“Miami: Where Rich Men Are as Plentiful as Grapefruit and Millionaires Hang from Every Palm Tree”

miamiopeningNow that I live in Florida, this line of dialogue from Moon Over Miami passes across my mind from time to time. I have not seen any millionaires hanging from palm trees, but I do glance up from time to time.

A colorful musical with a terrific cast, Moon Over Miami stars Betty Grable and Carole Landis as Kay and Barbara, two blonde sisters from Texas. Together, they head for Florida, along with their Aunt Susie, who has just come into a small inheritance. The three use the money to stay at the lavish Flamingo Hotel, where they hope to find millionaire husbands. To lure wealthy men into their circle, Kay masquerades as an heiress, Barbara pretends to be her secretary, while Aunt Susie gets stuck as the maid.

miamigrable

GRABLE SPARKLES IN HER SECOND FOX FILM.

Released in 1941, Moon Over Miami epitomizes the kind of musical vehicle that Twentieth Century Fox tailored for Betty Grable during the Golden Age. Fox was grooming Grable to be their biggest female star because the studio’s reigning box-office queen, Alice Faye, was hinting about retirement. Grable’s first film for Fox, Down Argentine Way (1940), had proved very popular with audiences—a relief for the vivacious musical star who had been making movies at other studios for a decade.  When her contract was not picked up by Paramount in 1939, she was worried that her career had fizzled. But, Darryl F. Zanuck gave her a new home at Fox.

Grable costarred in Down Argentine Way with Don Ameche, who was reteamed with her for Moon Over Miami. The rest of the sparkling cast included Landis as the serious-minded sister and a boyish Robert Cummings as the second male lead. Typical for musicals of the era, character actors were cast in scene-stealing roles that provided offbeat comedy and novelty. Charlotte Greenwood costarred as down-to-earth Aunt Susie, Jack Haley played a worldly wise bell captain at the Flamingo, and a specialty act called the Condos Brothers dazzled with their vigorous and precise dance number.

miamipastles

THE FILM’S COLOR PALETTE IS MADE UP OF SOFT PASTELS OR TERTIARY COLORS, LIKE AQUA AND MAUVE.

While MGM’s musicals tended to exploit primary colors, Fox’s musical comedies featured a palette of pastel and tertiary colors, such as deep pinks, sky blues, sea greens, and soft lavenders. The eye-catching candy colors created an optimistic fantasy world where even night scenes were free of gloomy hues and gray shadows. In Moon Over Miami costume designer Travis Banton, along with art directors Richard Day and Wiard Ihnen , created a fairy-tale Florida, where it was entirely possible that rich, handsome men could grow on trees.   In one scene, Kay strolls into her hotel bungalow in a sky blue dress trimmed in white fur, which is set off by pale, smoky blue walls decorated with white bas-reliefs. Barbara, who trails behind her, provides just the right accent in her pale green dress. The girls’ luxurious bungalow was furnished with white chairs and beds, with the windows dressed in rattan blinds. The bathroom featured a curved, glass brick wall, and a private patio was located just outside the bedroom. All of the bungalows encircled a terrace, where the men sang “You’ve Started Something” to the ladies as they danced around the reflecting pool or the sunken garden. The Flamingo Hotel was frequented by beautiful women and handsome men who met each evening for cocktails and romance amid exotic tropical foliage and the bright Miami moon.

SECOND UNIT FOOTAGE OF THE REAL MIAMI BEACH

SECOND UNIT FOOTAGE OF THE REAL MIAMI BEACH

The dream-like hotel in Moon Over Miami was a product of movie magic on a Hollywood sound stage, but there actually was a Flamingo Hotel in Miami Beach during that time. Early in the film, a montage of Miami locations includes a long shot of the real Flamingo and a close up of its neon sign. Miami Beach’s first grand hotel, the Flamingo was built in 1921 by Florida legend Carl Fisher, who is credited with turning the mosquito-infested barrier island into one of America’s premier winter resorts. Fisher, who was enchanted by flamingos (who isn’t?), painted his grand hotel pink and decorated it with flamingo murals. However unique and grand the actual Flamingo was, its rooms and suites looked nothing like their movie counterparts.

