Stormy Weather (1943)

78 mins | Musical | 16 July 1943

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HISTORY

The working title of this film was Thanks, Pal. According to contemporary sources, the film was loosely based on Bill "Bojangles" Robinson's life and was advertised as a "cavalcade of Negro entertainment." Robinson, who was born in 1878, began dancing professionally when he was eight and became a vaudeville and musical stage star before appearing in his first film, Dixiana, in 1930 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.1367). He was the originator of the stair tap routine and enjoyed a reputation as one of the world's leading tap dancers. Stormy Weather marked Robinson's return to the screen after a five-year absence, and was his last film. He died in 1949.
       Stormy Weather was the second all-black cast film made by a major studio in the 1940's; M-G-M's Cabin in the Sky was released just prior to Stormy Weather and also starred Lena Horne (see entry entry). The famous comedy team of Miller & Lyles was recreated for the film, with Flournoy E. Miller playing himself and Johnny Lee replacing the deceased Aubrey Lyles. According to a 12 Nov 1942 HR news item, Louis Armstrong was sought for a role in the picture. Irving Mills, a composer and publisher of Harlem musical artists, who is credited onscreen as producer and William LeBaron's assistant, was hired because of his experience with "negro shows," according to a 24 Sep 1942 HR news item. News items in California Eagle include Lucille Battles, Anise Boyer and Cleo Herndon in the cast and note that Nadine Cole, Nat King Cole's wife, dances in ...

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The working title of this film was Thanks, Pal. According to contemporary sources, the film was loosely based on Bill "Bojangles" Robinson's life and was advertised as a "cavalcade of Negro entertainment." Robinson, who was born in 1878, began dancing professionally when he was eight and became a vaudeville and musical stage star before appearing in his first film, Dixiana, in 1930 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.1367). He was the originator of the stair tap routine and enjoyed a reputation as one of the world's leading tap dancers. Stormy Weather marked Robinson's return to the screen after a five-year absence, and was his last film. He died in 1949.
       Stormy Weather was the second all-black cast film made by a major studio in the 1940's; M-G-M's Cabin in the Sky was released just prior to Stormy Weather and also starred Lena Horne (see entry entry). The famous comedy team of Miller & Lyles was recreated for the film, with Flournoy E. Miller playing himself and Johnny Lee replacing the deceased Aubrey Lyles. According to a 12 Nov 1942 HR news item, Louis Armstrong was sought for a role in the picture. Irving Mills, a composer and publisher of Harlem musical artists, who is credited onscreen as producer and William LeBaron's assistant, was hired because of his experience with "negro shows," according to a 24 Sep 1942 HR news item. News items in California Eagle include Lucille Battles, Anise Boyer and Cleo Herndon in the cast and note that Nadine Cole, Nat King Cole's wife, dances in the picture. News items also list the following musicians as members of Jim Europe's band: Charles Wellan, Ulysses Banks, Earl Hale, Maxwell Davis, Theodore Shirley, Lawrence Lassiter, Bert Brooks, Leo McCoy Davis, Herman Pickett, Eddie Myart, Rabon Tarrant, Barron Morehead, Happy Johnson, John Haughton, James Johnson, Carl George, Eddie Hutchinson, James Porter and Teddy Buckner. The participation of these performers in the final film has not been confirmed, however.
       According to memos in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, some lyrics in the following songs were deemed unacceptable by the PCA: "That Ain't Right," "Yeah Man! [Linda Brown]," "Diga Diga Doo," "Geechy Joe," "Nobody," "That Man of Mine Is Dynamite," and "Good for Nothin' Joe." The last three songs were not heard in the final film. In "Diga Diga Doo," certain suggestive lyrics were changed, and in "Geechy Joe," the phrase "his jimson blues" was changed to "the lonesome blues." A few seconds of an instrumental, "Moppin' and Boppin'" by Fats Waller, Benny Carter and Ed Kirkeby, are heard at the beginning of the Memphis café sequence.
       According to a Feb 1943 editorial in California Eagle, William Grant Still, who was a famous African-American composer, was hired as the film's music supervisor, but resigned "because [his] conscience would not let [him] accept money to help carry on a tradition directly opposed to the welfare of thirteen million people." In the editorial, Still accused the studio of labeling "Negro" music and dancing as cruder and rougher than the quality numbers that he was producing and that his musical arrangements were thus unrealistic. He also stated that one member of the crew declared that "'Negro bands didn't play that well.'" Still called on the black public to write letters to Twentieth Century-Fox and other major studios pointing out the faults in their representations of black culture and society. Despite Still's protest, Stormy Weather was praised by the mainstream press for its music and dancing. Var lauded its "all-colored cast" and the fact that it had not been "permitted to engage in any grotesque or theatrically 'typed' concepts of Negro behaviourism."
       The Var review also mentioned the "intra-trade concern" over the age difference between the film's romantic leads, Horne and Robinson, who was some forty years her senior, but noted that "the illusion comes off quite well." However, California Eagle reported on 8 Apr 1943 that a "highly indignant" Robinson was set to sue "several publications" for printing the story that Stormy Weather would be remade with another, presumably younger, male romantic lead.
       According to studio production notes on the film, the film's principal performers broadcast their musical numbers to servicemen overseas using short-wave radio. Stormy Weather and Cabin in the Sky were released during three of the nation's worst race riots. According to modern sources, the riots, which took place in Harlem, Detroit and Los Angeles (the latter known as the "zoot suit" riots) almost caused Twentieth Century-Fox to pull the film from theaters. Even though half of all first-run theaters refused to book it, the picture was a box office hit, according to an Aug 1943 HR news item.

