Who's Who in Musicals: M to Mi
MGM took a risk and teamed unknown baritone Nelson Eddy with MacDonald in Naughty Marietta (1935). Their rendition of "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life" proved such a sensation that the studio reunited the duo for eight highly popular screen musicals. Rose Marie (1936) and its "Indian Love Call" provided the now classic image of Eddy as a Canadian Mountie wooing a willing Jeanette. While both Eddy and MacDonald had their musical and dramatic shortcomings, their charming chemistry delighted audiences, making grand operatic-sized emotions surprisingly believable. Their string of hits included Maytime (1936), Sweethearts (1938) and The New Moon (1940). For all their on-screen passion, the two stars were no more than friends in real life they socialized occasionally, and each sang at the other's wedding. Suggestions that they had an off-screen affair have been dismissed by all responsible sources.
MacDonald's other films include San Francisco (1936) with its hit title tune, The Firefly (1937) and Three Darling Daughters (1948). When the studio system faded, she made frequent concert appearances and toured successfully in Bitter Sweet, The King & I and other musicals. Offstage, MacDonald enjoyed a long and happy marriage to actor Gene Raymond. Plagued by coronary weakness in her final years, she died of a heart attack at age 63. For more, see Edward Barton Turk's Hollywood Diva: A Biography of Jeanette MacDonald (Univ. of California Press, Berkley: 1998).
During the next decade, Mackintosh produced a musical version of Martin Guerre, a disappointing West End production of Sondheim's Follies (1989), and an overblown London revival of Oliver. His single-minded methods have won him a fair share of enemies on both side of the Atlantic, and led to several highly publicized disputes with Actor's Equity in the USA. His hit London revival of Oklahoma (1999) did not come to New York immediately because Makcintosh's claimed that his team did not have the time required to teach Americans how to do the show properly. It finally reached New York in 2002, receiving mixed reviews. His London revival of My Fair Lady (2001) won general acclaim. Despite announcing his "retirement" from producing new musicals, Mackintosh is currently collaborating with the Disney Corporation on the West End and Broadway stage adaptations of Mary Poppins (2004), and produced a 25th anniversary revised US tour of Les Miserables in 2010.
MacRae's virile presence and soaring baritone made him a natural leading man. After appearing with Kathryn Grayson in a remake of The Desert Song (1953) and with Jane Powell in Three Sailors and a Girl (1953), MacRae co-starred with Shirley Jones in the popular screen versions of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma (1955) and Carousel (1956). MacRae's career peaked just as Hollywood abandoned big screen musicals. The Best Things in Life are Free (1956) was his last musical film. He continued to perform in nightclubs, and replaced Robert Preston in the Broadway production of I Do, I Do. After winning a long battle with alcoholism, Gordon succumbed to cancer in 1986. MacRae's wife Sheila and daughter Meredith enjoyed success acting on television, and his youngest daughter Heather has performed extensively in cabaret.
Maltby, Richard Jr.
The Theatre Guild brought Mamoulian back to Broadway to direct three landmark musicals Porgy and Bess (1935), Oklahoma (1943) and Carousel (1945). He claimed so much credit for the success of these works that the Gershwins and Rodgers & Hammerstein were offended. Mamoulian also directed the innovative Broadway productions of St. Louis Woman (1946) and Lost in the Stars (1949). Rather than impose a personal style on these works, Mamoulian tried to bring out the unique qualities of each project, often with remarkable success. His final films were two MGM musicals, Summer Holiday (1948) and the screen version of Silk Stockings (1957). He was set to direct the film version of Porgy and Bess in 1958, but was replaced by Otto Preminger. Despite Mamoulian's brilliant successes, a reputation for temperamental behavior circumscribed his career. Forgotten in his final years, this once great director died of malnutrition in a broken down mansion he shared with an alcoholic wife and more than 40 cats.
Martin, Mary Virginia
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II cast Martin as Annie Oakley in the national tour of Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun (1947). Her triumphant performance brought Martin a special Tony Award for "spreading theatre to the country," and led to her being cast as the original Nellie Forbush in Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific (1949). In that long-running hit, Martin introduced "Cockeyed Optimist," "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair" and "I'm in Love With a Wonderful Guy." Her onstage chemistry with baritone Ezio Pinza made theatrical history. Martin received a Tony for Best Actress in a musical, and repeated her success in the 1951 London production.
