Pre-Code Hollywood, Star Profiles

Celebrating Ruby Keeler: “Gold Diggers of 1933” ☆

August 19, 2016: Ruby Keeler Day for TCM’S Summer Under the Stars

golddiggers5.jpg
(photo courtesy of doctormacro.com)

1933 was an amazing year for Hollywood…. It was an especially amazing year for a young lady named Ruby Keeler. Today, the name Ruby Keeler is a name that is nearly forgotten, save for classic film fans-particularly those who are hardcore fans of 1930s Warner Bros. musicals. Ruby found herself a film star when she appeared in not one, but three, major Hollywood musicals that year: 42nd StreetFootlight Parade, and…

golddiggers

Ruby Keeler portrayed Polly Parker in Gold Diggers of 1933, which was Ruby’s second film; it was released just two months after her star-making debut in 42nd Street. Gold Diggers of 1933 was directed by Mervyn LeRoy and the musical numbers were created and directed by one of my personal favorite icons of classic film, Busby Berkeley.

Polly is the true ingenue of the film. From the get-go, we are introduced to Polly and her friends: Carol (Joan Blondell), Trixie (played hilariously by Aline MacMahon), and Fay (Ginger Rogers).

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Top to Bottom: Polly (Ruby Keeler), Carol (Joan Blondell), and Trixie (Aline MacMahon)

Carol is a torch singer, Trixie is a comedienne, and Fay is the beauty who is wicked sassy and often rivals the other girls; they bicker a lot. Polly (Ruby Keeler) finds herself falling in love with the boy next door, an aspiring songwriter and singer who often croons to her from his piano across from their window. Letting Trixie know that she’s smitten, Trixie reminds her that she’s only known Brad (Dick Powell) for two weeks, but Polly insists that two weeks is more than enough to fall in love with someone. Is this a true notion? Make the decision for yourself:

They are all showgirls on the stage, but they find themselves out of work by way of the Great Depression. After the opening number “We’re In the Money”, we see the show that they are rigorously rehearsing for is being closed. After accepting unemployment and no foreseeable future of success, the girls quickly find out from Fay that Barney Hopkins, the producer of the show they were supposed to be in, has a new show that he’s going to be producing.

Hopkins pays a visit to the girls at their apartment and brings great hope and then disappointment to them, as he announces that he has a great idea for a new show but no means of money in order to produce it. Brad suddenly jumps up and promises that he’ll supply the $15,000 to fund his play but he refuses to perform in it, which sends up a red flag for the girls and Hopkins. They believe Brad is fooling them about the $15,000, which leaves Polly especially upset. They can’t figure him out and become skeptical of his intentions.

The next day, Brad pulls through and supplies the money -in cash – much to everyone’s relief.

joan-blondell,-ruby-keeler,-guy-kibbee,-aline-macmahon,-dick-powell,-and-ned-sparks-in-gold-diggers-1934-(1933)
(courtesy of movpins.com)

The show goes forward, but the girls are still skeptical about him. Why won’t he appear in the show when he is clearly more talented than its male lead? They put pieces together and come to the conclusion that he must be a criminal and that he is trying to keep his name and face out of the public eye. However, the truth is that Brad is the son of a millionaire. The rest of his family rejects the idea of his interest in being in the theater business, believing that it is a cheap and dishonorable profession to pursue.

ruby-keeler,-aline-macmahon,-and-dick-powell-in-gold-diggers-1934-(1933)
Polly (Ruby Keeler) and Trixie (Aline MacMahon) find reason to believe that Brad is a criminal in hiding.  (photo courtesy of movpins.com)

However, when the male lead hurts himself right before the curtain opens on opening night, Brad is forced to go on in his place, as he’s the only one who can perform the part. He receives notice from the public and critics and lands on the next day’s newspaper. He and Polly also enter into a romantic relationship and the rest of the girls come around to liking him.

