Monday, February 9, 2015

MAME 1974

In Praise of Older Women or: I Love Lucy, But Even That Has Its Limits

Though not originally conceived as such, this look at Lucille Ball’s Mame makes a fitting companion piece to my previous post on Mae West’s Sextette. Both films were made in the '70s; both star actresses who found their greatest fame after turning forty; and both films represent the simultaneous big screen return/farewell of beloved show-biz legends in star vehicles (vanity projects?) modeled after the old-fashioned, large-scale musicals of Hollywood’s Golden Era.
Although light years away from each other in terms of competency, quality, and budget; both films were greeted with near-identical waves of incredulity and hostility from the press and public upon release. The lion’s share of the brickbats hurled centering on accusations of fan-pandering, a distracting over-reliance on age-concealing diffused lighting and fog-filters, and the overriding sense of the stars in question being both ill-served by the material, and frankly, too old for their roles. (West was 84 playing 32. Ball, at 62, starts Mame—which spans from 1928 to 1946—at roughly the age her character should be when it ends.)
Lucille Ball as Mae Dennis
Bea Arthur as Vera Charles
Robert Preston as Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside
Jane Connell as Agnes Gooch
Bruce Davison as Patrick Dennis
Kirby Furlong as Young Patrick Dennis

The eccentric heroine of Patrick Dennis’ fictional 1955 autobiography, Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade  (who made her first appearance in the 1956 Broadway play, later in the 1958 film, and ultimately the 1966 Broadway musical upon which this movie is based) is logically somewhere in her mid to late 40s, but, philosophically-speaking, has always seemed “ageless” ("Spoken like a press agent." - Margo Channing). It’s conceivable to me that an actress of any age could convincingly play the wealthy, irrepressible free-thinker who becomes an instant mother when entrusted with the upbringing of her late brother’s son and teaches the child to “Open a new window” and live by the motto,“Life is a banquet and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death ; provided she has the necessary iconoclastic verve, bohemian personality, and spontaneous, life-affirming energy to bring Mame Dennis to life.

Sixty-two-year-old Lucille Ball certainly had plenty of energy, but after six seasons each of I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show, and Here’s Lucy (the last episode aired a week before Mame was released wide), most of it had calcified into drive, determination and will. Before Mame, Ball hadn’t appeared in a film since 1968's Yours, Mine, & OursMame presented the actress with a dream role she actively campaigned to acquire. This in spite of the expressed preference for Angela Lansbury (the role’s originator on Broadway) by the show’s creators: Jerome Lawrence, Robert E. Lee, and Jerry Herman.
Luckily for Ball, there was no way any studio would mount a $12 million film adaptation of Mame without a star of her caliber and popularity attached to it, so, clearly not having learned his lesson from the film version of his Hello, Dolly! (where the common complaint was that Streisand was too YOUNG for the role), composer Jerry Herman handed over Mame’s singing and dancing chores to a well-loved household name of advanced age. One who'd repeatedly gone on record decrying her own inability to either sing or dance.

(I’ve read that Herman, so displeased with how Mame and Hello, Dolly! turned out - and apparently after having banked enough money from both to finally buy himself some principles - has since refused to grant permission for the film adaptation of any of his work without his having creative control.)
Mame was one of the most heavily-promoted musicals since 1973s Lost Horizon (and we all know how that turned out). Lucille Ball supported it tirelessly through personal appearances and television interviews. (Top) Hollywood's Cinerama Dome theater is decked out like an Easter bonnet cloche hat for the March 26 premiere. (Below) An advance trade magazine ad. 

It can’t be said that a movie version of Mame didn’t have timing working in its favor. In 1974 the nostalgia craze in fashion (BIBA), music (The Pointer Sisters, Bette Midler), and TV (The Waltons, Happy Days) was in full swing. in addition, several period films were slated for release as well: The Great GatsbyChinatown, and the remake of The Front Page.
I was stoked to see Mame not only because I was such a huge fan of Rosalind Russell’s non-musical Auntie Mame (perhaps too much so, since I think that film is hilarious and Russell slays in the role), but because, like everybody else, I was raised on Lucille Ball. I totally adored I Love Lucy (not so much The Lucy Show, Here’s Lucy, or – and this should have been a tip-off – her infrequent film appearances. As Lucy Ricardo, Ball was adorable, warm, and outrageously funny; in films, she tended to lapse into a starchy, ladylike persona that was rarely any fun).
Mame - starring Diane Belmont
Fans expecting to see Lucille Ball's rubber-faced TV persona were surprised to find, in its place, the regal, slightly haughty grande dame Lucy of the 1943 Al Hirschfeld caricature that closed every episode of  The Lucy Show. Ball goes through most of Mame with her chin tilted up, lips pursed, and cheeks sucked in. A look that does wonders for her close-ups, but absolutely kills the comedy. Diane Belmont was the hoity-toity stage name Ball adopted during her early modeling days as the Chesterfield Cigarettes Girl.

Nevertheless, in March of 1974, my family allowed me to drag them (kicking and screaming) to see Mame. And if hard work paid off in entertainment value, I would have had a wonderful time, for Lucy is clearly working her ass off. But under several pounds of make-up, elaborate wigs, movement-constricting Theadora Van Runkle costumes, a network of face-tightening surgical tape and straps - not to mention nursing a leg broken in four places just a year before - I'm afraid there wasn’t much room for fun, élan, or even much in the way of a performance to rise to the surface. 
In fact, the character named Mame Dennis is less in attendance in this film than Lucille Ball: the revered “comedy institution.”
All the while the musical around her has been transformed into a kind of formal, laugh-free, drag-queen-inspired, fandom career tribute. Lucy enthusiasts, those who had stuck by their star through 18-years-worth of black-and-white housedresses and dowdy office attire, were rewarded with a two-hour-plus fashion parade of Lucille Ball looking like the glamorous movie star Ricky Ricardo and Mr. Mooney never allowed her to be.
Joyce Van Patten is an all-too-brief bright spot as the conniving Sally Cato 

Lucille Ball's age factored in my enjoyment of Mame only insomuch as it seemed to preoccupy the filmmakers to distraction. Everything in the film is so constructed with an eye toward camouflaging its leading lady’s age. Filtered lenses, careful lighting, and a raised chin become the film’s dominant motifs. Ball looks terrific throughout, and I really only thought about her age (and that broken leg) when it came to the physical comedy and modest dance requirements. Ball can kick as high as a chorus girl, but I don't think my reactions - alternately, relief that she didn't hurt herself and awe at her moxie in even undertaking these moderately strenuous endeavors - were conducive to getting in the spirit of things. Mame is a character so full of life that she gives the impression of never sitting still. Lucille Ball, for all her efforts, always made me want to offer her a chair.

She'll Croak the Blues Right Out of Your Heart!
Much was made of Lucille Ball's "singing." A lifetime of smoking, a voice-damaging stint on Broadway in Wildcat (1960), and a fondness for bourbon, left Ball with a distinctive rasp that wasn't always kind to Jerry Herman's songs. Some critics at the time claimed Lisa Kirk (Rosalind Russell's voice in much of Gypsy) dubbed some of the vocals (Ball said Kirk should sue!), but Ball claimed all responsibility. While it would have been nice to have had a singer in the role,  if we had to have Lucy (and it seems like we did), I prefer hearing her real voice. I'm not a big fan of dubbing. Marni Nixon's soulless voice ruins West Side Story and My Fair Lady for me, Marianne McAndrew's voice in Hello, Dolly! seems to emanate from her hat, and don't get me started on the voices they chose for Liv Ullman and Peter Finch in Lost Horizon...

Mame Dennis is a bohemian at heart, a sophisticated misfit thumbing her nose at convention. But like the actress herself, Lucille Ball's Mame exudes too much practicality. The only thing oddball about her is her wardrobe.

If anything, I found Agnes Gooch’s age to be far more problematic in the context of the film. I know Jane Connell originated the role on Broadway and all, but I couldn't help wishing that her pregnancy number "What Do I Do Now?" had been scrapped (it's always been pure torture for me, anyhow) or refashioned into a menopause anthem or something. She just seemed too old. And her sheltered virgin bit was a cartoon. All through the film I kept imagining what fired-during-rehearsals Madeline Kahn might have done with the role.
Open a New Window
Ball has the best onscreen chemistry with Kirby Furlong, who plays young Patrick (my favorite moment is when he's allowed to slide down the banister in her apartment). The actress's legendary comedy timing seems to have abandoned her throughout much of the film, but whenever she is allowed to smile or laugh, her childlike appeal is irresistible. 

For all its faults, I have to say it was rather thrilling seeing Mame on the big screen for the first time; a feeling that has diminished significantly with subsequent DVD revisits. The scale and glossy sheen of the film were breathtaking to me at the time, Ball looking spectacular, if not exactly comfortable, in her elaborate wardrobe (she seems about as at home in those outfits as she does in the role itself). And if hampered by a lumbering pace, overlong running time, too-familiar plot, and a paucity of real humor (Jerome Lawrence: “The screenplay was by Dostoyevsky…they took out all the laughs!”), something about Mame is so eager-to-please and well-intentioned, you kind of want to forgive it. Just like Ricky always forgave Lucy.
Audrey Christie & Don Porter as the uppity Mrs. & Mr. Upson
Mame does a lot of things wrong, but for me, three of the things they get right are so sublime that Mame has remained a favorite all these years strictly on their strength.

The Title Sequence.
In his review of Mame, New York Times critic Vincent Canby observed, "The opening credits, which look like a Cubist collage in motion, are so good they could be a separate subject."
Indeed, the titles are so classy and eye-popping (footage from old Warner films like Public Enemy and Forty-Second Street are utilized) they whet your appetite and set a standard of style and sophistication the film only intermittently lives up to.

Loving You.
It's common practice for musicals adapted from Broadway shows to have at least one original number written for the screen version. Cynics (or are they realists?) say it's to make a bid for a Best Song Oscar nomination, as only songs written expressly for a film are eligible. But in the case of Mame, one can make a good argument for needing to beef up the supporting role of Beauregard (he has only the title song) in order to attract a two-time Tony Award winner like Robert Preston. Also, since Mame was being marketed to women (so-called women's director George Cukor was initially attached to the project but had to drop out when Ball's skiing accident delayed production for an entire year) there was a desire to place a stronger emphasis on the romance.
But most important of all, Robert Preston could actually sing, and Mame needed all the good voices it could get.
The song composed for the film is "Loving You," and not only does the very dashing Preston sing and perform it beautifully, but the number as staged (a honeymoon montage) is so sweepingly romantic, I find myself moved by it each and every time. It's a great song anyway, but how it's presented is so nicely handled. Special applause goes to the musical arrangement. The segment in a great ballroom has the most amazing recreation of a '30s orchestral sound; then, when the scene changes to a grand garden, the music erupts into a piano crescendo of such goosebump-inducing romantic lushness, blending magically with the image of the dancing the couple...that the waterworks that had been building up just have to go for it. I just love this sequence. It's so wonderful it really does feel as though it were hijacked from another film.

