Doris Day and Co. play... The Pajama Game (1957)

In 1954, The Pajama Game opened on Broadway and became a huge success, running for two years and 1,063 performances. Directed by the legendary George Abbott and Jerome Robbins, this show has an unbelievable cast and crew, which helped it to win the Tony Award for Best Musical. The music was from Jerry Ross and Richard Adler, who would have another hit the next year with Damn Yankees. Sadly, Ross died in 1955 from a lung ailment; he was only 29.

We can thank The Pajama Game for a lot of great things, but perhaps the most vital is the choreography of Mr. Bob Fosse. I'm absolutely fascinated by the career of this extremely complicated man -- if you're at all interested in learning more, I highly recommend Sam Wasson's biography of him. It's not a light read, but still astounding and very easy to get through. By 1953, Fosse had been a supporting player in a handful of fun musicals, such as Give a Girl a Break, The Affairs of Dobie Gillis, and Kiss Me, Kate.

Although I think he would have disagreed, Kiss Me, Kate proved to be an important stepping stone for Fosse because of his incredible duet with Carol Haney in "From This Moment On." Crafted by Fosse instead of the film's choreographer Hermes Pan, the dance was unlike anything audiences had seen. It honestly still gives me goosebumps every time I see it. Broadway immediately became interested in Fosse and because he wasn't becoming the next Fred Astaire like he had hoped, the dancer signed up for The Pajama Game. The show provided him with the first of an eventual five wins for Best Choreography at the Tony Awards (the only person to do so), but more importantly, it gave Fosse a whole new career.


I haven't seen the stage version, but from what I've read, the film doesn't really divert from what you would have seen on Broadway. The movie cuts out three songs and a few reprises of other songs, but I would say that was probably done so it wouldn't be too long. The wonderful, idiosyncratic choreography of Bob Fosse was kept, which is amazing, especially if you're a Fosse nerd like I am. (I'll talk more about the dancing throughout the review, don't worry!) What was also retained from the Broadway show was most of the cast. When it came to the lead roles of Babe Williams and Sid Sorokin, though, Warner Bros. was adamant that they needed a star in order to "sell" the movie.

Janis Paige, who was the original Babe, recently said in an interview with the Miami Herald that "the film was offered to Frank Sinatra, who would have been a fantastic Sid. Then they sent the script to Doris [Day]. The word out was they wanted to use as many members of the original company as they could. So if Frank had accepted the role, I would have done Babe. And if Frank turned it down and Doris took it, then John Raitt would have done it, which is exactly what happened.” Funnily enough, Day and Paige had co-starred together in Day's film debut, Romance on the High Seas, and would later do Please Don't Eat the Daisies. “I thought she was great, like everybody else,” Paige recalled. “She was so good, right off the bat.” You can read more about Romance on the High Seas here.

John Raitt was a major star on the Great White Way. With his gorgeous, booming baritone, he portrayed Curly in Oklahoma's first national company and inspired Rodgers and Hammerstein to craft their next show around his lovely voice. That show would turn out to be Carousel. Definitely check out Raitt's renditions of "Solilioquy," "If I Loved You," and a snippet of "Oklahoma." Raitt is also the father of singer Bonnie Raitt. As he got older, the two would perform together, as you can see here when they did a medley of John's Broadway hits on The Late Show with David Letterman.

The film actually begins with Raitt, as Sid Sorokin walks into the Sleep-Tite pajama factory determined to get a job. He is directed to the boss's office by floor manager Vernon Hines (Eddie Foy Jr.). Hines, or "Hinesy" as he is often called, kicks off the credits with the title song as we are taken through different parts of production at the factory. When the credits are over, we return to Sid as he convinces Mr. Hasler to hire him as the new superintendent. Hasler doesn't take much convincing; he is too busy worrying about the 7 1/2 cent raise that the workers
are demanding. Hasler's secretary, Gladys (Carol Haney), starts to show Sid around the factory when her boyfriend, Hinesy, pulls her aside to accuse her of flirting with Sid. Hinesy is an extremely jealous guy, as we'll see throughout the show. Gladys brushes him off, leading him to take his frustrations out on the staff as he orders that they speed things up. Like the first song, "Racing with the Clock" shows us the various workers while also peppering in lyrics about the growing unrest concerning the raise. You can watch it here.

