Orchestra Wives – Part 2

Mickey McMickle, Johnny Best, Steve Lipkins, Billy May (tp); Glenn Miller, Paul Tanner, Jimmy Priddy, Frank D’Annolfo (tb); Skip Martin, Wilbur Schwartz, Ernie Caceres, Tex Beneke, Al Klink (reeds); Chummy MacGregor (p); Bobby Hackett (g & cornet); Doc Goldberg (b); Maurice Purtill (d); Marion Hutton, Ray Eberle, Tex Beneke, The Modernaires, Pat Friday, The Nicholas Brothers (vcl); Bill Finegan, Jerry Gray, Billy May, George Williams (arr).

Orchestra Wives soundtrack, 20th Century-Fox Studios, Hollywood, CA – March-April, 1942

Moonlight Serenade (film version)             TCF-150

Moonlight Serenade (alternate version with harp)    20th Century Fox 100-2

People Like You and Me (MH, RE, TB & M vcl, GW and/or JG arr) TCF-127

Boom Shot (GW arr)             20th Century Fox 100-2

At Last (PF, RE vcl, JG & BF arr)       TCF-129

American Patrol (JG arr)      RCA LPT3065

Bugle Call Rag (GM arr)       RCA LPT3065

Serenade in Blue (PF, RE & M vcl, BM & BF arr)   TCF- 131/132

I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo (TB, MH, M & NB vcl, JG arr) TCF-136/137/138

I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo (Finale) (JG arr)        TCF- 150

That’s Sabotage (MH vcl)     TCF- 128

Moonlight Sonata (BF arr)   LPT3065

You Say the Sweetest Things, Baby            20th Century Fox 100-2

The TCF catalog numbers are for the contemporaneous 78 and 33-1/3 pressings made by Fox for publicity/souvenir purposes. First commercial issues are RCA LPT-3065 (10” LP issued 1954) and 20th Century-Fox 100-2 (2-LP set issued 1959). All further releases stem from these albums. RCA’s transfers are clean, but Fox adds a bit of reverberation to the tracks (and more echo on later issues). RCA did not release the three numbers that premiered on the Fox LP set, as noted above. RCA also omitted this recording of AT LAST, since they issued the 1941 recording on their “Sun Valley Serenade” album. The Fox LPs only include the 1942 version, with an instrumental portion snipped out. Fox also cut the Nicholas Brothers segment of KALAMAZOO on their LPs.

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Merchants will likely put their best merchandise on display up front in a store window to attract customers. The movie studios often did the same with their big band musicals – start the proceedings with a solid swing number. Ship Ahoy (Tommy Dorsey), I Dood It (Jimmy Dorsey), Private Buckaroo (Harry James), Sweet and Lowdown (Benny Goodman) and many other films began with their prime products on screen, sometimes even before the credits rolled.

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Orchestra Wives followed that pattern. The film’s credits run over a lush Glenn Miller rendition of their theme song, MOONLIGHT SERENADE and the viewer is immediately presented with the band in a recording studio environment. After a brief reminder of CHATTANOOGA CHOO CHOO, the ensemble launches into PEOPLE LIKE YOU AND ME, a wonderful vocal showcase for all the band’s singers, while smooth tracking shots show off all the musicians. Marion Hutton and Ray Eberle look and sound great and the Modernaires groove along, slick and sleek behind them.

Sweet Marion & suave Ray

Sweet Marion & suave Ray

The guys are dressed in a variety of natty outfits, none more so that Tex Beneke, wearing a colorful Hawaiian shirt with splashy designs. Star George Montgomery mimes to Johnny Best’s hot trumpet, while Best himself sits on the other end of the section. At least Johnny got to appear in the film. Ringers Jackie Gleason and Cesar Romero mimed their parts convincingly., while Chummy Mac Gregor and Doc Goldberg sat on the sidelines.  Musicians viewing the film apparently thought Montgomery fumbled his trumpet fingering and laughed out loud in theaters when the trumpet solos occurred. To this viewer, he seems competent and shows off a flashy trumpet spin at the end of his solos, which becomes his “trademark” throughout the proceedings.

"Hi there, Tex!"

“Hi there, Tex!”

A short dialogue scene following this exuberant number leads into the soda shop setting that introduces our heroine, Ann Rutherford, and her friend, Harry Morgan. She plays the fateful record of BOOM SHOT on the jukebox, precipitating a discussion of the dance where “Gene Morrison” is playing. This fades into the most striking part of the movie, likely the most haunting big band sequence in movie history. In six minutes, it captures the romance and appeal of the Swing Era to young folks everywhere.

