AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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A Song Is Born
Alternate Title: That's Life
Director: Howard Hawks (Dir)
Release Date:   6 Nov 1948
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 19 Oct 1948
Production Date:   mid-Jun--26 Sep 1947
Duration (in mins):   111-113
Duration (in feet):   10,126
Duration (in reels):   12
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Cast:   Danny Kaye (Professor Hobart Frisbee)  
    Virginia Mayo (Honey Swanson)  
    Benny Goodman (Professor Magenbruch)  
    Tommy Dorsey    
    Louis Armstrong    
    Lionel Hampton    
    Charlie Barnet    
    Mel Powell    
    Buck and Bubbles    
    The Page Cavanaugh Trio    
    The Golden Gate Quartet    
    Russo and The Samba Kings    
    Hugh Herbert (Professor Twingle)  
    Steve Cochran (Tony Crow)  
    J. Edward Bromberg (Dr. Elfini)  
    Felix Bressart (Professor Gerkikoff)  
    Ludwig Stossel (Professor Traumer)  
    O. Z. Whitehead (Professor Oddly)  
    Esther Dale (Miss Bragg)  
    Mary Field (Miss Totten)  
    Howland Chamberlin (Mr. Setter)  
    Paul Langton (Joe)  
    Sidney Blackmer (Adams)  
    Ben Welden (Monte)  
    Ben Chasen (Ben)  
    Peter Virgo (Louis)  
    Harry Babasin (Bass)  
    Louie Bellson (Drums)  
    Alton Hendrickson (Guitar)  
    The Brazilians    
    Norma Gentner (Girl with Samba Kings)  
    Susan George (Cigarette girl)  
    Muni Seroff (Waiter)  
    Will Lee (Waiter)  
    George Ford (Man at table)  
    Beverlee Mitchell (Girl at table)  
    Peter Cusanelli (Chef at Dixieland Club)  
    Bert LeBaron (Chef at Dixieland Club)  
    John Impolito (Chef at Dixieland Club)  
    Jill Meredith (Dorsey club patron)  
    Janie New (Dorsey club patron)  
    Barbara Hamilton (Dorsey club patron)  
    Jeffrey Sayre (Dorsey club patron)  
    Eugene Morgan (Dorsey club patron)  
    Mil Patrick (Dorsey club patron)  
    Diane Garrett (Dorsey club patron)  
    Lucille Casey (Dorsey club patron)  
    Alice Wallace (Dorsey club patron)  
    Patricia Walker (Photographer at Dorsey club)  
    Ed Biby (Headwaiter at Barnet club)  
    Maxine Fife (Woman at Barnet club)  
    Louise Franklyn (Woman at Chocolate Club)  
    Paul E. Burns (Justice of the peace)  
    Robert Dudley (Justice of the peace)  
    Donald Kerr (Waiter at Crow's Nest)  
    Norman Blake (Crow's Nest patron)  
    Foster Phinney (Crow's Nest patron)  
    Roy Darmour (Crow's Nest patron)  
    Irene Vernon (Crow's Nest patron)  
    Karen X. Gaylord (Crow's Nest patron)  
    Donald Wilmot (Messenger)  
    Lane Chandler (Policeman at inn)  
    Carl Faulkner (Postman)  
    Frank Meredith (Policeman at toll gate)  
    William Haade (Detective)  
    Raoul Freeman (Detective)  
    Nolan Leary (Stage doorman)  
    Diana Mumby (Girl in wings at Crow's Nest)  
    Martha Montgomery (Girl in wings at Crow's Nest)  
    Marjorie Jackson (Girl in wings at Crow's Nest)  
    Shirley Ballard (Girl in wings at Crow's Nest)  
    Joseph Crehan (District Attorney)  
    Jack Gargan (Stenotypist)  
    Joe Devlin (Gangster)  