Moon Over Miami was such an important production that Zanuck invested more money and time than usual for a Fox film. After a year of preparation, the musical was in production for four months. The studio sent a second unit to South Florida under director Otto Brewer to shoot background footage for several scenes. But, the intent was not accuracy or realism. Instead, the goal was to evoke the glamour and allure of 1940s Miami and Miami Beach, when the city was a haven for the rich. The montage near the beginning not only includes the Flamingo but also shots of yachts and boats on Biscayne Bay, the huge hotels along the beachfront, and the Hialeah Park racetrack. Other scenes used background footage of water skiing and boat racing shot at Cypress Gardens, Rainbow Springs, and Silver Springs to depict South Florida as a playboy’s paradise.

KAY DANCES WITH ON THE FLAMINGO'S INVITING TERRACE WHERE MEN WITH COCKTAILS AND CHARMS

AS KAY, GRABLE DANCES ON THE FLAMINGO’S INVITING TERRACE WHERE MEN AWAIT WITH COCKTAILS AND ROMANCE.

And, what about that storyline in which a couple of feisty girls go looking for rich husbands?  Well, the notion of searching South Florida for millionaires to marry was not that far-fetched. The Miami and Miami Beach lifestyle during the mid-1930s reflected a stateliness and elegance, partly because of the wealthy crowd that wintered there. Moon Over Miami was based on a popular Broadway play from the Depression era, when over 600 millionaires spent every January through April in Miami Beach, including such industry barons as Elmer Maytag (washing machines), Mark Honeywell (thermometers), Leonard Florsheim (shoes), and Warren Wright (Calumet baking soda). Old money also claimed Miami as their winter home, including a few Vanderbilts and a couple of Astors.  The tropical atmosphere and elegant trappings gave Miami and Miami Beach the image of the perfect place for romance–an image circulated by photo magazines of the era, including Life and Time. Fittingly, Miami was the marriage and divorce capital of America in the early 1940s.

At the end of the film, the characters express their joy at finding a new love and a new life by singing “Miami (Oh Me, Oh My—ami),” an ode to the city’s reputation as America’s Winter Playground. Perhaps if I hum a couple of bars, one of those millionaires will drop into my lap.

26 Responses “Miami: Where Rich Men Are as Plentiful as Grapefruit and Millionaires Hang from Every Palm Tree”
Posted By Richard B : March 18, 2013 12:54 pm

Funny thing is, with the addition of a few Seventies sleazesploitation twists, this is the basic plot of SIX-PACK ANNIE (1975).

Posted By Richard B : March 18, 2013 12:54 pm

Funny thing is, with the addition of a few Seventies sleazesploitation twists, this is the basic plot of SIX-PACK ANNIE (1975).

Posted By sewhite2000 : March 18, 2013 1:15 pm

In SOME LIKE IT HOT, of course, the “girls” find themselves on a Florida beach, where Tony Curtis pretends to be the heir to an oil fortune in order to snare Marilyn Monroe. It’s supposed to be set in the ’20s (though other than the references to Prohibition and the Mob, it feels like it could be taking place in the year it was made, 1959), so I guess the idea of pretty girls going to Florida to try to snag rich, single millionaires was a fairly prevalent one between the world wars.

Posted By sewhite2000 : March 18, 2013 1:15 pm

In SOME LIKE IT HOT, of course, the “girls” find themselves on a Florida beach, where Tony Curtis pretends to be the heir to an oil fortune in order to snare Marilyn Monroe. It’s supposed to be set in the ’20s (though other than the references to Prohibition and the Mob, it feels like it could be taking place in the year it was made, 1959), so I guess the idea of pretty girls going to Florida to try to snag rich, single millionaires was a fairly prevalent one between the world wars.

Posted By Jack Favell : March 18, 2013 1:33 pm

I adore Moon Over Miami. Carole Landis and Betty Grable never looked better than in those glamourous pastel fantasy backgrounds and gowns you mention. My other favorite Fox musical is Warner’s Romance on the High Seas with Doris Day, which effectively uses the same lavender blues and pinks in another travel comedy. I think the Three Blind Mice(1938) story that is the basis for Moon Over Miami was used over and over in various other incarnations, like Three Little Girls in Blue and How To Marry A Millionaire.

