Cast & Crew
Mimi Bennett, who is half-Tahitian and half-American, lives with her wealthy aunt, Kate Bennett, in one of the most elegant villas on the island of Tahiti. Despite her comfortable life, Mimi wants to give up her tropical surroundings for a new life in America. One day, while joining some of the natives as they give their traditional customary greeting to arriving ships, Mimi catches the attention of Hazard Endicott, an American schoolteacher from Ohio, who has inherited his uncle's island plantation. Hazard mistakes Mimi for one of the non-English-speaking natives, and instead of correcting Hazard, Mimi makes a joke of the misunderstanding and pretends to know only a limited amount of English. When Hazard tries to hire Mimi as his personal maid, Mimi uses broken English to tell him that she is already working in a large house. Hazard arrives at his new home a short time later, and is greatly disappointed to discover that the "estate" he inherited is a small, dilapidated shack in need of repairs and a bathtub. Mimi, meanwhile, returns to her aunt's for tea, and they are joined by the Countess Mariani. During the tea, Mimi describes Hazard to the two women and gives them a subtle indication that she is attracted to him. After quickly acclimating to his new surroundings, Hazard hires two natives, Tavae and Teuru, to help him rebuild the plantation. One day, Hazard enters his home to find a native women, Mama Ruau, cradling a pig in her arms. Mama Ruau gives Hazard her pig as a gift and tells him that she appreciates his intellect and wants him to continue typing his beautiful words. The pig later escapes but Mimi catches it and returns it to him with an invitation to a party at her house. Hazard accepts the invitation, though he assumes that Mimi is a maid at the villa. Expecting the guests to be only natives, Hazard arrives dressed scantily in Tahitian island attire. He is thoroughly embarrassed, however, when he discovers that the guests are mostly non-natives who are dressed formally. He leaves the party in a hurry, and Mimi, realizing that her joke has gone far enough, catches up with him and reveals the truth about herself. Later, Mama Ruau invokes an old island tradition and offers her young grandson, Papera, to Hazard as a gift, hoping that Papera will learn from Hazard and grow up to become a smart young man. Hazard finds the custom appalling but eventually adopts the boy and they become fast friends. Following his success with Papera, Hazard adopts two more children, Manu and Tani, and teaches all three of them how to speak English. At the same time, Hazard and Mimi's friendship develops into a romance. When Hazard proposes marriage, Mimi decides to give up her plans to go to America and become his island wife. Their romance continues to blossom until the day when Mimi witnesses Hazard unfairly reprimanding Tavae for not having saved the plantation's crop of copra from the ravages of a rainstorm. Mimi protests Hazard's harsh treatment of Tavae and a break-up ensues. Hazard later realizes that Mimi was right, but they remain separated. Feeling responsible for the break-up, Tavae and Teuru try to catch enough fish to repay Hazard for his lost crop and devise a plan to reunite him with Mimi. Their plan is a success, and Mimi and Hazard reconcile and look forward to a happy future together on Tahiti.
Nacio Herb Brown
Ben Feiner Jr.
A. Arnold Gillespie
Jack D. Moore
John Nickolaus Jr.
William J. Tuttle
Edwin B. Willis
Pagan Love Song
Stanley Donen had directed Esther Williams in Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949) which had proven to be such a bad experience for Williams that she simply refused to work with Donen again. Freed was forced to replace Donen with Robert Alton, a choreographer whose only other experience directing a film had been Merton of the Movies (1947). This would be his last movie as a director. Alton would return to choreography before his untimely death at the age of 51 in 1957.
Filming was to have taken place in Tahiti but had to be relocated to Kauai, at that time much more rustic than it is today. The New York Times reported in its May 7, 1950 edition that "Williams received a warm welcome in Hawaii. At least one of the leading causes for joy among the residents is Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's choice of Esther Williams as the feminine star of its locationing picture, Pagan Love Song. This being a land where swimming champions hold a special place in just about everybody's heart, she has been accorded a welcome given few visiting celebrities. At a press conference in Honolulu, she outdrew such tourist notables as Secretary of State George C. Marshall, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Clark Gable. Her arrival at the airport was met by an estimated 2,000 of the 3,000 residents of the island, including hula dancers and children bearing leis."
