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Rummaging Through Fox's Vaults

Television: AMC's 'Hidden Hollywood' features never-before-seen musical sequences, outtakes, screen tests and other material.

November 17, 1997|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For decades, discarded musical numbers and outtakes starring such legends as Alice Faye, Betty Grable and Shirley Temple have been languishing in the vaults at 20th Century Fox.

Thanks to the largess of a retiring studio vault manager, former Fox publicist-turned-filmmaker Kevin Burns was given access to these treasures.

"People knew about them, but nobody had really seen them," Burns says.

Until now.

"Hidden Hollywood: Treasures From the 20th Century Fox Film Vaults," premiering Tuesday on American Movie Classics, is manna from heaven for the movie buff. The hourlong special, hosted by Joan Collins, features more than a dozen never-before-seen musical sequences, outtakes, screen tests and other material.

Among the highlights:

* Shirley Temple and Jimmy Durante performing "Hop, Skip and Jump" from 1938's "Little Miss Broadway."

* Ethel Merman belting out "Marching Along With Time" from 1938's "Alexander's Ragtime Band" and "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better," with Dan Dailey, from 1954's "There's No Business Like Show Business."

* Al Jolson performing a medley of "April Showers" and "Avalon" from 1939's "Rose of Washington Square."

* Alice Faye singing "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows," also from "Rose."

* Betty Grable jiving to "This Is It" from 1944's "Pin Up Girl" and trying not to crack up while Victor Mature lip-syncs to "Blue Shadows and White Gardenias" from 1942's "Song of the Islands."

* Carmen Miranda, wearing a New England lighthouse headdress, singing "True to the Navy" from 1945's "Doll Face."

* Makeup and wardrobe tests from 1954 featuring Joan Collins and Robert Wagner from the never-produced "Lord Vanity."

Executive producer Burns and his staff spent three years restoring these sequences. All of the footage was on highly unstable nitrate film stock and had to be transferred to safety film and then to video. In addition, some of the scenes featured in the program had never been edited; others were lacking sound elements. Also missing were any blueprints or guides on how to edit the scenes.

"It's been a three-year process of going through dailies, piecing together and matching up audio to picture blind," Burns says. "Once you synced it up, you had to piece the sequence together in what you think is its intended order."

Luckily, most of the footage was in pristine condition, and the missing original nitrate audio tracks were found in mint condition in a separate section of the vaults.

"In some cases, this material looks better than the features from which they were cut," Burns says. "I have to give credit to the way Fox had stored it over the years."

AMC commissioned the program.

"I had heard through the grapevine over a number of years rumors that some footage existed," says David Sehring, AMC's vice president of acquisitions. "We eventually met up with Kevin. I found it fascinating seeing Shirley Temple do that number with Jimmy Durante, and Betty Grable's numbers were quite a find. We are talking about doing more."

Generally, the scenes were excised from the films because then-studio head Darryl Zanuck thought the movies were too long or a song didn't fit in well with the other music, the program reports. In the case of Temple's impression of Durante in "Little Miss Broadway," Zanuck thought it was "more cheeky than charming," so it was left on the cutting room floor.

One of the most fascinating stories chronicled in the special deals with 1941's "I Wake Up Screaming," a film noir starring Grable. In what was originally titled "Hot Spot," Grable's role was that of a song plugger in a record store. Zanuck changed the title of the film and Grable's occupation to a stenographer after preview audiences couldn't comprehend why there were musical numbers in a murder mystery. Burns was able to track down and restore Grable's upbeat musical number "Daddy," which she sings to a customer.

"The key to the special was to turn it not into a show about the material itself but a show about the process of how this kind of material could have ended up on the cutting room floor," says Burns, who has restored only half of the material he found in the vaults.

"That's why we spend time on [Zanuck's] philosophy of editing and the fact that the guy who ran the studio was himself a filmmaker. These might have been very, very good numbers. They weren't cut because they were bad; they were cut because they didn't advance the narrative."

*

"Hidden Hollywood: Treasures From the 20th Century Fox Film Vaults," Tuesday, 5 and 9:30 p.m.

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