Friday, April 13, 2012

Give 'Em the Old Pizzazz - Funny Face (1957)


Director Stanley Donen and actress Audrey Hepburn are being honored separately and together at this year's TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood. The director, who will be making personal appearances at all screenings of his films, did some of his best work with the sublime Audrey as his leading lady. With a "happy birthday" to Stanley Donen who celebrates his 88th birthday today, this post is dedicated to them both...
 
Pizzazz! The very word came into being with Funny Face in 1957.

Stylish and energetic, Funny Face is a collaboration extraordinaire involving some of the great talents of the era: Producer Roger Edens and director Stanley Donen, screenwriter Leonard Gershe, cinematographer Ray June, costumer Edith Head, couture designer Hubert de Givenchy, photographer Richard Avedon and the film's matchless stars Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire and Kay Thompson. Sprinkled with an assortment of Gershwin tunes, this is a movie of considerable pizzazz...
Audrey Hepburn as Jo Stockton
Funny Face had been a work in progress for years, but the vital element that finally brought the project together was Audrey Hepburn. Then under contract to Paramount, Hepburn was a white-hot star at the time and any picture with her name attached had a very good chance of being made. She loved both the script and the opportunity to dance with Fred Astaire and quickly agreed to do the picture.

Astaire, then nearing 60, was coming to the end of his career in musical films. Funny Face and Silk Stockings were released within months of each other in 1957 and were his last popular movie musicals.

Though its name was taken from a '20s Gershwin musical in which Astaire had starred, the title and a few tunes were all the film had in common with the original New York show. The film's story came from Wedding Day, Leonard Gershe's Broadway musical about the fashion world based on 'the aura' (rather than the life) of legend-to-be photographer Richard Avedon and his wife. Doe Avedon, a great beauty of the time, was a reluctant muse; it was her husband who turned her into a top-notch model and who guided her career.

Kay Thompson, ace vocal coach, arranger and cabaret star, had worked with Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Lena Horne and many others during her years in MGM's music department. Gershe had her in mind from the start for the role of Maggie Prescott, a character closely modeled on powerhouse fashion editor and style doyenne of the era, Diana Vreeland. According to Leonard Gershe, it was Vreeland who coined the word 'bizzazz' that mutated into 'pizzazz.' Thompson as Prescott is an invigorating presence and she steals just about every scene she's in; early on, her "Think Pink!" number kicks Funny Face into high gear...

Think Pink!

Funny Face is a Cinderella tale, the kind of story that was Audrey Hepburn's bread and butter. The film begins in the offices of Quality magazine where editor Maggie Prescott (Thompson) decrees that the world of fashion shall think and wear pink (though she does not)! Soon after, she and photographer Dick Avery (Astaire) venture to bohemian Greenwich Village on a shoot...where bookstore clerk Jo Stockton (Hepburn), an ugly duckling with swan potential, is unearthed. The plot takes off from here. Cut to Paris where newly made-over model Jo wears exquisite Givenchy haute couture and is gorgeously photographed by Dick everywhere in the City of Light. Songs are sung. Dances are danced. Love blooms. A fairytale ending eventually comes to pass.

Fred Astaire as Dick Avery
The basic storyline is nothing new, but watching Hepburn, Astaire and Thompson cut loose in New York and Paris (and in song) is so easy on the eyes and ears that in so many ways...'s wonderful.

And there's the 'beatnik' interlude, most noteworthy for Audrey's dance routine in a subterranean Parisian club dressed in black turtleneck and capris with white socks. Though Hepburn battled Donen over the color of her socks, he won and the result is memorable.

Stanley Donen was never nominated for an Academy Award, although he created some of the greatest musicals in movie history - including Singin' in the Rain and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. He also made several successful non-musicals, films like Charade and Two for the Road. In 1998, the Academy honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award and in his acceptance speech he both sang and danced to Cole Porter's "Cheek to Cheek"...he still knew how to "give 'em the old pizzazz!"

Stanley Donen and his Lifetime Achievement Oscar, 1998
Click here to watch his acceptance of his Lifetime Achievement Award

19 comments:

  1. Lady E,
    Thanks for adding all of the fun trivia on Funny Girl! Had to laugh at the original 'bizzazz'.

    And how adorable is Stanley Donan? I'm glad he finally got his overdue Oscar even if it was for Lifetime Achievement.

    Off to watch his acceptance speech.
    Have a great weekend
    Page

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    1. Page, The Life Time Achievement Award seems to be something of an "Oops" Award for the many great filmmakers and actors who either never won or were never nominated for Oscars.

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  2. Eve, I always enjoy watching Funny Face. Both Hepburn and Thompson are absolute delights. The beatnik and "Think Pink" sequences are the best. You are right about Thompson stealing every scene she is in, too. I also love the fashion element, as well as the wonderful Parisian shots.

    The only downside for me is Fred Astaire--I could never get behind the idea that Hepburn's character would be attracted to Dick Avery. Sorry Freddy fans...

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    1. Fred was getting a little long in the tooth by this time, but he could still dance. Audrey Hepburn was matched with many much older male co-stars in some of her most popular films - Gregory Peck in "Roman Holiday," Humphrey Bogart in "Sabrina," Gary Cooper in "Love in the Afternoon," Gary Grant in "Charade," Rex Harrison in "My Fair Lady." I've never liked "Sabrina" as much as I might've because she and Bogart were so badly matched or "Love in the Afternoon" because Gary Cooper looked more like her grandfather. But I've never minded her with Gregory Peck or Mr. Grant - the chemistry between Audrey and these two outweighed age differences. Interestingly, Billy Wilder had wanted Cary Grant for both "Sabrina" and "Love in the Afternoon."

