Who's Who in Musicals: Additional Bios II
by John Kenrick
Berman, Pandro S.
b. Mar. 28, 1905 (Pittsburgh) - d. July 13, 1996 (Beverly Hills)
Born into an early film industry family, Berman worked his way up from script clerk to assistant director at RKO Studios. Soon after he began producing, he saw Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers steal Flying Down to Rio (1933) and promptly decided to build a series of films around the duo. Beginning with The Gay Divorcee (1934), Berman produced seven Astaire-Rogers films, five of which were directed by Mark Sandrich. These now-classic musicals were among the biggest screen hits of the 1930s, with scores by some of the top composers of that time Irving Berlin for Top Hat (1935), Follow the Fleet (1936) and Carefree (1938), Jerome Kern for Roberta (1935) and Swing Time(1936), and George and Ira Gershwin for Shall We Dance (1937).
Berman produced numerous non-musicals for RKO, including Of Human Bondage (1934), Gunga Din (1937) and Stage Door (1939). After acting as executive producer for Orson Welles' landmark drama Citizen Kane (1941), Berman began a long stint with MGM, working predominantly on dramas and comedies. He occasionally handled musical projects, producing Ziegfeld Girl (1941), a remake of Rio Rita (1942), a remake of Kern's Roberta called Lovely to Look At (1952) and the Elvis Presley vehicle Jailhouse Rock (1957). Berman remained active as an independent producer through the 1960s, and received the Motion Picture Academy's prestigious Irving Thalberg Award in 1977.
(b. Lillie Klot)
b. Oct. 21, 1933 (London, UK) - d. July 5, 1992 (London)
Born in London's East End, she was sent to the Welsh countryside during World War II to escape Nazi bombings. A fan of American jazz, this earthy performer took her stage name from the classic song "Sweet Georgia Brown." She won early acclaim as Lucy in the 1956 London revival of The Threepenny Opera, and repeated the role when she joined the cast of the long-running off-Broadway revival in 1957. Brown made theatrical history when she created the role of Nancy in the original London production of Lionel Bart's Oliver (1960). Brown's heart rending rendition of "As Long As He Needs Me" remains definitive, as does her uninhibited "Oom Pah Pah." She then starred in the 1963 New York production, earning a Tony nomination.
After replacing the lead in Bart's London musical Maggie May in 1965, Brown concentrated on film roles for more than a decade. She returned to Broadway to join the cast of the long-running revue Side By Side By Sondheim (1977). She created the title role in Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane's ill-fated Carmelina (1979) and took over the role of Dorothy Brock in the London production of 42nd Street (1984). She also toured Britain in Georgia Brown and Friends, a personal revue that she brought to Broadway for a limited run in 1982. After starring in Hal Prince's short lived Broadway musical Roza (1987), she limited herself to concerts and television appearances including recurring roles on Cheers and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Fans and colleagues were shocked when Brown died unexpectedly at age 58 due to complications after surgery for an intestinal blockage.
(b. John Ewing Richter)
Dancer, choreographer, director
b. Apr. 27, 1914 (New Brunswick, NJ) - d. Feb. 17, 1974 (Hollywood, CA)
One of the unsung geniuses of American popular dance, Cole danced with the Denishawn company before organizing a troupe that specialized in oriental dance. He also staged nightclub acts and appeared in the dance ensembles of several stage musicals before making his Broadway choreographic debut creating dances for Something for the Boys (1943). Cole's sensual, jazz-based, sometimes overtly sexual style incorporated various ethnic influences. His work was often noted for pulsing drumbeats, minimal costumes and grinding hips. He also had a flair for making bold use of the body, and some of his most memorable creations demonstrated a frankly homoerotic appreciation of the male physique.
This combination proved effective in more than a dozen Broadway musicals, including Magdalena (1948), Kismet (1953), Jamaica (1957) and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962). Cole also staged dances for twenty Hollywood films, including Cover Girl (1944) and The Jolson Story (1946). Cole staged several memorable screen sequences for Marilyn Monroe, including her classic "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" routine ("I'm dying to meet you, Dow Jones!") in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). The volatile sex goddess insisted that Cole be called in to stage her musical numbers in There's No Business Like Show Business (1954 - uncredited) and Some Like It Hot (1959 - also uncredited). Cole played a key role in training many leading theatrical dancers, including Carol Haney. Gwen Verdon served as his assistant for seven years before beginning her creative and personal partnership with Bob Fosse.