Don Ameche is a comforting, suave leading man. I think he and Betty have a lot of chemistry together as two rather world weary sharps who fall for one another. Thanks so much for pointing out this under-appreciated musical. There’s a place in the world for escapism…. and I guess it’s Miami!

Posted By Jack Favell : March 18, 2013 1:33 pm

I adore Moon Over Miami. Carole Landis and Betty Grable never looked better than in those glamourous pastel fantasy backgrounds and gowns you mention. My other favorite Fox musical is Warner’s Romance on the High Seas with Doris Day, which effectively uses the same lavender blues and pinks in another travel comedy. I think the Three Blind Mice(1938) story that is the basis for Moon Over Miami was used over and over in various other incarnations, like Three Little Girls in Blue and How To Marry A Millionaire.

Don Ameche is a comforting, suave leading man. I think he and Betty have a lot of chemistry together as two rather world weary sharps who fall for one another. Thanks so much for pointing out this under-appreciated musical. There’s a place in the world for escapism…. and I guess it’s Miami!

Posted By Jack Favell : March 18, 2013 1:34 pm

Excuse me, that sentence should read, “My other favorite musical is Warner’s Romance on the High Seas. Don’t know how Fox slipped in there!

Posted By Jack Favell : March 18, 2013 1:34 pm

Excuse me, that sentence should read, “My other favorite musical is Warner’s Romance on the High Seas. Don’t know how Fox slipped in there!

Posted By Doug : March 18, 2013 3:05 pm

I’ve always loved the artifice of Hollywood musicals; just watched “Can-Can” last night, and didn’t mind a bit that it
was a cinematic confection filmed far, far away from Paris.
No one can have seen everything, but looking at their IMDB pages
I don’t recall seeing many of the films of Grable/Landis.
Moon Over Miami sounds like fun, though; I think that ‘girls hunting husbands’ is a favorite plot device, the stuff that dreams are made of for both ladies and gentlemen in the audience. What guy wouldn’t want to be caught if a Betty Grable type were pursuing him?
Which puts me in mind of “The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer” where Shirley Temple was chasing Cary Grant…who ran safely into the arms of Myrna Loy.

Posted By Doug : March 18, 2013 3:05 pm

I’ve always loved the artifice of Hollywood musicals; just watched “Can-Can” last night, and didn’t mind a bit that it
was a cinematic confection filmed far, far away from Paris.
No one can have seen everything, but looking at their IMDB pages
I don’t recall seeing many of the films of Grable/Landis.
Moon Over Miami sounds like fun, though; I think that ‘girls hunting husbands’ is a favorite plot device, the stuff that dreams are made of for both ladies and gentlemen in the audience. What guy wouldn’t want to be caught if a Betty Grable type were pursuing him?
Which puts me in mind of “The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer” where Shirley Temple was chasing Cary Grant…who ran safely into the arms of Myrna Loy.

Posted By Emgee : March 18, 2013 4:18 pm

The only Grable/Landis movie i ever saw was the one they made straight after this one. Called I Wake Up Screaming, and as you might guess, not much singing and dancing going on. Good movie though!

Posted By Emgee : March 18, 2013 4:18 pm

The only Grable/Landis movie i ever saw was the one they made straight after this one. Called I Wake Up Screaming, and as you might guess, not much singing and dancing going on. Good movie though!

Posted By Richard B : March 18, 2013 8:22 pm

“After the Revolution, millionaires will hang from every palm tree!”

“In Soviet Russia, palm tree grows you!”

And so on. “I Wake Up Screaming” is a great one, definitely the oddball among Gable/Landis fare, with a terrific performance by Laird Cregar. Carole Landis was a beautiful tragic doll.

Posted By Richard B : March 18, 2013 8:22 pm

“After the Revolution, millionaires will hang from every palm tree!”

“In Soviet Russia, palm tree grows you!”

And so on. “I Wake Up Screaming” is a great one, definitely the oddball among Gable/Landis fare, with a terrific performance by Laird Cregar. Carole Landis was a beautiful tragic doll.

Posted By Susan Doll : March 18, 2013 9:58 pm

I, too, love the artifice of musicals, especially the candy colors in the Fox musicals. I am glad others do, too.

