Class on Broadway Melody of 1936

  • Broadway Melody of 1936
  • Chrys Ingraham Chapter One "Lifting the Veil" in White Weddings: Romancing Heterosexuality in Popular Culture 1999.
  • Andrea Weiss "'A Queer Feeling When I Look at You' Hollywood Stars and Lesbian Spectatorship in the 1930s."

The Weiss reading looks at lesbian spectatorship during the Depression with much on choices of female presentation from the sexologist’s idea of the mannish lesbian and films presentation of feminine women who wear male clothes. The Ingraham piece is an easier read that is more about current times but can be applied to the earlier time frame to show how marriage was asserted as a way to control independent women like Eleanor Powell and possibly even hide lesbianism.

Teaching Objective: To teach how a movie’s power can be found within the confines of the established rules-cross-dressing and playing with weddings-and how those confines also create limitations.

Outline for Class
    Cross-dressing and power
  • Male for comedy-a choice
    • Women for power-a necessity
    • La Belle Arlette-male creation altered into a female creation. Discarded by both
    • Power through money like Lillian
    The trickster figure
  • ‘of indeterminate sex and changeable gender’ ‘a creature who exists to break taboos, violate categories, and defy structure’ 296
    Female Companionship
  • Kitty and Irene
  • Frances Langford as character(less) and sexual object (who’s her partner? Powell’s shadow?)
    • First woman with radio performance of "Lucky Star"
    • Wears pants on stage refraining "I’ve got a Feeling You’re Foolin’"
    • Introduces final number in male attire and androgynous voice
  • Lillian-over-dressed in her femininity like Arlette. Has money, needs a partner.
  • (Ted) and Sally Burke-brother and sister. Sally to help her; Ted to get job
    Openness of endings
  • What is the feeling at the ending of the movie?
  • Who knows what? Man in the dark while the whole audience sees.
  • Morning Glory reference. Fame is fleeting-without a man?
  • How is the man unacceptable?
    The role of the wedding
  • Why does he marry her when he does? Desire or fear.
  • Is she saved?
    4 minutes Show clips from 1936
    (end of movie-Eleanor Powell dances without a partner in cross-dress and then change of scene to wedding announcement and the snorer which moves into the next room. Taylor sings "Lucky Star" to a Powell still in cross-dress, and then they hug behind flowers while the whole cast sees them embracing in the mirror.)
  • "Broadway Rhythm"
    • Power in clothes (sparking tails) and focus on her
    • Lack of voice
    • Athleticism in dance
    • Looking at camera
  • "Lucky Star"
    • Names of the women Shearer, Crawford, Hepburn, Marlowe, and my Garbo-thinks all stars, but they’re very different-Garbo and Hepburn here and in Morning Glory ‘reference, backdrop to show, and Robert’s claim that he’ll get Garbo in California.
    • Appropriation of Langford’s song, makes her seem attracted to Powell
    • When Powell sings it, "my hero sings these words to me..." Dream.
    • Powell dances to it without words
    • The importance of the audience
    • Powell doesn’t change into more feminine clothes for the ending
Additional Clip based on Timing and Discussion: (7 minutes but can be abbreviated) The opening of the finale to show Frances Langford and the other female options shown through dance partners.

Weiss article overview
Gossip is where the lesbian community was discussed while titillating heterosexual audiences. Movies gave a new way for lesbians to think of themselves. Androgyny as a way to transcend limitations (291). While the mannish lesbian was a sexologist term that some accepted with its add on of "perversion" it wasn’t necessarily how they thought of themselves. Movies presented feminine identities in masculine attire. Ending are ambiguous and men are not necessarily acceptable (293).

Ingraham introduction overview
Pervasiveness of wedding culture while U.S. doesn’t study the instituationalization of heterosexuality that it causes. Heteronormativity-that fairy tale romance is universal. Materialist feminist approach-locating ideologies historically and materially with critical understand of the object of inquiry and insights into how to create social change.

musical homepage

by Abby Manzella, American Studies at the University of Virginia, Spring 2001