I was the age some of my grandchildren are today when “Cover Girl” won the 1944 Academy Award for best music scoring in a musical picture. The film was in Technicolor, which was new and exciting. Given the plethora of distinctions by which Hollywood awards are given out, I suppose it wasn’t surprising that a different film won best musical picture that year and that although the cinematography was nominated for an Academy Award it did not win that one, either. Today, aficionados consider “Cover Girl” one of the most lavish and successful Hollywood musicals ever.
If you’ve been paying attention this week, you know that “Parasite,” a South Korean comedy-slash-thriller, won the 2020 awards for best picture, director, foreign language film, and original screenplay. This year’s Oscars got me thinking about a childhood friend who joined me in playing Hollywood around the time of “Cover Girl.” At my aunt’s house, a heavy couch would be our stage. We would take turns coming out from behind it to take our bows. Were children of 10 or 11 more innocent then? I can’t imagine my grandchildren, who favor on-screen superheroes and mayhem, doing any such childish thing.
“Cover Girl” stars the luminescent Rita Hayworth alongside Gene Kelly, although Hayworth had expected her co-star to be Fred Astaire. Dancing was what made it one of the most popular musicals of the time, but even then I was focused instead on the music. Its outstanding song, “Long Ago and Far Away,” has stuck with me all these years. Although the song — by Jerome Kern, Ira Gershwin, and Yip Harburg — was nominated for a best original song Oscar and its director was the illustrious Charles Vidor, the film itself won only for musical scoring.
The picture (as they used to say) tells the story of a publishing mogul who is reminded of the love of his life when he sees her granddaughter, the comely stage performer Rusty Parker (Rita Hayworth), and decides to make the naive young beauty a cover star. It’s a sweet story, but the film almost did not get made. Hayworth had already appeared in two films with the legendary Astaire. When he was not available, it apparently took some convincing for the project to proceed with Gene Kelly instead.
In addition to the beauty of the music and the glamour of its leading lady, the tap-dancing skill of Kelly make it transcendent. As they say on TV, “Take a listen.” YouTube should make it easy.