In January 1944, MGM chief Louis B. Mayer happened to see a young crooner by the name of Frank Sinatra perform at a benefit concert for The Jewish Home for the Aged in Los Angeles.
According to Nancy Sinatra, Frank’s eldest daughter Mayer was so moved by her father’s soulful rendition of “Ol’ Man River”, that he made the decision right then and there to sign Sinatra to his studio.
Sinatra had been on the MGM payroll once before, singing with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in the Eleanor Powell vehicle “Ship Ahoy” (1942), although it is very likely that Mayer never bothered to see that film. Now that Frank was hot however, MGM made arrangements to buy half of his contract from RKO, with the final deal being signed in February of that year.
Being a contract player at the studio that boasted “more stars than there are in the heavens” gave Sinatra a sudden perspective regarding his own talents as a film performer. The “golden voice” that had sufficed at RKO was no longer enough to carry him through a picture.
As soon as he started working on his first MGM feature, George Sidney’s Technicolor musical comedy “Anchors Aweigh” (1945), he knew he was in over his head. He would still get to sing in the film, but he was also going to have to do something he had never done before: dance. And not just dance, but dance alongside none other than Gene Kelly.
Also a relative newcomer to the motion picture industry, Kelly was three years older than Sinatra and unlike anyone the young singer had met in Hollywood. Handsome, tough, cheerful and athletic, Gene Kelly was a walking paradox: a blue-collar jock who happened to be a superlative dancer, the opposite of the slim, ethereally elegant Fred Astaire, whom Sinatra thought was the class act of all time.
Sinatra was clearly intimidated by Kelly – not by his classiness, but by his sheer dancing ability. Fortunately for him, though, Kelly soon took the crooner under his wing and decided to transform him into a credible dancer. Since he was both starring in Anchors Aweigh and directing its dance sequences, Kelly figured that if he helped Sinatra rather than punish him, they would both come out the better for it. And there began the lifelong friendship between Francis Albert Sinatra of Hoboken and Eugene Curran Kelly of Pittsburgh.
They were an unlikely screen team, both a study in contrasts: the scrawny kid with the deep, deep voice and the athlete with a love for ballet. Together, Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly would make three films at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, musicals that have endured for over sixty years.

Anchors Aweigh
Their first union came in 1945, with “Anchors Aweigh.” This would be Kelly’s eight film since his screen debut only four years earlier, and by now he had such superstar clout that MGM was willing to try to strike a bargain with Walt Disney in an effort to borrow Mickey Mouse for an on-screen duet with their leading man. Disney balked at the deal, leaving Metro to make a quick substitution: Jerry Mouse. The two would unite for a dance sequence set to “The King Who Couldn’t Dance” – a live action/animation combo that’s become one of the most beloved moments in movie history and one that would soon become a Kelly trademark.
Sinatra, meanwhile, saw “Anchors” as his first major starring role.
Joe (Kelly) and Brooklyn (Sinatra) are a couple of sailors enjoying some well-earned shore leave in Hollywood. Both are eager for love, but their plans are sidetracked when they stumble upon Donald, a stubborn little boy who’s running away to join the Navy. The sailors are talked into seeing the boy home, where they meet his aunt, aspiring singer Susan. Brooklyn falls madly in love right away, and Joe, eager to help his pal, fast-talks his way into a heck of a whopper: they’ll arrange a meeting for her with pianist/conductor José Iturbi, whom Joe claims is an old friend.
The fellas must then figure out how to sneak onto the MGM lot and make this fictional meeting come true. Along the way, Joe winds up falling for Susan as well, while Brooklyn gets a change of heart when he meets a lovely waitress from his hometown. Joe’s afraid to admit his feelings to Brooklyn and Brooklyn’s afraid to do the same to Joe.
Sinatra and Kelly prove themselves to be an invaluable duo, each playing off the other with such breezy attitude that we’re convinced from the first frames that these are old pals.
Of course, the real centrepiece of “Anchors” is the music. The film makes the most of both stars’ diverse styles. Sinatra gets to croon his heart out on such ballads as “I Fall in Love Too Easily” and “The Charm of You”. Kelly, meanwhile, tackles lighter fare, going solo on “The King Who Couldn’t Dance.” When the two sing together, it’s on fast-paced dance numbers built around Kelly’s excellent choreography.
Kelly and Sinatra wouldn’t reunite until 1949.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Kelly, Sinatra, and Munshin play (respectively) Eddie, Dennis, and Nat, a trio of baseball superstars at the turn of the century. They’re dismayed to learn that their team has just been inherited by K.C. Higgins, who turns out to be – gasp! – a woman. But what a woman! K.C. is as beautiful as she is crazy about baseball. Once again, Kelly and Sinatra find themselves initially wooing the same gal, although Dennis quickly steps aside, finding himself the object of desire for devoted fan Shirley. (The scene where Shirley strong arms Dennis into romance, set to “It’s Fate, Baby, It’s Fate,” is one of the movie’s highlights.)
The story is rather lightweight, mainly a series of fluffy episodes built around key musical numbers. Eddie and Dennis are shown to have a vaudeville act in the off season, and late in the film, Eddie is talked into starring in his own musical showcase.
But it’s brilliant music and the comedy is a snap. The mix of romance, baseball, and turn-of-the-century nostalgia makes it a swell piece of colourful Americana.