Two days later, Sid is working on a broken machine. The two men who are supposed to be helping him are too busy gabbing about other things and ignoring Sid's requests for tools. Annoyed, Sid confronts the mouthier one and ends up pushing him. Claiming that his arm is now injured, the man fetches the grievance committee, headed by Babe Williams (Day). Sid is instantly attracted to Babe, but he really just wants to get back to work, so they agree to pick up their conversation later.

During their lunch break a few days later, Prez, the head of the union, asks Babe about the complaint. She tells him that the worker was just exaggerating -- if Sid had really wanted to hurt him, he would have done worse. This catches the attention of Babe's friends; they immediately start teasing her about how big and strong Sid is, leading Babe to declare "I'm Not at All in Love." This song is a lot of fun. Day's voice was never better and she illustrates that she could belt a Broadway tune with the best of them. It's also great to see the camaraderie among the female characters. They never fight or compete with each other, instead choosing to support one another. The funniest part of this number comes at the end. See it for yourself here.

In Sid's office, his secretary Mabel (Reta Shaw) is buying a ticket for the upcoming company picnic from Poopsie (Barbara Nichols) when Hinesy and Gladys drop in. When Gladys puts a note on Sid's desk, Hinesy furiously accuses her of having an affair with Sid, only to realize that the message is about business. Chastised, Hinesy tries to apologize but Gladys is having none of it. Mabel decides to help Hinesy overcome his jealousy with the duet "I'll Never Be Jealous Again." Each verse starts with "Picture this..." as Mabel describes hypothetical situations that could be construed as Gladys cheating. Each time, Hinesy declares that he would trust his beloved, despite his clear reluctance to do so. The number then ends with an adorable soft-shoe dance between Foy Jr. and Shaw. Check it out here.

Back in Sid's office, he is making notes on his Dictaphone when his mind wanders to Babe the complaint made against him. He has Babe come to his office and she informs him that the committee has decided to drop the matter. Switching gears, he asks her for a date and although she would like to accept, Babe believes that they shouldn't. After all, he's management and she's an employee. Once she leaves, Sid vents his frustrations into his Dictaphone as he advises himself to forget about Babe.
"Hey There" is like a duet with only one person. If that's confusing, see the golden-voiced John Raitt perform it here. "Hey There" is probably the biggest hit from The Pajama Game. You may have heard it before from Rosemary Clooney, whose version is the most popular. On a side note, I wonder how many people who watch this scene are confused by what the Dictaphone is. It might be the only thing that really dates this film, except for Gladys and Hinesy's relationship, but we'll get to that later.

The day of the company picnic arrives. Sid tries again to score a date with Babe, but they're interrupted when Poopsie announces that Hinesy is performing his knife-throwing act, something he does every year. Hinesy is clearly intoxicated, so when he asks for a volunteer to act as his assistant, everyone is too scared to do it -- except for Babe, who fearlessly lets Hinesy throw two knives at her before Mabel finally faints. Sid admonishes Babe, but our gal laughs it off. As they stroll by the river together, Sid kisses her and she wholeheartedly
reciprocates. The best part, though, is when Sid refers to Babe as "his girl" and she coyly says "Just because I kissed you, does that make me your girl?" When Babe admits that she likes Sid, he joyously launches into "Once-a-Year Day." Soon the whole picnic gets in on the song. It's a brightly-colored, expansive routine with lots of leaping and a solo from Ms. Carol Haney herself. The best clip I could find of the full number is this one.  "Once-a-Year Day" was filmed on location in a park, and some of its shots were created by Bob Fosse. Fosse's career as a film director, however, wouldn't start until 1969's Sweet Charity.

At Babe's house one rainy night, Sid sits on the porch with her father, who talks about his collections of petrified bats and stamps. (It sounds a little loony, but Pop is actually quite sweet.) When Pop leaves to go to his railroad job, Sid attempts to get more, um, cozy with Babe, but she is hesitant to let it happen. The song "Small Talk" exemplifies this as Sid tries to seduce her and she tries to distract him with a myriad of topics, such as painting the kitchen and the weather. You may think that the script is depicting Babe as a virginal prude -- Doris
Day received this insanely moronic reputation as one, after all.

But this is one of the things that I love most about this movie: Babe has more to do than be Sid's girlfriend. She isn't avoiding Sid because she doesn't want to be intimate; she wants him to understand that her work with the union means a lot to her and she can't let their relationship blind her to that. When the song comes to a brief halt, they admit their love for one another, but when Babe starts
to tell him how she feels about the 7 1/2 cent raise, he tries to brush it off. "Sid, you mustn't treat me like a baby!" she snaps. "No matter what's between us, I'm going to be fighting for my side and fighting hard." Sid appears to accept this and they finish their song in harmony. You can see the whole glorious scene here.

