1 April 2005 | theowinthrop
Once in Love With Raymond
Ray Bolger's career in movies has a passing resemblance to another performer who did not quite fit in, but who achieved stardom through a back door of sorts: Robert Preston. If one looks at the credits of both men most of their films are quite forgettable, but their musical work lifts them. Yet Bolger, although recognized for his abilities as an eccentric dancer, only hit the target on film twice: as the Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz" and as Charley Wykeman in "Where's Charlie". The first one was a lucky fluke, as he was hired in the Hollywood studio system at it's height. But after appearing in that classic, Bolger was wasted in movies (one can make an exception with his appearance in "The Harvey Girls" but it is still pale in comparison). He had a habit of returning to Broadway, appearing in Roger & Hart's "By Jupiter" in the early 1940s. Then he returned to Broadway in the late 1940s. And he got his greatest Broadway success there as Charley Wykeman in "Where's Charlie". A musical version of the farce, "Charlie's Aunt", he played the hero who dresses up as his wealthy aunt from Brazil (where the nuts come from). The highpoint of the musical was when he sang "Once In Love With Amy", and got the audience to join in the singing. Bolger's performance and enthusiasm made Broadway history. With his established reputation in Hollywood musicals he was able to get the lead in the Hollywood version. So as a result of this we are able to still enjoy that rarity - an actual Broadway star's performance on celluloid in the role he made famous. It is identical to Preston's return to Hollywood as "Professor Harold Hill" in "The Music Man". But the latter film really began a second half to Preston's career. He would spend most of his later years on Broadway, not in Hollywood, and only pick and choose those films that he wanted to do, culminating with "Victor/Victoria". That did not happen with Bolger. His next musical, "April in Paris" was with Doris Day, but was not very good. He never starred in another Hollywood film. He played "Barnaby" in Walt Disney's "Babes in Toyland, but most critics did not care for that film either. Bolger's stardom was never in doubt, but his days of growth in his movie roles were over. Not quite like Preston, who seemed to have a better presence for some reason. Still, "Where's Charley?" is in that select group with "The Man Who Came to Dinner" and "Call Me Madame!" wherein we are able to see what the Broadway audiences saw. For that alone we should be grateful.