AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Coney Island
Alternate Title: In Old Coney Island
Director: Walter Lang (Dir)
Release Date:   18 Jun 1943
Premiere Information:   World premiere in Cincinnati, OH and San Francisco: 11 Jun 1943; New York opening: 16 Jun 1943
Production Date:   late Sep 1942--12 Jan 1943
Duration (in mins):   90 or 95
Duration (in feet):   8,666
Duration (in reels):   10
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Cast:   Betty Grable (Kate Farley)  
    George Montgomery (Eddie Johnson)  
    Cesar Romero (Joe Rocco)  
    Charles Winninger (Finnegan)  
    Phil Silvers (Frankie)  
    Matt Briggs (William Hammerstein)  
    Paul Hurst (Louie)  
    Frank Orth (Bartender and member of "Irish" quartette)  
    Hermes Pan (Dancing partner in finale)  
    Phyllis Kennedy (Dolly)  
    Carmen D'Antonio (Dancer)  
    Andrew Tombes (Horace Carter)  
    Hal K. Dawson (Cashier)  
    Buddy Williams (Singing waiter)  
    Leo Diamond   and His Solidaires:
    Abe Diamond    
    Dick Hayman    
    Harry Roller    
  and Pete Maggio    
    Jimmy Dundee (Bricklayer)  
    John Kelly (Bricklayer)  
    Jim Toney (Bricklayer)  
    John "Skins" Miller (Bricklayer)  
    Ed McNamara (Policeman)  
    Herbert Ashley (Heckler)  
    Jimmy Lucas (Heckler)  
    Francis Sayles (Heckler)  
    William Halligan (Policeman)  
    Alphonse Martell (Headwaiter)  
    Tom Dugan (Fitch)  
    Harold DeGarro (Stiltwalker)  
    Dewey Robinson (Man outside harem)  
    Libby Taylor (Maid)  
    Bud Jamison (Bartender)  
    Trudy Marshall (Girl friend)  
    Claire James (Girl friend)  
    George Boyce (Horse routine)  
    Harry Masters (Member of horse routine and "Irish" number quartette)  
    Joe Niemeyer (Member of "Irish" number quartette)  
    Delos Jewkes (Member of "Irish" number and singing waiters quartette)  
    Gene Ramey (Member of singing waiters quartette)  
    Gus Reed (Member of singing waiters quartette)  
    George Gramlich (Member of singing waiters quartette)  
    Alec Craig    
    Harry Seymour    
    Byron Foulger    
    Ruth Gillette    
    Bert Hanlon    
    Ruth Clifford    
    Matt McHugh    
    George Lloyd    