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BOOM SHOT is a very catchy Billy May original, arranged by George Williams, with solos by Johnny Best and May on open and muted trumpets, Ernie Caceres on alto and Glenn, briefly. Named after the camera crane technique that is used twice during the number, this soundtrack performance is the only one in the Miller discography and was issued on record in 1959 by 20th Century Fox. The first RCA issue of the film track in 1954 omitted it.

The restless camera swoops over, around and through the dancers who are seen happily jitterbugging, finally pulling back to catch their protests when the song ends and the band starts to take a break. Glenn/Gene signals “one more” to the crowd, which surges around the bandstand as AT LAST begins.

Though recorded and cut from SUN VALLEY SERENADE, the song was saved and, happily, found its home here. One of Mack Gordon and Harry Warren’s most notable compositions, the slowed-down Jerry Gray-Bill Finegan arrangement is much superior to the snappier-tempoed 1941 chart. It’s romantic to a fault, with brilliant passages featuring Johnny Best’s trumpet (played on screen by our hero, George Montgomery as Bill Abbott), an arresting trombone choir and plush vocals from Pat Friday (for Lynn Bari) and our own Ray Eberle. For some reason, the trombone choir moment was clipped from the 20th Fox LP and CD issues of the soundtrack.

Ann Rutherford is hooked, Harry Morgan is skeptical.

Ann Rutherford is hooked, Harry Morgan is skeptical.

The camera roams around the band and dreamily swaying audience, poking into foliage and drawing close to the trombones (a continuous shot that must have been difficult to achieve). Without any dialogue, the plot develops, as Connie/Rutherford makes starry-eyed looks at her trumpete, which are noticed and identified by Janie/Lynn Bari, who will become her romantic rival. At the end of the song, there is a masterful shot beginning in the bell of Montgomery’s trumpet, pulling back quickly to encompass the whole scene.

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After this first quarter-hour, encompassing three terrific musical numbers, the story starts rolling and we are thrust into the behind-the scenes machinations of the orchestra wives and their hapless husbands. Before that happens, the band gets another feature spot, with a partial performance of AMERICAN PATROL and a full rendition of BUGLE CALL RAG. It appears that THAT’S SABOTAGE, featuring Marion Hutton, was originally included between those two instrumentals, but was cut shortly before the film’s release. It has been part of all the film soundtrack releases on LP and CD. A brief clip from it was used in a TV documentary back in the 1970s, but the whole number has never surfaced.

A moment from THAT'S SABOTAGE.

A moment from THAT’S SABOTAGE.

That’s too bad, as it is a great song, smartly linking love troubles with wartime spy tactics. Marion is in fine voice and Al Klink plays a typically rhythmic solo. BUGLE CALL RAG preserves a visual record of one of the Miller band’s longest-lasting hot instrumentals, with short breaks by Miller, Beneke and Caceres and stylish choreography by the trumpets and trombones. Drummer Moe Purtill is well featured, in the spotlight for a climactic drum solo. The comic bit where he collapses into his drum kit at the end is a bit much, but it’s a good-natured moment.

Moe Purtill and BUGLE CALL RAG.

Moe Purtill and BUGLE CALL RAG.

A half-hour goes by before the next Miller number, an unfortunately truncated performance of the film’s second superb ballad, SERENADE IN BLUE. The original prerecording runs nearly six minutes. In the film, the lengthy, impressionistic introduction, arranged by Billy May and Bill Finegan, along with Bobby Hackett’s first-chorus solo, were jettisoned and only Pat Friday’s vocal, backed by Eberle and the Modernaires is seen.

KALAMAZOO!

KALAMAZOO!

Breakups and makeups, loud arguments and apologies ensue for another half-hour. With all grievances settled, everyone gets kissy-kissy and Glenn takes center stage for a walloping finale, I’VE GOT A GAL IN KALAMAZOO. Patterned after CHATTANOOGA CHOO CHOO, the song proved to be an equally big hit, with it’s  simple, catchy lyric, “A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I got a gal in Kalamazoo-zoo-zoo-zoo zoo…..” Marion, Tex and the Mods really shine, with all kinds of jokey posturing and kidding around, very loose and natural. Just like the CHOO CHOO, after the band portion comes the Nicholas Brothers, raising the proceedings to another level, with their sensational acrobatic steps.

