Roberta (1935)

105 or 106.5 mins | Musical, Romantic comedy | 8 March 1935

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HISTORY

The play Roberta was based on the novel Gowns by Roberta by Alice Duer Miller. Both works are credited on screen as sources for the film. Roberta was composer Jerome Kern's last Broadway musical. In the stage play, Bob Hope played "Huck," Tamara portrayed "Stephanie" and Lyda Roberti, whose heavily accented "scat singing" Ginger Rogers imitated in the film, played "Lizzie." Four songs from the stage play--"Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," "Yesterdays," "I'll Be Hard to Handle" and "Let's Begin"--were used in the film. As background music, RKO included three other compositions from the stage play--"You're Devastating," "The Touch of Your Hand" and "Don't Ask Me Not to Sing." "I Won't Dance" was first performed as part of a 1934 Kern/Otto Harbach musical, Three Sisters . Oscar Hammerstein II's lyrics were altered and augmented by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh. "Lovely to Look At" was composed for the film and received an Academy Award nomination. In the onscreen credits, Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh are credited with "additional lyrics." Modern sources comment that, to avoid censorship problems, RKO altered some of Harbach's original lyrics.
       Production on Roberta began while RKO's immensely successful The Gay Divorcee , which also starred Rogers and Astaire, was still playing in theaters. According to a HR news item, RKO postponed shooting on Roberta to accommodate Ginger Rogers' marriage to Lew Ayres. RKO borrowed Randolph Scott from Paramount for the production, which marked Lucille Ball's RKO debut, and was the first film in which dance director Hermes Pan received a screen credit. ... More Less

