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Great Day!

1930

Sheet Music     •    1983 Walker bio excerpt         2002 McClendon essay

Click here to see photos from the film.


 

Unreleased MGM musical. Shooting began around September 1930; after 8 weeks or so, the picture was abandoned.

 

Cast: Joan Crawford, Johnny Mack Brown, John Miljan, Anita Page, Marjorie Rambeau.

Credits:  Based on the 1929 Broadway play by Vincent Youmans. Director: Harry Beaumont. Producer: Irving Thalberg.

 

Early announcement of film (4/28/1930 by Elizabeth Yeaman in the Hollywood Daily Citizen):

Harry Pollard, who screened Show Boat, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and other stories of the South, will direct Joan Crawford in The Great Day, a current stage hit. The play by William Cary Duncan and John Wells will be made with a Mississippi River background on the MGM lot. The song hits, "The Great Day," "Without a Song," and negro spirituals from the original Vincent Youmans score, will be included in the screen version. In this romance, Joan will play the part of a roadhouse entertainer, who has been reduced from a position of aristocracy, through the flooding of family plantations by the rising of the river. New Orleans race tracks and a mardi-gras carnival will supply colorful sequences. Pollard, who makes his debut with MGM in this picture, has been identified with the screen since 1910, directing the original Leather Pusher series which elevated Reginald Denny to stardom.

IMDb page.

 


 

Sheet Music

 

 

UK sheet music.

        


 

1983 Excerpt from Alexander Walker's The Ultimate Star

Unfortunately the production file on the film entitled Great Day has not survived in the MGM archives; but then the film does not exist, either. It was begun in or around September 1930; and after no fewer than eight weeks' shooting, or twice the time it took to film the usual Crawford picture, it was abandoned on the personal orders of Louis B. Mayer. The cost of aborting the production was $280,000 -- 'a tremendous amount of money', Crawford rightly said. The reason for the debacle can't be precisely established, but certain clues suggest it was a decisive moment in Crawford's career. Great Day was based on Vincent Youmans's Broadway musical, which the Talkies had now rendered a most attractive vehicle for a star who could sing as well as act. Thalberg seems to have had no doubt about Crawford's ability to do both. He personally requested her services, even though she had previously had little direct contact with the studio production chief: she invariably pursued parts she fancied through Hunt Stromberg or, in the last resort, Mayer himself. The explanation she gave for the film's being abandoned was that she could not play the ingenue role in it -- a 'baby vamp' from the Deep South. 'I just can't talk baby talk,' she told Mayer after she had viewed the daily rushes 'with mounting concern -- they were God-awful'. Mayer viewed them, agreed with her, and scrapped the film: as Crawford never tired of saying, he knew how to build and protect his properties. But the Culver City archives contain not one note on a decision that must have singed the cable wires between the Coast and New York. Instead, they indicate MGM's tenacious retention of the film rights to Great Day and a long and sometimes contentious series of dealings with Youmans (and, later, his estate) over the company's plans to re-mount the production for Jeanette MacDonald, the singing star who had joined the studio in 1933. Therein, perhaps, lies the clue to Crawford's panicky dissatisfaction with Great Day which led her to appeal to Mayer over Thalberg's head. She said later that Thalberg hadn't seen the rushes, a statement flatly contradicted by Thalberg's practice of seeing the rushes of every MGM film in production at 2:30 p.m. sharp, the day after they had been shot. Why, in short, was she so desperate to be out of the picture?

