For many people, the highlight of this movie, is Judy's performance in singing the unforgettable song 'Get happy'. Although the performances of messers Silvers and Kelly in the 'Heavenly Music' song runs Judy pretty close I feel! (this was originally a trio with Gene, Phil and Judy. But Judy didn't show up to work the day of shooting and so they filmed the scene without her).
One quirk of fate, Gene Kelly was playing the part of Joe Ross, in a few more years Phil would be acting alongside a different Joe (E) Ross (Rupert Ritzik) in the Bilko show!
This musical film was directed by Charles Walters and as well as the three protagonists it also stars Eddie Bracken, Gloria DeHaven, Marjorie Main. Nicholas Castle Sr was the choreographer. Phil and Gloria DeHaven sung the best new song 'Fall in Love' (music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Mack Gordon), but this was cut from the film. Possibly because it features Phil and Gloria instead of Gene and Judy.
In the canon of MGM musicals of the Golden Age, Summer Stock is an overlooked and underrated pleasure. It is a real good fun/feelgood movie. With Gene and Judy as captivating as ever and Phil also on cracking form.
Gene and Phil Silver's 'Heavenly Music' number near the end, (complete with blacked-out teeth, giant rubber feet, yodeling, barking dogs, etc) is MGM at its most wackiest, a nice way for the big-city theatre people to poke fun at the locals who resent them so keenly.
This was Judy's third and final film with Gene Kelly, who also makes a strong impression with a solo dance he does on an empty stage that involves a squeaky floorboard and a newspaper, and two great duets with co-star Phil: 'Dig dig dig for your Dinner' and, of course, 'Heavenly Music' - Attention should also be paid to a lovely solo Judy has called 'Friendly Star'. This musical was an MGM classic that definitely marked the end of an era.
Judy Garland struggled with many personal problems during filming, and Summer Stock proved to be her last MGM movie and also her last pairing with Gene Kelly onscreen. By 1951, Judy was contracted to make one more MGM musical, Royal Wedding with Fred Astaire, but was fired from that production, MGM terminated Judy's contract in September 1950.
Main cast (in credits order):
Judy Garland......Jane Falbury; Gene Kelly......Joe D. Ross; Eddie Bracken......Orville Wingait; Gloria DeHaven......Abigail Falbury; Marjorie Main......Esme; Phil......Herb Blake; Ray Collins......Jasper G. Wingait; Nita Bieber.......Sarah Higgins; Carleton Carpenter......Artie; Hans Conried........Harrison I. Keath
Directed by Charles Walters and Produced by Joe Pasternak
Phil Silvers best ever moment onstage, came with the hugely entertaining show, Top Banana. Hy Kraft, a writer acquaintance of Phils, had come up with an idea about doing a musical about a comedian; it was called Jest for Laughs, and Johnny Mercer had agreed to participate by writing the songs. Phil found Kraft's material corny so he suggested that they come up with a different formula. 'Mr. Television' - Milton Berle was enjoying huge success, at this time, and Phil thought it would be funny if they did a parody of his old friend. They worked on doing a show about a highly strung former burlesque comedian (renamed Jerry Biffle to keep lawsuits at bay) who had now become a huge but difficult television star. The show was renamed Top Banana.
First to climb aboard the Banana bandwagon were former Phil mentor. Herbie Faye and his namesake Joey Faye, no relation, who appeared with Phil in High Button Shoes. Also recruited was Jack Albertson, a colleague from Phil's early days at the Minskys. Walter Dare Wahl, the ageing vaudeville comedian and former body contortionist, came out of 'early retirement' to play Biffle's masseur. Possibly so that he and Phil could relive the old days!
Rose Marie was brought in to play Betty Dillon, the female lead in the show. She remembered this about her experience with the show: "Phil called and said, 'I want you to do this show with me,'" ---- Rose Marie said, "Well, send me a script.' It wasn't even a show ---- it was twelve pages! Rose Marie said 'Where the hell's the show?' Phil replied, 'Well, we'll do it as we do it.'"
