The Grooming of Galahad
Veteran actress and sultry-voiced recording artist Lola Albright (1924-2017), who lent distinction to the classic private-eye TV series Peter Gunn (for which she was Emmy®-nominated) and the big-screen features Champion, The Tender Trap, A Cold Wind in August, Lord Love a Duck and The Way West, died this past March just a few months shy of what would today have marked her 93rd birthday. One other credit prominent in the recent remembrances of the lady’s career was that of the wised-up, long-suffering girlfriend of a hard-luck boxing camp manager (Gig Young) in the Elvis Presley movie Kid Galahad (1962). This tale of an ex-GI and aspiring auto mechanic with an innate talent for boxing (Presley), battling his way to the big leagues in a crooked racket (naturally with songs added for The King’s fans), relies heavily on the deep bench of its terrific supporting cast, and Young, Albright, Charles Bronson as the Kid’s trainer, love interest Joan Blackman (fresh off 1961’s Blue Hawaii) and such instantly memorable character players as Ned Glass, Robert Emhardt, Liam Redmond and Michael Dante deliver with charm and conviction. It was a project that came together shaggily but serendipitously, as part of a two-picture deal struck between Presley and the Mirisch Company, which by then had become a vital part of the annual production output of United Artists, including Academy Award®-winning Best Pictures The Apartment (1960) and West Side Story (1961). In his engaging 2008 memoir I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History, Walter Mirisch recalled his meeting with Presley’s mentor/manager Colonel Tom Parker and its aftermath: “I told him [Col. Parker] I had some ideas about possible vehicles for Elvis. He said to me, ‘I’m not interested in that at all, young man, that’s your job. You’re supposed to know about picturemaking. You pay us the money, and we’ll trust you to pick the vehicle and make the picture. Don’t bother me with that. I just sell him.’ By this time, United Artists had acquired the pre-1948 film libraries of RKO and Warner Bros. I combed these libraries, looking for a vehicle that could be tailored to Elvis’s talents. I chose two. One was an old Warners film, Kid Galahad, that had been made in the 1930s with Edward G. Robinson and Bette Davis. Wayne Morris played the title role, and it was directed by Michael Curtiz. I thought the boxer role would be well suited to Elvis, and I began preparation of the screenplay with writer William Fay.”
David Weisbart, Mirisch’s choice as line producer of the first Mirisch/Presley movie Follow That Dream (1962, a Twilight Time title), had to bow out due to a serious ailment requiring then quite risky open-heart surgery. Mirisch wrote: “I arranged that he get his whole fee and profit participation in the picture, despite the fact that he would be gone during the entire pre-production, production and post-production. I undertook to supervise the picture myself, so that there would not be a doubled producer’s fee attached to it. In order to facilitate that, I chose Phil Karlson to direct. I had known Phil for a long time, since he had directed a number f pictures that were made at Allied Artists while I was in charge of production, including The Phenix City Story. Phil had directed one of the first pictures that I observed being shot when I went to work at Monogram. Over the years, we continued to be in touch and talk about projects, and I felt very confident with him.” Mirisch’s confidence in Presley – whose songwriting crew came up with six tunes, including two by future 1776 composer Sherman Edwards and lyricist and eminent Burt Bacharach collaborator Hal David – and his supporting cast and production team resulted in what was at the time a mildly profitable success but has grown in esteem (along with Follow That Dream) in the years since as among the more fondly remembered Presley attempts at screen acting as well as romancing and crooning. Incidentally, the second library remake property Mirisch says he scoped out a half-century ago for Presley was RKO’s 1938 mistaken-identity romantic comedy Vivacious Lady, starring Ginger Rogers and James Stewart and directed by George Stevens. How that might have been Presley-ized we’ll never know, but we can only wonder. On the other hand, the reliably rocking-and-socking Kid Galahad punches its way onto TT hi-def Blu-ray August 15. Place your bets – er, preorders – starting August 2.