Sun Valley Serenade
Cast & Crew
H. Bruce Humberstone
When famed Idaho ski resort Sun Valley puts out a call for a band to back up singer Vivian Dawn, Phil Corey takes his band, the Dartmouth Troubadors, to the audition in New York City. Vivian throws a temper tantrum after bandleader Jimmy Norton plays an arrangement not to her liking, and Phil steps in. Phil's piano player, Ted Scott, quickly becomes enamoured of the singer, and makes a date with her after the band is engaged by Sun Valley's agent, Jack Murray. While the band members and their publicist, Jerome K. "Nifty" Allen, are congratulating each other, they receive a telegram announcing that the war refugee they volunteered to sponsor will be arriving soon. Ted, whose name Nifty put on the application, is angry, for it was only to be a publicity stunt, but the band members decide to pitch in and care for the refugee, whom they assume will be a small child. When they go to Ellis Island to greet their ward, however, they find Karen Benson, an adult Norwegian woman who had to flee her homeland after her father was killed. Karen, grateful for Ted's sponsorship, decides that she will return the favor by marrying him, but he tries to dampen her romantic aspirations. When Karen finds out that the band will be traveling to Sun Valley while she is to be sent to Nifty's aunt for safekeeping, she asks Nifty to sneak her aboard the train to Idaho. Nifty, who has a crush on Karen, reluctantly agrees, and upon reaching Sun Valley, Karen surprises Ted with her skiing expertise. Ted loves to ski and, disappointed that Vivian will not ski with him, is happy to have Karen as a partner. Vivian grows jealous though, and one evening, surprises everyone at dinner by announcing that she has decided to accept Ted's standing marriage proposal. Karen is crushed but devises a scheme to win Ted over when the two of them begin to ski down from the restaurant to the lodge below. By knocking his skiis down the mountain and then pretending that she has hurt her knee, Karen contrives for them to spend the evening in an emergency cabin. By the time Phil, Vivian and Nifty arrive with the ski patrol to rescue them, Ted has figured out Karen's scheme. He has also realized that he does love the persistent Norwegian, and when Vivian delivers an ultimatum to choose between the two of them, Ted chooses Karen. Vivian storms out as Ted dances with Karen, and later, the Dartmouth Troubadors are the hit of Sun Valley when they accompany Karen in an ice-skating extravaganza.
H. Bruce Humberstone
Bette Gene Moore
Walter "spec" O'donnell
John "skins" Miller
James B. Clark
Robert E. "duke" Goux
F. A. Picard
Malcolm St. Clair
Darryl F. Zanuck
Sun Valley Serenade
Henie, the famous Norwegian figure skater who had won gold medals at the 1928, 1932 and 1936 Winter Olympics, had become a big star for Fox since signing with the studio. She was very popular, and her seven films so far had made lots of money. But as eager as Zanuck was to build a movie around her in the winter resort town of Sun Valley, he was equally fed up with her difficult, temperamental nature, and was strongly considering not renewing her contract, which would end following this film.
In fact, Humberstone later said that Zanuck hated Henie and was actively looking for an excuse to get rid of her. But Humberstone had only good experiences working with her on this picture and had no negative words to offer. In the end, Henie did sign a new contract for three more films, and while none was very good, all were profitable.
Sun Valley Serenade, meanwhile, wound up as probably her best picture. The story is essentially a romantic triangle between a big band pianist (John Payne), the band's singer (Lynn Bari), and a Norwegian war refugee (Henie), who all converge at Sun Valley when the band lands a job there. Milton Berle is on hand as the band's manager, and portraying the band is the Glenn Miller Orchestra, complete with Glenn Miller himself as the bandleader.
While Miller had appeared in an earlier movie (The Big Broadcast of 1936, 1935) and a musical short, this was the first feature film to showcase the Glenn Miller Orchestra and to use Miller as such an integral part of the narrative. It was a big deal and a huge draw to audiences, as the Glenn Miller Orchestra was the number one band in America at the time. Sun Valley Serenade was the movie that introduced the song "Chattanooga Choo-Choo," which went on to become the first record to be certified gold, with sales of 1.2 million. Written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren, it garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Song (though it lost to "The Last Time I Saw Paris" from Lady Be Good ), and became one of the best-loved songs of its era. What's more, it's performed in the film by Dorothy Dandridge and the Nicholas Brothers in a show-stopping routine.
Other great songs here include "In the Mood," "Moonlight Serenade" and "I Know Why." Miller also recorded another new Gordon-Warren song that would eventually become an enormous hit, "At Last," but Zanuck decided to save it for his next Glenn Miller movie, Orchestra Wives (1942), because he figured he already had an overload of musical riches for Sun Valley Serenade. However, brief instrumental portions of "At Last" can be heard here in the background of two scenes.
