Thursday, October 29, 2020

Jeepers, Creepers, Where'd You Get Them Peepers?


Clever Halloween idea. I just hope after all that makeup comes off, she still has two eyes left. If not, that could be even more scary. 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Vital Viewing (Scientific Measurements Edition)


No, not Stella's.

It's National Chemistry Week, and one day out of that week, October 23, is set aside as a holiday. What holiday you ask?

                                                      !!!!! Mole Day !!!!! 

Now, it's not a federally-recognized holiday, so your mail will still get delivered, and, at least in previous pandemic-free years, kids didn't get off from school. In fact, it's an in-school holiday. The following video will explain the particulars.

That woman's charming Southern accent can't quite make up for the dryness of the subject matter. Perhaps we can make it less dry with some interesting visuals: 

If you were listening carefully to either of those two videos, you would have heard the name of Amedeo Avogadro, the late 18th-early 19th century Italian scientist who theorized that equal volumes of gasses under the same temperature and pressure will contain the equal number of molecules. Honestly, I can't think of any reason why they wouldn't, but apparently it was something that couldn't be proved at the time. Here's what Avogadro looked like:

He looks like a bit of a grump, doesn't he? The historical record doesn't say whether he was or not, but he would have had much to be grumpy about. Not only was his theory met with indifference by the scientific establishment, but the University of Turin sacked him after he took an interest in politics--he backed a revolution. He was eventually rehired after everybody had lightened up a bit, including the King of Sardinia (Italy was not yet a unified country, part of the reason for the rebellion.) But getting back to his theory, it increasingly gained favor in the years after his death--I guess you could say Avogadro was the Vincent van Gogh of atomic-molecular theory--especially when an Austrian scientist named Josef Loschmidt used the theory to buttress his own theory concerning the size of molecules. Then in the early 20th century a French physicist named Jean Perrin (by the way, I don't walk around with these names in my head; I only learned of the existence of Avogadro, Loschmidt, and Perrin about a half an hour before I started putting this post together) used Avogadro's theory to buttress--now we come to someone I have heard of--Albert Einstein's theory, not the one about relativity (he had others), but having to do with Brownian motion, or the movement of particles. Amidst all this theorizing a number emerged, 6.02×1023 , and that, my friends, is a mole (symbol: mol), because to write it any other way you'd have zeros all over the place as so many atomic-scale particles can sit on the head of a pin that angels have to find some other place to hang out. And if you look at the tail end of that number, you'll understand why October 23 was chosen as the date of the holiday. But, you know, I think this explanation is getting a little dry, and I don't have a charming Southern accent to make up for it. So lets hear what these young ladies have to say, or sing, about what I just told you:

I wonder if those girls put that video together themselves. It they did, and it's something anybody can do with equipment bought at Best Buy, it makes me wonder why anyone bothers with movie and TV studios anymore. Are they just tax shelters?

I'm sure when you were all going to school yourselves, and attending science class, you saw something that looked like this on the wall: 

Well, as a way of celebrating Mole Day, student and faculty at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, got together and--well, see for yourself:

So if you're ever in Rhode Island, and need to consult the Periodic Table, just rent a helicopter, and it will be right there.

Though the above video is of a college, Mole Day is still more of a secondary education thing, designed to get kids interested in science before they get to college. One high school teacher came up with this nifty bit of encouragement: 

 The message seems to be: study hard, go to college, and once you get out, there'll be a job waiting for you in the Pentagon.

You may be wondering about all these teenage-produced videos. Well, they seem to be extra-credit assignments, such as this one:

I'd give it an A, and a VMA Award as well.

Finally, a bit of animation:

Disney by way of Best Buy.

You hear so much in the news these days about teenagers stealing drugs from the school nurse's first-aid station, or  having sex on the wrestling mats in the gymnasium, or setting fire to the World Book encyclopedia set in the school library, or spiking the coffee in the teacher's lounge with Robitussin, or pushing elderly hall monitors down flights of stairs, or--uh, I better stop before I start giving somebody ideas.

