Anatomy of a Song, Top 5

Anatomy of a Song: Isn’t It Kinda Fun

The classic musical State Fair (1945/1962) brings a number of classic vocal standards to movie screens. When looking at both movies in comparison songs like “It Might As Well Be Spring” and “It’s a Grand Night for Singing” feel very standard in their depiction. These musical numbers are examples of timeless, mid-century Americana. Interestingly, this isn’t the case for “Isn’t It Kinda Fun”. The catchy tune features prominently between both film versions. However, while there are relatively few changes within the lyrics and overall structure of the song, the staging and delivery of the number allows an examination of the massive cultural changes in the almost twenty years separating these movies.

Our cinematic introduction to “Isn’t It Kinda Fun” comes in the 1945 film version of State Fair. A centrepiece of the movie, the song is showcased as a duet between Wayne Frake (Dick Haymes) and Emily (Vivian Blaine).

The performance in the movie serves two primary roles. Perhaps most importantly is the song’s purpose in developing one of State Fair’s main romantic pairings. Emily is a traveling showgirl and nightclub singer and it is through this song that she’s truly able to connect with innocent farm boy Wayne.

Secondly, the number is also an important character moment for Wayne. Throughout much of the narrative, he struggles to establish himself as anything more than a clueless hick in the eyes of Emily’s “show-business” friends. Haymes was a crooner by trade and he feels much more comfortable as a singer than with his acting. He shines in the moment, and this shows in the audiences’ reaction around him. As such, “Isn’t It Kinda Fun” helps establish Wayne as a serious contender for Emily’s affections. Though, as per usual for most post-WWII musicals, any sexual chemistry is largely absent.

The one thing that is clear from this music number is that in 1945 “Isn’t It Kinda Fun” is a standard work of Hollywood fair. It’s clean, polished and feels very similar to other numbers of the time.

The song later makes a reappearance in the all-star, 1962 remake of the same name. In this version, the song is repurposed as a showcase for Emily (Ann-Margret) during one of her shows at the state fair. The song takes the place of “That’s for Me” which is also sung by Emily (Blaine) in the 1945 version.

The changes to this number demonstrate the cultural evolution affecting the gold, old-fashioned Americana of the Hollywood musical. The song which is presented in 1945 as a standard vocal ballad is “Ann-Margret-ized” in 1962. Emily performs it on-stage as a dumb-struck Wayne (Pat Boone) watches from the audience below her. It is sultry and fiery, making use of not only Ann-Margret’s strength as a singer and dancer, but also her undeniable sexuality.

The first State Fair came as America struggled to return to normalcy at the end of World War II. Servicemen were returning from overseas and couples were anxious to return to life as it was. Meanwhile, the second movie comes from a drastically different cultural period. The 1960s were a time of substantial social upheaval. In the years surrounding this movie’s release, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique hit newsstands as well as the (equally important) Sex and The Single Girl by Helen Gurley Brown. Views towards sexuality (and women in general) were changing, and this fact is evident in the music number. The choice of song (as well as actress) deliberately shows how culture shifted and evolved in the twenty-years following the end of the second World War.

While the 1962 version of State Fair hasn’t survived the passage of time as well as the original film, the remake is definitely worth a watch. The similarities and differences the depiction of songs like “Isn’t It Kinda Fun” shows how society changed since the release of the 1945 State Fair.

Top 5

Top 10: Hot Retro TV Men (Pre-1970)

Okay, yes, the men of classic TV weren’t that progressive. In fact, some of these dudes are downright problematic. However, that’s not my focus here. I’m stepping back into my television wayback machine to look at some of my ideas on the hottest men of classic TV… this started out as a Top 5, and quickly became a Top 10 when I realized there were far too… many…. choices.

(Get ready for a dark and twisted trip into my psyche).

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1.) Donald Hollinger- That Girl

What do I say about Donald Hollinger? I’m not even sure how old I was when I saw my first episode of That Girl. He’s lovable, adorable and a perfect supportive boyfriend to Marlo Thomas’ Ann Marie.

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2.) Todd Stiles (Martin Milner)- Route 66

I came to Route 66 backwards. I actually fell hard for Martin Milner the first time I watched Adam-12 on TVLand. So, you could color me interested when I discovered Milner starred in a show before that one. To make things even more delightful, it featured Milner and the equally attractive George Maharis driving a gorgeous car through the desert. As Todd Stiles, Milner brings his traditional likability in spades… he’s a good guy, and that’s part of what makes him so attractive. That’s even before you get to his smile, and eyes that don’t quit.

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3.) Dr. Alex Stone- The Donna Reed Show

Now, don’t get me wrong… Alex is terrible. When watching the nostalgic 1950s sitcom through a contemporary lens, he’s really everything which is wrong with masculinity in the 1950s. However, he’s also everything which is desireable with 1950s masculinity… chiseled jaw, gorgeous eyes, matinee idol good-looks, and he’s also a doctor. That’s right kids, we get to see him in a lab coat! Never mind he’s a bit petty, controlling and seems a bit threatened by his wife… I digress

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4.) Rod Serling- The Twilight Zone

Brains are sexy. Brains are oh, so sexy. Sure, most might not see what brings this crazy sexiness to The Twilight Zone creator and host Rod Serling, but I always have. Is it the suit? Is it the fact he was also a writer? Is it that unbelievably amazing voice? All of the above, my friends. All of the above.

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5.) Steve Allen- The Tonight Show

As I mentioned with my above entry, I find brains stupidly attractive. And like the delightful Rod Serling, Steve Allen brings so much beyond the superficial. Allen was a renaissance man, not only taking a lead role in writing and presenting the first installment of The Tonight Show, he was also a crazily talented songwriter, musician and novelist. He may have had problematic politics in his old age, but I’m choosing to not go there.