It can only be an informed guess: but suppose Crawford had made a success of a role that was essentially a singing one? This was a crucial moment in her career. She was determined to go into 'straight' dramas; but she had already been employed in musicals, or films with song-and-dance numbers. With the coming of sound, virtually every major Hollywood studio had bought into the music-publishing industry. Sheet music made the sort of huge profits that disc recordings were soon to notch up: between 100,000 and 150,000 sheets of a song could be sold, and almost as many discs, within a month of a successful musical film's release. Every studio sought a musical star, or wanted to use the singing and dancing talents of what stars it already had. If Great Day had repeated its Broadway success for Crawford, she would have found it increasingly difficult to continue her career as a dramatic actress. She would have been typecast as a musical star. We have no way of verifying if her baby-vamp talk was inadequate because she couldn't play it. But everything about her, every move she had made in the past, every challenge she accepted indicates a will to succeed at any cost. It is highly unlikely that she couldn't have been given some acceptable interpretation with all the dialogue coaching and other resources available at MGM. But she did not. Instead, she willed the contrary -- and now she was powerful enough to cause a whole production to be folded around her.

 

 

2002 Essay by Sandy McLendon

"Great Day" is one of those mystery productions that was started and shut down before its completion.The film was very close to completion, but the studio, and Joan, supposedly didn't like what they were seeing. They mutually decided to go into major rewrites to save the film with the plan to go back to shooting with the newly revised script by the following year, in 1931. It never happened and "Great Day" was never released. However, there seems to be a much bigger story to the movie that never was. Tantalizing references to "Great Day" are out there, but anyone researching it finds there are many dead ends. It's as if someone had tried to erase its existence. And there's a very good reason for that -- someone did.

"Great Day" began as a Vincent Youmans musical purchased by MGM to be tailored to Joan Crawford's talents. The 1929 show had not been a success on Broadway, lasting only twenty-nine performances. But its songs (with lyrics by Billy Rose and Edward Eliscu) had been memorable. They included the title tune, another called "Without A Song," and lastly, one of the all-time standards, "More Than You Know." It was the popularity of the music that encouraged MGM to buy the rights for the film version.

Sometime in September of 1930, "Great Day"'s shooting began; the cast included Joan Crawford, Johnny Mack Brown, John Miljan, Anita Page, and Marjorie Rambeau. MGM had begun publicising the movie, with mentions in fan magazines and newspapers, and a release of the movie's songs in the form of sheet music heralding the film, complete with Crawford's name and the MGM logo. Takes were made, on-set stills taken; at least three scenes were worked on -- and then it all collapsed. "Great Day" was cancelled -- unheard-of for a Crawford production -- its cast dismissed, its sets dismantled. It literally disappeared.

For years, "Great Day" was referred to only briefly, if at all, in Joan's filmographies. One of the strangest facts surrounding the film was that all MGM production records for this "A" feature had disappeared, yet, records for many other uncompleted movies had survived. Why?

Unlike Crawford's other pictures at this period, "Great Day" was not assigned to a run-of-the mill MGM producer. This was an Irving Thalberg movie, and the significance of that can hardly be overestimated. He was MGM's "boy wonder." Because it was a Thalberg production, it would have been planned to cost more from the beginning, to shoot longer, to get extra care and attention at every phase of production. Thalberg was a perfectionist; that trait often cost the studio a lot of money, and it wasn't always a great box office return on their investment. "Great Day" was Thalberg's first request for Joan's services in a film that he personally supervised. Thalberg's attention to quality would likely have been perceived as "Great Day"'s strength. Ironically, it appears it was the reason for the film's downfall.

Unbeknownst to the public, Joan was holding a mighty big grudge against Irving Thalberg. Joan had suffered a grievous professional loss at Thalberg's hands earlier that same year. One of the decade's hottest -- in several senses of that word -- properties had been purchased with Joan in mind. It was called "Ex-Wife," a 1929 book so racy that author Ursula Parrott published it anonymously for fear of the backlash it would surely receive with the puritanical public of the day. MGM paid a record breaking (for the time) $20,000 for the film rights. By 1930, Joan was MGM's biggest money making star and she excitedly waited for things to get started on a role that would most certainly make the world sit up and take notice. She waited in vain.

