LITTLE NELLIE KELLY

STUDIO:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

PRODUCTION NUMBER:  1153

PRODUCTION DATES: July 29 – September 19, 1940 / Retakes September 27, 1940

PRODUCTION COST: $665,300.28

RUNNING TIME:  98 minutes

RELEASE DATE:  November 22, 1940

INITIAL BOX OFFICE:  $2,046,000

Little Nellie Kelly is another one of those “little” musicals that was, in the MGM tradition, equal or better than most “big” musicals from the other studios. The film is based on a 1922 George M. Cohan show although it bears little resemblance to it, retaining only the title, the song “Nellie Kelly, I Love You” and some elements of the plot, such as it is. According to Hugh Fordin’s book “The World of Entertainment” (aka “M-G-M’s Greatest Musicals – The Arthur Freed Unit”), producer Arthur Freed, who purchased the play from Cohan for $35,000, ran into Cohan at an ASCAP dinner in San Francisco. Cohan said “I hope you didn’t keep any of my terrible play?” to which Freed responded “No, I just kept the title and little Nellie Kelly being a police captain’s daughter.” Cohan was evidently satisfied.

Judy Garland in "Little Nellie Kelly" newspaper KodachromeLittle Nellie Kelly is significant in Judy’s career for several reasons: It’s part of MGM’s grooming of Garland for adult stardom; it’s a vehicle centered around her talents without frequent co-star Mickey Rooney; and it’s the only film in which Judy has a death scene. The mother (“Nellie Kelly”) dies giving birth to “Little Nellie Kelly.” Roger Edens later said “Mr. Mayer didn’t like the idea of Garland growing up – ‘we simply can’t have that baby have a child.'” This has often been embellished with Mayer having a tantrum and screaming statements like “We can’t let that baby have a baby!” If there were any doubts at MGM as to whether Judy had the acting versatility to pull off an adult (however brief) role, this scene surely erased them. George Murphy, who was in the scene with Judy, later stated that he’d never seen such incredible acting: “…this was one of the greatest dramatic scenes that I have ever witnessed. It took me longer to get over it than it took Judy!” He later wrote that the scene was very emotional for everyone on the set: “When it was finished, the complete set was empty, with the exception of the director, Judy and myself. All these so-called hard-bitten workers were so affected that they had to get away so that their sobbing would not disturb the soundtrack.”

In spite of the slight story and a rather cartoonish characterization of Little Nellie Kelly’s grandfather by Charles Winninger, the film was enormously popular and turned a huge profit. It also gave Judy several great songs to sing. Both “A Pretty Girl Milking Her Cow” and “It’s A Great Day For The Irish” would stay in her repertoire for the rest of her life. Years later Judy joked about “A Pretty Girl” being “an obscure folk song that fit the picture well. And we did it, and they released the picture, and the song became…an obscure Irish folks song!” The other musical highlight is her rousing rendition of “Singin’ In The Rain” that is only equaled by Gene Kelly’s iconic performance 12 years later.

Also of note, and a staple of future MGM Records soundtrack compilations, is the outtake of Judy’s beautiful rendition of “Danny Boy.” Two separate takes of this song have survived and have been released in various audio formats over the years. The song was a replacement for “The Stars Look Down” (unrecorded) that was to be Judy’s first song in the film. “Danny Boy” was then replaced by a quick chorus of “A Pretty Girl Milking Her Cow.”

Also planned for the film was “By Killarney’s Lakes” which was replaced by a reprise of “A Pretty Girl Milking Her Cow” this time sung by the daughter “Little” Nellie Kelly. The confusing shuffling of the songs makes sense dramatically. The mother sings it to George Murphy’s character then the daughter sings it to him years later, bringing it full circle.

An early version of the script included another song, “Rings On My Fingers” that Judy, again as the mother, would sing to the other immigrants on the ship to America. The scene was deleted before filming.

One of the delights of the film is the “Nellie Montage” sequence showing Little Nellie Kelly growing up. MGM used actual photos of Judy from her childhood, giving the sequence an authenticity and providing a pleasant surprise to unsuspecting Garland fans – especially during late night television showings.

True to Judy’s popularity and back-breaking schedule at the studio during this time period, she began her work on the film while still shooting Strike Up The Band. Just after she completed a looping session for Little Nellie Kelly on October 1, 1940, Judy was taken to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital for a tonsillectomy. The studio (and the public) let out a sigh of relief that the procedure did not effect Judy’s voice.

