French title: Le Chant du Printemps (The Song of Spring)
Swedish title: Engånge I Maj (Once in May)
Dutch title: Het Was in de Mei (It Was in May)
German title: Maienzeit (Maytime)
Danish title: Det var i maj (That Day in May)
Spanish/Italian/Portuguese title: Primavera (Spring)
Finnish title: Toukokuun päivää (Days of May)
Portuguese title: Primavera (Springtime)
Jeanette MacDonald (Marcia Mornay / Miss Morrison)
Nelson Eddy (Paul Allison)
John Barrymore (Nicolai Nazaroff)
Herman Bing (August Archipenko)
Tom Brown (Kip)
Lynne Carver* (Barbara Roberts)
Rafaela Ottiano (Ellen)
Charles Judels (Cabby)
Paul Porcasi (Trentini)
Sig Rumann (Fanchon)
Walter Kingsford (Rudyard)
Grace Hayle (Fat lady at opening May Day fair)
Edgar Norton (Secretary)
Guy Bates Post (Emperor Louis Napoleon)
Iphigenie Castiglioni (Empress Eugenie)
Anna Demetrio (Madame Fanchon)
Frank Puglia (Orchestra conductor)
Adia Kuznetzoff (Dubrovsky, Czaritza’s minister; also student in café)
M. Morova (Czaritza’s Nurse)
Joan Le Sueur* (Maypole dancer)
Russell Hicks (Monsieur Bulliet, voice teacher)
Frank Sheridan (O’Brien, an opera director)
Harry Davenport, Harry Hayden, Howard Hickman, Robert C. Fischer (Opera directors)
Harlan Briggs (Bearded opera director)
Billy Gilbert (Drunk in café)
Ivan Lebedeff (Empress’s dinner companion)
Leonid Kinsky (Student in bar)
Clarence Wilson (Waiter)
Maurice Cass (Opera house manager)
Douglas Wood (Massilon, hotel manager)
Bernard Suss (Assistant manager)
Henry Roquemore (Publicity man)
Alexander Schonberg (French proprietor)
Mariska Aldrich (Czaritza contralto)
Paul Weigel (Czaritza prompter)
Jack Murphy, Blair Davies, Agostino Borgato, Alberto Morin, Ben Welden, Jose Rubio (Students)
Kirby Hoon [later Kirby Grant] (Student singer)
Christian Frank (Gendarme)
George [Georges] Davis (Usher at Les Huguenots)
Pat Somerset (Gossiper)
Ian Wolfe (Court official)
Gus Leonard (Concierge)
Brandon Hurst (Master of Ceremonies)
Eric Lonsdale, Guy D’Ennery (Aides)
Claude King (Noble)
Forbes Murray (Aide)
Fred Graham, Frank O’Connor (Servants)
Barlowe Borland (Stage doorman)
Charles Requa (Stage manager)
Arthur Stuart Hull, Harold Entwhistle (Roués)
Frank Elliot (Aide)
Jacques Lory (Drunk)
Belle Mitchell (Marcia’s maid)
Hans Joby (Doctor)
Christian Rub (Sleeper outside café)
Genaro Spagnoli (Chef)
Paul Cremonesi, Eric Mayne (Opera critics)
Oscar Rudolph, Herta Lind (Peasants at fair)
Jolly Lee Harvey (Fat woman)
Armand “Curley” Wright (Bow-and-arrow booth)
Sidney Jarvis, Albert Pollet (Cabbies)
Francisco Maran (Gendarme)
Bobs Watson, Helen Parrish (“Merry Month of May” singers)
Ed Goddard (Juggling clown)
Joan Breslaw (Queen of the May)
Nan Merriman, George London (Les Huguenots chorus)
The Don Cossack Chorus (Singers at court)
Delmar Watson, Buster Slaven (Boys by Maypole)
Earl Covert (acts De Nevers in Les Huguenots)
Alexander Kandiba (Czaritza priest)
Nick Asgelo, Dick Dennis (Success montage tenors)
Bernice Alstock (Success montage contralto)
Meglin Kiddies, Bud Murray Children (by Maypole)
Ludovico Tomarchio (“Santa Lucia” singer at St. Cloud festival)
Geneva Hall, Leda Nicova (St. Cloud festival gypsy dancers)
Tudor Williams (sings De Nevers in Les Huguenots)
Zari Elmassian (Singer)
Bits: Luke Cosgrave, Diana Dean, Allan Cavan, Sarah Edwards
* Note: Lynne Carver’s first appearance under her new screen name. She had been in films since 1935 as Virginia Reid. Film debut of Joan Le Sueur, three-year-old niece of Joan Crawford.
Oscar nominations: Herbert Stothart for Best Score.
One of thirty-six top-grossing films of 1937.
Maytime was presented on Cecil B. DeMille’s Lux Radio Theatre, 9/4/44, with Jeanette, Nelson, and Edgar Barrier.
Based on the 1917 operetta with music by Sigmund Romberg and book and lyrics by Rida Johnson Young. Screenplay: Noël Langley [and Claudine West]. Music adapted and directed by Herbert Stothart. Photography: Oliver T. Marsh. Editor: Conrad A. Nervig. Adaptation of French Libretto: Gilles Guilbert. Vocal Arrangements: Léo Arnaud. Opera Sequences: William von Wymetal. Art Director: Cedric Gibbons. Associate Art Directors: Fredric Hope, Edwin B. Willis. Gowns: Adrian. Sound: Douglas Shearer, James Brock. Assistant Directors: Joseph M. Newman and Marvin Stewart. Music Recording: Mike McLaughlin. Montages: Slavko Vorkapich. Dances: Val Raset, assisted by Paul Foltz and Harvey Karels. Makeup: Jack and Lyle Dawn. Technical Advisor: George Richelavie.
(Ironically, while the “adaptation of French libretto” is credited to Gilles Guilbert, the creators of the original English libretto, young Bob Wright and Chet Forrest, are not credited at all.)
