Monday, December 13, 2010

Born 100 Years Ago Today

The ever-fabulous Lillian Roth (1910-1980), beaming that inimitable "I'm here - let's put on a show" smile

Born on December 13, 1910 (besides actor Van Heflin
): actress-songstress-comedienne Lillian Roth, sprightly musical star of stage, screen and television.

Although eternal flapper femme fatales
Clara Bow and Louise Brooks arguably equal her for exuding that certain sultriness that draws fellas ga-ga - and into movie theatres in droves - nobody (other than Marilyn Monroe) could put a song over with quite the mixture of vivacity, panache and genuine sexiness of Miss Lillian Roth in her 1930's heydey. Here's a clip from one of her many appearances in the classic Fleischer Studio Screen Songs (A.K.A. "follow the bouncing ball") cartoons:

She also sings in one of the rare examples of a musical interlude in a Marx Brothers movie that doesn't prompt one to instantaneously hit the fast forward button on the DVD player or go to the frig and grab a cold one.

Lillian starred in musical shorts for Paramount, Vitaphone/Warner Brothers, Educational and Universal. I posted the wonderful 1934 Vitaphone opus
Story Conference - which only received a minimal release on the 1993 Forbidden Hollywood Collection laserdisc - here last August 15. While pleased that the following spunky 1930 short, Meet The Boyfriend, is both up on YouTube and available on the Hollywood Rhythm, Volume 2 DVD, I would like to find more of these mini-musicals, including a memorable Paramount one-reeler in which she stars as a lonely cigarette girl working in a cheesy nightclub.

Her other claim to fame was as one of the first celluloid entertainment celebrities to parlay her memoirs - one seriously painful life story - into a best-selling book. MGM's movie adaptation of her autobiography, I'll Cry Tomorrow, would be a hit biopic, for which Susan Hayward would be nominated for the Best Actress Oscar.

I'll Cry Tomorrow
had to be among the first of the pre-rock music era "warts, alcoholism, sex, trashed hotel rooms, ruined marriages and all" tomes; Errol Flynn's aptly titled My Wicked, Wicked Ways and Louise Brooks' Lulu In Hollywood were not published until several years later. For the full, sordid effect, read the book first, then watch the sanitized MGM movie version - that is, if angst-ridden celebrity confessionals are your cup of tea.

Personally, I don't care for the "full, sordid effect". Can't say I want to know just how terribly this likable, talented performer suffered, even with the awareness that she made a successful show biz comeback in later life. Such sordid tales of offstage misery bring to mind a Van Dyke Parks lyric from the Orange Crate Art album (a "good 'un" from 1995, featuring maestro Brian Wilson on lead vocals and lush background chorus overdubs): "Movies is magic. Real life is tragic."

I'd rather just watch the irrepressible, indefatigable Lillian Roth light up the silver screen.

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