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Robert Siegel's Golden Hollywood

Robert Siegel - Main Page

NOTE: The scans below are the property of Robert Siegel and The Digital Bits, and may not be
reposted without permission. Copyright of the images belongs to the respective studios.

In addition, please note that all the information contained within the text
is taken from ORIGINAL studio press materials, which may contain some errors.

March 31, 2009 is a very special day for musical fans who are owners of Blu-ray players. The first three classic, old-fashioned Hollywood musicals will be released on the format. Gigi, An American in Paris and South Pacific make their home video splash in high definition. And even more exciting, Gigi and South Pacific mark the first two classic musicals to be released with lossless audio soundtracks: DTS Master Audio for South Pacific and Dolby True HD for Gigi. What you might not expect is how much better they will sound compared to their compressed DVD counterparts. I had the chance to listen to some reel-to-reels that my good friend in Minneapolis made when these films came out. He recorded onto 4 track some sequences from Hello Dolly among other films. It is truly amazing how good many of these recordings actually were, and not so surprising how compression into Dolby Digital nearly destroyed that beautiful studio stereo sound. Well, now is your chance to grab 2 of the most famous musicals and hear what really exists on the stereo studio masters!


Film appreciation by Robert Siegel of The Digital Bits

Considered the last great achievement of the Freed unit at MGM headed by Arthur Freed, Gigi, the first of the releases we will cover on Golden Hollywood, contained music composed by Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe, the composers of My Fair Lady. An Arthur Freed production in Cinemascope and color. The picture stars Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier and Louis Jordan, with Herminone Gingold, Eva Gabor and Jacques Bergerac. It is based on the top-selling novel by Colette, with the screenplay written by Alan J. Lerner, and marked the reunion of Producer Freed and Director Vincente Minnelli, who teamed for the Academy Award winning An American in Paris (also due on blu-ray disc on the same day). Another coup upon the part of MGM was the signing of Cecil Beaton to create the settings and costumes for the film, marking this celebrated artist's first Hollywood venture. Beaton designed the costumes and stage decor for My Fair Lady among other plays, and was also renowned as official photographer for the Court of St. James.

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Gigi poster art

It was Arthur Freed who first suggested the musicalization of the Colette novella to Alan J. Lerner during the Philadelphia tryouts of My Fair Lady in 1954. Following this conversation, Freed was battling the Hays code to bring the movie to the screen. Colette's widower already had sold the rights to Gilbert Miller, who planned his own film production. Freed was finally able to secure the rights for over $90,000.00. Filming began in March of 1957. The subject of original interest for the starring role was Audrey Hepburn, who declined the role. Leslie Gigibut much earlier. Lerner jumped up and asked him what it was and if it was taken, and that is how the song Gigi was born. Upon arriving back in Hollywood after extensive filming in Paris, Freed was very unhappy with the filming that had been done at Maxim's. So MGM let him build a complete set on one of the sound stages, which was reportedly very expensive. Care was taken to re-produce the famous restaurant down to the fabric on the chairs.

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Gigi poster

The story of Gigi deals with an impressionable young girl brought up in the Paris of the turn of the century and taught the "facts of life" by her grandmother and an aunt, both of whom have lived a rich and full life without benefit of matrimony. Their attempts to persuade the independent-minded Gigi that champagne and jewels are more important than love backfire when the gawky young girl blossoms into a glamorous woman. And when the most eligible man in all of Paris falls under her spell, Gigi is able to prove that love can triumph over all. Filmed largely on location in Paris, Gigi offers a backdrop of the world's most beautiful and romantic city, highlighted by scenes in the Bois de Boulogne, the Palalis de Glace, Maxim's restaurant, the Tuileries and Place De L'Opera. Gigi was a 1944 novella by French writer Colette, which was the basis for a 1948 French film and was then adapted for the stage in 1951 by Anita Loos. It would be six years after the play opened that MGM would begin production on the film.

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Academy screening Invitation
October 10, 2008: The Academy hosts the 50th Anniversary Screening attended by Leslie Caron.

