Cover Girl (1944) Directed by Charles Vidor. Rita Hayworth, Gene Kelly, Phil Silvers.

Cover Girl was a crucial turning point in Gene Kelly’s career. He was a contract player at MGM, and he was antsy. He dreamed of reinventing the Hollywood musical inspired by the model created by choreographer Agnes De Mille on stage. In her landmark Broadway dances in Oklahoma, the dance evolved from the drama, instead of interrupting it. He got his chance when Cover Girl‘s producer wanted to borrow him from MGM for the part of nightclub owner Danny McGuire opposite Rita Hayworth. Columbia’s belligerent mogul, Harry Cohn, was reluctant. He considered Hayworth his protégée and protested, “That tough Irishman with his tough Irish mug? You must be joking. You couldn’t put him in the same frame with my Rita.”

Cohn finally relented, but some footage had already been shot, including the opening number “The Show Must Go On.” Kelly and 19-year-old co-choreographer Stanley Donen were so appalled at the sloppy footwork, that they brashly inserted three reaction shots of Kelly in the wings, shaking his head in disapproval, so no one would mistake the routine for their work. Cover Girl‘s haphazard screenplay had been cobbled together by Virginia Van Upp, who fashioned this musical classic from 7 or 8 bad scripts. She wrote dialogue specifically for Rita Hayworth, even changing it on the set, which was unusual, since traditionally writers were rarely welcome there.

Rita Hayworth was never more radiant than as Rusty Parker, a Brooklyn chorus girl who ends up on a Vanity magazine cover as The Golden Wedding Girl. Hayworth was exquisitely happy during the filming; she eloped with the great love of her life, Orson Welles after a day of filming Cover Girl. She was 24-, and 28-year-old Welles was still riding the crest of his great early successes.

Jerome Kern’s “Long Ago and Far Away” was considered by many to be the film’s musical highlight. But the exuberant trio “Make Way for Tomorrow” with Kelly, Hayworth and Phil Silvers is even better, and foreshadows the three sailors Kelly and Donan would later take On the Town. Some film historians date the moment the three of them push back from the counter and start to sing as a transitional film moment between backstage and character musicals. Kelly’s “Alter-Ego” dance with his own reflection inspired his “Singin in the Rain” solo in the film of the same name several years later. Kelly said remembered…” I wanted to further the plot emotionally and not just be a musical interlude. But unless you’re in a ballet, you just can’t start to dance…so in Cover Girl what I decided to do at this point was not state my thesis in a song, but in a few words which came over the soundtrack as if they were my ‘stream of consciousness’ and then go into a dance.”

Director Charles Vidor washed his hands of the number, believing it was technically impossible. Donen said, “We would have to repeat the camera moves by ourselves, with Gene performing the dance twice to the prerecorded soundtrack. I knew it could be done by having him hit the same spots the second time as he did the first, which Gene could do, and then we could film it by having the camera hit the same marks both times, which I knew I could do.” The amazing precision had a lot to do with Kelly’s incredible ability…some called him the human metronome.

The world of Cover Girl seems like total fantasy. But, former Vogue editor Rosamond Bernier wrote: “Vogue was something in those days. I came in my first morning and saw all the editors at the typewriters wearing hats with veils and big rhinestone chokers and earrings. I looked with absolute wonder!” Cover Girl is about glamour, a word that alludes to an attractiveness so powerful, that it must be sorcery. None of the real 1940s cover girls in the film (like Jinx Falkenberg) could ever dream of coming close to Rita Hayworth’s goddess-like perfection.

Greatest wedding ever! Ruff made of fake flowers!

Eve Arden’s draped dress and matching hat and muff

Rita’s pale pink wedding gown and blue corselet.

Rusty’s dilemma, according to Janine Basinger in A Woman’s View, is choosing between an older suitor who offers her fame and success, a man who loves her (and is rich, manipulative and bossy), or the man she really loves (who is poor, manipulative and bossy). Poor Rusty spends all her time soothing fragile male egos.  Has it ever been any other way on screen?  Can an exception be made if he looks and dances like Gene Kelly…?

Thanks to Axis trickery, my coffee now is chicory, and I can rarely purloin…a sirloin.

(Kelly and Falkenburg photographs from Claire Drazin’s Movie Star Scrapbook, Hayworth from anonymous movie star scrapbook. I’d only seen Cover Girl on a little tv, on video tape or broadcast TCM…a giant tv and a DVD makes it shimmer!)

c. Moviediva2000Revised June2005October2012June2022