Birth of the Blues (1941)

80 or 87 mins | Musical | 7 November 1941

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HISTORY

The following written prologue appears in the onscreen credits of the film: "Dedicated to the musical pioneers of Memphis and New Orleans who favored the 'hot' over the 'sweet'--those early jazz men who took American music out of the rut and put it 'in the groove'." A photographic montage closing the film features Ted Lewis, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, George Gershwin and Paul Whiteman. A St. Louis Post-Dispatch review mistakenly stated that W. C. Handy appears in the montage. A scene from Paramount's 1925 release The Golden Princess , starring Betty Bronson and Neil Hamilton, is featured in this film (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.2171 ). According to information in Life magazine, the film is loosely based on the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, "one of the first white bands to play in respectable quarters," and the band that young "Jeff" encounters as a boy is loosely based on the Razzy Dazzy Spasm Band, a black group that played along Basin Street in New Orleans. Director Victor Schertzinger died approximately two weeks before the film was released, on 26 Oct 1941.
       The following information derives from the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library: The film finished four days ahead of schedule and came in $15,000 under budget at a final cost of $857,283; Douglas Gardner and Harry Harvey, Jr. tested for the part of "Jeff" as a young boy. The contractual agreement attached to the main title billing shows that Paramount had the right to bill actor Eddie Anderson as "Rochester," the name of the character for which he was renowned, but could ... More Less