The truth is that teenagers, and teenagers' personalities, comes in all shapes and sizes, some good, some bad, and just about everything in between, and it's refreshing to know that there are still high school kids who avail it upon themselves to learn something while in the classroom, such as the ones found in these videos. They are the scientists of tomorrow. Either that, or future contestants on America's Got Talent

Happy Mole Day. Try not to blow up the lab.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Grey Gold


If you know your 1960s sitcoms, either because you were watching them during their original runs, or viewed them at  a much later date on some cable or digital channel, you'll immediately recognize the woman on the left, but who's the one on the right? Why, it's actress Irene Ryan, who plays the woman on the left (I don't know if you can tell, but it's supposed to be both sides of a mirror.) Obviously, it's 1960s trick photography, and all the more impressive as it's decades before the advent of Photoshop. But then it was equally impressive that the relatively metropolitan Ryan was able to transform herself, with just makeup, old-fashion attire, and supreme comic acting, into a backwoods harridan.

 Irene (maiden name Noblette) and Tim Ryan were a husband-and-wife vaudeville team, their act reportedly similar to the much more well-known George Burns and Gracie Allen, a scatterbrained wife and exasperated husband. By the 1930s vaudeville was in a steep decline, but the Ryans managed to get work in the medium that had largely replaced it: movies. Not full-length features but the shorts that preceded them, putting them on par with the likes of The Three Stooges and Our Gang (better known to later TV viewers as The Little Rascals.) They made 11 of these short movies. They were also heard on radio, on a show that substituted for the popular Jack Benny in the summertime. I don't know that any of this made them household names, but they seem to have worked steadily. The couple divorced in 1942, but Irene kept the last name anyway. She was a regular on Bob Hope's radio show for a few years, and played comical grump Edgar Kennedy's wife in a few shorts. Irene and Tim Ryan then reunited professionally, but not matrimonially, in four feature films, of the "B" variety, made for Poverty Row studio Monogram Pictures. On radio she joined the cast of The Jack Carson Show. When TV came along in the 1950s, she made appearances on several sitcoms, including The Danny Thomas Show, and My Three Sons. Finally, in 1962, the 60-year old actress was cast in the role that she became best known for, as the elderly-but-energetic senior member of an oil-rich backwoods family that moves West, Daisy Moses in The Beverly Hillbillies.

 You know, I have to take that back. She wasn't best known as Daisy Moses but as "Granny", the name everybody called her by, whether they were related to her or not (and not just on Hillbillies but also Petticoat Junction, when the two shows had a number of crossover episodes.) In fact, she only had one granddaughter Elly Mae Clampett (Donna Douglas), the daughter of her deceased daughter, Rose Ellen. Jed Clampett (Buddy Ebsen) is her widowed son-in-law (though in real life Ebson was only six years younger than Irene.) And what about Jethro Bodine (Max Baer Jr.)? What's the relationship there?

Even though Jethro refers to Jed as Uncle Jed, possibly out of respect for the age difference, he's not actually his nephew. Jethro is the son of Pearl Bodine (Bea Benaderet), Jed's first cousin, and that means Jethro is Jed's, uh, let me look at the above chart,...........................first cousin once removed. Jethro and Elly Mae would then be.............................................................................................................. ...........................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................I think they have the same Jethro and Elly Mae are second cousins., and that means Daisy Moses is Jethro's..................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................great-aunt through marriage?

I cheated  a bit. There's an episode where Jed tries to explain the whole connection to Jethro.

Jed: Anyway, I think you're a great-nephew.                                                                                                

Jethro: Thankee! And I think you're a great uncle!

We'll just call her Granny from here on in, as did Mr. Drysdale (Raymond Bailey) and Jane Hathaway (Nancy Culp), who were of no relation whatsoever.

Speaking of relations, there's the aforementioned Petticoat Junction. Though, like The Beverly Hillbillies, it was created and produced by Paul Henning, both shows were separate entities until the Hillbillies seventh season, Junction's sixth season, and Green Acres fourth season, when it was decided that, for some reason probably having to do with sweeps, all three shows shared the same continuity. The crux of this continuity is that Pearl Bodine and Kate Bradley are, as Uncle Joe (who's moving kind of slow) once explained,...

...distant kin. Well, if it works for The Patty Duke Show...