Phil Silvers called East to play the lead in the Broadway production of Top Banana. This was like casting Lassie in Lassie. Phil was, of course, a natural. Phil and his old routines were sensational. His job was to play the thinly disguised part of an ex-banana, Milton Berle, and his then sensational rise into television fame. One night, after his timing was off and the show went bad, Phil walked into Lindy's, a Broadway cheesecake and bagel parlor, and spotted Berle. "Boy," he said, "Were YOU lousy tonight."
When Milton Berle asked Phil about his new show and the plotline, Phil had no choice but to tell him that it was "about a guy who's been 'on' all his life. His only goal is the laugh........Everything to him is a comedy bit.........He never listens to anyone's conversation --- He's just thinking of what he'll say next. The poor guy never had a chance to develop in any other areas." Milton replied, after a bit of a pause, with a beaming smile, "I'll be a sonofabitch --- I know guys just like that!"
The words and songs for Top Banana were developed 'off-the-cuff' in rehearsals. The show proved to be possibly the most explosively funny musical that has ever been produced. The critics fell over themselves to give it 'Triple A' ratings. Celebrated actor and funnyman, Mel Brooks watched the show at the time and says that Phil "Had more pep and energy that I've ever seen in a leading comic. He got in the middle of the two guys doing an old-fashioned stuck-together --- hands, arms --- and he was literally hysterical. I can't even describe it. Top Banana taught me a lot about how to write a Broadway show to get really big laughs. When I was writing The Producers, I said, 'I've gotta bring that back to the theatre.' It was a mandate to me."
During one performance an actor playing an advertising executive was sick, so a skinny, assistant stage manager filled in. At his first entrance, the spectacle of the kid in the fancy suit with the homburg over his ears broke Phil up. He just couldn't stop himself laughing. He said this at the time, "That wasn't too bad, everybody was laughing; the orchestra was dropping their trombones and the audience could see what I was laughing about; they could understand it. But later on, I was there on the stage all alone. And suddenly I thought of that character's entrance and I broke up again. Now it was serious. The orchestra wasn't laughing and neither was the audience. They just stared at me, alone on the stage and laughing. It was awful."
A major highlight of the show was the skit with the dog named Sport. Jerry Biffle and Sport would grab the attention of animal lovers everywhere with their rendition of 'A Dog is a Man's Best Friend'. When Jerry (Phil) reached the end of the lyrics ".........when I'm blue and lonesome too, nobody understands me like my dog......." the dog suddenly would point his snout upwards and yowl and yowl to the tune. The dog was now upstaging Jerry, who became angrier and angrier at this, until finally roaring the tagline, "If you want a pal that's quiet and peaceful .........BUY A CAT!" Phil Silvers became great friends with Sport, sometimes the pooch would even stay with him in his hotel.....after every performance of 'A Dog is a Man's Best Friend' Phil fed the show-stopping canine.
Jerry Biffle and Sport the dog
Top Banana statistics:
Song List ................... Sung By
The Man of the Year This Week .................. Ensemble
You're So Beautiful That .................. Cliff Lane
Top Banana ................... Jerry Biffle, Vic Davis, Cliff Lane, Pinky and Moe
Elevator Song .................. Ensemble
Hail to MacCracken's .................. Ensemble
Only If You're in Love .................. Cliff Lane and Sally Peters
My Home Is in My Shoes ................... Tommy and Ensemble
I Fought Every Step of the Way (Orchestrated by Bill Finnigan and Composed by Johnny Mercer) ................ Betty Dillon
O.K. for TV .................. Jerry Biffle, Vic Davis, Sally Peters, Pinky, Moe, Danny and Russ Wiswell
Slogan Song ................... Jerry Biffle, Betty Dillon, Vic Davis, Sally Peters, Cliff Lane, Tommy, Pinky, Moe, Danny, Russ Wiswell and Mr. Parker
Meet Miss Blendo ..................... Entire Company
Sans Souci (Orchestrated by Bill Finnigan and Composed by Johnny Mercer) ..................... Betty Dillon, Featured Dancer and Ensemble
A Dog Is a Man's Best Friend................... Jerry Biffle, Ted (Sport) Morgan and The Grenadiers
That's For Sure .................... Cliff Lane, Sally Peters and Ensemble
Be My Guest (replaced "That's For Sure" during run) .....................