Future Broadway and movie star John Raitt (star of “The Pajama Game” and father of singer Bonnie Raitt) has a small role as a hospital intern.

TIMELINE PART ONE:

  • June 11, 1940: Production began with costume tests.
  • June 12 through July 19, 1940: Judy worked on Strike Up The Band, squeezing in some tests for Little Nellie Kelly on June 17th.
  • July 30, 1940: Wardrobe tests.  Time called: 1 p.m; dismissed: 6:55 p.m.  it’s noted that Judy had some coaching as well as filming on the “Interior Noonan’s Cottage” set.
  • July 31, 1940:  Filming continued on the “Interior Noona’s Cottage” set.  Time called: 9 a.m.; dismissed: 5:02 p.m.
  • August 1, 1940:  Filming continued on the “Interior Noonan’s Cottage” set.  Time called: 9 a.m.; dismissed: 6 p.m.
  • August 2, 1940:  Filming continued on the “Exterior Noonan’s Cottage” and “Road” sets.  Time called: 8:30 a.m.; dismissed: 5:45 p.m.  It’s noted that on this day, Judy’s mother told MGM that her daughter could only work eight hours a day.
  • August 3, 1940:  Filming continued on the “Interior Noonan’s Cottage” and “Exterior Noona’s Cottage” sets.  Time called: 9 a.m.; dismissed: 6:02 p.m.
  • August 5, 1940:  Filminging continued on the “Interior Noona’s Cottage,” “Interior St. Katherine’s Vestry” sets and the scene of Judy and Murphy walking to the cliff top.
  • August 6, 1940:  Filming continued on the “Exterior Cliff Top” set.  Time called: 9 a.m.; dismissed: 6 p.m.
  • August 7, 1940:  Judy was out sick.
  • August 8, 1940:  Filming continued on the “Exterior Cliff Top” and “Exterior Deck of Steamer” sets.  Time called: 9 a.m.; dismissed: 6:02 p.m.

TIMELINE PART TWO:

  • August 9, 1940: Judy recorded “It’s A Great Day For The Irish” and “Hansom Cab – Nellie Kelly (Nellie Kelly I Love You).”  Judy doesn’t sing in the latter on screen but according to the Daily Music Report for this date, she was one of the singers on at least one of the four takes of the song that were printed.  Judy also had a wardrobe fitting.  Time called: 11:30 a.m.; dismissed: 3:30 p.m.
  • August 10, 1940: Strike Up The Band retakes.
  • August 12, 1940: Judy finished Strike Up The Band by completing several retakes.
  • August 13, 1940:  Filming continued on the “Interior Kelly Flat” set.  Time called: 9 a.m.; dismissed: 6:17 p.m.
  • August 14, 1940:  Filming continued on the “Interior Kelly Flat” set.  Time called: 9 a.m.; dismissed: 5:12 p.m.
  • August 15, 1940:  Filming continued on the “Interior Federal Court Room” set.  Time called: 9 a.m.; dismissed: 4:55 p.m.
  • August 15, 1940:  Filming continued on the “Interior St. Katherine’s Hospital” set.  This was Judy’s only death scene in all of her films.  She plays the mother, Nellie Kelly, who dies giving birth to “little” Nellie Kelly (also played by Judy).  Time called: 10 a.m.; dismissed: 5:35 p.m.
  • September 9, 1940.  Pre-recording session.  Judy recorded “Singin’ In The Rain” and the second version of “A Pretty Girl Milking Her Cow.”  This is the version the younger “little” Nellie Kelly sings later in the film.  It’s also noted that Judy rehearsed a dance routine on this date, probably the “Nellie Kelly, I Love You” number which was filmed a few days later.
  • September 10, 1940:  Pre-recording session.  Judy recorded “Danny Boy” and the first version of “A Pretty Girl Milking Her Cow.”  This is the version that the “mother” Nellie Kelly sings at the beginning of the film.
  • September 11, 1940:  Filming continued on the “Interior Astor Ballroom” set.  Time called: 9 a.m.; dismissed: 6:11 p.m.
  • September 12, 1940:  Filming continued on the “Interior Astor Ballroom,” “Interior Astor Corridor,” and “Telephone Booth” sets.  Time called: 9 a.m.; dismissed: 5:45 p.m.
  • September 13, 1940:  Judy was out sick.
  • September 14, 1940:  Filming continued on the “Interior Kelly’s Apartment” set.  Time called: 9 a.m.; dismissed: 5:54 p.m.
  • September 16, 1940:  Filming continued on the “Interior Kelly’s Apartment” set.  Time called: 9 a.m.; dismissed: 5:55 p.m.
  • September 17, 1940:  Filming continued on the “Interior Waldorf Ballroom” set.  Time called: 9 a.m.  The assistant director’s notes state: “3:55-4:36 – Wait for Miss Garland to come back to set – She was dismissed from set at 3:37 p.m. to go to her dressing room – She wasn’t feeling well and went to her room – the Nurse was sent to her room to care for her – returned to dressing room.  On stage at 4:13 p.m. – she then had to put on wardrobe and get hair fixed.”  Dismissed: 6:20 p.m.
  • September 18, 1940:  Filming continued on the “Interior Waldorf Ballroom” and “Exterior Terrace” sets.  Time called: 9 a.m.  The assistant director’s notes state: “Miss Garland had to be at a Radio Broadcast and had to leave at 6:30 p.m.”  Dismissed: 6:31 p.m.
  • September 19, 1940:  Filming continued on the “Exterior Hansom Cab,” “Exterior Cliff Top,” and Interior Kelly’s Apartment” sets.
  • September 24, 1940: Judy appeared on the radio show “Cavalcade of American Music” broadcast from the Golden Gate International Exposition at Treasure Island in San Francisco. She sang “Over the Rainbow.”
  • September 25, 1940: Judy’s new MGM contract was filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court. The new contract raised her weekly salary from $600 to $2,000 with options over the next seven years bringing the weekly amount to $3,000.
  • September 27, 1940: Final day of filming consisted of some rettakes.  Judy had a 4 p.m. call and was dismissed at 5:09 p.m.  The scene noted is “Added scenes – Int. Kelly’s Apt.”