The Title Number.
In a word: Perfection. Every single thing about how this number is done just puts a smile on my face. It's rousing and old-fashioned in just the right way, vibrantly staged and's everything that ever made me fall in love with musicals. The sight of all those red jackets and white jodhpurs in a kickline on the big screen was quite unforgettable! Had the rest of the film been up to this standard, Mame would have been a classic.

On its release, all the performers were understandably positive about the film (to the press, at least). In later years Bea Arthur spoke of Ball as having been miscast, and that the film was "A tremendous embarrassment." Even Lucille Ball later recanted all her initial happy talk and described making the film as being, "...About as much fun as watching your house burn down."

Personally, Rosalind Russell spoiled my chances of enjoying anyone else in this role, so Lucy bothers me less than those who perhaps loved Angela Lansbury in the role. I don't think Lucy's very good in the role, but how does one go about disliking Lucy? To this day no other TV show can make me laugh like I Love Lucy, and I think she is a genius in that regard. When she was still around, it was easy to rag on this that she's gone, I find myself a lot more at peace with my disappointments. She's missed, what can I say?
Other than a few unflattering costumes, the late-great Bea Arthur in Mame really has nothing to be embarrassed about (although she should have been upset the way her hilarious number "The Man in the Moon is a Lady" was butchered by so many cutaways). To my taste, Auntie Mame's Coral Browne IS Vera Charles, but Arthur is Mame's saving grace. (Bette Davis famously campaigned for the movie role of Vera opposite Lucy. Can you imagine a sound technician trying to measure those two voices in a duet?)

Mame is one of my "Fast-forward Favorites": A movie I find difficult to watch all the way through, but delight in watching a la carte...hopping from one favored scene to another. I highly recommend this method with this film - most of the film doesn't work, but there are flashes of brilliance here and there that are just too good to miss.

Mame opening credits sequence (Designed by Wayne Fitzgerald thru Pacific Title & Art).

Lucille Ball appeared as herself in an episode of "Here's Lucy" titled: Lucy Carter Meets Lucille Ball. Broadcast on March 4, 1974, to tie-in with the spring release of Mame. Ball appears in one of her Mame outfits hosting a lookalike contest and plugging the film.

Lucille Ball on The Merv Griffin Show. Ball talks to the host about the making of Mame.

Ginger Rogers in Mame 1969.  Mame's choreographer, Onna White also choreographed the original Broadway production. Here's a chance to see the same equestrian choreography from the film as it was performed on the stage.

Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur perform "Bosom Buddies."  The 1987 Tony Awards give us an opportunity to see what might have been.

My Three Mames: An ingenious montage of the "Mame" number as performed by Lucille Ball, Angela Lansbury, and Ginger Rogers created by Neil Wilburn.

Bosom Buddies: Another clever Mame mash-up by Neil Wilburn. This incorporates the OBC with the film soundtrack.
Copyright © Ken Anderson   2009 -2015


  1. YAY KEN! I was hoping you'd get to this one!
    Yes, the film has problems.....but it's still enjoyable. Actually, what bothered me about Lucy is not the singing....but a lack of energy. Like you, Roz pretty much set the standard with me for this role, and I tend to use that as my "Mame" yardstick when seeing a production. Lucy didn't “fly” like I thought the character should - but then, the screenplay didn't help. The screenplay didn't seem to ALLOW Lucy to really "ignite" as Mame. It didn't have the sparkle that the earlier film had, or even that the 1966 musical had. It seemed almost like a straight drama. Gene Saks’ direction also seemed very reserved – no “zip” - but again, perhaps the screenplay hampered his direction? I’m sure his direction of the Broadway version was dazzling. I thought Lucy’s best scene was the opening, as she’s introducing Patrick around. THAT scene is, to me, where she was the most “Mame-ish”.

    I’m *so* with you on the LOVING YOU sequence, and you stated the same exact reactions that I have towards it – the lovely romantic feeling, and build to the “tear-inducing” sweep of the orchestra when they’re in the garden. And I also agree 100% with you on the title number (I get the classic “musical-comedy goosebumps” with it), and those marvelous credits!

    Bea Arthur is a scream. I *love* the look she gives Lucy after her “during Lent!” comment – she walks away, turns around, glares, and then swings right back into her speech about her play. The “slap” exchange with her elderly dresser is hysterical too! Robert Preston is WONDERFUL. Jane Connell was good, but oh, what Madeline would have done with that role! (and yes, that song isn’t one of my favorites, either).

    I’m sorry that they cut “That’s How Young I Feel”. Not only is it a great dance number, but the latter part of the film could have used it.

    I’ve heard varying stories about its success. Almost everyone says it was a mega-bomb, but in the book THE WARNER BROTHERS STORY, it states that it was one of WB’s top earners for 1974. Also, the liner notes of the cd state that it did make back its cost.

    I think Jerry Herman is now stating that he now appreciates the film of DOLLY. However, I haven’t heard anything like that about MAME except – as you said – he wants control from now on over his filmed shows.

    All in all, this *is* one of my favorite movie musicals. I just wish it had been livelier.

    Thanks again for another wonderful piece!

    1. Hi Michael
      Thanks very much! I'm with you in wondering what the makers of this film were going for with the script. Perhaps to avoid comparisons with either the play or the movie, it was someone's bright idea to play Mame less overtly comic (why else had the script to a playwright whose buggest success was one of the biggest downers ever written - "The Effect of Gama Rays..."?)
      I think Lucy has her problems, but the script is where most of the initial difficulty for me derives. Strangely enough, outside of a production my high school put on the year this film was released, I've never seen a stage version of "Mame" and most people say it's fairer to compare this movie to THAT than the Rosalind Russell film (which I can't shake).
      In researching this post, the closest I got to finding out it's boxoffice performance was that it ended 1974 as #33 of the year's top moneymakers. But a 9 million dollar production that ballooned to 12, plus a national promotional campaign that almost cost as much as the film, put "Mame" in the debit column. But you know Hollywood accounting...EVERY movie makes back its cost when you factor in international and TV sales and keep those accountants working decades after it was released. But in 1974, Warners executives were poised on window ledges.
      This film disappointed me a lot back then, but now I think it's fine. I kind of hope they don't ever go back to the material again. Between the book, play,non-musical movie, Broadway musical, and Lucy version, ol' "Mame" needs a rest!
      Thanks for commenting and sharing your fondness for (parts) of this film, Michael!

  2. Ken, just the fact that reading your wonderful article and marveling over the vividly colorful pictures you found has me grinning from ear to ear means that this movie, though not a masterpiece, has a place in my heart. How can we NOT love Lucy, in her big-screen cinema swan song?

    Yes, she's devoid of energy and approaches each musical number with the grim determination of one who is mixing cement rather than making magic...yes, she's photographed through gauze and vaseline...yes, the voice is "a barrel of gravel on dumped on baked alaska" to quote Fred Mertz. But it's Lucy. And she's a superstar. And a pro!

    I agree 100% with you that the title number is sheer perfection, and Miss Ball acquits herself beautifully, her high-kicking almost as good as Ann Miller's...I must admit that I still get a little teary-eyed watching that number, as if the chorus is really singing about "Lu-ucy" rather than "Ma-ame". It's an iconic movie moment.

    My favorite camp moment in this film is the Lucy-face Santa Claus mask she wears in "Need a Little Christmas"-- it's a scream...

    One piece of fun trivia...during the 1966 Broadway run, the producers approached Judy Garland about taking over for Lansbury, and Jerry Herman rehearsed the entire score with Judy and then she auditioned for the producers. They were blown away with her performance, but (smartly) decided against signing her for an 8-shows-per-week commitment. Herman promised Garland, though, that if a film version were ever made, the role of Mame would be hers...I would LOVE to have seen that....

    Cheers, Ken, to you-- it may not be anyone's birthday and though it's far from the first of the year, this very minute has history in it - Le Cinema Dreams is HERE!!

    1. Hi Chris
      First off, I love that Fred Mertz quote!! Secondly, I think you tapped into exactly why the title number has an extra layer of nostalgia appeal for me: it IS like they are singing the praises of Lucy! And in 1974, with the announcement that she was at last going to say goodbye to TV (short lived as it was), I remember that it felt very much like a well-deserved tribute number to her. Mame who? That number was about Lucy! I've seen the number countless times and it never fails to get me smiling, but a little misty-eyed, too.
      I'm a sucker for numbers where music and dance convey a level of happiness not easily communicated by words. (All the leaping and capering about reminds me of when dogs are so happy they can't help themselves and go tearing through the house, jumping on furniture and under sofas...I love when a musical number captures a level of joy like that).
      Oh, and that Santa mask she dons in that Christmas number is actually heart-stopping. Had I been a toddler she would have scared the hell out of me!
      Thanks for sharing the Judy Garland tale! She would have been a wonderful Mame, no doubt...the most wonderful, unreliable Mame on record!
      Thanks so much Chris! Once again you added so much to one of my posts just by sharing with everyone your own impressions of a film. Much appreciated!
      One of the things I discovered while gathering screencaps for this post is that, like the clips in "That's Entertainement", a poor film can look pretty good when distilled down to its highlights. "Mame" looks more pleasing to me "still" than it did movie about!

  3. My goodness, but you have identified the same saving graces that I have long pointed to in LUCY MAME. I remember seeing this film in 1974 and being thrilled by the magnificent title sequence. How clearly it communicated to everyone present that we lucky little people were about to see the best movie musical evah! And then... well, you know. It's the best part of the movie and it's over before the first word is spoken. A saving grace that saves nothing at all.

    Robert Preston was a master. The more he was given, the better for everyone. And he was warm. There's too little of that in this film. Arthur is hard as a brick. Ball is brittle. Bruce Davison doesn't bring much heat to the proceedings. I do not share in the opinion that Madeline Kahn would have made a difference. She was many thing, but warmth was not her strong suit, either. The great Jane Connell has some warmth. This film could use lots of happy dogs. Instead, it got lots of cats hissing at one another.

    The MAME numbah preserves just about every step of Onna White's original choreography. That's good. In principle. But the choreography was never inventive and it plays oddly outdoors on a real lawn. At least there are no twirling maids in dust caps and dancing milk maids. White's movement looks exactly the same whether it is being danced in River City, London or Peckerwood. What the LUCY MAME "MAME" coughs up is entertaining, enough, but ugh. The movement throughout the film brings it down.

    Van Runkle designed terrific costumes for Ball. But who did Arthur's wardrobe and wigs? They aren't flattering. They aren't stylish. They aren't true to the period depicted. They don't even look like real clothing. Perhaps Lucy designed them herself for her dear, dear friend Bea. And, I'm sorry, but watching Lucy Carter and Maude Findlay appearing in MAME was tawdry. I know they both had fine resumes, but it came off as the most cynical of casting choices.

    Which brings us to Paul Zindel's script which is the real killer here. NO ONE could play that thing successfully. After all her years as an actress, I'm surprised that Miss Ball didn't spot that problem right away. After all her years as a producer, I'm surprised that Miss Ball didn't put her foot down and get that fixed. Right away. I've no doubt that she rued the day she did not. Perhaps some egotistical principal on the production end of things wanted to make his version of MAME unique and important... but re-writing the jokes in a successful comedy is a foolishly risky business. How on earth did they decide to faithfully reproduce the lackluster choreography, but couldn't rely more heavily on the book they bought, too.