Posted By Susan Doll : March 18, 2013 9:58 pm

I, too, love the artifice of musicals, especially the candy colors in the Fox musicals. I am glad others do, too.

Posted By Cyndi Smith : March 18, 2013 11:11 pm

I love the vintage musicals. I also am enamored with all the old movies and shows. I am an incurable romantic and they made so many great romances. And oh, how I love a good tear jerker. I don’t think they make movies like that near as well as they did then.

Posted By Cyndi Smith : March 18, 2013 11:11 pm

I love the vintage musicals. I also am enamored with all the old movies and shows. I am an incurable romantic and they made so many great romances. And oh, how I love a good tear jerker. I don’t think they make movies like that near as well as they did then.

Posted By Jenni : March 22, 2013 5:13 pm

I wrote a blog a couple months ago for a look back at the Oscars. I wrote about 1948′s Academy Awards when Rosalind Russell lost Best Actress to Loretta Young. In my research, Travis Blanton had designed Russell’s dress and when she didn’t win, she had to spend time consoling him, because her loss meant that the gown wouldn’t get as much publicity.

Posted By Jenni : March 22, 2013 5:13 pm

I wrote a blog a couple months ago for a look back at the Oscars. I wrote about 1948′s Academy Awards when Rosalind Russell lost Best Actress to Loretta Young. In my research, Travis Blanton had designed Russell’s dress and when she didn’t win, she had to spend time consoling him, because her loss meant that the gown wouldn’t get as much publicity.

Posted By robbushblog : March 23, 2013 1:53 pm

I live in Jacksonville, but this post gives me an idea about moving to Miami…..

Great story, Jenni.

Posted By robbushblog : March 23, 2013 1:53 pm

I live in Jacksonville, but this post gives me an idea about moving to Miami…..

Great story, Jenni.

Posted By swac44 : March 26, 2013 12:54 pm

And of course we have this movie to thank for the Denny’s menu favourite “Moon Over My-Hammy” which is basically a grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich as I recall. And every classic musical has a bit of ham and a layer of cheese in it, so the moniker seems perfectly appropriate.

For another look at Miami Beach, you can always go for a double serving of Franks–Capra & Sinatra–in A Hole in the Head, which uses the strip along the beach, and its art deco buildings, for its primary location. There’s a great aerial shot of the classic Fontainebleu and Eden Roc hotels at the start, and, the clincher for me, Carolyn Jones. When I was in Miami Beach, I took the tour of the art deco district, and the guide pointed out the hotel that stood in for Sinatra’s failing inn, plus another hotel that was a favourite of Chicago gansters like Al Capone (now a hostel for backpackers). It seems the Italian mob liked to go to Miami, while Chicago’s Irish hoods favoured Montreal as their prohibition-era vacation haunt. I’m sure the arrangement prevented a lot of awkward encounters.

Posted By swac44 : March 26, 2013 12:54 pm

And of course we have this movie to thank for the Denny’s menu favourite “Moon Over My-Hammy” which is basically a grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich as I recall. And every classic musical has a bit of ham and a layer of cheese in it, so the moniker seems perfectly appropriate.

For another look at Miami Beach, you can always go for a double serving of Franks–Capra & Sinatra–in A Hole in the Head, which uses the strip along the beach, and its art deco buildings, for its primary location. There’s a great aerial shot of the classic Fontainebleu and Eden Roc hotels at the start, and, the clincher for me, Carolyn Jones. When I was in Miami Beach, I took the tour of the art deco district, and the guide pointed out the hotel that stood in for Sinatra’s failing inn, plus another hotel that was a favourite of Chicago gansters like Al Capone (now a hostel for backpackers). It seems the Italian mob liked to go to Miami, while Chicago’s Irish hoods favoured Montreal as their prohibition-era vacation haunt. I’m sure the arrangement prevented a lot of awkward encounters.

Posted By Marlene Goldberg : July 22, 2014 1:06 am

Why dn’t you ever play Betty Grable in “dolly sisters” or Coney Island….there are a ton of old musicals that everyone would love to see.

Posted By Marlene Goldberg : July 22, 2014 1:08 am

Why don’t you ever play Betty Grable musicals…Dolly Sisters, Coney Island and many more….people would love to see them.

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