Summary: In 1905, promoter Eddie Johnson goes to Coney Island to find his rival and pal, Joe Rocco, who cheated him out of his share of the carnival they ran together. Eddie is determined to obtain a share in Joe's new saloon, which features singer Kate Farley, but after Eddie denigrates Kate's low-class style, Joe orders him to leave. Eddie then persuades his friend Frankie, who runs a sideshow featuring a tattooed woman, to allow him to turn it into a "Turkish Harem" with dancing girls. Kate, who is mad about Eddie's earlier insults, heckles him, but his idea is a smash and draws away Joe's customers. When Kate informs Joe about Eddie's success, he sends his thugs to destroy the place. In retaliation, Eddie and Frankie instigate a huge fistfight in Joe's saloon, and during the fracas, Joe accidentally knocks out Finnegan, a lovable souse. Eddie and Frankie spirit Finnegan away and give him money to go to Atlantic City for a month, then stage a fake funeral for him. Eddie convinces Joe that he killed Finnegan and threatens to turn him over the police unless he is allowed to make over and run the saloon. Joe reluctantly acquiesces, although Kate is more resistant when Eddie attempts to tone down her garish costumes and frenetic singing. Eddie's methods are successful, and within two weeks, the saloon's business has tripled and Kate is a hit. One afternoon, Finnegan appears in the saloon, and Joe figures out Eddie's ruse, but decides to bide his time to exact revenge. As the weeks pass, Eddie and Kate fall in love, and Eddie makes plans to open his own nightclub. Joe grows jealous of their romance and argues with Eddie, who reveals his plans to leave and take Kate with him. In order to prevent Eddie from getting Kate, Joe is willing to give her up himself, and writes to Broadway impresario William Hammerstein, who comes to hear her sing. Eddie and Frankie conspire to get her out of the saloon that night, however, and when Joe learns that Kate has missed her audition, he tells her that Eddie is only using her. Crushed, Kate accompanies Joe to Hammerstein's theater the next day to sing for him, but reconciles with Eddie when he apologizes. They prepare to marry that afternoon, but Joe again comes between them by hiring an actor to tell Kate that Eddie has secured a bank loan for his club by using her singing services as collateral. Kate is devastated and breaks up with Eddie, despite his pleas of innocence. Later, Hammerstein stages a show starring Kate, and Joe, who acts as her business manager, proposes to her. Kate gently refuses, and when Eddie appears backstage that evening, he tricks Joe into revealing that he broke up their wedding as an astonished Kate listens. Kate returns to the stage, but after the finale, Joe sneaks Eddie into the orchestra to play the piano. Kate realizes that Eddie is there, and the couple smile at each other as she sings a romantic ballad to him. 

Production Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Distribution Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Director: Walter Lang (Dir)
  Saul Wurtzel (Asst dir)
  Otto Brower (2d unit dir)
Producer: William Goetz (Exec prod)
  William Perlberg (Prod)
Writer: George Seaton (Orig scr)
Photography: Ernest Palmer (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Richard Day (Art dir)
  Joseph C. Wright (Art dir)
Film Editor: Robert Simpson (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Thomas Little (Set dec)
  Frank E. Hughes (Set dec)
Costumes: Helen Rose (Mus seq cost des)
Music: Alfred Newman (Mus dir)
Sound: E. Clayton Ward (Sd)
  Roger Heman (Sd)
Special Effects: Fred Sersen (Spec photog eff)
Dance: Hermes Pan (Mus seq dances staged by)
  Fanchon (Mus seq supv)
Make Up: Guy Pearce (Makeup artist)
Color Personnel: Natalie Kalmus (Technicolor dir)
  Henri Jaffa (Assoc)
Country: United States

Songs: "Take It from There," "Beautiful Coney Island," "Miss Lulu from Louisville," "There's Danger in a Dance" and "Get the Money," music and lyrics by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger; "Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy's Chowder?" music and lyrics by George L. Giefer; "In My Harem," music and lyrics by Irving Berlin; "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling," music by Ernest R. Ball, lyrics by Chauncey Olcott and George Graff, Jr.; "Cuddle Up a Little Closer, Lovey Mine," music by Karl Hoschna, lyrics by Otto Harbach; "Put Your Arms Around Me, Honey," music by Albert von Tilzer, lyrics by Junie McCree; "Winter," music by Albert Gumble, lyrics by Alfred Bryan; "Pretty Baby," music by Tony Jackson and Egbert Van Alstyne, lyrics by Gus Kahn.
Composer: Albert von Tilzer
  George Graff Jr.
  Ernest R. Ball
  Irving Berlin
  Alfred Bryan
  George L. Giefer
  Albert Gumble
  Otto Harbach
  Karl Hoschna
  Tony Jackson
  Gus Kahn
  Junie McCree
  Chauncey Olcott
  Ralph Rainger
  Leo Robin
  Egbert Van Alstyne

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. 18/6/1943 dd/mm/yyyy LP12447

PCA NO: 8899
Physical Properties: col: Technicolor
  Sd: Western Electric Recording

