The Donahues - husband and wife Terry and Molly, and their three offspring Steve, Katy and Tim - are a song and dance act. Their survival as a performing act of five and as a family collective is presented. Under their family name, Terry and Molly were a successful vaudeville act in the early 1920s, they who subsequently under the names the Three Donahues, the Four Donahues and the Five Donahues, trotted out Steve, then Steve and Katy, then Steve, Katy and Tim on stage as early as they being toddlers. Molly was able to convince Terry to give the kids a stable education at a boarding school as the two of them continued their on the road career in Molly wanting the kids to have a normal life. They were pleasantly surprised that the kids grew up not only to have musical performing talent, but wanted to perform as a family unit as the Five Donahues. That harmony on and off stage was threatened first by Steve contemplating following another calling - the threat not only in his thought of ...Written by
Johnnie Ray, who plays the older son Steve, was a popular singing star of the early 1950's, and had recently had a chart-topping hit with his version of "Cry." According to screenwriters Henry Ephron and Phoebe Ephron, 20th Century Fox hired Ray for this film, hoping that the singer could duplicate the success of Frank Sinatra, and become a major movie star. Then they discovered that, unlike Sinatra, Ray couldn't dance or act! The studio's solution was to have the Ephrons rewrite the film so that Steve Donahue leaves the family act early on to become a priest, as a way to "get [Ray] off-screen as quickly as possible." Movie-goers did not respond well to Ray's acting debut, and this remains the one and only major film in which he ever appeared. See more »
On the marquee on opening night the Donahue daughter's name is spelled "Katie". On the poster for "34th week" it is spelled "Katy". See more »
There's No Business Like Show Business has the distinction of being the last of the Irving Berlin songbook musicals filmed. It came out the same year as White Christmas, also of the same genre.
Take a listen to the background music of films like Holiday Inn, Blue Skies, Alexander's Ragtime Band, and this one. I defy you to find one non-Berlin note in the film and that's no accident. The more songs of Irving Berlin used, the more money he made. He was one shrewd businessman Irving, most of the time.
The title song is identified with Ethel Merman and it was introduced in Annie Get Your Gun. Merman like Mary Martin had a conspicuous lack of success in Hollywood as much as she was an icon on Broadway. She only did the screen version of two of her Broadway hits, Anything Goes and Call Me Madam. That's two more than Mary Martin did.
Anyway, I think the genesis of There's No Business Like Show Business probably came about when Call Me Madam became such a hit and the movie money people saw how the chemistry was between her and Donald O'Connor. So O'Connor was signed to play one of her three children. The other two children were Johnnie Ray and Mitzi Gaynor.
The plot such as it is, is the story of the Donahue family between both World Wars. The father of the aforementioned children is Dan Dailey and he and Merman do some good Irving Berlin numbers together. I've always marvelled at how graceful Dan Dailey moved on the screen in his musical films. He was not a creative sort in the same way Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly were. Probably if he had been, his reputation would be higher today. But he was a pleasing entertainer every time you saw him.
By all accounts it wasn't a happy film for Ethel. Marilyn Monroe is in the film and Ethel was jealous of her. Not that Monroe wasn't her usual difficult self. Probably that helped the plot because it does call for the two to be at odds. Merman believes that Monroe has led Donald O'Connor astray.
Mitzi Gaynor was a wonderful talent as well. Too bad she wasn't born twenty years earlier, what a big star she would have been in the thirties and forties in Hollywood musicals then. Good singer and one fabulous dancer.
The plot does get kind of sticky in spots and Johnnie Ray didn't set the screen on fire when he wasn't singing. No accident he didn't become a film star.
Still for those of us who bless the day Irving Berlin put down his first notes of an original song, it's worth watching.
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