The location filming of Sun Valley Serenade was difficult. Transportation of equipment to the town was long, complicated, and costly, and much of the equipment itself proved heavy and challenging to use in the snow and ice. Worst of all, terrible weather led to constant disruptions. In fact, none of Sonja Henie's skiing or skating ended up being shot on location -- it was all filmed in the controlled environs of the Fox studio lot. But even though the film had a high, $1.3 million final cost, Zanuck didn't get too upset about the delays since he was using the location shoot as an excuse to frolic at Sun Valley with a French girlfriend.
According to producer Milton Sperling, who also contributed to the screenplay and wrote several of Sonja Henie's previous films, Henie did quite a bit of frolicking herself. Sperling, quoted in Raymond Strait and Leif Henie's book Queen of Ice, Queen of Shadows: The Unsuspected Life of Sonja Henie, said: "The place was overrun with handsome young blond ski instructors from Austria and Germany. All good-looking men, and I'm sure that Sonja knew all of them -- intimately. I think she ran through the whole bunch of them, one at a time. They all spoke highly of her. I'm sure she was very good in the sack, she had such enormous enthusiasm... She was always hungry for sex."
Director Bruce Humberstone had until now been turning out B movies, including several Charlie Chan entries, so Sun Valley Serenade represented a big promotion. But he had to fight to get Zanuck to approve his choice of cinematographer, Edward Cronjager. Despite Cronjager's considerable experience, and his Oscar nomination for shooting Cimarron (1931) ten years earlier, Zanuck didn't think he was up for a big-budget production like this one. Humberstone protested to Zanuck, "Eddie is one hell of a cameraman, and...I know what I'm going to do with him. In the first place, we're going to do a thing with black ice." "What the hell are you talking about?" said Zanuck. "Ice ain't black." "Well it can be," replied Humberstone, "and we're going to do it. That's why I need Eddie."
Zanuck relented, and Humberstone and Cronjager did indeed make black ice for a marvelous Henie skating sequence by adding black ink to a water mixture before freezing. The black ice was highly reflective, like a mirror, and Cronjager worked hard to ensure that no overhead spotlights would be reflected on the ice below in the finished shots. Said Humberstone: "Eddie did one hell of a job...because there is not one in a million who could have photographed it the way I wanted...when Sonja was skating around." Cronjager was rewarded with an Oscar nomination, and went on to garner four more nominations in the years ahead. And Humberstone soon found himself directing top Fox musicals like Hello Frisco, Hello (1943) and Pin Up Girl (1944).
Reviews were strong. Variety praised the movie as "an excellent compound of entertaining ingredients, displaying Sonja Henie as a sparkling comedienne of top rank without necessity of putting on the blades... [Henie has] a wealth of personality and vivacious eyes that work continually." The New York Times called it "a visual delight" with "Henie more charming and lithesome than ever," and described the black-ice sequence as "a beautiful ice ballet in which Miss Henie and a glistening chorus perform enraptured dances upon a sheet of dark mirror ice."
Sun Valley Serenade was such a hit that Fox quickly turned out a follow-up, Orchestra Wives, again featuring the Glenn Miller Orchestra and the songs of Mack Gordon and Harry Warren. Two years later, Miller was dead in a plane crash over the English Channel, probably as the accidental result of bombs being jettisoned by RAF pilots flying above, though there has never been a conclusive official explanation.
By Jeremy Arnold
Sun Valley Serenade
Fayard Nicholas (1914-2006)
Born on October 20, 1914 in Mobile, Alabama, Fayard was the son of musicians who played in vaudeville pit orchestras. When he was 6 1/2 years of age, his younger brother Harold was born (March 27, 1921, Winston-Salem, North Carolina) and little did they realize that they were destined to be one of the most memorable dance duos in film history.
Fayard learned to dance by watching several vaudeville shows while traveling with his parents. He incorporated many of the acrobatic moves he saw into his own routines, and soon, Harold was learning with him. By 1932, they had auditioned, and landed, a spot in Harlem's celebrated haunt, The Cotton Club. Their routines were a sensation, and Samuel Goldwyn brought them to Hollywood where they performed in Kid Millions (1934) with Eddie Cantor and The Big Broadcast of 1936 (1937). That same year, they appeared on Broadway The Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 and Babes in Arms.
Fayard and Harold headed back to The Cotton Club to polish up their moves, and when they came back to Hollywood in the '40s, they entered their golded period. In Down Argentina Way (1940) starring Don Ameche and Betty Grable, they did that extraordinary number, leaping off a grand piano and doing eye-popping splits over each other on an oversized staircase; Sun Valley Serenade (1941), they have an engaging Chattenooga Choo-Choo routine with a 19-year-old Dorothy Dandridge; and best of all, The Pirate (1948) where they do a terrific Be a Clown routine with Gene Kelly that's every bit as comical as it was inventive.
