Sunday, April 24, 2005

Loving Judy Holliday

I watched Bells Are Ringing (the 1960 film) last night with a few friends. I had seen it on Broadway in a revival with Faith Prince a few years back but didn't remember a lot about it other than that Faith Prince was great fun in the lead role. I remember reading in an interview that Judy Holliday was a favorite of hers. Now, at the time I had seen Judy Holliday's Oscar winning role in Born Yesterday but otherwise I knew nothing about her. I didn't really become a fan until this year with viewings of It Should Happen to You and this film last night. Now, I'm hooked ~I'm crazy with fan love. I want more! She's just such an original. So funny. So versatile. So "Judy Holliday!". Modern Broadway stars like Faith Prince and Donna Murphy are obviously borrowing from her in recent well received musical-comedy roles. And, as my best friend remarked last night, it seems like Doris Day owes her a lot, too. (Now, as a reader reminds Day was famous concurrently with Holliday. But the latter wasn't around to compete with for plentiful 60s comedy roles...and it's easy to imagine Judy Holliday having gone a similar career route. Or maybe she would have stuck with purer musicals. There were lots of those to star in the 60s as well)

As for Bells are Ringing, It's so dated --"answering service? -what's that?"--that it's almost an essential time capsule the same way thatPillow Talk's "party line" business is head-scratching but important to know about for communication history! The musical score is uneven but there are a few super songs like "The Party's Over" and the very famous "Just in Time". And Judy Holliday! Again...*Swoon* Awesome. The best thing I can say as a musical theater lover about her performance in this semi-forgotten Vincent Minelli picture is that I kept imagining while watching it that had I seen her onstage it might have been one of those theatrical experiences that was impossible for me to shake. (If you're wondering what those are it's stuff like seeingAngels in America -the whole thing. Elaine Stritch At Liberty. The final moments of Metamorphosis Tonya Pinkins's "Lot's Wife" number from Caroline or Change etc...) It has a sort of stage grandeur. Her showstopping finale "I'm Going Back" doesn't really work as a classic galvanizing film moment but I can certainly imagine that onstage it was classic and would have deservedly brought down the house.

Now that I've been a New Yorker for some years older films like this that are set in Manhattan are more and more fascinating to me. So many films are set in NYC that, even if they're filmed on a soundstage, they still make up a really great history of NYC as it is imagined or actually was throughout the 20th century. Plus it's always great to see NY theatrical talent who made it in Hollywood as well (like Judy herself) immortalized. I recommend giving the film a whirl. In fact, see Judy Holliday in everything she did. It's so sad that she didn't live to enliven more movies. She died at 44 of throat cancer, just 5 years after her committing this Tony-winningBells role to celluloid. This was, unfortunately, her last film. Apparently she was already sick while making it. It doesn't show. Onscreen she's got life force to spare.


darkcypherlad said...

I have to disagree with you about your Doris Day/Judy Holliday comment. Day became silver screen famous with the 1947 picture Romance on the High Seas, a full two years before Holliday's breakthrough supporting turn in Cukor's "Adam's Rib." Throughout the 50s, both women made plenty of movies, with Day having the better box office. Among the films Day made were "Calamity Jane," "Love Me or Leave Me," "The Man Who Knew Too Much," and "The Pajama Game." Unlike Day, Holliday was mostly confined to one studio (Columbia) and thus, made fewer films that really didn't show her range. Regardless, she had an excellent string of comedies ("It Should Happen to You," "Pffft," and "The Solid Gold Cadillac") that cemented her screen presence as a soft, somewhat vulnerable woman who had one eye on the clouds and one foot on the ground (if that makes sense). Believe it or not, Doris' image in the 1950s was as a career woman and thus took roles with a little, edge to them.

So, I think it's wrong to assume that both women weren't at the top of their games at the same time (they were) and that Doris took Judy's roles (she didn't). If anything, Holliday had more competition in Marilyn Monroe, who peddled a similar dim-bulb vulnerability that Holliday perfected in Born Yesterday (a part that Marilyn wanted!).

Having said all that, it's good to know that someone is discovering Judy Holliday. Keep up watching her films!

Anonymous said...

You what movie star who died way too early I am just getting interested in: JAMES DEAN.

I just watched "Rebel Without A Cause" (twice! I have to send it back today so I figured I'd get plenty of James beforehand) and... wow. It's instantly one of my favourites of all time.

Has there ever been a sexier man in the history of the world than James Dean? I mean SEXY, not "hot" or whatever. I mean, damn, that guy smoldered. There is not one thing about that man's face that is not 100% perfect. And when he's wearing that red jacket, white tee and blue jeams... sigh.

And he's a damn good actor too. THAT is what you call brooding.

I have prompty added "Giant" and Robert Altman's James Dean Documentary to my DVD list (our version of Netflix) as high priorities. Unfortunately "East of Eden" isn't out yet.

I need a James Dean Rebel poster for my wall NOW.

Shame he only made 3 movies...



Dark Cypherlad, your comments are appreciated -- I was misremembering timing there with Doris Day so I've altered the text slightly to reflect my boo-boo.

And yes, Glenn. Dean is pretty addictive as a star. Unfortunately there's only three real fixes on offer. So you'll have to watch them repeatedly.

Anonymous said...

Thankfully Rebel is a great movie, then. I just finished it for a third time. Is that bad of me...? three times in 2 days isn't healthy, right?


Anonymous said...

Don't forget Judy was brought before the House UnAmerican Activities in 1951 and this did affect the roles she was offered. She was not able to get a TV comedy series like other actresses with less talent were offered. This was a blow to her career at a time when she should have been getting all the plum roles after her Oscar win for Born Yesterday in 1950. For the next five years she only made 5 films and finally returned to Broadway, where she was beloved by theatre audiences.

Anonymous said...

I had never understood how Gloria Swanson had lost the 1950 Academy Award for Best Actress (with her heroically sad portrayal of silent film star Norma Desmond) to Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday until I just recently saw Judy's portrayal of Billie Dawn in that film. Born Yesterday is truly great theater transferred to the Silver Screen

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