TBT: The Music Man (1962)

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I love musicals in general, but I hadn’t seen The Music Man (1962) until recently. And now I know why it never appealed to me — the songs are not my kind of thing. The whole story and themes are so relentlessly midwestern — the musical’s writer Meredith Willson called it “an Iowan’s attempt to pay tribute to his home state” — and the pattern of the rhymes and the music are very “big band” and not what I prefer.

Willson’s other well-known musical is The Unsinkable Molly Brown, but the 1964 film version uses hardly any of his music, so that’s probably why I could stand it. And Debbie Reynolds was magnificent. A brilliant lead performance is also what saves this Music Man. Robert Preston carries the entire film as Harold Hill, a con man posing as a music professor selling band equipment. He sings in more than half the songs and is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to singing and dancing. While I may not love the actual musical, I did enjoy watching Preston’s performance.

I also enjoyed the costumes by Dorothy Jeakins. The story is set in 1912, in River City, Iowa, and while this is a small-ish town (where everyone knows everything about everybody), the residents aren’t country folk. The mayor’s wife, Eulalie Mackechnie Shinn, sets the fashion in elegant gowns, huge hats, and the occasional feather boa. Her compatriot Pick-a-Little Ladies are dressed in similar styles. The townspeople wear HATS, yes, people, it can be done! Films can be filmed with actors wearing hats, and yes, we can see the actors’ faces! Amazing. The hair tends towards 1960s styles more than turn-of-the-last-century, but the adult women have plenty of hairpins.

The Music Man (1962)

The mayor’s wife in red.

The Music Man (1962)

Big hats with lots of trimmings.

The Music Man (1962)

There’s the mayor’s wife again, in stripes.

The Music Man (1962)

Their coats and hats seem to take inspiration from period elements like these:

1913 - Tailor and Cutter fashion plate

1913 – Tailor and Cutter fashion plate

1912 - De Gracieuse fashion plate

1912 – De Gracieuse fashion plate

The Music Man (1962)

The ladies in the finale with hats & parasols!

The Music Man (1962)

The mayor & his wife at the finale.

Dorothy Jeakins, The Music Man (1962)

Black & white shows full costumes.

The Music Man (1962)

The whole town singing “Iowa Stubborn” in white/cream daywear & big old hats.

Compare with:

1910 - fashion plate from Ladies Home Journal at New York Public Library Digital Collections

1910 – fashion plate from Ladies Home Journal at New York Public Library Digital Collections

Marian Paroo (Shirley Jones) the town’s librarian and music teacher, and Harold Hill’s target / love interest, has a wardrobe that strongly reads as “1910s.” There’s no evidence of corsetry and her hair and makeup are rather modern, but the historical influences are easy to see.

The Music Man (1962)

With her piano student Amaryllis (Monique Vermont). Marian wears a typical blouse & skirt combo.

I’m not a fan of the song “Marian the Librarian,” but the choreography is fan-freakin’-tastic as Marian, Harold, and the library patrons move all around the two stories of the building. Mesmerizing!

The Music Man (1962)

She’s dubious.

The Music Man (1962)

Hey, at least her hair is up, with actual hair pins!

While I dislike this yellow / green gown, it feels like a modernized 1960s execution of period designs such as:

1913 - De Gracieuse fashion plate

1913 – De Gracieuse fashion plate

1913 - De Gracieuse fashion plate

1913 – De Gracieuse fashion plate

At the ice cream parlor, Harold and Marian meet again, and her dress is much more to my taste.

The Music Man (1962)

Lovely print! Wild hat!

I love this blue print gown, it’s so delicate. Reminiscent of:

1913 - Chapeau Eliane fashion plate

1913 – Chapeau Eliane fashion plate

The hat is nuts but not out of the realm of possibility for the period.

The Music Man (1962)

I couldn’t get a color screencap of her other blue and white dress, which looks even more of the period.

Dorothy Jeakins, The Music Man (1962)

Even the purse looks vintage.

