I Don’t Give a Hang(way)

Old Jack Cole was a merry old soul.

Regular Shadowplayer La Faustin pointed me in the direction of THE I DON’T CARE GIRL, an iffy MGM Fox musical with some spectacular musical numbers by Jack Cole. Cole is famous for directing the songs in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES and LES GIRLS and SOME LIKE IT HOT, but turned loose on a full MGM musical (though produced not by Arthur Freed but by comedian George Jessel, who appears as himself) he excels himself.

First, the numbers are an object lesson in how to make a limited colour palette even more eye-searing than the typical MGM or Goldwyn rainbow hemorrhage. Second, they turn indifferent songs into funny, entertaining blasts of excitement. Third, they make you go GAY all of a sudden. They should have shown these to Malcolm McDowell in CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Skip the aversion therapy and drugs, just turn him! Of course, he might not be safe to release after that, but it’d on the whole be safer than keeping him in prison…

I don’t really know Mitzi Gaynor much. But she can dance.

Number one features Oscar Levant, MGM’s resident intellectual.

Number two features Levant again, and David Wayne, the child-killer from Losey’s M. They make pretty good combination, better than FEATHERS and FIRE, anyway — was Cole plotting to assassinate his star?

I quite like this song, but the lyric “I’m Eva Tanguay / I don’t give a hang(way)” is really unforgivable.

(Milos Forman tells the story of filming a scene in AMADEUS in an 18th century wooden theatre with candles for stage lighting. An actor wearing elaborate plumage wafted too close to a footlight and flames started to flicker up his costume. Forman watched in disbelief as everybody just carried on as if nothing was happening, including the ablaze singer, despite the elaborate fire drills they had been through. Finally he yelled “Cut!” and got the fire extinguishers in — it turned out the whole crew were so scared of Forman’s temper they hadn’t dared to interrupt a take.)

In number three, you may be able to spot Gwen Verdon and Julie Newmar.

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30 Responses to “I Don’t Give a Hang(way)”

  1. La Faustin Says:

    Superb!

    The second and third numbers knock me out especially because they are dances (and production design, which dances right along) so obviously MADE FOR FILM, with their use of perspective.

  2. Seems to me Bob Fosse took quite a bit of inspiration from I Don’t Care for his Rich Man’s Frug in Sweet Charity.

  3. That’s because Bob Fosse was a Jack Cole dancer. He learned tons from Cole on the way to discovering his own special style.

    The “I Don’t Care” Girl was produced by, of all people, Georgie Jessel. He also produced Jacques Tourneur’s Anne of the Indies with Jean Peters as a female pirate (clearly the mulch from which Rivette’s Noroit came)

    As I believe I’ve mentioned, Cole choreographed the “Put the Blame on Mame” number frm Gilda He was exceptionally astute at turning the slightest gesture (eg Rita Hayworth removing a single glove) into a Big Deal. He was invaluable to directors trying to get Marilyn Monroe through difficult takes. She trusted Cole and he had a way of converting action into dance for her — whcih she could rememebr better than she could lines of dialogue.

  4. La Faustin Says:

    Poor Mitzi Gaynor — you have to wonder what would have happened had she not been at the same studio as Marilyn Monroe (behind whom she cavorts in THERE’S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS’s “Lazy” number).

    Game, though, wasn’t she? Bouncing into the splits in the first number (I wonder what the Hays Office thought of her irrepressible cleavage?) and shaking her plumes off in the second without a trace of fear. A hunky fireman was the LEAST she deserved.

    Ah well — she did win out over the rest of LES GIRLS for Gene Kelly.

  5. Mr. Cukor didn’t care for Mitzi Gaynor. But she’s absolutely wonderful here (choreography by Jack Cole)

  6. Though you can’t really tell from this trailer, Breakfast on Pluto is a feature-length tribute to Mitzi Gaynor

  7. Well, Fiona found Cillian Murphy very sexy in that, and she found Mitzi sexy above, so there’s probably some connection.

  8. I interviewed Cillian Murphy for Breakfast on Pluto, and he said the film’s message is “We’ve all got to find our inner Mitzi Gaynor.”

