The Academy Award-nominated film musical gets a coolly understated radio interpretation tonight, with three of its stars—Margaret O’Brien, Jimmy Durante, and classical pianist/conductor Jose Iturbi reprising their film roles. In some ways, it seems almost miraculous that Iturbi is alive and functioning, considering his past.
Of Basque heritage, Iturbi enjoyed his first successes as a touring concert pianist and harpsichordist beginning in 1912, before making his American premiere in New York in 1929. He had just accompanied Spanish violinist Manuel Quiroga in June 1937 when Quiroga was struck by a truck in Times Square, provoking the premature end to his music career.
It would prove one of several brushes with misfortune involving Iturbi, who has also survived the 1936 crash and sinking of a Pan American World Airways S-42 flying boat at Trinidad. Though he feared publicly he wouldn’t be able to conduct again, he would be named conductor of the Rochester (NY) Philharmonic from 1936-1944. In the interim, his double piano recording (with his sister, Amparo) of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue received wide acclaim.
Iturbi has also appeared in numerous film musicals, starting with 1943′s Thousands Cheer. After tonight’s performance, he will appear in such film musical hits as Anchors Aweigh (Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra) and play the actual piano music when Cornel Wilde features in A Song to Remember, the MGM biopic about Frederic Chopin.
But he has also found himself in a family feud of a sort when his daughter, Maria, divorces American concert violinist Stephan Hero (a former Iturbi protege) in 1941 and, following several contentious court battles over their two daughters, Iturbi himself filed for custody, calling his own daughter an unfit mother. Maria Iturbi Hero would commit suicide in 1946, and Iturbi and his son-in-law—who takes the children to Europe in 1947—resolve their differences and Hero keeps custody of his children.
Iturbi would continue his career and make a new life with his secretary, Marion Seabury, until his death in 1980, after which she would create the Jose Iturbi Foundation. He also has at least one other old-time radio appearance for the memory books: he appeared on Amos ‘n’ Andy in 1943, in an episode in which Andy Brown (Charles Correll) inadvertently gave the maestro a piano lesson!
Tonight: Mike, the orphaned younger sister (O’Brien) of symphonic musician Barbara Ainsworth (Frances Gifford, in June Allyson’s film role) arriving to stay with her as her orchestra, conducted by Iturbi, is preparing for a military camp tour. While the orchestra strains to keep from Barbara news of her husband’s death in action until after her child is born, while comic singer/pianist Andrews (Durante, whose performance includes a remake of his famous “Umbriago”) entertains both the military tour audiences and little Mike while becoming a kind of grandfather figure to the little girl.
Rosalyn: Melissa O’Brien. Host/producer: William Kiely. Music: Louis Silvers. Director: Henry Koster.
FURTHER CHANNEL SURFING . . .
Vic & Sade: Miss Scott’s Getting Too Chummy (NBC, 1940)—Over a late evening snack following a long evening’s silent reading and study, Sade (Bernadine Flynn) laments Miss Scott’s touchy-feely neighbourliness, considering Sade is discomfited by excessive friendliness between next-door neighbours by nature. Vic: Art Van Harvey. Rush: Bill Idelson. Announcer: Possibly Vincent Pelletier. Director; Possibly Roy Winsor. Writer: Paul Rhymer.
The Whistler: Seattle, Take Three (CBS; AFRTS Rebroadcast, 1951)—Bookie Ted Cordray plans to carry a cash fortune he stole from a now-dead bookmaker away from Los Angeles, by way of paying his way on a road trip to Seattle, when the too-gregarious driver stops to pick up two more passengers—one of whom is Corday’s former paramour, now married, who was only too suspiciously interested in rekindling a relationship with him. Cast: Unidentified. The Whistler: Bill Forman. Announcer: Marvin Miller. Music: Wilbur Hatch. Director: George W. Allen. Writer: Unidentified.
The Six Shooter: Blood Relations (NBC, 1954)—Ponset (James Stewart) is working for the Wilcox ranch operation for the first time in four years, but he learns the hard way that the eldest Wilcox son, George (Herb Ellis), isn’t leading the drive . . . because he’s bent on stopping his sister Viola (Barbara Eiler) from marrying Hunt Coffin (Sam Edwards), whose killer brother Judd Ponset helped capture, despite Hunt being nothing like his brother. Announcer: John Wald. Music: Basil Adlam. Director: Jack Johnstone. Writer: Frank Burt.