Friday, February 19, 2010

The Life That Late She Led

The ranks of Hollywood royalty have thinned just a little this week, with the passing to Fabulon of MGM's prestige soprano of the early '50s, Miss Kathryn Grayson. Her brand of wholesome, high-brow appeal - a slightly too sweet amalgam of coloratura and cleavage - may not have aged particularly well, but during her moment in the sun, she was Queen of the Lot.

In memory, it will always be 1953, the year that saw her headline three of MGM's favorite things: a much-loved classic (The Desert Song), a hagiographic biopic (So This is Love, the story of Grace Moore, herself a onetime MGM asset), and a great big Broadway hit, Cole Porter no less (Kiss Me Kate). In the last, it must be admitted, she's really very good, happily sending up her image and gleefully sparring with dreamy costar Howard Keel.

If all her parts had been as challenging, as off-kilter, as Kate's Lilli Vanessi, she might have had a longer career, but audiences were tiring of operetta and what Lena Horne later called "pretty mouth" singing. After only one more picture (the creaky Vagabond King, from a 1925 Friml original, at Paramount and opposite the not exactly Keelische Oreste Kirkop), Grayson moved on to theatre, television, and graceful retirement.

She was a lovely lady with a lovely voice who appears to have lived a dignified and happy life, and if that's not the stuff of tabloids and Hollywood legends, it's still no mean feat. What leading lady of today will have as good a name in fifty years?


  1. I remember an interview Ava Gardner gave to Rex Reed. She said Kathryn Grayson had the biggest tits in Hollywood - "with her they didn't need 3-D!".

  2. We open in Venice...
    And close at Forest Lawn.

    Zelma was a lovely lass. And it's a tribute to her beauty and talent that she left a rather lasting impression despite a rather thin screen resume and only a handful of really good movies.

    That she appeared to come through it all unscathed shouldn't be such an odd and lovely thing. But considering what has happened to so many, it is.

  3. Muscato darling, I read a number of obits about our Miss Grayson before I got to the Cafe this morning, and so I can say, with assurance, that yours is the best and most beautifully written coverage on the career and life of the dear lady.

    Thank you.

  4. Oh dear. I have to report I saw her rather too late, about 1984 I think, in New Orleans as part of a revue of "Aren't They Dead Yet?" semi-legends. Dorothy Lamour, Yvonne de Carlo, Howard Keel (on oxygen!) a very mixed bag,and a rather sad one.

    Maybe saddest of all was la Grayson who, after a lengthy into about Show Boat, launched not into Can't Help Lovin Dat Man, but rather Ole Man River because, apparently, that was her range by then.

    Oh dear.

  5. My goodness - that does sound like a parade of waxworks. I've been fairly lucky in my encounters with Stars in Their Dotage, I guess - the last time I saw Peggy Lee, she was pretty far gone, for example, but still an amazing experience.

    The worst to date, in fact, was actually someone not actually at the time that old: the painful spectacle of sitting through poor Pet Clark trying to play (and worse, sing) Norma Desmond on tour in darkest New Jersey.

  6. I think that rates an"O Dear" in itself.