In the early '50s, the brothers were touring all over the United States and Europe, but in 1957, Harold spent seven years in Paris and only reunited with Fayard in a 1964 television appearance on the hit variety show The Hollywood Palace. But as their performance teaming became less frequent as they got older, Fayard found ways to keep busy. He drew critical praise for his dramatic turn in The Liberation of L.B. Jones (1970) and won a Tony for his choreography for Black and Blue (1989). In 1991, Both Fayard and Harold received the Kennedy Center Honors and most deserved honory Oscars® at the Academy Awards. Nicholas is survived by his wife, Katherine; sister, Dorothy; sons, Tony and Paul; four grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.
by Michael T. Toole
Fayard Nicholas (1914-2006)
The final production number on Black Ice took three days to shoot. Near the conclusion, Sonja Henie fell on the ice and was covered with black dye. Director H. Bruce Humberstone and choreographer Hermes Pan asked for another day to finish. Producer Darryl F. Zanuck refused.
Sonja Henie wanted to have three ice skating production numbers, but only two were finished and included in the film. Darryl Zanuck would only allow a third if Henie would pay the production costs for it, which she refused.
The working titles of this film were Passport to Life, Passport to Love and Sun Valley. According to the Variety review, the film was "the spontaneous brainchild of Darryl Zanuck, 20th-Fox production chief, who got the background inspiration during a vacation sojourn at the resort [Sun Valley, Idaho] several months ago." According to the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, the screenplay was based on an "original story outline" by producer Milton Sperling. The legal records and Hollywood Reporter news items indicate, however, that the original story Passport to Life was written by Allan Scott and Bert Granet. A memorandum attached to the Screen Achievements Bulletin, located in the picture's clippings file at the AMPAS Library, noted that "the studio had bought a story without any obligation to give credit to either title or authors and that Art Arthur and Robert Harari had done so much work in preparing it that they were giving them screen story credit, but that even though no other source was given, they definitely did NOT do an ORIGINAL screen story." A September 22, 1939 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell were to star in Scott and Granet's original story Passport to Life, which was to be produced by Raymond Griffith. Arthur and Harari were assigned to do the treatment, and on April 8, 1940, Hollywood Reporter stated that Sperling was to rewrite their screenplay, Passport to Love, for producer Griffith. In July 1940, Sperling was assigned production duties, his first for Twentieth Century-Fox. The legal records note that Ralph Freed and Captain Richard Carroll filed a law suit against Twentieth Century-Fox in which they claimed that the studio had plagiarized their story, "Pigtails," but the suit was later dropped.
According to a July 3, 1940 Hollywood Reporter news item, Sun Valley ski instructor Ragnar Qvale was expected to have a role in the picture. Although he does not appear in the released film, studio publicity noted that Qvale taught extras how to ski. Sun Valley Serenade was Sonja Henie's first film since Everything Happened at Night, released by Twentieth Century-Fox in 1939, and also marked Glenn Miller's first film as an actor, although he had appeared as himself in earlier pictures. Child actor Gary Gray made his screen debut in the film, as did Miller's popular singing group The Modernaires. Hollywood Reporter news items indicate that Jack Oakie was to have a leading role, Cobina Wright, Jr. and Carole Landis were considered for the part of "Vivian Dawn," and Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin were originally assigned to write songs for the picture. Hollywood Reporter also noted that Janis Carter was to be tested for a role, although she does not appear in the finished film, and that second unit director Mal St. Clair briefly filled in for director H. Bruce Humberstone after he was injured in a car accident at the beginning of May 1941. Hollywood Reporter news items, studio publicity and legal records note that parts of the picture were shot on location at Sun Valley and at a railroad station in Salt Lake City, Utah. According to studio records and publicity and the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, three songs written by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon did not appear in the released film. They were titled: "At Last," "The World Is Waiting to Waltz Again" and "I'm Lena, the Ballerina." Although it has not been determined if the first two songs were recorded, "I'm Lena, the Ballerina" was recorded by Joan Davis, and the sequence featuring her singing it was photographed. The PCA objected to certain lyrics in the song, although it has not been determined if that was the reason for the number being deleted from the release print. The film opened in several other cities after its premieres in Salt Lake City and Atlantic City on August 21, 1941 and before its general release on August 29, 1941. The picture received Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Music (Scoring of a musical picture) and Best Song ("Chattanooga Choo Choo"). "Chattanooga Choo Choo," as recorded by Glenn Miller and his orchestra with a vocal by Tex Beneke, was a huge hit, and was the first record in fifteen years to sell over a million copies. To commemorate the achievement, RCA Victor presented Miller with a solid gold record, which was an actual disc of the song. It was the first time a gold record was presented to a recording artist, although the Record Industry Association of America did not start awarding "official" gold records until 1958. In a November 27, 1948 Saturday Evening Post article, Sonja Henie stated that "Karen Benson" was the role she "liked best" and that it was the "liveliest role of [her] screen career." According to a November 24, 1952 Los Angeles Times news item, Darryl Zanuck hoped to remake the film as It Happened in Sun Valley with Dan Dailey as the star. According to a September 10, 1988 Variety news item, Broadway producer Martin Stager also planned to remake the film as a stage musical with a script written by Steve Allen and Sheldon Keller. As with the Zanuck project, the stage musical was never realized.
Released in United States 1941
Released in United States on Video September 26, 1991
Released in United States 1941
Released in United States on Video September 26, 1991