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Broadway to Hollywood

Broadway to Hollywood(1933)

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teaser Broadway to Hollywood (1933)

Broadway to Hollywood (1933) could easily be dismissed as a lackluster musical from the early sound era, but the story behind its production elevates the film to meaningful viewing. The film provides a window into a turbulent era of Hollywood history when established conventions and simple, familiar technology were cast aside for new storytelling techniques and cumbersome sound equipment--when the adage "out with the old and in with the new" summed up the industry's attitude.

Broadway to Hollywood chronicles 40 years in the lives of the Hacketts, a fictional show-business dynasty that has been trampling the boards for generations. The story opens in the late 1880s when Ted and Lulu Hackett are performing a song-and-dance act as part of the bill at Tony Pastor's Theatre, where according to the opening title card, "the greatest celebrities . . . started their careers." Ted is a ladies man, and in this pre-Code movie, his philandering is openly addressed. In an early scene, one of the girls in the "living picture act" asks Ted, "Don't you remember me?" The wayward husband looks baffled until she turns around and shows him her derriere, which is tightly clad in a leotard-like costume. With instant recognition, he declares, "You're Jenny Carter." Lulu puts ups with her husband's roving eye because she loves him, but his womanizing has a negative influence on his son, Ted, Jr.

Ted, Jr. grows into a talented dancer and turns the act into The Three Hacketts. Ted, Jr., adds energy and youth appeal to the act, countering Ted, Sr.'s tired old jokes. As the years fly by, vaudeville begins to lose its prominence. When Ted, Jr., falls in love with dancer Anne Ainsley, he leaves vaudeville at her urging to become part of Weber and Fields's musical revue in the legitimate theater. Though Ted, Sr., and Lulu are coaxed into taking small parts in the revue, many of their lines and jokes are cut, because the director finds them outdated. They return to the vaudeville circuit without their son, though the thinning crowds are not appreciative of Ted and Lulu's old-fashioned soft shoe and antiquated jokes. Ted, Jr., and Anne marry, but he turns out to be a chip off the old block, especially when he drinks. Unable to tolerate his adultery as Lulu had for Ted, Sr., Anne dies in an accident after arguing with her husband. Ted, Jr., becomes a hopeless alcoholic and is drummed out of show business. He dies on the battlefields of WWI.

Lulu and Ted, Sr., take in their grandson, Ted III, and once again an act called The Three Hacketts is on the road. By the early 1920s, vaudeville performers are being used as opening acts for silent movies in the motion picture palaces. In these venues, the trio is often hurried offstage so the movie can start on time--an indication of how cinema has replaced vaudeville as the primary form of popular entertainment. Like his father, Ted III is a terrific dancer, and by the time he is a young man, Hollywood studios are making offers to sign him for film musicals--all the rage since the introduction of talking movies. The move to Hollywood forces his grandparents to retire, just as the last days of vaudeville are waning. When Ted III follows in the Hackett tradition of carousing and drinking, he begins to shirk his duties to the studio, holding up production and disrespecting his coworkers. Ted, Sr., and Lulu pay a visit to Hollywood to set their grandson straight.

Structuring a narrative around multiple generations of a family was a popular device in novels and plays during the 1920s and in films of the early 1930s. In Broadway to Hollywood, the storyline not only chronicles the evolution of a family but also the history of popular entertainment, particularly how one pastime -- no matter how beloved -- is pushed aside when a new form of amusement comes along. Broadway to Hollywood suggests that such progress is the natural order of things because each generation of Hacketts adapts to the changing face of show business with no looking back. The common link between the Hacketts and the various show-business eras they represent is a belief in the old adage that the show must go on--which is the lesson Ted, Sr., teaches his grandson in the last sequence. As long as that lesson is taught, little nostalgia or sentiment is spent on forgotten forms of entertainment or bygone show-biz traditions.

