Marjorie Reynolds (upper left), Virginia Dale (middle right) and Lucille Bremer (lower left) are stars of the 1940s who are practically forgotten today except by die hard (and, sorry to say, old) movie aficionados.
Yet these three, (whose “A” films could be counted on the fingers of one hand) share something in common with big stars such as Audrey Hepburn and Judy Garland and Academy Award winners such as Joan Crawford and Joan Fontaine.
What is it?
Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers here to talk about how a few actresses gained a bit of movie immortality because — they had the good fortune to be cast opposite a certain leading man. The question is, who is that man?
By now many of you may have guessed what distinguishes the three women mentioned above from other lesser-knowns. They all danced on screen with the incomparable Fred Astaire.
Crawford was Fred’s first dancing partner. That was at MGM. Then he went over to RKO, was teamed with Ginger Rogers and the rest, as the cliche goes, was history. After one pairing with Fontaine (not a great dancer) at RKO Fred left the studio to freelance.
Partners came and went from then on. Paulette Goddard. Eleanor Powell. Two films with Rita Hayworth.
Then Paramount teamed Astaire with Bing Crosby, and since the men were the stars of 1942’s Holiday Inn, the studio could cast females who weren’t necessarily name above the title types. Thus Marjorie Reynolds and Virginia Dale got their chances to dance with the master.
Reynolds, a brunette who’d gone blonde, was in our opinion just serviceable in her part, but Dale was as good as any of Astaire’s previous partners. However, after this film both actress-dancers returned to B films and faded from public view — although Reynolds had a brief comeback on TV as the wife on the popular Fifties situation comedy, The Life of Riley, starring William Bendix as the bumbling Chester Riley.
Lucille Bremer was an accomplished dancer under contract to MGM. She was a former Radio City Hall Rockette who had been on Broadway, and after signing with the studio was given a big push. She was Judy Garland’s older sister in Meet Me in St. Louis, then given a starring part opposite Astaire in Yolanda and the Thief, released in 1945.
She danced with him again in two sequences for The Ziegfeld Follies (1946). But then, after Till the Clouds Roll By, she seemed to fall out of favor with Mayer and producer Arthur Freed.
Rumor had it that she was Freed’s mistress. In any event it was deemed that she hadn’t scored with the public. Her career languished. Whether it was the studio’s, or Bremer’s decision, her contract wasn’t renewed. She starred in a few non dancing roles, then retired.
One indie film in which she appears is a favorite of Joe’s. It’s Ruthless, (1948), produced and released by Eagle Lion, and features all those “stars” that had been cultivated at other studios —Zachary Scott, Louis Hayward, Diana Lynn, Sydney Greenstreet, Martha Vickers and Bremer. Raymond Burr is in it too, but he didn’t receive name above the title billing as did the others. See it, it’s fun.
(While you’re at it, why not check out the same year’s Behind Locked Doors, another interesting noir title starring Bremer as the daughter of a mysterious judge who disappears.)
Fred Astaire kept retiring, coming out of retirement and dancing with new, younger partners. Vera-Ellen, Jane Powell, Leslie Caron, Audrey Hepburn, Cyd Charisse.
No matter how big, or small their careers might be the women who danced with Fred Astaire on screen are in a class by themselves.