brassy self-assurance. She turned the Jean Lenox/Harry O. Sutton song "I Don't Care" into her signature tune. In Walter Bullock's screenplay, the film's actual producer, entertainer George Jessel, plays himself and plans a film treatment of Tanguay's life. During a story conference, he tells his two writers to look up her old associates to determine her true story.
In a somewhat confused Rashomon (1950) style, each colleague has a different version of Tanguay's tale. Eddie McCoy (David Wayne), Eva's former partner, claims to have discovered her as a waitress in an Indianapolis restaurant. Her accompanist, Charles Bennett (Oscar Levant), now head of a music-publishing company, says it was Florenz Ziegfeld who discovered Eva for his Follies. A letter from singer Larry Woods (Bob Graham), a married man Eva had fallen in love with, offers yet another version of her biography.
It is said that studio head Darryl F. Zanuck demanded that almost half the film's footage be cut after it was completed, leading to a 78-minute release print and accounting for the movie's choppy continuity.
Zanuck also cut some of the numbers staged by original choreographer Seymour Felix and brought in Cole to stage "The Johnson Rag," "Beale Street Blues" and a reprise of "I Don't Care." It is these three numbers that really bring the film to life. Cole brought in some outstanding dancers to work alongside the bombastic Gaynor including his assistant Gwen Verdon, Marc Wilder and Matt Mattox, and what dance critic and Cole expert Debra Levine calls "a kick-butt chorus of stellar Jack Cole regulars."
Cole chose to burst out of the 1910s setting to make his numbers rock with blazing 1950s Technicolor and a frisky Gaynor gyrating more like a contemporary stripper than a turn-of-the-century vaudeville star. "The Johnson Rag" is unique in that it combines Mozart with modern dance music (some of it provided by Levant) and eccentric jazz dancing by Gaynor and partners. Cole gives "I Don't Care" an expressionistic kick, with Gaynor outlandishly bedecked in huge feathers and cavorting over an abstract set of platforms, stairs and ladders. The background color switches from bright yellow to bright red, and everything goes up in flames at the end. W.C. Handy's "Beale Street Blues," the finale, also has a striking abstract quality with its honky-tonk setting against a black backdrop and Gaynor vamping in a flowing magenta dress.
In a 2013 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Gaynor said of Cole that "he really didn't intimidate me - although Gwen scared the hell out of me! I loved him. I worked very hard with him. He taught me many, many things... When I started to work with Jack I could dance - and when we finished The I Don't Care Girl I was a dancer. Jack made me a dancer."
Gaynor has recalled some of the difficulties involved in the intricate and demanding musical numbers. Her Renaissance costume for "The Johnson Rag" included an elaborate headdress that weighed 15 pounds. According to Gaynor, during the sequence in which flames erupt during "I Don't Care," everything on the set was fireproofed except for the feathers in her costume. Happily, she didn't catch fire - and the feathers provided a cushion for Gaynor when she slid and fell off a platform. In that same number, Gwen Verdon stepped in for Gaynor for a dive into a water tank because Mitzi couldn't swim.
Numbers staged by Felix for the film include "Pretty Baby," "On the Mississippi," and David Wayne's "This Is My Favorite City." Levant, a brilliant pianist, performs selections from Liszt and Bach. The director is the dependable Lloyd Bacon, who worked in all genres and directed more than 100 films including the seminal musical 42nd Street (1933) and Gaynor's movie Golden Girl.
By Roger Fristoe
The I Don't Care Girl
The I Don't Care Girl on DVD
However, seen now for what it is rather than what it isn't, The I Don't Care Girl functions as a hugely enjoyable, brisk little movie that contains some very big production numbers -- spectacular ones, in fact. And I would venture to say that this picture probably contains the best dancing Mitzi Gaynor ever put on screen, if not her most appealing overall performance.
She's a fireball of bawdy energy and movement as Eva Tanguay, the famous vaudeville singer and dancer of the early 1900s. And she holds the movie together, because the storyline is frankly all over the place. After a brief opening sequence that shows Gaynor, as Tanguay, performing in a Ziegfeld Follies show, the film presents another, "meta," opening, in which a man arrives at the Twentieth Century-Fox studio lot asking to see a producer about the Eva Tanguay picture currently in preparation. The man doesn't get in to see the producer just yet, but we do, and it's George Jessel -- the actual producer of the movie we're watching -- playing himself. He takes a meeting with two screenwriters assigned to write this picture, and they strategize over how to proceed. In the course of the film, they will interview three men who knew Eva Tanguay, and as those men relate their tales, the film will flash back to show us different episodes of Tanguay's life, more or less in order but sometimes contradictory, with a slight "Rashomon" effect. The I Don't Care Girl, then, ends up being a movie about the attempt to make The I Don't Care Girl. (One can imagine screenwriter Charlie Kaufman perhaps having been inspired by this framework when he was writing Adaptation .)
In any event, the self-referential quality is not dwelled upon or dealt with heavy-handedly; it's treated lightly and matter-of-factly, and works more as a way of providing the audience with a pleasing "behind-the-scenes" feel, which makes sense for what is essentially a backstage musical on two levels -- the making of the film we're watching in the present and the scenes of Tanguay performing in the past. It also enables some highly amusing moments like the one in which vaudeville performer Ed McCoy (David Wayne) sits at a bar ruminating over who could possibly play him in the movie within the movie (which are, of course, one and the same movie): "This Gene Kelly might be able to do my dances. But for looks, well there's this Victor Mature, but he can't sing."