The Nicholas Brothers

The Nicholas Brothers

In a nice touch, even that is not the ending, for Moe Purtill kicks off an uptempo instrumental reprise of KALAMAZOO that allows us to get a last glimpse of the two lovebirds, Glenn and the full band. So, with the love problems settled, the musicians and their families will just go on to their next adventure on the road.

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That’s also not the end of the ORCHESTRA WIVES soundtrack. Three other numbers not yet mentioned were also recorded at the time and not used. An alternate short version of MOONLIGHT SERENADE, with a harp introduction, was later issued by 20th Fox. It is slower than the performance that opens the film. MOONLIGHT SONATA, recorded back in November 1941 for Bluebird, was also redone for the film, apparently intended for Cesar Romero to mime to. Considering how badly his visual pianistics match the soundtrack already discussed, it was probably a good thing the number was cut.

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Finally, YOU SAY THE SWEETEST THINGS, BABY is a real anomaly. The song, a Gordon-Warren number sung by Alice Faye in Tin Pan Alley back in 1940, is played by a small group that seems to consist of muted trumpet, two tenor saxes (one of them Beneke), piano and drums, in the first chorus. It is performed in an exaggerated, sweet style, until Billy May’s hot open trumpet blasts into the second chorus, joined by Ernie Caceres’ jazz clarinet. The two styles then battle it out to the conclusion, with May leading the way.   My friend Paul Holroyd informs me that this number was intended for a cut scene where Connie & Bill take a night off to go dancing. They stop at a tea shop which has a sour little band playing and Bill can’t resist the opportunity to liven them up with his trumpet.

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Since the Miller band was featured more prominently in their second film, shooting took longer then before, requiring two full months of Glenn’s time.  There was a lot of catching up to do, both professionally and personally. First thing to take care of after leaving Fox was a Victor recording date, designed to wax some of the film songs for commercial release. That’s for next time.

"Zoo-zoo-zoo-zoo!"

“Zoo-zoo-zoo-zoo!”

Orchestra “Wife” – Part 1

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For their second 20th Century Fox film, Glenn Miller and the band were featured front and center throughout. They were not supporting a star like Sonja Henie. This time the orchestra was the star.  Fox tried to boost the feminine appeal of the movie by titling it ORCHESTRA WIFE, then decided, just before release, to multiply the “oomph” quotient by renaming it ORCHESTRA WIVES.  It is mostly the story of  “orchestra wife” Ann Rutherford, the nominal top-billed name, but she was supporting the ensemble instead of the other way around. Ann was a very well known starlet, best remembered as Polly Benedict, Andy Hardy’s on-again, off-again girlfriend in the Mickey Rooney-led series at MGM.

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Aside from her Andy Hardy chores, Ann appeared in small roles in many other MGM pictures, most notably A Christmas Carol, Pride and Prejudice and Gone With the Wind, as one of Scarlett O’Hara’s long-suffering sisters. With the Andy Hardy series winding down in the early 40s, Ann began freelancing at other studios before leaving MGM in 1943. ORCHESTRA WIVES would be one of Rutherford’s first starring roles and Fox featured her nicely in the film.

Her character of Connie Ward is nicely developed, from star-struck music fan to slightly disillusioned spouse of a (possibly) philandering trumpet player. The trumpeter was George Montgomery, a former B-western star at Fox, whom the studio was grooming for bigger things. After a nice co-starring role in Roxie Hart with Ginger Rogers, he was assigned to the Miller film.

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‘Big bad trumpet player” George Montgomery with Ann Rutherford

Though not as versatile an actor as Sun Valley Serenade‘s John Payne, Montgomery’s good looks and easygoing character made him a perfect match with Rutherford as the uneasy newlyweds. Montgomery would soon marry Dinah Shore, whose own Miller connection will be discussed in a later entry.

Poor Lynn Bari, always typecast as "the other woman."

Poor Lynn Bari, always typecast as “the other woman.”

Old friend Lynn Bari, band vocalist Vivian Dawn in SUN VALLEY SERENADE, returned as band vocalist Janie Stevens in the new film, just as ornery and scheming as before. The Nicholas Brothers were signed again for another show-stopping dance specialty.

The movie's rhythm section: Bobby Hackett, Moe Purtill, Jackie Gleason & Cesar Romero.

The movie’s rhythm section: Bobby Hackett, Moe Purtill, Jackie Gleason & Cesar Romero.

Two new actors played band members. Fox stalwart Cesar Romero appeared as the oddly-named pianist, Sinjin Smith, once again knocking Chummy MacGregor out of the film and Jackie Gleason performed as the bass player, supplanting Doc Goldberg. Gleason was so new to films that he doesn’t even rate billing in the on-screen credits. Jackie began a lifelong friendship with Bobby Hackett on the set and later featured him on the popular Capitol series of jazzy mood music LPs issued under Gleason’s name.

