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Arthur Freed's Hollywood Melody (1962)

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Hollywood's biggest stars bring you an hour of movieland musical history

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Music

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19 March 1962 (USA)  »

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1.33 : 1
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Trivia

Arthur Freed was born in Charleston, South Carolina into a musical family (09/09/1894-04/12/1973). He grew up in Seattle, Washington and attended the Phillips Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire. It was here that he began to write poetry. Arthur was a lyricist with his family long before he ever went to Hollywood. His father was a tenor, brother Walter was an organist, brothers Sydney and Clarence went into the recording business in Hollywood and brother Ralph was a songwriter as well. His only sister Ruth also composed songs. The only brother NOT to go into some sort of music profession was brother Hugo - who became an accountant. In New York City, Freed played piano plugging songs and in the vaudeville circuit, working with the Marx Brothers. An ambitious man, Freed began at MGM as a songwriter when the movies first learned to talk. At that time, song-writers were just that, "song-writers" and they were treated as anything much higher that what they were: The people who used to sit on the sets of the silent films playing the piano for "mood music". Freed, along with composer Nachio Herb Brown, penned such classic as "Singin In The Rain," "The Wedding Of The Painted Doll," "Would You," and numerous other hit melodies. But what Freed really wanted to do was produce. Freed was known around the MGM lot as not only ambitious, but also for "kissing the butt" to studio head Louis B. Mayer. The years of begging and pleading finally paid off around 1938 when Mayer decided to give Freed the job of "Associate Producer" (uncredited) on "The Wizard of Oz." The film was officially being produced by Melvyn LeRoy, Mayer's new protege brought in from Warner Brothers to hopefully replace the "boy wonder" Irving Thalberg, who had died a few years earlier. Controversy has surrounded just whose idea it was to purchase "The Wizard Of Oz" from Samuel Goldwyn. Freed would later claim that he suggested to Mayer that it would make a great musical, and Mayer responded by stating that it was too big of a project for a novice producer. Melvyn LeRoy claimed that when he came to MGM he told Mayer the first film he wanted to make was a fantasy film of "The Wizard Of Oz." Probably, the actual facts favor Freed who first suggested the film musical project. Freed had the musical background, he hired the brilliant Roger Edens as vocal arranger, and he was firmly behind the budding career of the young Judy Galand, whom the MGM studio had signed in 1935 but hadn't done much with her talent. Freed and Edens recognized her potential from the start. The important issue is that Arthur Freed DID get to work as Associate Producer, and LeRoy wisely left all of the musical matters to Freed and Edens. Once it was clear "The Wizard Of Oz" would be a smash box office hit, Mayer gave the green light to Freed to produce "Babes In Arms" - beginning the cycle of the now famous "Let's Put On A Show" musicals with Garland and Mickey Rooney. "Babes In Arms" and it's follow up "Stike Up The Band" were enormously popular, relative inexpensive to make, and turned quite a profit for the studio. Freed also intensely promoted the career of Judy Garland - some would say to her detriment - by having her work almost non-stop during this time on the musicals with Rooney, as well as the Andy Hardy films (not produced by Freed) and separate musicals such as "Little Nelly Kelly" and "Ziegfeld Girl" (produced by Pandro S. Belrhnham). The rise of Judy's star also helped Freed's career rise. But Freed had other things in mind aside from just Garland's career. Not content to just adapt films from the New York Broadway stage, as he had done with "Little Nelly Kelly," "Panama Hattie," and "Babes In Arms," Freed wanted to move the movie musical in a new direction. Away from the backstage story-lines and into more natural settings. But he knew he would need the help of the savvy talent working in New York City. Freed went to New York to seek out talent from the Broadway Theatre scene. He signed to the studio scores of talent, ranging from future directors like Vincente Minnelli and Chuck Walters - to musical talents such as Kay Thompson and Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane. He envisioned "My own little Camelot" and that's exactly what he got. With his films currently so popular, both critically and financially, and each one advancing the film musical in various ways, Freed was practically left alone to do pretty much what he wanted. In 1942, at the request of