Sunday, October 17, 2021

Vital Viewing (Oral Choreography Edition)

Movie star Rita Hayworth was born on this day in 1918 (she died in 1987.) The daughter of two professional dancers, she herself became a professional dancer at the age of four, appearing on Broadway with mom and dad in The Greenwich Village Follies. The family moved to Hollywood, and before she was out of her teens, Rita had signed a contract with a movie studio that eventually became 20th Century Fox. However, it was the contract that she signed a few years later with Columbia Pictures that made Rita a star. Her considerable dancing skills, acting prowess, and stunningly beautiful features made her one of the top box office draws in movie musicals throughout the 1940s. In this clip from 1942's You Were Never Lovelier, she more than holds her own along side one of the biggest movie musical stars of all time: 

 There you have it. Rita Hayworth in her full glory singing and dancing up a storm. In this--Oh, wait, it seems I got the weather report all wrong. Rita is still dancing up a storm, but it's...

...Big Band vocalist Nan Wynn who's doing the singing, as she had done in at least two other Hayworth musicals.

It may have been Rita's dancing (and her looks) that originally got Hollywood's attention, but her acting just got better as time went on. Soon she was in as many nonmusicals as she was in musicals, including this film noir classic:

 Today, this nonmusical is musical star Hayworth's most well-known movie. If that's not ironic enough for you, this nonmusical movie about murder and betrayal and unbridled passion has in it film noir star Hayworth's most well-known musical number. Watch and listen:

You can blame the San Francisco earthquake and the Klondike shooting on Mame, but credit...

...Anita Ellis with the vocals that matched Rita's lip movements.

I wanted to study singing, but Harry Cohn kept saying, ‘Who needs it?’ and the studio wouldn’t pay for it. They had me so intimidated that I couldn’t have done it anyway. They always said, ‘Oh, no, we can’t let you do it. There’s no time for that, it has to be done right now!’ I was under contract, and that was it

--Rita Hayworth

So, does any of this matter? Was some big con job being foisted on the moviegoing public? Fictional movies are con jobs to begin with. Acting is a con job. Scripted dialogue is a con job. Anything not filmed on location, anything indoors, anything in a different historical period, anything on another planet, is a con job. Maybe con job is too harsh a word. How about make-believe? No more so than musicals which often have characters singing songs that they're supposedly making up at the spur of the moment when they could just be talking instead. As far as lip syncing goes, just about any musical made after 1935 is lip synced. Remember "Over the Rainbow" in The Wizard of Oz? No, I'm not suggesting that's not actually Judy Garland's voice you're hearing. It most certainly is, but it's not what's coming out of her mouth at the very moment she's standing on a set designed to look like a Kansas barnyard. She recorded the song a few days earlier in a recording studio so it would sound like it was recorded in a recording studio and not a Kansas barnyard or even a set made up to look like a Kansas barnyard. When it came time for the actual filming, Garland lip synced herself, which was how they did it in movies then and how they do it in music videos now. You'd have to go back to the early days of sound film to find songs sung as the camera was still rolling. The first sound picture, in fact. In The Jazz Singer, when Al Jolsen sings "Mammy" he's doing so live on film (as contradictory as that may sound.) And frankly, Al sounds better in his later movies than he does there (he comes across as less racist, too.) Once Hollywood decided that what you're seeing and what you're hearing can best be done at two different locations at two different times, it wasn't long before it occurred to somebody that what you're seeing and what you're hearing can occasionally be done by two different people as well. Rita Hayworth was a terrific dancer with a terrific screen presence whose singing wasn't quite terrific enough. Nan Wynn and Anita Ellis were terrific singers but not dancers at all and though both appeared in movies from time to time, neither had what it took to become stars. There are only so many Judy Garlands in this world. The rest is make-believe. Or, if you prefer, con jobs.

Still, you might be curious as to just what Rita Hayworth's voice did sound like. Well, she does talk in her movies. Nobody has ever suggested that was dubbed. But what about her singing? For that we'll have to turn on the TV--early 1970s TV:

Television may be even more make-believe than the movies!