There was a downside to filming in such a remote location: the cast and crew only received mail once a month from a mailboat, conditions were fairly primitive, and the first week of filming was ruined by bad weather. Williams' co-star was Howard Keel, a casting choice that displeased her. Keel suffered a broken arm during production, which had to be obscured with a towel so he could film his musical number, "Singing in the Sun." In the middle of all this, Williams discovered that she was pregnant with her second son. She was only able to relay the news to her husband, Benjamin Gage, by a ham radio hookup borrowed by a local Japanese schoolteacher. The crew finally returned to the States in July 1950 and filming recommenced at the MGM Studios.
If her pregnancy (which was becoming more apparent as shooting progressed) wasn't enough, Williams had a near drowning while filming an underwater number. "One day I discovered the thing I'd always heard about underwater work and scuba divers talk about. It's called the rapture. The rapture is when you have more carbon dioxide in your body than what you've blown out. Because you're living on the oxygen you have left. And you're deflating. I never smoked, thank heavens because my lungs were very strong, but you're deflating those pontoons in there. And of course, the guys are filming me in an underwater window, in this diving bell that was in my underwater tank that was built for Johnny Weissmuller for the Tarzan movies. They're all sitting there drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes and talking on the phone. And I'm drowning. And they're photographing the death of a champion. Because I'm beginning to float softly down to the bottom of this 25 foot pool in this rapturous thing that's like I can't keep my eyes open. And Mervin LeRoy who was shooting the sequence, said on a microphone, because they had an underwater speaker, said, 'Esther, what the hell are you doing? We can't keep you in the camera lens at the bottom of the pool. We're not lit for that.' And I awakened and I didn't know where the top was. And I sat in the bottom of the pool and looked up and I said, 'This is what my mother talked about survival. There has to come a time when you know more about what you gotta do than anybody in the world. And I didn't have a friend out there that could save me. I had to get to the top. And I never did that again."
Pagan Love Song cost MGM almost $2 million, and was nearly $400,000 over-budget. It would gross over $3.2 million, which was less than previous Williams pictures. The critics didn't like the film. The New York Times mentioned that "Williams looked pleasant to contemplate and she is wonderfully graceful in performing various aquatic exercises. And Howard Keel is a big, strapping fellow with a mellow baritone which he uses frequently and well. That about does it, folks. Everything else this corner thinks about Pagan Love Song, is decidedly unflattering. Presumably there is a story somewhere in the picture, but all we can recollect is a series of incidents, some eye-filling and slightly amusing, others rather pointless and tedious."
Producer: Arthur Freed
Director: Robert Alton
Screenplay: Jerry Davis; Robert Nathan; William S. Stone (novel)
Cinematography: Charles Rosher
Art Direction: Randall Duell, Cedric Gibbons
Music: Alexander Courage, Sidney Cutner, Adolph Deutsch, Roger Edens, Conrad Salinger, Leo Shuken (all uncredited)
Film Editing: Adrienne Fazan
Cast: Esther Williams (Mimi Bennett), Howard Keel (Hazard Endicott), Minna Gombell (Kate Bennett), Charles Mauu (Tavae), Rita Moreno (Terru).
C-76m. Closed Captioning.
by Lorraine LoBianco
The New York Times Film Review, December 26, 1950
The New York Times , Hawaii Hails Conquering Heroine , May 7, 1950
The Hollywood Musical by Clive Hirschhorn
The MGM Stock Company by James Robert Parish and Roland J. Bowers. The Forties Gals by James Robert Parish and Don E. Stanke Interview with Esther Williams for The MGM Story
Pagan Love Song
TCM Remembers Howard Keel this Monday, Nov. 15th
PLEASE NOTE SCHEDULE CHANGE
Callaway Went Thataway (1951)
Ride, Vaquero! (1953)
War Wagon (1967)
"MGM Parade Show #14"
(Keel talks with George Murphy about his latest MGM picture "Kismet")(1955)
Kiss Me Kate (1953)
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
HOWARD KEEL (1919-2004):
Howard Keel, the strapping singer and actor whose glorious baritone took him to stardom in the early '50s in some of MGM's best musicals, including Showboat, Kiss Me Kate and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, died on November 7 of colon cancer at his home in Palm Desert, California. He was 85.