The following written prologue appears in the onscreen credits of the film: "Dedicated to the musical pioneers of Memphis and New Orleans who favored the 'hot' over the 'sweet'--those early jazz men who took American music out of the rut and put it 'in the groove'." A photographic montage closing the film features Ted Lewis, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, George Gershwin and Paul Whiteman. A St. Louis Post-Dispatch review mistakenly stated that W. C. Handy appears in the montage. A scene from Paramount's 1925 release The Golden Princess , starring Betty Bronson and Neil Hamilton, is featured in this film (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.2171 ). According to information in Life magazine, the film is loosely based on the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, "one of the first white bands to play in respectable quarters," and the band that young "Jeff" encounters as a boy is loosely based on the Razzy Dazzy Spasm Band, a black group that played along Basin Street in New Orleans. Director Victor Schertzinger died approximately two weeks before the film was released, on 26 Oct 1941.
       The following information derives from the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library: The film finished four days ahead of schedule and came in $15,000 under budget at a final cost of $857,283; Douglas Gardner and Harry Harvey, Jr. tested for the part of "Jeff" as a young boy. The contractual agreement attached to the main title billing shows that Paramount had the right to bill actor Eddie Anderson as "Rochester," the name of the character for which he was renowned, but could not address him as such in the film. This film marked trombonist Jack Teagarden's feature film debut. Bassist Harry Barris previously played with Bing Crosby in his Rhythm Boys group. HR news items indicate that Constance Moore, Lillian Cornell and Virginia Dale were teamed to star in the film; Eddie Bracken was initially signed for a comedy role; Ben Holmes was signed to work on the script; Mark Sandrich was originally enlisted to produce and direct; and Monta Bell took over producing when producer A. M. Botsford left Paramount studios.
       The MPAA/PCA files at the AMPAS Library reveal the following information: The initial plot synopsis, dated 21 Mar 1941, includes the death of the character "Louey," who is killed by a gunshot wound. (In the film he survives a blow to the head). One day later, PCA director Joseph I. Breen reported to Paramount, "While the basic story is satisfactory...the present script cannot be approved for the reason that it contains many unacceptable scenes of the 'red light district' of New Orleans, prostitutes, unacceptable dialogue and the business of two murderers escaping all punishment." Paramount subsequently submitted a revised script and Breen added some other suggestions regarding specific scenes in the script: "We regard it as unnecessary for the proper telling of this story that the colored man, who is thrown out of the saloon, be shown drunk . This...should be omitted"; "Care must be exercised as to the costuming and the dancing of these Negroes if the scenes are to be approved by us"; "It is very questionable as to how the people of the South will react to these scenes showing a white boy playing with the Negro band"; "Any suggestion that the colored girl is acting 'flirtatiously' toward Jeff, a white man, should be avoided. Her speech 'Anything in Memphis that Chattanooga ain't got?' must be read without sexual suggestiveness." Some later suggestions as the script was developed are as follows: "Phoebe's use of the word 'panties' may be deleted by some political censor boards." "The business of Phoebe putting panties on the dolly should be handled carefully."
       John Seitz was listed as photographer in the first HR production chart listing for this film, but the extent of his contribution to the final film has not been determined. According to the press book, trumpet player "Pokey" Carriere coached Brian Donlevy for this film. A trailer advertising the film featured band leaders Freddy Martin, John Scott Trotter, Ray Noble and Bob Crosby. The Paramount press department cooked up a "feud" between the cities of Memphis and New Orleans to determine which city was the true originator of "the blues" and thus would rightfully premiere the film, resulting in a double premiere in both Memphis and New Orleans. Robert Emmett Dolan was nominated for an Academy Award for Music (Scoring of a Musical Picture) for this film.
       In 1942, a HR news item reported that the British music publishing house of Campbell, Connelly and Co., Ltd., was suing Paramount over the rights to W. C. Handy's song "Memphis Blues." According to the news item, Paramount obtained rights to the song from the owners, listed as Mercer and Morris, despite the fact that Campbell, Connelly and Co. previously bought the rights. The outcome of the lawsuit has not been determined. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
Dec 41
p. 570.
Box Office
6 Sep 1941.
---
Daily Variety
3 Sep 1941.
---
Film Daily
3 Sep 41
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Jan 1941.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Feb 41
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Feb 41
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Apr 41
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Apr 41
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
9 May 41
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Sep 41
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Sep 41
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Oct 41
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Oct 41
p. 2.
Life
17 Nov 1941.
---
Look
16 Dec 1941.
---
Motion Picture Herald
6 Sep 1941.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
13 Sep 41
p. 261.
New York Herald Tribune
7 Dec 1941.
---
New York Times
11 Dec 41
p. 39.
New Yorker
13 Dec 1941.
---
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
4 Jan 1942.
---
Variety
3 Sep 41
p. 8.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Rochester
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITERS
Story
Contr wrt
Contr wrt
Comedy gags by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
2d cam
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed asst
2d asst dir
SET DECORATORS
Set dresser supv
Set dresser
COSTUMES
Cost
Ward
Ward woman
MUSIC
Mus supv and dir
Mus adv
Dixieland arr
DANCE
Dance dir
MAKEUP
Hairdresser supv
Hairdresser
Makeup supv
Makeup artist
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Prod control mgr
Unit mgr
Livestock supv
Dial coach
STAND INS
Stand-in
Stand-in
Stand-in
Clarinet double for Bing Crosby
Cornet double for Brian Donlevy
SOURCES
MUSIC
"Minuet in G" from 6 Humoresques de Concert by Ignacy Jan Paderewski
"At a Georgia Camp Meeting" by Kerry Mills.
SONGS
"The Waiter, the Porter and the Upstairs Maid," music and lyrics by Johnny Mercer
"After the Ball," music and lyrics by Charles K. Harris
"The Birth of the Blues," music by Ray Henderson, lyrics by B. G. DeSylva and Lew Brown
+
SONGS
"The Waiter, the Porter and the Upstairs Maid," music and lyrics by Johnny Mercer
"After the Ball," music and lyrics by Charles K. Harris
"The Birth of the Blues," music by Ray Henderson, lyrics by B. G. DeSylva and Lew Brown
"By the Light of the Silvery Moon," music by Gus Edwards, lyrics by Edward Madden
"Carnival of Venice," music by Nicolò Paganini, lyrics by Barclay Grey
"Cuddle Up a Little Closer, Lovey Mine," music by Karl Hoschna, lyrics by Otto Harbach
"The Memphis Blues," music by W. C. Handy, lyrics by George A. Norton
"St. Louis Blues," music and lyrics by W. C. Handy
"My Melancholy Baby," music by Ernie Burnett, lyrics by George A. Norton
"St. James Infirmary," music and lyrics by Joe Primrose
"Tiger Rag," music by Original Dixieland Jazz Band, lyrics by Harry DeCosta
"Wait 'Til the Sun Shines, Nellie," music by Harry Von Tilzer, lyrics by Andrew B. Sterling
"Waiting at the Church," music by Henry E. Pether, lyrics by Fred W. Leigh
"That's Why They Call Me 'Shine'," music by Ford Dabney, lyrics by Cecil Mack.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
7 November 1941
Premiere Information:
Memphis, TN and New Orleans, LA premieres: 31 October 1941
Production Date:
21 April--4 June 1941
Copyright Claimant:
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
7 November 1941
Copyright Number:
LP10985
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
80 or 87
Length(in feet):
7,686
Country:
United States
PCA No:
7330
SYNOPSIS