With the enormous popularity of The Jazz Singer in 1927, synchronized sound became the Hollywood rage, and the industry roused to the challenge by converting from silent to sound films in a short period of time. By the time Broadway to Hollywood was released in 1933, the industry had completely abandoned silent filmmaking, and only the smallest towns in America continued to exhibit silents in their unconverted theaters. A complete technological revolution had occurred in just a few years. The subtext of Broadway to Hollywood--that the show will go on, so there's no point in waxing nostalgic for past forms of entertainment--neatly summed up the attitudes of an industry more than willing to drop genres, alter production practices, and dump verbally challenged stars to make the leap from silent to sound films.

Yet, that was not the attitude or message of the original version of Broadway to Hollywood, which began production in 1929. Dubbed From Broadway to Heaven, then Show World, and finally March of Time, the original version of the material also traced the story of the Hacketts from the Tony Pastor era to the coming of sound in Hollywood -- but with the inclusion of several extravagant production numbers in two-strip Technicolor that celebrated the history of musical entertainment. March of Time intended not only to remind viewers of the big stars from vaudeville, musical revues, and the theater who were flooding into Hollywood to become part of the talkies but to celebrate the entertainment traditions they represented.

The storyline for March of Time was divided into three parts, "Past," "Present," and "Future," which referred to three distinct eras of show business and three generations of Hacketts. Shot in December 1929, the sequences designated "Past" followed Ted and Lulu Hackett during the heyday of vaudeville, where they performed with the likes of Weber and Fields, Louis Mann, Fay Templeton, William Collier, Sr., DeWolf Hopper, Josephine Sabel, Marie Dressler, and Barney Fagan, who made cameos or performed part of their acts. The real-life comic duo of Joe Weber and Lew Fields specialized in ethnic comedy in which they mangled the English language as German immigrants (called a Dutch act). Near the turn of the century, Weber and Fields had purchased their own theater, hosting vaudeville acts and producing musical revues that lampooned Broadway. Singer Fay Templeton and comedienne Marie Dressler had been part of the Weber and Fields stock company. DeWolf Hopper was famous for reciting "Casey at the Bat" at the turn of the century and then became infamous for marrying Hedda Hopper late in his career.

Sequences for the "Present" and "Future" were completed in June 1930. "Present" entailed Ted, Jr.'s rise and fall in musical revues against a backdrop of elaborate numbers and prominent song stylists indicative of the revue format, including comedian Jimmy Durante, the Albertina Rasch Dancers in an old-fashioned Ziegfeld-style production number, and Nelson Eddy singing "In the Garden of My Heart." The "Future" fell on the shoulders of Eddie Quillan as hoofer Ted Hackett III who is on the verge of stardom in Hollywood musicals.

All production numbers were shot with live sound in two-strip Technicolor. Considering that both sync sound and the Technicolor process were relatively new to Hollywood, the production was both difficult and expensive. Just as MGM was getting ready to complete production, the bottom dropped out of the movie musical market. Repetitive, unsophisticated, and peppered with actors who could not sing and dance, musical comedies were suddenly failing at the box office. March of Time was shelved, though a few sources claim that a version titled Wir Schalten Um Auf Hollywood was released in Germany in March 1931. MGM later recycled some of the color production numbers from the film as musical shorts.

In 1933, Warner Bros. revamped the musical genre with Gold Diggers of 1933 and 42nd Street, and MGM decided to resurrect March of Time as Broadway to Hollywood. The color production numbers were eliminated or converted to black and white, and new dialogue scenes were added to introduce heart-wrenching melodrama to the storyline. The Past/Present/Future motif was dropped, the sequences from the Past were severely edited down, and a few new actors were hired for additional scenes, including Mickey Rooney as a young version of Ted III. Rooney was only about 12 years old, but he was already a seasoned professional, and his energetic tap number and infectious exuberance added vitality to his sequence. Decades later, his phenomenal tap dance was included in That's Entertainment! (1974), though little mention was made of Broadway to Hollywood in the film. Without so many lavish musical numbers and comedy bits, the story of the Hacketts races through four decades, quickening the pace of the film. Whether producer Harry Rapf was attempting to emulate the hard-boiled, ultra-contemporary Warner Bros. style, or whether sentiment for past forms of entertainment was pass in the new sound era, Broadway to Hollywood was reworked with a thematic focus on the inevitability of the new.

Oddly, MGM gave solid billing to some of the vaudeville performers whose parts were reduced to just a few seconds on screen. Most were not even shown on stage, so their appearances are wasted and, in some instances, confusing. In one scene, Jimmy Durante suddenly appears out of nowhere as himself, stomping and fuming in a reception area as he waits to see a big studio producer. Ted III, who is obviously the bigger star, waltzes into the producer's office as he quips about Durante's ugly mug. The bit is unfunny as it stands, and it has nothing to do with the plot. Perhaps, it was a reference to an earlier scene that had been cut, but its inclusion is superfluous and puzzling. Marie Dressler, Fay Templeton, and May Robson are also listed prominently in the credits, but they are onscreen for only a few seconds. Una Merkel's part was cut to two or three close-ups in the opening scene; she plays an audience member who flirts with Ted, Sr., while he is on stage. Clearly, she had been one of the old womanizer's conquests in the original film, but her part was almost completely edited for Broadway to Hollywood.

Weber and Fields's scenes were also cut, but Weber remains a character in the film. At one point, Ted, Jr., speaks personally to Lew Weber about joining the new Weber and Fields musical revue. Strangely enough, in the final version of the film, Weber was reportedly played by an actor who spoke his lines with an odd Germanic accent. Whether Weber actually spoke like this, or whether this is a tip to the comedy duo's old vaudeville routine is unknown. Stranger still is the appearance of two characters in clown makeup performing a version of a Dutch act in Ted, Jr.'s dressing room as the drunken dancer passes out on his dressing table. The clowns, who are played by Moe and Curly Howard of The Three Stooges, end up rolling Ted, Jr., for reasons that are not explained.

Bits and pieces of some of the production numbers are used as background and segues. Fay Templeton's "Come Down, Ma Evenin' Star" is heard in the background of one scene, while Nelson Eddy is shown on stage singing a few seconds of "In the Garden of My Heart" before the action cuts to an argument between Ted, Jr., and his wife, Anne.

The cuts and reshoots make parts of Broadway to Hollywood oddly disjointed, but the solid performances by leads Frank Morgan as Ted Hackett, Sr., and Alice Brady as his wife, Lulu, hold the film together. Six years later, Morgan would play multiple roles in The Wizard of Oz (1939), which typecast him as a blustery character actor of comedies, but he had been a matinee idol on the stage in the 1920s, and he brings some of that swagger and charm to the part of Ted Hackett, Sr. Alice Brady had been a respected stage and silent-screen actress, but her sound-film career consisted mostly of roles as vague, sweet-natured loonies. The role of Lulu Hackett offered her an opportunity to age from young wife to mature mother to respected grandparent.

During the 1940s, Hollywood embraced vaudeville and musical revues as a subject matter for a series of musicals set at the turn of the century, including Sweet Rosie O'Grady (1943), The Dolly Sisters (1945), and Mother Wore Tights (1947). Colorful and nostalgic, these films offered the comfort of a simpler time to war-fatigued audiences. Ironically, fifteen years earlier, March of Time had offered real vaudeville performers in their signature acts, but the film was cast aside by an industry looking to its future and not its past. Remounted as Broadway to Hollywood, the film fizzled at the box office.

Producer: Harry Rapf for MGM
Director: Willard Mack, with retakes by Jules White
Screenplay: Willard Mack and Edgar Allan Woolf
Cinematography: Williams Daniels and Norbert Brodine
Editor: William S. Gray and Ben Lewis
Art Director: Stanwood Rogers
Music Arranger: Dr. William Axt
Dance Directors: Albertina Rasch and Sammy Lee
Cast: Ted Hackett, Sr. (Frank Morgan), Lulu Hackett (Alice Brady), Ted, Jr., as a boy (Jackie Cooper), Ted, Jr. as a man (Russell Hardie), Anne Ainsley (Madge Evans), Ted Hackett III as a boy (Mickey Rooney), Ted Hackett III as a man (Eddie Quillan).

by Susan Doll

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