'Happy Go Lovely,' in Classic, Cool Context

This Saturday night at 9 p.m., KCET brings you the 1951 musical comedy "Happy Go Lovely." It's the latest entry in KCET's "Classic Cool Theater" series, which aims to give you not only a great film but also a vintage cartoon, two newsreels and an of-the-era musical number. All those extras add up to what makes "Classic, Cool Theater" so special: context. In the spirit of this unique package, we're offering you a peek at the America -- and the Los Angeles -- that received the original "Happy Go Lovely" back on July 25, 1951.

"Happy Go Lovely" stars David Niven as a wealthy but stodgy Scotsman who falls in love with an American dancer, a dual role played by Vera-Ellen and her legs. Yes, her bottom half is an entity unto itself in this film, much as it was during her life. One look at her gorgeous gams in this number from "Happy Go Lucky" will demonstrate why her legs were once among the most famous in Hollywood.

Although likely not one of the first names mentioned in a conversation about mid-century celebrities, Vera-Ellen was a major star in her day. Her lively yet graceful moves made her one of the few women to dance opposite both Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. (The exclusive club boasts the membership of Judy Garland, Rita Hayworth and Debbie Reynoldsas well.) Just three years after she starred in "Happy Go Lovely," she played one of the four leads in the biggest film of her career: the holiday classic "White Christmas". But only three years after that, she'd make her final film.

You may well be wondering what happened to the bright-eyed sylph. In 1963, her three-month-old daughter Victoria died of sudden infant death syndrome and, with that, Vera-Ellen simply stepped out of the public eye, with her name only making national headlines when she herself died in 1981. And although "Happy Go Lucky" may seem overshadowed today by Vera-Ellen's sad end and the fact that a far better-remembered film, the Disney adaptation of "Alice in Wonderland", hit theaters just three days later," it nonetheless stands out as a showcase for Vera-Ellen's remarkable talents.

Take a Closer Look Back

Check out these pictures of 1951-era Los Angeles, from an in-class air-raid drill to the earliest rumblings of the Battle for Chavez Ravine. (Click here to read a previous KCET article on Chavez Ravine and the major effect it had on L.A. history.)

Chavez Ravine residents refuse eviction order. (Photo: Los Angeles Times photographic archive, UCLA library)
Hillside view of Chavez Ravine. (Photo: Los Angeles Times photographic archive, UCLA library)
A crowd gathers to watch the aftermath of a car collision at the intersection of Ramsgate and Glasgow avenues near Ladera Heights on July 28, 1951. (Photo: Courtesy Los Angeles Examiner Negatives Collection, 1950-1961/UCS Libraries
Atom bomb drill at school in Los Angeles, Calif., circa 1951. (Photo: Los Angeles Times photographic archive, UCLA library)

In terms of Los Angeles history, July 25, 1951, stands out will also be remembered for the apparently race-motivated bombing of homes at 2436 and 2308 South Dunsmuir Avenue in Mid-City. The homes respectively belonged to a Japanese-American physician and a realtor who had previously received threatening calls about selling homes in the neighborhood to non-Caucasian people. Two more explosions would later rip through Dunsmuir Ave. homes. The crimes were never solved. For more, hit the L.A. Times Daily Mirror feature, plus photos of what the houses look like today.

Via Curbed L.A., see what fancy houses looked like back in 1951. For example, there's the fantastically mid-century home that served as a swanky Palm Springs pad in an episode of "Mad Men." Also, Harrison Ford has just recently put his 1951-constructed Brentwood home on the market. Brentwood too stuffy? Then this head-scratcher of a Silver Lake home boasts a deep turquoise paint job and a handcrafted Japanese Tatami mat room -- you know, like you've always wanted.

If you saw Eames House reconstruction at LACMA, you might be interested to know about the "What Makes the California Look" room, which was inspired by an October 21, 1951 cover of a Los Angeles Times magazine.

See the LACMA Eames House and read more about "the California Look" here.

And while we're on the subject, check out the July 1951 issue of a Palm Desert-based publication, The Desert Magazine. It's a dream for mid-century typography wonks, but you might be most surprised by how contemporary the overall aesthetic looks today.

The same year as "Happy Go Lovely" hit theaters, that classic LAPD drama "Dragnet" premiered on NBC. Check out the intro that audiences would have watched for the first time ever on Dec. 16, 1951.


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