    This is not my favorite musical. A musical director with whom I once worked labeled it as "unnecessary." And when you know that only 11 years transpired between the publication of the novel and the opening of the musical on Broadway, and consider the film with Russell, all the stage productions, and all the leading ladies, (plus sequels of the book) that occurred in that short time, you have to at least concede he has a point. The musical doesn't really add anything that improves on the play or the 1958 film. (Except the elimination of that crashing bore, Brian O'Bannion.) Some of the songs are good, but the property isn't better, or new, by adding a score.

    But I love to watch the credits. And any frame of film with Robert Preston in it is worth seeing.

    Viva Coral Browne. Viva Joanna Barnes. They had elegance, energy and HUMOR. How could one do a musical comedy and forget the humor? Archness won't cut it.

    1. Hi George
      " A saving grace that saves nothing at all"...perfect description of the negative excellence of the title sequence. It's almost TOO GOOD because it sets you up for something that never materializes. I wonder if an outside graphic or advertising company did it. It's truly outstanding and I loved it the minute I saw it.
      Off topic (a bit) but it's the same experience I had with the album artwork for "Xanadu"...the subdued, sleek-looking deco-moderne design did not prepare me for the very garish film it represented).

      It's so much fun reading where people feel "Mame" dropped the Ball (so to speak) I think you're spot-on about the lack of warmth and emphasis on cattiness (it's like in "The Mirror Crack'd" when they really tried to make the scenes between Tayor and Novack crackle with bitchiness, but in trying too hard, they came out flat and brittle.)
      In fact the points you bring about the script's failings and the cast being somewhat cynically high on sniping and boxoffice-baiting TVQ casting are very interesting.
      I often wondered why, if the film was ready to go and then they had to wait an entire year after Lucy broke her leg, they didn't spend that ime working out the bugs of the script. As you point out, did somebody with Lucy's years of experience really think it was good?
      Although I absolutely adore the "Mame" number and the choreography, your evocation of "Oliver!"s milk maids and and twirling housemaids made me laugh aloud.

      As someone who has never been able to shake my enjoyment of Russell's "Auntie Mame", you observation that Herman's this musicalization of the material doesn't really add anything to the original is very sharp. When adaptations are very disparate (like say The Matchmaker and Hello Dolly!) one can leave off on the essentially pointless comparative assessment of the two. But when so similar and indistinct, perhaps its inevitable.
      I have a copy of the book of the musical, and read it before writing this post, and i was so surprised at the amount of humor that was excised for the screen. I thin you're right, they wanted to make this "Mame" important...and unlike the stage version. I succeeded in the latter beyond their wildest dreams.
      Thanks, Tush!

    2. I forgot...I very much enjoyed your entertaining the idea that Lucille Ball had a hand in Bea Arthur's unflattering wardrobe - "They don't even look like real clothing!" classic!

  4. Hi Ken,

    Oh the things I do for you and so I'm in the loop. When I saw that you had written up this catastophe I realized that although I had seen scattered bits of it I had never sat down and watched it straight though. This despite the fact that I own a copy! It came in a pack of Lucy films with far superior pictures like Best Foot Forward and Lured, I always look at it and think, some other time but you spurred me on to finally slog my way through.

    I'm an unmitigated fan of the original so this basterization is doubly painful. I barely know where to start in the awfulness. From the very first second the credits (which I did like) finish the film is just wretched taking something that was joyful and squeezing hard until every ounce of pleasure is gone from it.

    The direction is a disaster. The picture moves at an impossibly dull pace and the timing of the dialogue is entirely out of synch. Lines that sparkled like champagne in the first are just so much scripted conversation now. Even the dance numbers (save that big title one and even that one doesn't thrill me) don't have any spirit. Saks up to this point had very ably directed three excellent pictures and one okay one, Last of the Red Hot Lovers, but somehow seemed to go completely off the rails here, maybe he wasn't comfortable in the genre but it's no surprise he didn't direct another film for a dozen years.

    The wardrobe, though some of the costumes are impressive, look like they belong on mannequins. In the original Mame's clothes were splendidly fancy but they moved and were eminently wearable-she moved and behaved like she lived in those outfits. Some of that might have been because Roz Russell knew how to wear clothes but the designs had a functionality that is absent in this. Vera, who was the other big fashion plate, did as well. Here everybody, especially Lucy, pose. In her case it was probably that leg but it's obvious she's uncomfortable. That artifice is present in every component of this version.

    Take for example the sets. In the original they were big but they felt homey in their overstuffed way. Beekman Place was as much a character as anyone in the film but in this the sets feel and look like nothing else but soundstages. Sometimes you can even see the klieg lights reflecting on surfaces. Tacky! The attention to detail is awful. There are dozens of examples but the one that irked me the most was Mame referring to Beau as looking like Rhett Butler in the depth of the depression. The book wasn't even published until 1936!! Sloppy work.

    1. Hi Joel!
      Ha! One of these days when i really figure out this whole internet thing, I'm going to devise a way to give out virtual Cinema Purple Hearts for readers who subject themselves to a film on my blog for the sake of engaging in an informed conversation. I remember some poor sould sat all the way through "Puzzle of a Downfall Child" on my account. Such bravery should be rewarded!
      Anyhow, it's very funny to read your posts because they sound exactly like someone who is watching something every bone in his body has already told him he wouldn't like.
      I had the same reaction when I listened to someone and watched a Tom Cruise movie. I could have killed afterward.

  5. The other big failing for me, and it was huge, were the characters/performers. I loved every single performance in the original and couldn't believe that every single one in this was a mere shadow of those classics. There's no zest to any of them.

    To start I loathed Kirby Furlong, he was like a big inanimate doll with no expression, personality or talent. He was actually painful to watch, I was counting the scenes until he would vanish from the film particularly since I knew Bruce Davison, who I usually like, would be taking his place. But he was a disappointment too. While he wasn't as dreadful as Furlong, I don't think that's possible, he was flat as a pancake. Roger Smith might not have been an actor for the ages but both he and Jan Handzlik were very appealing as Patrick Dennis.

    The way they changed certain characters destroys their credibility. The worst offenders:

    Agnes Gooch-what they did to her was horrific. In the original she was an endearing goof who had an actual story-a repressed girl longing for the now eliminated Brian which added a pathos to the character, now she's a tramp who comes back knocked up by some faceless guy. It's a heavy race but Jane Connell is near the top of worst performances. It's obvious her main area was the stage since she gives a stage performance, all goggle eyes and over exaggerated expressions geared to be seen in the back row but none of the modulation which Peggy Cass gave to the character.

    Pegeen-Wonderfully competent, intelligent and on top of everything plus ready with a quip or two. Now she an irritating, bumbling idiot with zero identity and no connection whatsoever to Patrick.

    Gloria Upson-An insufferable twit but very vivid, brilliantly brought to life by Joanna Barnes. Now the bland girl playing her is merely grating and forgettable.

    They're the worst cases but not a single actor is the equal of the original, not even the great Bea Arthur who is blustering as Vera whereas Coral Browne was effortlessly chic.

    And where the hell was my beloved Norah Muldoon? Not that anyone could have topped Connie Gilchrist's inimitable work.

    Robert Preston was acceptable and could sing Thank God but even in his case I preferred Forrest Tucker.

    All of them are wanting but the property rises or falls on the actress playing Mame and God does Lucy stink up the room!! Rosalind Russell fueled Auntie Mame with enough centifugal force to power five movies while Lucy sucks the life right out of this one.

    1. Part II:
      I enjoyed your comments about the characters, script and direction. I know I can't be the only who finds it illuminating to hear how a particular film struck a person, even if the opinions are not shared?
      I din't mind the little boy in this, but I laughed aloud at your exasperation with him.
      Of course we see eye-to-eye on the talented Jane Connell. I personally think the film would improve so much with her number cut out and Lucy's butchering of "If he walked into my life"...improved is only by being over with sooner. Perhaps the best cut would be to have the credits, jump to Robert Preston's number, the Title number, keep Bea Arthur's Moon number, and then play the title number again.

  6. I've always liked early Lucy before her TV success. She was excellent in many of her dramas: Lured, The Dark Corner, Easy Living and Five Came Back, and an expert comic supporting player in Stage Door and Without Love but after moving to TV whenever she returned to the big screen something had been lost and her understanding how to play any character but Lucy Ricardo gone. As you said she became arch and grand whether the character required it or not. Funny how that grand lady-itis infected some of the most unexpected actresses as the years went on looking at their early roles. Besides the loose and game Lucy there's chorine Ginger Rogers who became a lacquered, befeathered, haughty dowager and of course jazz baby Joan Crawford who became an enameled Grande Dame.

    Now on to her work here. I love your caption "Mame starring Diane Belmont", a great movie star name that doesn't fit her, but it sure fits her work in this. She is wrong, wrong, wrong in every particular. Lucy was right Madeline Kahn shouldn't have been playing Agnes Gooch, she should have been playing Auntie Mame! She would have been everything that Lucy wasn't. Vibrant, game, frisky, age appropriate and most of all ALIVE which Lucy, although you can almost feel her breaking a sweat, must definitely was not. She wasn't tottering like Mae West in Sextette but you feel it was just around the corner.

    I've never seen anything but clips of Angela Lansbury in the role but even in those snippets she gives a performance so superior to what Lucy did you have a sense of what was lost. I mostly don't care for the music, and I hate We Need a Little Christmas!!, and see no need for its addition but if they had to have it they should have found someone who could have carried it off. It's a shame that they didn't take a chance on Miss Lansbury since her renown for the role was quite widespread and she was certainly a famous, if not monumental name at that time. I think those things along with the nostaglia craze of the period might have made a success of the film if it was well done. But instead we have this clunky dinosaur.

    Sorry I rambled on so but once I warmed to the subject I got carried away! Look forward to whatever you turn you eyes to next.

    1. Part III
      by the way, have i told you how much I appreciate your breaking your comments into installments? I always want to remember what you write and this way makes it easier.
      I haven't seen many Lucille ball movies (part because I loathe both Red Skelton and Bob Hope, and wasn't she paired with those guys a lot?)...but my favorite is The Big Street.
      That grande dame thing that some older lady stars settle into is quite true. I forgot about how arch the rather earthy Ginger Rogers became as she grew older.
      I've never seen anything but clips of Lansbury either and I understand she was quite phenomenal. But Hollywood can be nearsighted and since (around the early planning stages of Mame) she hadn't exactly set the screen or boxoffices ablaze in Disney's 1971 "Bedknobs and Broomsticks", I suspect that arguments in her favor fell on deaf banker's ears.
      It was a great treat reading your mini-rant about this movie, chiefly because it felt like the things that irked you were very fresh in your mind. Thus I hope there was a kind of cathartic effect to sharing with us that painful 2 hours plus it took to watch "Mame" (unless you fast forwarded through "We Need a Little Christmas"?)
      Thanks very much, Joel. You came out of it alive!

