Saturday, April 11, 2020

Easter Parade—Murfin Home Confinement Music Festival 2020

Easter Parade from the 1948 film by Judy Garland and Fred Astaire.
This is Easter weekend and as good a time as any to note that far and away America’s favorite song for the holiday is not a hymn but entirely secular and written by an immigrant Jew to boot.  But that shouldn’t be surprising despite the fact that in normal years before the Coronavirus lock down Easter Sunday always had the highest attendance of the year, packed not only by the regular devotionists, but by once-a-year-on-Easter folks, many of them only nominally Christian.  The odd spring celebration of bunnies, baskets, and eggs annually has many more participants than all the church services  together.  It is shared by most of the authentic Christians but also by Jews and members of other faiths, neo-pagans who claim the trappings as vestiges of  an authentic primordial nature religion, and even fire breathing atheists who are loath to disappoint their children.
Prolific tunesmith Irving Berlin

Irving Berlin, May 11, 1888 to September 22, 1989, was commissioned by Paramount Pictures to create 12 entirely new songs for a vehicle for the studio’s biggest star,  Bing Crosby.  He also came up with the thin story line about two former night club partners, a rustic venue open only on holidays, and a farcical romantic triangle.  Recently freed from his RKO contract, Fred Astaire signed on to give the project megawatt star power.  Attractive blonde Marjorie Reynolds rounded out the leads.  The result was the biggest hit of 1942.  Three of the holiday themed songs became beloved standards including Happy Holidays and the Academy Award winning break-out hit White Christmas.  Easter Parade became to Easter what White Christmas was to the Winter holiday.  The movie also featured cringe worthy  Lincoln’s Birthday black face number with Crosby as an Uncle Tomish figure.
Bing Crosby crooned Easter Parade to Marjorie Reynold in 1942 Holiday Inn,

In the film Crosby crooned the song to Reynolds while driving a wicker open buggy past a quaint church, rustic rail fences, apple blossoms, and other Spring flowers.
By 1946 Berlin was under contract to MGM which wanted to build a new musical around songs in his extensive catalog.  Astaire was also now with the studio and paring him with their biggest female musical star, Judy Garland,  the plot was already familiar and shopworn—rising young vaudevillians team up, find success, are torn apart by ambition and jealousy, and are finally reunited in the final reel,  But who cared about a plot with such glorious songs and two stars at the peak of their careers?  Easter Parade was the most financially successful picture for both Garland and Astaire as well as the highest-grossing musical of the year.

A lobby card for Irving Berlin's Easter Parade.
The studio had to stand on its head to get Garland to sing the title song which was obviously meant to be sung by a man to a woman.  They had Garland breeze into Astaire’s hotel room the morning after their reconciliation to find him in a silk top hat festooned with a ridiculous broad pink ribbon.  She plucks the chapeau from his head and sings the song with mock seriousness until he removes the ribbon and the leave the suite arm in arm to be next seen in the epic long take of the Easter Parade of New York’s swells and wannabes strolling along Fifth Avenue.

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