“I’m like the guy throwing quarters in the slot machine. I keep on trying.” ( Joan Crawford as Janie Barlow )
In the idyllic dancing world of Fred Astaire lived Ginger Rogers, Jane Powell and Judy Garland among many others, but before those immaculate partners was Joan Crawford, who shared his first dance and would become lifelong friends.
The start of this glorious friendship and tenure as a motion picture actor was nothing more than sheer coincidence and a stroke up luck. In fact if it weren’t for Joan Crawford, the legend known as Fred Astaire may have never materialized, but luckily because of Crawford cinema was greeted with this extraordinary talent that has continued to entertain audiences for generations.
Joan Crawford who was certainly no stranger to dance halls and night life had gotten to know Fred Astaire when he was still touring the theatrical circuit with his sister, Adele. Joan had seen them perform numerous times on stage and occasionally asked them over to dinner. After witnessing several performances that was forever etched in her memory, Joan knew that Fred Astaire possessed enough power and energy to be a reputable figure in Hollywood, and the rest they say is history.
Warner Bros. may have attained victory in 1933 with their lavish musicals, 42nd Street and Gold Diggers Of 1933, but MGM proved that they can be just as successful when it came to churning out sumptuous musical extravaganzas that feature larger than life stars.
Metro Goldwyn Mayer was the home of many cinematic legends from the stratosphere of film. A year after the Oscar winning, Grand Hotel, MGM decided to repeat the all-star cast power with Dancing Lady, a backstage musical that was directed by, Robert Z. Leonard and featuring Joan Crawford and Clark Gable in their fourth collaboration.
At the time that Dancing Lady went into finalization, Clark Gable was currently a hot commodity on the MGM lot. Prior to filming Night Flight, Gable had generated success by teaming with Joan Crawford in three vehicles. To enhance his reputation and for publicity reasons, Louis B. Mayer had decided to cast Gable in the David O. Selznick production, Dancing Lady.
During filming of Dancing Lady, Joan Crawford was romantically involved with Franchot Tone, who played, Tod Newtown in the film. Two years later, Crawford and Tone married shortly after Dangerous had wrapped in 1935.
While Joan Crawford was euphoric about Dancing Lady, Clark Gable was less enthused. He didn’t like the idea of playing a role that didn’t mirror his personality at all, and rather than portraying a character that doesn’t result in anything, Gable would have much preferred a role that would embellish his box office appeal. Joan Crawford however was eager to work in a picture that would illustrate her talents as a dancer. She was also vigorously excited because she had succeeded in getting Fred Astaire a part in the film and bringing his ingenious craft to the fore in what is now known as his film debut.
Based on James Warner Bellah’s critically acclaimed novel, Dancing Lady chronicles the events of Janie Barlow ( Joan Crawford ) a youthful dancer with a formidable past whose career expedites when she is rescued from prison by Tod Newton ( Franchot Tone ) an entrepreneur who is smitten by her charms and offers her a placement in a Broadway musical ran by Patch Gallagher ( Clark Gable ) that he plans to finance.
Occupying Joan Crawford’s resume at the time were pictures about a poor working class girl who climbs the ladder to success and marries into society. Instead of the usual formula, Dancing Lady is a story of an aspiring dancer who hails from the wrong side of the tracks and ascends to super stardom when she is hired for her adept talents in a show that is headed to Broadway.
Joan Crawford inhabited all the right ingredients for the role. In real life before she embarked on her motion picture career, young Lucille LeSueur had her mind fixated on the idea of becoming a dancer. As a child, Joan spent most of her days dancing around the house with little recognition from her mother and brother, who just put it down to pent-up energy and hyperactivity, but Lucille who was determined to surpass her family knew exactly what avenue she wanted to follow. This strong aspiration to dance almost got shattered when six year old Lucille stepped on a broken bottle outside and injured her foot, which meant at the time that her dancing days may be over. For a while the thought deeply upset Lucille, but due to her tenacious spirit the accident remedied, and before she knew it, Lucille LeSueur quickly grew up and began dancing as a chorus girl in travelling revues.
As her career progressed, Joan Crawford yearned for heavy dramatic parts that would epitomize her potential as an actress. In Dancing Lady however, Crawford returned to her roots as a dancer and perfectly executed her role as Janie Barlow, the ambitious dancer who scales to the top and becomes embroiled in an onerous relationship that soon evolves into an abstruse triangle of love.
In addition to Joan Crawford, Dancing Lady spotlights a stellar cast, which includes memorable appearances by The Three Stooges and Nelson Eddy in his film debut. Clark Gable was lauded for his portrayal of Patch Gallagher, the cantankerous director of the proposed Broadway show who at first repudiates and rebuffs Janie Barlow who is trying her hardest to approach him about a part in his latest show.
On it’s release, Dancing Lady was a financial success and was rated among the top sellers of 1933. The New York Times stated, “It is for the most part quite a lively affair…. The dancing of Fred Astaire and Miss Crawford is most graceful and charming. The photographic effects of their scenes are an impressive achievement….Miss Crawford takes her role with no little seriousness.”, while other reviews extolled Crawford for her magnetic chemistry with Fred Astaire.
Dancing Lady is a delightfully charming musical that focuses on the many facets of dance and the altercations that Janie Barlow encounters on her way to potential success. For many viewers the most laudable part of the production is the spectacular performance at the films finale where Joan dances with Fred Astaire, but for a plethora of other people it’s the notable songs that make Dancing Lady an unforgettable film experience.
Eve Arden has a bit part in the film. In one memorable scene, she plays an actress faking a Southern accent. Twelve years later, she and Joan Crawford teamed for the noir classic “Mildred Pierce” which won Crawford a Best Actress Oscar and Arden a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.
Fred Astaire wore his classic top hat and tails this film, his first.
Joan Crawford: Born Lucille Fay LeSueur on March 23rd, 1904, 1905, 1906 or 1908 in San Antonio, Texas. Died: May 10th, 1977 in New York. Cause of death: Pancreatic Cancer/ Heart attack. To this day Joan’s birth year remains a mystery.
Clark Gable: Born William Clark Gable on February 1st, 1901 in Cadiz, Ohio. Died: November 16th, 1960 in West Hollywood, California. Aged 59. Cause of death: Coronary Thrombosis.
Franchot Tone: Born Stanislaus Pascal Franchot Tone on February 27th, 1905 in Niagara Falls, New York. Died: September 18th, 1968 in New York. Aged 63. Cause of death: Lung Cancer.