Sunday, April 9, 2017

Hurray for 'Hollywood Hotel'

Review by Doug Gibson

I love the opening scene in "Hollywood Hotel," 1937, in which a perky, cute, girl next door type of hotel operator brightly says, "Hollywood Hotel!" The unnamed actress, in a few scenes, captures the innocent energy of this ensemble musical.

"Hollywood Hotel" is best known as the film that first featured the iconic song, "Hurray for Hollywood." The Busby Berkeley-directed film, lots of songs and Benny Goodman's band, is one of the type of films that were popular in the first decade after talkies replaced silent -- the upbeat, girl and guy makes good musicals with literally dozens of stars, billed and unbilled, in the cast. These films likely cheered up Depression era audiences, allowing escapism.

The plot involves handsome saxophonist Ronny Bowers (Dick Powell) who gets a 10-week contract from All-Star Pictures. He gets a great send off and once in Tinsel Town is shuffled aside. After Ronnie is used to be the escort of a stand in actress (Rosemary Lane) impersonating a temperamental star (Lois Lane) who won't go to her premiere, he's fired and paid off  by the studio after the angry star learns of the deception.

"Hollywood Hotel," however, is one of those films in which you know all's going to turn out well in the end. Ronnie becomes a singing waiter. He and the stand in are already falling in love, and a plan is hatched to make Bowers a star. He's allied in this by wisecracking, often disparaged photographer Fuzzy Boyle, played by the great Ted Healy, who tries his hand at being an agent to help Ronnie. 

Eventually, the path to stardom for Ronnie begins with an appearance at a popular radio show called Hollywood Hotel, hosted by Louella Parsons. Hollywood Hotel was a real show with actors recreating scenes. Parsons plays herself in the film.

I won't give away the rest of the plot except to say that at the end, Ronnie is re-signed by All Star Pictures at a higher salary! As mentioned, there are guest appearances galore by stars. I enjoyed seeing a pre-star Ronald Reagan as a radio broadcaster and veteran comedy character actor Hugh Herbert, with his "woo woos," as the temperamental star's father.


But my favorite character in the film, and the reason I'm reviewing it, is Ted Healy's Fuzzy Boyle, celebrity photographer turned celebrity agent. His comedy relief is more appropriate in this type of film than his still talented turn in the truly horrifying pre-code horror "Mad Love." He's wonderful in the role, with crackling dialogue and strong comic timing. An example is an early scene where photographer Boyle uses his wit to con his way past a guard who wants to keep him away from a celebrity shoot. The scene is as polished as any comedy team's best work and I wonder if Healy had honed such a scene long ago on vaudeville. Scenes of Healy loyally working the waiting tables with Bowers and trying to boost his career are very entertaining. So are his scenes as an unenthusiastic potential romantic partner of the strikingly odd but funny actress Mabel Todd. Attractive blonde Glenda Farrell also has a small role.

The one drawback is that Healy, still a young 40, looks 10 years older. He would die soon after his 41st birthday in December 1937. He was beaten badly in a brawl while out on the town. For years it was suspected that his injuries killed him. However, it is more likely that years of hard living and neglected health contributed more to his death. Healy biographer Bill Cassara noted in his recent biography that kidney failure was a major cause of his death.

UPDATE! Bill Cassara, in a mention on a Facebook post, has provided the answer to who plays the Hollywood Hotel operator: (she's actually in the credits).

"And now the "mystery woman" of the opening seconds can be revealed: It was Duane Thompson who also started off the radio program of "Hollywood Hotel" with the same cheerful opening. For Vernon Dent fans, she used to be Vernon's little leading lady when he starred in the Folly Comedies back in 1921. Her stage name then was 'Violet Joy.'" ... ME: I wasn't looking for the name Duane.

Below, watch the opening scene of "Hollywood Hotel, along with the pretty telephone operator.

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