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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
29 May 1943
---
California Eagle
3 Feb 1943
p. 2
California Eagle
17 Feb 1943
p. 2
California Eagle
3 Mar 1943
---
California Eagle
8 Mar 1943
p. 2
California Eagle
8 Apr 1943
---
Daily Variety
27 May 1943
p. 3
Film Daily
28 May 1943
p. 7
Hollywood Reporter
12 Nov 1942
p. 6
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jan 1943
p. 1
Hollywood Reporter
21 Jan 1943
p. 1
Hollywood Reporter
9 Aug 1943
p. 1
Hollywood Reporter
10 Aug 1943
p. 1
Hollywood Reporter
27 May 1943
p. 3
Hollywood Reporter
26 Jul 1943
p. 8
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
6 Mar 1943
p. 1192
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
29 May 1943
p. 1337
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
17 Jul 1943
p. 1432
New York Times
22 Jul 1943
p. 15
Variety
2 Jun 1943
p. 8
Variety
6 Jun 1943
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTOR
Andrew Stone
Dir
PRODUCERS
Asst to prod
WRITERS
From an orig story by
From an orig story by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
Cost des
MUSIC
Mus dir
Mus seq supv by
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
DANCE
Dances staged by
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
STAND INS
Stand-in for Lena Horne
SOURCES
MUSIC
"The Darktown Strutters' Ball" by Shelton Brooks; "Margie," music by Con Conrad and J. Russel Robinson; "Ja-Da" by Bob Carleton; "At a Georgia Camp Meeting," music by Kerry Mills; "De Camptown Races" by Stephen Collins Foster.
SONGS
"There's No Two Ways About Love," words by Ted Koehler, music by James P. Johnson and Irving Mills; "Linda Brown," words and music by Alvis Cowens; "That Ain't Right," words and music by Nat King Cole and Irving Mills; "Ain't Misbehavin'," words by Andy Razaf, music by Thomas "Fats" Waller and Harry Brooks; "Diga Diga Doo," words by Dorothy Fields, music by Jimmy McHugh; "I Lost My Sugar in Salt Lake City," words and music by Leon René and Johnny Lange; "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," words by Dorothy Fields, music by Jimmy McHugh, special lyrics by Eddie Jones; "Geechy Joe," words and music by Cab Calloway, Jack Palmer and Andy Gibson; "Stormy Weather," words by Ted Koehler, music by Harold Arlen; "My, My, Ain't That Somethin'," words and music by Harry Tobias and Pinky Tomlin; "The Jumpin' Jive (Jim Jam Jump)," words and music by Cab Calloway, Frank Froeba and Jack Palmer; "African Dance," words by Langston Hughes, music by Clarence Muse and Connie Bemis.
SONGWRITERS/COMPOSERS
+
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Thanks, Pal
Release Date:
16 July 1943
Production Date:
21 Jan--late Feb 1943
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
16 July 1943
LP12206
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Black and White
Sepiatone
Duration(in mins):
78
Length(in feet):
6,980
Length(in reels):
9
Country:
United States
PCA No:
9101
SYNOPSIS