Here are a couple of clips from Polly and Brad’s first musical number together. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the whole number, so here are two great fragments:

Enter Brad’s family: They find out what he’s up to and decide to visit him immediately in order to stop his involvement in the theater and with a “cheap chorus girl”. Brad’s brother, J. Lawrence Bradford (Warren William, always a welcome face in Pre Code films) and the family lawyer Fanuel H. Peabody (Guy Kibbee, hilarious as always) make the trip to find and reform Brad.

Well, instead of finding Brad or Polly, they first come into contact with Carol (Joan Blondell) and believe that she is Polly. Trixie (Aline MacMahon) is with her and without having to say a word to each other, they both decide to play a little prank on the men who believe that “Polly” is a trampy chorus girl who can just be sent away with money. Realizing that these rich men are trying to tell off the wrong girl, they make it a game and become comedic gold diggers, seducing them in a turn of total irony.

Once Polly (Ruby Keeler) learns about the trick, she plays along and pretends to be Carol. Along the way, she proves that she is a nice and respectable girl, leading J. Lawrence Bradford to believe that his brother should instead fall in love with her. Hmm.

I leave the plot there, though. For those who may have not watched it yet (and have read up until this point), I don’t want to give it all away!

If you haven’t watched Gold Diggers of 1933, you really need to. The musical numbers are phenomenal, the story is hilarious and engaging, the cast is amazing, and our Star of the Day, Ruby Keeler, is irresistibly adorable.


Now, Ruby Keeler’s dancing style is totally her own. While many people find her to be a not-so-great dancer who looks at her feet way too much, I find her style to be quirky and fun. Sure, compared to Eleanor Powell, she wasn’t quick and as coordinated, but she was so cute. I think her clunky style is really cool. She was a buck dancer, meaning that her style was much different from the style of most dancers from the Golden Age of Hollywood. She meant to be clunky and it was more about rhythm and moving the lower part of the body.

Ruby even once said, “It’s really amazing. I couldn’t act. I had that terrible singing voice, and now I can see I wasn’t the greatest tap dancer in the world, either.” She also said, “I was all personality and no talent.” Ruby, girl, I think you had talent. You were such an important figure during those years of The Great Depression. You were a bright face in a time of total unrest.

Here’s a nice tribute that was made for Ruby using clips from several of the musicals she appeared in during the 1930s:

If you have Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and have a Twitter account, I recommend joining the #TCMParty crowd on Friday, August 19th at 6:00 PM (EST) as Gold Diggers of 1933 will be airing then. The live-tweeting is always especially fun during Pre-Code Busby Berkeley musicals. Happy watching!


This post is a part of the 2016 TCM Summer Under the Stars blogathon hosted by Journeys in Classic Film. Click here to read the other entries for each Star of the Day.

Pre-Code Hollywood, Star Profiles

Summer Under the Stars: Mae Clarke Edition

Mae Clarke: a name seldom spoken today, save for members of a community sometimes referred to as “Old Movie Weirdos” or “Cinephiles”, etc. If you’re familiar with the Pre-Code era of the Golden Age of Hollywood, then you’re probably at least a little familiar with Miss Mae.

Mae Clarke (courtesy of doctormacro.com)
Mae Clarke, 1930s
(courtesy of doctormacro.com)

Mae Clarke was born Violet Mary Klotz in Philadelphia, PA in 1910 and grew up in Atlantic City, NJ. Her father was an organist who accompanied silent films, so Mae was brought up in a motion picture kind of environment. 1924 came around and 14 year old Mae joined a New York cabaret act called May Dawson’s Dancing Girls (which, unfortunately, I can’t find much information on). Her ‘discovery’ came about here when a producer named Earl Lindsay saw her performing in the act. Young Mae was cast in a minor role at the Strand Theatre, which was located in Times Square in NYC. Her blooming success took her on to the Strand Roof nightclub (located just above the theater), where she performed as a dancer and burlesque artist. She also performed at the Everglades Club, which earned her $40 a week (which would be roughly $540 in 2015).

Barbara Stanwyck, Ziegfeld girl, 1924. She was just 17 years old. Clarke and Stanwyck became friends around this time.
Barbara Stanwyck, Ziegfeld girl, 1924. She was just 17 years old. Clarke and Stanwyck would become friends around this time.

