Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Borrowed Love on Borrowed Time

If Dorothy McGuire seemed a tad uneasy in her wedding dress in our last Guess Who? feature, she had reason to be: as Ellen Bowker Pierce in the 1952 melodrama Invitation, she's not only saddled with "dashing playboy" Dan Pierce (played by dear, doughy Van Johnson) for a husband, but she soon learns that she has a Fatal Movie Disease. Worse, Dan has been paid to marry Ellen by her well-meaning father, and glamazon rival Maud Redwick (Ruth Roman) is a vulture-in-furs, warm for Dan's form before Ellen's is even cold.

It's all soapy stuff, even by 1950's MGM standards; the film's lasting impact turned out to be the haunting title song by Bronislau Kaper. The snaky, serpentine melody (which has become a jazz standard, and, given lyrics by Paul Francis Webster, recorded by everyone from Carmen McRae to Rosemary Clooney to Vikki Carr) had actually been used by Kaper two years earlier, in the George Cukor misfire, A Life of Her Own (1950) - which featured the conceit of 30-year-old Lana Turner playing a fresh-faced Kansas girl coming to New York to become a model. Advertising art had Lana appearing as dewy and ripe as she was a few years earlier in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), but in the actual film, she looks older and more matronly than she would in Madame X (1966)!

Who would have guessed that Dorothy McGuire could out-glam Lana Turner at Metro? Suffering in mink in Invitation, felling her more spangled foe Ruth Roman, Dot gave it a good show.

Lana, meanwhile, would wander aimlessly for the next few years, the bright spots (The Bad and the Beautiful, 1952) outweighed by such dreck as Mr. Imperium (1951), Latin Lovers (1953), and her inglorious Metro swan song, The Prodigal (1955). Lana even went through an ill-advised period as a mousy brunette, which made her look worse than she had in A Life of Her Own.

It would take the combined efforts of Ross Hunter, Douglas Sirk, Jean Louis and a gangster named Johnny Stompanato to revive La Turner's career and style doldrums. But that's another story for another time...

We just knew that Toby Worthington would win this particular game; he has his choice of either us or Dinah Washington serenading him with Mr. Kaper's strange "Invitation."


  1. I ALWAYS learn something new from you. Love the music clip.

    I have a question...do you have an online source for interesting pocket squares?

  2. I always have time for the Queen of the Blues.

  3. IIRC, Lana put on weight after she married millionaire Bob Topping in 1948. Hard to believe she could look so amazing in The three Musketeers and then be so doughy in A Life of Her Own (though it happens with me, too!) And I will always believe that Lana's HIDEOUS dark 'do is what led to the end of her marriage to Lex!

  4. how funny....i watched this movie recently on TCM for the first time. and i have the rosie clooney CD with "invitation". thanks tj, for helping this waning brain to retain.

  5. Jill - PaulStuart.com!

    MJ - "I always have time for the Queen of the Blues." Sweet of you to say, but I haven't even posted a picture of myself in a blue ensemble yet!

    Poseidon3 - I'll have to try marrying a millionaire and see what it does for my weight!

    normadesmond - Isn't the Rosie Love album delicious? Those Nelson Riddle arrangements and that glamorous John Engstead cover portrait...

  6. yes! and knowing that rosie & nelson diddled, swoontime!