The 1968 Off-Broadway musical, Dames At Sea,was a delightful parody of the 1930s Dick Powell/Ruby Keeper movie musicals (42nd Street, Footlight Parade, Shipmates Forever, etc.) with music by Jim Wise, book and lyrics by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller. The score contained a parody of a typical Cole Porter catalogue song, "It's You," listing familiar celebrity names of that era. Sample lyric:
"It isn't Jean Harlow, it isn't Greta Garbo, "It's you, it's you, it'syou."
Following is a glossary of all the names mentioned in the song, which was sung originally by Bernadette Peters and David Christmas (as Ruby and Dick).
Jean Harlow: (1911-1937) Famous platinum blonde actress in 1930s films. She started acting in movies in 1929 and attracted great attention in her second film--Howard-Hughes's Hell's Angels (1930). Her sultry sexiness made her a standout in such films as The Public Enemy and Platinum Blonde (1931) and in Red-Headed Woman (which was banned in Great Britain).Her most notable films were Red Dust (1932), Bombshell (1933), Dinner At Eight (1934) and Libeled Lady (1936). While filming Saratoga with Clark Gable in 1937, she died at age 26 of cerebral edema. A double was used to complete the movie.
Greta Garbo (1905-1990) The screen's immortal actress, born in Sweden and brought to Hollywood in 1925 by director Mauritz Stiller and MGM production chief--Louis B. Meyer. Her reclusive personality chilled the press and earned her the title of "The Swedish Sphinx." Critics, however, hailed her as one of the screen's most alluring ornaments. She caused a sensation in her first silent MGM movie, The Torrent (1926) and in several films with her lover, John Gilbert, notably, Flesh and the Devil (1927). When she made her first talkie-Anna Christie in 1930--the movie ads proclaimed "Garbo Talks." Her husky voice and Swedish accent mesmerized people and comics imitated her comment "I vant to be alone" (a line she claimed she never uttered). Her success and fame continued in such hits as Mata Hari, Grand Hotel, Queen Christina, Anna Karenina and Camille. When she appeared in one of her greatest successes, Ninotchka, in 1939, the movie ads proclaimed "Garbo Laughs"' Her next film, Two-Faced Woman (1941) was such a bomb that she retired forever from the screen. Leslie Howard ( 1893-1943) Genteel British actor of stage and screen. He achieved great success on the Broadway stage and four of the plays in which he starred were filmed with him in the lead: Outward Bound(1924), Berkeley Square (1929), The Animal Kingdom (1932) and The Petrified Forest (1934). Other notable films: Of Human Bondage (1934), The Scarlet Pimpernel (1935), Romeo and Juliet (1936), Pygmalion (as Henry Higgins in 1938) and Gone With the Wind (1939). In 1943, he was killed when a plane he was flying on from Lisbon to London was shot down by the Nazis, who thought Winston Churchill was on board.
Noel Coward (Sir Noel Coward--1899-1973). British actor, playwright, singer, composer, lyricist, librettist, director and screenwriter, who was knighted in 1970.
Bert Wheeler(1895-1968) Half of the famed comedy team of Wheeler and Woolsey. From vaudeville, he and his first wife went into The Ziegfeld Follies of 1923 on Broadway. Ziegfeld then teamed Wheeler with Robert Woolsey in the hit Broadway musical Rio Rita. They repeated their comedy roles in the movie version in 1929, and thereafter became a successful comedy team in many films until Woolsey died in 1938. Wheeler later appeared in several Broadway shows, including Harvey.
Ruby Keeler: The late singer, dancer, actress started on the Broadway stage in such musicals as Whoopee (out of town) and Show Girl (1929). A year before that she married Al Jolson and went to Hollywood to make a series of Warner Brothers musicals, 42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933, Footlight Parade, Dames, Flirtation Walk , Shipmates Forever, Colleen--all with Dick Powell. Her only film with Al Jolson was Go Into Your Dance (1935). In 1940 they were divorced. She made few films after that, but in 1970, she made a spectacular comeback on Broadway in a revival of the 1925 musical No, No, Nanette, with dance supervision by Busby Berkeley, who had staged the famous spectacular dance routines in her films. Dames At Sea is a nostalgic spoof of these Ruby/Dick movies.
Claudette (Claudette Colbert- 1905-1996): Born in Paris, Claudette arrived in New York at age six and hoped to become a fashion editor. She switched to acting, appeared in several Broadway plays and saw her name go up in lights in The Barker starring Walter Huston. She also appeared on Broadway in Eugene O'Neill's Dynamo before going to Hollywood and launching her spectacular movie career. Among her best films: The Sign of the Cross(1932); It Happened One Night (for which she won an Academy Award--1934);Cleopatra (1934); Midnight (1939); The Palm Beach Story (1942). In 1958 she returned to Broadway in the hit play, The Marriage-Go Round, and appeared in two plays with Rex Harrison: The Kingfisher (1978) and Aren't We All? (1985). She excelled in sophisticated comedy.
Cary (Cary Grant--1904-1986): Born in Bristol, England, this future Hollywood superstar started out as an acrobat/ juggler/ song-and dance man. In New York in the 1920s he appeared on Broadway in several Shubert musicals, then went to Hollywood and made a series of films in 1932, including one with Tallulah Bankhead (The Devil and the Deep) and one with Dietrich (Blonde Venus). But it was his appearance opposite Mae West in She Done Him Wrong and I'm No Angel (1933) that really got him going as a suave, romantic leading man. Later in his career he proved his flair for screwball comedy in such classics as The Awful Truth, Topper (1937), Bringing Up Baby and Holiday, both with Katharine Hepburn (1938), His Girl Friday (1940) and The Philadelphia Story (again with Hepburn--1941). He retired in 1966,and was given a special Academy Award in 1970.
