A good story at RozRussell.com.
Ilka Chase played the role of Sylvia Fowler in the original Broadway production of “The Women” in 1936. She nearly got the role in the film version.
The story goes that when Rosalind fumbled a line, George Cukor calls to an assistant : “See if you can get Ilka Chase to come out and play this scene.”
But Cukor was replaced by Victor Fleming on “Gone With the Wind”. So Roz calls to the same assistant: “Telephone Mr. Fleming and ask when he’s going to take over the picture!”
Roz and Cukor became good friends – Roz credited Cukor with launching her career as a comedienne.
Two of Rosalind’s best movies came one after the other – THE WOMEN and then HIS GIRL FRIDAY. Both demonstrating that from time to time, Hollywood got away from typecasting. Rosalind simply showed she could do comedy as well as drama. Her ‘Sylvia Fowler’ is just hilarious and SO different from anything she had done before at MGM.
Roz did a slew of movies in the 30s and 40s ; and she had AUNTIE MAME and GYPSY in the 50s/60s.
Such a superior cast in THE WOMEN, from Joan Crawford , Norma Shearer, Paulette Goddard , Mary Boland,Marjorie Main.
Another movie one could wish had been in color.( it did have a color sequence.)
I’d love to see the MGM archives regarding Roz’s casting as ‘Sylvia.’ I expect it wasn’t easy for her to get the role.
Roz’s association with My Sister Eileen began in 1942 when the film was released. Then she had great success on Broadway in 1953 in the musical version of the story.
The 1953 musical version of “My Sister Eileen”, with Edie Adams as ‘Eileen.’
Rosalind also did a TV special of the show in 1958, with Jacquelyn McKeever as ‘Eileen’.
And the whole 1958 show is on You Tube.
The musical film version of “My Sister Eileen” (1955) ,with Betty Garrett, Janet Leigh , didn’t use the original Leonard Bernstein / Comden and Green score. ( apparently Columbia weren’t prepared to pay the high price for the rights .) Jule Styne and Leo Robin were commissioned to write a new score but the only hit they gave the film was “Give Me a Band and My Baby.”
Thanks for this marvelous anecdote from the film set of “The Women”! Respectfully I disagree this time about the shooting of it in colour – as I feel it would have distracted slightly from the language, the wit of the dialogue and perhaps also its drama. (Interestingly though, about the original play at least, Dorothy Parker maintained that Elmer Rice and George Kaufman I believe, had more to do with its writing than did Clare Booth Luce.)
That’s ok,Greg.We’ll agree to disagree! To see all the ladies in stunning Technicolor would have been fabulous.
I did like the contrast of the fashion show in Technicolor (with as I recall, Lucy Ball and her flaming red hair). Of course it was redone in color in the 50s, with June Allyson and other big stars, and Joan Collins in the Crawford role – and later claiming to have played it far better! I didn’t feel the color helped, though admittedly the script was very inferior to the original.
Correction: Ball appeared in another stylish Technicolor fashion show insert – in the b&w film of the Jerome Kern musical, “Roberta” (1935); its stage version two years earlier provided the breakthrough role for Bob Hope, fresh from burlesque.
Are you sure there was a Technicolor fashion show sequence in RKO’s “Roberta”, Greg? I have never heard this mentioned anywhere before.
She won a Tony in 1953 for “Wonderful Town”; to go with four Oscar nominations, and a clean sweep of five Golden Globes. She also got a special Academy award, including an Oscar in 1972.
I always thought her costumes were hideous, but I guess that was intentional.
Roz swept the board for awards. And yes, her costumes showed off the character of Sylvia.
I love The Women — I’ve seen it more often than any other classic film and next to Gone With the Wind, I consider it to be my favorite movie. I love the exchange between Cukor and Russell — too funny! Also, I didn’t know that Ilka Chase played Sylvia on Broadway, and I’m so glad that Rosalind Russell got the part in the film! She’s just perfect. (Although I’d love the chance to see how Ilka played it). And I’m glad it’s in black and white with just the color sequence. Loved the post!
Thank you for calling me out on this, siriami especially as I felt slightly unsure of this myself (clearly, by my first mention of “The Women” as being where I’d thought she appeared). But I looked it up again just now and feel it was “Roberta” – despite our better judgment haha!
It is wonderful, with that cast so perfect. You’ll probably agree the remake paled in comparison.Ilka Chase didn’t do many films, mainly stage and TV. A tall striking woman with a deep voice. I remember her in Now Voyager and playing Peter Lawford’s mother in Oceans’s 11.
By the time of “The Women” Ball had appeared in some featured roles, such as “Stage Door”.
For the life of me I’ve still been unable to confirm that the fashion sequence in “Roberta” was shot in color after all. My apologies, Siriami as it looks like you’re right. I know Ball appeared dramatically in a color fashion sequence, perhaps in “The Women” after all.