THE PIRATE

STUDIO:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

PRODUCTION NUMBER:  1400

PRODUCTION DATES:  February 17 – August 14, 1947 – 
August 27 – October 21, 1947 – 
November 18, 1947

PRODUCTION COST:   $3,768,496

RUNNING TIME:  102 minutes

RELEASE DATE:  June 11, 1948

INITIAL BOX OFFICE:  $2,956,000

The Pirate can be considered “Judy’s cult film” in a sense. Producer Arthur Freed said that it was “twenty years ahead of its time.” Indeed, the film is unlike any other musical (or other film) released in 1948 and the result is that people either love it or hate it. There is no in-between. It’s lauded for Minnelli’s use of color and Gene Kelly’s dancing although critics were (and still are) divided on the merits of the acting. Some felt that Judy and Gene overacted. Others loved the high farce the production was aiming for. I personally love Judy’s performance in the film. Yes, sometimes you can see some of the strain she was under, but overall her talents as a comedienne really shine through.

The production was plagued with problems from the start. This was Judy’s return to the studio after giving birth to Liza Minnelli and she suffered severe postpartum depression. She also did not relish the thought of returning to the intense grind (and dieting) required in making musicals. She had been talked into renewing her MGM contract paying her an incredible $6,000.00 per week and requiring she only make two films a year. Later she would say that it was “one of the classic mistakes of my life”.

But all of the issues can’t be blamed solely on Judy. The script went through many changes. Most famously the Anita Loos and Joseph Than take on the story altered the premise by making the pirate impersonate an actor impersonating a pirate, rather than the more believable story of an actor impersonating a pirate (who happens to have become the mayor of the town). The husband-wife writing team of Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett were brought in to rewrite the script.

The music went through many changes as well. The first scoring of “Mack The Black” had what Freed called a sound “like a Chinese carnival,” meaning it sounded very over arranged and shrill. When going through a rehearsal of “You Can Do No Wrong,” Judy and Porter had harsh words with each other over the pronunciation of the word “caviar.” The argument was attributed to Judy being over medicated, because she normally adored Porter and his talent. “Love Of My Life” was also re-recorded.

Over the years, The Pirate has become one of Garland fan’s most well loved films in spite of its minor faults. It may not make the top 10 list of everyone’s favorite musicals, but it was a great experiment at the time and helped advance the film musical to the heights it would achieve in just a few years

Japanese flyer provided by Hisato Masuyama.

The Pirate Japanese FlyerTIMELINE PART ONE:

  • December 2, 1946:  Judy returned to MGM after her maternity leave (during which she gave birth to daughter Liza Minnelli) to begin wardrobe tests and rehearsals for The Pirate.  This first day back was a short, easy one.  She also had a radio broadcast in the evening, the 6 minute radio version of Meet Me in St. Louis for the “Lux Radio Theater.”
  • December 5, 1946:  Judy’s mother, Ethel Gumm, called MGM and told them Judy was ill and couldn’t work on this day.
  • December 12, 1946:  Judy’s maid called MGM and told them that Judy couldn’t make the wardrobe fitting scheduled for this day.
  • December 27, 1936:  Judy’s first recording session for The Pirate.  Judy recorded “Mack the Black.”  The session lasted from 1:10 to 5:20 p.m.  This version of the song was unused but the recording can be heard here.
  • February 3, 1947:  Judy had silent makeup and wardrobe tests for the film.  time called: 1 p.m.; dismissed: 5:20 p.m.
  • February 11, 1947:  Judy had music rehearsals of “Mack the Black.”  time called: 3 p.m.; dismissed: 4:35 p.m.
  • February 12, 1947:  Judy had another rehearsal of “Mack the Black.”  Recordings were made of the song, Parts 1 & 2, split up into separate tracks of Bar 1 to 16; Bar 16 – 103; Bar 103 – 158; plus Bar 158 – “End of Pt II.”
  • February 13, 1947:  More rehearsals (but no recordings) of “Mack the Black.”
  • February 17, 1947:  The first day of shooting was devoted to scenes shot on the “Interior Manuela’s Patio” set.  Time called: 9 a.m.; Judy arrived at 9:14 a.m.; dismissed: 6 p.m.
  • February 18, 1947:  Filming continued, this time on the “Exterior patio” and “Interior Manuela’s Bedroom” sets.  Time called: 9 a.m.; Judy arrived at 9:10 a.m.; dismissed: 5:45 p.m.
  • February 21, 1947:  Filming moved to the “Interior Manuela’s Bedroom” (Judy in the wedding dress) and “Interior Hotel Bedroom” sets.  Time called: 9 a.m.; Judy arrived at 9:20 a.m.; dismissed: 6:30 p.m.
  • February 22, 1947:  The assistant director’s notes state that “Miss Garland was on her way to the studio, but had to return to her home as she was ill and nervously exhausted after spending a sleepless night.”
  • February 25, 1947:  Judy had a music rehearsal for “Voodoo.”  Time called: 2 p.m.; dismissed: 4:40 p.m.
  • February 26, 1947:  Judy had a music rehearsal for “Voodoo.”  Time called: 2 p.m.; dismissed: 4:25 p.m.
  • February 27 & 28, 1947:  Judy was out sick.
  • March 3, 1947:  Judy resumed rehearsals of the “Voodoo” number.  Time called: 2 p.m.; dismissed: 4:50 p.m. Rehearsals of the number continued March 28th.
  • April 7, 1948: Filming continued for two days on the “Exterior Port Sebastian Dock” set on MGM’s Backlot #2, the “Chinese Street” which was flooded to look like a port (the flooding of the set for various films was not unusual).  Judy was not in any of the “Port Sebastian Dock” scenes but she was in scenes that took place in “Port Sebastian” on MGM’s soundstages.  It’s doubtful Judy had any work on the film on these days of shooting on the backlot.  Those who did had an 11:00 a.m. call and were dismissed at 1:45 p.m.
  • April 9, 1947:  Filming moved to the “Exterior Plaza” set.  Time called: 10:15 a.m.; dismissed: 3:30 p.m.
  • April 10, 1947:  Judy rehearsed then recorded “Voodoo.”  time called: 12 p.m.; dismissed: 5 p.m.
  • April 11, 1947:  Filming continued on the “Exterior Plaza” set.  Time called: 3 p.m.; dismissed: 6:05 p.m.
  • April 12, 1947:  Filming began on the “Exterior and Interior Show Tent” set.  Time called: 11 a.m.; dismissed: 5:50 p.m.
  • April 14, 1947:  Filming continued on the “Interior Dressing Room” and Interior Show Tent” sets.  Time called: 10:30 a.m.; dismissed: 6 p.m.
  • April 15, 1947:  The first noted day of filming the ultimately deleted “Voodoo” number.  Time called: 9:45 a.m.; dismissed: 6 p.m.
  • April 16, 1947:  Filming continued on the “Interior Show Tent” set, the “Voodoo” number.  Judy had a call to be on the set at 9;45 a.m.  The assistant director’s reports note: “At 8:30 a.m. Miss Garland called Wally Worsley to say that she was in makeup dept. and that she was calling her doctor and could report to the set as soon as possible.  Miss Garland on set 11:10 a.m.; Ready in Wardrobe to work at 11:32 a.m.  Note: Miss Garland was taken ill during lunch and company was unable to continue ‘Voodoo’ number.”  The company was dismissed: 1:45 p.m.
  • April 17 through April 21, 1947:  Judy was ill and did not work.