Another actress had her eye on "Ex-Wife," and unfortunately for Joan's aspirations, it was the one MGM star who actually had a chance of wresting Joan's prize away from her -- Norma Shearer. Shearer was Irving Thalberg's wife, and her interest altered more than one equation for the planned film. At first, it did not seem a project suited to Shearer. Norma herself described the "Ex-Wife" part she wanted as "Very strong, almost ruthless," but lamented, "Irving won't give me the part, because he doesn't think I'm glamorous enough." To be fair to Thalberg, his concerns seem to have been based in Shearer's "ladylike" appearance and image; the role called for men to lose their heads over her through sheer lust. Always one to find a way past difficulties, Norma Shearer tackled her husband's opposition head-on, by going to a new photographer, one outside the MGM system, for some photographs that she felt would change Thalberg's mind.

The photographer was George Hurrell, and the results of that famous sitting were just as "hot" as "Ex-Wife" itself. Norma had chosen a gold lamé robe that tended to fall open provocatively, and Hurrell had directed the hairdresser Norma had brought to "loosen up" her hairstyle. The result was a completely new Shearer with a previously undreamt-of sexual gloss. Norma triumphantly took the pictures to her husband, threw them on his desk, and asked, "Now do you believe I can play a femme fatale and leave them crying for more?" Electrified by what he saw, Thalberg gave his wife the role. Re-titled "The Divorcée," the sizzling movie was one of 1930's biggest hits, bringing a whole new fan base to Shearer, and winning her that year's Academy Award for Best Actress.

Despite all the respectful MGM publicity about Thalberg and his star-studded movies, Irving had gained himself a powerful enemy at the studio, Louis B. Mayer. Formerly Thalberg's friend and booster, Mayer had tired of what he viewed as "the tail wagging the dog." Thalberg had also interfered with Mayer's desires for studio profits, by mounting expensive productions that didn't always earn as much as they should have, given the amount of investment. While MGM was certainly able to afford Thalberg's "prestige pictures" up to a point, Mayer didn't feel he could; his job (and the part of his compensation based on profit-sharing) was contingent on profitability. Thalberg's expensive quest for quality interfered with that; it was actually costing Mayer money. The two executives had been at loggerheads for some time, and Mayer could have seen "Great Day" as just the opportunity he needed to begin reining Irving in.

Conceivably, Joan Crawford may have given a bad performance to scuttle "Great Day" of her own accord, as payback to Thalberg for handing Norma Shearer an Oscar on a silver platter. She may also have given that bad performance at Mayer's request, to settle both her score and L.B.'s. There are many clues; Crawford herself said, "I viewed the rushes with mounting concern -- they were God-awful." In her own book, "A Portrait of Joan," Crawford says that she went to Mayer, who also viewed the rushes, agreed with her self-assessment, and ordered the movie shut down.

Joan went on to make "Dance, Fools, Dance," another formula film in which she had a dance number, and which earned the kind of money expected of Joan's pictures. Mayer went on to maintain his position as head of MGM for almost twenty-years more, at which time he was himself ousted, and replaced with Dore Schary. Norma Shearer actually benefited from her husband's eventual reduction in status at the studio. Thalberg was freed from responsibility for anything but his own movies, so he concentrated on making his wife one of MGM's most prestigious stars. Joan did finally star in a Thalberg movie, 1932's "Grand Hotel," getting rave reviews in a mega all-star hit.

Irving Thalberg was a consummate Hollywood player; he handled Mayer's 1933 ouster of him by telegram with respectful silence. He continued his European vacation, later returning to Hollywood and his new position at the studio as if nothing had ever happened.

Irving Thalberg was a sickly child and he was constantly in a weakend condition as an adult. He died of lobular pneumonia six years after the "Great Day" debacle (September 14, 1936). He was thirty-seven years old. Despite his apparent fallout with Mayer, on the day of his funeral, MGM closed for the entire day, and every Hollywood studio shut down operatons for five minutes of silence at 10:00AM PST.

Owing to Thalberg's habit in his lifetime of not seizing the spotlight for himself, Hollywood's memorials to him after his death were relatively sedate, although heartfelt. MGM renamed their administration facility the Thalberg Building, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences created the Thalberg Award to acknowledge "Creative producers, whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production."

 


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