Tag Archives: musicals

The Strange, Unique, Sort-Of Unethical Movie Career Of Marnie Nixon, a.k.a. Deborah Kerr, Natalie Wood, And Audrey Hepburn

"Heeeeere's MARNI!"

“Heeeeere’s MARNI!”

Marni Nixon died last month at 86, and I have been intending to write about her ever since.  An accomplished soprano with perfect pitch and a rare gift for mimicry, Nixon secretly dubbed in the songs for Deborah Kerr as Anna in “The King and I,” Natalie Wood as Maria in “West Side Story” and Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady,” three of the most successful and honored Hollywood adaptations of Broadway musicals. In doing so she was assisting in the perpetration of a fraud on critics and audiences, but one that had, and indeed has, some legitimate ethical arguments, and rationalizations too, to justify it. Why is using a stunt singer any more dishonest than using a stunt man? Isn’t film about making the audience accept illusions in pursuit of art? If an audience member will be more likely to enjoy a film thinking that a major star can really sing, why is it wrong to make it possible for them to believe that, at least for a while?

The reasoning would have more power if long before Marnie did her secret singing Hollywood hadn’t already made a classic musical, “Singin’ in the Rain,” that pronounced the practice fraudulent. Marni Nixon was a real life Cathy Seldon, the Debbie Reynolds contract player forced to supply the singing and speaking voice for a talentless silent film superstar, Lina Lamont, whose real voice would make dogs run for refuge and men claw off their ears, and whose continued status as a money-making asset for the studio depended on making her successful in talkies.

Ironically,  even “Singin’ in the Rain” engaged in the same fraud it was ridiculing. Debbie Reynolds was a competent singer, but a richer, more mature voice was needed to match the image of Jean Hagen, the terrific comic actress playing Lina. So when Debbie was shown secretly replacing Lina’s nightmarish singing voice with her own, another singer was secretly used, uncredited, to dub Debbie. Her voice fit Lina perfectly, because the voice put in Debbie’s mouth while she was supposedly putting her voice into Lina’s was the real voice of… Jean Hagen. Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Popular Culture, Workplace

I Can’t Decide Which Is Worse, That “Hamilton” Is So Greedy, Or That They Won’t Admit It




Producers of the smash hit Broadway musical “Hamilton,” soon to sweep the Tonys in historic fashion, have raised the top premium seat price to a record-obliterating $849.

The previous high for Broadway show’s ticket prices was $477 for the best seats to “The Book of Mormon.” The producers are taking advantage of the fact that the show has reached mania status, something like the Dutch tulip craze. Waiting lists for tickets are months long. The show is a cultural phenomenon, but it is still a show.

This musical, reinventing the genre with a hip-hop score and an intelligent, challenging book, could be that rarity, a popular musical that matters, and one that draw young…even straight!…young people back to a genre that has been rapidly declining and increasingly irrelevant to modern popular culture. So given that opportunity,and already making money hand over fist, what does the production do?

Raise tickets to an obscene level. Ensure that the tickets to other shows will rise too. Make live theater, which is already too expensive for any family to attend not named Pritzger or the equivalent, even more elite and even more inaccessible to normal, working Americans. Continue reading


Filed under Business & Commercial, Popular Culture, U.S. Society

White Christmas Ethics (UPDATED)


I just watched“White Christmas” again when my wife wasn’t around (she hates it), and was again struck by how entertaining it manages to be while making no sense at all and containing one ethics breach or gaffe after another. Ethics Alarms did an ethics review of the film in 2012, and reading it now, I realize I was too kind. This is an update.

Yes, I still get a lump in my throat when the old general, played by Dean Jagger, gets saluted by his reunited army unit, which has gathered at his struggling, snowless, Vermont inn on Christmas Eve to remind him that he is still remembered and loved. Nonetheless, it is by far the strangest of the Christmas movies, and also the most unethical. Though everything works out in the end, the characters in the sloppy plot spend the whole movie lying, extorting, betraying, manipulating and generally mistreating each other, always with no recriminations at all, and usually with no consequences either.