Orchestra wives Virginia Gilmore, Carole Landis and Mary Beth Hughes with Cesar Romero.

Orchestra wives Virginia Gilmore, Carole Landis and Mary Beth Hughes with Cesar Romero.

Then there were the titular orchestra wives – Carole Landis as Tex Beneke’s spouse, Mary Beth Hughes as Mrs. Moe Purtill, Virginia Gilmore, whose husband is never identified and Tamara Geva (stage actress and wife of choreographer George Balanchine, wasted here in a nothing role) as Jackie Gleason’s missus. The film’s writers were so eager to pair people off that they wrote in Ray Eberle and Marion Hutton as a married couple!  Landis is the real catty gal, aiding and abetting Lynn Bari in her plot to break up Ann Rutherford’s marriage. In real life, Landis was a volatile personality who married five times and committed suicide in 1948 at age 29 when actor Rx Harrison wouldn’t leave his wife for her.

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In smaller roles, future MASH TV star Harry Morgan plays Cully, the soda jerk who takes Rutherford to the dance which precipitates the whole story and Dale Evans (later Mrs. Roy Rogers) is the girl at the soda shop who tells Connie she’s “going to wear the record out” on the jukebox.

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Glenn has a much bigger acting role this time around and plays “himself” nicely (renamed Gene Morrison, so the band’s “GM” bandstands could be used). There is a slightly sarcastic edge to some of his dialogue, delivered with a distinctively flat Midwestern twang. He looks sharp and snappy in his custom suits, as do the other band members. Along with ringers Jackie Gleason and Cesar Romero, musicians Moe Purtill and Tex Beneke get some lines to deliver, as do vocalists Marion Hutton and Ray Eberle. Even “Bullets” Durgom, Glenn’s band boy turned road manager pipes up in several scenes.

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Behind the camera, Fox gave Glenn nothing but the best – director Archie Mayo had a career stretching back to silent days and had helmed musicals starring Al Jolson, Fanny Brice, Mae West, Alice Faye and the Marx Brothers, plus dramas with Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson.

Best shot in the film - Ann falls in love instantly, framed by George Montgomery's arms and trumpet.

Best shot in the film – Ann falls in love instantly, framed by George Montgomery’s arms and trumpet.

Top cinematographer Lucien Ballard was assigned to the film and his smooth camerawork and lighting design add to the film’s sheen.   Songwriters Harry Warren and Mack Gordon returned to the Miller fold to duplicate their success with the score of SUN VALLEY SERENADE. They managed to surpass their earlier efforts, with five fine songs, three of which became top hits and Miller standards – AT LAST, SERENADE IN BLUE and I’VE GOT A GAL IN KALAMAZOO.

The screenplay by Karl Tunberg and Darrell Ware, based on an original story by James Prindle, managed to provide a fairly credible dramatic script with humor and some grit, along with enough solid characterization to give the actors something to dig into.   The result is an interesting story that could have worked well on its own without the musical sequences, wonderful as they are.

Apparently a lot of footage was filmed, and then cut, as many studio stills exist of scenes that aren’t even hinted at in the final product. At least three musical numbers were also cut; since the film as we know it runs almost and hour and 40 minutes (more than 10 minutes longer than SUN VALLEY SERENADE), it appears that Fox could have ended up with a 2-hour-plus movie if they hadn’t gotten to work in the editing room!

We’ll discuss the cut numbers and all the other marvelous ORCHESTRA WIVES music in our next post.

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American Patrol

Mickey McMickle, Johnny Best, Steve Lipkins, Billy May (tp); Glenn Miller, Paul Tanner, Jimmy Priddy, Frank D’Annolfo (tb); Skip Martin, Wilbur Schwartz, Ernie Caceres, Tex Beneke, Al Klink (reeds); Chummy MacGregor (p); Bobby Hackett (g & cornet); Doc Goldberg (b); Maurice Purtill (d); Marion Hutton, Ray Eberle, Tex Beneke, The Modernaires (vcl); Bill Finegan, Jerry Gray, Billy May, George Williams (arr).

