Saturday, August 29, 2015

Escaping to the State Fair

Margy (Jeanne Crain): I never want to see another fair.

Wayne (Dick Haymes): You can say that again!

"State Fair," which premiered 70 years ago today, was just the kind of movie that my grandmother really liked — a musical. It didn't just have occasional songs, either; the characters practically sang their dialogue. In fact, you could make a persuasive argument that there were times in the movie when they did exactly that. Yep, it was that kind of musical.

My grandmother probably saw it in the theater, too. She would have been in the middle of her life, and she enjoyed good health most of that life. From what she used to tell me, I gather she went to the movies a lot. There was a theater only a few blocks from her house, too. I know. It was still open when I was a child, and she took me to see movies there many times.

So it doesn't require much imagination for me to visualize her seeing "State Fair" there. It was one of the top grossing movies of 1945. Lots of folks saw it on the big screen. I don't know how she felt about the movie's stars, Jeanne Crain and Dana Andrews, but I know how she felt about musicals.

Andrews had been around for awhile. I haven't seen all of his movies, but I don't recall ever seeing him in another musical — even though he had an ambition to become a singer when he was in his early 20s, an ambition that brought him to Los Angeles. He never found success as a singer, but he embarked on a film career about five years before he made "State Fair," and he was in some good ones — "The Ox–Bow Incident" and "Laura" before he made "State Fair," and "The Best Years of Our Lives" the year after.

I suppose my grandmother knew whether he could sing, but Crain was more of a mystery. She was only 20 years old and had made a handful of movies — including one in which she was uncredited — prior to starring in "State Fair." Her character did a fair amount of singing in that movie, but I don't know if it was generally known at the time that Crain did not do the singing. It was actually done by a woman named Louanne Hogan.

Well, lip syncing didn't really hurt Audrey Hepburn 20 years later when she appeared in "My Fair Lady" — and Marni Nixon did her singing for her — although I guess you could make the argument that it cost her a Best Actress nomination. Crain wasn't nominated for Best Actress, either — but I'm inclined to think that Crain didn't deserve one, and Hepburn probably did.

Actually, the acting overall in "State Fair" didn't deserve recognition, but the Rodgers and Hammerstein compositions did, and their song "It Might As Well Be Spring" beat 13 other nominees for Best Original Song. The movie's other nomination was for Best Musical Score, which it lost to "Anchors Aweigh."

The music in "State Fair" was catchy, but it was Rodgers and Hammerstein. Can you think of a time when a Rodgers and Hammerstein score was not catchy?

In fact, "State Fair" is the only Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that was written specifically for film, not for the stage.

Incidentally, "State Fair" seems to have been the starting point for a long and mostly successful movie partnership between Crain and Hogan. Crain was recognized for being able to ice skate rather well, but apparently she couldn't sing well, yet she did a lot of singing in her movies, and most of it was dubbed by Hogan.

There was a story of a second couple being told in "State Fair" — Crain's brother (Dick Haymes) and a singer (naturally) played by Vivian Blaine. Apparently, Blaine really was a singer. I have heard nothing to suggest that someone else did her singing for her.

See, a lot of the movie centered on these two rather random romances that blossomed at the state fair. To be sure, there were side stories about Ma in the mincemeat competition and Pa in the pig competition, but the romances were in the spotlight.

Crain and Andrews were the stars of the show, after all. And they were adequate — but certainly not Oscar worthy.

I thought it was a pretty routine story about a state fair. Actually, the scene reminded me of the county fairs I attended in Arkansas as a child, but it was more elaborate. The games and the food and the rides were certainly familiar, but I couldn't swear to the authenticity of the competitions, or some of the attractions — like harness races.

I don't think people ever came to our little county fair and camped there for days like they did in "State Fair." And, while it was supposedly set in Iowa, I heard accents that could only be described as distinctly New England. My family visited that part of the country several times when I was a child, and I know a New England accent when I hear one.

Well, I guess it did what it was expected to do. It provided some escapism for folks who were just plain worn out after nearly four years of involvement in World War II, which was about to end in the Pacific — and, consequently, the world.