The stage Maytime opened on August 16, 1917 at the Shubert Theatre and ran 492 performances. The Shubert brothers routinely bought the rights to European musicals and revamped them for American consumption, usually keeping the European settings. When World War I made German imports unpatriotic, they had Romberg rework Walter Kollo’s German hit, Wie einst im Mai into Maytime, moving the locale to old New York. The stage production starred Peggy Wood, Richard Moran, and Charles Purcell. The stage plot formed the basis of a 1923 film for Preferred, directed by Louis Gasnier and starring Harrison Ford (popular leading man of stage and screen, but no relation to the current star) and Ethel Shannon. Clara Bow had a small part.
If Maytime didn’t make any “Ten Best” lists, it was probably because of the competition. It was a year for blockbusters. Prominent on such lists were Lost Horizon, Camille, Stage Door, The Good Earth, A Star is Born, Romeo and Juliet, Dead End, Captains Courageous, The Life of Emile Zola (the Oscar Winner), and The Awful Truth.
Irving Thalberg died on September 14, 1936 at the age of thirty-seven. The death of a man whose name had traditionally not appeared on any film in his lifetime seems a strange beginning to the story of one of the screen’s greatest musicals. Thalberg, however, had guided many of MGM’s “quality” productions to the screen, films such as Grand Hotel, Mutiny on the Bounty, Romeo and Juliet, and The Barretts of Wimpole Street. Since he had already assumed charge of production on Maytime, his death had a profound effect on the film itself. That he was personally going to supervise Maytime was an honor of the first order. A mystique had grown up around him and the people who worked with him which somehow demanded and got the very best that anyone could do. However, Maytime had major birth pains. Thalberg was reported to have spent a half-million dollars trying to get a workable script—highly unlikely, but an indication of the problems involved. The film eventually cost $1,500,000.
Several scenes were shot, including an elaborate opera sequence (Act Il of Puccini’s Tosca) and a crowd scene on a Manhattan-Brooklyn ferry boat. However, Thalberg was still unsatisfied with the story when he contracted pneumonia and died suddenly.
It was necessary to divide his projects up among the other producers at MGM. A power struggle developed, most typical of film studios and banana republics. Shooting stopped. Director Edmund Goulding (Grand Hotel, Riptide) was replaced by Robert Z. Leonard (Dancing Lady, The Great Ziegfeld), and Hunt Stromberg (Naughty Marietta, Rose Marie) was named producer.
If the subsequent film had been weak, this midstream changeover would have provided ample reason. However, Maytime emerged on the screen as “the most entrancing operetta the screen has given us” (New York Times). That it did so amidst the changes in nearly every facet of production is a source of unending amazement and satisfaction.
The original story of the stage Maytime concerned three generations of lovers in old New York. Peggy Wood, best remembered by today’s audiences as Mama in the television series “I Remember Mama” and as the Mother Superior in the film The Sound of Music, created the stage heroine. (She also created the rôle of Sari in the original London Bitter Sweet. Both she and Mary Martin spent their lives watching others do the screen versions of rôles they had created on the stage.)
The first “Goulding script” bears almost no resemblance to the Maytime we know. Margaret and Ed are young opera singers played by Jeanette and Nelson. They want to marry, but Ed chauvinistically insists that Margaret give up her career and be a housewife (a recurring theme in films of the 1930s). They seek the advice of an elderly diva, Peggy, who tells them the story of her youth. In a flashback, we see the diva as a young girl, now played by Jeanette. She has had a similar argument with her beau, Richard Wayne (Nelson). Both are employed by a second-rate touring company managed by Herman Bing. The pair split up through personal weakness and vanity. Peggy marries her maestro (Paul Lukas) out of spite, and Richard marries Alice, Peggy’s accompanist (noted stage actress Julie Haydon), who bears him two sons. Richard and Peggy are reunited years later but have just agreed to part when Peggy’s husband catches them necking in the garden and tries to shoot Richard. The bullet is stopped by Richard’s faithful wife, who survives. This puts a crimp in the lovers’ relationship, and they don’t meet again for another ten years, when they find they don’t care much about each other any more. So, the old diva tells the young lovers, get it while you can. This shoddy tale might have undergone transmutation in the hands of Goulding and Thalberg, but it all sounds rather tacky.
Jeanette said later that everyone connected with the film was relieved when the script was discarded. Even then, she recalled, they felt that Maytime had the potential of being a superb film.
The footage already shot was shelved, and a new script credited to Noël Langley made fate the lovers’ enemy rather than their own frivolity. In the new version, both the aging diva and her younger self were played by Jeanette, while Nelson appeared only in the flashback—more logical if less symbolic. Maytime, which had been merely a title of the first script, became the leitmotif of young love in the second. Of the original Romberg score, only “Will You Remember” remained, plus a snatch of “Road to Paradise” in the background. “Farewell to Dreams,” which was recorded by Jeanette and Nelson along with “Will You Remember,” never appeared in the second version, probably because the only spot for its obvious insertion would have held up the flow of the story.
And Maytime does flow. Although 132 minutes long, it seems barely to have started when suddenly the two lovers are singing the final duet. As critic Frank S. Nugent of the New York Times commented: “It might be possible to snip a minute out here and there, but I can’t think of a spot.”
Maytime is spring incarnate, with even the credits spelled out in flower petals on a drifting stream. We open at a 1905 May Day festival, pre-comrade variety, with beribboned tots dancing around a May pole, a flowered goat cart hauling laughing children, a Punch and Judy show, and general springtime gaiety. Through the crowd of onlookers comes an elderly lady with a cane. Miss Morrison (Jeanette) responds pleasantly to those she chats with, but she has an air of reserved sadness. (Jeanette’s makeup, walk, and voice inflection were so perfect that many of her fans failed to recognize her.)
She shares a bench with young Kip (Tom Brown), who also is not joining in the festivities. His beloved Barbara (Lynne Carver) is considering going to New York to be a great opera star. (No character in a 1930s film ever became anything less than a “great opera star.” No hardworking nonstars or chorus members existed in Hollywood fiction.)
Barbara arrives, bubbling with the news that the dashing impresario on her arm (Russell Hicks) considers her worthy of a career. She will visit Miss Morrison later that afternoon to tell her all about it. The impresario eyes the departing old lady quizzically, but Barbara assures him that she is just a sweet, sheltered old lady.