It was there that Mae would befriend and become roommates with an up-and-coming performer named Ruby Catherine Stevens. We know Ms. Stevens today as legendary actress Barbara Stanwyck. Mae took a big step into legitimate theatre when she landed a role in the dramatic play “The Noose” in 1926. She appeared in the show with Stanwyck and Ed Wynn (who went on to voice the Mad Hatter in the 1951 film Alice in Wonderland, among other film roles).

After acting in a stage comedy in 1927, Mae found herself Hollywood-bound. She scored a screen test with Fox in 1929 and landed her first film role in Big Time (1929). Because she wasn’t headed in the direction she wanted under Fox Films, she left the studio by 1931. It was in the Pre-Code comedy film The Front Page (1931) that she started to find her way in Tinseltown. In that movie, she portrayed a prostitute named Molly, securing Mae Clarke as a staple of Pre-Code women.

The head of Universal Studios, Carl Laemmle, Jr., signed her to star in an upcoming World War I drama/romance called Waterloo Bridge (1931). This is the film that I would like to zone in on a little waterloobridgescreencapbit here. In the film, Mae portrays an unemployed American chorus girl named Myra Deauville who lives in London, after her former occupation as a chorus girl brought her there. She meets a kind and innocent soldier named Roy Cronin on the titular bridge during an air raid. After Myra offers Roy a place to, er, sleep, he accepts the invitation and a friendship ensues. Although Myra originally took him upstairs to her place to sleep with him, nothing physical happens (Myra has had to resort to prostitution in order to make money, unbeknownst to Roy). Nevertheless, Roy begins to develop romantic feelings for Myra. As they begin to spend more time together, Roy begins to pursue her rather vigorously. Even though Myra likes him, she doesn’t have the heart to tell him about her current means of income. When he proposes marriage, she declines. She doesn’t feel like she’s worthy of his love. Unlike the 1940 remake, Roy actually returns to her after Myra’s landlady tells him that Myra is a streetwalker. Will the war tear them apart or will they be able to continue their love affair for years to come? I won’t tell you if either of those are the correct answer, but you can find out if you tune in to TCM on Mae Clarke’s special day. I will provide specific information at the end of this post.

waterloobridge3waterloobridge4Anyway, many of the scenes tend to teeter on the melodramatic and stilted side, but I think Mae gives a pretty good performance overall.

Clarke also landed the role of Elizabeth, the jilted bride in the classic Universal horror film Frankenstein (1931). After having some prominent and hard-edged roles in Pre-Code films, her career unfortunately began to decline in 1932. She suffered a nervous breakdown in the summer of ’32 and again in 1934, most likely from a combination of a heavy workload and marriage problems. In March of 1933, she was involved in a bad car accident and received scars on her face from it. By the time 1934 rolled around, the Hollywood Motion Picture Production Code went into full force, meaning the sexy Pre-Code films of the early 1930s were going to become a thing of the past. All of a sudden, this left Clarke in a totally new and unfamiliar arena. She got work in B-pictures in the ’40s and ’50s and mostly played bit roles up through 1970. Mae was married and divorced three times. She suffered some financial hardships. In her old age, she resided at the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital in Los Angeles carrying out her hobby: painting. Mae Clarke died in 1992 at the age of 81.

Mae Clarke in
Mae Clarke in “Frankenstein” (1931)
(courtesy of doctormacro.com)

Today, those who know the name Mae Clarke will probably first think of her most famous movie moment: the scene in which she gets a grapefruit shoved in her face by James Cagney in The Public Enemy (1931). But Mae was more than that, even if she didn’t become as successful as she should have. Regarded as having the ability to act in a naturalistic style, she also had enough spunk and ability to carry a motion picture. Perhaps at least one person will be able to discover her by catching her marathon.

Here’s a short clip from Lady Killer (1933), one of several films she did with James Cagney:

Celebrate the life and career of Mae Clarke on Thursday, August 20th all day on Turner Classic Movies. Waterloo Bridge will air at 8:00 PM (EST).