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  3. I remember seeing this on TV that year. It was touching!

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  4. I meant Donen's acceptance speech was touching! Don't think I was very clear there. FUNNY FACE is simply a marvelous musical. For me the beatnik interlude was the highlight!

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    1. I'm glad you clarified that, John, though I didn't think you were referring to the movie...

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  5. Eve, lovely writing on a lovely film. And so much fascinating background information. This and "The Band Wagon" are my favorite musicals Astaire made without Ginger Rogers. Audrey Hepburn was the great fashion trendsetter of the 1950s, and here, costumed by Givenchy, you can see why. Audrey looks great even as a frumpy bookstore clerk and a trendy Existentialist beatnik. But in the Louvre sequence pictured at the beginning of your post, she does indeed look like a goddess. And we get to hear her sing in her own voice, not a great voice but a perfectly acceptable one that sounds like her speaking voice. Your admiration for the film clearly inspired you to some memorable writing.

    I don't know if you've ever seen the Robert Osborne interview with Donen on TCM, but it's fascinating. Osborne confessed that about half of his ten favorite films were directed by Donen!

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    1. R.D., Ahhh, "The Bandwagon" - Mr. Minnelli and Mr. Donen were both masters of the Hollywood musical and I can't disagree with you at all on Fred Astaire's greatest musicals without Ginger Rogers. As for Audrey - what an unusual and absolutely enchanting creature she was, with a singing voice that suited her perfectly and was suitable for any of her films, including "My Fair Lady." Thank you for kind words about this post, R.D., I do take absolute delight "Funny Face" (it screened this morning in Hollywood at the TCM festival, with Stanley Donen on stage).

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  6. Audrey Hepburn had a career full of iconic cinematic moments, and she was costumed by some of the era’s most iconic designers. However, I prefer her pink dress and tiara in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” over her black sheath and sunglasses in the opening sequence. She is incandescent throughout “Funny Face”, but I think she was as close to angelic as possible in the Louvre sequence; the strapless red dress and the billowing red scarf, simply sublime. I must say in spite of Audrey being the lovely locus of the film, the story is all about Kay Thompson for me. Last night I enjoyed watching Robert Osborne’s interview with Liza Minnelli and her recollections of Kay, who seems to have been friend, mentor and surrogate mother to the actress. I cannot think of this film without remembering Kay, and I cannot think of Kay without remembering Think Pink!, an iconic moment in classic films for me. Stanley Donen and Ray June ensured a simple film would have a place in the hearts of classic film fans, and at film festivals, for decades to come. Happy Birthday, Mr. Donen, thank you for adding a little pizzazz to our lives.

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    1. 'Gypsy, Audrey Hepburn in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" has always been and will forever be my idea of ineffable chic. I do love the Givenchy gown she wore in the opening sequence, it might be my favorite movie gown of all time due to its special place in my girlhood imagination. Kay Thompson was Liza Minnelli's godmother and she lived in Liza's place in NY at the end of her life. Here's a link to a piece I did on the amazing Kay, a dynamo of talent, for the Classic Film & TV Cafe about 2 years ago: http://classic-film-tv.blogspot.com/2010/05/underrated-performer-of-month-versatile.html

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  7. I absolutely loved this post.. First of all.. I loved the clip of Martin Scorsese presenting the honorary Oscar to Stanley Donen. He had it all.. grace, elegance and humor.

    And you know.. I loved the "Think Pink!" video.. for me it is all about the musical numbers and the glamour.

    I'm with Kim, I also.. had a hard time with Hepburn's character being attracted to Dick Avery. Oh well.. Fred Astaire, is always fun to watch in his amazing dance numbers.

    Off to Amazon, to order my copy of "Funny Face"..

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    1. Dawn, I happened to watching the Oscars when Stanley Donen surprised everyone with his song & dance "thank you" - absolutely sweet and charming - and fell in love with him. You're right, "Funny Face" is quite glamorous and in many ways seems to me to epitomize the style and energy of the mid- to late '50s.

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  8. Very informative, entertaining post, Eve. While Audrey often gets the most focus in FUNNY FACE, I still think it's Fred's movie. Even in the twilight of his career, his dancing is effortless and amazing. By the way, I recently watched FINIAN'S RAINBOW again and, while not close to any of Fred's pre-1960s musicals, it's better than I remembered.

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  9. Rick, Fred was such an exquisite and iconic dancer and musical star that I was really surprised at how good he was in a straight dramatic role when I first saw "On the Beach." I haven't seen "Finian's Rainbow" but probably should. Love Mr. Astaire...

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  10. Enjoyed this posting a lot. I love both Astaire and Hepburn in this movie, and the age difference doesn't really worry me. Especially like him singing "He loves and she loves", and her singing "How long has this been going on" - a shame her own singing voice wasn't used in more movies. Great that Stanley Donen is being honoured at the TCM Classic Film Festival.

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    1. I agree about the age difference, Judy. Though I'm aware of it, it doesn't bother me - Mr. Astaire had such vitality and talent that the years have a tendency to drop away. About the Stanley Donen tribute at the TCM festival this year - it was an especially nice coincidence that the time-frame of the festival allowed its salute to Donen to begin on his birthday.

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  11. I am French and I finally saw a film of Audrey Hepburn on the big screen this summer!
    It was "Funny Face"!

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    1. C'est merveilleux! "Funny Face" must be absolutely gorgeous on a big screen.

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