Despite starring in two of the screen’s most successful adaptations of Broadway hits as well as other notable musicals — especially those with Doris Day (above) which have held up well — Gordon MacRae is almost forgotten today by classic movie fans.
Why? That was the question posed in our blog last March 23 (STALWART STARS — Like Gordon MacRae). Just this month we received a belated reader response to that blog from Simone Higgins, which we’ll get to after making some general points about MacRae’s career.
As we initially wrote, it should immediately be said that MacRae was never really a star like Cary Grant, or even Errol Flynn. His output was puny by classic Hollywood standards (just 25 credits between 1948 to 1980.) And he never seriously attempted to bridge musical and dramatic roles.
It’s a true truism that musical comedy leading men (with the exception of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly) never made the big leagues. BUT musical comedy had its stalwart men — think Howard Keel, Dan Dailey, Donald O’Connor, and Gordon MacRea.
You never heard much about his private life. (He was married twice, the first time for 26 years to actress Sheila MacRae, a union that produced four children including actresses Meredith and Heather.) Gordon and Sheila also appeared together professionally onstage and in night clubs.
You never heard rumors about his affairs or tales about his temperament. All the public knew about Gordon MacRrae was that he delivered fine performances in entertaining films. (He later went public with his battle with alcoholism in the Fifties. Decades later he suffered a stroke, and died of cancer in 1986 at age 64).
Most memorably, he starred in the film versions of two of Broadways biggest hits, 1955’s Oklahoma and 1956’s Carousel (along with Shirley Jones). In the latter, he famously replaced Frank Sinatra who was the original choice for the role of Billy Bigelow.
He also starred with Doris Day in two classic musical comedies, 1951’s On Moonlight Bay, and 1953’s By The Light of the Silvery Moon, based on Booth Tarkington’s Penrod stories. The pair, who also costarred in 1950’s Tea For Two, 1950’s West Point Story and 1951’s Starlift, is one of the most popular but somehow unheralded screen couples of the Fifties.
Pretty much all of those films hold up beautifully today with great acting and production values.
Now to our new reader/correspondent, Simone Higgins. She contributes this about MacRae and Doris Day:
I understand (MacRae) and his wife… suffered serious financial trouble as a result the misconduct of Doris Days’ lawyer. Doris also suffered resulting in her having to engage in a long legal battle with (the same lawyer). If you want to find out more have a listen to the Doris Day episode on the free podcast Classic Hollywood MTC. The podcast can be found on ITunes, Stitcher, Tune-in and Castbox. It can also be accessed via the following link: