The Making of 'Mary Poppins
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“You cannot capture a man’s entire life in two hours. All you can hope is to leave the impression of one”.
The Helen Morgan Story (1957)
It was one of the most baffling decisions in the history of biopics. After a casting search described as the biggest since Scarlett O’Hara, Ann Blyth won the title role in The Helen Morgan Story. Having recently appeared in four musicals, Blyth seemed an ideal choice yet the role's vocals were instead provided by then-popular Gogi Grant. Whereas the operatic Blyth more closely matched Morgan's singing voice, Grant belted out the tunes at such volume it would have tempted Ethel Merman to reach for her earplugs.
But what tunes they were, including "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man”, “Bill”, “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and “The Man I Love". Though Blyth is hamstrung by the dubbing, she still manages to effectively sell each song. Yet she is unable to overcome the crippling effect that the biopic’s dreadful expositional dialogue has on her acting. Paul Newman, in one of his earliest roles, fares better as one of the film's many fictionalised elements.
The most poignant lines come from not from the script but from a poem recited by Blyth -
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!
This not only provided the film's title for its U.K release, but is also a more fitting epitaph than this biopic for a torch singer who died too soon.
as Helen Morgan
as Rudy Vallee
as Walter Winchell
Larry Maddux is a composite character of the many lovers in Morgan’s life.
Despite remaining single throughout the film, Helen Morgan was actually married three times.
Helen Morgan’s mother stipulated that, in exchange for five thousand dollars and access to her daughter’s career memorabilia, there would be no mention of the baby girl Helen Morgan gave up for adoption.
The testimonial featured at the film’s climax did not occur.
No scene recreations in this biopic as, like many elements of Helen Morgan’s life, her film career is glossed over.