In celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the Dorothy Starr Sheet Music Collection at San Francisco’s Main Library in Civic Center, Janet Roitz and Sean Martinfield present Ladies of the Nightclubs, a talk exploring songs from night club scenes in classic Hollywood films.
Click on the photo below to see our promo on YouTube:
Drawing upon Dorothy Starr’s vast collection of vocal sheet music, this presentation highlights the songs and singers from four films set in San Francisco: Nora Prentiss (1947), Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), Wharf Angel (1934) and San Francisco (1936). Roitz and Martinfield will preview their research documenting nightclub scenes as the iconic device for integrating songs into non-musical films during Hollywood’s golden age. Included are:
“Would You Like A Souvenir”
Music by M.K. Jerome; Lyrics by Jack Scholl and Eddie Cherkose
Nora Prentiss (Released 21 February 1947)
Directed by Vincent Sherman
Down on Fisherman’s Wharf, next to the steaming crab pots, Dinardo’s is a must-see nightspot for the City’s tourist trade. Owner Phil Dinardo (Robert Alda) runs the kind of cabaret where the men wear ties and ladies in cocktail hats keep their gloves on. Under the follow spot is Nora Prentiss, Phil’s resident chanteuse. She’s mingling among the tables with one of her best numbers, Would You Like A Souvenir. She knows how to work the innuendos. Seated alone across the room is the very comely doctor, Richard Talbot (Kent Smith). Last night, he happened to be at the crosswalk where she’d had a close encounter with a speedy truck driver. The impact was enough to knock her out. Good thing his office is nearby – she could be carried there for a more thorough look-see. His professional prognosis? Positive.
“I could do with a drink,” she told him. “You wouldn’t happen to have one around, would you?”
“I keep a little for medicinal purposes,” he replied, perhaps a little shame-faced.
She smiled. “That’s my brand.” And it’s the beginning of the end for the respectable but repressed physician – the one with the two noisy kids and too-busy wife – trapped in that luxurious image-conscious part of town known as The Sea Cliff.
Dr. Talbot is about to jump off with one of Film Noir’s best re-inventions – the Femme Fatale. The woman you never want to meet.
“The Glory of Love”
Music and Lyrics by Billy Hill (1936)
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Released 11 December 1967)
Directed by Stanley Kramer
Forty-seven minutes into the film, just at the point when all facets of “the situation” are about to detonate – director Stanley Kramer hits Pause and cuts to fiery real life nightclub singer, Jacqueline Fontaine. It’s Happy Hour at this sort-of-upscale avant garde San Francisco lounge created by Frank Tuttle at Sunset Gower Studios. Appearing as herself, this fast bit of editing turns Fontaine into a virtual Fairy Godmother – or, as might be devised in ancient drama, the God Machine. The Deus ex machina. In the next-to-last moment and at the most improbable of junctures, a god would descend in a cage-like device, posit a totally other line of thought, and conclude or divert the dramatic flow.
“You’ve got to give a little,” croons the big-haired, deep-throated contralto leaning way-over the keyboard, “take a little – before your poor heart breaks a little. That’s the story of, that’s the glory of love.”
With not even half the song and less than 30 seconds of actual screen time, the pistol-packin’ mama from Dalton’s Women (1950) and duet partner of a woozy Bing Crosby in The Country Girl (1954) – Jacqueline Fontaine gains immortality through a film that will stand the Test of Time.
Music and Lyrics by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger
Wharf Angel (Released 16 March 1934)
Directed by William Cameron Menzies and George Somnes
No matter the hour, the atmosphere down at the Barbary Coast Palace is always dark. Never without her worn-out plaid shawl, the proprietress (character great, Alison Skipworth) fits the profile of a “battle-ax”. But the merchant sailors drifting in and out of port appreciate that “Mom” caps her beer at 10¢ a bottle and for another nickel she’ll toss in a hot bowl of chowder. And about those girls upstairs, sort-of next door?
If the Law is on your tail, the sweet-faced blonde – the one they call “Toy” (Dorothy Dell) might hide you for nothin’. Like she did for Como Murphy (Preston Foster). He didn’t mean to kill the cop.
“I did something for a man,” says Como, wiping his bloody face. “That’s what happens when you try to help – you get hit for your trouble!”
And now? After shielding him, feeding him, nursing his wound? After totally falling for him? Toy gets slammed for her trouble. Como has hopped a fast boat to China. But he’s left a note – something about keeping her out of danger and coming back some day.
The girl has got it bad.
“And that ain’t good,” says Mom.
Obviously, going back upstairs is a bad idea. What to do, what to do?
Maybe she could find a job as a singer!
“We have with us tonight a young lady,” says the MC at the un-named club. The guys at the tables begin rumbling their discontent. Some might recognize her from hanging around Mom’s. “I said, ‘a lady’! – who says she can sing. We’ll see!”
Toy’s song, “Down Home”, echoes the mood of other early blues and slow jazz favorites of the time and her Harlem-brand of musicality catches everyone’s attention – for about two minutes, anyway. A few coins are tossed at her feet and then one of the rowdies shouts, “Alright! Let’s see your calves!”
The lady suddenly stops, steps over the money and heads to the exit.
“Some singer that is!”
At least one of them got it right.
“Love Me, and the World Is Mine” (Copyright 1906)
Music by Ernest Ball; Lyrics by Dave Reed Jr.
San Francisco (Released 26 June 1936)
Directed by W.S. Van Dyke
As the great clock on the City’s Ferry Building rings in 1906, soprano Mary Blake – a parson’s daughter from Benson, Colorado – is not at all happy about being caught in the middle of a giant drunken street party. The hotel where she’s been staying for the past few weeks – a notorious firetrap on DuPont Street – burnt to the ground about an hour ago.
Just enough time to grab her coat and purse!
But what if the Tivoli Opera calls about her audition?!
Oh, well! No chance of finding a room tonight.
Mary might as well go job-hunting.
The notorious Barbary Coast is the only area she hasn’t explored. The red light area gets really dicey, but many of the district’s saloons (especially those with gambling parlors) feature live music and employ a lot of pretty chorus girls. First stop – The Paradise.
“You know that tune?” asks the rakish owner, Blackie Norton (Clark Gable).
The band was playing After the Ball, then all of a sudden segued into this new song passing through the clubs – Love Me, and The World Is Mine. Mary has been prepping her Puccini repertoire, but she’s familiar with the catchy tune. And it will really show off her high-notes!
“Let’s hear it,” he says. (Maybe the dame will be right for his new show and really sell its climactic ballad – San Francisco.)
Mary clears her throat. It’s now or never. Two-three-four…
“Well, kid,” says Blackie, “you’ve got a pretty fair set of pipes.”
Join us Tuesday, May 10, 6–7pm in the Koret Theatre at the Main Library, Civic Center, San Francisco.
Click here for more information: Ladies of the Nightclubs