A Word Is Day .................... Jerry Biffle and Betty Dillon
Top Banana Ballet ................... Jerry Biffle and Ensemble Finale
Opening Night Production Credits:
Produced by Paula Stone and Michael Sloane
Music by Johnny Mercer
Lyrics by Johnny Mercer
Book by Hy S. Kraft
Vocal arrangements and direction by Hugh Martin
Musical Director: Harold Hastings
Music orchestrated by Don Walker
Featuring songs by Bill Finnigan
Directed by Jack Donohue
Choreographed by Ron Feitcher
Scenic Design by Jo Mielziner
Lighting Design by Jo Mielziner
Costume Design by Alvin Colt
Company Manager: Joe Roth
General Manager: Harry Zevin
Production Stage Manager: Fred Hebert
Stage Manager: Danny Brennan
Assistant Stage Mgr: Louis De Mangus
Orchestra Personnel Manager: Meyer Davis
Production Associate: Harry Zevin
General Press Representative: Bill Doll
Opening Night Cast:
Phil Silvers: Jerry Biffle
Jack Albertson: Vic Davis
Florence Baum: Sales Girl, Dancer
Marion Burke: Model, Singer
Dean Campbell: Announcer, Singer
Nikki Cellini: Dancer
Zachary A. Charles: Russ Wiswell
Donald Covert: Stagehand, Photographer, Singer
Sara Dillon: Bubble Girl, Elevator Operator, Singer
Lindy Doherty: Cliff Lane
Herbie Faye: Moe
Joey Faye: Pinky
Herb Fields: Photographer, Singer
Joan Fields: Customer, Featured Dancer
Ed Hanley: Danny
Mary Harmon: A Passing Girl, Singer
Ken Harvey: TV Technician, Photographer, Singer
Bradford Hatton: Mr. Parker
Claude Heater: Juggler, Singer
Eve Hebert: Script Girl, Sales Girl, Dancer
Betsy Holland: Customer, Miss Pillsbury, Singer
Bill Joyce: Dancer
B.J. Keating: Customer, Singer
Bob Kole: Singer
John Laverty: Dancer
Hal Loman: Featured Dancer
Douglas Luther: Customer, Dr. Leroy, Singer
Judy Lynn: Sally Peters
George Marci: Dancer
Rose Marie: Betty Dillon
Don McKay: Photographer, Singer
Ted (Sport) Morgan: Ted (Sport) Morgan
Basha Regis: Model, The Magician's Assistant
Bob Scheerer: Tommy, Dance Team
Laurel Shelby: Customer, Singer
Judy Sinclair: The Widow, Singer
Joy Skylar: Sales Girl, Dancer
Gloria Smith: "Bubbles", Dancer
Vivian Smith: Dancer
Walter Stane: Dancer
Bill Sumner: Dancer
Thelma Tadlock: Dancer
Johnny Trama: A Man
Ken Urmston: Dancer
Walter Wahl: Walter
Polly Ward: Sales Girl, Dance Team, Dancer
Beverly Weston: Bubble Girl, Singer
Understudies: Jack Albertson (Jerry Biffle), Dan Brennan (Danny), Dean Campbell (Cliff Lane), Donald Covert (Walter), Louis De Mangus (Russ Wiswell), Sara Dillon (Sally Peters), Ed Hanley (Moe, Pinky), Ken Harvey (Vic Davis), Hal Loman (Tommy), George Marci (Featured Dancer), Gloria Smith (Featured Dancer), Hope Zee (Betty Dillon).