Back to Irene Ryan. Though despised by critics of that era, who saw it as an assault on sophistication, The Beverly Hillbillies was one of the most popular shows on TV, lasting nine seasons. When if finally did go off the air, it wasn't because of low ratings, but for having the wrong demographics (not enough upwardly-mobile people watched the show, which was ironic, since you can't get much more upwardly-mobile than the Clampetts.) Because of that popularity, there was a lot of merchandising surrounding the show, including this 45 record:

Conjures up some unsettling imagery, doesn't it?

Though clearly meant to capitalize on her Beverly Hillbillies success, Irene seems to be playing  a different Granny here. After all, a grandpa is mentioned, even though on the sitcom she was a widow (as was Pearl Bodine, and I said before Jed Clampett is a widower. Beneath all that canned laughter there must have been tears.) 

Here's Irene again on a 1966 installment of The Hollywood Palace, and this time she's the Granny:

Peggy Lee's got nothing on her.

Here's Irene at an earlier point in her career:

Irene had a lot to be happy about in 1972. The Beverly Hillbillies was off the air, but the 70-year-old didn't lack for work, for she was now...

...on Broadway! The Bob Fosse-directed show was called Pippin, a musical loosely based on Pepin, the son of  Charlemagne. Irene plays Berthe, Pippin's exiled grandmother, who tells the young prince (Ben Vereen, in a Tony-winning performance) that he should live a little, before it's too late:

 Pippin was a huge hit and ran for five years, but Irene only saw about five months of that. On March 10, 1973, she suffered a stroke on stage during a performance. She went back home to California, where her doctor discovered she had a brain tumor. She died on April, 26, 1973. Not a great way to end all this, except when you're telling the story of a person's life, there's only one way it can end. Irene Ryan's greatest professional successes came in the last eleven years of her life, and since there's no evidence she had any personal failures during that same time frame, I'd count that as a happy ending. 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

In Memoriam: Eddie Van Halen 1955-2020



Remember when somebody was really good on a guitar, particularly an electric guitar, that person was referred to as a "god"? First time it happened was with Eric Clapton, in between stints with The Yardbirds and Cream, when he played for John Mayall and the Bluebreakers. In fact, Clapton was more than a god but the God, as when "Clapton is God" was seen, and, more importantly,  photographed, scrawled on a wall in the London Underground. Afterwards, monotheism gave way to polytheism, and a whole series of "guitar gods": Keith Richards, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Pete Townshend, Jimi Hendrix, Robbie Robertson, Peter Frampton, Angus Young, Brian May, Joe Perry, and so many, many others that I'm skipping over so I can get to the man who appeared not just on the cover of the above magazine but also this publication:

The last one? Well, Slash did come after him, and more recently, Jack White. There's probably been a few others. Nevertheless, Eddie Van Halen spent as much time in the axeman equivalent of Heaven, Mount Olympus, and Valhalla as anyone. Odd that he should end up in that other Heaven before Clapton, Richards, Beck, and Page, all of whom are quite a bit older (not that I want any of them to go!) Maybe that other God is gradually, very gradually, making His own list of the greatest guitarists of all time. "Number One is Hendrix, Number Two is..."

As tastes in pop music change, you don't hear the term "guitar god" much anymore (I keep waiting for somebody to come up with a "synthesizer god". Any of you graffiti artists in the London Underground want to take up the challenge?) Before the guitar is reduced to the pop equivalent of the triangle in a symphony orchestra, let's listen as Eddie gives us a few divine tricks of the trade: 

In case you're wondering about the "What's it means to be an American?" in the background, I can assure you, though others might insist otherwise, the answer is not "Trump voter". Rather it was a series of lectures and interviews conducted by the Smithsonian Institute in 2015 (the Obama era.) Eddie Van Halen wasn't there just to talk about his guitar playing, but also his unusual background. A naturalized citizen, he spent his first eight years in The Netherlands, a country his mother has emigrated to from Indonesia.

In case you're also wondering about the closed captioning, I have no idea.