The next time we see our couple, they're absolutely doe-eyed over each other. After a date, they are sitting in Sid's car outside of Babe's house when she
challenges him to yell that he loves her so everyone can hear it. The ensuing duet is incredible, as Babe and Sid try to one-up each other vocally and physically. There may or may not be slight yodeling involved and it may or may not be amazing. "There Once was a Man" is definitely my favorite number, although I have to admit that some of the lyrics aren't entirely politically correct. Still, it's so much fun to watch. It's a requirement that you watch it here before continuing on. Apparently Frank Loesser wrote this song instead of Adler and Ross. Loesser had mentored the two men, but I'm not sure how it came to be that he contributed to the score.

At the factory one day, Hasler is in a contentious meeting with Prez and two union members. When he still refuses to give them their raise, Prez spreads the word to slow down production. Everyone moves like a snail, much to Hinesy's dismay. He grabs Sid, who is none too pleased. He agrees that their wage is unfair, but they have jobs to do, so unless they want to be fired, they better snap out of it. Everyone complies... except for Babe. By stuffing a piece of cloth into her sewing machine and slamming on the pedal, she causes the whole line to jam up. Sid demands to know who is responsible. Babe admits it was her and Sid reluctantly fires her. You can't blame them for sticking to their beliefs. Neither of them want to be on opposite sides, but their jobs demand that they are. Just because you're in love doesn't mean you forget your individuality and what is important to you.

At this point in the review, you may be wondering where the iconic Fosse choreography is. Luckily for you, it's time for "Steam Heat." At a union rally, Gladys and two guys perform this classic Fosse routine with slumped shoulders, bowler hats, suits, and plenty of energy. Gwen Verdon, Fosse's wife and a Broadway star in her own right, said that "'Steam Heat' was the first number on a Broadway stage that was pure Fosse, the way Fosse would do it. He could have been any of the three because they looked like
Bob, danced like Bob, and it's exactly the way Bob would have jumped up at a party and danced." When the number was done at the stage show's first preview, it received a standing ovation. However, director George Abbott cut it because it didn't contribute to the plot. Jerome Robbins fought for it, though, and the number was put back in. See the brilliance for yourself here.

Babe holds a small union meeting at her house where they discuss ways to irritate management, such as putting small pajama tops with large bottoms and not sewing buttons fully. As the committee leaves, we see that Prez and fellow employee Mae have struck up a romance. I mention this because Mae is plus-sized and Prez treats her as a desirable woman -- so refreshing. Anyway, after everyone is gone, Sid shows up and our lovebirds have it out. They understand each other's viewpoint, but they disagree about continuing their
relationship. Sid thinks they should be together; Babe thinks it couldn't possibly work out. Sid refuses to lose his job; Babe refuses to lose the union. Exhausted, Babe goes to bed. In her room, she tearfully sings a reprise of "Hey There." The scene is cleverly lit by the stoplight outside of her window, changing from green to red as Babe tells herself to let Sid go. At Day's insistence, her vocal was recorded live on the set rather than the usual practice of using a polished studio recording. The choice was absolutely right -- the little catches in
Day's voice as she tries to keep herself from crying add authenticity to the moment. View it here.

At the factory, Hasler is ranting to Sid and Mabel about the union's defiance when Hinesy and a Sleep-Tite salesman come in. Remember those tricks the committee was talking about at Babe's? Well, they went through with them and this salesman found out the hard way while he was showing merchandise to potential buyers. Hasler is outraged (God,
when isn't he? This man has had at least five heart attacks by now). Sid has a solution: just give in to the workers already. When Hasler shuts him down, Sid hatches a plan after seeing Gladys with Hasler's top-secret account book. Considering the boss requires this book to be under lock and key, Sid knows that there is something juicy in there, so he asks Gladys out on a date to get the key. Gladys is no dummy, but Sid is pretty cute...

He asks her where she'd like to go and Gladys decides on "Hernando's Hideaway." This tune is really simple, but it's a total earworm. I also enjoy how the number is filmed. Because Hernando's Hideaway is supposed to be somewhat sordid, the directors keep it totally dark with the only light coming from the singers' matches whenever they have a line. It's all really suggestive. I know I didn't explain it very well, so you'll just have to watch it for yourself here.

