STUDIO: 20th Century-Fox
PRODUCTION NUMBER: 280
PRODUCTION DATES: Early August – September 15, 1936
PRODUCTION COST: Unknown
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes
RELEASE DATE: October 23, 1936
INITIAL BOX OFFICE: $900,000+
In 1936, MGM loaned Judy Garland to 20th Century-Fox for five weeks from early August through September 15th to make her first feature film, Pigskin Parade. It was the only time MGM would loan Judy to another studio. When she reported to Fox in early August 1936, Judy had been with MGM for just eleven months. During that time the studio was unsure of what to do with a 13-year-old who sounded like an adult when she sang. Allegedly some producers thought that the audience wouldn’t believe that huge voice was coming out of such a little girl and would assume that she was dubbed. So Judy’s time was spent rehearsing with her musical mentor Roger Edens; appearing on radio programs; and singing at various MGM-related events.
On November 27, 1935, Judy recorded a couple of tests for Decca Records (“No Other One” and “All’s Well,” both of which are lost); the following June 12th she made two more recordings for the label that became the A and B sides of her first record released to the record-buying public, “Stompin’ At The Savoy” and “Swing, Mr. Charlie.” The radio appearances gave MGM (and Judy) the opportunity to build up the public’s exposure to her and get them used to this “little girl with the big voice.” Just before her assignment to Pigskin Parade, Judy and fellow adolescent singer Deanna Durbin filmed the one-reel short Every Sunday. Afterward (and long before the short was released) MGM dropped Durbin who was then picked up by Universal and became a star. Various legends have been told over the years as to why MGM kept Judy and let Durbin go. Regardless of what may or may not have happened, Durbin’s rise to stardom helped fuel MGM’s interest in furthering Judy’s career. Not that she needed much help. It was obvious to anyone at the studio that Judy Garland was on track to become a star. The biggest hurdle was just how to best present her to the moviegoing public.
Every Sunday hadn’t been released when the opportunity to loan Judy to Fox came along. It was perfect. Fox was a smaller studio and Pigskin Parade would be one of their major productions featuring quite a few well-known personalities. Best of all, it would cost MGM nothing to see how Judy would fare in her first featured role. Judy wowed audiences and critics alike, taking full advantage of Fox’s generosity in giving her two solos (“The Texas Tornado” and “It’s Love I’m After”) and the bulk of the big song and dance number “The Balboa.” Judy pre-recorded an additional song for the film, “Hold That Bulldog,” which was possibly filmed. Neither the footage nor the pre-recording exist today.
Judy doesn’t appear until 42 minutes into the film. The film then teases the audience with a running joke in which Judy’s “Sairy Dodd” boasts “I can sing! Y’all wanna hear me?” only to get shot down each time. About twenty minutes later Judy finally gets to sing when she takes the stage during the “The Balboa” production number. The impact on unsuspecting filmgoers was electrifying. Judy was not yet well known to filmgoers. Her MGM short Every Sunday was released after Pigskin Parade so for most people this was their first kinetic exposure to Judy and her talents. Fox knew what they had. There are notes in the screenplay that state, “Here’s where Judy does her stuff” and she was given two full solos and the star spot in the aforementioned “The Balboa.” Most of the reviews singled Judy out for praise. “The Film Daily” noted: Judy Garland, given her first screen chance, delivers solidly with “It’s Love I’m After.”
Although the studio prerecording of “Hold That Bulldog” remains lost, here is a previously unreleased performance of the song (the only known extant recording of it by Judy) sung by Judy on her premiere appearance on the “Jack Oakie’s College” radio show, January 5, 1937. Hit the play button below to watch the video and listen to the song!
Here is the alternate take of “The Balboa.” It’s obvious when pairing the alternate take to the final film version that Fox had Judy come in at some point and dub a few lines because, as seen here, the original lyrics sounded too similar to a certain four-letter word!
The basic plot of Pigskin Parade is simple enough and a perfect example of those fun, slightly screwball musicals that were popular in the 1930s (and still enjoyable today). Slug Winters (Jack Haley) is the new coach of the fictional small-time Texas State University (TSU) college football team. Just after arriving, he gets the news that the team has been invited to play Yale. Yale, in an effort to play a minor team before facing off with Harvard, thinks they’re inviting the University of Texas out of Austin but they mistakenly invite the more rural TSU. Slug and his wife (the hysterically funny Patsy Kelly as Bessie Winters) scramble to get the team in shape. Nothing seems to go right. Bessie, who knows more about football than Slug, causes the team’s star quarterback, Biff Bentley (Fred Kohler, Jr.), to break his leg. A chance stop at a farm leads them to super-hick Amos Dodd (Stuart Erwin) who has a natural talent for throwing a football like no one else. He also has a kid sister, Sairy Dodd (Judy Garland), who always wants to sing to show off her wonderful voice. Now the goal is to get Amos accepted to the school and get him on the team. Naturally, there are also romantic complications. Amos falls for Sally Saxon (Arline Judge) which angers the rich Mortimer Higgens (Grady Sutton) who naturally also has his eyes on Sally. Sally has her sights set on Biff. It all leads to the showdown with Yale, the big game being played in a harsh blizzard. Yale has a slight lead when Slug is knocked unconscious and Bessie saves the day by taking over and sending Amos in for a play that wins the game – running the winning touchdown barefoot!
Pigskin Parade features a wide array of talent in the cast. Most of the stars and featured players were not big superstar names but nonetheless recognizable to the public as supporting players in other films. Stuart Erwin was probably the biggest name in the cast and although he gets top billing he was nominated in the supporting actor category when the Oscar nominations were announced for 1936. It was the film’s only Oscar nomination. He lost to Walter Brennan’s performance in Come and Get It. It was the first year for the new supporting categories for actors and actresses.
