PRODUCTION NUMBER: 1250
PRODUCTION DATES: June 1938 – October 1938
PRODUCTION COST: unknown
RUNNING TIME: 70 minutes
RELEASE DATE: October 16, 1938
INITIAL BOX OFFICE: unknown
Although it clocks in at a slight 70 minutes running time, Listen Darling nevertheless manages to cast its charm. The simple story revolves around the efforts of the characters played by Judy and Freddie Bartholomew in finding a suitable husband for Judy’s widowed mother by kidnapping her and taking her on the road in a trailer. Of course, they just happen to find none other than Walter Pidgeon as the potential husband. Listen Darling is definitely a “B” film, but that doesn’t take away from its merits. Any “B” movie from MGM in the late 1930’s was usually of a higher quality than the “A” films from the other studios. It’s also got something going for it that most of the “B” films (or any other films) of the time didn’t: Judy Garland singing. She gets two solos and both are winners, “Zing! Went The Strings of My Heart” and “Ten Pins In The Sky.” The former was heavily edited in the final cut, for some unknown reason. Thankfully, the pre-recordings survive.
Listen Darling was put into production when production on The Wizard of Oz was delayed. Even so, Judy still had some Oz duties including her first recording session for the film on September 30, 1938. It was meant to give Judy more exposure in theaters around the country in anticipation of the eventual release of Oz. Listen Darling was well liked by critics and audiences alike. As one unnamed local critic noted, “it is a gem of adolescent nonsense with laughs galore, interrupted only by choice serious bits that provide relief with pathos and effective tugs at the heart strings.”
Eddie Cohen of the “Miami News” noted that it was the two songs, “Zing! Went The Strings of My Heart” and “On The Bumpy Road To Love” that held the first half of the film together, and although Judy was “weighed down with a maudlin role and manages to shine only when she is delivering her songs” those songs were delivered in her “best style, and alone managed to keep us in our seat.” He also felt that “Miss Garland’s forte is comedy.” Edward E. Gloss of “The Akron Beacon Journal” stated, “Instead of star dust, they have sprinkled ‘Listen, Darling’ with songs by Judy Garland. Rhythm and lilting melody are to be found in ‘On The Bumpy Road To Love,’ ‘Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart,’ and ‘Ten Pins In The Sky.'”
Late June 1938: Production began.
June 28, 1938: Wardrobe tests.
July 8, 1938: Publicity photos were taken on the set. That night, Judy and Freddie attend the premiere of Marie Antoinette.
July 28, 1938: Judy pre-recorded “Ten Pins In The Sky.”
August 21, 1938: Judy recorde a studio version of “Ten Pins In The Sky” for Decca Records.
September 16, 1938: Judy pre-recorded “Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart.”
September 22, 1938: Judy filmed “Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart.”
September 26, 1938: Judy, along with Mary Astor, Freddie Bartholomew, and Scotty Beckett pre-recorded “On the Bumpy Road To Love.”
Early October 1938: Judy completed her work on the film.
Listen Darling was the last film Judy Garland made before achieving international stardom the following year in The Wizard of Oz.
Judy sang “Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart” for her audition with MGM on September 13, 1935. She had been singing the song throughout 1935 (and probably in 1934 as well). She famously sang it on November 16, 1935 on the NBC Radio show “The Shell Chateau Hour.” Her father was in the hospital with spinal meningitis, but had a radio bedside to hear his daughter sing. He died hours later. The radio “air check” of this performance has survived and is one of the earliest known recordings of Judy Garland before MGM (and musical mentor Roger Edens) refined her style.
Judy recorded two different versions (one “ballad” and one “swing”) of “Zing!” for Listen Darling on September 16, 1938, and filmed the sequence on the 22nd. The song was shortened to a chorus and a half for the final film, but the complete pre-recordings can be found on the 2017 “Soundtracks” 2-CD set (the ballad version) and the 2014 “Variations” 4-CD set (swing version). “Ten Pins In The Sky” and “On The Bumpy Road To Love” were released on the 1996 2-CD set “Judy Garland – Collector’s Gems from the M-G-M Films.”
The recording sessions for “Zing!”, “On The Bumpy Road To Love,” and one take of “Ten Pins In The Sky,” are on the out of print 1995 laser double feature Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry/Listen Darling – these sessions have not yet been released on CD.
While making Listen Darling, on July 8, 1938 Judy and Freddie attended the premiere of MGM’s big budget Marie Antoinette. They are briefly shown in the short “Hollywood Goes To Town” from the “Another Romance Of Celluloid” series, signing the guest book on their way into the theater. This short is on the Marie Antoinette DVD.
Mary Astor, who played Judy’s mom in both Listen Darling and Meet Me In St. Louis said that Judy in these early years was a “sheer joy: young, vital, warm, affectionate, and exuberant. A real kid.” She also said that Judy would get the giggles easily and sometimes hold up production: “she got the giggles. ‘There goes Judy!’ would be the cry! And we just had to wait until she got over it.”
Freddie Bartholomew as Buzz Mitchell
Judy Garland as Pinkie Wingate
Mary Astor as Dottie Wingate
Walter Pidgeon as Richard Thurlow
Alan Hale as J.J. Slattery
Scotty Beckett as Billie Wingate
Barnett Parker as Abercrombie
Gene Lockhart as Mr. Drubbs
Charley Grapewin as Uncle Joe
Edgar Dearing as Motorcycle Policeman
Produced by: Jack Cummings
Directed by: Edwin L. Marin
Screen Play by: Elaine Ryan and Anne Morrison Chapin
From the Story by: Katherine Brush
“On the Bumpy Road to Love” by Al Hoffman, Al Lewis and Murray Mencher
“Ten Pins in the Sky” by Joseph McCarthy and Milton Ager
“Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” by James F. Hanley
Musical Score by: Dr. William Axt
Musical Director: Georgie Stoll
Musical Arrangements by: Roger Edens
Art Director: Cedric Gibbons
Associates: Harry McAfee, Edwin B. Willis
Wardrobe by: Dolly Tree
Recording Director: Douglas Shearer
Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart (Judy Garland)
On The Bumpy Road To Love (Judy Garland, Freddie Bartholomew, Mary Astor and Scotty Beckett)
Ten Pins In The Sky (Judy Garland)
Ten Pins In The Sky (reprise) (Judy Garland, Walter Pidgeon and Mary Astor)
On The Bumpy Road To Love (reprise) (Judy Garland, Freddie Bartholomew, Mary Astor, Walter Pidgeon, and Scotty Beckett)