Most Carole Lombard fans know she made a film with Ethel Merman, "We're Not Dressing" (that's Leon Errol in between them). But did you know they apparently could have teamed again on screen? I didn't, until I perused through the 1937-38 International Motion Picture Almanac.
Trade books such as this offset their cost by selling advertising, and virtually all of the major (and many minor) studios bought some pages to plug their upcoming productions. Warners, which by now had largely shed its pre-Code raffiness, was no exception.
That's the front of the four-page spread; now, the middle two pages:
Carole Lombard and Fernand Gravet in
Food For Scandal with Ethel Merman
("Fools For Scandal" was initially titled "Food For Scandal," as was pointed out in http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/237286.html.)
Why would Merman, whom we previously wrote about at http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/164356.html, have been part of this project, not long before she returned to Broadway for the next decade and a half? (At least one Merman biographer states she had been a bit intimidated by Lombard's salty vocabulary while making "We're Not Dressing.") Probably two reasons...Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. Director Mervyn LeRoy had hired the songwriting pair to head out to Hollywood and write songs for what Hart later called "a musical picture that is not a photograph of a stage operetta."
In the Hart biography "Lorenz Hart: A Poet On Broadway," author Frederick Nolan notes that "Fools For Scandal" was initially to have co-starred not only Merman, but Fannie Brice and tenor Kenny Baker. Now that would have been an interesting cast.
So what happened? According to Nolan, "Brice was dropped. Ralph Bellamy replaced Kenny Baker," which led to the elimination of the song "Love Knows Best." And Merman? She "bowed out when she got an offer from Fox to appear with ice-skating star Sonja Henie and Don Ameche" in the film "Happy Landing." Her replacement? "Ultra-British non-singing Isabel Jeans." As Nolan notes, "With changes as radical as these, clearly what eventually emerged had to be significantly different than the picture originally conceived."
Nolan ultimately puts the blame for the film's failure on the "leaden script" from brothers Herb and Joe Fields. And he adds that the Rodgers and Hart compositions might not have been rescued by Merman, Baker, Brice or anyone else: "Dick producing at-best-only-adequate melodies, Larry indulging himself in too-clever rhyming that doesn't work."
Lombard was among several noted actresses whom Warners had signed to one-film deals in hopes one of them might latch on with the studio for the long term. Note the back page of the Almanac spread, where Carole joins Claudette Colbert, Ginger Rogers and Jean Arthur on the bottom half of the ad; Warners' own stars, such as Kay Francis, Errol Flynn and Bette Davis, were on the top half:
And "Fools" might well have worked with Merman, Brice and Baker in place of Jeans and Bellamy (both good actors, but out of their element here). This "food" served up was a sour souffle.