Miss Morrison walks slowly home and is greeted by her elderly maid, Ellen (Rafaela Ottiano). She shouldn’t have gone out, today of all days, Ellen says. Sadly, Miss Morrison tells her that May Day now seems the same as any other day—sometimes. As Ellen prepares tea, Miss Morrison stands gazing into the garden full of blossoms. A baritone voice grows out of the music of the birds:
Do you remember the day
When we were happy in May?
(Copyright G. Schirmer & Co.)
She sits on a bench beneath an apple tree, smiling sadly. Her reverie is interrupted by the harsh quarreling of Kip and Barbara just outside the back fence. They agree never to see each other again and Kip storms off, leaving Barbara in tears. She turns to Miss Morrison for consolation, but remains adamant. She wants a chance to be a great singer like Tetrazzini or Jenny Lind—or Marcia Mornay. Miss Morrison takes a deep breath. For the first time she is going to tell Barbara about herself because—she was Marcia Mornay.
“It was many years ago. I was very young. It was Paris, in the court of Louis Napoleon!” The wrinkled face vanishes and we are at a splendid court ball. There is a triumphant blast of trumpets, then a rollicking mazurka as the ladies in hoop skirts and the gentlemen in court dress promenade gaily, presided over by Louis Napoleon (Guy Bates Post) and his beauteous Eugenie (Iphigenie Castiglioni).
The trumpets sound again as an elegant carriage pulls up to the massive steps outside. A distinguished man in court dress (the ancestor of our evening tails plus knee breeches and buckle shoes) hands out a lady dressed in glistening white net. The camera cuts to a medium shot, and we see an unbelievably radiant Marcia Mornay (Jeanette) surveying the palace with awe and wonder. She is incredibly nervous at this first venture into the world of royalty, although her escort sarcastically belittles Louis Napoleon’s origin. Nicolai Nazaroff (John Barrymore in one of his last coherent film performances) tells her that he presents his singers at court when they are fit to be presented. If she mistrusts his judgment…
Nervously she powders her nose, using the breastplate of a sentry on the stairs for a mirror, then graciously sweeps into the ballroom. She is presented to the emperor, then, on Nicolai’s arm, she glides gracefully down the marble staircase and along the columned arcade toward the orchestra at the far end of the hall. As they pass, the comments of the bystanders fill us in on their background. She is Nicolai’s latest protégée, although another word might be more fitting, one gentleman murmurs. Nicolai is known for driving singers unmercifully, but one simpering lady assures her companion that he can be quite human.
Marcia’s first song is “Les Filles de Cadix,” which she sings with such saucy good humor that the crowd turns to see the emperor’s reaction. He is smiling, so they relax and smile too. Her second song, the martial “Le Regiment de Sambre et Meuse,” rouses the guests to patriotic fervor, as they join Marcia and the Don Cossack Choir in the chorus. She is the hit of the evening.
At dinner, she is seated next to the great composer, Trentini (Paul Porcasi). Nicolai has undoubtedly arranged it, for through subtle psychology he persuades the egotistical Trentini to write an opera for Miss Mornay. It is truly the night of her life!
Back home, the now-young Ellen takes Marcia’s wraps as she swirls ecstatically around the enormous drawing room. Nicolai has one more surprise for her. Tonight is the culmination of their hard work together. She has always obeyed him, let nothing stand in the way of her career, and until now he has never demanded anything of her. To the gratitude glowing on Marcia’s face is added a small element of fear. “I owe all my success to you,” she replies. “If there isanything I can do to repay you…” Her eyes drop against her will and then are forced back to his.
“Poor Marcia,” he answers. “I’m asking a very high price. I want to marry you.” Astonishment and relief flash in quick succession on her face. She will be very happy to marry him. Nicolai orders her to get some rest. It is after midnight, and she has a performance the next day. But Marcia can’t sleep. The excitement has been too much for her. Spotting a row of horse-drawn carriages parked across the street, she gets dressed again over Ellen’s protests and slips out for a ride. The carriage driver (Charles Judels) mistakes her purpose and tells her cheerfully that her husband will have calmed down by the time she returns. The fatigue of the day, the rhythm of the swaying carriage, and the glimmering lampposts gliding past all have their effect. She dozes off.
The sound of church bells chiming 3 AM brings her back to reality. Quickly she orders the carriage to go back and the driver pulls sharply on the reins. The ancient harness snaps and “Jenny” goes trotting off down the twisting cobblestone street while her driver gallops comically after her. Marcia finds herself in the Bohemian quarter of Paris. In a nearby café, voices can be heard boisterously raised in song, and the leading singer has a decidedly beautiful baritone. Marcia can’t resist peeking in.
A tall, blond singer is perched on a counter at one end of the smoky cellar, entertaining the colorful neighborhood types with a French student song, “Plantons la vigne.” The customers beg for another, and he obliges them with “Vive l’opera,” accompanying his tale of the “fat prima donna” by drawing a charcoal cartoon of the lady on the cellar wall. Concluding his tale with an impromptu can can step, the baritone hits a lengthy high note and collapses full length from the counter into the arms of his obliging audience. They dump him into an empty chair, and Paul Allison (Nelson) is sitting face to face with Marcia Mornay.
She begs him to sing again, and he realizes that he has discovered a fellow American. He’s been starved for the sound of an American voice and here she is, not only American, but beautiful. She laughingly refuses his request to see her again. She is, she tells him slyly, a prima donna, and he doesn’t like prima donnas. She gestures to the grotesque sketch on the wall. He assures her he adores prima donnas. She in turn assures him that she likes him and that he has a wonderful voice, but she is much too busy ever to see him again.
Her driver reappears just as the crowd recognizes Marcia Mornay and calls for a song. Ignoring every film tradition, Paul rescues Marcia and escorts her to her carriage. There, he steadfastly refuses to let go of her hand until she agrees to have lunch with him. He points to his apartment across the street. She is alarmed at his insistence and orders her driver to continue. Paul clings precariously to the side of the swiftly moving carriage until she fearfully agrees.