Martin became a frequent presence on network television while the medium was still in its infancy. Her 1953 duet with longtime friend Ethel Merman drew record ratings and became a best-selling recording. She brought her Tony-winning Broadway performance as Peter Pan to NBC in 1954. Although this show involved director/choreographer Jerome Robbins, composer Jule Styne, lyricists Betty Comden & Adolph Green, and co-starred Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook, it is still thought of as Martin's triumph. She introduced "Neverland," set hearts soaring when she sang and flew to glory in "I'm Flyin!," and got legions of children and adults to prove that they believed in fairies by applauding with all their might. (She repeated the role for television three times the full color 1960 telecast was re-run through the 1970s and is still a favorite on home video.) Martin co-starred with Noel Coward in a unique two-person musical special, Together With Music (CBS, 1955).
Martin originated the role of Maria Von Trapp in Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music (1959), introducing "Do, Re, Mi," "My Favorite Things," and the lyrical title tune and receiving her third Tony for Best Actress in a Musical. After starring in the ill-fated Jennie (1963), Martin starred in the London production of Jerry Herman's Hello Dolly! (1965) which she took on tour to Japan and to war weary American troops in Vietnam. She returned to Broadway to originate the role of Agnes in I Do! I Do! (1966), co-starring with Robert Preston. Over the years, Martin had turned down lead roles in Oklahoma, Kiss Me Kate, My Fair Lady, Funny Girl and Mame -- a list that rivals her numerous hits.
In her later years, Martin hosted a PBS talk show for seniors, reunited with Merman for an acclaimed benefit concert, toured with Carol Channing in the comedy Legends, and made her final Broadway appearance with Sir Anthony Quayle in the short-lived comedy Do You Turn Somersaults? In retirement, she received the Kennedy Center Honors, and saw her son Larry Hagman (who made his Broadway debut as a replacement sailor in South Pacific) achieve stardom on television. After a year-long battle with cancer, she died in Eisenhower Memorial Hospital at age 76.
McKechnie worked with Michael Bennett on a series of workshops that resulted in the landmark Broadway musical A Chorus Line (1975). Her performance as the semi-autobiographical character Cassie, and her breathtaking interpretation of "The Music and the Mirror" brought McKechnie the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical. She married Bennett in 1976, but they divorced within a year. After a battle with crippling arthritis, McKechnie resumed performing in the mid-1980s by appearing in A Chorus Line and a national tour of Fosse's Sweet Charity, among other shows. She appeared off-Broadway in the revue Cut the Ribbons and as the swindling Mrs. Kelly in Annie Warbucks. Her performance as nightclub singer Emily Arden in the Broadway version of State Fair (1996) brought McKechnie the Fred Astaire Award for Best Female Dancer. She played Phyllis in the 1997 Drury Lane concert version of Sondheim's Follies, and played Sally in the 1998 Paper Mill Playhouse production. In recent years, she has toured extensively in her one woman show, Inside the Music.
Ashman died of AIDS before the film was released, ending one of the most promising partnerships in musical history. Menken continued to work for Disney, teaming with lyricist Jack Feldman for the disappointing live action musical Newsies (1992). Ashman had written lyrics for an animated version of Aladdin (1993), which Menken completed with lyricist Tim Rice. The acclaimed score won a slew of Grammys and Oscars, including Best Song for the chart-topping "A Whole New World." In 1994, Rice assisted Menken in adapting Beauty and the Beast for the stage, and the long-running Broadway production established Disney as a powerhouse presence on Broadway. A Menken-Rice musical based on the life of King David did not go beyond a brief concert run.
Menken teamed with songwriter Stephen Schwartz to score Disney's animated hit Pocohontas (1995), winning Oscars for both the score and the ballad "Colors of the Wind." Menken composed the scores for several non-musical films, including Rocky V and Home Alone 2. His return to Off-Broadway with Weird Science (1992) failed to ignite much interest, but his lavish version of A Christmas Carol (with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens) was successfully revived at Madison Square Garden annually from 1994 to 2004. Menken & Schwartz turned out a superb score for Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), and Menken paired with David Zippel for Hercules (1997). Though highly entertaining, these films were not as commercially successful as Menken's earlier efforts, and the Disney corporation has since abandoned quality animated musicals in favor of action-oriented cartoons peppered with occasional pop tunes. His recent projects have included the film scores for Enchanted (2007) and Tangled (2010), and he is working on a stage adaptation of Newsies.
The most controversial Broadway producer of the late 20th century, Merrick's outrageous publicity schemes and ruthless treatment of cast and creative staff earned him the title of "The Abominable Showman." A series of debilitating strokes that began in 1983 gradually left Merrick unable to speak or walk, but this did not keep him from producing an ill-fated revival of Oh Kay (1990). He then surprised many by forcibly taking over the Broadway production of State Fair (1996), a move that did not prevent the show's commercial failure. His office officially announced his retirement barely a year before his death at age 88.