The movie starts out with guilt extortion. Army private Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) rescues his smooth-singing captain, Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) from being crushed by a falling wall in a World War II bombing raid. (It’s not a plot feature, but the battlefield set for the entire opening sequence is itself unethical by being chintzy even by musical standards: it looks like they are filming a skit for a Bob Hope Christmas Special.  I thought it was lousy when I saw it as a kid.) Phil then uses Wallace’s debt of gratitude to coerce him into accepting the aspiring comic as a partner in Wallace’s already successful civilian act. This is obviously unfair and exploitative, but Bing accepts the ploy with good spirits, and the next we see  the new team of Wallace and Davis knocking ’em dead and rising in the ranks of stage stars. Now they have a show on Broadway, and as a favor to a mutual army buddy, they agree to watch the boonies nightclub act of “The Haynes Sisters” (Rosemary Clooney as Betty. and Vera-Ellen, of wasp-waist fame, as kid sister Judy. Did you know that in the “Sisters” number, Clooney sang both parts? ). Bing is immediately smitten with older sister Rosemary, but there is a tiff over the fact that younger sister Judy fooled them into seeing their act: she, not her brother, had sent the letter asking for a “favor.”

This is the first revealed of many lies woven into the script. This one is a double beach of ethics: Judy uses her brother’s name and contacts without his permission or knowledge, and lures Wallace and Davis to the night club under false pretenses.

Bing dismisses Judy’s cheat by noting that everyone “has an angle” in show business, so he’s not angry. Rosemary is, though, and reprimands Bing for being cynical. That’s right: Vera/Judy uses their brother’s name to trick two Broadway stars into watching their little act, and Rosemary/ Betty is annoyed because Bing/Bob (Bing’s bandleader, look-alike, sound-alike brother was also named Bob) shrugs off the lie as show business as usual. True, Betty is technically correct to flag the Everybody Does It rationalization, but shouldn’t she be grateful that Bob isn’t reaming out the Haynes sisters and leaving the club in a huff? OK, nice and uncynical is better than nice and cynical, but Bob is still giving her and Judy a break.

As we soon find out, however, Betty is prone to flying off the handle.

Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Character, Popular Culture, Workplace

Comment of the Day: “Now THAT Was A Rape Culture…”

Blogger and esteemed commenter here Rick Jones shares my passion for theater and is also, like me, a stage director, but seldom has a chance to weigh in on that topic. My post about the troubling lyrics in “Standing on the Corner,” the best known song in Frank Loesser’s “The Most Happy Fella” gave Rick a chance to swing at a pitch in his wheelhouse, as the baseball broadcasters like to say, and he didn’t disappoint.

I want to clarify something from the original post. Having noted the lyrics, I was no way  criticizing them or the song, or the musical itself. Older shows are valuable and fascinating in part because they serve as windows on past cultural values and attitudes—that was one of the reasons for the ambitious, important and doomed mission of the theater I have been artistic director of for the last two decades. Such politically incorrect references should never be excised in performance.

“The Most Happy Fella” is a slog, however. Ambitious, sure, but too long, too sentimental, and with too many unavoidable “wince points,” as I call them, to make the show worth the huge investment in talent, money and time that it takes to produce competently. Any time the best songs in a musical are the ones that have nothing to do with the plot (“Standing on the Corner,” “Big D,” and “Abondanza!”, which in in the clip above) it’s ominous. The 1925 Pulitzer Prize-winning hit play this pseudo-opera was based on, “They Knew What They Wanted” by Sydney Howard, is much better.

Here is Rick’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Now That Was A Rape Culture…”: Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Literature, Popular Culture, U.S. Society

Now THAT Was A Rape Culture…

I just happened to be surfing past the  Broadway Channel on Sirius XM, and found myself startled at the tone of the lyrics of that Hit Parade smash from the 1956 musical, “The Most Happy Fella,” by the great composer/lyricist Frank Loesser, “Standing on the Corner (Watching All The Girls Go By)”—especially at the end:

Saturday, and I’m so broke
Haven’t got a girl, and that’s no joke
Still I’m living like a millionaire
When I take me down to Main Street and I review the harem parading for me there..

Standing on the corner watching all the girls go by
Standing on the corner underneath the springtime sky!

Brother, you can’t go to jail for what you’re thinking
Or for the “Woo!” look in your eye
You’re only standing on the corner watching all the girls
Watching all the girls, watching all the girls
Go by!

