Family, Faith, Fairgoers – and a Birthday Boone
Seven weeks ago, singer/actor Pat Boone attended the red-carpet Hollywood premiere of his latest movie A Cowgirl’s Story (2017) and talked about the film’s message of family and faith, two key markers of his latter-day media interests. Today the Jacksonville, Florida, favorite son turns a still-robust 83, and the star of two Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray favorites, the two-time sell-out success Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) and the still-available romantic musical April Love (1957), becomes a three-time Twilight Timer with next month’s 55th-anniversary 1080p arrival of the long-overshadowed but still entertaining second film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s State Fair (1962). Faith was supplied by Twentieth Century Fox, allied with the Broadway team via celebrated film versions of Carousel and The King and I as well as the beloved 1945 State Fair (which Fox first brought to the screen from Phil Stong’s novel in 1933 starring Janet Gaynor, Will Rogers and Lew Ayres), and composer Richard Rodgers himself, who kept the team’s commitment to the remake alive even after the death of his partner Oscar Hammerstein II on August 23, 1960, and plunged ahead into writing the lyrics to his own melodies of five new compositions. After years of top-tier output with his venerable collaborators Lorenz Hart and Hammerstein, Rodgers’ lyric-writing skills proved nimble and smart. Within a week of the March 9, 1962 arrival of the homespun, all-American State Fair at the movies, the chic interracial, Paris fashion-world romance No Strings opened on Broadway with an all-Rodgers score that would six weeks later bring the composer his fifth and sixth Tony® Awards (the latter an additional special honor for career achievement and for No Strings’ orchestra-centric staging innovations). Transplanting the story from Iowa to Texas, where Cinemascope and stereophonic sound would lend size and spectacle to the Dallas-based largest state fair in the U.S. (at that time), State Fair derived its family appeal from straight-arrow teen idol Boone, a Fox mainstay, playing Texas farm boy Wayne Frake, along with two fellow studio veterans as his parents, Tom Ewell (The Seven Year Itch, The Girl Can’t Help It) and the beloved musical darling Alice Faye, who came out of a 16-year retirement to play the part. Three younger generation stars supplied sass and sparkle. Vivacious Pamela Tiffin (as Margy Frake) had just come into the spotlight via supporting roles in the previous autumn’s Summer and Smoke and One, Two, Three. Handsome crooner Bobby Darin (in a transposition of the original Dana Andrews role from newspaperman to TV reporter) was on the cusp of mightily flexing his acting muscles in a two-year span offering standout performances in Hell Is for Heroes, Pressure Point (both 1962) and a Best Supporting Actor Oscar® nomination for Captain Newman, M.D. (1963). Then there’s Ann-Margret as a show-stopping showgirl, midway between her relatively quiet screen debut in Pocketful of Miracles (1961) and the deliciously delectable Kim McAfee of Bye Bye Birdie (1963) and Rusty Martin of Viva Las Vegas (1964), bringing firecracker appeal and disarming effervescence to a sexier update of the original’s Isn’t It Kinda Fun? and the revamp’s plaintive new Willing and Eager (the latter a duet with the (gasp!) bare-chested Boone). Bridging the old and new was a reliable hand: musical supervisor Alfred Newman, who won one of his nine Oscars® for The King and I and was a nominee for his work on the original 1945 State Fair. The final directorial credit of the storied actor-writer-director José Ferrer, State Fair (1962) still emphatically proved It Might As Well Be Spring and It’s a Grand Night for Singing, but also that updated Americana could fly high when the talent pool runs deep, particularly with today’s birthday honoree as anchor. Festooned with a lively Audio Commentary by Boone, a vintage From Page to Screen to Stage: State Fair featurette and a nonmusical 1976 TV series pilot with Vera Miles and Mitch Vogel, it rolls into town July 18. Preorders open July 5.