Maybe that one’s going for something like these in stripes or pleats:

1910 - DeGracieuse fashion plate

1910 – De Gracieuse fashion plate

1912 - DeGracieuse fashion plate

1912 – De Gracieuse fashion plate

For an evening song number on her porch, Marian wears this orange gown.

The Music Man (1962) The Music Man (1962)

Reminds me of something like this:

1910 - DeGracieuse fashion plate

1910 – De Gracieuse fashion plate

Then there’s the finale when it’s all band stuff.

The Music Man (1962)

 

 

Do you got trouble right there in River City? What do you think of The Music Man?

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

26 Responses

  1. Roxana

    Personally I love the music of the Music Mam, but everybody is entitled to their own tastes. The costumes are very good especially for the sixties.

    Reply
  2. Maureen

    I grew up w/ this movie and love it. IMO, Robert Preston owns Harold Hill the way Yul Brynner owns the King in The King & I. Having grown up in the Midwest, I don’t mind the “midwesternness” of it. ;) I find the music a lot of fun to sing, and enjoy the way Willson combines Lida Rose and Marian’s Will I Ever Tell You. That, and Goodnight, Ladies with Pick-a-Little.

    Thanks for the costume review; I like seeing the costumes compared to period fashion plates. Your screen caps raise a pet peeve, though – the trope of putting the librarian in glasses until she falls in love with whoever the writer sets up as her love interest.

    Reply
  3. Amy

    This is actually one of my favorite musicals. It was one of the first I watched as a young girl, gifted to me by an aunt and I was captivated! Robert Preston is so commanding and charismatic and I thought Shirley Jones was so beautiful—I loved the look of her orange/rust colored dress she wears as she delays/seduces the traveling salesman, though it doesn’t look quite as impressive in these stills, but I thought she looked gorgeous throughout the film, so I’m sure that informed me.

    The music definitely got into my psyche, so it brings up a lot of feels whenever I rewatch.

    Fun fact: Jones was pregnant during the filming, so I wonder if that affected the lack of corsets you mention…though I suspect corsets can be worn comfortably while pregnant? I’m aware of the myths in the present day regarding corsetry being uncomfortable, etc, but I’m not an expert either :)

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      Oh I don’t think any of the women are wearing corsets, which they would have in the 1910s. The lines of their gowns aren’t quite the same as they’d be corsetted. Typical for films of the time – they tended to use contemporary undergarments in historical productions, so maybe a girdle at most. Unless it was specifically an undressed scene that showed a corset, like Meet Me in St. Louis, where the sisters are wearing 1900s-styled corsets when getting dressed, but the gowns they wear that evening are very 1940s (so wouldn’t need that style of corset).

      I do think the orangey/rust dress is pretty impressive, I just couldn’t get decent screencaps ;)

      Reply
    • hsc

      Here’s another Fun Fact: that pregnancy produced future Snark Week target Patrick Cassidy, who was dubbed “Block of Wood” by Kendra when she skewered the wretched 1987 mini-series NAPOLEON AND JOSEPHINE: A LOVE STORY back in January!
      (And as a bonus, according to press releases, a Fun “Fact”: supposedly Patrick kicked Robert Preston during one take of a romantic clinch with Shirley Jones.)

      Reply
  4. Kaerla Fellows

    The soundtrack album was part of our Sunday dinner background music for as long as I can remember. Dad loved the opening number because Mom’s maiden name was “Hill” so he always tried to sing along to that part – even though he couldn’t sing a note.
    I often wonder what a character like Harold would do, having “gotten his foot caught in the door”, in a place like River City. Has the love of a “good” woman changed him so much that he’ll be content, now, to look for work within that rigid society? I find it hard to believe.
    But I do love the film.

    Reply
  5. florenceandtheai

    I’m a Midwesterner (Hoosier born & raised). I genuinely enjoy musicals (& am a decent singer in my own right). I hated The Music Man. The songs annoyed me (“Shipoopi”?), the apparent age difference between Hill and Marian squicked me out, and I didn’t find Winthrop’s lisp endearing. Sorry to be the party pooper for this one. I’ll let someone else do it next time!