On a pleasant day in Hollywood, California, Bill "Corky" Williamson, a semi-retired tap dancer, is teaching his craft to a group of neighborhood children when the mailman delivers a special edition of "Theatre World." The magazine is celebrating "the magnificent contribution of the colored race to the entertainment of the world during the past twenty-five years" and features Bill on the cover. As Bill reads the various dedications from his old friends, he reminisces about the early days of his career. One such dedication from Noble Sissle inspires Bill to remember the hero's welcome he and fellow members of Jim Europe's 15th New York Regiment band received when they returned from France after World War I: Bill and his best friend Gabe live it up in high style in New York City, and Gabe pretends to be a rich talent manager in order to impress his scatterbrained girl friend. At a hall set up as a nightclub for the returning servicemen, Bill sees a beautiful woman and discovers to his amazement that she is Selina Rogers, the sister of a close friend who died in the war. After Selina and Bill dance together, Selina is introduced as the evening's star and joins Jim Europe's band in a song. Selina and Bill are attracted to each other, but her manager, Chick Bailey, gets jealous and intervenes. Selina tries to convince Bill to stay in New York and pursue a dancing career, but Bill says he has a job waiting for him in Memphis and plans to stay there until he can make something of himself. In Memphis, Bill finds work on a riverboat, but when he dances with a ...

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On a pleasant day in Hollywood, California, Bill "Corky" Williamson, a semi-retired tap dancer, is teaching his craft to a group of neighborhood children when the mailman delivers a special edition of "Theatre World." The magazine is celebrating "the magnificent contribution of the colored race to the entertainment of the world during the past twenty-five years" and features Bill on the cover. As Bill reads the various dedications from his old friends, he reminisces about the early days of his career. One such dedication from Noble Sissle inspires Bill to remember the hero's welcome he and fellow members of Jim Europe's 15th New York Regiment band received when they returned from France after World War I: Bill and his best friend Gabe live it up in high style in New York City, and Gabe pretends to be a rich talent manager in order to impress his scatterbrained girl friend. At a hall set up as a nightclub for the returning servicemen, Bill sees a beautiful woman and discovers to his amazement that she is Selina Rogers, the sister of a close friend who died in the war. After Selina and Bill dance together, Selina is introduced as the evening's star and joins Jim Europe's band in a song. Selina and Bill are attracted to each other, but her manager, Chick Bailey, gets jealous and intervenes. Selina tries to convince Bill to stay in New York and pursue a dancing career, but Bill says he has a job waiting for him in Memphis and plans to stay there until he can make something of himself. In Memphis, Bill finds work on a riverboat, but when he dances with a group of talented minstrels on board, they encourage him to go down to Beale Street to secure a job as a dancer. One night at Ada Brown's Beale Street café, where Bill has been hired as a waiter, Bailey and Selina stop by looking for new talent to star in Bailey's new show. After Bailey offers roles to Ada, a singer, Fats, a piano player and the café's band, Selina begs him to take Bill, too. Bailey reluctantly agrees and hires Bill as an extra tom-tom player in a dance number. One evening, Bill, frustrated with his assigned role, performs a complex stair-step dance on the drums while Bailey sings. The crowd goes wild, and it takes several seconds before Bailey realizes that they are applauding Bill. When he discovers Bill's ruse, he kicks him out of the theater, but Bill punches Bailey and then has the last word when Selina agrees to go with him for a sandwich in defiance of Bailey. Back in the present, Bill is pleased to read a dedication from former enemy Bailey, who pompously has written that he was the first to recognize Bill's talent. Bill then wonders about his old friend Gabe: As Bill is about to put on his own show, he runs into Gabe, who is working as a bootblack in Harlem. Bill's show is in danger of failing because the chorus girls, who have not been paid, are threatening to quit before the first performance. To help Bill, Gabe shows up at the theater pretending to be a rich impressario and tricks the group into performing. When one of the performers, however, recognizes Gabe as the man who has shined his shoes many times, the group once again turns on him and Bill. Fortunately, Gabe's hired driver has just won money at the races. He agrees to pay the performers' salaries, and the show goes on. Later, Bill, who has earlier married Selina, asks her to move to a little house with him and raise children, but Selina tells him that she must continue to work. She goes to Paris, where she becomes a renowned star. In the present, as Bill is relaxing on his front porch with the neighborhood children, Cab Calloway stops by to pick him up for a big party, which will honor the men who are going overseas to fight in World War II. At the show, Bill reunites with a jive-talking Gabe, who is now working for Cab, and sees Selina perform. Later, she tells him that she wants to return to him and start a family. After several performances by Cab, Gabe and others, Bill and Selina appear together and all ends on a happy note.

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

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