The play Roberta was based on the novel Gowns by Roberta by Alice Duer Miller. Both works are credited on screen as sources for the film. Roberta was composer Jerome Kern's last Broadway musical. In the stage play, Bob Hope played "Huck," Tamara portrayed "Stephanie" and Lyda Roberti, whose heavily accented "scat singing" Ginger Rogers imitated in the film, played "Lizzie." Four songs from the stage play--"Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," "Yesterdays," "I'll Be Hard to Handle" and "Let's Begin"--were used in the film. As background music, RKO included three other compositions from the stage play--"You're Devastating," "The Touch of Your Hand" and "Don't Ask Me Not to Sing." "I Won't Dance" was first performed as part of a 1934 Kern/Otto Harbach musical, Three Sisters . Oscar Hammerstein II's lyrics were altered and augmented by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh. "Lovely to Look At" was composed for the film and received an Academy Award nomination. In the onscreen credits, Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh are credited with "additional lyrics." Modern sources comment that, to avoid censorship problems, RKO altered some of Harbach's original lyrics.
       Production on Roberta began while RKO's immensely successful The Gay Divorcee , which also starred Rogers and Astaire, was still playing in theaters. According to a HR news item, RKO postponed shooting on Roberta to accommodate Ginger Rogers' marriage to Lew Ayres. RKO borrowed Randolph Scott from Paramount for the production, which marked Lucille Ball's RKO debut, and was the first film in which dance director Hermes Pan received a screen credit. Roberta was also the feature film debut of actress Virginia Reid, who was better known in the late 1930s and 1940s by the name Lynne Carver. HR production news items and casting announcements add the following actors to the cast: Lorna Lowe, Chris Mario Meeker, Zena Savine, Anna Delinsky, Madame Borguet, Etienne Girardot, Gene Sheldon, and George Davis. Their participation in the final film has not been confirmed. Modern sources complete the above-mentioned casting as follows: Lorna Lowe ( Model ), Gene Sheldon ( Orchestra member ), Mary Forbes ( Mrs. Teale ) and William Davidson ( Purser ). According to HR , Lorna Lowe was cast without a screen test after producer Lee Marcus "spotted her" in a crowd of 872 "dress extras."
       A contemporary article in Liberty stated that the production cost about $750,000, with a third of the money going to salaries for the principals and two-thirds paying for production costs, including Bernard Newman's gowns, which cost $250,000. An Apr 1935 HR news item referred to Roberta as RKO's "biggest drawing card" and noted that the film broke box office records everywhere it had played. The running time for Feb 1935 previews of the film was listed in reviews as 85 minutes, 20 minutes less than the general release running time, suggesting that considerable footage may have been added to the final release prints.
       Modern sources add the following information about the film: While en route to London to see Gay Divorce in Dec 1933, RKO production head Pandro S. Berman saw the hit stage show Roberta in New York. A few months later, RKO outbid Paramount and M-G-M and bought the rights to the play for $65,000. Just prior to this purchase, RKO bought the rights to Ringstrasse , a play by Hungarian playwright Aladar Laszlo, with the intention of "Americanizing" it as a vehicle for Rogers and Astaire. Allan Scott prepared a treatment for the film version of Ringstrasse , renamed The World By the Tail , and may have hired Kern, who had recently moved to Los Angeles, to work on the project as well. Eventually, however, the Hungarian play was replaced by Roberta . According to a modern interview with screenwriter Allan Scott, several scenes for the film were written during production and were sent by telegram to the set by Scott and Berman, who were traveling across country by train at the time. The rehearsal period lasted for nine weeks. Astaire choreographed his dance routines two weeks before Kern had finished the score. Hal Borne, Astaire's real-life rehearsal pianist and a member of the film's "Wabash Indianians," played piano off-screen as part of a duet with Astaire in the "I Won't Dance" number. Roberta made RKO $770,000 in profits.
       Many modern sources comment on the importance of Roberta in the careers of Rogers and Astaire, claiming that the film cemented the performers' partnership in a way that neither The Gay Divorcee nor Flying Down to Rio had. Additional modern cast credits include Mike Tellegen and Sam Savitsky ( Cossacks ), Howard Lally and Bill Carey, ( Orchestra members ), Dale Van Sickel ( Dance extra ) and Judith Vosselli and Rita Gould. Modern Crew credits include Mel Berns ( Make-up artist ) and John Miehle ( Still photographer ).
       In 1952, RKO sold the rights to Roberta to M-G-M, which remade the story as Lovely to Look At , with Kathryn Grayson, Red Skelton and Howard Keel starring and Mervyn LeRoy directing. Modern sources state that because M-G-M owned Roberta , the film was not broadcast on television for many years. Two NBC television versions of the play starring Bob Hope were broadcast in 1955 and 1958. For additional information about the RKO Astaire-Rogers films, see entry for Top Hat . More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
9 Feb 35
p. 3.
Film Daily
12 Feb 35
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Nov 34
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Nov 34
p. 3
Hollywood Reporter
30 Nov 34
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Dec 34
p. 9, 15
Hollywood Reporter
10 Dec 34
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Dec 34
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Dec 34
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jan 35
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Jan 35
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Feb 35
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Mar 35
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Apr 35
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Feb 36
p. 3.
Liberty
30-Mar-35
---
Motion Picture Daily
13 Feb 35
p. 10.
Motion Picture Herald
29 Dec 34
p. 53.
Motion Picture Herald
23 Feb 35
p. 54.
New York Times
8 Mar 35
p. 25.
Variety
31 Mar 35
p. 15.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Pandro S. Berman Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
2nd asst dir
PRODUCER
Prod assoc
WRITERS
Scr
Addl dial
Contr to trmt
PHOTOGRAPHY
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir assoc
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATOR
Set dresser
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus dir
SOUND
Mus rec
DANCE
Dance arr
Asst dance dir
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
STAND INS
Stand-in
Stand-in
Stand-in
Stand-in
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play Roberta , music by Jerome Kern, book and lyrics by Otto Harbach (New York, 18 Nov 1933) and the novel Gowns by Roberta by Alice Duer Miller (New York, 1933).
SONGS
"Let's Begin," "Yesterdays" and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Otto Harback
"Indiana," music and lyrics by Ballard MacDonald and James F. Hanley
"Russian Song," traditional
+
SONGS
"Let's Begin," "Yesterdays" and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Otto Harback
"Indiana," music and lyrics by Ballard MacDonald and James F. Hanley
"Russian Song," traditional
"I'll Be Hard to Handle," music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Otto Harbach and Bernard Dougall
"I Won't Dance," music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh
"Lovely to Look At," music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
8 March 1935
Production Date:
26 November 1934--21 January 1935
Copyright Claimant:
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
26 February 1935
Copyright Number:
LP5363
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Victor System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
105 or 106.5
Length(in reels):
12
Country:
United States
PCA No:
601
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Because he was expecting American Indians, Alexander Voyda, the owner of the Cafe Russe in Paris, refuses to honor his engagement contract with the Wabash Indianians, an all-white jazz band led by the versatile Huck Haines. With no immediate job prospects in Paris, the band follows John Kent, a former college football star who is traveling with them, to Roberta's, an exclusive dressmaking shop run by John's aunt, Minnie. There John meets Stephanie, Minnie's devoted assistant and an exiled Russian princess, while Huck runs into Lizzie Gatz, a former lover who is masquerading as the tempermental cabaret performer, Comtesse "Tanka" Scharwenka. To assure Huck's silence, Lizzie arranges for the Wabash Indianians to audition at the Russe Cafe, unaware that Voyda has already rejected them. In spite of the band's impressive audition, Voyda refuses to hire them until Lizzie threatens to sing at a rival club. Then John, whose snobbish fiancée, Sophie Teale, had broken their engagement because of his simple country ways, is "made over" by Stephanie and Minnie. A short time later, Minnie dies of a heart attack, and John inherits Roberta's. After some argument, John and Stephanie agree to form a partnership and run the business together. When Sophie reads of John's new venture, she leaves America and heads for Paris, her romantic interests suddenly rekindled. Although jealous and hurt, Stephanie, who has fallen in love with John, feigns indifference to her forceful rival. However, when Sophie insists on buying a revealing dress that John had previously ordered removed from the collection, Huck and Stephanie sell it to her, knowing that John will react violently upon seeing it on her. ... +