  • April 22, 1947:  Judy returned to the production.  Scenes were shot on the “Interior Show Tent” and “Interior Manuela Rec. Room” sets.  The assistant director’s notes state: “Co. wrapped up at 5:25 p.m. as Miss Garland was too tired to continue.”  The company had started at 10:05 a.m.
  • April 24, 1947:  The production moved to the “Exterior Sea Wall” set.  time called: 9:45 a.m.; dismissed: 6:05 p.m.
  • April 25, 1947:  The production moved back to the “Interior Show Tent” set, and more of the “Voodoo” number.  Time called: 9:45 a.m.; Judy arrived at 10 a.m.; dismissed: 6:15 p.m.
  • April 26, 1947:  The production moved back to the “Interior Manuela’s Bedroom” set.  Time called: 9:45 a.m.; dismissed: 5:25 p.m.
  • April 29, 1947:  The production moved to the “Interior Reception Room” set.  Time called: 9:45 a.m.; dismissed: 4 p.m.
  • May 1, 1947:  The production moved to the “Exterior Don Pedro’s House” on MGM’s backlot.  Judy may or may not have been a part of the filming on this day.  
  • May 2, 1947:  A rare day off for Judy.  She wasn’t on call and wasn’t needed on this day.  
  • May 3, 1947:  Filming continued.  It’s not noted which set they were on.  The call was for 3 p.m.  The assistant director’s notes state: “4:11-4:39: Present birthday cake to Mr. Slezak [Walter Slezak who played the real Mack the Black Pirate/Mayor of the town]; served cake and ice cream.”  Dismissed: 5:20 p.m.
  • May 6 & 7, 1947:  Judy was out sick.
  • May 8, 1947:  Filming continued on the “Manuela’s Bedroom” set.  Time called: 9:45 a.m.; Judy arrived at 11:35 a.m.; dismissed: 3:05 p.m.  The assistant director’s notes state: “11:44-12:00: Wait for Miss Garland, called for a 9:45 a.m. on set; 11:35 a.m.: changing into wardrobe and body makeup from 11:35 to noon.  Note: Director arranged 1st setup so that only Miss Garland’s dress showed in shot and off stage dialogue was read for her lines.  1:47-1:55 – Wait for Miss Garland and Mr. Minnelli; 1:55-2:20 – Mr. Minnelli changed setup: Shooting close cut of Mr. Slezak and Mr. Allen while waiting for Miss Garland who is in her dressing room waiting to talk to Mr. Freed.  2:46-3:05: wait for Miss Garland.  3:05 – Finish.  Note: Miss Garland is too ill to continue.”
  • May 9 & 10, 1947:  Judy was out sick.
  • May 12, 1947:  Judy returned to the production.  Scenes were shot on the “Manuela’s Bedroom” and “Interior Sebastian Hotel Bedroom” sets.  Time called: 9:45 a.m.; dismissed: 6:20 p.m.
  • May 13, 1947:  Pre-recording session.  Judy recorded “Love of My Life” and “You Can Do No Wrong.”  
  • May 14, 1947:  The production moved to the “Exterior Plaza Calvados” set.  Time called: 1 p.m.; Judy arrived at 2:23 p.m.  The assistant director’s notes state: “3:40 p.m.: Miss Garland too ill to continue – left set.”
  • May 15, 1947:  Judy was out sick.
  • May 16, 1947:  Judy returned to the production.  Time called: 9:45 a.m.; dismissed: 5:35 p.m.  The location of the filming isn’t noted.
  • May 17, 1947:  The production moved to the “Interior Don Pedro’s House” set.  Time called: 10 a.m.; Judy arrived at 10:40 a.m.The assistant director’s notes are quite detailed for this day: “1:15-1:52 – Wait for Miss Garland; returned to stage after lunch at 1:49; Ready to shoot at 1:52 p.m. Note: At 1:15 p.m. Miss Garland told Mr. Shenberg in her dressing room that she had pains in her stomach and she was not well.  She also said that the reason she was late this morning, but that she try and work out the day and that she would have to work slowly and take things easy in order to keep on her feet. 2:34-2:53: Wait for Miss Garland: resting in her dressing room. Dismissed at 6:20 p.m.”
  • May 18 & 19:  Judy was out sick.
  • May 20 through 24, 1947:  Judy was not needed and was not on call.  
  • May 26, 1947:  Judy returned to the production to film more scenes on the “Interior Don Pedro’s House” set.  Time called: 9:45 a.m.; Judy arrived at 10:15 a.m.  The assistant director’s notes state: “3:45-4:07: Wait for Miss Garland.  Note: At 3:40 Miss Garland asked to see Dr. Jones in her dressing room – she complained of a severe toothache and said she could not continue to work unless Dr. Jones gave her a pill to deaden the pain – Dr. Jones gave Miss Garland the pill and she was ready to work at 4:07.”  Dismissed: 5:30 p.m.
  • May 27, 1947:  Judy was out sick.
  • May 28, 1947:  The production moved to the “Interior Don Pedro’s Salon” set.  Time called: 9:45 a.m.; dismissed: 6 p.m.  Judy and Vincente’s daughter, Liza Minnelli, was a visitor to the set and many photos were taken of the event (see below). 