He was born Harry Clifford Leek on April 13, 1919, in Gillespie, Illinois. His father, was a coal miner and his mother, a strict Methodist, forbid the children from enjoying popular entertainments. When his dad died, his mother relocated the family to California when Harry was still a young teenager.
After he graduated high school, Keel had a brief stint as a singing busboy, but had not considered a professional career as a vocalist....until one fateful evening in 1939. It was at this time he saw celebrated opera singer, Lawrence Tibbett, at the Hollywood Bowl. Keel was inspired, and he soon began taking voice lessons. Over the next several years, he carefully trained his voice while entering any singing contest he could find. It wasn't long before his talents caught the attention of Rodgers & Hammerstein.
In 1946, they signed him to replace John Raitt in the Broadway production of Carousel, changed his name to Howard Keel (His proper surname Leek spelled backwards), and Keel was on his way to international stardom.
After his run in Carousel ended, he sailed to London the following year to play the role of Curley in Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma. He received rave reviews from the London press, and by the time he returned to the United States in 1948, he was ready to make his move into films.
Keel made his movie debut in the British thriller, The Small Voice (1948), but it would be his second film, and first for MGM, portraying Frank Butler, Betty Hutton's leading man in Annie Get Your Gun (1950), that sealed his success. Keel's several strengths as a performer: his supple, commanding singing voice; his athletic, 6'4" frame; striking, "matinee-idol" good looks; and his good humored personality made him one of the studios' top leading men over the next few years. Indeed, between 1951-55, Keel could do not wrong with the material he was given: Show Boat (1951), Lovely to Look at (1952), Kiss Me Kate (1953), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), and Kismet (1955). Clearly, he was a shining star in this golden era of the MGM musical.
By the late '50s, movie musicals began to fade out of fashion, but Keel returned to the stage and had success performing with several touring companies. He made a brief return to films when he was cast as a seaman battling carnivorous plants from outer space in the popular British sci-fi hit, The Day of the Triffids (1962). Television also provided some work, where he guest starred in some of the more popular shows in the late '60s including Run For Your Life, and The Lucy Show.
Keel would keep a low profile over the next decade, but he made an amazing comeback in 1981, when he was cast as Clayton Farlow, Ellie Ewing's (Barbara Bel Geddes) second husband in the wildly successful prime time soap, Dallas. Not only did he play the role for ten seasons, but Keel would also be in demand for many other shows throughout the '80s and '90s: The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Murder, She Wrote, Hart to Hart, and Walker, Texas Ranger, to name a but a few. By the late-'90s, Keel retired to his home in Palm Desert, California, where still made public appearances now and again for a tribute or benefit. He is survived by his wife of 34 years, Judy; a son, Gunnar; daughters, Kaija, Kristina and Leslie; 10 grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter.