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6.) Joe Friday- Dragnet

I’ll start this with a preface… remember that Dragnet was a part of American culture for a long, long time. While most remember the late 1960s installment which featured a crew-cutted Joe Friday taking down the progressive hippies of the era, that’s only one Joe Friday. The series actually premiered as a radio show in the late 1940s and ran on televison through much of the 1950s. This installment shows a much younger Joe Friday, less tired and saggy than he is in the late 1960s. And, have I mentioned that voice??? Full stop.

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7.) Captain Wilton Parmenter- F-Troop

F-Troop is one of the more problematic series on this list. However, I digress. From my earliest memories, the adorable Ken Berry was always there in the corner of my consciousness.

Wilton Parmenter isn’t the… quickest. He’s clumsy. He’s an easy mark for Sergeant O’Rourke (Forrest Tucker) and Corporal Agarn (Larry Storch). However, he remains so earnest, and so well-meaning throughout the whole series. Add to that Berry’s adorable chemistry with featured actress Melody Paterson as local shopkeeper Wrangler Jane… precious. They’re completely and utterly cute, I can’t stand it.

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8.) John Steed- The Avengers

With all of the different versions of the Avengers, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to tell the each one apart in the scope of popular culture. I’ll give you a hint, watch the long-running British series. In fact, the show is probably responsible for making me…me.

John Steed, duh. He’s dashing, British and wears fabulous clothes. For a girl with a fondness for accents and bowler hats, this is up my alley.

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9.) Cheyenne Bodie- Cheyenne

While I’m not a western efficianado, I’ll be straight with you here. Actor Clint Walker was 6’6″ and absolutely oozed a brooding, period masculinity. I’m only human after all.

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10.) Dr. Kildare- Dr. Kildare 

While Lew Ayres will always and forever be my favorite Dr. Kildare, Richard Chamberlain’s take on the legendary character in the long-running medical procedural definitely makes me take notice. Look at those chiseled good looks. Just look. I mean, it comes as no surprise that the actor is a mainstay in prime time, usually exotic soap operas when he wasn’t playing the good doctor. He’s so… pretty! And like Alex Stone above, lab coats are sexy.

I was reared on classic TV and my Nick and Nite viewing shaped me into the vintage lady I am. There’s a lot more to come! Stay tuned!

Top 5

Top 5: Nostalgic Movie Bars

Smoky dive bars, swoon-ey jazz music… there’s a very concrete image when thinking about nostalgic bars in classic film. Some “gin joints” are iconic, conjuring everything we remember about the golden age of cinema. There’s a certain style, which I’m sure you can see in your head…

So, let’s take it away with our discussion of my favorite cinematic bars.

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1.) Rick’s Cafe Américain- Casablanca (1942)

Okay, if you haven’t watched Casablanca, why are you here?? Fine… go out and watch it. The film is one of the best to come out of Hollywood, and it’s definitely worth a watch.

As they say, “Everybody comes to Rick’s”. In the movie, the now iconic nightspot functions as a central location, bringing the hodgepodge of unique and interesting characters together. The setting is absolutely gorgeous, conjuring not only a feeling of the movie’s Moroccan setting, but also the bleak nature of the WWII years, while still glittering with cinematic glamour. Even simply looking at pictures of the setting evokes a tinkling riff of “As Time Goes By”.

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2.) Mos Eisley Cantina- Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)

Probably the biggest departure on this list is no less iconic. While I was born a bit late to appreciate the joys of Star Wars during its initial run, my first memories of watching the series involve watching it recorded on VHS… kids, ask your parents.

While the location is far different than the more nostalgic other entries on this list, the Mos Eisley Cantina conjures a similar sense of the past. George Lucas made no secret that the action films of the 1930s and 1940s inspired his crafting of his legendary trilogy, and it’s incredibly evident in the almost noir-like atmosphere of the cantina.

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3.) Ink and Paint Club- Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Being born in the mid-80s, I was a perfect age to love Who Framed Roger Rabbit, when it premiered in 1988. Now, as an adult, I’ve gained a whole new appreciation for the film… however, I digress.

Now, there are a few different bars in the period, mystery/comedy. The Ink and Paint Club really stands out as my ultimate speakeasy, brining all the glamour Hollywood of the period is known for, with the slightest hint of a rough edge. The film makes a great use of unconventional (and vintage) cartoons in the sequence helping to contribute to the feel of the moment.

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4.) The Overlook Bar- The Shining (1980)

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the iconic bar from the classic Stanley Kubrick version of The Shining. The classic scene is such a memorable one that still influences the hundreds of horror films in the years to follow.

Once again, the location captures the nostalgia it’s hoping to evoke. A great deal of the horror comes from the eerie silence of the abandoned hotel. However, it’s less of a haunted house. Rather, it is like a ghost ship. All the memories of its storied past remains, all that’s missing is the people. In the bar sequence, all at once viewers are aware of just how alone the Torrance family are in The Overlook Hotel.

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5.) South Seas Club- The Rocketeer (1991)

My fondness for all things nostalgic knows no bounds, and this is likely thanks to a childhood spent watching The Rocketeer. The period Disney superhero film is set in 1930s Hollywood, showcasing all the glamour of the era.

The South Seas Club fills in as the film’s nightclub, functioning as a Coconut Grove or Trocadero. The club’s shiny glamour and polished nostalgia started a young moi daydreaming about time traveling back to the 1930s… and obviously, I’m still fascinated by the period.