    2. Yes I made it though, bowed but not broken!!

      I think part of Lucy's problem on the big screen once she ARRIVED was she stopped experimenting. As she herself stated unlike her idol Carole Lombard who was a cutup off camera she was not personally a funny woman. She knew from a technical standpoint what was funny but was serious and somewhat humorless behind the scenes. From a good deal of what I've read the years of struggling to escape B level stardom made her pretty hard, tough, controlling and often a bitch to work with. So once she had her shtick down she rarely strayed beyond her comfort zone and when she did she didn't know how to get beneath the skin of the character.

      I've seen a goodly number of her films. I have about 10 still to seek out, though with titles like The Magic Carpet, Bunker Bean and A Girl, A Guy and A Gob left I'm fairly certain I've seen the best of her output. When she was young she could be quite charismatic, daffy or even compelling if the role required it because she was still taking risks and refining her technique. However the last film where that aspect of her personality showed up was in the 1950 film The Fuller Brush Girl which contains elements of I Love Lucy but she was still nimble and not scatterbrained as she was on the show. After that the off-screen woman seeped though and the archness showed. She was the original choice for the evil Mrs. Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate, which ironically was one of Angela Lansbury's greatest triumphs. I believe she turned it down because she was riding high with The Lucy Show and feared it would damage her image. I can't imagine anyone being better than Angela but I think because of that remoteness she developed she could have done well in the part.

      She only made one film with Skelton I believe and a few with Hope, like you I'm not a fan of his-I greatly admire his tireless efforts for the armed forces but I've always found him funny as a crutch. I like The Big Street too though Henry Fonda's doormat of a character works my nerves after a while. My favorites of her films are both pre-TV, Best Foot Forward, where she very glamorous but still funny and Lured which is a wonderfully strange thriller where she starts as a dime a dance hostess, is recruited by the police in London to help trap a serial killer, has some bizarre encounters including one with Boris Karloff that is deeply creepy and falls for millionaire George Sanders. Definitely not what you'd expect from her.

    3. I had no idea Lucille Ball was an early choice for “The Manchurian Candidate”! What a fascinating idea!
      When I think of what “image consciousness” has lost us in potentially great screen performances, I’m always glad Mary Tyler Moore allowed herself to play against type in “Ordinary People.” (Did you ever hear of Vivian Vance being approached by Andy Warhol to star in “Bad”?)

      I’m going to keep an eye out for “Lured”, though, it sounds interesting. And of course I concur with your opinions about Bob Hope, and yes, Fonda is a bit of a sap “The Big Street.” I just find Lucy on the big screen an acquired taste…like Joan Blondell or Ann Sothern.

    4. I had heard about Andy offering Vivian the lead in Bad but even though she liked the character she thought it a bit too outre for her. Did you know that she had tested for Vera Charles in the original Auntie Mame? While I'm sure hers would have been an intriguing interpretation no one could top Coral Browne.

      We'll just have to agree to disagree about Joan Blondell and Ann Sothern. Even more than Lucy I love them both and am always delighted when they show up in the cast list.

    5. Given how in every TV interview Lucille Ball makes a point of voicing her disgust with the level nudity and sex in modern movies, I can only imagine the tone of the phone call Vance would have received had she accepted the role in "Bad.
      And I hadn't heard that she tested for "Vera Charles"! I can imagine she would be a hoot, as you say, no one can top Coral Browne.

  7. The reason Roz's Mame was superior in every way to Lucy's are legion, but a key one should not be overlooked: audience expectations. Rosalind Russell had played a wide variety of characters in comedy and drama. Audiences were prepared to accept her as Mame. Plus, in the straight-laced and conforming fifties, the big-living, free-thinking Mame was a breath of fresh air. By the time Lucy's Mame came lumbering along 20 years later, audiences had seen plenty of free-spirits--and weren't inclined to see Lucy as one. The character seemed leaden and dated.

    We sometimes forget that Lucy toiled in relative obscurity for the better part of two decades, acting in B-movies and supporting roles in more prestige productions, but only achieving fame in the emerging (and often maligned) medium of television, by which time she was in her forties. Her tv persona of middle-class, middle-aged wife (later, widow) and mother would stay permanently fixed in the public's mind; something Lucy never challenged by playing that same tv role over and again through three series.

    Bea Arthur's appearance is this movie is shocking. Yes, she was a big and tall woman, but that never stopped Maude from looking stylish (the caftans! the pantsuits!). Every time she shows up, she looks like a shabby female impersonator. In fact, when I look at her here, I can't help but think of Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in "Some Like It Hot"--a movie where the joke is that the men aren't supposed to look much like women! The whole thing is even more bizarre when you consider that Bea was married to Gene Saks, "Mame"'s director, at this time. On the other hand, Lucy may have played a role in keeping Bea as unattractive as possible. Lucy had a reputation for never wanting her female co-stars to outshine her. In the original "I Love Lucy" contact, Vivian Vance, who was younger than Lucy, was required to remain ten pounds overweight--contributing to her frumpy appearance as Ethel. In a later contract, Viv had this clause removed and she looked much more polished in later shows.

    One final comment ("At last!" sighs Ken): in the mid-1980s, my husband earned a Masters in Professional Writing from USC (a program that was recently discontinued) and Jerome Lawrence was one of his faculty advisors. He was a wonderfully generous man, always encouraging his students to achieve their fullest potential. Sadly, toward the end of his life, he lost his beautiful Malibu Hills home (along with irreplaceable original manuscripts and countless literary and theatrical artifacts) in a devastating fire. Even then, his spirit wasn't crushec and he vowed to rebuild. As he would have advised, while you're here, live, live, live!

    1. By the way--the comment above is from me, DiscoDollyDeb. Don't know why it posted as Anonymous. Sorry!

    2. Hi Deb
      Excellent point about what a difference Mame's philosophy had to say to conformity-fed 50s audiences and the do-your-own-thing 70s folks. It must have seemed terribly old-fashioned and something for the Lawrence Welk set.
      Lucy's lack of big screen success before her TV success is always a curious essay on what is the un-nameable, intangible "Something" that someone has or hasn't that doesn't play well in movies. Tom Selleck was great on TV , but in films, he just had no impact. I always felt that about Farrah Fawcett as well. None of Lucy's warmth ever seemed to come across in any of her movie roles (to me, anyway) and it never seems unusual to me why she never caught on. Even in things like "Forever Sarling" and "The Long, Long Trailer" she seems almost unapproachable.
      In TV interviews she always says she worked hard to be "typed" on TV and she succeeded beyond her wildest dreams.

      As for Bea Arthur,in an interview on YouTube she says she appeared in the movie as a favor to her husband, but quotes him as saying, "You owe me this." I think the facelift episode of "Maude" was around this time, something I'm sure she undertook in preparation for "Mame". She needn't have bothered, it looks like they go out of their way to make her look terrible.

      (And yes, I'd read that the whole weight gain/dowdy clothes thing was a big bone of contention with Vance during her "I Love Lucy" years).
      Lastly, that's wonderful that your husband studied with Jerome Lawrence! Although I had no idea about the fire, etc. No wonder so many celebrities now are encouraged to donate their career artifacts to universities. I think back to Gene Kelly and the lifetime worth of notes, manuscripts and memorabilia that was lost in a home fire as well.

  8. There's an old joke about this movie I vaguely remember.. something about how Angela Lansbury wanted to do it in the worst way possible but that's okay because that's how Lucille Ball did it anyway.

    1. Ha! That is classic! I've never heard it before but it's so on the money.

  9. Ken you are amazing. Another fantastic review in short time and all those wonderful pics! This really is a site I visit again and again. This film seems to be another potential guilty pleasure. I have never seen it and I have never seen it sold anywhere, but I have to see it having read your review.

    They don't make films like this any longer. (Is that good or bad? What films made now will be camp classics later on? Fifty shades of grey?) Divas like Lucy Ball seem to still exist though. I am reminded of that Christina Aguilera/Cher movie. Could future generations appreciate it like Mame?

    I envy you having seen so many fun classics on screen, often on the first day too! It's so good that you are writing about these films that critics at the time dismissed. As with Mane, there are many parts of these movies that one can appreciate even if they never would have been nominated for "best film".

    1. Hi Wille
      Your words are very gratifying. I often feel that I’m carrying on a film dialog with you and some of the others that visit the site regularly, so I’m pleased if you find yourself intrigued by the films or just taken with the screencaps. If you don’t have any long-held preferences about the Rosalind Russell film, and if you approach it with a sense of discovery (“Mame” can surprise you…it can test your patience or hone your appreciation for misdirected camp).

      And no, they don’t seem to make films like this anymore, which might be a good thing, depending on how you look at it. But personally, I’d rather 24 million be spent on a ambitious but failed behemoth like this than another low-brow, low ambition Adam Sandler or Kevin James brain-waster/time-waster that exists only to …oops! I’m stumped…I don’t know Hwy they exist.

      Anyhow, when you mentioned that film “Burlesque,” in a perfect camp-world where divas like Lucille Ball and Mae West riled, Cher would have been the star and center attraction of that film and Aguilera would have been a subplot.
      And seeing these films on the big screen really only has the advantage of time perspective. A movie like “Mame” is known to most people from TV screenings…it feels like ancient history when I talk about being around when the making of it was an item in gossip columns. Such are the advantages of age!
      Nice to hear from you Wille!

    2. You are so right when you point out that Cher is not the main character in Burlesque! That would have been interesting. I maybe would have seen it then!
      It's great to know that there are more camp classics left for me to discover. Thank you for writing about them!
      I also love your expression "glacially slow", which I will be using from now on.

  10. Ken, you totally scooped me on this one! (Though it's my own fault that I've never gotten around to it in all these years.)

    Here's something that annoyed me about the DVD: On the back of the case, it says that an extra feature is "Lucky Mame" and I was like, "WOW! Finally a mini-doc, perhaps with interviews, on how this monstrosity came to pass!" Then I got to that feature and it was nothing more than a promo/trailer called, as your graphic at the end demonstrates, Lucy/Mame." I should have known that the word "Lucky" had nothing whatever to do with this movie! LOL

    It's a pretty rancid picture, but there is still a fair amount that I enjoy. I love the costumes (particularly the hats) preposterous though they may be, enjoy some of the supporting performers (none so much as the riotous Joyce Van Patten) and the title number (as you so eloquently expounded upon.) And, yes, Preston is great.

    I feel like Bea, who I worship, was the least served... her clothing/styling is poor, her part seems to have lost its inherent zing and I hate the way "Bosom Buddies" was arranged and handled in the movie. Her slap of the dresser after her Broadway bomb is one serious comic highlight, though!

    Somewhere, though I don't know how I'll ever find it again, I read a quote about Mae West going to see "Mame" and complaining about something wrong with the film or the projector because it was so blurry!!! Her, of all people!!! LOL After "Sextette" and "Mame," I can't imagine what's next unless you're going to review "Wicked Stepmother" with Bette Davis!! Ha ha!