He springs to safety with a whoop that begins an operatic hodge-podge happily entitled “Ham and Eggs.” With snatches of melody from a dozen operas, he boasts of the menu he plans, borrows money from his cronies for the groceries, and awakens most of the neighbors who, of course, sing of their anger from their respective windows. Gendarmes who are not so musically inclined eventually break up the concert, and Paul races up several flights of stairs to his garret, hitting the final high note as he bursts through the door.
The vibrato of the note is matched by the quivering of the fat little man in nightcap, asleep in a large easy chair. He is Archipenko (Herman Bing), Paul’s music teacher and roommate, who has been waiting up for Paul. He rages over Paul’s late hours, but Paul is oblivious. He has met the loveliest woman in Paris. “Again?” Archipenko asks with raised eyebrows.
Archipenko’s list of grievances against Paul grows so lengthy that Paul drops to the piano bench and underlines each with a chord. As the little man turns to pleading, Paul plays a high pitched trill. But Archipenko’s concern turns to amazement when Paul informs him, to the tune of the “William Tell Overture,” that Marcia Mornay is coming to lunch.
At her apartment, Marcia tries to slip in quietly. Nicolai is waiting for her in his dressing gown, a cigarette smoldering ominously in his fingers. He has stood there, Ellen whispers, since he discovered she was gone. She tries to explain, but he cuts her short, implying that she has gone to meet another man. Dismayed, she tells him he can ask the cab driver to verify her story. He is waiting downstairs since she forgot her money. The cabby apologizes for the accident, and Nicolai vastly overpays him.
Paul is out shopping for groceries bright and early the next morning. He pauses before a poster announcing Les Huguenots that night at the opera, with Marcia as the page, Urbain. A voice from a nearby sidewalk café interrupts his reverie. It is Monsieur Fanchon (Sig Rumann), bragging of the pair of first-row seats he has. Paul tells him he will be there too, in standing room. Fanchon scoffs. The line is around the block already. He pulls his two tickets from his wallet and flaunts them at Paul, crowing at his luck in getting them.
The waiter (Clarence Wilson) brings Fanchon’s change and somehow a glass of wine is overturned in Fanchon’s lap. Gallantly Paul leaps to rescue the gentleman’s wallet, which has slipped under the table. Fanchon departs, leaving the clumsy waiter no tip and Paul, with a furtive grin, produces the two precious tickets from under the table.
At noon, Paul and Archipenko are busily preparing the luncheon, Paul tossing his sheet music into the stove when they run out of fuel. Archipenko makes a terrible discovery—they have only two plates. The doorbell rings and in their rush to answer, one of the plates is lost. It is Marcia, come to tell Paul that she can’t come. But the ham is ready, Paul tells her, Virginia ham. Wavering, she sees all their preparations. With a little sigh, she submits and soon is draped in an enormous apron, helping fry the eggs. The last plate is lost in a masterpiece of fumbling by Paul and Archipenko.
Dissolve to the feast—served in saucers. After comical toasts, laughter, and good talk, the dishes are being cleared. Paul is happily humming, and Marcia slips away to the piano in the living room. As the song is echoed from the next room, Paul tosses away the dishtowel and joins her in a duet of “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny.” It is a moving moment in the film, touching on the homesickness of the two Americans far from home.
Archipenko applauds loudly. Paul would be such a great singer, he tells Marcia, if only he’d study. Perhaps Mlle Mornay will urge him to give up his late hours and work hard. But why should he listen to her? Marcia asks. “I can think of a lot of reasons,” Paul replies.
The clock strikes, and Marcia realizes she will be in terrible trouble if she doesn’t leave at once. Grabbing her bonnet, she bolts to the door. “It’s been fun, but it’s all over now, goodbye,” and she flees down the stairs. Paul watches her drive away from the window, fingering the two tickets for Les Huguenots.
The overture can be heard from the resplendent foyer of the opera as Monsieur Fanchon and his large wife (Anne Demetrio) irately order the usher (George Davis) to show them to their seats. Fanchon has lost the tickets, but he can remember the seat numbers: seven and eight. “Three and four,” corrects Mme Fanchon. The usher has no authority to let them in, and Fanchon storms off in search of the manager. Inside in the first row (seats three and four), Paul is glorying in the music, but Archipenko keeps glancing nervously up the aisle.
Marcia makes her entrance in a very handsome “page” costume and delivers her aria (Recitative: “Nobles Seigneurs, salut”; aria: “Une Dame Noble et Sage”) to thunderous applause. As she is taking her bows, she watches Paul and Archipenko being escorted up the aisle by a formidable manager. Backstage, she finds Paul waiting in her dressing room. Nicolai is due any minute, and, in her haste to get rid of him, she again promises to meet him, this time for the May Day festival at Saint Cloud.
The elated Paul dashes from the dressing room, straight into Nicolai. Marcia makes light of her visitor: just a silly young man from the gallery who wanted to boast that he had met her. Nicolai sternly reminds her that it is the critics who sell orchestra seats, and ushers them in.
It is May Day in the country, and Paul is waiting impatiently by the road as the festive couples hurry by on their way to the fair. Paul and Marcia set out for a day of fun and romance that must last them all their lives.
“Where’s your sweetheart?” calls one young man. “You can’t have any fun without a sweetheart.” Finally, Paul spots Marcia’s carriage on the road and runs to meet it. “I was mad to come,” she tells him, but Paul takes her hand and pulls her along. “You’re going to forget who you are and what you are and everything else,” he orders, “except that it’s May Day and the sun is shining and we’re going to have fun!”
They plunge into the happy crowd, and, in a glorious blend of music and images, we follow them through the joyous day. They swing, play games, watch tightrope walkers and gypsy dancers, and join an Italian tenor in the final few bars of “Santa Lucia,” gleefully outlasting him when he tries to hold the high note longer than they.
Finally, to the lilting melody “Road to Paradise,” they waltz in a leafy pavilion. Peasant couples swirl around them, passing flowered hoops and tossing handfuls of petals in the air. As Paul and Marcia turn in each other’s arms, a Slavko Vorkapich mood montage begins. We see a bouquet of flowers rise and come together, tied with a ribbon bow as birds twitter in the trees and the sun makes a cascade of diamonds reflected in a sheet of water.