Summary: At New York's Totten Music Foundation, Professor Hobart Frisbee and his six musicologist colleagues devote themselves to compiling the world's most comprehensive music encyclopedia. When their spinsterly benefactress Miss Totten and her lawyer visit and question the mounting cost of the project, the youthful Frisbee flirts shyly with Miss Totten and engages her in a demonstration of a Polynesian love chant. Taken with the chant, Miss Totten happily re-commits to financing the encyclopedia, on which the professors have already labored nine years. As soon as Miss Totten departs, two window washers, Buck and Bubbles, drop by the foundation and ask the musicologists for help on some radio quiz show questions. The professors are startled by Buck and Bubbles' jazzy renditions of classical pieces, and Frisbee, who is the project's folk music expert, concludes that his section of the encyclopedia is outdated. Determined to catch up on nine years of popular music, Frisbee spends an entire day visiting nightclubs. After inviting a series of distinguished jazz musicians to attend a round table discussion at the foundation the next day, Frisbee encounters sexy nightclub entertainer Honey Swanson. Honey, whose gangster boyfriend Tony Crow is wanted by the police for murder, at first rejects Frisbee's invitation, but changes her mind when detectives from the district attorney's office try to subpoena her. Fleeing the club with Tony's henchmen, Joe and Monte, Honey realizes that the foundation is the perfect place in which to hide until she can reunite with Tony. To the delight of his sex-starved colleagues, Frisbee allows Honey to stay the night, and she joins the round table the next morning. During the discussion, Monte and Joe come to the foundation and meet secretly with Honey and hand her a large diamond engagement ring from Tony. Although Honey knows that Tony wants to marry her only because she would then be unable to testify against him, she happily accepts the ring, as becoming Mrs. Crow will guarantee her a life of luxury. Because the police are still looking for her, Honey must remain at the foundation but makes the best of her situation by teaching the professors about jam sessions. When the foundation's stuffy housekeeper, Miss Bragg, threatens to quit unless Honey is expelled, Frisbee dutifully informs the singer that she must leave. Desperate to stay, Honey tells the smitten Frisbee that she has a crush on him and calls him her "yum yum type." Frisbee tries to resist Honey's calculated seduction, but is finally overwhelmed by her kisses. Later that night, the lovestruck Frisbee announces to his colleagues that he is proposing to Honey. Frisbee asks Honey to marry him the next morning and presents her with a modest, romantically engraved engagement ring. Honey is taken aback by the seriousness of Frisbee's devotion, but before she can turn him down, Tony telephones from a small town in New Jersey, identifying himself as "Daddy." Believing that Tony is Honey's father, Frisbee asks him for Honey's hand, and Tony uses Frisbee's confusion to arrange safe transportation for Honey. Tony instructs Frisbee to drive up to New Jersey with Honey, so that her "sick mother" can enjoy the wedding. Although reluctant to fool Frisbee in this way, Honey agrees to Tony's plan and even locks Miss Bragg in a closet after the housekeeper reads a newspaper article about her and threatens to call the police. On the way to New Jersey with Honey and the professors, Frisbee crashes his rented car, forcing them all to spend the night at an inn. There Honey calls Tony, who ignores her protests and announces that he is picking her up that night. Before the gangster arrives, Frisbee mistakes Honey's bungalow for Professor Oddly's and inadvertently confesses his passion to Honey, who responds with loving kisses. In New York, meanwhile, Miss Bragg escapes from the closet and notifies the police about Honey's whereabouts. When Tony and his gang show up at the inn, Frisbee finally realizes he has been duped and, after misdirecting Miss Bragg and the police, confronts Honey. Although Honey is contrite, Frisbee and his cohorts sadly return to the foundation without her. Miss Totten then arrives and informs them that, because of the scandal now surrounding the foundation, the encyclopedia has lost its funding. Just then, Joe and Monte burst in and announce to Frisbee that because Honey has told Tony that she loves Frisbee, Tony wants to show her what a milquetoast Frisbee is by forcing her to marry him under Frisbee's nose. While a feeble justice of the peace undertakes to marry Honey and Tony in one room of the foundation, Monte and Joe hold the professors at gunpoint in another. After their musician friends show up to continue the round table, Frisbee gets an idea to use the raucous rhythms of their music to cause a large drum to fall from its wall perch onto Joe's head. As hoped, the drum knocks Joe out, while Monte literally has a rug pulled out from under him. With moments to spare, Frisbee then rushes to stop the wedding and beats up Tony. Later, Honey proclaims that she does not deserve to marry Frisbee, but he subdues her protests with kisses. 

Production Company: Samuel Goldwyn Productions, Inc.  
Distribution Company: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.  
Director: Howard Hawks (Dir)
  Joseph Boyle (Asst dir)
  Helen McSweeney (Dial dir)
Producer: Samuel Goldwyn (Pres)
  Samuel Goldwyn (Prod)
Writer: Billy Wilder (Based on the story "From A to Z" by)
  Thomas Monroe (Based on the story "From A to Z" by)
  Harry Tugend (Adpt)
Photography: Gregg Toland (Dir of photog)
  W. Howard Greene (Dir of photog)
  Bert Shipman (Cam op)
  Hal McAlpin (Stills)
Art Direction: George Jenkins (Art dir)
  Perry Ferguson (Art dir)
Film Editor: Daniel Mandell (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Julia Heron (Set dec)
Costumes: Sharaff (Cost des)
Music: Sonny Burke (Orch)
  Emil Newman (Mus dir)
  Hugo Friedhofer (Mus dir)
Sound: Fred Lau (Sd rec)
Special Effects: John Fulton (Spec photog eff)
Make Up: Robert Stephanoff (Makeup)
  Marie Clark (Hairstylist)
Production Misc: Raoul Pagel (Prod mgr)
  Anita Speer (Scr supv)
  Sam Freedle (Scr supv)
  Ralph Hoge (Grip)
Stand In: Jeri Sullivan (Singing double for Virginia Mayo)
Color Personnel: Natalie Kalmus (Technicolor col consultant)
  William Fritzsche (Assoc)
Country: United States
Language: English