TIMELINE PART TWO:

  • May 29, 1947:  Filming continued on the “Interior Don Pedro’s Study” set.  Time called: 9:45 a.m; Judy arrived at 10 a.m.; dismissed: 5:55 p.m.
  • May 30, 1947:  Judy was out sick.
  • May 31, 1947:  Filming continued on the “Interior Don Pedro’s Salon” set.  Time called: 9:45 a.m.  The assistant director’s notes state: “4:35 p.m.; Miss Garland was too tired to continue; Company dismissed.”
  • June 3, 1947:  The production moved to the “Exterior Gallows” set.  Time called: 10:15 a.m.; dismissed: 5:50 p.m.
  • June 10, 1947:  Judy’s 25th birthday was spent back on the “Interior Don Pedro’s Salon” set.  Time called: 1:45 p.m.; dismissed: 4:20 p.m.
  • June 11, 1947:  Photo shoot for stills for use in the poster art.  Time called: 1 p.m.; dismissed: 4:55 p.m.
  • June 23, 1947:  Rehearsals for “Be A Clown.”  Time called: 2 p.m.; Judy arrived at 2:30 pm.; dismissed: 5:05 p.m.  Rehearsals continued through June 28th, which is the approximate day that Judy collapsed.  She didn’t return to the production until July 14th.  See the “On this Day” blog entry for July 18 for details, which is the date that Judy’s collapse was reported in the papers. 
  • July 14, 1947:  Judy returned to the production to record “Be A Clown.”  Time called: 1 p.m.; dismissed: 4:50 p.m.
  • July 15, 1947:  The first day of filming the now famous “Be A Clown” number.  Time called: 1 p.m.; Judy arrived at 2:45 p.m.; dismissed: 12:25 a.m. the next morning!
  • July 16, 1947:  Judy and co-star Gene Kelly were due back on the set at 9:45 a.m. to finish filming on “Be A Clown”. Judy arrived at 10:35 a.m.; dismissed: 6:05 p.m.  This was the last day of principal filming which included retakes and pickups for five other scenes; changing wardrobe, hairstyle and makeup at least three times for more than twenty-five takes.
  • October 22, 1947:  Judy was in the middle of filming Easter Parade when on this day she began retakes for The Pirate, on the “Interior Reception Room” set.  Time called: 10 a.m.; dismissed: 6 p.m.  After test screenings in October and November it was decided that the film needed extensive retakes, which included moving “Mack the Black” from the beginning of the film and replacing the “Voodoo” scene with a newer version of “Mack the Black.”
  • October 27, 1947:  More retakes, this time on the “Interior Manuela’s Patio” set.  Time called: 10 a.m.; dismissed: 3:40 p.m.
  • December 1, 1947:  Judy had a call to begin more retakes on The Pirate but was ill and did not work.  Since October, Judy has been in rehearsals, recordings, and filming on Easter Parade.  From now until December 19th she would go back and forth between the two productions.
  • December 2, 1947:  Judy had a rehearsal for the revised version of “Mack the Black.”  Time called: 11 a.m.; Judy arrived at 11:40 a.m.; dismissed: 3:40 p.m.
  • December 11, 1947:  After spending the past week on Easter Parade, Judy was back doing more retakes on The Pirate.  Judy had a call to be on the set at 1:30 p.m.  Per the assistant director’s notes:  “JG reported for recording at 1:30 p.m.  She rehearsed until 3:30 p.m. when she said she felt as if she had temperature.  Mr. Freed, who was on the set, asked to have doctor called.  Dr. Jones was summoned, but found no temp.  However, advised that Miss Garland not work any longer today, and not tomorrow.  Miss Garland was sent home with the understanding that we check with her tomorrow evening for further proceedings.”  Dismissed: 3:45 p.m.
  • December 12, 1947:  Judy was out sick.
  • December 13, 1947:  Judy had no scheduled work for, and was not needed for, both The Pirate and Easter Parade.
  • December 15, 1947:  Recording session for the new version of “Mack the Black.”  Time called: 2 p.m.; dismissed: 4:17 p.m.
  • December 16, 1947:  Rehearsals for “Mack the Black.”  Time called: 10 a.m.; dismissed: 3 p.m.
  • December 17, 1947:  Retakes of “Mack the Black” on the “Interior Show Tent” set.  Time called: 8 a.m.; Judy arrived at 9 a.m.; dismissed: 5:30 p.m.
  • December 18, 1947:  More retakes of “Mack the Black.”  Time called: 7 a.m. for makeup; on set at 9 a.m.; dismissed: 5:20 p.m.
  • December 19, 1947:  The last day of Judy’s work on the film consisted of more retakes, this time on the “Interior Manuela’s Balcony” set.  This is the revised opening scene of the film (minus the originally planned “Mack the Black”).  Judy had a 7 a.m. call to be in makeup; due on the set at 9 a.m.; Judy arrived on the set at 9:53 a.m.; dismissed: 11:45 a.m.  Instead of getting a well-deserved rest, Judy was back with the Easter Parade production the very next day. 