As a lyricist, Merrill teamed with composer Jule Styne to create the score for Funny Girl (1964), in which newcomer Barbra Streisand introduced "Don't Rain On My Parade" and "People." They collaborated on the TV musicals Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol and The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood starring Liza Minnelli. Styne & Merrill also provided scores for the Boston flop Prettybelle (1971) starring Angela Lansbury, and the modestly successful Sugar (1972) starring Robert Morse. Merrill's later solo musicals were plagued by failure. Breakfast at Tiffany's (1966) closed in previews, the charming Henry Sweet Henry (1967) lasted less than three months, Prince of Grand Street (1978) closed on the road, and Hannah . . . 1939 (1990) never went beyond a brief off-Broadway run. Suffering from a painful progressive illness and depression, Merrill took his own life at age 76.
Miller moved to MGM in the late 1940s, impressing critics and fans as Fred Astaire's former dancing partner "Nadine" in Easter Parade (1948), and as the pseudo-intellectual "Claire" in On the Town (1948). Although primarily a dancer, she proved a capable comic actress in Two Tickets to Broadway (1951) and Lovely to Look At (1952). Her most memorable film role was as "Lois" in Kiss Me Kate (1953), where her renditions of "Too Darn Hot," "Tom, Harry or Dick" and "From This Moment On" (with light-footed co-star Tommy Rall) were highlights. Sadly, Miller's popularity peaked just as original screen musicals faded. She made her final big screen appearances in Hit the Deck (1955) and in a musical version of The Women called The Opposite Sex (1956).
Nightclubs and national tours kept the energetic Miller busy. She took over the lead in Broadway's Mame in 1969 and brought the show back to capacity attendance. She spent the early 1970s touring in classic musical comedies such as Anything Goes, and showcased her still-amazing tap dancing (and her trademark bouffant hairdo) in a deliciously campy TV commercial for Great American Soups. Many were skeptical when Miller joined fellow MGM alumni Mickey Rooney for a Broadway revue based on the glory days of burlesque, but Sugar Babies (1979) became a surprise hit. Miller's singing finally got as much praise as her tapping, and a three year New York run led to an extended national tour, as well as a 1988 London production.
Miller's marriages to Bill Moss, Reese Milner and Arthur Cameron all ended in divorce. She also dated MGM boss Louis B. Mayer, but refused his proposal shortly before marrying Milner. In later years, she told interviewers that she preferred being alone to facing another unsatisfying romantic partnership. Miller's dancing career ended when after years of high-speed tapping damaged her feet. She made a triumphant appearance as "Carlotta" in the acclaimed Paper Mill Playhouse revival of Sondheim's Follies (1998), where her soaring rendition of "I'm Still Here" left audiences cheering without a tap shoe in sight. She died after an extended bout with lung cancer.
In reality, Miller bore little resemblance to the lighthearted characters she played on stage. Temperamental and blessed with a truck driver's vocabulary, she supposedly had to fight off the amorous attentions of producer Florenz Ziegfeld -- although some sources suggest she pursued him. Miller married Follies vocalist Frank Carter in 1920, at least in part to incite Ziegfeld's rage. On the night Carter died in a 1921 car crash, Miller still performed, giving the audience no clue of her grief. Two years later, she again irked Ziegfeld by marrying Mary Pickford's chemically dependent brother Jack. After both indulged in a series of rather public extramarital affairs, they divorced in 1927.
On screen, Miller appeared in early sound versions of Sally (1929) and Sunny (1930), as well Her Majesty Love (1932). Although technologically primitive, surviving prints give us some sense of her charm, as well as her limited vocal and acting ability. Miller was acclaimed as a first-rate comedienne when she returned to Broadway in the Irving Berlin-Moss Hart revue As Thousands Cheer (1933). During the run, she married chorus dancer Chester O'Brien. Increasingly heavy drinking and a series of crippling sinus and jaw infections forced her to stop performing. Months of costly but inept medical care contributed to Miller's death at age 37. She is buried with first husband Frank Carter in New York's Woodlawn Cemetery.
Liza achieved full-fledged stardom when Bob Fosse cast her as "Sally Bowles" in the screen version of Kander and Ebb's Cabaret (1972) a performance that garnered the Academy Award for Best Actress. That same year, Minnelli teamed with Fosse for the TV concert Liza With a Z. (The Kander-Ebb title tune provided a witty solution to people mispronouncing Liza's name.) When illness forced Gwen Verdon to temporarily leave the cast of Kander and Ebb's Chicago (1975), Liza caused a sensation by stepping into the part of Roxie for several weeks. She worked with her father on the disappointing film A Matter of Time (1976), and starred as singer "Francine Evans" in Martin Scorcese's ambitious musical New York, New York (1977). The film was poorly received, but Kander and Ebb's title tune became one of Liza's trademarks.