    1. Hi Poseidon
      I can understand your passing over “Mame,” in spite of it’s camp elements, many people just find it such a dreary film that it undercuts any fun they might have at its expense.
      And I noticed that “Lucky Mame” thing, too. Years ago my sister came back from seeing a film and told me there was a trailer for a film and she said it was “Lucky Mame”…I obviously thought she just forgot to put on her glasses. But when I saw the DVD menu I thought, “After all these years I owe her an apology!”
      Too bad it’s only a trailer and not what it promised to be, it would have been nice to see how unhappy everybody was making this. (But really, that Lucky/Lucy thing…why would they even go there?)

      It seems like many people are united on most of the same bearable elements, the aspects they find the most grating seeming to center on the lack of humor, and poor Bea Arthur’s costuming. When she and Lucy gracelessly start hopping in the “Bosom Buddies”number …Arthur’s costume making her look like a dancing bear – you just want to avert your eyes!
      I love the idea of Mae West complaining about blurry screen images! She must have been sleeping through screenings of “Sextette.”
      Lastly, were not for a glitch with my computer, my next film was going to be Tallulah Bankhead’s “Die! Die! My Darling!” I wanted to do an “Out with a Whimper” trilogy.

  11. I love the idea of a "Fast-forward Favorite," I have too many movies just like that - I'd never dare undertake re-watching the entire mess but some parts are simply too good to pass up.

    Sadly "Mame" is nowhere near one of them, I haven't been able to trudge through much of it since I first saw it years ago. Lucy isn't even the reason I can't (woefully miscast as she is), it's simply too bloated and boring.

    I do however adore the title sequence. It's one of the best musical title sequences ever created, so brilliantly thrilling, and even the musical arrangement underneath is sensational.

    It's too bad the rest is such a hodgepodge. The part that sticks out in my mind as the most baffling is the bizarre staging of the 11 'o'clock number "If He Walked Into My Life" as a voiceover with a heavily glazed Lucy randomly in a car.

    I do wonder how Madeline Kahn would have been as Gooch, I never knew she was initially cast.

    1. Hi Tom
      I love the line “I haven't been able to trudge through much of it since I first saw it years ago.” Those are truly the words of one who found the film rough going the first time around.

      I think it’s remarkable how taken with the credits sequence so many people are. I wish I knew who was responsible for it. It would be great to see it without the printed credits with only the musical accompaniment.

      And yes, “If He Walked into My Life” is rough going. I can’t say I care for the song, but Lucy does it no favors, and the fact that not very much plays over her face (she seems so conscious of making sure she looks regal) makes an already long film feel glacially slow by this time.

      Madeline Kahn was such a resourceful comedian, even if she couldn’t rescue the entire film, I always imagine that she could have brought some zest to a character and subplot I felt really was too old fashioned (maybe unwed mothers were a riot on the 50s stage, but by (1974, that couldn’t be the ENTIRE joke!)

    2. The title sequence was devised by Wayne Fitzgerald, who also designed the titles for "Auntie Mame." There's a great web site, Art of the Title, devoted to main title sequences and their creators. Here's the link for the page on "Auntie Mame," which includes a link to the main title for "Mame."

    3. Hi Rick
      What a guy!
      I can't thank you enough for unearthing the name of "Mame"s title sequence creator! It's especially eye-opening to know he was also responsible for "Auntie Mame"s which is such a Technicolor standout!
      In looking up Mr. Fitzgerald's work with Pacific Title & Art, I find he's responsible for a great many of the title sequences for films appearing on this blog: Rosemary's Baby, Bonnie & Clyde, Night Moves, Funny Girl, & Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
      Thanks very much for sharing the information!

    4. This is wonderful information to have. Thank you. Thank you.

      Of course, now that I have it, I can see that Wayne Fitzgerald's name appears at 2:00 in the title sequence to MAME. Oy.

    5. Same here...who knew?! Anyhow, it just confirms the fact that the visuals were so stunning, all these years I never bothered to actually READ the credits!

    6. At 2:06 in the MAME title sequence... On the left, is that Lucy from Roman Scandals? It looks like it might be. Can we pick a bit more meat off these scrawny bones?

    7. Well, I have to say it certainly looks like her, eagle eyes! I don't recognize any of the surrounding footage enough to discern an alternative. The sequence design is certainly clever enough to have done such a thing.Let's say YES to your question until some classic film fan says otherwise!

  12. I *think* I'm probably the only human being on the planet that has this opinion....but I think "If He Walked Into My Life" was handled the best it could be, given that a non-singer was doing it. I thought that Lucy's talk/sing approach to it was actually very moving - you could hear the regret and sadness in her voice as she went through it - and I thought it was fascinating how it was staged as an interior monologue, with her driving ,lost in thought, and then wandering through the house...and at each place where there was a significant "Patrick" moment, there was a flashback. Most moving, in my opinion, was when she thought of him walking into the bedroom - and she turned around, to see him not really there. If Angela had done the film, I wonder if it would have been staged the same, or would it have been an actual "sung" staging? Oh well. I'm enjoying this thread! MAME is one of my favorite movies, but I'm also not blind to its (many) faults - Lucy (and the direction's) lack of energy, and the rather flat screenplay. Still, much to enjoy :) !

    1. I sorta doubt you're the only one who holds this opinion. More than likely you're the only one brave enough to say so in a mixed forum.The diversity of response to film like this always remind me of how much individual taste and subjective opinion factors into a film's enjoyment.
      It's always illuminating to be reminded that a performance or scene we simply can't abide can sometimes be someone's all-time favorite.
      I don't know that I'm so democratic as to feel that all opinions carry equal weight (for example, there's not a soul on earth who'd ever sound sane to me defending Adam Sandler or Michael Bay), but more than anything I'm interested in hearing how a particular film speaks to an individual.
      I think you did a great job of not just telling us that you liked "If He Walked into My Life", but delineating specifically what works for you and why. Even if we disagree it's great to see something through someone else's eyes.
      Of the points you bring up, I found it most interesting that I'd never given much thought to the whole "internal monologue" aspect of interpreting the song. It's actually a great idea even if the execution didn't work for me. The flashbacks, etc,...I can't imagine a more effective staging of the song.
      I come away from your comment with a clear understanding of how the sequence works for you, and I'll bet it's right in line with what the filmmaker's intended, so at least as far as one Michael Whelan, director Gene Saks should feel gratified about "message received!"
      Few films are perfect, and as I've said before, it's the really rare musical that doesn't have at least one number or sequence that makes it worthwhile. Thanks for so eloquently sharing an unpopular opinion that's probably not as rarefied as this post makes it appear.

  13. Why thank you Ken!! What a nice reply!! :)

    I actually feel a bit emboldened enough to express another opinion that doesn't get much agreement among my friends: I firmly believe that Julie Andrews would have been a wonderful Mame in 1974. When WB first bought the film rights in 1968, she was the first choice (according to JA bio that I read). What makes me feel this way is her performance in STAR! - she was quite "Mame-ish" in that. A glamorous woman, full of mile-a-minute energy, living the high life with the "who's-whos" of that time, vivacious, the high-fashion wardrobe, the sophisticated attitude. And of course, that voice.....I really think it would have been fun!

    1. Hi Mike
      I had no idea Andrews was considered! (Was Streisand, since she was Meryl Streep seems to be now...the go-to gal for all things musical?)
      The idea of Andrews in “Mame” is an interesting one, and your drawing parallels between Mame and the Gertrude Lawrence of “Star!” is a very apt.
      I guess people’s acceptance or rejection of the idea of Andrews as Mame has a lot to with how successful they think she was in capturing Gertrude Lawrence’s Mame-like qualities.

      Like Mama Rose in “Gypsy,” everybody seems to have their own idea of how the character should be played. I suppose my my perfect Mame would be someone as sophisticated and effortlessly eccentric as Maggie Smith in “Travels with My Aunt” (but Smith never radiates warmth to me) crossed with the energy, voice, and believable ease with children of Julie Andrews. But to me, neither is a particularly gifted physical comedienne, so that brings me back to the gangly grace of Rosalind Russell.

      Anybody wanna take a stab at imagining a pre-Madame Sousatzka in the role?

      I think Lansbury purists will say all this points to the fact that Angela Lansbury owned the musical characterization of the role and that it's just a pity she wasn't given the opportunity to have a shot at it onscreen. But the imagined triumph of someone in the role will always trump the reality of Ms. Ball's valiant but flawed attempt.
      Thanks for contributing more food for thought, Mike!

  14. Hi Ken, Been out of the country for a month, so I am bingeing on your posts!

    I love Lucy, too...and while her Mame is watchable, it was such a disappointment that it still sparks discussion...

    The common criticism that Lansbury, not Lucy, should have played musical Mame...I disagree. Angela was 50 at the time and looked older, which is often why she was cast older. She played Mame on the stage nearly a decade ago and the year Mame was released, Angie did Bedknobs and Broomsticks...much better cast as dowdy than diva. I know her fans will want to kill me for saying that!

    My pick for Mame at that time would have been Shirley MacLaine. She was 40, a real dancer, decent singer, and excellent comedienne. And her eccentric persona would have suited Mame perfectly.

    PS, did you know that Rosalind Russell voiced her opinion at the time that Cher should have played Mame, because she had "pizzaz"? Roz was friends of both Lucy and Cher's, fyi...but the TV glamour girl was only 28 and wouldn't be given a chance to star in a movie til a decade later with "Come Back to the 5 & Dime."

    I've been wanting to see "Mame" again and now you've stoked my curiousity, Ken! Rick

    1. Hi RicK
      Ha! I dropped a Shirley MacLaine hint in the comment above, but I dared not write her name out for fear of reader response. I'm glad you had the courage to do so.
      I think she's a perfectly valid option and perhaps a more believable bohemian and eccentric than maybe Julie Andrews. I wonder if she was ever considered, or was the industry still smarting from "Sweet Charity"? Seems like if you lose them money once, they think of you as boxoffice poison.

      My partner agrees with you about Lansbury's dowdiness. But she looked pretty glam in 1970s "Something for Everyone" so I can see both points of view.
      I had no idea about Russell's advocating for Cher. She certainly got to play a Mame-like character in "Tea with Mussollini" in 1999- and looked great, too!
      Given how some movies are cast (giving roles to whoever is hot at the time) I'm surprised they didn't cast Ali MacGraw as "Mame"

    2. I think in the early 70s, Shirley and Julie had laid some epic movie eggs...but comebacks were waiting around the corner! As for Ali, hubby Robert Evans wanted her for Daisy in his version of "The Great Gatsby"...but when she left him for Steve McQueen, that went up in smoke, thankfully!

      Actually, Jerry Herman was enthused about Cher playing Mame in a 3 hour TV movie after her big "Believe" comeback. But as usual, Cher dragged her feet, saying for her, Roz was the best Mame. I wish someone would post The Dark Lady's version of "We Need a Little Christmas" that she sang on her solo variety show ; )

    3. OMG...Cher singing "We Need a Little Christmas" with those rolling "O" sounds of hers...I wish someone WOULD post it!
      I remember when there was buzz about Cher doing a TV version of "Mame" the same way every year brings about the rumor/hope that Streisand will take on Mama Rose in "Gypsy"
      And yes, we can all be tankful Ali MacGraw's star was on the wane by "Gatsby" (although I confess to really liking her in "The Getaway")

    4. Unfortunately for Shirley McClaine her previous musical "Sweet Charity" was one of the biggest flops of the Roadshow era losing approximately $20,000,000, She probably wasn't considered, An interesting choice for Mame would of been actress and singer Maureen O'Hara, she would of been about 52 at the time of filming.

