The subtle trick Showtime's "Penny Dreadful is that it is far less about the blood, gore and the specter of gruesome death than the sharp pain and exhilarating pleasure of living, and the terror of feeling alone even in close company. Read our review in the May Picks section.
Peter Graves narrates this account focusing upon the life and career of Elizabeth Ruth Grable, who is born the youngest of three to a St. Louis, Missouri, grain broker and his stage-struck wife, who lose their son, Joseph, to pneumonia as a child, and rear daughters Marjorie and "Betty" in a stately hotel, once achieving financial security.
Betty receives a series of dancing lessons, and by the time which Betty reaches the age of twelve, mother, Lillian, bids farewell to her husband, Conn, and elder daughter, Marjorie, to accompany Betty to Hollywood, with the aspirations of placing her into film chorus lines.
After enhancing Betty's appearance to progress her tender age, Betty receives a film contract at the age of 13, under Goldwyn Studio's understanding that she has reached the legal adult age, which they discover that she hasn't after Betty appears in "Whoopee!" (1930).
Lillian shops Betty around to other studios, to appear in many films, before taking her to the Atlantic City nightclub circuit, at which a Broadway talent scout recommends her for a plum role in the Musical "DuBarry Was a Lady," which, in turn, would once again capture the eye of Hollywood.
20th Century Fox then signs Betty to appear in her breakthrough hit, "Pigskin Parade" (1936), which also marks the film debut of Judy Garland, with whom Betty would remain friends for several years to follow.
Betty marries former child star Jackie Coogan at a young age (19371939), under the common bond of attempting to achieve independence from the control of stage mothers. Betty supports Jackie throughout this period, after his parents abscond with his life earnings, before legislation is enacted to protect the interests of child stars, hence the birth of the "Coogan Law."
After earning her fame in 20th Century Fox Technicolor Musicals, beginning in the early 1940's, which draw attention to her pretty legs, a snap-shot from a bathing suit photography session generates favorable response from American G.I.'s stationed overseas during WWII, to earn Betty the title of "Pin-Up Girl."
Betty soon marries band-leader Harry James (19431965), with whom she welcomes daughters Victoria and Jessica, but continues to dedicate extensive periods with 18-hour shifts to the studio for film production and promotion.
While Betty and Harry's marriage encounters several unfortunate downturns after his career reaches decline, Betty's film vehicles also reach their peak, as 20th Century Fox and other studios re-adjust for the financially-difficult changing times of the 1950's and 60's, by ending its association with many contract players, including Betty.
Betty continues to work, now on stage, in the road company of "Hello Dolly," which finds her returning to Broadway to substitute in the title role, and soon afterward, headlining in Las Vegas with a musical review, which includes many of her popular film songs.
She would also travel to London, UK, to appear in an ill-fated Musical, "Belle Starr," before returning to Las Vegas and Hollywood, to perform upon various television programs throughout the remainder of her illustrious career.
Alice Faye speaks of Betty as "a very great star," Jane Withers as "One who put her heart and soul into everything which she did," Carol Burnett as "Important a star as anyone, one of the biggest stars ever," Debbie Reynolds as "One who gave her all to her children, her family, her husbands, but took very little for herself," and Michael Levitt as "A star who probably would rather have given it up to dedicate herself to her family, but thank God that she had a career; otherwise, we wouldn't have Betty Grable."
Interview Guests for this episode consist of Actresses Carol Burnett, Alice Faye, Debbie Reynolds and Jane Withers, Publisher Hugh Hefner, Betty's friends Matt Helreich and Michael Levitt, Costume Designer Paul Zastupnevich, and Biographer Spero Pastos ("Pin-Up: The Tragedy of Betty Grable"). (Actor Roddy McDowall, although credited, does not seem to appear in this episode.)
Archive footage includes Betty Grable with Co-stars Judy Garland, John Payne, Victor Mature, Tyrone Power, Harry James, Dan Dailey and Bob Hope in speaking parts, as well as Robert Cummings, Hermes Pan, George Raft, Cesar Romero, Eddie Albert and others in non-speaking parts.
Film Clips include a screen glimpse of Betty through the years, in scenes from "Happy Days" (1929/I), "Pigskin Parade" (1936), "Down Argentine Way" (1940), "Tin Pan Alley" (1940), "Moon Over Miami" (1941), "A Yank in the R.A.F." (1941), "Song of the Islands" (1942), "Springtime in the Rockies" (1942), "Coney Island" (1943), "Pin Up Girl" (1944), "Diamond Horseshoe" (1945), "Wabash Avenue" (1950), "How to Marry a Millionaire" (1953), and "How to Be Very, Very Popular" (1955)," plus television's "The Bob Hope Show" and "The Carol Burnett Show," as well as News-reel footage.
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