Garland, Freed brought in Gene Kelly to play opposite her in "For Me And My Gal." The film was a huge success and it jump-started the faltering career of Kelly. Freed bought out Kelly's contract with David O. Selznick and so began the career of Gene Kelly. The following year, with "Girl Crazy," the finality of his shift to more modern fare came to a head. Busby Berkeley had done a great job of directing "Me And My Girl" - staying away from all the kaleidoscopic routines and endless musical extravaganza that were his hallmark. But on "Girl Crazy" all hell broke loose. Busby Berkeley was set to direct, and spent days on what would eventually be the finale "I Got Rhythm." He worked everyone to a frazzle - even to the extent, in hindsight, of pushing Garland into the abyss of addiction that she would never quite recover. The endless lines of chorus girls and the military style routines were in direct opposition to what Freed and Edens were trying to accomplish. Berkeley was fired and Norman Taurog was brought in as his replacement. The film became the best of the Garland/Rooney musicals and the best film adaptation of a Gershwin show thanks largely to Edens and the new talent Freed had brought in from New York. Now everything was in place. Freed had had enough of the "kids" musicals and Broadway adaptations. He wanted to do original musicals. With Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein's "Oklahoma" a huge success on Broadway, and having lost out on the film rights to "Life With Father" and "My Sister Eileen," Freed turned to the quaint stories appearing in the magazine "New Yorker" by Sally Benson. Freed had MGM studio purchase Sally Benson's "New Yorker" magazine article "Meet Me In Saint Louis" - which took some doing to get produced, even with Freed's track record. But Freed convinced the studio to give the film project the green light, and after initial resistance from Garland, the film was ready - with newcomer Vincente Minnelli as director. "Meet Me In St. Louis" was the first masterpiece to emerge out of the newly formed Freed Unit. And rightly so. The film was eons away from any other film musical at that time. Seamlessly blending the music and songs into the plot-scenario, the film took the strides originally made by Rouben Mammoulion with his "Love Me Tonight" film and furthered the concept of songs advancing the plot and being used for character development. This was first done by Freed with "The Wizard of Oz" and was furthered with some of the Garland/Rooney films as well as the very underrated "Cabin In The Sky." But "Meet Me in St. Louis" wasn't a children's fantasy, nor was it a kids "Let's Put On A Show" opus, and it wasn't like "Cabin In The Sky" where most of the action takes place in a dream sequence (also like "Oz"). "Meet Me In St. Louis" was about real people in a real town in a real time experiencing real situations. The film was idealized, but only in a positive way. Minnelli's use of color and movement and composition to further enhance the characters and plot development were rare of a film of that time and even more rare for a musical. The film was a resounding success and would become MGM's biggest grosser aside from "Gone With The Wind" at that time (1939-1941). From this point on (1944), even though the Freed Unit would do adaptations of Broadway shows, the emphasis was on originality, innovation, and with each successive film and heavy emphasis on dance. Throughout the late 1940's and 1950's, MGM became the king of the movie musical. And this was largely due to the "Freed Unit." Freed's productions became so popular that the studio could afford to have a SECOND unit for musicals under the direction of Joe Pasternak. Those musicals were different than the Freed films, with less dancing and more emphasis on simple stories and characters. A friendly rivalry emerged which helped to generate even more productive energy. After "Meet Me In St. Louis" - Freed would be the producer of such great films as "The Harvey Girls," "The Pirate," "Easter Parade," "On The Town," "An American In Paris," "Show Boat," "Singin' In The Rain," "The Bandwagon" and so many more. Once television took hold in America's homes, sadly, the public stopped going to the movies in droves as they used to. Plus, the federal edict forcing the film studios to divulge themselves of ownership of the movie theaters across the nation forced many theaters to close. This left the studios with limited outlets for their product. The old "studio system" crumbled, and the big budget film musicals were the first to get the ax. Freed's last big musical hit was 1958's Lerner and Lowe's Broadway film adaptation - "Gigi." The film would win 8 Oscars, including Best Picture, and would symbolize the end of the Golden Age of MGM Movie Musicals. See more »

Soundtracks

Love Walked In
(uncredited)
Music by George Gershwin
Lyrics by Ira Gershwin
Performed by Shirley Jones
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