At their table, Gladys quickly becomes drunk and hands the key over to Sid, even though he admits his scheme. Meanwhile, both are unaware that Hinesy spies them through the window. Although she had been bowling with Prez, Babe comes to Hernando's to warn Gladys that Hinesy is coming after them with a knife. Gladys blows it off and promptly passes out. With the key in his possession, Sid goes back to the office. An intoxicated Hinesy does indeed appear, but Gladys tells him off and stumbles home.

The next morning, Sid calls the union committee into his office. He knows they are having a rally tonight to launch a strike, so he asks them to hold off until he can get there with some important information. The committee agrees, but before Babe can leave, Sid asks to talk. He wants to explain why he was with Gladys, but Babe doesn't want to hear it. Feeling defeated, Sid asks to see her after the rally and she reluctantly says yes.

In not-so-great news, a knife-throwing Hinesy is chasing Gladys around the factory. It's played for laughs, but it is an extremely abusive moment in a pretty abusive relationship. The fact that Gladys never leaves Hinesy is troublesome, and it is certainly my least favorite part of the movie. Anyway, Sid grabs a hold of Hinesy and stops him before anyone gets hurt. Now it's time to confront another problem. Sid tells Hasler that he read the accounts and he knows that Hasler added the raise months ago and has been pocketing the difference.
Unless he goes to the rally and gives in to the union's demands, Sid will go to the board of directors.

At the rally that night, Babe and Prez energize everybody with their performance of "7 1/2 Cents." This song is great because it demonstrates why this raise is so important to these workers. The lyrics admit that 7 1/2 cents doesn't seem like much money, but over time, it adds up to quite a lot. When the song ends, Sid and Hasler arrive and Hasler announces his surrender. Thrilled, Babe finds Sid and they finally reunite. The film then ends with -- what else? -- a random pajama party of sorts at Hernando's Hideaway, because why not.

The role of Babe Williams is one of Day's best. Smart, confident, and funny, Day is just stellar in this film. She has good chemistry with John Raitt, too -- their voices together is magical. While I love Raitt, his performance had to grow on me a little bit. You can tell that he hadn't quite adjusted to film acting; there is some gruffness and stoicism that plays well on the stage, but on camera it isn't as flattering. Once I started paying more attention to the more tender moments, I realized that Raitt was a fine actor and I've been able to appreciate him more.

Playing the role of Gladys was the woman who won a Tony for it on Broadway, Carol Haney. Haney was Fosse's partner in "From this Moment On," but more importantly, she had been Gene Kelly's assistant choreographer for some of his greatest films, such as An American in Paris, Summer Stock, On the Town, and Singin' in the Rain. A former protégé of famed choreographer/dancer Jack Cole, Haney used her experience to become a Broadway choreographer in her own right. She created the dances for Rodgers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song (directed by Gene Kelly!), She Loves Me (a delightful musical makeover of The Shop Around the Corner), and Funny Girl. Sadly, just weeks after Funny Girl opened, Haney died at the age of 39 from pneumonia, which was complicated by alcoholism and diabetes.

The Pajama Game is actually responsible for bringing Shirley MacLaine to Hollywood. As Carol Haney's understudy, MacLaine had to take her place one night when Haney badly sprained her ankle. (If you look to the far left of the picture, you can see MacLaine as part of the chorus.) No one ever expected Haney to be absent for a performance, not even MacLaine -- she never had a rehearsal with Fosse to make sure she knew the dancing, she just watched Haney from the wings at every show and picked it up that way. When she arrived at the theater and found out she was going on, MacLaine had little time to prepare. John Raitt tried to help her figure out what key she sang in. Her tennis shoes had to be dyed black for "Steam Heat" because Haney's shoes weren't her size.

MacLaine wrote in her autobiography My Lucky Stars that to this day, she gets nausea when she hears "Hey There" because it was what the overture played as the show began. The cast was wonderful to her, and she noted that "John Raitt was supportive, Janis Paige sympathetic and really sweet, Eddie Foy, Jr. funny and thankfully lighthearted." Everything went smoothly until "Steam Heat," the one scene that MacLaine was terrified of because she knew how much it meant to Fosse. The first hat trick went well, but during one of the more complicated tricks, she dropped the hat... and said "shit" loudly enough for the first few rows to hear.