This post is part of the Summer Under the Stars Blogathon hosted by Journeys in Classic Film (journeysinclassicfilm.com).

1950s Film, musicals, Pre-Code Hollywood, Star Profiles

Dueling Divas: Kathy Seldon vs. Lina Lamont

Classic film mega-fans, casual fans, and people who don’t normally watch old films have one thing in common when it comes to Singin’ in the Rain: they’ve all probably seen this movie at least once…so this movie doesn’t require much of an introduction. But I’ll give one anyway. You know how it goes: It’s 1927 and famous silent film star Donald Lockwood (Gene Kelly) meets aspiring stage actress Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) when he jumps into her car after nearly being torn apart by a mob of his fans. They don’t quite hit it off; she makes fun of his profession and he thinks she’s a stuck up wannabe stage actress. But he realizes after meeting up with her again at a party that he has fallen in love with Kathy. She’s the only girl who’s not crazy about him and he responds accordingly. His frequent squeaky-voiced co-star Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen, in her Oscar-nominated role), however, is determined to prove the gossip magazines true and make Don realize that they are meant to be together. Don, of course, has other ideas:

Lina spends the entire movie acting off her jealousy of Kathy. Lina tries to use her power to get her fired from Monumental Pictures after landing some screen time. Kathy’s a sweet girl but she doesn’t once give in to Lina’s conniving ways. That’s basically the one thing Lina’s good at. Cosmo Brown sums it up best by declaring: “She can’t act, she can’t sing, she can’t dance. She’s a triple threat.”

Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont (courtesy of http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Hagen)
Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont
(courtesy of http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Hagen)

We learn that, following the huge success of 1927’s groundbreaking film The Jazz Singer, talking films are the future of the motion picture industry. Many people in the industry are very much against this. It just can’t be done. Here’s where Lina really comes into play. Because she has such a glass-shattering voice, she can’t possibly make the switch from silents to talking pictures. Everyone except for her comes to realize this. She cannot accept the fact that she just plain sucks when it comes to talkies. In her mind, she’s still Queen Bee of Monumental Pictures and nobody will get in the way. Lina sees Kathy as a gold-digger, using Don Lockwood as a ticket to stardom.

Lina and Kathy’s feud is not your typical Hollywood production fight. There’s no real big confrontation between them, aside from one. Lina walks in on Kathy and Don sharing a kiss after Kathy finishes dubbing Lina’s lines for The Dancing Cavalier. Lina’s BFF Zelda Zanders tips her off about the sparks flying between Don and Kathy and she decides to do something about it. She yells at them and threatens them.

Debbie Reynolds as Kathy Selden (courtesy of highlighthollywood.com)
Debbie Reynolds as Kathy Selden
(courtesy of highlighthollywood.com)

What else is there to do but sabotage Kathy’s career? Nothing. Lina goes wild with envy and does everything in her power to make sure Kathy does not take credit for her dubbing in the film, with would make her a likely candidate for a string of her own films to star in. Lina goes against the studio and uses blackmail to back herself up. Of course, her plan goes awry and Lina is exposed at the end of the film for being the fraud and the spiteful woman she truly is.

This allows Kathy and Don to finally enjoy some peace and quiet. We discover at the end that Kathy will be starring opposite Don in a film called–you guessed it– Singin’ in the Rain.

Have you ever wondered what became of Lina after the end of the film? If she had a sense of humor, perhaps she could have gone on to make pictures to simply make fun of her voice, but perhaps that would be too self-depreciating– and that’s not good. Perhaps she became a model. Maybe she took up cooking. Who knows? Any way you look at it, Lina put up quite a fight, but her intentions were downright silly and ridiculous. But who knows? Maybe the talking pictures just weren’t ready for a ‘force of nature’ like Ms. Lamont.

This post is part of the Dueling Divas Blogathon, hosted by Lara over at backlots.net. Special thanks to Lara for allowing me to participate in her fourth annual “Dueling Divas” blogathon. Be sure to head over to backlots.net to see the rest of the awesome submissions.