RCA Victor Studios, Hollywood, CA – April 2, 1942, 8:00 AM-12:30 PM

072230-1      American Patrol (JG arr)      Victor 27873-A

072231-1      Soldier, Let Me Read Your Letter (RE & M vcl, BM arr)    Victor 27873-B

072232-1      Sleep Song (RE & M vcl, GW arr)     Victor 27879-B

072233-1      Sweet Eloise (RE & M vcl, JG arr)    Victor 27879-A

Glenn Miller and his Orchestra arrived in Los Angeles on March 17th, after a fairly rapid trip across the country. After a few days getting acclimated, they reported to the 20th Century Fox studios to begin work on their second feature film, originally titled ORCHESTRA WIFE.

Before getting too heavily involved in the filmmaking process, Victor pulled them into a Hollywood recording studio for an early-morning session. As before, most of the tunes had a wartime connection, starting with AMERICAN PATROL.

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Written in 1885 by F. W Meacham, the composition was one of his many patriotic marches that became a popular sensation. The original music worked in other martial airs, including COLUMBIA, THE GEM OF THE OCEAN, YANKEE DOODLE and THREE CHEERS FOR THE RED, WHITE AND BLUE and Jerry Gray’s brilliant arrangement included these as well, at least initially. The earliest Miller broadcast version from March 27th ran nearly five minutes and included several sequences that were cut to trim the chart to 78 length, as was done with the original longer rendition of IN THE MOOD. Too bad RCA didn’t spring for a 12-inch release that would have preserved the whole thing!

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Listening to a turn-of-the century performance by Sousa’s Band, it’s surprising to hear just how much of the original piece was adapted by Jerry Gray, down to the gradual fade out toward the end which is shattered by a powerful fortissimo coda.

Original to Glenn’s version are the superbly timed drum breaks by Moe Purtill and Billy May’s wild trumpet.

Billy May, Moe Purtill & Glenn

Billy May, Moe Purtill & Glenn

It’s fortunate that this great instrumental was taken down at Victor’s Hollywood studio, which afforded Glenn the finest technical recording quality that RCA ever gave him. The entire band sparkles and we can hear clearly such details as the sax riffs behind Billy’s solo and the kicking rhythm section.

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The remainder of the date produced three Eberle-Modernaires ballads and here too, we can appreciate the depth and richness of sound that the band could produce. Case in point is the dynamic introduction to Billy May’s arrangement of SOLDIER, LET ME READ YOUR LETTER, with even Bobby Hackett’s quiet guitar strumming audible.   It was written by two actual soldiers, Private Pat Fallon and Private Tim Pasma, with help from pro songwriter Sid Lippman (of I’M THRILLED and DEAR ARABELLA fame). Glenn’s Mutual Music firm published the song.

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Presumably the soldier-songwriters were familiar with the depressing situation described in their number, as a lonely G.I. begs to read his comrade’s correspondence. He “hasn’t got a sweetheart” and has “left no one behind.” Female listeners were likely persuaded to feel guilty about the isolated guys overseas. Girls, start writing those V-Mail letters! They’re doing the fighting, so you do the writing!

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Another Mutual Music product, SLEEP SONG is a clever twist on the morning bugle call, REVEILLE. It’s a more serious variation of Irving Berlin’s OH, HOW I HATE TO GET UP IN THE MORNING and was composed by middling scribes Don Reid (whose biggest hit was REMEMBER PEARL HARBOR) and Henry Tobias (who would much later create Bette Davis’ creepy I’VE WRITTEN A LETTER TO DADDY for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?).

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George Williams, a new addition to the arranging team, penned the fine chart. Glenn hired Williams from the Sonny Dunham band to help with the additional writing chores that the new film would require. Nicknamed “the Fox,” George would go on to a successful career with Gene Krupa, Ray Anthony and Jackie Gleason.

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The final selection, SWEET ELOISE, is an attractive melody by fellow trombonist-bandleader Russ Morgan, who started as a fine jazz musician and arranger and made a fortune playing corny, muted wah-wah solos with his equally saccharine band. Russ did manage to write (or co-write) the occasional quality song, like SOMEBODY ELSE IS TAKING MY PLACE. Popular lyricist Mack David handled the words.

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Bobby Hackett finally gets another chance to shine, with a lovely cornet obbligato in the first chorus. Ray Eberle and the Modernaires lightly toss the lyrics back and forth, then Hackett returns to lead the saxes through a sinuous instrumental passage, which is the record’s highlight. Where have you been hiding, Bobby?

Aside from their radio broadcasts, this record date would be the last fans would hear from the Miller band until they completed their movie in late May. Happily, the movie would turn out to be one of the best big band films of the era. Details to come!

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Glenn’s photo on sheet music was a guarantee of big sales.