Judy’s future Wizard of Oz Tin Man, Jack Haley, was the real lead of the film. At the time, Haley was a well-known supporting actor with a solid Vaudeville background who’s most well-known film role to date was the Shirley Temple hit Poor Little Rich Girl also released in 1936. His final film was an uncredited appearance in Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York (1977) starring Judy’s daughter Liza Minnelli (who was also briefly married to his son!).
Haley and co-star Patsy Kelly (also with a long history of popular comedic supporting roles) have great chemistry together and carry the film with ease. They get ample help from the rest of the cast, including a young Anthony (Tony) Martin and a pre-stardom Betty Grable. Martin ended up at MGM, eventually co-starring with Judy in 1941’s Ziegfeld Girl. Grable went to Broadway, making a big hit is Cole Porter’s “DuBarry Was A Lady” starring Ethel Merman before coming back to Fox in 1940. She was their biggest musical star of the 1940s and America’s favorite pin-up girl. You might say that Judy and Betty were rivals, in a friendly sense. They each became their studio’s biggest female musical stars during and after World War II. While working with Judy in Pigskin Parade Grable became a lifelong fan. Grable’s favorite film was Judy’s 1954 A Star Is Born which was, allegedly, the last film she saw, having requested to see it (as she often did before) one last time before she died.
Dixie Dunbar was a wonderfully energetic and talented young star who, for whatever reason, never hit it big. Pigskin Parade is probably her most well-known role. Glamour girl Arline Judge may not be well known today but in her time she provided solid support and a pretty face in mostly B-films before moving to some limited performances on television in the 1950s and early 1960s. Rounding out the cast were the novelty team The Yacht Club Boys and former “Our Gang” child star Johnny Downs. The film also features several future supporting stars (the ones you know their faces and voices but maybe not their names) such as Elisha Cook, Jr., Eddie Nugent, Grady Sutton, Julius Tannen, and Fred Kohler, Jr. Finally, don’t blink or you’ll miss a very young Alan Ladd in a few scenes. One of the many uncredited extras was future Fox star Lynn Bari who, in 1943, became Sidney Luft’s first wife. Luft married Judy in 1952 becoming her third husband, the father of two of her three children, and the driving force behind her legendary comeback in 1951 and ensuing legendary “Concert Years.”
Judy’s performance is quite good considering she was still a novice at film acting. She affects a hillbilly accent when reading her lines but loses it when she sings. Considering how amazing her voice is, this tiny detail doesn’t really matter and none of the critics mentioned it. When Judy sings, she owns the screen. Her final solo, “It’s Love I’m After,” is electrifying. The control and the tones in her voice are incredible. All of the critics mentioned Judy and her brilliant way with a song.
Pigskin Parade was released on October 23, 1936, and became one of Fox’s biggest hits of the year. Popular with both audiences and critics, it helped further the careers of most of its cast. Judy, naturally, went back to MGM after filming, continuing her radio and personal appearances. The following year she hit it big with her role in Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937), singing “(Dear Mr. Gable) You Made Me Love You.” The rest, as they say, is history.
Stuart Erwin as Amos Dodd
Patsy Kelly as Bessie Winters
Jack Haley as Slug Winters
The Yacht Club Boys as Themselves
Johnny Downs as Chip Carson
Betty Grable as Laura Watson
Arline Judge as Sally Saxon
Dixie Dunbar as Ginger Jones
Judy Garland as Sairy Dodd/Murine VanDyck
Anthony (Tony) Martin as Tommy Baker
Elisha Cook Jr. as H. Tewilliger VanDyck
Fred Kohler Jr. as Biff
Eddie Nugent as Sparks
Grady Sutton as Mortimer Higgins
Julius Tannen as Dr. Burke
Sam Hayes as Radio Announcer at ballgame [Himself]
Bob McClung as Country Boy
George Herbert as Professor
Jack Murphy as Usher
Pat Flaherty as Referee
David Sharpe as Messenger Boy
Si Jenks as Baggage Master
John Dilson as Doctor
Jack Stoney as Policeman
George Y. Harvey as Brakeman
Ben Hall as Boy in Stadium
Lynn Bari as Girl in Stadium
Charles Wilson as Yale
Coach George Offerman Jr. as Freddy
Maurice Cass as Prof. Tutweiler
Jack Best as Prof. McCormick
Douglas Wood as Prof. Dutton
Charles Croker-King as Prof. Pillsbury
Alan Ladd as Student
Edward Le Saint as Judge
Jed Prouty as Mr. Van Dyke
Emma Dunn as Mrs. Van Dyke
Produced by: Bogart Rogers
Directed by: David Butler
Screenplay by: Harry Tugend, Jack Yellen and William Conselman, from a story by Arthur Sheekman, Jack Yellen and Mark Kelly
Music and lyrics by: Lew Pollack & Sidney D. Mitchell and The Yacht Club Boys
Musical direction: David Buttolph
Photography: Arthur Miller
Editor: Irene Morra
T.S.U. Alma Mater
You’re Slightly Terrific
(Tony Martin, Dixie Dunbar and Ensemble)
(The Yacht Club Boys)
We’d Rather Be in College
(The Yacht Club Boys)
Down with Everything
(The Yacht Club Boys, Elisha Cook, Jr., and Chorus)
(Dixie Dunbar, Johnny Downs, Betty Grable, Judy Garland, Jack Haley, Patsy Kelly and The Yacht
You Do the Darndest Things, Baby
The Texas Tornado
It’s Love I’m After
The Texas Sunshine
(The Yacht Club Boys)
The Texas Tornado (reprise)
(Ensemble and Chorus)
Hold That Bulldog