Music: "Muskrat Ramble" by Ray Gilbert and Kid Ory; "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You," music by George Bassman; "Redskin Rhumba" by Dale Bennet; "Flying Home" by Benny Goodman; "Stealin' Apples" by Fats Waller; "Anvil Chorus" from the opera Il trovatore and Quartette from the opera Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi; Overture from the opera William Tell by Gioacchino Rossini; Trio in B flat major, op. 11, by Ludwig van Beethoven; "Anitra's Boogie" and "Goldwyn Stomp," composers undetermined.
Songs: "A Song Is Born" and "Daddy-O," words and music by Don Raye and Gene De Paul; "Sweet Genevieve," words by George Cooper, music by Henry Tucker; "Joshua Fit de Battle of Jericho," "Old Blind Barnabas" and "Gaudeamus Igitur," traditional.
Composer: Benny Goodman
  George Bassman
  Ludwig van Beethoven
  Dale Bennet
  George Cooper
  Gene de Paul
  Ray Gilbert
  Kid Ory
  Don Raye
  Gioacchino Rossini
  Henry Tucker
  Giuseppe Verdi
  Fats Waller
Source Text:

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
Samuel Goldwyn Productions, Inc. 31/12/1947 dd/mm/yyyy LP2076 Yes

PCA NO: 12799
Physical Properties: col: Technicolor
  Sd: Western Electric Recording

Genre: Screwball comedy
  Screwball comedy
Subjects (Major): Deception
Subjects (Minor): African Americans
  Classical music
  Encyclopedias and dictionaries
  Impersonation and imposture
  Jazz music
  Justices of the peace
  New Jersey
  New York City
  Proposals (Marital)
  Window washers

Note: The working title of this film was That's Life . A Song Is Born is a remake of Samuel Goldwyn's 1941 comedy Ball of Fire (see above entry). Some dialogue from the earlier film was reused in A Song Is Born . Mary Field portrayed "Miss Totten" in both versions. Will Lee, who plays a waiter in the remake, appeared as a gangster named "Benny" in the 1941 picture. Cinematographer Gregg Toland worked on both pictures, although W. Howard Green is listed in early HR production charts as director of photography on A Song Is Born . According to contemporary news items, Harry Tugend adapted the script of Ball of Fire , which was written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, based on an original story by Wilder and Thomas Monroe, for A Song Is Born . An Oct 1948 NYT article reported that Goldwyn originally intended to credit all four A Song Is Born writers, but after Wilder and Brackett asked the Screen Writers' Guild not to be listed on the remake, Tugend, who had disagreed with Goldwyn about the adaptation, also removed his name from the credits. Because Monroe chose to be credited on the remake, however, Wilder was compelled to include his name as a co-story writer.
       Although a Jul 1947 HR news item announced that Carmen Miranda and her ten-piece rumba band, The Banda Da Lua, were reassembling for a part in the picture, they did not appear in the completed film. Modern sources note that Danny Kaye's wife, composer Sylvia Fine, who wrote most of Kaye's songs, offered to write three numbers for the film, to be performed by Kaye, but that Goldwyn did not want to pay the $60,000 she requested and replaced Kaye's numbers with instrumentals. In a modern interview, Howard Hawks stated that he directed the remake only because Goldwyn agreed to pay him $25,000 a week. Hawks also claimed that he was asked not to position "the Negroes and the white musicians too close together" during their scenes. According to a Dec 1948 Var item, Lloyd T. Binford, head of the Memphis board of censors, banned the film in that city, complaining that "'it shows a rough rowdy bunch of musicians of both colors. It is supposed to be about the birth of jazz music in New Orleans. There is no segregation.'" 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   28 Aug 1948.   
Down Beat   1 Dec 48   p. 8.
Daily Variety   28 Jan 1947.   
Daily Variety   25 Aug 48   p. 3, 12
Film Daily   25 Aug 48   p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter   20 Jun 47   p. 3, 7
Hollywood Reporter   18 Jul 47   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   8 Aug 47   p. 21.
Hollywood Reporter   12 Sep 47   p. 18.
Hollywood Reporter   19 Sep 47   p. 4, 6-7.
Hollywood Reporter   26 Sep 47   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   25 Aug 48   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   25 Oct 48   p. 7, 9
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   4 Sep 48   p. 4302.
New York Times   21 Feb 1947.   
New York Times   20 Oct 48   p. 37.
New York Times   31 Oct 1948.   
Variety   25 Aug 48   p. 8.
Variety   6 Dec 1948.   

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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