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Military Service
Performing on the Road
Life After Show Business


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Tommy is Given the Lead Role:
As soon as M–G–M obtained the movie rights to the Broadway musical Best Foot Forward, the studio’s writers started working on the screenplay. Some of the play’s songs were dropped while Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane wrote new ones. The location of the story was changed from a civilian prep school to a military academy (to give the movie a more patriotic flavor), and they decided that the play’s hit song Buckle Down, Winsocki would only be sung at the end where it would provide a rousing finale for the movie. The writers also felt it would be better if the story’s male lead sang the final song.

– In addition to their score for Best Foot Forward, Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane composed music and lyrics for a number of other M–G–M musicals including Broadway Rhythm, Meet Me in St. Louis, and Ziegfeld Follies. Their most popular song was the Christmas carol Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Both men were inducted into the
Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1983.

Click to EnlargeArthur Freed was convinced that Tommy Dix was the only person who could do justice to Buckle Down, Winsocki, and as it happened he had something else in mind for Gil Stratton, the male lead of the Broadway show.

Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland were preparing to make their last movie together, Girl Crazy. The actor Ray MacDonald had been scheduled to play Mickey’s roommate in the movie, but Ray had gone into the Army and was unavailable. Because of the war, Hollywood was short of leading men, so in November 1942, Arthur Freed decided to have Gil Stratton play Mickey’s roommate in Girl Crazy, and move Tommy Dix into the leading role in Best Foot Forward. Both movies would be shot at about the same time on the back lot of the M–G–M studios, but only Best Foot Forward would be shot in Technicolor.

– In 1943 Hollywood’s major companies released 289 feature length films. Only 10 of them were filmed in color. Of those 10, four were from M–G–M.

Click to EnlargeThe premise of Best Foot Forward is fairly simple. Bud Hooper, a cadet at the Winsocki Military Institute, sends a letter to a movie star inviting her to be his date at the school prom. As a publicity stunt the movie star accepts the invitation and shows up at the school where complications arise. The actress playing the movie star was originally going to be Lana Turner, but when she became pregnant Lucille Ball was given the part.

The Film is a Hit:
The film version of Best Foot Forward was shot from January 18 to March 24, 1943. It had its World Premiere at the Astor Theatre in New York City on June 29, 1943, and was released around the country on October 8, 1943. The New York Times called the movie, “ . . . a rollicking musical film which pops with hilarious situations, sparkling dialogue and the fresh spirit of youth.” The review went on to say that, “Tommy Dix is slightly over–pretty but very amusingly distraught as the hapless hero . . .” Although the musical comedy Girl Crazy would make more money for M–G–M that year, Best Foot Forward was a solid hit for the studio.

– The final cost of making Best Foot Forward was $1,125,502. It’s box office gross receipts were $2,704,000.
– The final cost of making Girl Crazy was $1,410,850, and its box office receipts were $3,771,000.

Movie Palace Revues:
Many of the large, ornate movie palaces in major cities around the country presented an elaborate live revue before dimming their lights and showing a first–run feature film. These popular vaudeville shows were a mixture of singers, dancers, and variety acts accompanied by a large orchestra or well–known band. Although Tommy would appear in only one other movie – a small, un–credited part in the Mickey Rooney film Andy Hardy’s Blonde Trouble – he would become a headline act in many of the revues put on in these beautiful movie palaces. Shortly after Best Foot Forward had its premiere, Tommy was invited to appear at the Loew’s State Theatre in New York City to help celebrate their 22nd anniversary. He made a lasting impression on the audience when he sang the songs Great Day, Old Man River, and Buckle Down, Winsocki, and he also made a lasting impression on the show’s emcee, Ed Sullivan.


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