  9. Wise words.

  10. La Faustin Says:

    All right, that does it. I want to go and live inside Jack Cole’s head.

  11. La Faustin Says:

    What did Mr. Cukor say about Mitzi Gaynor?

  12. Nothing specific. He just didn’t care for her. Too “adorable” for him. It’s pretty clear from Les Girls that he was wild about Kay Kendall. He was rather frightened of Gene Kelly and consulted with Chuck Walters as to how to handle him. Mr. Cukor wasn’t a director of musicals and he certainly knew well enough to let Kelly and Cole do whatever they wanted in the numbers. But Kelly was a very pushy and intimidating man overall and not wild about taking direction from anyone. In all my years writing about Hollywood the one constant was what a piece of work Gene Kelly was. Often Hollywood veterans — unasked — would start recounting their bitter experiences with him. When It’s Always Fair Weater was finished Kelly and Donen were no longer speaking to one another.

  13. Leslie Phillips (the Les of Les Girls) didn’t care for Cukor, whom he found overbearing and devoted solely to his star — perhaps because he was actually so nervous of him. As I mentioned before, LP objected strongly to Cukor’s use of the expression “Shoot the money,” when deciding who was to have first close-up.

  14. Perhaps the source of the Kirk Douglas line, “Keep the camera on the big money” while pointing at his own face in De Palma’s Home Movies.

  15. Well as they say “Money talks.”

  16. kevin mummery Says:

    Funny that no one ever says “We’ve all got to find our inner Oscar Levant”, but there it is. I’m still working on finding my inner Marty Feldman and having a damned hard time doing it, too.

  17. “Think googly!”

  18. Inner Oscar Levant, hmm. That would require voluble wit, cigarettes, enormous quantities of coffee, and an ability to play piano and compose.

    I’ll never make it.

  19. Heh. It probably — in fact, definitely — would be more fun to know Oscar Levant than to BE Oscar Levant.

  20. kevin mummery Says:

    Evidently he was a neurotic hypochondriac who was addicted to some kind of prescription pills, and regarded as one of the quickest wits in America. Live television hosts feared having him on as he was wildly unpredictable and known to slip in double entendre commentary, which usually got by the single entendre hosts. Not as googly as Marty Feldman, but other than Jack Elam who was?

  21. Maybe Oscar looked over at David O. Selznick and told the doctor, “I’ll have what he’s having…and make it a double”.

  22. kevin mummery Says:

    David E., that was a fantastic article on Oscar Levant…I remember my parents had “Smattering of Ignorance” in hardcover when I was a little kid, but I never read it . The cover photo looked like something I’d have seen on a MAD paperback and at that age comic books were more my speed. Thanks for a great article!

  23. Randy Cook Says:

    Great appreciation of Levant, David E. Candice Bergen also wrote of him, lovingly and well, after his death (Playboy? Esquire?). First time I heard RHAPSODY IN BLUE, as a boy, Levant played it on live TV…I think that the Paar show used it as Levant’s intro music whenever he was on. I heard him once tell Paar that he (Levant) was being considered for the title role in THE ROSALIND RUSSELL STORY, but that the producers finally decided against him because he “wasn’t masculine enough”. I also heard him tell Paar that the Gabor Sisters had discovered “the secret of eternal middle age”.

  24. “There is a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line.”

  25. Finally got around to reading this, David, and it really is wonderful. Thank you. But … I do find one name conspicuously missing, that of Gwen Verdon. Who, before she married Bob Fosse, was chief assistant to Jack Cole and can frequently be seen dancing “featured” bits in Cole numbers devoted to The Star. Among the ones you present, she’s at the start of the “Beale Street” number. She also, rather hilariously, is a chorus girl called “Sapho” in a neo-Greek number called “No Talent Joe” in the 1951 Betty Grable musical MEET ME AFTER THE SHOW. A sketch, perhaps, for neo-Classical giggles of “Ain’t There Anyone Here For Love,” which came a bit later.

    Certainly Cole influenced Fosse. The fact, though, that Verdon worked so closely and for such a prolonged period would imply, I think, that she had something to do with it.

  26. She’s not missing — there she is, in the last line, beneath the last clip. But I probably should have made more of her presence.

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