Tag Archives: Variety Girl

Mitchell Leisen in Variety Girl

This is really just for those of you who might want to know what the famously queer Mitchell Leisen, great director of Easy LivingMidnightHold Back the Dawn and so many other classics, looked like. At the time of his appearance here in Variety Girl in 1947  he was Paramount’s top director second only to C.B. DE Mille, who also makes an appearance. Their status is the reason for their presence in the film. Mitchell’s would sadly change, too soon and for the worse:

 

Burt and Lizabeth Scott kid their personas

Variety Girl is one of those all-star productions, usually featuring unknowns, that showcased a particular studio’s stars whilst raising money for a cause. Most of the famous ones — Stage Door CanteenThank Your Lucky Stars — were made during the war and in aid of the war effort. Variety Girl was made post-war, in 1947, in aid of the Variety Clubs of America, which itself had a history worthy of a movie. The Variety Club was initially set up as a show-business social club. However, on Christmas Eve 1928, a baby was left at the Sheridan Square Film Theatre with a note:

‘Please take care of my baby. Her name is Catherine. I can no longer take care of her. I have eight others. My husband is out of work. She was born on Thanksgiving Day. I have always heard of the goodness of show-business people and pray to God that you will look after her. Signed, a heartbroken mother’.

This could have been the basis of a great melodrama but is instead turned into the premise of a musical. In the film Catherine grows up, goes to Hollywood, visits the sights and ends up at Paramount, where we get to see all the stars there at the time: Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Alan Ladd, William Holden etc.

The film is not good but it does have many treasurable bits. I wanted to share the clip above, where you can already see Burt Lancaster and Lizabeth Scott kidding their personas, because it’s surprising to think that this is only a year after Burt Lancaster became a star with his very first film, The Killers (Robert Siodmak, 1946). He’d also had a success with Brute Force (Jules Dassin, 1946). Desert Fury (Lewis Allen, 1947), with Lizabeth Scott had already been released, and the two had teamed up again for I Walk Alone (Byron Haskin, 1947). The bit above fulfills the function of giving audiences what they’d liked but also providing publicity for  one attraction that was still playing in parts of the country (Desert Fury) and the forthcoming I Walk Alone, another hit.

Burt Lancaster waited a long time to get into the movies. He was already 32 in The Killers. But his success was extraordinary and immediate. As Cosmpolitan said, “a star with a meteroic rise “faster than Gable’s, Garbo’s or Lana Turner.’ Thomas Pryor in The New York Times wrote that “even in a place where spectacular ascents are now more or less commonplace, the rise of Burt Lancaster is regarded as something extraordinary”. His name ona theatre marquee was now said to be good for at least 1 million in ticket sales (Kate Burford, loc 1625, Kindle).

In Variety Girl, he’s ‘Buffalo Burt Lancaster’ who puts a cigarette on the side of Lizabeth Scott’s mouth and will light it with just one bullet. Of course, he misses: it’s a spoof. One year into his movie career and Lancaster already has a persona to kid, a powerful one, aspects of which would cling to his stardom throughout the rest of his life.

 

José Arroyo

Bibliography: Kate Buford, Burt Lancaster: An American Life, London: Aurum, 2013)

Pearl Bailey in Variety Girl: ‘I’m tired’

I grew up watching Pearl Bailey. She was a staple of 1970s variety television, popping up as a much welcomed guest to liven up  shows with her warmth, sass and savvy. And later, I did have the opportunity of seeing her marvellous turn as Frankie in Otto Preminger’s Carmen Jones (1954) singing ‘Beat Out Dat Rhythm on Da Drum’ (“Gypsy Song”).  But I’ve never seen her as young and beautiful, as charismatic, as she is in this number wonderful, simple number, from Variety Girl (George Marshall, USA, 1947): ‘I’m Tired’

 

 

José Arroyo