Because he was expecting American Indians, Alexander Voyda, the owner of the Cafe Russe in Paris, refuses to honor his engagement contract with the Wabash Indianians, an all-white jazz band led by the versatile Huck Haines. With no immediate job prospects in Paris, the band follows John Kent, a former college football star who is traveling with them, to Roberta's, an exclusive dressmaking shop run by John's aunt, Minnie. There John meets Stephanie, Minnie's devoted assistant and an exiled Russian princess, while Huck runs into Lizzie Gatz, a former lover who is masquerading as the tempermental cabaret performer, Comtesse "Tanka" Scharwenka. To assure Huck's silence, Lizzie arranges for the Wabash Indianians to audition at the Russe Cafe, unaware that Voyda has already rejected them. In spite of the band's impressive audition, Voyda refuses to hire them until Lizzie threatens to sing at a rival club. Then John, whose snobbish fiancée, Sophie Teale, had broken their engagement because of his simple country ways, is "made over" by Stephanie and Minnie. A short time later, Minnie dies of a heart attack, and John inherits Roberta's. After some argument, John and Stephanie agree to form a partnership and run the business together. When Sophie reads of John's new venture, she leaves America and heads for Paris, her romantic interests suddenly rekindled. Although jealous and hurt, Stephanie, who has fallen in love with John, feigns indifference to her forceful rival. However, when Sophie insists on buying a revealing dress that John had previously ordered removed from the collection, Huck and Stephanie sell it to her, knowing that John will react violently upon seeing it on her. As predicted, John fumes at the sight of the tasteless dress, causing Sophie to storm away from the Cafe Russe in a huff. Then Stephanie, who is singing for a group of fellow Russians, admits that she sold Sophie the dress and is denounced by John. After both Stephanie and John desert the business, Huck fills in for them temporarily but shows no talent for fashion design. To save Roberta's reputation, Stephanie agrees to design a line of clothes for an upcoming fashion show, at which Huck, Lizzie and she will also perform. During the show, John shows up and hears that Stephanie is going to marry Ladislaw, an exiled Russian prince. In spite of the show's success, which has inspired Lizzie to accept Huck's proposal, John prepares to leave Paris until Stephanie confesses her love and assures him that Ladislaw is her cousin, not her lover. +

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

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