Jack Benny (1894-1974) Began his career in vaudeville as a comic and made his first screen appearance in the Hollywood Revue of 1929. Although he made numerous movies (such as Broadway Melody of 1936, The Big Broadcast of 1937 and To Be or Not To Be (1942), he achieved his greatest success on radio and television with his wife Mary Livingston and the amusing Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, who played his valet. Mary (Mary Livingston--wife of Jack Benny who performed with him in vaudeville, radio and TV.)
Richard Arlen (l899-1976) Handsome leading man in films from 1920 to 1976. His first big hit was in the aviation classic Wings in1927, followed by another hit, The Virginian in 1929. Gary Cooper was also in these films and he and Arlen were life-long friends. His last film was Won Ton Ton--The Don Who Saved Hollywood in 1976.
Spanky McFarland: The late actor who achieved fame as the chubby kid in the Our Gang comedies in the 1930s. He also appeared in feature films, the best of which were Miss Fain's Baby Is Stolen (1934), The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936), The Woman in the Window (1944).
Aimee Semple (Sister Aimee Semple McPherson Hutton--the late evangelist who made her fortune saving souls, putting on elaborate shows that mixed religion with show biz.) The character of Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes (originated by Ethel Merman) was said to be based on Aimee Semple. Comedian Milton Berle claims to have bedded the evangelist in one of her less spiritual moments.
Shirley Temple (1928--still living): The famous Depression child movie star who appeared in her first feature film, Stand Up And Cheer in 1934 and by 1938 was the No. 1 box-office star in the world. She was credited with saving Fox Studios from bankruptcy and was given a special Academy Award in 1934 for her contribution to the screen. In later life, she was named as a U.S. representative at the UN and served as U.S. Ambassador to Ghana from 1974 to 1976.
Amos and Andy: A comedy team of white men (Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll) who played two black men--Amos and Andy on the most famous radio comedy program of all time, beginning on Jan. 12, 1926. The program was so popular that movie theatres had to halt films at 7:00 PM every night (EST) and put the broadcast on. Their 1930 appearance in the film Check and Double Check, however, was not a success. In 1951, Amos and Andy became a TV show, with black actors (Spencer Williams and Alvin Childress) portraying the characters. But in 1953, the show was cancelled due to protests from the NAACP and civil-rights groups.
Orphan Annie and Sandy: Famous comic strip characters created by Harold Gray and depicted in several films, a radio series and the hit musical Annie, which ran on Broadway for 2,377 performances in its original production in 1977. "Sandy" was, of course, Annie's dog.
The Barrymore Trio: Lionel (1878-1954), Ethel (1879-1959) and John (1882-1942) the famous acting children of acting parents-Maurice Barrymore and Georgiana Drew. The trio was known as the Royal Family of Broadway, although they also appeared in films. Ethel, John and Lionel appeared in only one film together: Rasputin and the Empress (1933). John was famous for his Hamlet on Broadway (1922); Lionel won an Oscar for his performance in the film A Free Soul(1931) and Ethel scored a triumph on stage in The Corn Is Green(1940) and won an Oscar for her performance in the film None But The Lonely Heart (1944). The trio was satirized by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber in their famous play, The Royal Family. Ethel was not amused and never again spoke to Kaufman.
Dolores Del Rio (1905-1983): Exotic Mexican actress who first appeared in the Hollywood film Joanna (1925) and appeared in many other silent films. Some of her better talking films included The Bird of Paradise (1932), Flying Down To Rio (1933), Wonder Bar (1934) Journey Into Fear (1942) and The Fugitive (1947). During the 1940s she also returned to Mexico and starred there in plays and in films She was considered to be one of the most beautiful actresses ever seen on the stage and screen.
Rudy Vallee: The late singer/actor who was America's first "crooner." He had a successful band called The Connecticut Yankees and he sang through a megaphone (rather nasally). Women swooned over him. He became very popular on radio, stage and screen. One of his finer films was the screwball comedy The Palm Beach Story (1942) in which he played a stuffy millionaire. He made a spectacular comeback in 1961 in Frank Loesser's Pulitzer Prize musical How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, playing again a stuffy millionaire--a part he repeated in the film version in 1967. He was a known miser and kept a pay phone in his Manhattan apartment. If you wanted to use his phone he would direct you to his pay phone.
Marion Talley: Met soprano, who died in 1983 sang at the opera house from 1926 to 1929. When the first talking picture, The Jazz Singer had its 1927 premiere on Broadway, Ms. Talley sang in a short feature that preceded the feature film. She only starred in one feature film--Follow Your Heart--in 1936, but it was a flop. She was a real publicity hound and critics claimed it ruined her singing career.
Charles Farrell: The late movie actor who was teamed in many films with Janet Gaynor: Seventh Heaven (1927), Street Angel (1928), Sunny Side Up(1929), Happy Days, High Society Blues (1930), Delicious (1931). They became known as "America's Favorite Lovebirds". In the 1950s he was the Mayor of Palm Springs for seven years and starred on TV in "My Little Margie" sand "The Charlie Farrell Show."
Nancy Carroll (1904-1965): A Broadway chorus girl who went to Hollywood in 1927 and appeared in films from that year to 1938. A vivacious singer /dancer/comedienne and actress, she was reputed to have received more fan mail than any other actress in Hollywood in the mid 1930s.
-- By Louis Botto