Paul and Marcia have climbed to a nearby hill and sit beside a stream (an obvious sound stage set and possibly the only weak element in the film). There, Paul tells her he will sing her a song about sweethearts so that she will remember this day: “Will You Remember.” Marcia is moved to join him and then, unhappily, to admit that she loves him too.
It had been such fun. She had hoped it would end like that, but now—there is someone else. Nicolai. She isn’t just marrying Nicolai because he’s kind and he needs her. She owes him everything. For four years he has sacrificed for her, never breaking a promise, never letting her down. Now she can’t fail him, even for something she wants far more. Why don’t she and Paul just remember this day? “I’ll always love you.” Paul says.
“And I’ll always…remember your song,” Marcia replies.
Sweetheart, sweetheart, sweetheart,
Will you love me ever?
Will you remember the day
When we were happy in May?
(Copyright G. Schirmer & Co.)
She rushes off, and, in another masterful Vorkapich montage, we see the bouquet come untied, the blossoms scattering. On a split screen, we see the two lovers standing alone in their rooms. A metronome superimposed over the stern face of Nicolai fills the screen, and the saga of Marcia’s career begins. In a succession of opera scenes, rushing trains and carriages, rising and falling curtains, close-ups of sheet music and opera posters, Marcia changes from a lovely young girl to a mature woman, applauded by everyone, yet alone in the spotlight. In the wake of the boat carrying her back to America, Paul’s face appears as a few bars of “Will You Remember” weave through the operatic strains. But the cheering reception at the dock overwhelms the melody, and a regal Marcia is seen waving politely, the dapper Nicolai at her side.
At her hotel, she quietly greets the manager (Douglas Wood) and retires to take a hot bath before her first rehearsal. Nicolai comes to tell her that he will take care of the Board of Directors who are due momentarily. Is she glad to be back in America? he asks. She certainly doesn’t show it. Dully Marcia tells him that she’s not awfully excited about anything. She pats his hand absently. It is too much for Nicolai who seizes her and kisses her passionately. When he finally lets her go, she sits motionless, staring into space. With a sardonic half bow and click of his heels, he apologizes. “I’m sorry. I should have remembered that that excites you less than anything else.” He has no right to say that, he acknowledges. She has been a perfect wife, faithful, loyal, obedient, and affectionate. But never once in all the years that they have been married has he felt that he completely possessed her. It has made him love her too much. He kisses her hand and, in a bit of Barrymore scene stealing, rolls his eyes elaborately toward the door so that we follow his exit rather than watching the silent Marcia.
The Board of Directors happily informs Nicolai that they have prepared La Traviata for Mme Mornay. “Tra-vi-a-ta?” trills the Barrymore voice in deep disdain. He applauds their efforts. Unfortunately Mme Mornay’s choice is Czaritza, the opera written for her by the great Trentini. But, objects one bearded director (Harlan Briggs), Czaritza needs a baritone. They do have Paul Allison, interjects another, but he is not well enough known. “The public,” Nicolai states icily, “will come to hear Mme Mornay.” And so it is decided.
Marcia is about to dress when Nicolai calls the news to her through the door. She sways slightly and stands stunned for a moment. Then, her voice cracking into a girlish register, she asks if they couldn’t get someone better known. Nicolai assures her that Allison has a fine reputation. She must hurry or they’ll be late for the rehearsal.
On the vast opera stage, dotted with chairs and folded scenery, a rehearsal piano pounds out the ominous measures of Czaritza. The chorus and principals of the new opera are studying their scores by the flickering work light as Mme Mornay and party enter. They make their way between the sheet-draped seats to the temporary ramp over the orchestra pit. Marcia greets the conductor (Frank Puglia) graciously, but her eyes dart hesitantly toward the stage. She turns to be presented to the company. Paul is standing before her. “How do you do?” she murmurs. “It is an honor, Madame, to sing with you,” he replies, gently taking her hand. They stand like that for several moments until the next member of the company is presented. Nicolai eyes Paul strangely.
Through the back doors of the stage bursts Archipenko, resplendent in fur-collared coat and silk hat. He is overjoyed to see Marcia. All these years he has been saying little prayers for her because of what she did for Paul. Stepping sharply on Archipenko’s fancy boot, Paul explains to Nicolai that when he was a student in Paris, Mme Mornay was kind enough to encourage him with his career. The rehearsal begins. One of the directors congratulates Nicolai on the choice of Czaritza. It is just the chance young Allison has been waiting for. “Yes,” Nicolai replies darkly, “I’m sure it is.”
The singers take their positions on the dim, cluttered stage and begin the final scene of the opera. As the chorus intones a dirge-like Russian chant, the scene dissolves to the performance. The stage is now a room in the Czaritza’s palace. This Czaritza sequence is Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, made excitingly fresh by its conversion to an opera. William von Wymetal, former producer of the Philadelphia Opera Society, followed young Eddy to Hollywood, where he first directed the Rose Marie opera sequences and then created this superb “opera.”
The Czaritza (Marcia) is preparing to wave to a waiting crowd from the balcony when her lover, Petrov (Paul), is dragged in by soldiers. Her minister (Adia Kuznetzoff, also an extra in the café sequence) reminds her of her duty and presents her to the throng below, who respond joyously, accompanied by pealing church bells. Petrov proudly proclaims his guilt in seeking the liberty of the people, and here Eddymakes good use of his classic Delsarte training. The Czaritza reluctantly signs the death warrant and tells Petrov that her heart will die with him.
Paul is now a famous baritone. During a passionate duet, they realize they still love each other. (The made-up “opera” Czaritza used musical themes from Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony.)
Left alone, they sing of their love to Tchaikovsky’s most romantic love themes. As the music builds and builds to a heart-stopping climax, Paul and Marcia are unable to keep up the pretense any longer. They kiss passionately, oblivious to the roar of applause, the conductor’s astonishment, and Nicolai’s contorted face in the wings. Paul tells Marcia that she is never going back to Nicolai. He will take her away that night.