Minnelli won her second Tony for Best Actress in a Musical playing "Michelle Craig" in Kander and Ebb's The Act (1978), and then wowed audiences with a series of concert tours. However, an increasing dependence on alcohol and drugs took a toll, and she was not at her best when she co-starred with Chita Rivera in Kander and Ebb's The Rink (1984). Minnelli made the first of many attempts at treatment, initiating an ongoing yo-yo pattern of descent and recovery. Acclaimed concert runs at Carnegie Hall and the London Palladium echoed her mother's triumphs decades before. Some fans cheered when Liza took over the title role in Broadway's Victor/Victoria (1997). Health problems and weight fluctuations plagued her in the years that followed. By the time she played Broadway's Palace in Minnelli on Minnelli (2000), she looked and sounded like a Liza impersonator. In 2002, Liza was svelte and radiant for her fourth wedding (to a concert promoter & collector of Judy Garland memorabilia). Her subsequent concert tours and bitter divorce were major disappointments to all but her most rabid fans. She returned to Broadway in Liza's at the Palace (2009), which won a Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event.
Minnelli honed his cinematic talents by contributing designs and directing scenes for various films, making his official directorial debut with the impressive screen version of Cabin in the Sky (1943). His Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) was a gorgeous bit of Americana and one of Judy Garland's biggest hits. Although many sources indicate that Minnelli was at least bisexual, he married Garland. Their daughter Liza Minnelli was born in 1946, and the often troubled marriage ended five years later. He would marry three more times
Minnelli directed eleven more musicals for MGM, including three all-time classics the Academy Award winning An American in Paris (1951), The Band Wagon (1953), and the Academy Award winning Gigi (1958). His films exhibited a stunning overall sense of visual style, marked by an extraordinary use of color and sweeping crane shots. Along with many non-musicals, his later films include On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970) starring Barbra Streisand, and the muddled A Matter of Time (1976), starring his daughter Liza. A lifelong heavy smoker, he spent his final years plagued by emphysema and bouts of pneumonia, as well as the effects of Alzheimer's disease, and died at age 83.
After appearing in Olsen and Johnson's zany Broadway revue Sons O' Fun (1941), Miranda was featured in more than a dozen lavish musical films. Fans enjoyed her outrageous accent and equally outrageous costumes, including an eye-filling array of fruit-laden headdresses. Her most memorable musicals included Springtime in the Rockies (1942), The Gang's All Here (1943), Greenwich Village (1944), Copacabana (1947) and A Date With Judy (1948). Miranda's hit songs included "Cuanto Le Gusta", "Chica Boom Chic" and "The Lady With the Tutti Frutti Hat." When the number of musical films declined in the 1950s, Miranda continued performing on television and in nightclubs. She suffered a heart attack while performing on Jimmy Durante's NBC variety show, but completed the broadcast and died after suffering a second heart attack at home that evening. She was 46 years old. The Brazilian government declared a period of national mourning, and Miranda's funeral in Rio de Janeiro was attended by more than half a million people.
Since his specialty was movement, of people, sets, etc, Mitchell left the direction of dialogue to others. Beginning with the record-setting A Trip to Chinatown (1891), he became known for staging numbers that gave every member of the ensemble a chance to shine. At a time when theatrical discipline was notoriously lax, Mitchell demanded professional behavior from his performers. Joe Weber and Lew Fields hired him to stage several of their popular burlesque musicals, and praised the way Mitchell whipped their unruly troupe of comic actors into shape. Rarely noticed by critics and theatergoers, Mitchell became the most sought-after stage director in the American musical theatre.
Mitchell's hits include The Wizard of Oz (1903) starring Montgomery and Stone, Victor Herbert's Babes in Toyland (1903), and the now-forgotten favorite The Pink Lady (1911). He is best remembered for staging seven editions of Florenz Ziegfeld's Follies, starting with the first in 1907. With these productions, Mitchell and Ziegfeld helped to define the Broadway musical revue, and Mitchell is credited with inventing the "production number" with his innovative use of the Follies' dancing ensembles. All told, Mitchell worked on an amazing total of more than 75 Broadway musicals. He fell ill while working as assistant director of Ziegfeld's No Foolin' (1926), and died on that show's opening night.
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