Of all the sequences in the picture, the one most difficult to film was the gala at Maxim's. The management obligingly closed the restaurant for the first time since its founding (excepting a period during the war) but this was merely the initial hurdle. Cameraman Joseph Ruttenberg had other problems. The mirrored walls made photographing a very tricky proposition. Ruttenberg had his troubles with the beautiful glass dome of the famous eatery too. His enthusiasm to film it dimmed upon discovering how valuable it was and how precarious back-lighting it would be. However, French crew was undaunted. It was more than they could bear that such a pretty bit of Paris be overlooked. After promising extra-special care in placing the lights, they finally, after months of requests, persuaded Ruttenberg to shoot the ceiling. The cameraman's worst fears were realized when he arrived the following day and found several of the colored panes broken. "But monsieur, we have nothing to do with this," reassured one of the electricians. "This is champagne damage. Last night, a couple of onlookers opened some bottles, the corks popped up too high, and viola." While Ruttenberg was busy fussing with his light meter, Director Vincente Minnelli had a Chinese puzzle of his own: how to squeeze 88 actors into a room where 60 is considered capacity. He loved it, and without seriously cramping anybody's style. Elbow room may have been at a premium in these scenes but food was not. The players dined on Maxim's superb duck, lobster and chicken and the wine was the real Chablis. Contributing another note of authenticity were the waiters, honest-to-goodness Maxim's men used with special permission of the French Extras Association. From Maxim's the company moved to the Palais de Glace ice rink on the Champs Elysees. Usually closed during the summer, the hundred-year-old structure was redecorated and a new ice-making plant was installed in time for the pre-season filming. While at the rink, some grips worked on skates, and three men did nothing but swab down the underside of the balcony to keep it free from condensation. Why? Ice water trickling down an actor's neck doesn't inspire a superior performance.

For the colorful "Battle of Flowers," a re-enactment of an outdated Parisian custom in which bloom-be-decked carriages and floats pass in parade, 13 men worked all night to dress vehicles with fragile lilies, gladiolas, violets, mimosa, dahlias, lilacs and poppies. All in all, more than 2,000,000 blossoms were used in this Bois de Boulogne spectacle. In fact, one of the most thorough photographic coverages of Paris is in Gigi. Against all of these backdrops were filmed scenes of both romance and revelry, the latter including a colorful Masked Ball.

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Gigi publicity still
MGM Publicity still of Leslie Caron

Leslie Caron, formerly of the Ballet De Paris, Ballet des Champs and many dancing roles in movies, was given the title role in Gigi. Miss Caron had scored a success on the London stage in Gigi (without the score). During post-production in an interview, she explained her reasons for turning her back on the glittering world of balled theater. "The life of a ballerina is lonely. Your life must be dedicated to the ballet. There is neither time nor place for outside interests. One's life is not one's own. It belongs instead to a shadowy world where one sleeps only because one is exhausted, then begrudges even these few hours of rest. A ballerina thinks only of her dancing. She eats only the foods that will give her energy, lives only for her next performance, and the next and the next. Always there is a drive to reach perfection. When, and if this state is attained, comes the striving to perfect perfection. It never ends. But I don't regret the years of my life spent in the ballet. It was dancing that gave me the chance to act. My experience as an actor is all to the good. It was wonderful training for all that I want to be now." On the set of Gigi, when Miss Caron was not required for a scene, she was usually perched beside the camera, next to Director Vincente Minnelli, an interested and attentive observer. "I love acting," she declared on the set, "It is a richer field than ballet because it is more varied. There are only so many ballet steps, only so many routines. In acting there are thousands of emotional combinations. It is elastic where the ballet is ridged." Miss Caron went on to make such films as Fanny and has worked as late as 2006 when she guest starred in a special Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode. In between that time she made many movie and tv appearances.

Gigi also stars Louis Jourdan, who was also a studio returnee, having appeared at MGM with Grace Kelly in The Swan and with Doris Day in Julie. He was born in France in 1919 with the name Louis Gendre. He was trained as an actor at Ecole Dramatique. Following the German occupation, he continued to make films but refused to be involved in Nazi propaganda pictures, so he joined the French resistance. His father was arrested by the Gestapo. It was not until 1947 that he accepted an offer from Hollywood to star in The Paradine Case, which was an Alfred Hitchcock drama that starred Gregory Peck. He did several pictures and then tried his hand at the Broadway stage in the Billy Rose drama The Immortalist. His first movie lead came with The Bride is Too Beautiful. It was this that led MGM to see his talents as a lead and cast him in Gigi. He would have a hard life that began in France during the occupation and in 1981 when his only child died of a drug overdose. He retired after a role in the 1982 feature Year of the Comet and is living in the south of France.

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Gigi publicity stillGigi publicity still

Gigi publicity stillGigi publicity still
Rare B&W publicity stills from the MGM Publicity Department.