Top Banana had become an enormous hit. . . . . . a sort of "audience show". . . . . and yet it still had huge admirers in the world of the top theatre critics!!
"Mr Silvers is that tall, lean, toothy mountebank with a bald head and horn-rimmed glasses. After learning his trade the hard way, he took centre of the stage in High Button Shoes in 1947. That was funny enough for most purposes. But in Top Banana Mr Silvers is completely hilarious, throwing gags helter-skelter at high speed and running through some uproarious burlesque routines. . . . . . . . . This column hopes he will husband his strength as frugally as possible. For this is a very funny show, and things being as they are at the moment, the country needs it sorely." Brookes Atkinson (famed New York Times drama critic)
"The one man among the newer comics who seems worthy of the company of such surviving masters as Bobby Clark and Bert Lahr is Phil Silvers, and he has never been in better form than he is in Top Banana. . . . . . . . .It has some of the funniest scenes in the recent history of the theater . . . . . . . . When Mr Silvers and his colleagues get their hands madly entangled in an elopement, I found myself recognizably close to hysterics." Richard Watts of the New York Post.
The star admires his huge name!
Top Banana played at the Winter Garden Theatre, Broadway from November 1, 1951 until October 4, 1952. 350 performances of the show had been expertly turned out. Then it went on for a further two more years on a tour of America that would end in Los Angeles.
Top Banana brochure
At the March, 1952 Tony Awards® the Best Actor in a Musical went to Phil for Top Banana. Nobody could deny him the win after all of his tremendous performances.
Gertrude Lawrence (The King and I), Phil Silvers (Top Banana), and Judy Garland,
Indeed, the role of Jerry Biffle won Phil every possible award that "treading the boards" could offer: As well as the Tony he was given accolades from Variety, Billboard, the New York Drama Critics Circle, Donaldson and Sylvania......phew!
"Jerry Biffle won me every award the theatre offered a male star in a musical - Tony, Variety, Billboard, New York Drama Critics Circle, Donaldson, Sylvania. I think Berle felt he should have had some award too!"
Phil and most of the cast repeated their roles for the 1954 film version of Top Banana. Producers Albert Zugsmith and Ben Peskay decided to film the show exactly as it had been presented on stage in sold out performances across the country. The company packed up the sets and costumes and moved the entire company over to the Motion Picture Center Studios in Hollywood, where a mock theater "stage" set was built.
Zugsmith and Peskey decided to film Top Banana in 3-D with the idea in mind that this approach would give the entire audience a choice seat at a top Broadway show, for merely the price of a movie ticket. Zugsmith envisioned this format as a new way to inexpensively film stage shows, and present them in theatres across the country.
The crew even developed a rather complicated tracking shot for the opening of the film. The camera would be the person approaching the theater. It would go to the box office and buy tickets, enter the lobby and proceed down to a seat in the third row, center stage. The lights would dim, the overture would play and the show would begin. This elaborate opening was abandoned instead there was a static shot of the theater marquee, which then dissolves directly into the stage show.
Top Banana was photographed with Natural Vision cameras in July 1953, the same rigs that filmed the trend-setting Bwana Devil, as well as other popular 3-D pictures. Unfortunately for the producers, the film was in post-production in September 1953 just as The Robe and CinemaScope hit theaters, and 3-D was starting to decline at the box office.
The whole film, with it's mish-mash of behind the scenes workers, had been shot in just a day and a half, a fact unheard of in todays movie industry.
When it was sneak previewed, shown to the trade publications, and released in February 1954, Top Banana was shown in the two-dimensional version only. The soundtrack was badly recorded and the picture was left with all kinds of weird blurring effects.
After the runaway comedic success of the stage version, Phil Silvers made nothing out of the movie remake of Top Banana.....