CAST:

Judy Garland as Nellie Kelly/Little Nellie Kelly

George Murphy as Jerry Kelly

Charles Winninger as Michael Noonan

Douglas McPhail as Dennis Fogarty

Arthur Shields as Timothy Fogarty

Rita Page as Mary Fogarty

Forrester Harvey as Moriarity

James Burke as Sergeant McGowan

George Watts as Keevan

Almira Sessions as Nann

Uncredited: John Raitt as “Intern” and Pat O’Malley as “Mounted Cop”

CREW:

Produced by: Arthur Freed

Directed by: Norman Taurog

Screen Play by: Jack McGowan

Based upon the Musical Comedy Written, Composed and Produced by George M. Cohan

Musical Program: “Nellie Kelly I Love You” (by) George M. Cohan, “Singin’ in the Rain” (by) Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown

Musical Adaptation: Roger Edens

Musical Direction: Georgie Stoll

Art Director: Cedric Gibbons

Associate: Harry McAfee

Set Decorations: Edwin B. Willis

Women’s Costumes by: Dolly Tree

Men’s Costumes by: Gile Steele

Make-Up Created by: Jack Dawn

Recording Director: Douglas Shearer

Director of Photography: Ray June

Film Editor: Fredrick Y. Smith

SONGS:

A Pretty Girl Milking Her Cow
(Judy Garland)

Nellie Is a Darlin’
(Charles Winninger)

It’s a Great Day for the Irish
(Judy Garland, Doug McPhail and Chorus)

Happy Birthday to You
(singing telegram delivery boys)

A Pretty Girl Milking Her Cow (reprise)
(Judy Garland)

Singin’ in the Rain
(Judy Garland)

Nellie Kelly, I Love You
(Judy Garland, Doug McPhail, George Murphy and Chorus)

Nellie Kelly, I Love You (reprise)
(Judy Garland, Doug McPhail, George Murphy, Charles Winninger)

OUTTAKES:

Danny Boy
(Judy Garland)

You Remind Me Of My Mother
(Doug McPhail)

NOT FILMED/NOT RECORDED:

The Stars Look Down
(Judy Garland)

By Killarney’s Lakes
(Judy Garland)

Rings On My Fingers
(Judy Garland)

Daily Music Reports

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