Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Sunday, October 17, 2004


Friday night, sitting on the couch with my beloved spouse, watching a video of Flying Down to Rio, the first Fred & Ginger flick, from 1933. The typical goofy plot and goofy jokes and terrific songs (the terrific Vincent Youmans wrote the music; words by Edward Eliscu and the terrific Gus Kahn) and even better dancing. Fred & Ginger weren’t the leads, they were the cynical second-bananas, quasi-romantic but more buddy-buddy, in a flirty physical way. The inherent poignance of old movies -- “All of those people are dead now,” my wife said as the movie started.

The goofy plot finds them in Rio De Janiero, where the band -- Fred & Ginger are in a band -- is setting up to play surreptitiously for the love interest’s father’s hotel. Fred is distracting the guard as the band sneaks in with their instruments. I look at the guard and say to my beloved spouse, “Is that your dad?!?”

My father-in-law was born in 1898. According to his official on-line bio (written by my wife), he went to make it big in Hollywood in 1920, played the bad guy in a bunch of B-movie Westerns (which starred the original singing cowboy, Ken Maynard) and had uncredited roles in bigger pictures. He didn’t marry until 1961, at the age of 63, and 10 months later my wife was born. He died 20 years later, long before my wife and I met.

My father-in-law hadn’t talked about his Hollywood years to his kids, and it was only in the last 5 years that my wife has tracked down his filmography, with the help of my friend Ross Lipman, who is a film preservationist at UCLA. We hadn’t known about a role in “Flying Down to Rio.”

We re-wound the tape. Yes! It was my wife’s dad! Fred was spewing a zany monologue about beaches, and my late father-in-law, who towered over him, was shrugging his shoulders. No lines, but a scene with Fred Astaire. An amazing thing to come across unexpectedly. My wife cried.

“All of those people are dead now.”

One of the “Brazilian” singers in a big production number looked like she might have been a white woman “blackened up.” We checked the credits and Googled. Etta Moten was African American; she died earlier this year at the age of 102 after a career as a Broadway star, a movie singer, and an official U.S. government representative to “the independence ceremonies of Nigeria, Zambia and Lusaka.” Had my wife and I watched the movie a year ago, at least one of the actors would still have been alive. Moten’s husband founded the Negro Associated Press. She had a terrific voice and a great flirty delivery. Glad to have looked her up.

Fred sang the title song.

My Rio, Rio by the Sea-o,
Flying down to Rio where there's rhythm and rhyme.
Hey feller, twirl that old propeller,
Got to get to Rio and we've got to make time.

Beautiful entry.Keep it up.
Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?