'The Fabulous Dorseys,' in Classic Cool Context

This Saturday at 9 p.m., KCET brings you the 1947 semi-biographical musical, "The Fabulous Dorseys," starring world-renowned big-band musicians, Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey. This is 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 Fabulous Dorseys" on February 21, 1947.

Long before Noel and Liam Gallagher of "Oasis" made sibling rivalry cool again, Jimmy Dorsey and his younger brother Tommy were the original bad brothers of pop music. With Jimmy on the clarinet and alto saxophone, and Tommy on the trombone and trumpet, the brothers performed in various bands together since they were teenagers. But the famed Dorsey Brothers Orchestra broke up after Jimmy and Tommy got into a violent argument at the Glen Island Casino in New Rochelle, New York on Memorial Day, 1935.

The duo didn't perform in the same band again until 1953 -- except for their roles in "The Fabulous Dorseys." The brothers' off-stage reconciliation in the mid-1940s led to their on-screen collaboration in the film.

By the time "The Fabulous Dorseys" was released in 1947, big-band music was on the decline, and vocal performers were becoming more popular in mainstream music. In 1939, Jimmy Dorsey hired singer Helen O'Connell to accompany his orchestra. Hear O'Connell jive talk in one of their first tunes together, "Man, That's Groovy":

Coincidentally, the brothers played a major role in changing the landscape of American music forever. In 1956, the brothers gave a young musician by the name of Elvis Presley his big break on their short-lived CBS program, "The Dorsey Brothers Stage Show." Presley's performance was such a success that he played on the show five more times over the following two months.

Soon after, Rock and roll took country by storm.

Here's Elvis Presley's TV debut:


19560128 - Elvis Presley - Dorsey Brothers Stage... by ladcrp

Sadly, Tommy died unexpectedly in his sleep that November at the age of 51. Jimmy, 53, passed away from cancer only a few months later.

Take a Closer Look Back

In addition to Sen. Joseph McCarthy's Communist witch-hunt and the infamous "blacklist," 1947 was filled with fear and anger in Hollywood. The post-war years were tough on veterans too, of which there were many in Los Angeles and the movie industry. Among them was William Lundigan, who appeared in "The Fabulous Dorseys" after enlisting in the U.S. Marines as a combat cameraman.

A group of vets gathered in MacArthur Park that January to protest their lack of housing upon returning from war:

American Veterans' Committee protests lack of veterans in MacArthur Park, California," via UCLA's collection of L.A. Times photographs.

LEAVE A COMMENT Leave Comment