Sunday, August 4, 2013

Friday Dance Party: Ribbons Down Her Back

The star of this week's Dance Party died early this week.

Eileen Brennan
1932-2013
When news of Brennan's death became public this week, Facebook filled up with tributes and remembrances of her work.  
Everyone loved Mrs. Peacock, her role in
Clue. I never saw it, but apparently she
delivered a comic speech which is still
quoted today.

That work was most often comedic, as she was rightfully considered an exceptional comic actress. 
When Eileen died, I recalled a little performance she gave in the PBS adaptation of Working, the Musical.  Go here for that clip.


Our gal may be most widely remembered from her performance in the various incarnations of Private Benjamin. 
Her role in Private Benjamin earned an Oscar nomination, which she lost to Mary Steenburgen in Melvin and Howard.  When the film transferred to television, Eileen went with it, and won the Emmy and Golden Globe.

As Zondra, the witheringly acerbic acting coach on
Will and Grace.  The role earned one of her many
Emmy nominations.

Eileen spent a good part of her career in television, earning Emmy nominations for work in Newhart, Will and Grace, Taxi, and thirtysomething.  But her feature film work was also substantial, including memorable roles in The Last Picture Show, The Sting, Murder By Death, and The Cheap Detective.  She spent several months as a regular on Laugh-In, where she became buddies with Goldie Hawn, with whom she later shared the big screen in Private Benjamin.  In 1982, after dining with Hawn, she was critically injured by a passing car;  the injury severely affected her life and her career. 
Her performance in The Last Picture Show was
the beginning of a long association with director
Peter Bogdanovich.

She endured a gruelling three years of rehabilitation after her accident, and struggled for the rest of her life with a dependence on prescription drugs.

As 1959's Little Mary Sunshine.

Eileen Brennan's first splash came with the title role of the Off-Broadway parody of light operetta, Little Mary Sunshine, for which she won the Obie in 1959. 
She's got elegance, as the original Irene
Malloy in Hello, Dolly! That's Charles
Nelson Reilly on the far left.

In 1964, she created the role of Irene Malloy in the original cast of Hello, Dolly!, in which she introduced the Jerry Herman classic ballad, "Ribbons Down My Back."
Known primarily for her film work these days, Eileen spent her early years in musical theatre.  Here she is as Anna in The King And I.
Once she landed in Hollywood, her musical theatre background was largely forgotten, until 1975. 
Brennan was nominated for the Emmy
all three seasons of Private Benjamin,
winning in 1981.

Brennan was a favorite of director Peter Bogdanovitch, who used her in The Last Picture Show (and the sequel, Texasville), as well as in Daisy Miller;  when the director was casting his ill-fated musical At Long Last Love, he cast Eileen in the part of Madeline Kahn's maid.
Cybill Shepherd, Madeline Kahn, and Eileen Brennan in At Long Last Love.  This week's Dance Party comes from that notorious project.
At Long Last Love is both despised and admired.  Bogdanovich was attempting to recreate the golden age of film musicals, and used the Cole Porter songbook to construct a musical flambe, which became instead a musical flameout. 
A stellar cast and sparkling cinematography
could not save At Long Last Love.

The film was the first since the 1930s to feature musical numbers which were filmed live, rather than being recorded in advance.  
"C'mon in, this is free!" Perhaps in an attempt to emulate those musical sequences in which Astaire and others filmed the full number in a single shot, Bogdanovich does the same with this week's Dance Party. He does his stars no favors, as their hoofing is occasionally out of sync.  The film has not seen a release on DVD, though a Blu-ray edition has recently become available.  Hopefully, you can ignore the subtitles on the clip below and enjoy our Eileen returning to her musical theatre roots.
It was a lousy decision, to record the numbers live onset, considering that several of the starring cast were not comfortable singing. 
Once this flop was released, everyone ran for cover.
Eileen Brennan was a breast cancer survivor, but succumbed to bladder cancer this week, at the age of 80.


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