If you read this pillar regularly, then you know that once or twice yearly, I do a retro column. This is one of those times.
GREASE SING-A-LONG: Summer of 2010
The love affair between Match-Flickers and light-as-air musical-comedy summer movies pre-dates HAIRSPRAY and GREASE by decades.
One classic example, the one upon which we'll focus, is 1963's BYE BYE BIRDIE. Fifteen summers before Danny told Sandy, "You're the one that I want!" BYE, BYE BIRDIE was flying high - packing movie theaters everywhere."
Based upon the 1960 Tony Award winner for Best Musical, BIRDIE, on stage, starred Dick Van Dyke, Chita Rivera and Paul Lynde.
This musical's story was thinner than the air that we breathe: Before being drafted into the army, Conrad Birdie, an Elvis Presley-like rock-n-roller, bestows "One Last Kiss" upon a devoted fan, Kim McAfee on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW. The stage musical primarily focused, not on Birdie, nor upon the lucky young lass he kisses, but upon "One Last Kiss" songwriter Albert Peterson, played by Dick Van Dyke, and his long-suffering girlfriend-secretary, Rosie Alvarez, played by
Broadway legend Chita Rivera.
HAIRSPRAY: Summer of 2007
For the movie, Dick Van Dyke reprised the role of Albert and Janet Leigh was cast as Rosie, redubbed Rosie DeLeon, not the more ethnic Alvarez.
Capitalizing on director George Sidney's obsession with beauteous, 22-year-old Ann-Margret, screenwriter Irving Brecher restructured the movie around the character of teenager Kim McAfee (Ann-Margret), the high school girl who receives Birdie's last kiss on television.
Thus Janet Leigh's starring role (Rosie) was slashed on the altar of the filmmaker's libidinous desire for his comely, curvaceous starlet. In the Broadway musical, Kim (Ann-Margret) has two songs; in Mr. Sidney's movie, she has five. Beyond that, George Sidney cut Rosie's (Janet Leigh's) key number, "Spanish Rose."
But George Sidney's aggrandizing of Ann-Margret didn't end with production. During post production, the director handed Ann Margret a movie-stealing plum. He filmed sexy opening and closing sequences, in which, against a blue screen background, Ann-Margret advances and retreats on a treadmill, singing the
title song, written especially for her. These sizzling sequences were featured prominently on last season's Emmy-winning MAD MEN, returning on the AMC network for a new season on Sunday (25).
BYE BYE BIRDIE: 1963, the Director was Obsessed with A-M.
George Sidney's infatuation with the 22-year-old performer was so pervasive that, at the BIRDIE wrap party, actress Maureen Stapleton, who played Albert's hypochondriac mother, famously quipped in front of cast and crew, "Well, it looks like I'm the only one on this picture who didn't try to f**k Ann-Margret."
When BIRDIE premiered at Radio City Music Hall, the critics compared George Sidney's restructured motion picture version unfavorably to the stage edition. They duly noted that the Role of Rosie (Janet Leigh) had been diminished dramtically, even as the role of Kim (Ann-Margret) had been inflated incredibly. Newsweek dubbed the movie, "Silly, even for a musical comedy." Saturday Review complained of the flick's "blatant, eye-damaging color." The New Yorker's acerbic Pauline Kael, hit the nail on the head, proclaiming, "Ann-Margret, playing a brassy 16-year-old with a
hyperactive rear end, takes over the picture." Movie lovers couldn't have disagreed more with the reviewers. Audiences loved BYE BYE BIRDIE. It delighted movie-goers throughout the summer of 1963, making the picture a box-office smash and catapulting Ann-Margret to superstardom.
Ann-Margret handed opening and closing sequences by smitten George Sidney.
The box-office, Match-Flickers and Ann-Margret won, big-time, but Janet Leigh lost. Previously, an A-list star, Leigh's career never fully recovered from the BIRDIE bashing. Adding insult to injury, while Leigh was being eclipsed on-screen by a younger woman, in real life, her husband Tony Curtis fell in love with a younger actress, whom he later married.
Dick Van Dyke went on to a highly successful motion picture and television career. As for Ann-Margret, let's put it this way: She went from being showcased in a 1963 movie about an Elvis-like rocker, to co-starring with Elvis Presley in 1964's biggest summer musical hit, VIVA LAS VEGAS. Once again, A-M was under the direction of George Sidney.
Enjoy the GREASE Sing-A-Long at the multiplex and watch the BIRDIE DVD. It's still great summer Match-Flicking.
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Jul 23, 2010 12:49 AM
|Bye Bye Birdie is one of my favorite stage musicals. If it wasn't for Paul Lynde, who re-created his role as Harry MacAfee for the movie, it would have been totally unwatchable. |
When ABC was in their musical revival phase in the 90's, they re-did BBB with Jason Alexander and Vanessa Williams. They restored most of the original stage production and added a brilliant number for Momma Peterson (Tyne Daly, fresh from a Broadway stint as Momma Rose in a "Gypsy" revival) that is virtually a show-stopper.
You did some decent research on this one. I didn't know much back story about the movie, so I learned something.
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