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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: August 2019

11 - Writing for the Big Screen: Shall We Dance and A Damsel in Distress

from Part II - Profiles of the Music


When George and Ira Gershwin returned to Hollywood in 1936, the town had changed. New songwriters, stars, and sound technologies had made the Hollywood musical a much more appealing medium for the Gershwins; their first effort, Delicious (1931), had fallen short of George’s hopes for the form. Among those in the vanguard of the film musical were Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, both of whom had worked with the Gershwins on Broadway and now enjoyed star duo status at RKO. Gershwin’s reputation had changed too. His most ambitious composition, the “folk opera” Porgy and Bess, had opened in 1935. Some in Hollywood wondered whether the new opera composer would deign to write catchy tunes. “They are afraid you will only do highbrow songs,” explained a California-based associate. Gershwin’s wired response was unequivocal: “Rumors about highbrow music ridiculous. Stop. Am out to write hits.”

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