Genre: Musical comedy
Sub-Genre: Historical
Subjects (Major): New York City--Coney Island
Subjects (Minor): Alcoholics
  Burlesque dancers
  Business ethics
  William Hammerstein
  Irish Americans
  Proposals (Marital)

Note: The working title of this film was In Old Coney Island . The words of the opening title cards, "Twentieth Century-Fox presents Betty Grable, George Montgomery Cesar Romero in Coney Island ," are sung by an offscreen chorus. During the film's finale, "There's Danger in a Dance," instrumental snippets of "Oh Susanna" and "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" are heard.
       Several contemporary news items reported that the film was to be based on books by journalist Edward Van Every, and a screenplay written by Van Every and his collaborator, Dwight Taylor. Information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department and the Produced Scripts Collection, located at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, however, reveals that Van Every and Taylor's materials were actually used for another 1943 Betty Grable picture, Sweet Rosie O'Grady . The studio had difficulties obtaining clearances from the heirs of Richard Fox, the publisher of the Police Gazette and the subject of Van Every's works, and in order to prevent another studio from becoming interested in the subject, sent out misleading press releases stating that Van Every was working on Coney Island .
       The scripts collection also contains drafts for Coney Island written by Nat Ferber, John Wexley and Sam Hellman, but the extent of their contribution to the completed film has not been determined. According to a 22 May 1941 HR news item, writer George Seaton, who is credited onscreen with the film's screenplay, was going to New York to gather research materials and interview the surviving family members of George C. Tilyou, who built Steeplechase Park at Coney Island in 1897. The news item states that "the entire picture is to be played from the standpoint of the Tilyous." HR news items from 1941 announced that Laird Cregar, Alice Faye and Pat O'Brien would star in the film. In Apr 1942, a HR news item noted that Irving Cummings had been set to direct the picture, with star Ann Rutherford. Lynn Bari was set for the "second" female lead, according to a Sep 1942 HR news item. Although an Oct 1942 HR news item stated that "Old Demon Rum," a song by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger, would be sung in the picture, it does not appear in the final film. Nov 1942 HR news items noted that second unit director Otto Brower directed some sequences at the Venice Pier, near Los Angeles.
       Although the picture received mostly positive reviews, several critics complained about its lack of historical accuracy, including the Var critic, who stated: "[Grable] winds up at the finish as star of a Willie Hammerstein-produced musical at the Victoria on Broadway. Fact that Willie Hammerstein didn't produce musicals, and that the Victoria was strictly a straight vaudeville theatre, evidently escaped this film's scenarist." Coney Island received an Academy Award nomination for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture. Lux Radio Theatre broadcast two presentations of the story. The first, on 17 Apr 1944, starred Dorothy Lamour and Alan Ladd, and the second, which starred Grable and Victor Mature, aired on 30 Sep 1946. In 1950, Grable and Mature starred in Twentieth Century-Fox's remake of the picture, Wabash Avenue (see below). 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
American Cinematographer   Jul 43   p. 257.
Box Office   22 May 1943.   
Daily Variety   19 May 43   pp. 3-4.
Film Daily   25 May 43   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   20 Jan 41   p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Feb 41   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   22 May 41   p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Jul 41   p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter   30 Sep 41   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   6 Nov 41   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   10 Apr 42   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   21 Apr 42   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Apr 42   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   6 Jul 42   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   26 Aug 42   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   28 Aug 42   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   28 Sep 42   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Oct 42   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   2 Nov 42   p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter   4 Nov 42   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Nov 42   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Jan 43   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   19 May 43   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   8 Jun 43   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   17 Jun 43   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   18 Jun 43   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   21 Jun 43   p. 4.
Look   3 Jul 1943.   
Motion Picture Daily   19 May 1943.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   7 Nov 42   p. 995.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   22 May 43   p. 1325.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   26 Jun 43   p. 1392.
New York Times   17 Jun 43   p. 17.
Variety   19 May 43   p. 8.

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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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