The two best known versions of the heavy metal band Van Halen. There were others. In 1972, Eddie and his older brother Alex, a drummer, formed a Pasadena, California-based band named Genesis, a name they soon realized would have to be changed, and change it they did to Mammoth. At that time Eddie was lead vocalist as well as lead guitarist. That changed when the band realized a sound system they were renting from one David Lee Roth could be had for free if they just took him on as a vocalist. According to Roth, it was he who suggested the band change its name to Eddie's and Alex's last, believing it sounded way cooler. In 1974, Michael Anthony replaced Mark Stone on bass. The band soon became a familiar presence of the mid-1970s LA rock scene, getting regular gigs at the then-popular-but-now-legendary Whisky a Go Go. Eventually they were signed to a recording contract with Warner Bros. Records. Released in 1978, the band's eponymous first album Van Halen climbed to number 19 on the Billboard's pop music chart, an impressive debut indeed. Among the songs on this album was "Runnin' with the Devil", which never made it to the Top 40 but did get heavy play on every rock listener's 1970s radio alternative, AOR (album oriented rock.) I myself recall hearing it on Cleveland's WMMS when I was in high school. Not until I bought a tape cassette (remember those?) of the debut album some years later do I recall hearing "Eruption", but it may have been even more influential than "Devil", thanks to a guitar solo by Eddie which highlighted his "finger-tapping" technique. Much too technical for me to explain or even understand--hey, I'm not a musician!--Eddie explains it himself in the video at the top of this post. In 1979 came the band's second album Van Halen II and their first single to make the Top 40, "Dance the Night Away", which peaked at #15. There were several more albums, some that did better than others. Finally, the year 1984 saw the debut of...


The new album sounded a bit different from the previous ones, as Eddie now had taken a liking to the keyboard (so maybe he's a synthesizer god, after all!) 1984 yielded four Top 40 songs: "Panama", "I'll Wait", "Hot for Teacher" and the only Van Halen song to go all the way to Number One, "Jump". Though I'm quite familiar with the tune (I bought the album soon after it came out) I just now found out that the lyrics to "Jump" was inspired by a suicide attempt that David Lee Roth had heard about on the news. But the actual song that resulted is the age-old one of a boy meeting and wooing a girl (maybe the attempted suicide was the competition.) Thanks to MTV, heavy metal was making a major comeback in the early 1980s, and though from a purist's standpoint 1984 might be viewed as a slight step away from metal, for the more casual listeners that make up the bulk of the Top 40 audience (AOR   on life-support by this time, WMMS even having abandoned it) Van Halen was the first band they probably would have thought of when they heard the term. Though Eddie and Roth were hardly the first rockers to wear their locks down to their shoulders or more, Van Halen also was arguably a precursor to the many "hair metal" bands of the '80s like Poison and Cinderella. David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen, the early '80s answer to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Except we all know how the latter two rockers get along. Actually, as well as ironically, Jagger and Richards got along swimmingly compared to Roth and Eddie. For it was at the height of all this success that David Lee Roth either quit or was fired by Eddie Van Halen. Obviously, stories vary.

It may just be that they were two very different people, Roth a lover of show biz and master of tongue-in-cheek razzle-dazzle, Eddie more of a committed artist heavily influenced by his father, who had played both classical music and jazz in his native Holland. There's the question of who was running the band. Eddie and Alex started the band, and eventually lent it their surname, but I don't know how legally binding that is, especially if there is a notarized piece of paper (which I can only assume there was) stating that all four band members have equal say. However, equal say doesn't mean everybody is contributing equally to the band's success. Mention a band's name, and it usually the frontman, or lead singer, that quickly comes to the mind of the casual fan  (actually, you don't have to be a fan at all, as my mother wasn't, when she expressed surprise as I told her there was no such group called "Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones".) But for the more ardent fan, the one who will keep going to see the live performances even if the latest record offering fails to chart, it's the person responsible for the band's sound, and, in a hard rock band anyway, you can make more of a sound with guitar chords than vocal chords. The creative control balance was further tipped in Eddie's favor when he built his own recording studio. And Eddie did some things outside the band, such as play guitar on Michael Jackson's "Beat It" (reportedly for free as a favor to producer Quincy Jones) that made Roth fear that the axeman was going to strike out on his own. But the oddest point of contention may have been Eddie's marriage to One Day at a Time star Valerie Bertinelli, which seemed to flummox Roth. According to Eddie, Roth was less than welcoming to her. Meanwhile, one former Warners Bros record exec has complained that she exerted a Yoko Ono-like influence on the guitar god, which I kind of doubt. I mean, there's never been a Plastic Bertinelli band, has there? Finally, Roth tentatively struck out on his own when he released Crazy from the Heat an EP (Extended Play) of cover songs, none of which, in their original form anyway, would qualify as hard rock songs, or, in the case of "I'm Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody" would qualify as a rock song at all, revealing a love for early 20th century jazz and blues that sold quite well. Well enough to quit or get fired, it seems. 