Because many of Cole's most intriguing dances were created for ill-fated musicals, he has not achieved the recognition his talents deserved. His hopes of joining the top rank of Broadway's director-choreographers were derailed when Foxy (1964), Donnybrook (1964) and Kean (1964) all failed within months of each other. However, ended his career on a high note by creating the acclaimed original choreography for Man of La Mancha (1966).
Forrest, George ("Chet")
b. July 31, 1915 (Brooklyn) - d. Oct. 10, 1999 (Miami)
Wright, Robert Craig
b. Sept. 25, 1914 (Daytona Beach, FL) - July 27, 2005 (Miami, FL)
Forrest and Wright collaborated on special material for Los Angeles nightclub revues, where their work attracted the attention of major studios. The duo (who always insisted that they were no more than friends and professional collaborators) adapted existing music and created new songs for the MGM screen versions of Maytime (1937) and Sweethearts (1938), two of Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald's strongest vehicles. For The Firefly (1937), Forrest and Wright added lyrics to an existing Rudolph Friml-Herbert Stouthart melody, resulting in the extremely popular hit "The Donkey Serenade." All told, their songs were heard in more than 50 films.
Most of Forrest and Wright's stage scores featured melodies freely adapted from the works of great classical composers. Song of Norway (1944), a fictional love story involving the life and music of Edvard Grieg, was a surprise hit on both sides of the Atlantic, proving that there was still a sizeable audience for romantic operetta. It ran for three years on Broadway and featured the rapturous hit "Strange Music." Gypsy Lady (1946) failed in its attempt to recycle some old Victor Herbert tunes, but Forrest and Wright hit pay dirt adapting the melodies of Russian composer Alexander Borodin for Kismet (1953). Part operetta, part bawdy burlesque show, this opulent musical featured "Baubles, Bangles and Beads," "And This is My Beloved" and the smash hit ballad "Stranger in Paradise." A popular success despite dismissive reviews, Kismet won the Tony for Best Musical, won acclaim for stars Alfred Drake, Doretta Morrow and Richard Kiley, became a frequently revived international favorite -- and was filmed by MGM .
Forrest and Wright saw several projects close out of town, including a musical version of Grand Hotel (1958) that featured their original melodies. They had equally poor luck collaborating with Brazilian composer on the melodically ambitious but dramatically unsatisfying jungle musical Magdalena (1948). The ill-fated Broadway productions of Kean (1961) and Anya (1964) the latter adapting melodies by Serge Rachmaninoff left the team on the outer fringes of a much changed theatre business that no longer welcomed romantic operetta. The team remained active, supervising revivals of Kismet and revising their less well-known shows for regional productions. Grand Hotel finally made it to Broadway in 1989, but director Tommy Tune had replaced part of the score with new numbers by Maury Yeston -- to Forrest & Wright's dismay. The two men remained close until Forrest's death at age 84. Wright continued to promote their works until his own death six years later at age 90.
One of Broadway's most respected musical directors, Gemignani earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State College in 1960. He scored several films before relocating to New York, where he worked as a Broadway pit musician before becoming replacement musical director of Stephen Sondheim's Follies (1971). Gemignani became closely identified with Sondheim's musicals, working on Pacific Overtures (1976), Side by Side by Sondheim (1977), Sweeney Todd (1979), Merrily We Roll Along (1981), Sunday in the Park With George (1984), Into the Woods (1987) and Passion (1994). He also conducted the orchestras for such memorable hits as On the Twentieth Century (1978), Evita (1979), Crazy For You (1992), the acclaimed revival of Kiss Me Kate (1999), and the underrated Adventures of Tom Sawyer (2001).
To date, Gemignani has served as conductor for more than 35 Broadway productions, receiving three Grammy nominations along the way. Aside from composing various film scores, he has also appeared as a guest conductor with the New York, Boston and San Francisco Philharmonics, and served for two seasons as musical director of the City Center Encores series. In 2001, Gemignani was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Tony Award. He has served as musical director for several PBS-TV specials, including broadcast performances of Follies, A Little Night Music and Passion. He is the father of Broadway musical actor Alexander Gemignani (b. 1979).