In Marcia’s dressing room, Nicolai is again all icy reserve. “I brought you two together again. It has its humor.” Marcia is too drained to pretend or argue. She sends word to Paul to wait until he hears from her, and she and Nicolai return to the hotel. There she quietly begs Nicolai to set her free. He agrees, but his control vanishes when he has left her. He sinks against his bedroom door in a beautiful example of a Barrymore “mad scene,” his eyes rolling, his face terrible to behold. Suddenly, determination puts new life in the sagging body. He strides to the closet for his coat and hat, then opens a small case in his dresser and pockets the contents.
In her room, Marcia is sitting numb and unbelieving when she hears a door slam. Puzzled and alarmed, she goes to Nicolai’s room and sees the empty case—a gun case. With a stifled cry, she rushes out into the street after him. The strains of the love theme now pound ominously as we cut from Nicolai striding purposefully through the lightly swirling snow to Marcia racing after him, unsure of her footing on the icy sidewalk.
As Nicolai reaches Paul’s door, the love theme continues from inside. Paul is at the piano playing when he realizes Nicolai has let himself in and is standing in the darkened doorway. “I’m giving Marcia her freedom,” Nicolai announces calmly, “…and you yours.” Marcia is halfway up the stairs when she hears a sharp sound.
Nicolai appears at the top of the stairs, a gun dangling in his hand. Marcia stares unbelievingly, then pushes past him into the apartment. Paul is trying to pull himself up on the piano bench. As Marcia cradles his head in her lap, he tells her that their one day did last him all his life. He dies in her arms, and she collapses in tears as the camera pans up to the snow swirling against the window.
The snow changes to drifting white blossoms, and we are back in Miss Morrison’s garden. Barbara promises to visit her much more often so that she won’t be lonely, and then sets out to make up with Kip. Smiling, Miss Morrison leans back against the apple tree. We hear the first notes of “Will You Remember” as her eyes slowly close. Paul’s voice takes up the song.
Young and straight, he appears before her. From the frail old body on the bench the young Marcia rises and takes his hands. Their ephemeral forms pause and look down the lane at the reunited Kip and Barbara, then turn and walk along under an archway of flowering trees. Slowly they cease being transparent. Marcia’s head is against Paul’s shoulder as they sing:
…though our paths may sever,
To life’s last faint ember,
We will remember
Springtime, love time, May.
(Copyright G. Schirmer & Co.)
Maytime was Miss MacDonald’s personal favorite among her films. Not only was it an acting tour-de-force for her, but her singing was probably never better. Recording techniques and her voice had both reached perfection almost simultaneously. Paying homage to the electronic advancement, the New York Timeswrote: “Jeanette MacDonald could not be so beautiful a soprano as the picture would have us assume. Opera would have claimed her. But the bright young men at the sound controls do for her what a dozen maestros could not do: they have lined her throat with velvet and coated her mouth with gold. Miss MacDonald emerges through their magic as the screen’s loveliest singer.” (This review also demonstrates the condescending attitude still maintained by some critics toward the theatre’s stepchild, cinema).
Miss MacDonald did want to sing opera. If sheer determination and exhaustive efforts could make her a film star, why couldn’t the same make her an opera star, despite a very late start and an unlikely background as a Broadway ingénue? Nelson Eddy, after all, was basically a classical singer. (His scenes in Maytime were all done in the first weeks of shooting to release him for his four-month concert tour.) Miss MacDonald began training for an operatic career, with Lilli Lehmann among others, with a singularity of purpose that must overcome any physical limitations.
John Barrymore’s performance in Maytime is extremely touching, possibly because the character was so close to the real Barrymore—a ruin of a man so recently handsome and eloquent. In a very short time, Barrymore’s film rôles would be limited to productions in which the director was willing to turn on the camera, hoping to catch a performance. This worked well in films like The Great Man Votes (RKO 1939), but dogs like The Great Profile and Hold That Coed are tragic to watch. During the filming of Maytime, Barrymore married (and separated from) Elaine Barrie, after receiving his divorce from Dolores Costello. In one scene of the film, Eddy fluffed a line as he begged Jeanette to give up Barrymore. With the cameras rolling, he grabbed her shoulders and said, “You can’t marry him! I’m going to marry him myself!” “Not if Elaine has anything to say about it,” quipped Jeanette.
The superb Maytime confirmed the stardom of the team, although irate letters to the editor in Picture Play from Eddy fans indicated that they had seen the film with a stopwatch and thought it an outrage that he had so much less time on the screen than Jeanette.
MGM reasoned that anyone who would pay to see them together would most likely pay twice to see them separately and decided to split them. Nelson was teamed in Rosalie with Eleanor Powell, fresh from a personal triumph in Broadway Melody of 1936, and Jeanette delayed wedding plans to star alone over the title for the first time in The Firefly.
Enough credit cannot be given to musical director Herbert Stothart for the success of the MacDonald/Eddy films. After the personalities of the stars themselves and the good scripts of their early films, it was Stothart’s subtle and sensitive selection and arrangement of musical numbers that made the films so delightful. After teaching music at Wisconsin University, Stothart wrote songs for several Broadway shows, Always You and Tickle Me, both 1920 and both with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. He also collaborated with prominent composers. He contributed to Song of the Flame (with Gershwin) and Wild Flower (with Vincent Youmans), but his best remembered interpolations were in Friml’s Rose-Marie. In 1929, he went to MGM as musical director. Between then and his death in 1949, he worked on every MacDonald/Eddy film at MGM except Eddy’s Let Freedom Ring and Jeanette’s final film, The Sun Comes Up. He wrote original music (“Pardon Me Madame” in Rose Marie, “High Flyin’” in Broadway Serenade), made fresh arrangements for hokey old war-horses and balanced the musical menu in each film like a superb chef creating a feast for the ear.
Maytime brought two twenty-year-olds together for the first time. Bob Wright and Chet Forrest wrote new lyrics for venerable melodies. They would do so admirably for eight MacDonald/Eddy films before going “legit,” forging stage works out of the works of classic composers: Song of Norway out of Grieg and Kismet out of Borodin.
