Saturday, July 6, 2013

Silver Screen Torches

Torch Singers in the Movies
Clockwise: Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli and Doris Day.

Judy, Barbra, Liza and Doris, all names that top the lists of the lovers of the movie musicals. From the 'A Star Is Born' to 'Love Me Or Leave Me' to 'Funny Girl' to 'Cabaret', these ladies had the big musicals covered. While their styles might have differed, the results seldom did. And they could all sing the blues, and earn a standing ovation doing it. They not only sing, but they smoulder while they do, so much you can smell the smoke, and hear the tinkling of the glasses in the club... In the 1955 movie 'Love Me Or Leave Me', Doris Day played jazz singer Ruth Etting, who was married to mobster Mo Snyder, played by James Cagney. Long story short - girl marries mobster to get ahead in her career. She does movies and records, and leaves mobster for piano player. Mobster tries to kill piano man, and the scandal costs the woman her career. A true Hollywood story, and the girl sings "Ten Cents A Dance", with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Lorenz Hart. The soundtrack album topped the Billboard Pop chart for an astounding 17 weeks, a true testament good music and a great performance by the illustrious Miss Day.

In 1954, Judy Garland landed a role that put her back on the map as a Hollywood actress to watch. It had been a couple of years since she and MGM came to an understanding for her release, but that would soon change. She lit up the screen as Esther Blodgett, a small-time singer who gets noticed by the big-time star with a tendency to self-destruct. Played by James Mason, Norman Maine first comes across Esther as she sings "The Man That Got Away", the amazing song by Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin. This could be the ultimate Torch song ever.

Liza Minnelli had a major role in the 1980 television special 'Baryshnikov On Broadway', starring Mikhail Baryshnikov. On it, she takes a moment to sing "The Music That Makes Me Dance" from the Broadway musical 'Funny Girl'. Liza's mother, Judy Garland, had sung the song as part of her legendary 1964 show at the London Palladium, after the show had opened earlier that year. As a tribute to "Mama", Liza performed the song on her TV Special. I don't blame her. If I could, I would sing that song to Mikhail...

But that does lead me to the original Fanny Brice in the Broadway show, Barbra Streisand. She was just 25 when they shot the movie, her first film. She originated the role on Broadway. For the show, Jules Styne and Bob Merrill wrote "The Music That Makes Me Dance" for the final scene, as the show couldn't get the rights to one of Fanny's biggest songs, "My Man". When making the movie, Streisand wanted to sing the Fanny Brice hit, but writers and producers feared it too old fashioned. Streisand recorded the song for her 1965 album "My Name Is Barbra", and the music from her Emmy-winning television special. Soon, the producers got the clearance for the movie, where it was used in a remarkably memorable scene. Some attribute Streisand's win of the Academy Award to her moving performance of the song.

Those torch singers, they just burn so bright, don't they? No matter the decade, they amazing women burned brighter than the sun.

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