It's said that Eddie Van Halen met Sammy Hagar through a mutual Ferrari mechanic (it must be nice to be a rock star.) Hagar, formally the lead vocalist of a band called Montrose, already had a pretty successful solo career going, culminating with the hit single "I Can't Drive 55", which reached #26. But Van Halen was more successful than that, so it must have seemed like a smart career move at the time to become that band's frontman. The resulting album 5150 (named after Eddie's studio, which in turn was named after the California code which allows for the involuntary commitment of a mentally ill person.) It was soon a smart career move for all concerned when the album became Van Halen's first to hit number one on the Billboard's chart, then going on to yield four hit singles including "Why Can't This Be Love?" This album album differed even more so than the previous partly because Hagar was a much more wordy lyricist than David Lee Roth. In literary terms, it was like going from Hemingway to Henry James. Hagar was also a much better singer than Roth, which I imagine accounts for the increased vocabulary. In retrospect, Roth's role in the earlier albums seems ornamental,  an excuse to keep the records from becoming totally instrumental. On this album, Hagar's vocals get equal time with Eddie's guitar (and keyboard.) Share and share alike. One for all and all for one. And Eddie seemed to like that. In interviews to support this album and the three albums that followed, all which topped the charts, Eddie had nothing but good things to say about Hagar and bad things to say about Roth. Until one day Hagar was let go.

Lot of different reasons given for this breakup, from Hagar wanting to spend more time with his pregnant wife to a single song that needed to be rewritten to Eddie getting a new manager after his previous one had died.. But the nub of the problem was that Warner Bros. decided to release an album of Hagar's hit songs as a solo artist, thus reminding everybody that he indeed had been a solo artist with hit songs, raising questions as to really was responsible for the success of the revised Van Halen, often dubbed in the music press as "Van Hagar". There may have been other problems. Though like most metalheads he presented himself as a party animal, Hagar, five years older than Alex and seven years older than Eddie, seemed to blink at the brothers dissolute lifestyle. This is from Hagar's own, best-selling autobiography where he paints the siblings as a couple of junk food boozehounds who would have come to no good had it not been for the yahoo-savant Eddie's guitar work. How fair is that? In the interviews I've seen on YouTube of Eddie in the 1980s, he does seem to want to portray himself as a potty-mouthed happy-go-substance abuse-lucky headbanger, but, occasionally, a deeper intelligence emerges, as well as signs that his musical genius harkens back to the high culture he was exposed to as a child (he and Alex played classical music before learning to rock.) He was complicated, that's for sure. 

Now the rollar-coster begins... 

David Lee Roth, whose solo career had its ups-and downs, was asked to contribute a couple of new songs to a Van Halen compilation album that was the band's next project after Hagar's departure, or maybe was in the works before Hagar's departure, or maybe was another reason for Hagar's departure (if you haven't figured it out by now, stories vary.) This led to all four original members appearing together onstage for the first time in eleven years at the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards. But Eddie and Alex didn't really want Roth back. Instead they went with Gary Cherone, former frontman for the glam metal band Extreme. The resulting album, Van Halen III was relatively poor-selling by the band's standards (it only went Gold--*sigh*) but did yield the hit "Without You". A followup album was never completed as Cherone decided, by all accounts amicably, to leave the band (he's now back with a reformed Extreme. Van Halen then took a break for a few years as Eddie had hip surgery. In the meantime, Hagar and Roth went on tour together. It drew huge crowds, but to date has never been repeated as the two men just don't like each other. 2004 saw another compilation, a 2-CD set with three new songs with Hagar singing lead. An ominous note: Bassist Michael Anthony was not allowed to record in these sessions, though he did tour with the band. Upset with Eddie's drinking, Hagar again departed at the tour's conclusion. Anthony also left because Eddie, drunk or sober, didn't want him around anymore. Then for the next year or so both Eddie and Roth gave separate interviews suggesting another reunion. Then Roth took it back. Van Halen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in January 2007, but only former members Hagar and Anthony (by now bandmates in a different venture) showed up for the ceremony. A new Van Halen tour with Roth was announced (with Eddie's and ex-wife Valerie Bertinelli's 15-year-old son Wolf playing bass), then disregarded after Eddie went into rehab. The tour eventually did take place, but was interrupted due to either Eddie returning to rehab, or just as likely in the past 20 years, to deal with various physical ailments, some quite serious. The tour eventually resumed, raking in tons of money. Another absence for a few years, then in 2012, the single "Tattoo", with Roth again singing lead, made its radio debut. They've toured since then, and it's basically understood that Roth was now permanently back with the band, a permanence that, this time, only ended with Eddie's death.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Quips and Quotations (Body Politic Edition)