    Reply
  6. ktkittentoes

    I love this movie, but I really almost had to. My dad LOVED musicals. Musicals are what I grew up watching. We had the records. No one at school wanted to sit with me at lunch for reasons such as this.
    Whatever. I still know all the songs.
    Also, baby Ron Howard is quite adorable.

    Reply
  7. Sarah

    I just saw this on Broadway and if possible the costumes are even better. Absolutely inspiring. I want an entirely 1910s wardrobe now, an era I had absolutely no interest in before!

    Reply
  8. Cheryl from Maryland

    As an elementary school girl, I thought Robert Preston was the epitome of what a man should be.

    Reply
  9. M.E. Lawrence

    “Music Man” is so corny: an accomplished, all-American corn. I agree that Preston owns the part; he was an underestimated actor in general. The costumes are much better than I remember, but I do recall seeing the film, hearing the record over and over (musical-crazy big sister) AND reading the comic book version!

    Reply
  10. Susan

    I like it but then I’m a huge Robert Preston fan. And Ms Jenkins did an awesome job with the costumes. Also it has a wee Ron Howard. And Shirley Jones does an admirable job of a geeky librarian who likes Balzac. Wonder if Mrs Shinn would approve of Vigo Hugo (La Dame aux Camillias) or Georges Sand?

    Reply
    • The Scrivener

      Mrs. Shinn would probably faint if she heard of Georges Sand. A woman who dresses and lives as a man? Heavens to Betsy!

      Personally, I really like the “evade the censors” way the ladies hiss “Balzac.” But Marian showed them, the pen is mightier than the sword. ;)

      Reply
  11. Martina

    I saw the revival in 2000 with Craig Bierko and Rebecca Luker. Her gorgeous voice made “Till There Was You” absolutely iconic for me. And “Goodnight My Someone” brought me to tears. It was so sad when she died of ALS a couple of years ago, the world lost such a talent.

    I love the movie musical too, Robert Preston is just so great. So is Mrs. Partridge. :) My musical theatre course in college used the Rock Island song as an example of an outstanding first number for a musical. It’s amazing.

    Reply
  12. Frances Germeshausen

    The songs from this are crammed into my brain. I was a “Pick-a-little” lady in a HS production. Our costumes were crap. I’d have loved a real 1912 hat.

    Reply
  13. Ms. Harrington's Boutique

    The Music Man was great (the music stays with you always), but I love the clothes from Pollyanna more. Apparently from IMDB, it states both films are from the same time period.

    The later movie (from 1990), Polly Comin’ Home (which takes place in 1956 Alabama) also had amazing costumes.

    Reply
  14. MJ

    I always loved this one and still do (hard not to get “Gary, Indiana” stuck in your head, though). For me the only downside is I don’t believe Shirley Jones would fall for Robert Preston (much like I never have believed the romance in My Fair Lady, though that’s for other reasons). In any event, the costumes in this one have always been some of my favorites!

    Reply
  15. MoHub

    If they’d made it with Barbara Cook, they wouldn’t have had to replace “My White Knight” with “Being In Love.” However, the finale is a great improvement over the flat ending of the stage show, and the addition of the intro to “Gary, Indiana” is a masterstroke.

    Reply
  16. Nzie

    This was one of the musicals I grew up with on VHS. It’s not my favorite of those but I have fond memories of it. It has some charm and the singing was well done. The transformation of the townspeople is pretty random but also sweet. If it were a bit more affordable I’d have made an effort to try to see Hugh Jackman on Broadway; I definitely think he also has that sort of big presence needed to make it work.

    Reply
  17. Lynn

    I love this movie, one of the better period pieces that came out of the 1960s, despite the lack of corsets. I would love to see the current Broadway musical with Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, however, it’s closing in January. Has anyone here seen it, to make a comparison of wardrobe?

    Reply

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