This week’s musical: The Helen Morgan Story (1957)
Studio: Warner Brothers
Director: Michael Curtiz
Starring: Ann Blyth, Paul Newman, Richard Carlson, Ed Platt, Gene Evans, Alan King, Cara Williams, Virginia Vincent, Juanita Moore, Leonid Kinskey, and (as themselves) Rudy Vallee, Walter Winchell, Jimmy McHugh
Plot: Biographical musical film on the life of singer Helen Morgan. The film opens with Morgan (Blyth) starting out her career dancing at a carnival show that is managed by Larry Maddux (Newman). Morgan becomes famous, going from nightclub singer to Broadway star. Along the way, her alcoholism and on-and-off relationship with Maddux torment her. Morgan hits rock bottom, broke and drunk. The movie ends with Morgan healthy and being honored by celebrities and columnist Walter Winchell.
– Ann Blyth had a lovely singing voice but was dubbed by singer Gogi Grant. In an TCM Primetime interview, host Robert Osborne asked Blyth why she was dubbed. Blth told Osborne she figured Warner Brothers wanted a different sound and so chose Grant. When Blyth was researching the role, she listened to a record of the real Helen Morgan, whose voice was actually more soprano and not very strong. But Grant was popular at the the time, and Blyth figured the producers thought that would help promote the movie. The critics felt Blyth’s voice would have worked better in the film.
– The Helen Morgan Story was Ann Blyth’s last theatrical film. In an interview with Osborne, she said the parts just weren’t there anymore. She was later offered the lead role in The Three Faces Of Eve, for which Joanne Woodward won a Best Actress Academy Award.
-Peggy Lee, Susan Hayward, Jennifer Jones, Judy Garland, Patti Page and Doris Day were all considered for the part of Morgan.
-Doris Day turned down the role because she thought the hard drinking character would hurt her career. Day had similar concerns before she portrayed Ruth Etting in 1955’s Love Me or Leave Me, according to her autobiography.
-The same year, five months before the film was released, Polly Bergen portrayed Helen on TV’s Playhouse 90. Bergen went on to win an Emmy for Best Lead Performance by an Actress.
All of the songs are performed by Gogi Grant and are well known, including:
-”Can’t Help Loving that Man of Mine” from “Show Boat”
-”Bill” from “Show Boat”
-”The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else”
-”Someone to Watch Over Me”
-”Somebody Loves Me”
-”You Do Something to Me”
-”Why Was I Born?”
My Review: Fifty-seven years later, I’m upset that Ann Blyth was dubbed by Gogi Grant. Blyth said she thought Warner was looking for a different sound, but Blyth would have sung the songs well. Also, the real Helen Morgan’s voice matched Blyth’s voice more than the belting, Judy Garland-Like Grant’s voice. Obviously as the story of Helen Morgan’s life is a bit fabricated. Morgan was married three times, which wasn’t shown in the film. She also died of liver failure due to alcoholism in 1941, yet the film unsurprisingly painted a happy ending. The Helen Morgan Story isn’t a great movie, but it isn’t bad either. It is simply a run-of-the-mill sad, torch singer biopic that was characteristic of the 1950s. This time it was just Ann Blyth in the lead role, rather than Susan Hayward.
Comet Over Hollywood, named for the 1938 Kay Francis film Comet Over Broadway, offers anything from Hollywood beauty tips to rants about Katherine Hepburn. Jessica Pickens is a journalism student at Winthrop University who is interested in silent films to anything made before 1964. She writes for Winthrop’s student newspaper, The Johnsonian, and the Shelby Star in Shelby North Carolina. Visit her Facebook page.