  1. It was often a shame some stars weren’t permitted to do their own singing. Rex Harrison was no singer, but he certainly delivered Henry Higgins. Outtakes of Audrey Hepburn singing indicate that although she didn’t have Marni Nixon’s chops, she could have delivered her part as well. Judy Dench says herself she’s not a singer, but she has carried a number of musical roles... brilliantly.

    1. Well, Mitchell, as much as I like Audrey Hepburn, I think Jack L. Warner should have cast Julie Andrews, who sang the part of Eliza Doolittle on Broadway (but then, she might not have been available for Mary Poppins...sigh, it's all so perplexing.)

  2. I have always loved me some or a lot of Rita Hayworth. And when I get on a kick, bring all the movies on.

    1. Maddie, I'll start you off with Charlie Chan in Egypt, where's she's billed as Rita Cansino (her birth name was Margarita Carmen Cansino.)

  3. Hi, Mr. Saturday Night!

    Happy 103rd birthday in heaven to actress Rita Hayworth!

    If you'll permit me, Kirk, I also want extend birthday wishes on this same day to one of the last survivors of old Hollywood, the actress and lifelong activist that I have mentioned to you before. Happy 104th birthday here on earth to the wonderful Marsha Hunt! Yes, good buddy, I actually do cry. I cry whenever I encounter beauty and greatness in art, music and in people. Marsha Hunt is a champion and an inspiration. Bless her heart. She made it to 104.

    Getting back to Rita Hayworth, it blows my mind watching her singing and dancing with Fred in that film clip, so beautiful, vibrant and agile, knowing that her life would be cut relatively short, at 68 years, by the mysterious, insidious Alzheimer's disease. It's fascinating that the studio wouldn't pay for singing lessons, preferring to dub the vocals of other women over her singing performances. I agree there is nothing particularly scandalous about lip sync performances in films or having more gifted singers record the track for vocally challenged stars. The art of movie making is based on illusion and fantasy.

    I enjoyed tracing Rita's career with you as she transitioned from a star of musicals to great success in nonmusical features including noir film. I enjoyed the duet by Carol and Rita. I am familiar with the song "Mutual Admiration Society" because it is one of the first songs I learned as a little boy.

    You did a fine job on this birthday tribute to Rita Hayworth. It's a shame she isn't still living, enjoying her rich legacy and the adoration of millions of fans as is one of her contemporaries, Marsha Hunt.

    Have a wonderful week, good buddy Kirk!

    1. Well, Shady, I'll start off this reply by also saying Happy Birthday to Marsha. Among other things, I see she played Greer Garson's bespectacled sister in Pride and Prejudice and a war bride in The Human Comedy, two movies I enjoyed. I also see she's a survivor of the Hollywood blacklist. Good for her that that's so far behind her now. Hollywood's Golden Age wasn't always that golden.

      Alzheimer's. I was going to show a five or six minute interview Rita gave on a British talk show in the mid-1980s. Unfortunately, it was culled from a longer documentary made after her death in which an unseen narrator warns ahead of time of tell-tale signs of impending dementia. I didn't include it here because I didn't want people LOOKING for those signs, but I'll describe some of it here. Rita answers a few insipid questions by saying "I don't know." I wouldn't consider that all that tell-tale. Maybe she just didn't know. Also, when the interviewer brings up that she was once considered a "sex goddess", the still-attractive 50-something Rita laughs and replies, "Well, I'm not going to let you touch me." She may be losing her mind but not her sense of humor.

      Thanks for dropping by, Shady. I can assure you that I'll be there for your next post.

    2. Oh, I almost forgot to mention. Had Rita Hayworth been signed to MGM, she would have gotten those voice lessons. In the 1930s and '40s, Columbia was known for being the most tightfisted of the major studios.

  4. If the studios are going to sell the music on albums they need to be synced. Otherwise most of them would sound like a karaoke night at a bar.

    1. Mike, I seen movies with scenes that take place in a karaoke bar. I wonder if THOSE were synced.

  5. She sounded good to me, with a deeper singing voice than I would have imagined. But gosh, even then she looked terrific, well before the days of sophisticated cosmetic surgery.

  6. Andrew, Rita Hayworth was about 53 in that clip, and Carol Burnett was about 38, yet the age difference doesn't seem all that great, does it?


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