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The Life of the Party

The Life of the Party(1937)

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teaser The Life of the Party (1937)

The Life of the Party (1937) features a stacked cast of musical-comedy talent. At the top, there's Gene Raymond, who plays a man that stands to inherit millions if he waits until he's thirty to marry. The only problem is he's fallen for an aspiring singer played by Harriet Hilliard (AKA Harriet Nelson of Ozzie and Harriet fame). Joe Penner arrives on the scene as a rival to Raymond and Margaret Dumont joins the fun as Penner's socialite mother. The cast is rounded out by comic supporting player Billy Gilbert as the orchestra leader, along with a dancing Ann Miller in an early role.

The Life of the Party marked Miller's fifth appearance in a movie. In her first two films, Anne of Green Gables (1934) and The Good Fairy (1935), she was still underage and cast as a child extra. Then she found work as a chorus girl in The Devil on Horseback (1936). Miller's big break came when RKO signed her to a contract and quickly placed her in a specialty tap number in New Faces of 1937 (1937). To everyone's delight, the film and Miller were a success. She would later recall the elation of the moment, saying, "so terrifically did I score in my screen bow in New Faces that I was immediately cast in two more pictures, one called The Life of the Party and the other Stage Door."

Miller takes the spotlight for two dance numbers in The Life of the Party; she taps her way through "Chirp a Little Ditty" sung by Betty Jane Rhodes and "Yankee Doodle Band" performed by Harriet Hilliard and Joe Penner. Miller also pulled off her first line of dialogue in the film with the quip, "Get hot! Go to town!" For Miller, the line marked a milestone. "At last," she remarked," I was also an actress-as well as a dancer."

The script for The Life of the Party was based on a story by Joseph Santley. Best known as a director, Santley made his feature debut as co-director on the Marx Bros. film The Cocoanuts (1929). Among his other directorial credits are the Gene Raymond-Ann Sothern comedy Walking on Air (1936); the Rita Hayworth musical Music in My Heart (1940); and the war-drama Remember Pearl Harbor (1942). Santley also contributed to many of the screenplays he directed and, in the case of The Life of the Party, he found himself collaborating with a legendary songwriting team Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby.

Kalmar and Ruby had joined forces as a songwriting duo in the days of vaudeville. The team scored their first major success with the tune "Who's Sorry Now?" Other hits quickly followed including the famous standards "I Wanna Be Loved By You" (later performed by Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot [1959], "Three Little Words" and "A Kiss to Build a Dream On." The pair made the leap from Broadway to Hollywood in 1930 with the adaptation of their play The Ramblers, which was retitled The Cuckoos for the big screen. Another Kalmar-Ruby stage play, Animal Crackers, also made its way to the screen that same year.

Soon Kalmar and Ruby were not only racking up the credits for stage adaptations and songs, but they also began making original story and screenplay contributions. For example, the team received writing credit on another Marx Bros. picture, Horse Feathers (1932), the Eddie Cantor musical The Kid from Spain (1932), as well as Wheeler and Woolsey's Hips, Hips, Hooray! (1934). Kalmar and Ruby are also two of the credited screenwriters on The Life of the Party.

MGM would later turn out a tune-filled biopic on Kalmar and Ruby entitled Three Little Words (1950), starring Fred Astaire as Bert Kalmar and Red Skelton as Harry Ruby.

Producer: Edward Kaufman, Samuel J. Briskin
Director: William A. Seiter
Screenplay: Joseph Santley, Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby, Viola Brothers Shore
Cinematography: J. Roy Hunt
Film Editing: Jack Hively
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase
Music: George Jessel, Herb Magidson, Ben Oakland, Roy Webb, Allie Wrubel
Cast: Joe Penner (Joe Penner), Gene Raymond (Barry Saunders), Harry Parke (Parky), Harriet Hilliard (Mitzi Martos), Victor Moore (Oliver Goodwin), Helen Broderick (Pauline).

by Stephanie Thames

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