David Wayne as one of the three main men in this film is joined by Bob Graham, who never made another movie, and Oscar Levant, who is best known as a composer and pianist but also brought comic wit as an actor to a dozen or so movies, including The Band Wagon (1953). Yet the true "leading man" of The I Don't Care Girl has to be Jack Cole, who does not appear on screen but, as choreographer, is responsible for the three best numbers in the picture: "The Johnson Rag," "I Don't Care," and "Beale Street Blues." All three are modern 1950s production numbers ablaze in Technicolor, as opposed to the other numbers in the film that are all grounded in a 1910s time frame. But these modern ones work because the movie has established itself from the outset as having an almost anything-goes level of reality.
"The Johnson Rag" features witty, modern big-band interpretations of Mozart, some performed by Levant, and exquisite synchronized jazz dancing. At the end of the wild "I Don't Care," which was Tanguay's signature song and is actually performed twice in this film, Gaynor ascends a staircase ringed with flames, and it's truly a wonder her feathery costume didn't catch fire. "Beale Street Blues," the finale, is also good but not quite a showstopper like the earlier two numbers; possibly it got shuffled around in postproduction when the entire movie was restructured.
Gaynor's musical performance in all these numbers and more demonstrates -- both because of and in spite of the film's choppy quality -- that she was unfairly wasted in Hollywood and never quite had a chance to realize her potential as a major musical film star. She has few film credits and has spent most of her career instead as a successful live performer.
The I Don't Care Girl was directed by Lloyd Bacon, a veteran who turned out an astonishing number of snappy little movies starting in the silent era, including first-class musicals like 42nd Street (1933) and Footlight Parade (1933). He directed only three more films after The I Don't Care Girl and died in 1955. He has never been considered an auteur or great stylist, but rather as a workhorse who performed well in all genres. Possibly it's due to his great experience as a filmmaker that this film has its curious and brief pre-credit sequence of Eva Tanguay performing in a show, before the camera pans over to reveal Florenz Ziegfeld (Wilton Graff) watching in the wings and commenting on her dancing. It's a moment that the film never returns to; it exists entirely on its own. It may have been part of another sequence that was intended for the film and scrapped, and possibly Bacon decided to use this snippet as a way of establishing in visual terms that this would be a film that would show both Tanguay performing and the behind-the-scenes people who enabled her to do so. Regardless of whose idea it was, it's a beautifully economical -- if abstract -- method of setting up the way this entertaining film will work.
The I Don't Care Girl is one of a slew of interesting new burn-on-demand DVDs from Fox Cinema Archives, which has had an uneven record to date in its choices of titles and in the technical quality of its transfers, most of which have not been remastered. Happily, this one looks decent and will not disappoint. There are some other musicals in Fox's new batch that have also been under the radar in recent years and are well worth a look, such as Call Me Mister (1951) and Meet Me After the Show (1951), both starring Betty Grable late in her career, and Irish Eyes are Smiling (1944), starring June Haver at the beginning of hers. Also notable: The Model and the Marriage Broker (1952), starring the beautiful and forgotten star Jeanne Crain, and Sitting Pretty (1948), an enormous comedy hit in which Clifton Webb originated his character of Mr. Belvedere the babysitter. (The film was so popular that it spawned two sequels.) Fox has also issued the less-inspired 1958 Webb comedy The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker.
By Jeremy Arnold
The I Don't Care Girl on DVD
The working title of this film was I Don't Care. Before the opening credits, there is a brief sequence during which "Eva Tanguay" performs a number in the Ziegfeld Follies with a group of chorus girls. "Florenz Ziegeld, Jr." detects that there is something wrong with Eva, however, and orders that the curtain be brought down. The sequence is not explained or referred to again during the rest of the film and May be an anachronistic reference to Eva's later blindness and arthritis. The picture is very loosely based on the life of Eva Tanguay (1878-1947), a popular singer and dancer whose signature song, "I Don't Care," and well-publicized antics earned her the nickname "The I Don't Care Girl." In addition to her many vaudeville appearances, Tanguay starred in several editions of the Ziegfeld Follies and acted in a number of dramatic and musical plays. Tanguay was married at least twice, to a dancer and a pianist, and May have had another, common-law marriage to a comedian. Tanguay, who was well-known for her bawdy, spirited performances, appeared in two motion pictures: the 1916 picture Energetic Eva, directed by Joseph Smiley, and the 1917 Selznick Pictures production The Wild Girl, co-starring Tom Moore and directed by Howard Estabrook (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20).
According to contemporary sources, I. A. L. Diamond, Albert E. Lewin, Burt Styler and Arthur Caesar worked on early drafts of the film's screenplay, but their contribution to the finished picture is doubtful. A August 23, 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that John Agar was to be tested for a leading role. Although the CBCS includes the following actors in the picture, they do not appear in the released film: Jimmy Dodd (Will Rogers), Jean Darling (Lillian Tashman), Harmon Stevens (W. C. Fields), Harry Hines (German comic), Eddie Parks (German comic), Frank Herman (Ventriloquist) and William Johnstone (Magician). Hollywood Reporter news items include the following actors in the cast, although their appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed: Roscoe Lincoln, Gus Lax, Clara Hogan, Geraldine Farnum, Betty Jane Howarth, Diana Mumby, Meredith Leeds, Beryl McCutcheon, James Gonzales, Betty Jane Barton, Yvonne Ruby, Dorothy Towne, Marta Almeida, Nancy Kilgas, Kay Topscott, Al Lyons, Emil Moroney and Bob Odom, who served as Oscar Levant's stand-in.
Although an August 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that director Lloyd Bacon was scouting locations in Indianapolis, the picture was shot on the Twentieth Century-Fox lot. Producer and former vaudeville star George Jessel, who appears as himself in the film, briefly filled in for Bacon when Bacon became ill. A number of reviews commented on the film's lack of continuity, which, according to the Daily Variety reviewer, was "apparently because fully half of the footage originally shot was scrapped." The I Don't Care Girl marked the motion picture debut of Bob Graham.