E pluribus unum (Out of many, one)

--Inscribed,  minus the translation, on the Great Seal of the United States, as well as most of the nation's currency. 

Thursday, October 1, 2020

By George, I Think She's Got It



On the left we have Audrey Hepburn, the right Julie Andrews. And if you look in the lower right-hand corner, you'll see a statuette. Recognize it? Somebody won something, but for what, exactly?

No, that's not God in the upper left-hand corner of the Al Hirschfeld-drawn Broadway
poster above, but instead a caricature of a deceased man who didn't even believe in God, Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw. In the early 1910s, Shaw had written a play titled Pygmalion, an Edwardian era updating of an ancient Greek myth about a statue that comes to life. Only in this update the statue is an already-alive-but-poverty-stricken Cockney flower girl named Eliza Doolittle, who learns to speak the de-Cockneyefied King's English from one Henry Higgins, a brilliant but irascible professor of phonetics. After a rough start, Higgins is able to pass Eliza off as a member of royalty, thus exposing the folly of the European class system as it existed on the eve of World
War I. Unfortunately, though Higgins sees himself as a reformer, he's too misanthropic to take anything other than monetary 
satisfaction (he wins a bet) from his exposé Higgins' idea of a classless society is one where he gets to treat everyone equally like shit, including Eliza, no matter what her syntax. This all may sound like heavy going, but Shaw's genius was making weighty philosophical, political, and economic concerns acceptable subject matter for drawing room comedies. Audiences laughed as they ruminated. In its West End premiere, Eliza was played by Mrs. Patrick Campbell and Higgins by Sir Herbert Tree, at the time two well-known figures of the London stage.  It did very well, running for 118 performances. However, audiences did sometimes express disappointment that Eliza and Higgins don't get together in the end, much to Shaw's irritation. It's not supposed to be a love story! But what it's supposed to be can change over time. In 1938, a very good British film version came out, with Wendy Hiller as Eliza and Leslie Howard as Higgins. It was here that the famous "rain in Spain" line made its debut. Shaw, now 82, was one of three screenwriters credited (out of reportedly six altogether) and probably not the one who pushed the ending closer to romantic reconciliation by having Eliza pay a visit to the lonely phonetics professor. Shaw died in 1950 at the age of 94, clearing the way for an unapologetically romantic reboot as a Broadway musical, My Fair Lady, the poster of which, of course, sits at the top of this very long paragraph (and it ain't over yet!) If you've read the poster, you'll have figured out that Higgins is now played by Rex Harrison, and Eliza is now brought to life by newcomer Julie Andrews.

 The daughter of show biz parents, Julie Andrews made her Broadway debut at age 19 when a West End musical she was starring in, The Boy Friend, made its Broadway debut. She got a lot of good notices, won the Theatre World Award, and eventually came to the attention of librettist/lyricist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe, who had taken it upon themselves (before they had even secured the rights) to turn Shaw's play into a musical, and figured a show that takes place in England might as well have for its female lead a woman who had grown up in England. That she could sing up a storm probably didn't hurt either. My Fair Lady was  the biggest Broadway hit of the 1950s. Also the 1940s, '30s,'20s, etc, as it went on to run a then-record 2,717 performances. When it came time to cast the film version, Andrews was considered a...


So what gives?

