Posts tagged ‘showtunes’
Aren’t the show tunes “Be a Clown” and “Make ‘Em Laugh” suspiciously similar?
The finale of The Pirate (1947), with a score by Cole Porter, is a number performed by Gene Kelly and Judy Garland called “Be a Clown.” In Singin’ in the Rain (1952) Donald O’Connor does a famous routine to a song called “Make ‘Em Laugh,” whose music is identical to that of the earlier song and its lyric nearly so. Its authors, however, are listed as Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, who wrote the rest of the movie’s score. How come? Were there any lawsuits? Both movies were produced by Arthur Freed, which may mean something.
Arthur Freed, the producer responsible for most of the MGM musicals of the 40s and 50s, began his career as a songwriter. “Singin’ in the Rain” was part of Brown and Freed’s score for MGM’s first “all talking, all singing, all dancing” musical, The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (the song has since been used in five other films, counting A Clockwork Orange).
In 1952, Freed decided to use his songbook as the basis for an original musical, as he had done with Jerome Kern’s songs in 1946 (Till the Clouds Roll By) and George Gershwin’s in 1951 (An American in Paris). Freed assigned Betty Comden and Adolph Green to build a screenplay around the available material, with Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly to direct. When the time came to shoot, Donen decided that Donald O’Connor needed a solo number, and couldn’t find anything that worked in the Freed catalog. Donen suggested that Brown and Freed write a new song, pointing to Porter’s “Be a Clown” as the sort of thing he thought would fit in at that point in the script. Brown and Freed obliged–maybe too well–with “Make ‘Em Laugh.” Donen called it “100 percent plagiarism,” but Freed was the boss and the song went into the film. Cole Porter never sued, although he obviously had grounds enough. Apparently he was still grateful to Freed for giving him the assignment for The Pirate at a time when Porter’s career was suffering from two consecutive Broadway flops (Mexican Hayride and Around the World in Eighty Days).
I’m not sure if I’m supposed to know the author Bruce Jay Friedman. I came across his novel Violencia! (2001) while doing research for my own novel in progress. Friedman, now in his 80s, over decades has written a bunch of novels I never read, some off-broadway plays I never heard of, and the screenplays for movies made in the 1980s I couldn’t care less about, e.g. Stir Crazy, Doctor Detroit, Splash. If Friedman is a famous author I gather it’s because he’s supposed to be a master wit in hysterical fiction. Hysterical is a pretty good word for describing the mania of Violencia! A retired police precinct clerk is recruited to write the libretto for Violencia!, a Broadway musical based on gritty experiences observed in the crime fighting world. Despite knowing nothing about writing a musical and being a rather ordinary man, the clerk unwittingly becomes a swiveling node for the novel’s cast of neurotic producers, composers and theatre actors. They all see the dull clerk as an embassy for their vanities, character flaws, and harebrained ideas about art and audience. Violencia! follows the attempt to put on a big musical from it’s distasteful concept, to dishonest financing scheme, to pointless and vulgar production numbers, and then to calamitous road tryouts. The novel is intended as a satire on the affectations of backstage Broadway. Situations and characters in this book are clever I have to admit, but satirical comedy like this too often proceeds plausibility: the fatigued composer returns energized after vacationing in less than a day’s travel from New York to PuertaVallarta, no-nothing producers with hundreds-thousands of dollars at stake insist that Violencia!’s success is held in suspense by the script’s call for use of the word “doody.” This style of writing allows for comical leaps in logic and abandoned story detail. Friedman’s novel is creative but I also find the storytelling a little lazy considering it’s something he’s been doing for decades. This may be a good light read for someone in the mood for lampoonery; I take my comedy much more serious.