Pizzazz! The very word came into being with Funny Face in 1957.
Stylish and energetic, Funny Face is a collaboration extraordinaire involving some of the great talents of the era: Producer Roger Edens and director Stanley Donen, screenwriter Leonard Gershe, cinematographer Ray June, costumer Edith Head, couture designer Hubert de Givenchy, photographer Richard Avedon and the film’s matchless stars Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire and Kay Thompson. Sprinkled with an assortment of Gershwin tunes, this is a movie of considerable pizzazz…
Funny Face had been a work in progress for years, but the vital element that finally brought the project together was Audrey Hepburn. Then under contract to Paramount, Hepburn was a white-hot star at the time and any picture with her name attached had a very good chance of being made. She loved both the script and the opportunity to dance with Fred Astaire and quickly agreed to do the picture.
Astaire, then nearing 60, was coming to the end of his career in musical films. Funny Face and Silk Stockings were released within months of each other in 1957 and were his last popular movie musicals.
Though its name was taken from a ’20s Gershwin musical in which Astaire had starred, the title and a few tunes were all the film had in common with the original New York show. The film’s story came from Wedding Day, Leonard Gershe’s Broadway musical about the fashion world based on ‘the aura’ (rather than the life) of legend-to-be photographer Richard Avedon and his wife. Doe Avedon, a great beauty of the time, was a reluctant muse; it was her husband who turned her into a top-notch model and who guided her career.
Kay Thompson, ace vocal coach, arranger and cabaret star, had worked with Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Lena Horne and many others during her years in MGM’s music department. Gershe had her in mind from the start for the role of Maggie Prescott, a character closely modeled on powerhouse fashion editor and style doyenne of the era, Diana Vreeland. According to Leonard Gershe, it was Vreeland who coined the word ‘bizzazz’ that mutated into ‘pizzazz.’ Thompson as Prescott is an invigorating presence and she steals just about every scene she’s in; early on, her “Think Pink!” number kicks Funny Face into high gear…
Funny Face is a Cinderella tale, the kind of story that was Audrey Hepburn’s bread and butter. The film begins in the offices of Quality magazine where editor Maggie Prescott (Thompson) decrees that the world of fashion shall think and wear pink (though she does not)! Soon after, she and photographer Dick Avery (Astaire) venture to bohemian Greenwich Village on a shoot…where bookstore clerk Jo Stockton (Hepburn), an ugly duckling with swan potential, is unearthed. The plot takes off from here. Cut to Paris where newly made-over model Jo wears exquisite Givenchy haute couture and is gorgeously photographed by Dick everywhere in the City of Light. Songs are sung. Dances are danced. Love blooms. A fairytale ending eventually comes to pass.The basic storyline is nothing new, but watching Hepburn, Astaire and Thompson cut loose in New York and Paris (and in song) is so easy on the eyes and ears that in so many ways…’s wonderful.
And there’s the ‘beatnik’ interlude, most noteworthy for Audrey’s dance routine in a subterranean Parisian club dressed in black turtleneck and capris with white socks. Though Hepburn battled Donen over the color of her socks, he won and the result is memorable.
Stanley Donen was never nominated for an Academy Award, although he created some of the greatest musicals in movie history – including Singin’ in the Rain and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. He also made several successful non-musicals, films like Charade and Two for the Road. In 1998, the Academy honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award and in his acceptance speech he both sang and danced to Cole Porter’s “Cheek to Cheek”…he still knew how to “give ’em the old pizzazz!”