Another steady contributor to the MacDonald/Eddy films was comedian Herman Bing. He had come to Hollywood as assistant to the great director F.W. Murnau (Sunrise). When Murnau was killed in an auto accident in 1931, Bing turned exclusively to acting. The doughty little man with the z-zauerr-r-r-kraut accent had a lively song number in the film. As the director and technicians fought desperately to keep from cracking up, he turned his Germanic energies loose on an original Maytime song, “Jump Jim Crow” (“Ar-r-r-round you go”).
Before he got through with the r’s in that one, a great number of takes were required because the crew kept collapsing helplessly to the floor with laughter. The scene never reached the screen and resides in some film heaven along with the Tosca sequence. A decade later, the little man who had made millions laugh died tragically, by his own hand, in 1947.
The New York Times, as previously noted, thought Maytime “the most entrancing operetta the screen has given us.” They continued: “It establishes Jeanette MacDonald as the possessor of the cinema’s loveliest voice—this with all deference to the probably superior off-screen voices of Lily Pons, Grace Moore, and Gladys Swarthout—and it affirms Nelson Eddy’s preeminence among the baritones of filmdom. The screen can do no wrong while these two are singing. Maytime is the most joyous operetta of the season, a picture to treasure.”
The New York Herald Tribune echoed the Times’ praises, but stood alone in finding fault with the length (132 minutes). Variety also thought the film guilty of “dull interludes,” but praised the stars as “splendid” and the musical direction as Stothart’s “best Hollywood film musical achievement,” extolling every phase of production.
(See Discography for further information)
“Will You Remember” (MacDonald and Eddy; also MacDonald alone)
“Farewell to Dreams” (MacDonald and Eddy) – recorded for first film version, but not sung in final film
“Les Filles de Cadix” (MacDonald)
Overture: “Will You Remember,” “Road to Paradise”*
“Now is the Month of Maying” (children’s chorus) – traditional melody, lyrics by Thomas Morley
“Summer Is Icumen In” (children’s chorus) – medieval song
“Love’s Old Sweet Song” [“Just a song at twilight…”] (chorus) – music by J.L. Molloy, lyrics by G. Clifford Bingham. COMBINES WITH:
“Will You Remember” fragment (Eddy and chorus)
Mazurka from “Les Sylphides” (orchestral) – by Frederic Chopin with unusual arrangement by Herbert Stothart
“Napoleonic Waltz” (orchestral) – source uncer tain, arranged by Herbert Stothart
“Les Filles de Cadix” [The Maids of Cadiz] (MacDonald) – music by Leo Delibes, French lyrics by Alfred deMusset
“Le Regiment de Sambre et Meuse” (Mac Donald, Don Cossack Choir, chorus) – by Robert Planquette
“Plantons la vigne” [Come, plant the vine yards] (Eddy) – Breton folk song
“Vive l’opera” (Eddy and chorus) – French folk song with English lyrics by Bob Wright and Chet Forrest
“HAM AND EGGS” MEDLEY: (Eddy, assorted soloists, and chorus) – a medley of opera melodies compiled by Herbert Stothart, with new lyrics on the subject of ham and eggs by Bob Wright and Chet Forrest, containing:
“Caro Nome” from Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi
“Largo al Factotum” from The Barber of Seville by Gioacchino Rossini
“O, Du Mein Holder Abendstern” (Oh, Evening Star) from Tannhäuser by Richard Wagner
“Largo al Factotum” reprise
“La Donna e Mobile” from Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi
“Soldiers’ Chorus” from Faust by Charles Gounod
“Chi Me Frena?” sextet from Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti
“Anvil Chorus” from Il Trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi
William Tell Overture by Gioacchino Rossini
“Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” (Eddy and MacDonald) – by James Bland (composer of “Oh, Dem Golden Slippers” and “In the Evening by the Moonlight”)
Scene from Les Huguenots: Recitative “Nobles Seigneurs, Salut” and aria “Une Dame Noble et Sage” (MacDonald with Tudor Williams and male chorus) – music by Giacomo Meyerbeer, lyrics by Eugène Scribe and Émile Deschamps
MAY DAY MONTAGE: “Road to Paradise” (orchestral); “Will You Remember”
“Santa Lucia” (Ludovico Tomarchio, Mac Donald and Eddy) – Neapolitan folk song
“Will You Remember” (Eddy, MacDonald) – music by Sigmund Romberg, lyrics by Rida Johnson Young
OPERA CAREER MONTAGE: **
“Miserere” from Il Trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi (MacDonald, baritone, male chorus)
Prison scene from Faust by Charles Gounod (MacDonald, tenor, baritone)
“Liebestod” from Tristan und Isolde by Richard Wagner (MacDonald)
“Sempre Libera” from La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi (MacDonald, chorus)
“Triumphal Chorus” from Le Prophête by Giacomo Meyerbeer (orchestral)
“I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls” from The Bohemian Girl by Michael William Balfé (MacDonald)
“The Last Rose of Summer” from Martha by Friedrich von Flotow, actually an old Irish folk song (MacDonald)
“Chi Me Frena?” sextet from Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti (MacDonald, mezzo, two tenors, baritone, bass)
(MGM pay records list Nick Angelo, tenor; Dick Dennis, tenor; Earl Covert, baritone; Allan Watson, bass; and Bernice Alstock, contralto, as singers in the above opera sequence.)
ORCHESTRAL MEDLEY: “Will You Remember” reprise; “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean” by Thomas E. Williams; “Sidewalks of New York” by Charles B. Lawlor
Czaritza, a manufactured opera with music from the Fifth Symphony of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, libretto and original English lyrics by Bob Wright and Chet Forrest, French lyrics by Gilles Guilbert (MacDonald, Adia Kuznetzoff, Mariska Aldrich, Eddy, and chorus). The sequence was intended to be in English, but after Wright and Forrest had finished it, someone decided that opera shouldn’t be in a language the audience can understand, so a French translation of the Wright-Forrest libretto was made! MGM pay records list M. Morova as singing and acting the role of the nurse and Alexander Kandiba, bass, acting the Black Priest.
Finale: “Will You Remember” reprise (Eddy and MacDonald)
*In Deep in My Heart, MGM’s 1954 film bio of composer Sigmund Romberg, Vic Damone sings “Road to Paradise.” He and Jane Powell also sing “Will You Remember.”
