Corn Is Green (1940):
In the fall of 1940 Tommy was chosen to sing in the chorus of
a new Broadway show The Corn is Green. Starring Ethel
Barrymore, the play is the semi–autobiographical story
of a strong–willed English schoolteacher working in a
poverty–stricken Welsh coal mining town. The play opened
at the National Theatre on November 26, 1940, with Tommy singing
Welsh songs and playing one of the school children. He also
understudied one of the larger parts.
– When Tommy left the show his part was eventually filled
by the young actor, Tony Randall.
– In 1945 this story was made into a film starring Bette
– In 1979 a made–for–television movie of
this story starring Katharine Hepburn was filmed on location
Foot Forward (1941):
Late in the summer of 1941, while The Corn Is Green
was still playing on Broadway, Tommy tried out for a new musical
comedy called Best Foot Forward. Produced by George
Abbott, who had just produced the successful musical Pal
Joey, and co–produced by Richard Rodgers, the play
was set in a Pennsylvania boy’s prep school and would
feature a cast of young unknown performers. Tommy auditioned
and received the standard request to leave his phone number
so they could call him if he was needed. Tommy was unaware that
his powerful voice had caught the attention of Abbott and the
two 27–year–old composers who had written the score
for the show, Hugh Martin
and Ralph Blane. Along with thirteen other songs, Martin and
Blane had written a school fight song that they felt would be
perfect for Tommy.
to the book Beautiful Mornin’ by Ethan Mordden:
Stanley Green informs us that it was Rodgers who gave Best
Foot Forward’s prep school its famous name, for the
show had gone into rehearsal without anyone’s being able
to come up with a suitable sound for this place of youth in
merry riot. The school’s fight song had been written around
a “working title,” Wisconsin. This became
“Tioga,” but that felt like . . . well, the musical
comedy version of a prep school. “What we need,”
said Abbott, “is a name that has something to do with
winning with a lot of sock in it.” “That’s
it!” said Rodgers, “ ‘Winsocki.’ ”
the fight song that had been tentatively titled Buckle Down,
Wisconsin now became Buckle Down, Winsocki. Tommy
was called back and told he would be cast as Chuck Green, a
small part but one that would feature him singing the school’s
fight song at the opening of the second act.
years later Tommy learned that on opening night, after the first
act was over, George Abbott felt the show was a flop. The audience
response had been lackluster, and the show didn’t seem
to have any punch. Then the curtain rose for the second act,
and Tommy’s powerful baritone voice rang out with the
rousing fight song Buckle Down, Winsocki. When he came
to the end of the song and began to walk off stage the audience
rose to its feet with a thunderous standing ovation, and the
stage manager turned to Tommy and said, “Go out a take
a bow, son, you’re a star now.” Soon after the play
opened a reviewer for the New Yorker magazine wrote,
“If ‘Buckle Down, Winsocki’ isn’t the
best school song in America, I wish you’d name one.”
rendition of that song proved to be the spark that ignited the
play, a point that was emphasized by Hugh Martin in a letter
to Tommy dated October 4, 2001, which reads in part:
Abbott has told me several times that the show might have failed
if it hadn’t been for you. He said that until you stepped
forward to sing “Winsocki” he was not at all sure
which way the wind was going to blow. After you stopped the
show for us, he told me he knew we were going to be a smash!
days Abbott arranged to have Tommy record Buckle Down, Winsocki
with Benny Goodman and His Orchestra. On the flip side of the
record Peggy Lee sang another song from the musical, Shady
Lady Bird (a song that was not used in the movie). The
78rpm record was an immediate hit around the country, and Buckle
Down, Winsocki became one of the most popular songs of
the early 1940s.
the end of Best Foot Forward’s run, Arthur Freed
came to New York City and attended a matinee performance of
the show. Arthur Freed was the head of the Metro–Goldwyn–Mayer
unit in charge of producing the movie studio’s musicals,
and he liked Best Foot Forward. Although Harry Cohn,
the head of Columbia Pictures, had initially offered to purchase
the play’s movie rights, Arthur Freed out–bid him
and M–G–M bought the rights to the musical for $150,000.
In addition to the young composers Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane,
Arthur Freed decided to bring some of the young Broadway cast
to Hollywood to do the movie version. Included in that group
were Gil Stratton (who had played the male lead), June Allyson,
Nancy Walker, Kenny Bowers, and Tommy Dix.
– Best Foot Forward ran on Broadway for 326
– The top ticket price for Best Foot Forward
– Tommy was paid $75 per week to be in Best Foot
– The tune from the song Buckle Down, Winsocki
was used for the 1970’s Buckle Up For Safety
public service announcements.
– Gene Kelly did the choreography for the show.
– Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane each earned between $400
and $500 per week while Best Foot Forward was on
– Ralph Blane’s real last name was Hunsecker.
– Hugh Martin graduated from the Birmingham Conservatory
of Music in Birmingham, Alabama.
– Harry Cohn had wanted to buy the movie rights to Best
Foot Forward for Rita Hayworth and Shirley Temple.
– Two months after Best Foot Forward opened
on Broadway the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the U.S.
entered World War II.
Best Foot Forward had settled into its Broadway run,
Tommy’s bestselling record and show–stopping performance
began bringing numerous inquiries and offers to appear and sing.
One of the offers he accepted was a booking at the Copacabana
nightclub, just down the street from the Ethel Barrymore Theatre
where Best Foot Forward was playing. Each night after
his Broadway show was over, Tommy would walk over to the Copacabana
and sing in their late show. He was such a hit that when Best
Foot Forward closed in July 1942, Tommy was hired to sing
at the Ritz Carlton in Boston for six weeks.
– Up until the 1960s, Boston’s Ritz–Carlton
Hotel was regarded as a private club for the very wealthy.
Guests were regularly checked to see if they were in the Social
Register or Who’s Who, and the hotel sometimes went
so far as to examine the quality of writing paper on which
the guests wrote to the hotel requesting reservations (if
it wasn’t of high enough quality, they were refused).
also used his sudden celebrity status to help schools and organizations
raise money for various charities. Performing at Mrs. John Jacob
Astor’s dinner dance for the women’s council of
the Navy League in May 1944, and at the Hunter College Elementary
School’s “Victory Rally” to help raise money
for the Red Cross, were two such occasions.