Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Marilynn Miller at the Shubert, Boston
Marilynn Miller, one of the most popular stars of the Broadway musical in the 1920s and 1930s, began in vaudeville. Here we see her as part of the cast in “The Show of Wonders”, a series of musical sketches that went on tour in 1916 after its successful run at New York’s The Winter Garden.
This program is from Boston’s Shubert Theatre. Marilynn Miller was still a couple of years away from stardom when she joined the Ziegfeld Follies in 1918, where she shared billing with Eddie Cantor, W.C. Fields, and Will Rogers. After that came her enormous hit show “Sally” with her signature song “Look for the Silver Lining” and Marilynn dropped one of the “N’s” in her name to become Marilyn, which because of her, became a very popular name of that era.
The Louis Alter mentioned in the cast later became a noted songwriter and composer for Broadway musicals, and a few early sound films. He collaborated with Oscar Hammerstein II, among others, and was an accompanist for Beatrice Lillie and Helen Morgan.
The Ernest Hare listed among the cast later found fame as a recording artist and singer on The Happiness Boys radio program, teaming up with Billy Jones. Maybe you remember their Interwoven Socks commercial (singing, “I’m Billy Jones/I’m Ernie Hare, We’re the Interwoven Pair/How do you doodle--oodle--oodle--oodle--do?).
Okay. Maybe you don’t remember that.
These performers had long and varied careers, but most of them never became stars. For this night in Boston in November of 1917, they were the pride of producers Lee and J.J. Shubert, and slayed (or attempted to slay) the audience in scenes with such descriptions as “In a Pullman Car”, and “The Oriental Bazaar” and “On the Beach.”
Marilynn Miller, Sidney Phillips and Arthur Davis sang a song called “Wedding Bells.” Patsy O’Hearn led the troupe of dancers in a song called “When Pavlova Starts Bucking and Winging.” Willie Howard gave out with “Yiddisha Butterfly.” Sidney Phillips, Virginia Smith, and a gaggle of chorus girls sang “Pajama Girlie.”
It was a different era in musicals, long before musical plays ever followed a single storyline, or when the songs forwarded the plot. That would wait for Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart.
For now, it was a bit of fluff during the grim days seven months after the United States entered World War I.