    5. Hi Robert
      Maureen O'Hara is an inspired choice! She registers a great deal of level-headedness for so bohemian an entity as Mame, but perhaps that very thing would have brought something interesting (and different)out of such a familiar character.

  15. PSS! I also think Bea Arthur's comments about Lucille Ball as Mame, while perhaps true, are biased, as Arthur was married to Gene Saks, who directed the stage and film version of Mame. I bet Saks didn't love Lucy riding roughshod over him during filming. And ya gotta wonder if Bea would have been in Mame if it weren't for hubby Saks directing. With her jet black pompadour, 52 year old Bea reminded me of Joan Crawford in Straitjacket!

    1. I think you're right. Saks was the second-choice director after George Cukor was forced to drop out, and Arthur goes on to make it sound as if her husband forced her hand ("You owe it to me") to be in the film.
      It couldn't have been a happy experience, and then to have it come out so disappointing must have soured it completely for her. Reading about it, it seems like almost no one involved seems to think Lucy was right for the part, but like Diana Ross taking on "The Wiz"...her name got the film the kind of backing no one else was able to.
      Nice to have you back, Rick! Thanks for the fun comments!

    2. What I have never understood was why Lucy was so hellbent on playing Mame. Did she really think it would lead to a renewed film career at 63? Or was it meant to be a career capper? Nobody has ever explained this properly, except for the assumption that it was star ego, ala Joan Crawford playing 40ish for 30 years!

    3. Good point about Lucy's determination to do the movie. I don't think I've read anything beyond speculation. Maybe it was mere artistic challenge, or a kind of vanity project tribute to herself since she had by then become a living legend...but the word you used, "hellbent", seems to play into it.

    4. I think that Coyne Sanders book "Desilu" and Ball's own children's NBC doc explains a lot of Ball's controlling nature, which was due to her late life stardom and fear of losing it. After finally becoming a star when most of her contemporaries were falling by the wayside, she lived to work and drove herself relentlessly...and especially drove everyone who worked with her crazy after her marriage to Desi finally ended...the whole reason for doing "I Love Lucy" in the first place. Kinda sad. But still, Lucy's rationalization that she was right for Mame is a real head-scratcher...

  16. Breaking this in two because I'm getting a message it's too long to post -- I did prate on...

    Hi Ken,

    Where to begin?! First of all, a great post (and a brave choice); your Diane Belmont screen captures are perfection! Nothing you could have chosen would have made me happier! (OK, I still have my fingers crossed that you'll catch up with, and post on, "Ash Wednesday" one day, but I digress...) And this is a fascinating thread -- I've learned SO much!

    So allow me to contribute my "behind the scenes" two cents...

    Between my having recorded many of his young adult novels, and my husband's having directed the original productions of "The Effect of Gamma-rays on Man-in-the-moon Marigolds" and "...And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little," I had quite a bit of exposure to Paul Zindel before his death, and had the opportunity of asking him how the hell he ended up writing the screenplay for a movie to which his particular gifts seemed wholly unsuited (as he was the first to admit).

    He said that he was as surprised as anyone by the offer, but that the money was too good to turn down. Apparently he shared an agency with some other members of the creative team (I wanna say Herman and Cukor but I'm not 100% certain of that), and he got "packaged" into the project along with the agency's other clients. (Don'cha love when artistic choices are made by "suits"?)

    He also related an anecdote you might like (or not, given your expressed fondness for "Lovin' You"). He said Preston would only agree to do the film on the condition that Beauregard be given another number. (As written, he pretty much has two scenes, a song, and a plummet off a mountain.) Paul said he was sitting at home one evening when Jerry Herman phoned and said he had finished Preston's new number, and would Paul like to be the first person to hear it? Flattered and excited, he jumped in a cab to Herman's apartment, where Herman sat at the piano and began playing "this God-awful dirge of a number called 'Lovin' You.'"

    Paul said he hardly heard anything after the first 16 bars or so, because he went into an immediate panic at the thought that when Herman finished singing he'd have to come up with something nice to say! (I'm in Zindel's camp when it comes to the song, but I think you're spot on about the arrangement and the shooting -- outstanding, I just wish it were all in service of a better number.)

    Years later I did a play with Bruce Davison, and in addition to relating Lucy's wretched treatment of Madeline Kahn at the initial table reads of the script (in what he called "a blatant and successful" effort to get her to quit) he told me this anecdote, which speaks to Rick's comment about Lucy "riding roughshod" over Saks:

    Bruce said the first scene he shot was Patrick's visit to the widow Burnside upon her return to Beekman Place. He did the scene (concluding with the line, "Auntie Mame, I love you"), turned, descended the stairs, and waited at the bottom to hear Saks yell "cut." What he heard instead was a familiar throaty female baritone yelling "I didn't believe it!" Back up the stairs he went to repeat the scene several times until Madame Le Director was satisfied!

    He also said an attempt was made to include "That's How Young I Feel," but that it was just beyond Lucy vocally. It's fascinating (in a macabre way) to listen to the bridge in "Open A New Window" (from "If you'll follow your Auntie Mame" through "the first words that you utter") on a really good sound system and hear the literally dozens of edits required just to piece those few phrases together.

    1. I, too, enjoy watching the film a la carte; credits, title sequence, title number, and then from Upson Downs to the end. I find Lucy at her best in the latter part of the film, perhaps because it's more age appropriate for her, and because in her scene with the Upsons she momentarily drops the Diane Belmont act and the movie's actually fun -- much of the credit going to the always dependable Don Porter and Audrey Christie. (Watching this way also provides some cover from the performance of what Pauline Kael referred to as "something called a Kirby Furlong.")

      I've always felt that "If He Walked Into My Life" was shot the way it was to disguise Lucy's vocal deficiencies during the most musically demanding of her numbers. Notice how we get a quick lyric and then a huge burst of over-orchestration (the orchestra doing all the heavy lifting) and lots of rapidly edited shots? It seems to me like an effort at distraction. (And just before the number begins is my absolute favorite moment in the film; Lucy calling out her retreating nephew's name, but for some reason it comes out as "Patwick!" I can never resist shouting it out with her.)

      And to be sure, there ARE diamond in the dust heap; the titles, the lush overall feel, the sets and costumes, the fantastic orchestrations, the aforementioned slap of the dresser, Lucy's double takes on hearing "Peckerwood" and upon finding herself carrying half a mannequin, and her entire scene in the Upson's rumpus room ("I'll get a blood test!").

      I believe Lucy had high hopes for Mame, as it's my understanding that the final decision to go with her vocals was hers -- at the time, Academy rules stipulated that a musical performance was ineligible for a nomination if the performer was dubbed, and Lucy apparently fancied that an Oscar nod was in the offing. The negative reaction to the finished film must have been a bitter disappointment, followed not all that long afterward by the negative reaction to "Life With Lucy."

      I was fortunate enough to see this as a kid at the above-pictured Cinerama Dome, and I remember a bubble machine going 24/7 behind the cut out of Lucy in the circle. It's one of those admittedly bad movies (like "Ash Wednesday") that I saw at just the right age (and sure as hell in the right venue -- wow!) to fall, and remain, in love with, despite the fact that adulthood has made me all too aware of it's flaws.

      Even as a kid, and a devout Lucy fan, I delighted in the contemporary critical reactions; they were so splendidly bitchy;


      "I've heard of gauze on the camera lens, but Ball looks as though she was photographed through a Navajo blanket."

      "Mame catches a fox, and in response, Preston and the chorus sing a number crediting her with everything since the parting of the Red Sea."

      And before I shut up (and I will now) do check out "My Three Mames" on YouTube -- it's kinda surreal!

      Thanks for another great post, Ken, and to all for a fascinating thread -- all best!

    2. WOW! ...what a terrific contribution! I can't tell you how much I ate up every word of your behind-the-scenes information! It's so illuminating. I'm forever stunned that millions of dollars go into projects where seemingly no one ever speaks the truth to one other about what they are doing. It's like a multimillion dollar game of "The Emperor's New Clothes"; nobody ever tells anyone something is a bad idea. Although it sounds like Lucy didn't have that problem
      The Paul Zindel stuff is wonderful! The story of hearing "Loving You" for the first time is a riot! I've never given a thought to how the song might sound without Preston's wonderful interpretation and that amazing orchestration, but I've heard Herman sing before, and imagining that song with his voice and just a piano...I love it!

      You do realize "Mame" fans have been waiting ages to hear these stories, don't you? I can't thank you enough for sharing them with us. (The Davison anecdote sounds JUST like how Richard Burton described Ball in his memoirs...a total director!)

      In addition to the cool stuff about the making of the film, you have marvelously keen personal observations. Your thoughts on "If He Walked Into My Life" and your excellent ear on the legendary pasting together of Ball's vocals.
      Also, I think you're the only one so far to speak of enjoying the sequence at the Upsons'. It has it moments that always crack me up (that little girl hurling herself at Mame's knees; the maid entering at just the perfect moment to add a satiric kick to the Upson's racism). So many great points you brought up, honestly, you could have written a much longer message and I don't think a soul would complain.
      If they're like me, they eat this stuff up!

      Special thanks for those hilarious critical pans (bad movies bring out the poet in movie critics) ad that absolutely AMAZING YouTube clip!! How did I miss that?
      A big thanks for an entertaining read I didn't want to end (more dirt, more dirt....I kept thinking). I feel so lucky that so many intelligent, eloquent, well-informed readers stopping by my post and contributing. When I read yours and all the other comments here for "Mame" it feels like a collaboration. You all add so much, and everybody benefits! Thanks!

      Also, can you believe I STILL haven't seen "Ash Wednesday"? So many bad little time.
      Glad you liked the post and I'm thrilled it inspired you to share with us all your stories. Fascinating, indeed!

  17. Isn't that YouTube compilation a hoot? I'm always amazed at the creativity of people who have way more computer savvy than I do, which includes you with your terrific collages/comparisons and screen captures. (What a catch you made with that glass piano!)

    My takeaway from "My Three Mames" is that Lucy acquits herself the best. Landsbury's hoofing, particularly in the kick line, is surprisingly horsey in a Ruby Keeler kinda way, and Rogers throwing high kicks into the strut simply because she can is just shameless showing off, but Lucy's showgirl background stands her in good stead, and she looks like she's having the most fun of the three of them.

    And at the climax, as the chorus kids drop sequentially to one knee, the men doffing their caps, Landsbury just sort of walks the walk, Rogers displays a hauteur that implies it's nothing less than her due, but Lucy plays surprised and genuinely touched, and I find it a very moving moment.

    So glad you liked the anecdotes -- I don't know many other people who'd give a damn! I'm sure Bruce thought I was nuts on the first day of rehearsal when, even before the coffee was poured, this total lunatic raced up to him and demanded, "TELL me about 'MAME!'" although he was gracious enough not to say so (to my face anyway).