Gigi would be realized as very good material for a Broadway musical. In 1973, producers Saint Subber and Edwin Lester worked with Broadway theater owners the Nederlanders to bring the show to the stage. The presentation was directed by Joseph Hardy and choreographed by Onna White. Taking the stage would be Alfred Drake, Daniel Massey, Agnes Moorehead took to the stage with a new Gigi, Karin Wolfe. Many of the popular songs from the movie score were retained, and several new songs were added. All was in place for a winning show with well-known names but unfortunately, Gigi was a poor production scaled back and did not have the wonderful scenery of Paris and it's world as a backdrop. Also scaled down was the scenery which, it was written, was very poor. Also playing Broadway around this time were the new style of shows that did not rely on the old-fashioned musical numbers. Sondheim was coming into his own soon and Broadway was a different place in the 1970's. Perhaps had the show been produced in the late 1950's or early 1960's, the results might have been different. Nevertheless, an original cast album was made (later released on CD). The show premiered at the Uris Theater on November 13, 1973 (after 7 previews) and ran for only 103 performances closing February 19, 1974.

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Broadway cast albumBroadway poster
L to R: 1973 Gigi Broadway Cast Album and Broadway Poster

The release of Gigi to motion picture theaters was filled with much fanfare. The first preview was in January 1958 in Santa Barbara. The results were an 88% approval rate but that was not enough for Freed. He convinced MGM that twenty minutes of cuts be done and a few of the sequences re-shot, costing an additional $500,000. MGM would send into high gear its famous publicity department and according to an original press kit from the film, was to be hailed as the most original Hollywood musical with talent spreading wide from Broadway to Hollywood. The original release had reserved seating at many theaters including the Royale in New York, and one would have to order tickets in advance, which at the time were $2.50 for the film. Seats went on sale ten weeks in advance, with MGM issuing radio spots on the most popular radio networks. Sheet music for every song and some of the underscore were issued, along with twelve different albums in addition to the soundtrack. Included were representations by the Dick Hyman Trio, David Rose plays Music from Gigi, Dancing with Gigi and Gigi by Shorty Rodgers and his Giants (a jazz rendition). The songs by Lerner and Loewe were recorded by dozens of artists from Dean Martin to Frank Sinatra and Doris Day, and over thirty 45rpm singles were released by different record companies. Not only was the music promoted but the fashion. It became popular at some of the world's biggest department and clothing stores, featuring window displays of "Fashions of Gigi available here." In Paris, travel bureaus and agencies created special Gigi tours, which were promoted heavily in the United States. One company actually sold a Gigi trip in which twelve locations were the main attraction. Signet released a special edition book that graced the windows of bookstores everywhere. Magazines such as Bride's, very popular at the time, featured cover stories and ties were made with MGM to over two hundred bridal shops in the United States. On February 27, 1996 Rhino Records released an extended soundtrack CD which would contain all of the songs from the original masters and better yet, they included the complete underscore to make this a wonderful soundtrack release.

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Gigi soundtrack

Soundtrack coverVarious albums
L to R: Gigi soundtrack back cover and album label, Soundtrack cover
and various album releases inspired by the film

When Gigi opened at the Royale Theater in New York on May 15, 1958, it achieved glorious reviews from Variety, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and almost every other newspaper in the country, along with the massive promotional push by MGM, Gigi became a household word. The soundtrack went gold and three songs graced the top ten charts. In 1991 Gigi was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." It was also ranked #35 in the American Film Institute's AFI 100 Years 100 Passions. A few interesting facts: At a reception in 1958 for Britain's Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery, the president ordered a screening of Gigi. Previous to that, the Eisenhowers had previewed a few weeks before with so much pleasure that it was shown a total of five times for the wives of Cabinet members.

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Rare Gigi poster art

Rare Gigi poster artRare Gigi poster art
Gigi posters, including rare foreign mod-style artwork.

DVD & Blu-ray Disc Release Details:

Theatrical Release: May 15, 1958 in New York by MGM

Filming Locations: Paris, France

Category: Musical/Romance

Original Running Time: 116 minutes

Original Specs: Cinemascope 2:35:1, 4-track magnetic stereo

Soundtrack on LP, CD: LP: MGM Records E3641ST, CD: Rhino 7-1962 Expanded Edition with Underscore

Awards: Academy Awards: Won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Music (Original Song), Best Scoring and Best Screenplay; Director's Guild of America: Best Director; Golden Globes: won Best Motion Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress (Hermione Gingold); Grammy Awards: Best Soundtrack Album; Writers Guild of America: Best Written American Musical

Blu-ray Disc Release: March 31, 2009

Blu-ray Disc Specs: Audio: English Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital Mono, French Dolby Digital Stereo, Italian Dolby Digital Mono, German Dolby Digital Mono; Subtitles: English, Spanish, French, Japanese, Italian, German, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish

DVD Release: January 2003, Special Edition: September 16, 2008

DVD Specs: Special Edition Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital Mono
Click here to order Gigi on DVD from Amazon

Click here to order Gigi on Blu-ray from Amazon

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