Nobody saw anything wrong with these sentiments in 1956. It was fun, it was cute, it was innocent! A bunch of guys hanging out, leering and ogling women as they walked on the sidewalk, with “woo”—that is, lust— in their eyes and illegal thoughts in their brains, and periodically wolf-whistling at “the harem.”

Sometimes we forget—sometimes women especially forget—that our culture’s ethics regarding sexual etiquette and respect does advance, and has, as much as self-serving activists would have us believe otherwise.



Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Popular Culture, U.S. Society

Unethical Quote of the Week: Ampersand on “Alas! A Blog”

Into the Woods

There is no reason in the world, other than Hollywood’s endless racism and lack of imagination, for this movie (or the original play, alas) to have an all-white cast. Why do movies feel like they’d rather die than show us a diverse cast? (And please don’t say “they cast the best people for the roles.” I thought the whole cast was good, but Streep was the only one who turned in a performance so unique that you couldn’t imagine anyone else doing the role.)

—–Ampersand, a.k.a. Barry Deutsch, opining on the assets and deficits of Rob Marshall’s film adaptation of “Into the Woods” on his blog

I hate to pick on Barry—OK, that’s not true, I enjoy it immensely—but this statement could stand as the distillation of knee-jerk liberal thinking on race, and it is wrong in so many ways that I hesitate to start counting. The sentiment, however, poses a nice counterpoint to the discussion here about the black James Bond controversy, so I can’t resist taking aim at it.

1. So casting a mega-million dollar film—-in a dicey genre (Have you heard? Big budget Hollywood musicals died in the Sixties…) and a limited audience—with actors who comport with that audience’s expectations of the musical the film is based on is racist, eh? More unfair words and inexcusable race-baiting were seldom uttered in word or written in ink. If a director had a vision that supported casting African American actors in traditional Grimms’ fairy tale roles and could make it work, I would salute him, but Rob Marshall had other priorities. He knew that every cut would be scrutinized and attacked by the Sondheim fanatics (which, by the way, are as white as a dove convention in a blizzard); he knew that the show itself was seriously flawed; he knew that every single adaptation of a Sondheim musical (“West Side Story” doesn’t count) has been a critical and box office bomb. He had every reason to keep his casting choices as close to the traditional images of the characters and the way they were portrayed on Broadway, and none of those reasons were racism.

2. It’s impressive how casually a race-obsessed progressive will accuse a professional of racism as a first response. Irresponsible, unfair, disrespectful, and in this case, ignorant of both commerce and art. Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Ethics Quotes, Marketing and Advertising, Popular Culture, Professions, Race

On Peter Pan, Pippi Longstocking, And Ethics Of Applying Political Correctness To Art And Literature

Cultural events earlier this month brought to light, on two continents, the problem of maintaining the integrity of art and literature under the onslaught of political correctness.

In Sweden, a controversy has erupted over the re-broadcast of a 1969 television adaptation of the Pippi Longstocking books, the children’s classics authored by Astrid Lindgren. The Swedish national TV station, SVT, announced that it is revising a scene from the 1969 television series about Pippi  which she says her father is “king of the Negroes,”a direct quote from one of the stories. Believe it or not, this has set off a contentious national debate.

The family has approved the station’s  desire to change the TV version, but is keeping the term in future editions of the books. In 2006, the family added a preface explaining that today, the word is considered “offensive,” but that when the books first appeared, “Negro was a common expression for people with black skin who lived in other parts of the world than ours.” That’s a sensible solution. Period and context is important in art and literature: the urge by some to constantly purge the world of any reference, word or attitude in past creations that seem out of place now leads to a form of cultural self-lobotomy. Erik Helmerson, a columnist at Dagens Nyheter, an influential Stockholm newspaper, called the changes a form of censorship. “I’m very sensitive to the fact that people are offended by the N word,” he said in an interview. “I’d never use it myself.” He even called revising the TV series  “a huge interference into freedom of speech.”  “Where do we draw the line? What do we cut and what do we keep? Who should decide? Who needs to be offended before we cut a word?” Continue reading


Filed under Around the World, Arts & Entertainment, Childhood and children, Etiquette and manners, Popular Culture, Race, U.S. Society