Fosse wasn't upset, though, and MacLaine continued to play Gladys for a week. During one of those performances, producer Hal Wallis was in the audience and, impressed with MacLaine,  he offered her a movie contract. She writes that she didn't accept the offer and went back to the chorus, but when she had to go on for Haney again a few months later, Alfred Hitchcock attended the show and MacLaine's "future was assured" as she was cast for one of the lead roles in The Trouble with Harry. Fosse had been an immense influence on MacLaine, so much so that when it came time for her to do Sweet Charity, she suggested him as the director, starting his Hollywood career all over again.

In 2006, The Pajama Game reappeared on Broadway with Kelli O'Hara as Babe and Harry Connick Jr. as Sid. I would have loved to have seen that, mainly because I'm a huge fan of Harry, but I'll just have to console myself with YouTube videos like this one of Harry singing "Hey There." The production ultimately won a Tony for Best Revival of a Musical.

The Pajama Game is one of the best movie musicals we have, so it is unfathomable to me how it has become such a forgotten film. For Doris Day fans, it is absolutely essential viewing. I know this all sounds hyperbolic, but I honestly believe that The Pajama Game has so much to offer and so much to praise. I didn't even talk about the co-direction of George Abbott and Stanley Donen! (Which, by the way, is marvelous.) For those of you who stuck around for this whole post, here is my gift to you: a deleted number by Doris called "The Man Who Invented Love." Now, go seek out The Pajama Game!



































With love,
Michaela

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This is my contribution to my very own blogathon dedicated to the goddess that is Doris Day. Celebrate the terrific birthday girl by checking out others' tributes to her here!

Comments

  1. This is one of Day's films that I haven't seen and from the title I presumed it was similar to her films with Rock Hudson. I guess you can't tell a movie from it's title ;)

    I'm always fascinated with alternate casting. It would have been completely different with Sinatra! I feel bad for Janis Paige though.

    There sure is a lot of color in this movie!

    Thanks for hosting this Blogathon! Hoping to finish up my post tomorrow :)

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    1. I could see how you'd think it was a rom-com like that. The title definitely leans that way.

      The color is great in this film. The costumes are so bright and individualized. It's fun looking at the women's different work coats at the factory.

      I can't wait to read your post!

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  2. Really enjoyed your review of this film! I just saw it for the second time last year - and could not get any of those songs out of my head for weeks. :) I really learned a lot in your post, too...about Shirley MacLaine and about John Raitt and Bob Fosse. Thanks!!!

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    1. Thanks for the comment! I found the history of this show really fascinating -- all of the key players were important figures. Plus, it's just an extremely fun musical.

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  3. Great informative and detailed review Michaela! I watched this film very recently and I must admit, apart from the fact that it stars Doris Day, one of my main reasons to was Bob Fosse's choreographies. I agree "Steam Heat" is the ultimate Bob Fosse's signature. You mentioned his film Sweet Charity. I think this one has my favourite choreography ever The Aloof/Rich Man's Frug/The Big Finnish sequence. It's sooo classy and creative! Despite the fact that it didn't become my favourite Doris Day's film, I agree with you that this is one of her most interesting roles/performances.
    Thanks again for hosting this blogathon!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Virginie! I had to write a group paper for a class about musicals a few years ago, and I was so happy I was able to convince my group to write about this film and Fosse's choreography. I think The Pajama Game is often forgotten in favor of Chicago, Pippin, and the other more famous works, but it's an extremely important piece of his career.

      I really need to rewatch Sweet Charity. I saw it once years ago, but I don't think I appreciated it very much. Time to rectify that!

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    2. As a whole, Sweet Charity isn't my favourite one ( I prefer Chicago), but it has some of the best songs and choreographies in my opinion. So, it's worthy for that.

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  4. Hi Michaela, I know you really love musicals, so I was wondering if you would ever be interested in co-hosting a blogathon with me? I've been wanting to host a (probably fairly small) blogathon dedicated to ballet. Anything ballet related - movies like Red Shoes or even films like Waterloo Bridge (since she is a ballerina) or something like Band Wagon or American in Paris. Basically, anything ballet related or that contains ballet. I don't know if it would be a very large blogathon, since it is a more restricted topic, but it could be a one or two day blogathon. Maybe for later in the summer...August? If you are interested, my email is: cwehner@outlook.com. I totally understand if you are not able to, though!

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  5. Oh...in case it doesn't come up if you click my name above, my blog is Christina Wehner: https://christinawehner.wordpress.com/

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    Replies
    1. Sounds like fun! I'll email you, for sure!

      Delete

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