Jack L. Warner, that's what. By the early 1960s the only Warner brother still at Warner Bros, his studio at his direction shelled out $5.5 million, a record sum at the time, for the film rights to My Fair Lady. Since he ran the place, Warner also had final say on the casting. According to his autobiography, there was "nothing mysterious or complicated" about his decision to bypass Andrews in favor of Audrey Hepburn for the part of Eliza Dolittle. He simply wanted somebody famous. "In Clinton, Iowa and Anchorage, Alaska, and thousands of others cities and towns in our 50 states and abroad you can say Audrey Hepburn, and people instantly know you're talking about a beautiful and talented star." OK, fine, but was Julie Andrews, herself beautiful and talented, really that obscure a figure in 1962? She had followed her stage success in My Fair Lady with another Lerner and Loewe's Broadway smash, Camelot, playing Guinevere opposite Richard Burton's King Arthur. I'll grant you that Broadway stardom may mean something in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut but little anywhere else. However, in 1957, Andrews also played the title character in Rodgers and Hammerstein's live TV version of Cinderella, seen by 100 million people, presumably including those living in Clinton, Iowa. She was a guest star on TV shows hosted by Ed Sullivan, Jack Benny, Dinah Shore, and Garry Moore, all big names in their day. In 1962, Andrews and then-Gary Moore sidekick Carol Burnett got their own TV special, Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall, which won an Emmy. I think it can be said that Julie Andrews was a fairly well-known name by the time Jack Warner purchased the My Fair Lady film rights. True, she had not at that point attained the most exalted show biz title of all, "movie star", having appeared in no movies, but there's a first time for everything. A first time for Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney, Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Humphrey Bogart, and Lauren Bacall, all of whom rose to fame during Jack Warner's long reign as a movie mogul. Perhaps it's because Warner was turning 70, and even though he was his eponymous studio's president and majority stockholder, his position may have been less secure as it seems. In the past ten years he had seen fellow movie moguls Louis B. Mayer, Samuel Goldwyn, and David O. Selznick either get pushed out of their jobs or just quit because they couldn't adapt to changing times. Competition from television and an antitrust suit that had forced the studios to divest themselves of their theater chains (or the other way around) meant movies were no longer as profitable as they once were. So Warner just wanted a sure thing. "In my business I have to know who brings people and their money to a movie theater box office," he wrote. "I knew Audrey Hepburn has never made a financial flop." 

Even if she wasn't on the Warner's lot singing in a Cockney accent, Julie Andrews spent at least five months of 1963 in front of a motion picture camera in Southern California. Seems there were a few people who DID think she could be a movie star. One was Robert Wise, who wanted to bring a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical to the screen. And there was producer Martin Ransohoff and director Arthur Hiller, who wanted her opposite James Garner in a film shot from a Paddy Chayefsky screenplay titled The Americanization of Emily. Andrews eventually became involved with both of those projects. But not before a man known more for animated cartoons than live-action features got to her first. Actually, Walt Disney had been producing live-action features for a little over a decade, with a few hits here and there, when he showed up backstage at Camelot to talk about her starring in a children's musical for which he had high hopes. Not knowing anything about pre-production and the length of time between an actor agreeing to do a movie and actually doing the movie, which for an elaborate production may take up to a year, she regretfully told him she was three months pregnant. Disney assured her he could wait.

The wait was worth it.

Take it away, Bob...

Julie Andrews also won a Golden Globe that year. Perhaps because those awards aren't as prestigious as the Oscars (though the open bar brings out the stars anyway), she felt she could be a little mischievous in her acceptance speech:

I'm not sure if Warner was laughing or crying. Maybe both.

None of this is meant to reflect poorly on Audrey Hepburn. She did nothing wrong but accept a role she would have been crazy to turn down. And as you saw at the very top of this post, she let herself be photographed with Julie after the latter won her Oscar. The two women eventually became good friends (meanwhile, Hepburn had her own reasons to be miffed at the studio after she found out that, unlike Funny Face or even Breakfast at Tiffany's, it wouldn't be her voice audiences heard during the musical numbers but dubber extraordinaire Marni Nixon.) The competition from television must not have been all that intense in 1964 for there were enough moviegoers to make box office hits of both Mary Poppins and My Fair Lady (which won the Best Picture Oscar.) And the success of the two films marked the beginning of a whole new round of big budget movie musicals, including this monster hit from 20th Century Fox:

In her own way, Julie Andrews exposed the folly of the Hollywood class system as it existed on the eve of the Vietnam War. Once a statue comes to life, not even Jack L. Warner can turn it back to stone.