by Michael T. Toole
Important Milestones on Howard Keel:
Moved to Southern California at age 16 (date approximate)
Worked as a singing busboy in a Los Angeles cafe
Worked for Douglas Aircraft as a manufacturing representative travelling among various company plants; work included singing; won a first prize award at the Mississippi Valley while on the road; also won an award at the Chicago Music Festival
Began singing career with the American Music Theatre in Pasadena, California
Chosen by Oscar Hammerstein II to perform on Broadway in "Carousel"; succeeded John Raitt in the leading role of Billy Bigelow; also took over the leading role of Curly in "Oklahoma"
Recreated the role of Curly when he opened the London stage production of "Oklahoma"
Made feature film debut in a non-singing supporting role in the British crime drama, "The Small Voice"
Signed by MGM; became instant star as the male lead of "Annie Get Your Gun"
Provided the offscreen narration for the Western saga, "Across the Wide Missouri", starring Clark Gable
First film opposite Kathryn Grayson, "Show Boat"
First leading role in a non-musical, "Desperate Search"
Made best-remembered film, "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
Last musical starring roles, and last musicals for MGM, "Jupiter's Darling" and "Kismet"
Went to Britain to play the leading role in the action drama, "Floods of Fear"
Last leading role, "Red Tomahawk"
Last feature film appearance for over 20 years, "Arizona Bushwhackers"
Starred on the London stage in the musical "Ambassador"; later brought the role to Broadway (date approximate)
Toured the nightclub circuit, sometimes teaming up with his co-star from three MGM musicals of the 1950s, Kathryn Grayson
Toured in stage productions of musicals and comedies including "Camelot", "Man of La Mancha", "Paint Your Wagon", "I Do! I Do!", "Plaza Suite", "Gigi", "Show Boat", "Kismet", "The Most Happy Fella" and "The Fantasticks"
Teamed with Jane Powell on record-breaking national theater tour of "South Pacific"
Reprised screen role of eldest brother Adam in a touring stage version of "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers", opposite original screen co-star Jane Powell
Joined the cast of the CBS primetime serial drama, "Dallas", which had premiered in 1978; played Clayton Farlow
Recorded first solo album, "And I Love You So"
Was one of the hosts of the feature compilation documentary, "That's Entertainment III", revisiting the MGM musical from the coming of sound through the late 1950s
Keel was President of the Screen Actors Guild from 1958-1959.
TCM Remembers Howard Keel this Monday, Nov. 15th PLEASE NOTE SCHEDULE CHANGE
The original title for this film was "Tahiti." The writers of the music for the film, Harry Warren and Arthur Freed, wrote a song by that title, but when the title of the movie was changed, the song was dropped and Brown and Freed's "Pagan Love Song" was added.
The melody to the song "The House Of Singing Bamboo" was actually written in 1945 by Harry Warren for the M-G-M picture Harvey Girls, The (1945) which starred 'Garland, Judy' . The song was called "Hayride" and it originally had lyrics by Johnny Mercer. The song was cut from the picture. In 1950, the Mercer lyrics were dumped and the melody was changed slightly for use in this picture.
The working title of this film was Tahiti. Pre-production news items in Daily Variety indicate the following information about Pagan Love Song: A January 1950 Daily Variety news item notes that Stanley Donen was orignally set to direct the film but was replaced by Robert Alton following Esther William's refusal to appear in the film under Donen's direction. According to the news item, William's objection to Donen stemmed from a dispute that had begun on a previous picture they had made together, although modern sources claim that the dispute between Williams and Donen erupted because of a comment Donen reportedly made in which he stated that Williams had no talent.
Filming was originally set to begin on location in Tahiti in the late summer of 1949 and was to have been a part of M-G-M's ambitious world-wide production program. By late January 1950, M-G-M abandoned its plans to shoot the film in Tahiti, opting instead for several locations on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. M-G-M auditioned The Mary Kaye Trio for the film and announced that Taline Coray was set for a role, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Charles Mauu, who plays "Tavae", was a Tahitian prince in real life. After six weeks of location shooting on Kauai, the production moved to the M-G-M studios in Culver City, where the film was completed.
In 1953, according to a Hollywood Reporter news item, a $100,000 plagiarism suit was brought against M-G-M by a woman named Helen Taylor, who alleged that the studio had pirated her ideas for this film and the film Duchess of Idaho. No information has been found regarding the outcome of the suit. Modern sources indicate that screenwriter Ivan Tors contributed to the screenplay, and that Roger Edens and Lela Simone worked as associate producers on the film.
Modern sources relate the following information about the film: In Honolulu, Alton engaged a group of Polynesian musicians to record Tahitian music for the film. Two songs, "Music on the Water" and "Here in Tahiti We Make Love," by Warren and Arthur Freed, were deleted from the film. The film was completed at a cost of $1,906,265 about $400,000 over budget, and grossed more than $3,200,000 in its initial release. The film was one of only two motion pictures directed by Alton, who choreographed several films for M-G-M in the 1940s and 1950s. The highly popular title song, which was composed by Harry Warren and Nacio Herb Brown in 1929, has been recorded by several artists, including Dinah Washington and Glenn Miller.