As a young boy in 1890s New Orleans, Jeff Lambert instinctively leans toward the jazz music of the local black musicians, despite the severe beatings he gets from his conservative father for associating with them. As an adult, Jeff bails renowned white coronet player Memphis out of jail and forms a Dixieland-style jazz band. The band, billed as the Basin Street Hotshots, is thrown out of a movie theater for playing "black" music and is thereafter rejected from every nightclub and café for the same reason. They finally get a break when Betty Lou Cobb, who has befriended Jeff and is the cause of rivalry between him and Memphis, gets a job singing at the mob-owned Black-Tie Café and insists that she be backed only by Jeff's band. Although the audience is initially resistant to the jazz music, Betty Lou encourages people to dance, and everyone becomes enthusiastic for the "new" style of jazz. As the band brings renown and acclaim to itself and the club, Memphis and Jeff have a falling out over Betty Lou, who rejected Memphis' marriage proposal because she loves Jeff, who is only interested in his music. Jeff insists that the band move on to a better engagement at the Lafayette Café, but Blackie, the owner of the Black-Tie Café, makes good on his threats and raids the Lafayette, where he beats up the band members and severely injures their close friend Louey, who was trying to deliver to Jeff a telegram informing him of an engagement in Chicago. After seeing that Louey will recover, the band members prepare to leave for Chicago, but Blackie's thugs trap them ... +


As a young boy in 1890s New Orleans, Jeff Lambert instinctively leans toward the jazz music of the local black musicians, despite the severe beatings he gets from his conservative father for associating with them. As an adult, Jeff bails renowned white coronet player Memphis out of jail and forms a Dixieland-style jazz band. The band, billed as the Basin Street Hotshots, is thrown out of a movie theater for playing "black" music and is thereafter rejected from every nightclub and café for the same reason. They finally get a break when Betty Lou Cobb, who has befriended Jeff and is the cause of rivalry between him and Memphis, gets a job singing at the mob-owned Black-Tie Café and insists that she be backed only by Jeff's band. Although the audience is initially resistant to the jazz music, Betty Lou encourages people to dance, and everyone becomes enthusiastic for the "new" style of jazz. As the band brings renown and acclaim to itself and the club, Memphis and Jeff have a falling out over Betty Lou, who rejected Memphis' marriage proposal because she loves Jeff, who is only interested in his music. Jeff insists that the band move on to a better engagement at the Lafayette Café, but Blackie, the owner of the Black-Tie Café, makes good on his threats and raids the Lafayette, where he beats up the band members and severely injures their close friend Louey, who was trying to deliver to Jeff a telegram informing him of an engagement in Chicago. After seeing that Louey will recover, the band members prepare to leave for Chicago, but Blackie's thugs trap them in their apartment. By putting on a record while the thugs wait outside, the band pretends to rehearse and the members sneak out one by one. Finally, only Jeff and Memphis remain and when the record skips, the thugs run in shooting. After they unintentionally shoot their boss, Blackie, the thugs run, but not before Jeff saves Memphis from their attack. Memphis admits to Jeff that he is not a one-woman man, and so when they reach the boat, Jeff and Betty Lou profess their love for each other. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.