“I’ve got bad news for you…I’m afraid your wife is getting ready to sing again.” Doris Borland’s father, to son-in-law Leonard Borland, “Everybody Does It”
Several years ago, I purchased a copy of David Wallenchinsky’s book, The People’s Almanac Presents The 20th Century: History With the Boring Parts Left Out. This trivia-based tome is filled with articles about the odd, obscure, and arcane figures of 20th century pop culture. While flipping through items concerning famous thefts, practical jokers, and the genesis of silly putty, I came upon a story about rich New York socialite and wanna-be opera singer Florence Foster Jenkins (1868-1944.) Although Madame Jenkins’ musical abilities were at best marginal, she pursued a singing career and occasionally made recordings of classical works which were well beyond her ability. (You can find her horrific rendition of Mozart’s “Queen of the Night” aria on YouTube.)
I mention all of this because the story of Madame Jenkins’ dubious artistic career is about to be resurrected with the release of Meryl Streep’s new film, Florence Foster Jenkins. The announcement inspired me to re-watch a classic movie, 1949’s Everybody Does It, which very cleverly pokes fun at figures like Madame Jenkins.
The 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s were a time when opera singing was much more closely linked with pop and film culture than it is now. Dorothy Kirsten, Lily Pons, Rise Stevens and other classical music stars appeared in films, often singing along with popular singers like Bing Crosby. Operetta stars like Jeanette MacDonald and Kathryn Grayson initially made their name in Hollywood films before concentrating on off-screen classical music careers later in life. Actresses like Jane Powell and the child prodigy Deanna Durbin sang both operetta and popular music. People saw and heard these individuals regularly in movie houses across the country. Is it any wonder, then, that some girl’s mother might hear Durbin hit her high C’s and dream of a career for her daughter…or even herself?
Everybody Does It stars Celeste Holm and Paul Douglas as aspiring singer Doris Borland and her businessman husband, Leonard. Doris has a “pleasant little talent” as a singer and is probably good enough to score a recital at the local Womens’ Club. But Doris wants much more. She avidly attends the performances of such luminaries as opera star Cecil Carver (played by a very slinky Linda Darnell), and dreams of becoming an opera singer herself.
The twist in this story is that beefy, ham-fisted Leonard, who owns a wrecking company and who couldn’t care less about opera, is discovered to possess a phenomenal bass-baritone voice. Madame Carver finds out about this and is delighted, because most of her singing partners are quite a bit shorter than her: “We must have listened to a hundred and fifty baritones everywhere we could find in New York, and not one of them over 5’10”!” Madame Carver soon puts the squeeze on Leonard, and his artistic career begins. The question is, how will it end? With the wonderfully comedic Paul Douglas lumbering his way across both concert and operatic stage, you can bet that it will end hilariously.
Ironically, Ms. Holm is the only person in this film who does her own singing. Douglas and Darnell are dubbed by off-screen professional opera singers.
Everybody Does It frequently airs on Turner Movie Classics. You can also obtain a copy of the DVD through amazon.com and Turner Movie Classics. Catch it if you can…and feel free to sing along!
Everybody Does It, Dir. Edmund Goulding. Perf. Paul Douglas, Celeste Holm, Linda Darnell, Charles Coburn. 20th Century-Fox, 1949. Film.
LoBianco, Lorraine “Everybody Does It,” TCM.com. Internet. Accessed 20 Jul. 2016
Wallenchinsky, David. The People’s Almanac Presents The 20th Century: History With the Boring Parts Left Out. Little Brown & Co (P); 1st pubk. Ed edition (September 1996)