2:05pm

Wed April 6, 2011
Monkey See

DVD Picks: 'Anything Goes'

Each week, Bob Mondello offers suggestions for your video queue. Today, he's high on Cole Porter's Anything Goes — not the movie, or the stage musical, but a "live" TV curiosity from 1954.

Though she'd set Broadway on its collective ear in 1934 playing Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes, Ethel Merman had only gotten to sing eight bars of the title song in a film version that truncated the score to make room for more jokes. So when TV beckoned 18 years later, she leapt. Her co-stars?...Frank Sinatra in a bit of a career lull just three weeks before he won an Oscar for From Here To Eternity, and her old buddy Bert Lahr (of Cowardly Lion fame). She and Lahr had shared a showstopper in another Cole Porter musical, so they just slipped it in, and the audience went wild.

Merman had less rapport with Sinatra. To what had to be the disappointment of bobby-soxers at the time, she and Frank share what has to be the least passionate onscreen kiss ever. But this was "live" TV. So the show goes on, even when Merman has to freeze a smile for five full seconds, or when Sinatra wrecks a rhyme by blowing a lyric in "You're the Top," singing "candied ribbon" when he should have sung "ribboned candy" to match "Napoleon Brandy."

Later, Lahr refers to Merman's character not as Lady Oakley, but as "Annie" Oakley, a part she played in Annie Get Your Gun. And it's great fun to watch them all punt when the curtain falls a full three minutes early. Merman's kissing her co-stars to prolong the applause, when Sinatra suggests she sing the title tune again, and she says, sure ... if he'll sing along.

He smiles gamely, then slips out of camera range because he doesn't know the words. But mid-song, she motions him back, and to give the man credit, he tries. He really tries — to no avail. You see him look back offstage kind of longingly, realize he can't escape, and then, for a few giddy seconds, Ethel Merman has the most expensive backup singer ever as Young Blue Eyes "ahh-ahh-ahh's" along behind her.

Hey, it was live television. Anything went. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

It's time again for our regular home-video feature, where Bob Mondello offers suggestions for your DVD queue. Today, he's quite high on Cole Porter's "Anything Goes," not the movie or the stage show but a TV curiosity from 1954 with quite a cast performing live.

(Soundbite of song, "Anything Goes")

Ms. ETHEL MERMAN (Singer): (Singing) In olden days, a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking. Now, heaven knows, anything goes.

BOB MONDELLO: Ethel Merman only got to sing eight bars of this song in the film version. So when TV beckoned 18 years later, she leapt. Her co-stars? Frank Sinatra in a career lull and her old buddy, Bert Lahr, of Cowardly Lion fame. She and Lahr had shared a showstopper in another Cole Porter musical. So they just slipped it in.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BERT LAHR (Actor): (Singing) If you're ever in a jam, here I am.

Ms. MERMAN: (Singing) If you ever need a pal, I'm your gal.

MONDELLO: Merman had less rapport with Sinatra. She and young Blue Eyes share what has to be the least-passionate onscreen kiss ever. But this was live TV. So the show goes on, even when Merman has to freeze a smile for five full seconds or when Sinatra blows a lyric that wrecks a rhyme.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. FRANK SINATRA (Singer): (Singing) You're the top. You're some candied ribbon.

MONDELLO: He meant ribboned candy.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SINATRA: (Singing) You're the top. You're Napoleon brandy.

MONDELLO: See? Later, Lahr refers to Merman not as Lady Oakley, but as Annie Oakley, a part she played in "Annie Get Your Gun." And then the show wraps up a full three minutes early. So they kind of have to punt.

(Soundbite of television program)

Mr. LAHR: Hey, Ethel? I have an idea. Rather than do the usual goodnight speech that you were supposed to do here, seeing as how we have a little time, why don't you do "Anything Goes" or something again for us.

Ms. MERMAN: All right. You join in with me, though.

MONDELLO: Only Sinatra does not know the words. So he ducks off-camera. But in mid-song, she motions him back, and he tries. He really tries, then realizes he's useless. And then, for a few seconds, Ethel Merman has the most expensive backup singer ever.

(Soundbite of song, "Anything Goes")

Ms. MERMAN and Mr. SINATRA: So even out in high society, you can't forget propriety. Goodness knows, anything goes.

MONDELLO: It was live television. Anything went. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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