It's You! It's Who? Handy Footnotes For DAMES AT SEA's Name-Dropping Love Song
Love comes quickly in Dames at Sea. Not even two full pages of dialogue pass between the time when a handsome young sailor and a sweet young tap-dancer first glimpse at each other and when they start singing:
It isn't Jean Harlow, it isn't Greta Garbo,
It's you, it's you, it's you.
It's not Leslie Howard or even Noel Coward,
It's you, it's you, it's you.
When Dames at Sea premiered in 1966, the names in George Haimsohn and Robin Miller's lyric, were certainly familiar ones from the recent past and many of the stars mentioned were still alive and well with active careers.
But if your 21st Century knowledge of pop culture doesn't quite extend to the Busby Berkeley era, here are some quick footnotes to help you along:
JEAN HARLOW was Hollywood's first vampy superstar platinum blonde. In fact, she starred in the 1931 movie, PLATINUM BLONDE.
GRETA GARBO was the famously reclusive Swedish film star who was such a sensation in silent pictures that her first talkie, based on Eugene O'Neill's ANNA CHRISTIE, was advertised with the catchphrase, "Garbo Talks!" Here she is in the film, GRAND HOTEL.
LESLIE HOWARD was an elegant British stage and screen actor, perhaps best remembered as Henry Higgins in the 1938 film version of PYGMALION.
BERT WHEELER was half of the famed vaudeville comedy team Wheeler and Woolsey, early stars of talking pictures.
RUBY KEELER: This is the slyest reference in the song because she really is Ruby Keeler.
CLAUDETTE: Undoubtedly Claudette Colbert, stage and screen specialist in high comedy who won an Oscar for 1934's IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT.
CARY is certainly Cary Grant, the dashing British acrobat turned actor who was discovered by Mae West to be her leading man in SHE DONE HIM WRONG and I'M NO ANGEL. He teamed with Katharine Hepburn in the screwball comedies BRINGING UP BABY, HOLIDAY and THE PHILADELPHIA STORY.
JACK BENNY: A comedy icon out of vaudeville who achieved enormous popularity in radio and television for playing deadpan straight and being the butt of jokes about his being cheap and continually insisting that he's no older than 39. He also insisted on being a violin virtuoso.
MARY, is Mary Livingston, Jack Benny's wife who didn't consider herself an actress, but won fame playing a wisecracking version of herself on Benny's programs.
RICHARD ARLEN was an actor best known for westerns, but he also served in the Canadian Air Force during WWI and played a pilot in the 1927 Academy Award winner, WINGS.
SPANKY McFARLAND was a child star who won over film audiences as the chubby schemer in the Our Gang comedies, a/k/a The Little Rascals. He was not related to Elaine "Spanky" McFarlane, lead singer of the 1960s rock group Spanky and Our Gang.
AIMEE SEMPLE: Did you see Carolee Carmello in the Kathie Lee Gifford musical, SCANDALOUS? Yup, she was playing Aimee Semple McPherson, the first nationally known celebrity evangelist. Reno Sweeney in ANYTHING GOES was based on her.
SHIRLEY TEMPLE: Sometimes, people use her name to replace Brenda Frazier's when singing Sondheim's "I'm Still Here."
AMOS AND ANDY were the lead characters of the tremendously popular radio program, AMOS 'N' ANDY, created by and starring Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, two white actors with a background in minstrel shows playing a pair of bumbling black taxi drivers. In the 1950s the show was adapted for television with black actors Spencer Williams and Alvin Childress playing the roles, but despite high ratings it was cancelled due to pressure from the NAACP.
ORPHAN ANNIE and SANDY: Before 1977, this was the most famous song associated with Little Orphan Annie and her dog, Sandy:
THE BARRYMORE TRIO: Lionel, Ethel and John. Do you know which one Broadway's Barrymore Theatre was named after?
DOLORES DEL RIO: George S. Irving sang a naughty song about her in SO LONG, 174th STREET (a/k/a ENTER LAUGHING: THE MUSICAL), but she's better known as a beautiful Mexican actress who left Hollywood because of limited opportunities and helped promote the growth of cinema in her home country.
RUDY VALEE: Before The Beatles, before Elvis and even before Frank Sinatra, teen girls would swoon over the romantic crooning of bandleader Rudy Valee. He made a huge comeback in 1961 as Broadway's stuffy J.B. Biggley in HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING.
MARION TALLY, at age 19, became the youngest coloratura soprano to sing at The Met, but her performances didn't seem to match the publicity surrounding her and she quickly faded into obscurity within a few years.
CHARLES FARRELL was a film actor in the silent and early talkie eras, but achieved more popularity as a TV dad on the 1950s sitcom, MY LITTLE MARGIE.
NANCY CARROLL went from Broadway choruses to Hollywood stardom very quickly in the late 1920s, but earned a reputation for being uncooperative and fell into obscurity when Paramount decided not to renew her contract.
DAMES AT SEA stars John Bolton as The Captain/Hennesey, Mara Davi as Joan, Danny Gardner as Lucky, Eloise Kropp as Ruby,Laurence Olivier Award winner Lesli Margherita as Mona Kent, andCary Tedder as Dick. The original 1968 production of Dames at Sea launched the career of the young ingénue playing Ruby, Bernadette Peters. The Dames at Sea company includes Tessa Grady, Kristie Kerwin, Ian Knauer and Kevin Worley.
With a book and lyrics by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller, music by Jim Wise, orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, and music supervision and vocal & dance arrangements by Emmy Award winnerRob Berman (Irving Berlin's White Christmas, Finian's Rainbow), Dames at Sea is directed and choreographed by three time Tony Award nominee Randy Skinner (42nd Street, Irving Berlin's White Christmas).