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Artie Shaw: 'Second Chorus'

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Artie Shaw Artie Shaw hated movie studios. As early as the late 1930s, he detested the way studio bosses abused stars and the seemingly inane demands they made on actors, writers and musicians. He also found that the hours spent waiting around studios between filming takes was a waste of time, and he abhorred how the studios sucked the Independence out of anyone with talent.

Shaw first appeared in a short in 1932 called The Yacht Party as an uncredited orchestra member. He made three shorts with his band in 1939 and recorded the soundtrack toThe Dancing Co-Ed that same year.

By then, Shaw was at the height of his popularity, turning out hit after hit. In 1939, thanks to successful radio shows and a lucrative recording contract, Shaw was earning $60,000 a week (close to $1 million in today's dollars)—a staggering figure in the Depression, even for Hollywood. 

In the autumn of 1940, Shaw broke his own rule and made his first and only feature-length movie—Second Chorus. Though the film resulted in two Oscar nominations for Shaw—one for Best Score and one for Best Song ("Love of My Life")—by the end of filming he vowed never to repeat the experience. And he didn't.

Here's Artie Shaw, in Tom Nolan's Three Chords for Beauty's Sake: The Life of Artie Shaw:

“I took that picture on the proviso that I would be able to rewrite any language they put in my mouth; I'm playing 'Artie Shaw' again, in a fictional situation. So, you know, I was working with people I knew. We were supposed to have John Garfield, and it was gonna be a serious story about a young trumpet player.

“Anyway—Boris Morros, the producer, didn't get along with Jack Warner, and Jack Warner rescinded his deal to lend us Garfield. So we didn't have a star!

“So uh—out friend Borris Morros, comes over to the Chateau Marmont, where we were working—says I got a staah!' We says, 'Who you got?' 'Fred Astaire.' I said, 'Wait a minute! This is a serious story about a trumpet player!' 'So you'll change the story.' Well, at that point—that's the last movie I ever did, the last movie I ever would do."

Here's the entire film. Interestingly, Shaw had virtually no on-camera chemistry, and his acting ability was wooden at best. It's also probably Astaire's worst film. The music, however, was a different matter. Thanks to Greg Lee for reminding me of the film:


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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved.

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