**It is necessary to note that the opera montage in Maytime showing Marcia Mornay’s rise to fame has aroused incredulity and occasional laughter from opera buffs since the film’s initial release. Snippets from Il Trovatore, Faust, Tristan und Isolde, La Traviata, The Bohemian Girl, Marta, and Lucia di Lammermoor are heard and visualized. Posters and scores indicate that Marcia Mornay also triumphed in Tannhäuser, Maritana, Le Prophête, Lohengrin, Norma, Don Giovanni, and The Barber of Seville. It is one of Vorkapich’s most brilliant montages—if only the operas had been selected more carefully. At the time the film was released, there were only two internationally known opera stars who might have sung such a repertoire, Lilli Lehmann and the American Lillian Nordica. Each started out in the lighter, more brilliant coloratura rôles and progressed to the heavier rôles of Wagner, Bellini, or Mozart. The rôles were never sung simultaneously as they are in the montage. (In modern times both Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland have sung such disparate rôles as Wagner and the Bel Canto repertoire, but never one after the other.) There are an infinite number of operas within Jeanette’s vocal range that might have proved more believable than Tristan, Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, Norma, or Don Giovanni.
Contributed by Mary Truesdell
At least sixteen different writers tried their hand at a film script of Maytime for MGM, starting in the 1920s. Some used themes and personalities that fortunately never made it into the final film.
In a 1935 draft by director Edmund Goulding and Franz Schulz, the hero Richard (Nelson) is a drunken, tobacco-chewing, tattooed Irish sailor, given to singing and brawling. That same year, the noted scriptwriter Frances Marion shaped a more tasteful vehicle intended for Grace Moore in which the heroine marries another out of love for her crippled father—thus introducing the theme of self sacrifice for duty as in Rose Marie. The Marion version had three generations of lovers, from pre-Civil War to modern times.
In early 1936, famed playwright Moss Hart submitted a breezy modern story with lots of snappy dialogue. However, Irving Thalberg remained committed to a period piece full of sentiment about “tenderness, mingled with charm, humor, sentiment, and romance.”
Multi-talented director Edmund Goulding usually contributed highly colorful and dramatic touches to the scripts of his films, but after Thalberg’s death, the project was assigned to producer Hunt Stromberg. Needing to “get on with it,” MGM assigned Goulding to another film and replaced him on Maytime by workmanly W.S. Van Dyke.
Screen credit for the second and final version of Maytime goes to twenty-four-year-old Noël Langley, who, according to official MGM publicity, came up with a complete new script in little more than a week following Irving Thalberg’s death. Actually, the production files, archived at the Fairbanks Center for Motion Picture Study, tell a different story.
Thalberg died on September 14, 1936. Just twelve days later, Claudine West, a forty-six-year-old English writer, submitted a 32-page treatment that presents an outline nearly identical scene for scene with the finished film. (She was one of many who had contributed to the first “Goulding script” of Maytime.)
The question becomes: Did someone order West to produce this new treatment within hours after Thalberg’s death on the assumption that the Goulding production would be jettisoned? If so, who? Or, almost equally cold-bloodedly, had she previously been assigned to come up with a completely new script? Minutes of the crucial production meetings for this period are missing from the Fairbanks Center’s files, so we will probably never know.
The Claudine West treatment is identical to the finished film up until the lovers part in Paris, with just two differences. There is no proposal scene because the heroine and her impresario are already engaged when the flashback begins. And the ham-and-eggs lunch is merged with the May Day fair scene into a single picnic, eliminating the intervening Huguenot aria and subsequent meeting backstage. At this point, the heroine chooses the impresario over the penniless student because Nazaroff can further her career. The Code of Honor theme is not yet present.
West then returns the lovers (named “Janice” and “Richard”) to New York years later, where their love is reconfirmed by a series of meetings, including one at a student party that includes the already-filmed “Jump Jim Crow,” possibly a sop to economy because the original recorded soundtrack could be used. The big musical reunion is not yet present. The heroine does ask for a divorce and Nazaroff does agree, then goes to murder the hero, making it look like suicide. The heroine is devastated, leaves her husband, and retires to a small town where she advises a lovelorn maiden to marry the man she loves. (The young girl has not been offered an operatic career, so the career versus love theme is not yet present.)
Within days of this treatment, both producer Stromberg and new director Robert Z. Leonard added many of the additional features, mainly musical insertions, that figure in the final film.
West’s other script credits are impressive, including the two sound versions of Smilin’ Through, Random Harvest, Mrs. Miniver, The Chocolate Soldier, Goodbye Mr. Chips, The Good Earth, and The Barretts of Wimpole Street.
“Don’t Carry Me Back to Old Virginny.” Nelson Eddy on CNN? Yes! When the state of Virginia decided to seek a new state song, “Inside Politics” on CNN, 1/31/97, played a brief clip of Nelson and Jeanette singing the James Bland classic in Maytime: “The song’s references to ‘darkies’ and ‘ole massa’ recall a painful time for many Virginians,” said the announcer. “Rather than bowdlerize the lyrics (as is commonly done when the song is sung today), the legislature has decided to find a song more expressive of modern Virginia.”
Los Angeles Examiner, 11/2/36: “Virginia Reid, who started out life as a protégé of Irene Dunne and never got anywhere under the very eyes of our moguls, suddenly leaps into the ingénue lead [of Maytime].” She also changed her name to Lynne Carver.
Sunday Oregonian, 9/6/36: headline— “Stanley Morner to Play Eddy’s Son in Maytime”—“To Stanley Morner, singing protégé of Mary Garden [and later renamed Dennis Morgan], falls the unusual assignment of playing Nelson Eddy’s son and ‘carrying on’ in song for the baritone when, cinematically, he becomes too old to sing in the new Irving G. Thalberg’s Maytime….Elaborate musical spectacles punctuate the dramatic story, such as ‘Sweethearts’ [‘Will You Remember’], a hit in the original stage show, ‘A Windy Day on the Battery,’ and new musical numbers by Romberg and Gus Kahn. Frank Morgan, Ted Healy, Mary Philips, and Julie Hayden have also been chosen for the cast.”