    And if you can believe I left anything OUT of that endless comment, I forgot to say, what the hell was Saks thinking with those freeze frames?! Totally out of place and a terrible idea (among so many). Coincidentally, through my husband I met Saks, too, on numerous occasions, but I always thought it was a good idea to keep my mouth shut on the subject of Mame. (Also I didn't want my husband kicking me under the table...)

    Thanks for sparking another terrific thread with that wonderful post!

    1. Yes, that YouTube clip is something else. And I agree with you that Lucy comes off the best. Probably the only time that has ever happened in any discussion of the various incarnations of the character since the film was released.
      I got a big laugh out of Lansbury's graceless kicks (she almost implodes to get that leg up there!), and watching Ginger Rogers put me in the mind of the SNL character, Sally O'Malley ("I'm fifty and I like to KICK and stretch and KICK...I'm fifty!").

      What's great about that collage is exactly what you point out: Lucy looks to be enjoying herself, she's moved by the praise, and she has marvelously graceful, carriage when she kicks. You helped me to better appreciate a number I already loved!

      that you even thought to comment on "Mame" terrible use of freeze frames is brilliant...I remember at the time EVERY TV show and sitcom seemed to end with a freeze frame (Parodied to a fare-thee-well in the TV spoof "Police Squad"). You're a true camp film connoisseur!
      Lastly, your anecdotes were very much appreciated. Most of what I have to relate is culled from books or''s wonderful to hear what these people have to say "off the record" the candor is refreshing. So, in the future, if any of your anecdotes fail to find an appreciative audience, know they have a home here on this blog.
      A blog I like to think of as The Guidnunc's Friend (at least the comments section).
      Thanks for your kind words, so appreciated!

  18. I'm loving these further comments! And Ken, I agree that Shirley M might indeed have been wonderful .
    .. and Neely--thanks for the wonderful anecdotes!

    1. Aren't they fascinating? I would love to know if MacLaine were offered or even considered for the role. too bad her memoirs are so full of her spiritual journeys and not her professional ones!

  19. Dear Ken: Hi!

    Don't know if you'll see this comment, since I'm getting to it several posts late.

    But let me join the minority chorus: I actually like "Mame." No, it's not as funny or as endearing as "Auntie Mame." (In fact, in my head I've been replaying some scene-by-scene comparisons between the two--for example, how the death of Beau is treated--and it seems like "Mame" purposely extracted the humor from several key moments). But for some reason, I prefer the musical remake. Perhaps it's the score, perhaps it's that at times Rosalind Russell can seem a little overbearing (although I love her). But, I'm also someone who prefers "The Opposite Sex" to "The Women," so maybe you can just call me strange. :)

    A few items that have not yet been commented on:

    The fantastic "Mame" orchestrations are the work of Ralph Burns, who was "hot" at the time for his work on the film version of "Cabaret" and the Broadway revivals of "No No Nannette" and "Irene." I love what Burns does with the songs--they are so different from how they sounded on Broadway. I especially love the weeping solo violin lines at the end of "My Best Girl"--I'm a sucker for that sound.

    The costumes seemed to me very over-the-top when I first saw the movie, but then I started seeing more 1930s films with gowns by Orry-Kelley, and the "Mame" costumes are practically exact copies! Particularly the red velvet number Mame wears at the final dinner party and the frock (love that word!) Joyce Van Patten wears when she meets Mame.

    Finally, I think you're exactly right about Ball's "Diane Belmont"-like performance, but she has one moment that gets me laughing every time. After Mame finds out Patrick and Gloria are engaged, Mr. Upson asks "Mamie" what she'd like to drink. And Ball says, with split-second timing, "Straight Scotch."

    1. Hi David
      I do tend to catch most later comments (that is, when my computer decides to alert me of them).
      First off, you're absolutely the first person I've ever come across to say something favorable about "The Opposite Sex"! I think that kind of iconoclastic taste is what makes real movie fans.
      to this day it still amazes me when I encounter smart, unique, independent-thinking people who still care if the masses share their opinions on some favored film that has been critically raked over the coals. In a world that has made "American Sniper" one of the top grossing films of all time, I would think it would be a badge of honor to find one's tastes deviate from the norm.

      I'm with you on Mame's musical arrangements...they are really wonderful. I had no idea the fellow from Cabaret was involved. The way the film sounded in a theater was goosebump-inducing.
      Also, I agree with you about those extreme costumes. My partner is a designer and he has taken me on many an excursion through old Hollywood costume museums, and indeed, excesswas the byword in many of those old films.
      Funny you should mention the "frock" Van Patten wears...i picked that screen cap specifically because i'd seen something similar (that fan deal around the collar) in an old Norma Shearer film. Very cool of you to note the appropriate level of design excess there.

      It's nice that you find so much to appreciate about this film. Sometimes when a film fails on one or two points, people fail to take into account the many ares where things were done rather well. For me, the production side of Mame is really first class. It's good to give credit to the artists who did a great job even if in service of a film few seem to harbor much fondness for.
      And yes...from what I've heard, the reading of that "Straight Scotch" line has a good deal more Lucille Ball in it than Mame Dennis or Diane Belmont!
      Thanks for a refreshing, change-of-pace perspective on this film!

  20. Just caught this thread after seeing that "Mame" was on TCM the other day along with Auntie Mame". Aside from the unshakable performance of Rosalind Russell (who was so wonderful in many films) I can rekindle the memory of almost every film I've ever seen in a theatre...the time, the theatre itself, the acoustics, the people I was with. One of my fondest memories is going with my mother to an old theatre (even in the fifties) in Philadelphia which was called The Logan. I remember being mesmerized at age 4 by "Antie Maine" as I called her. I still remember "Maine" alighting down those graceful stairs, the echo of her voice reverberating in the art deco palace.
    Roz had that wonderful warm voice which grabbed hold of me and to this day whenever I see this film it evokes all the nostalgia of growing up in that period and the movies I saw at that now demolished showplace. I still remember seeing "South Pacific" there and "Blue Hawaii" among others.
    Likewise, I has a full remembrance of seeing the Lucille Ball "Mame" and images of the dingy "modern" movie house in Levittown, PA. By then theatres were non descript boxes and the Fox was no different except all performances were one dollar.
    It's gone now too having played other movies there like "The Godfather."
    I vividly remember the awful mono sound, the scratchy print,the gauziness of Lucy's closeups and the humorless script. As spoken by a character in Auntie Mame it had all the electricity of a dead battery.
    It looks even worse now in the comfort of my living room.
    Sadly, I rarely venture to theatres anymore since the advent of home video and top notch audio/video equipment. The theatrical experience of many years ago is sadly behind us. All the movie palaces are gone and the sights and scents that went with them. It was all part of the experience and re-watching a movie I once viewed in those palaces reignites my senses. I can still smell the popcorn.

    1. Thanks for contributing such a wonderfully vivid "memory book" commentary on your experience of seeing Mame and Auntie Mame under such divergent circumstances. I'm old enough to remember when the movie-going experience was something that started outside of the ornate movie palace forecourt and continued in to the balcony. Often even a mediocre film was made pleasurable in these surroundings.
      I suppose it's all been covered in other comments, but I agree that Russell's Mame had the air of a bohemian, while Lucy's sort of just had a trooper's grit.but it's nice to have the memories of these experiences, although some are undeniably fonder than others.
      Thanks for commenting!

  21. Love your post. Some additional thoughts on the Paul Zindel screenplay...I just finished reading the original material--Patrick Dennis' novel "Auntie Mame," and I found that Zindel, in his screenplay, actually went back to this source. A good many lines from the novel, not heard in the straight play or movie version thereof, are repeated in the Lucy version. Example: The scene in which Patrick and Mame quarrel at the end of her visit to the Upsons' contains several verbatim or near-verbatim lines from the similar scene in the novel: Patrick's "I was scared that you would come dressed as a farm hand or the Queen of Sheba"; "People don't have to know all those things you think they have to know"; a reference to Fire Island (made more explicit in the novel by Mame's "I cannot be held responsible for the sexual preferences of my associates"); Mame's "That just makes my summer!" And, earlier in the musical film, when young Patrick awakens Mame the morning after his arrival, Mame describes the school she intends for him as "co-educational and completely revolutionary...absolutely au courant with everything that's going on in Vienna...none of that dead, tired old Montessori for him. There's lots of non-objective art and eurythmics and discussion groups--no books or anything like that. It'll give your libido a good shaking up." All of these words are in the novel. It's interesting that, despite Zindel's script lacking the wit of the straight play/film, it is, in some ways, more true to the Patrick Dennis original.

    1. Hi Dean
      Thank you very much! Your comment sheds an interesting light on this film adaptation. Certainly the indication of Zindel using the memoir as a source in perhaps equal part with the theatrical production hints at the possibility of their being a desire to distinguish the film from "jokey" tone of the musical.
      A valid, if perhaps over-referential, approach to adapting the material to the screen. Thanks for bringing up this interesting point, and for the link you provided below. Another knowledgeable contribution in this fascinating comments section! Much appreciated!

  22. Here is, by the way, a link to excerpts from the Patrick Dennis novel on Google Books:

  23. Great blog. Love "Mame" - flaws and all. And, yes - there are a lot of flaws. Doesn't matter - still love the movie.

    1. Thank you! As I always say, "good" movies aren't always the movies we enjoy and have affection for. Perfection isn't what art is about, sometimes severely flawed and imperfect films speak to us like no other.

  24. It seems to me that everyone in charge of this movie--including the star--is trying too hard to make sure this DIDN'T look like Lucy Ricardo tied-up Angela Lansbury and filled in for a performance. I wonder if some of the movie's and the star's "stiffness" comes from this? Can't be zany or do anything like Lucy Ricardo would? But then I don't understand why they used her usual red hair color in so much of it, including the movie posters.

    I find the opening credits to be distracting if not irritating for a few reasons: 1. I find the blurring of the "Mame" letters in the background hard for my eyes to decide where to focus but now "see" it as a foreboding of the blurring camera close-ups in the movie, and wonder if it was an unintentional or subliminal hint of the gauze lens to come. 2. I realize the credits serve to tell the story leading to Patrick going to Mame's, but it seems that the long opening is used to kill time. Notice how long that gaps are between some of the written credits appearing on screen. And the fact that there are three complete songs during the credits. 3. If Mame and her brother aren't really close, why would he have a fairly "current" picture of her for the camera to zoom in on? 4. I find the prominent banjo in the first music irritating. It's too southern or rural sounding to me. I know it is from the title number which takes place on Beauregard's plantation, but I guess I think of Mame mostly taking place in New York City.

  25. I think you bring up a good point as to the possible reason why a film would go to the trouble of getting Lucille Ball and then not taking advantage of any of her comedic gifts. But when it came to her post-I Love Lucy movie work, Ball did tend to operate on only two speeds: stiff or Lucy Ricardo.

    I enjoyed reading your difficulties with the credits sequence I love so much. Especially the allusions to the blurring to come.
    And I too was always bothered by that photo of Mame they show in her brother's office, especially since it's so obvious (at least after one viewing) it's a still from the "Open a New Window" number when she takes Patrick to the burlesque house.
    Thanks for weighing in on "Mame" and pointing out a few amusing things we can all look out for in future viewings!