Film director, producer
b. Aug. 26, 1900 (Brooklyn, NY) - d. Mar. 4, 1945 (Hollywood, CA)
After getting his start in silent films, Sandrich directed several minor RKO musicals before he was selected by producer Pandro S. Berman to direct Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in The Gay Divorcee (1934). Sandrich did such a fine job showcasing the elegant team that he directed four more vehicles for them Top Hat (1935), Follow the Fleet (1936), Shall We Dance (1937) and Carefree (1938). When Rogers moved on to dramatic roles, Sandrich continued directing and producing musicals, including Paramount's delightful Irving Berlin tune fest Holiday Inn (1942) starring Astaire and Bing Crosby. Nine days into directing the same two stars in Blue Skies (1945), Sandrich died of a sudden heart attack at age 44, and was was replaced by Stuart Heisler. At the time of his death, Sandrich was President of the Screen Directors Guild. His son Mark Jr. (1928-1995) had a long career directing television productions.
b. Sept. 11, 1885 (Milwaukee, WI) - d. Feb. 1, 1949 (Los Angeles, CA)
This one-time music teacher began his Broadway career with neophyte lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, creating the score for the short-lived musical Always You (1920). He continued to work with Hammerstein and a succession of co-composers, including Wildflower (1923) with Vincent Youmans and Rose Marie (1924) with operetta master Rudolph Friml. He collaborated with lyricist Bert Kalmar and composer Harry Ruby on Good Boy (1928), in which Helen Kane introduced their hit song "I Wanna Be Loved By You."
With the introduction of sound films in the late 1920s, Stothart was one of the first major stage composers to relocate to Hollywood. He contributed songs to dozens of early screen musicals, most notably adapting an existing Rudolph Friml melody into "The Donkey Serenade" for The Firefly (1937). Stothart became one of the leading figures in MGM's musical department, arranging, composing and/or conducting the background scores for over 100 films. He received his only Academy Award for the background music for The Wizard of Oz (1939), but was nominated on nine other occasions. Stothart remained on the job at MGM until his death at age 63.
(b. Shirley Jane Temple)
Actress, singer, dancer
b. Apr. 23, 1928 (Santa Monica, CA)
With curly hair, dimples and a sparkling smile, Shirley Temple became the most beloved child star in show business history. She was cast in bit screen parts until her charming rendition of "Baby Take a Bow" in Stand Up and Cheer (1934) made the bosses at 20th Century Fox take notice. The talented six year old's breakout performance came in Little Miss Marker (1934), which brought her a special miniature Academy Award -- making this six year old the youngest person ever to receive one. The movie going public found her a disarming antidote to the drudgery of the Great Depression, and she remained a top box office star for several years.
Temple starred in a variety of films even those that were not full-blown musicals usually included a song or two. She introduced some of the biggest song hits of the 1930s, including "On The Good Ship Lollipop" and "Animal Crackers in My Soup." Her screen musicals included Curly Top (1935), The Littlest Rebel (1935), Dimples (1936), Little Miss Broadway (1938), and The Little Princess (1939). Temple appeared in four films with veteran black dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson their warm off-screen rapport shone through in their delightful on-screen tap routines, the first mixed-racial musical numbers to be shown in many parts of the USA. Many who worked with her have attested to her youthful professionalism, and her insistence that colleagues of any age be as ready and willing to work as she was. One of her most memorable quotes illustrates the hazards of early fame: ""I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph."
Fox refused to loan Temple to MGM to play Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (1939), a decision which broke the young actress's heart but opened the way to stardom for Judy Garland. As Temple moved into her teens, she continued to appear in comedies and light dramas for various studios, but she could not recapture the popularity of her early years and retired from the big screen in 1949 -- at the ripe old age of 21. She did some television work in the 1950s, but otherwise concentrated on raising a family. Temple became active in the Republican party in the 1970s, and served in turn as US Ambassador to Ghana, the United Nations, and Czechoslovakia during the Nixon, Ford and first Bush administrations. After retiring from public service in the early 1990s, she received another special Academy Award (this time full-sized) and the Kennedy Center Honor. A breast cancer survivor, Temple has had the satisfaction of seeing her films remain perennial family favorites thanks to home video.