On the Town

Kelly and Donen would graduate to the director’s chair(s) for their next project, “On the Town”, something of an East Coast update of “Anchors Aweigh.” This time, we get a trio of sailors – Gabey (Kelly), Chip (Sinatra), and Ozzie (Jules Munshin, one of several “Ball Game” elements returning here) – enjoying 24 hours leave in the Big Apple. The shorter time span gives the film a hectic, City-That-Never-Sleeps pace that makes the romance less believable yet more energetic; there’s an urgency to this movie, from the very first scene, when a mad rush of sailors interrupt a dock worker’s quiet morning.
The story is fuelled by the fellas’ discovery of “Miss Turnstiles,” a subway poster gal that becomes the object of Gabey’s one-day obsession. The sailors agree to help Gabey scour the city looking for her. Along the way, Chip catches the eye of female cabbie Brunhilde, and Ozzie meets Claire, a scientist turned on by the Navy man’s brutish ways.
Will they find Miss Turnstiles? And if they do, will she agree to a night on the town? Of course they do, and of course she does, although it’s more complicated than that, especially once Brunhilde’s man-hungry sad sack roommate Lucy enters the picture.
With Donen and Kelly at the musical helm, it’s no surprise that the song-and-dance numbers are top notch. Boosting the production value is MGM’s decision to allow for location shooting – making this the first movie musical to shoot on the streets of New York.
Such sights add an extra visual oomph to the proceedings, with the city portrayed in a near-mythological light. The film’s opening number, “New York, New York,” is a manic, glorious tour of the metropolis, with all the city’s key landmarks presented as must-see gems.
Kelly also manages to sneak in one of his patented mid-movie ballet fantasies, the sort of Technicolor marvel that push the limits of what a movie musical could be, later making “An American in Paris” and “Singin’ in the Rain” classics of the genre.
Here, Gabey envisions of the day’s events as a three-act ballet set to the music of Leonard Bernstein. Musically, it’s a winner, although it’s ultimately not as polished as his later works, mainly because the technical aspects of the sequence require stand-ins for all of the movie’s stars, which ultimately makes the scene feel more like a cinematic gimmick than a natural extension of the movie.
“On the Town” would go on to win the Oscar for Best Scoring of a Musical, and more importantly, it would become one of the most fondly remembered films for both of its stars.
Sinatra and Kelly never made another movie together, but their three collaborations stand as wonderful examples of enchanting light entertainment from the golden age of Hollywood musicals.

That’s Entertainment!

25 years later, Sinatra and Kelly would reunite again as hosts on That’s Entertainment!, a 1974 American compilation film released by MGM to celebrate the studio’s 50th anniversary.
The film turned the spotlight on MGM’s legacy of musical films from the 1920s through the 1950s, culling dozens of performances from the studio’s movies, and featuring archive footage of Judy Garland, Eleanor Powell, Lena Horne, Esther Williams, Ann Miller, Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Jeanette MacDonald, Cyd Charisse, June Allyson, Clark Gable, Mario Lanza, William Warfield, and many others.
Various segments were hosted by a succession of the studio’s legendary stars: Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Peter Lawford, Debbie Reynolds, Bing Crosby, James Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Rooney, Donald O’Connor, and Liza Minnelli, representing her mother Judy Garland.
The host segments for That’s Entertainment! constitute some of the final footage to be captured on the famous MGM backlot, which appears ramshackle and rundown in 1973, because MGM had sold the property to developers and the sets were about to be demolished. Several of the hosts, including Bing Crosby, remark on the crumbling conditions during their segments; the most notable degradation can be seen when Fred Astaire revisits the ruins of a train station set that had been used in the opening of The Band Wagon two decades earlier, and when Peter Lawford revisits exteriors used in his 1947 musical Good News.
The title of the film derives from the anthemic song “That’s Entertainment!”, by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz, introduced in the 1953 MGM musical The Band Wagon.
“New York, New York” is a song from the 1944 musical On the Town and the 1949 MGM musical film of the same name. The music was written by Leonard Bernstein and the lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
It is not to be confused with the “Theme from New York, New York”, originally performed by Liza Minnelli and later popularised by Sinatra (“Start spreadin’ the news, I’m leaving today”).

New York, New York!
It’s a helluva town!

We’ve got one day here and not another minute
To see the famous sights!

We’ll find the romance and danger waiting in it
Beneath the Broadway lights;
But we’ve hair on our chests
So what we like the best are the nights
Sights! Lights! Nights!

New York, New York, a helluva town.
The Bronx is up, but the Battery’s down.
The people ride in a hole in the groun’.
New York, New York, it’s a helluva town!

The famous places to visit are so many,
Or so the guidebooks say.
I promised Daddy I wouldn’t miss on any.
And we have just one day.
Got to see the whole town
From Yonkers on down to the Bay.

In just one day!

New York, New York, a visitor’s place,
Where no one lives on account of the pace,
But seven millions are screaming for space.
New York, New York, it’s a visitor’s place!

Manhattan women are dressed in silk and satin,
Or so the fellas say;
There’s just one thing that’s important in Manhattan,
When you have just one day;
Gotta pick up a date…

Maybe seven…
Or eight
On your way.

In just one day!

New York, New York, a helluva town.
The Bronx is up, but the Battery’s down.
The people ride in a hole in the groun’.
New York, New York, it’s a helluva town!!

Source: David Cornelius

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