  26. When the original script for MAME was presented to Lucille Ball she rejected it because as she noted in a televised interview at the time, it was too much like Lucy Ricardo. She insisted to Warner Brothers to fashion a script as if it was written for Angela Lansbury. I very much remember her saying this on television at the time. Unfortunately what happened was a script that played to all of her weaknesses and none of her strengths. The studio should have insisted on dubbing her voice and hiring James Wong Howe as cinematographer, since he never used diffusion and achieved beautiful results with careful lighting (Barbra Streisand in FUNNY LADY). Francis Ford Coppola was offered the chance to direct MAME but said no because he realized that he would be really co-directing the picture with Ms. Ball and wasn't really interested in the project. He'd done a good job with FINIAN'S RAINBOW for Warners (though many critics did not like the film, Roger Ebert being an exception) and it actually made a profit.
    I always thought Doris Day would have been an excellent choice but she was wrapping up her TV series and preparing to retire. MAME was well received by the audience I saw it with on its initial release at the Regency Theatre in San Francisco. There had just been a local premier at the theatre with Ms. Ball in attendance just 3 days before and the sold out audience treated it with extreme enthusiasm as if she had been in attendance. She was beloved though there was a lack of energy in the performance with all high notes removed so she could sing the songs. She would have been excellent in the role if she'd been a bit younger and allowed her comedic talents to be employed to their full extent. She however got the film green lit at a time when film musicals were falling out of fashion. I hold her in such high regard as a great actress (yes, comedy is much harder to play than drama) that I too have overlooked this film's drawbacks and go back to it occasionally to relive the many happy memories she gave me while watching I LOVE LUCY as a child.

    1. Hi Ethan
      thanks for all the new info and your own thoughts on casting and what did/didn't work in bringing MAME to the screen.
      I think it's a longstanding dilemma for stars who have made an indelible impression in television to try to transition to film in a way that departs from what the public knows them for, but not so much that the public winds up rejecting them.
      Independent of how people may have envisioned the character of Mame Dennis (a bohemian), I think it's fair to assume that many who went to see the movie did so in the hope of seeing the Lucy they knew.
      The fact that, as you note, she suppressed a great deal of what her audiences liked about her and didn't exactly set the screen ablaze with her ability to make us forget Lucy Ricardo, burdens MAME unnecessarily.
      Since both Ball's singing limitations and the overuse of filters was the single through-line of many reviews, it's interesting to ponder how things might have turned out had they gone with dubbing and a cinematographer capable of making Ball look good through lighting.
      I've never been able to come up with someone who I thought would be a credible replacement for Lucille Ball here, as I've always pictured Mame as being an oddball/bohemian of distinct individuality. Both Ball and Day (and Julie Andrews) all have a grounded sanity about them that never seems reckless. Maybe Streisand channeling her 60s cabaret/kook persona. But of course that would have come off as "Dolly Levi adopts a child in Manhattan."
      I suppose the best part about Lucy in MAME is that she engenders such goodwill and happy nostalgia that she's easy to forgive in the role. Warts and all.
      I'm always sorry I didn't see Mame right when it opened (the Regency was the sister theater to The Alhambra where I was working at the time). before word of mouth spread, there was an air of anticipation attached to the film and I'm sure more people were given to being swept up by that enthusiasm at the early screenings.
      Thanks for contributing your thoughtful comments and for visiting this blog!

  27. I know many people of my parent's generation (my mother included) refused to see MAME because they felt that Rosalind Russell had done the quintessential interpretation and that no one, Angela Lansbury included could have done the role justice. I didn't realize you were from San Francisco, I graduated from Riordan High School and attended City College across the street on Phelan Ave. Your blog is really interesting to me by the way.

    1. Wow! We both went to all-boys Catholic high schools. My parents moved to Berkeley in 1970 so I went to Saint Mary's, then the San Francisco Art Institute for college. Most of my treasured moviegoing experiences are related to SF, for we lived in the Haight-Ashbury district in 1968 and I went to the Castro theater almost every weekend.
      I'm one of those who, while flexible in seeing other actresses tackle the role of MAME, never thinks anyone has matched Rosalind Russell's interpretation. Granted, I've never seen Lansbury. I see that you have a film blog as well. I will have to take a look. Thank you very much for the kind words!

  28. I write occasional film reviews at and for Inside The Vatican magazine, though I am very limited in only being allowed to write positive reviews for religious films for this publication. This is why I started my website, where I am not censured and where I can express my opinions freely. FAR FROM HEAVEN, a film I truly love was removed from an article I'd written because the Editor thought it might offend certain members of the readership, to which I replied that anyone offended by this film would have to be both stupid and ignorant. I can assure you my candor on this matter was not appreciated. He took a year and a half to publish my second article.

    1. Great! Thanks for including the link to your site.
      Smart move, establishing a website of your own to be able to express your opinions freely (that's an amusing anecdote regarding FAR FROM HEAVEN, a truly lovely and sensitive film. Glad you spoke your truth).
      Well Ethan, I'm looking forward to seeing what films you write about. A treat to be alerted to a new site!

  29. You know Streisand was offered the opportunity of doing MAME for television a few years ago and turned it down. It was then offered to Cher but the project never got made. When Angela was doing Murder She Wrote, CBS wanted to film the show with her and Bea Arthur but again it never got made. The really great version was Auntie MAME with Rosalind Russell and a true tragedy she didn't win the Oscar that year, though Simone Signoret who did win, did a great job in ROOM AT THE TOP. As a former actor in Los Angeles I came to learn early on that there is nothing really fair about the film industry concerning who gets what roles and especially awards. I'm still ticked off Judi Dench didn't win for PHILOMENA. Jennifer Lawrence would have had so many more opportunities to win in the future since she was only 22 at the time, but the Academy seems to favor ingenues in the Best Actress category. At least Judi has a great chance of winning for VICTORIA AND ABDUL if sympathy doesn't overwhelm everyone in voting for Annette Bening who is suppose to be quite good playing Gloria Graham in FILM STARS DON'T DIE IN LIVERPOOL.

    1. Yes, a friend of mine (a big fan of Cher & Streisand) used to keep me posted about the numerous on again/off again press releases regarding a TV production of MAME. I didn't know about the Lansbury one, though.
      And indeed, as much fun as the Oscars can be, they are only rarely an accurate gauge of what are truly notable performances. The nominees are generally where they get it close to being right, but who actually wins is all over the map. Sure , it's subjective, but it's also industry political and has a lot to do with hype and context. Rarely "accurate" often jaw-droppingly off the mark.

  30. I managed a senior's apt. community in So. Calif. for 13 years and one of my residents had attended many of the tapings of I LOVE LUCY at Desilu including the Vitametavegimin and Lucy at the Winery episodes. Apparently Lucy was really a great stage performer since all these shows were essentially staged as 22 minute plays in front of a live audience. Apparently they had so many crates of grapes left over after the winery episode that everyone in the studio audience was given crates of grapes to take home as a gift.

    1. That's a wonderful anecdote I've never heard about that episode! Very nice that your resident had first-hand, up-close experience of a classic.

  31. We lived in the Richmond District at 29th and Balboa for 5 years before moving to Fulton St. across from Campion Hall on the USF campus in 1971. Our post office was in the Haight Ashbury. Who knows we may have actually seen each other. Isn't it a shame the Coronet Theatre was torn down for that expensive Retirement Community out on Geary? I saw so many great films there including MY FAIR LADY IN 1964 when I was eight years old. Incidentally my e-mail is

    1. That's so funny. We were right around the area!
      I didn't know about the Coronet Theater. I saw "The Great Gatsby" there.
      Thanks for the email. Mine is viewable by clicking on the link next to the profile button in side banner.

    2. I saw THE GREAT GATSBY there too. That was my favorite book in high school and I loved the fact that Francis Ford Coppola's screenplay was so faithful to the book. I was also an usher who worked the refreshment counter at the Fox Parkside at 19th and Taraval in 1974.

    3. What's happening on NETFLIX is actually really exciting. THE CROWN, GRACE AND FRANKIE, BLACKBIRD, THE CHURCHMEN, THEY CALL HIM FRANCIS among others are all notable productions that stream on this service. I am no longer interested by and large in noisy, effects laden comic book type films. I see many of them but come away feeling my time has been wasted.

    4. When I was a Tour Guide at Universal in the mid to late seventies I gave a VIP Tour to Giselle Galant whose mother was Olivia De Havilland, whom I met briefly at the beginning of the tour. A truly lovely woman who was filming AIRPORT '77 at the time with Jack Lemmon. You know she's still alive, at what I believe is 102.

    5. Let's see...we both attended Catholic all-boys high schools, lived in SF, AND also worked as movie theater ushers in 1974!
      Was never a Universal tour guide though. But went with my family in 1972 (so cool you met De Havilland's daughter! Amuses me that DeHavilland at 102 is suing "Feud" producer. Good for her!)
      And i too love the various streaming services available now. Netflix, Filmstruck and Amazon - nice they don't have to appeal to all tastes and can make some really interesting films.

  32. I also obviously favor older actors and actresses winning the Oscars. You essentially have five nominees who are delivering performances at the top of their profession (I like to use the analogy of five jewels) so I believe age should be taken into consideration. I wrote Cheryl Boone Isaacs, President at the Academy and recommended giving special Oscars to Debbie Reynolds, Doris Day, Max Von Sydow, Liv Ullmann and Leslie Caron. She never answered me but the next year gave Debbie the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award and thank God she did because Debbie died a year later (and was too ill to even attend the Special Governors Dinner). They need to give these Special Oscars a bit earlier instead of waiting before these folks are at death's door as what happened with Maureen O'Hara. And isn't it a shame Irene Dunne (a five time Oscar nominee) William Powell and Jean Arthur were never honored by the Academy? Also Alfred Hitchcock never won an Oscar as he should have for directing REBECCA.

    1. You make a good case for the special Oscars. The stars themselves often joke that they award them close to the time that a star might be kicking off.
      I haven't always been aware of it in myself, but when it came to nominations for Bacall or older stars like that, I confess to wishing they would take age and body of work into account when dishing those awards out, too.
      So many truly great screen stars without an Academy recognition is a shame when I try to remember some of the more forgettable wins over the years (Paltrow, Tomei).

  33. By the way I made a mistake in one of my posts. Judi Dench nominated for PHILOMENA lost to Cate Blanchett for her magnificent performance in BLUE JASMINE. Though I favored Judi Dench, Cate really did a great job. Too bad it couldn’t have been a tie. I still can’t get over Glenn Close losing this year for THE WIFE. Maybe she’ll have a chance when she stars in the film version of SUNSET BOULEVARD scheduled to film this fall.

    1. Thanks. I was as surprised as you (and many others) that Close didn't win. But since the Academy LOVES to award actors the year AFTER they really should have won, I have a hunch Close will get another chance to wear an all gold dress to the ceremony. Very much looking forward to Sunset Boulevard! And so happy they didn't give it to Rob marshall.