FACTOIDS:

  • This was the only film Judy made at MGM that did not turn a profit. The studio reported a loss of $2,290,00, although this included unused screenplay drafts and other work dating all the way back to 1943.
  • The “Be A Clown” song and dance by Gene Kelly and The Nicholas Brothers was shot in one day on July 9, 1947.
  • On August 29, 1947 producer Arthur Freed along with Judy, Vincente Minnelli, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter viewed a rough cut of the film. Porter did not like the film, even though Freed and Berlin sang its praises. Porter is reported as saying “We shall see.” Porter went on to report that he felt The Pirate was “a $5,000,000 Hollywood picture that was unspeakably wretched, the worst that money could buy.”
  • The Pirate was nominated for the Oscar for “Best Scoring of a Musical Picture” (Lennie Hayton).  It lost to the other Garland film of 1948, Easter Parade.

CAST:

Judy Garland as Manuela Alva

Gene Kelly as Serafin

Walter Slezak as Don Pedro Vargas

Gladys Cooper as Aunt Inez

Reginald Owen as the Advocate

George Zucco as the Viceroy

The Nicholas Brothers as Specialty Dancers

Lester Allen as Uncle Capucho

Lola Deem as Isabella

Ellen Ross as Mercedes

Mary Jo Ellis as Lizarda

Jean Dean as Casilda

Marion Murray as Eloise

Ben Lessey as Gumbo

Jerry Bergen as Bolo

Val Setz as Juggler

Gaudsmith Brothers as Themselves

Cully Richards as Trillo

CREW:

Produced by: Arthur Freed

Directed by: Vincente Minnelli

Screen Play by: Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich

Based on the Play by S. N. Behrman as produced by The Playwrights Producing Company and The Theatre Guild
(some sources also credit Lillian Braun, Anita Loos, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Joseph Than and Wilkie Mahoney as having contributed to the writing)

Musical Direction: Lennie Hayton

Instrumental Arrangements: Conrad Salinger

Songs by: Cole Porter

Dance Direction by: Robert Alton and Gene Kelly

Art Directors: Cedric Gibbons and Jack Martin Smith

Paintings by: Doris Lee

Set Decorations: Edwin B. Willis

Associate: Arthur Krans

SONGS:

Niña
(Gene Kelly)

Mack the Black
(Judy Garland)

The Pirate Ballet
(Gene Kelly dance)

You Can Do No Wrong
(Judy Garland)

Be a Clown
(Gene Kelly and The Nicholas Brothers)

Love of My Life
(Judy Garland)

Be a Clown
(Judy Garland and Gene Kelly)

Voodoo (outtake)
(Judy Garland)

Unused:
Manuela

Daily Music Reports

Playback Discs

These playback discs are two different types.  There are the standard 80 rpm MGM playback discs that feature the MGM logo and typed information on the labels.  The other are double sprocket hole (or more) discs which were played on different equipment.  These had blank labels on which the details were handwritten.  It’s unknown if these are more casual “first run” playback discs not meant for filming but more for test purposes or something else.   

Note that the dates are different than the recording dates, reflecting the dates the discs were made.  

All discs from the Hisato Masuyama collection.  Thanks Hisato!

Media

The Pirate was the first Garland film to get a soundtrack album. Technically Till Till The Clouds Roll By was first, but Judy was merely a guest star featured with two songs. The Pirate is a Judy Garland film through and through. The soundtrack as released by MGM Records was abridged due to the constraints of the standard albums of the day. It features abridged versions of some numbers, and a markedly different version of “Love of My Life” than that heard in the final film. Although part of the pre-recording of the “Voodoo” outtake appeared on the 1976 “Cut! Outtakes from Hollywood’s Greatest Musicals” LP and an expanded CD released in 1990 by Sony/CBS Special Products, the complete soundtrack with outtakes did not appear until the 2002 Rhino Records CD. All of the surviving Garland pre-recording sessions (material used for the 2002 CD) first appeared on the 1996 laserdisc “Judy Garland – the Golden Years at MGM.” You can get more details about all soundtrack releases of The Pirate at The Judy Garland Online Discography or by clicking on the album and CD images above and below.

Here are three fun items.  A rare paper collector’s bag for record album shoppers to carry their MGM soundtrack albums in.  Also, the now obsolete tall CD box packaging for the MCA Classics edition of the soundtrack as well as the 1991 Sony Music Special Products CD box packaging.

The Pirate was released on home video in the early years of the formats, first on videodisc then VHS, Laser Disc, DVD and hopefully soon on Blu-ray or 4K and remastered.  That Technicolor screams for a new restoration!  We can hope.  Until then, the film is also available for digital download from iTunes. 

The Pirate 1980s VHS

Below, the 1984 Japanese laserdisc edition, provided by Hitaso M.  Thanks, Hitaso!