(02/28/1903 - 07/25/1986)

Vincente, Judy & Producer Arthur Freed celebrate Vincente's birthday on the set of Ziegfeld Follies (Judy is in costume for The Harvey Girls)

Vincente Minnelli came from a show business background. He used to joke that if Judy Garland was "born in a trunk" then he was "born in a tent." His father co-owned the Minnelli Brothers Tent Theater with Vincente's Uncle. Vincente's mother was the leading lady. Being from Chicago, they traveled all around the Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana area. Vincente's mother took a short break from performing in late 1902 to stay in Chicago with her mother and sister. Vincente was born the following year, on February 28th.

Vincente worked in Chicago in the late 20s as a costume designer and assistant director for various stage shows as a part of the Balaban & Katz theatre organization. Lucky for Vincente, Balaban and Katz gave him an ultimatum: If he wanted to stay with them, he would have to go with them to New York. Vincente had his eyes on New York as his ultimate destination from the beginning of his theatrical career in Chicago, so this was great news. His career as a costumer and designer took off, and by 1933 he was made the Art Director of Radio City Music Hall. Hollywood soon beckoned, and he ended up at Paramount Studios in the late 1930s. Paramount had no clue how to handle an artist of Minnelli's sensitivities and special talents, and as Vincente said "I spent the next 8 months trying to get out [of my contract]."

He went back to Broadway, and before long, Arthur Freed showed up in New York rounding up talent for his burgeoning Freed Unit at MGM Studios. Freed had just served as an uncredited assistant on The Wizard Of Oz and was enjoying great success with his first outing as an actual producer with Babes In Arms. Freed approached Minnelli, but Vincente at first declined, explaining his bad experience with Paramount. Freed understood, and gave Vincente the opportunity to come to MGM as a Production Assistant and just "observe." After a year, if Vincente still wasn't happy, he would be free to go to back to New York. Minnelli half jokingly asked for $300 per week but Freed called his bluff and Vincente went to MGM.

His first real work for the studio was done staging Lena Horne's musical numbers that had hastily been inserted into Panama Hattie as an attempt to inject some life into the misguided production. Although Lena's numbers were singled out by critics, the film as a whole was not the success it had been on the stage.

JudyNext came Strike Up The Band. Busby Berkeley was directing Judy Garland & Mickey Rooney in this follow-up Babes In Arms. Freed told Minnelli that they were a little stumped. They wanted some sort of production number to take place in Judy's home as Mickey explains his desires to be a leader of a Big Band. Minnelli suggested that they utilized the fruit on the table in a sort of dream sequence where Mickey is explaining what the band will entail, and each piece of fruit becomes a member of the orchestra. The audience sees each piece of fruit become a member of the band playing a musical instrument. Thus the audience is let into the imagination of Mickey's character. The number, as directed by Berkeley, was a success. It was, at that time, a rare instance of forwarding the plot in a musical film with a number that didn't revert to a backstage setting or tons of chorus girls in odd poses! Also of note, this was Minnelli's first encounter with Judy Garland. Judy was 17 at the time, and the quiet Minnelli was struck by her outgoing personality. Little did either know just how their lives would become intertwined in a few short years.

Freed next decided to give Minnelli his first directing assignment with Cabin In The Sky. The all-black musical had been a great success on the stage, but wasn't considered a lucrative possibility for films. This was 1942, and as Lena Horne can attest, black people were still being portrayed mostly as maids or shoe shine boys. It was one thing for Broadway to do an all black show - New York had been considered "experimental" for some time. But Hollywood was concerned with profits. And any "all black" film no matter how good, had a limited audience. Lena Horne's numbers in Panama Hattie as well as in almost all of her films through the 1950's, were basically "inserts" that could be cut out in the Southern States with little detriment to the overall flow and plot of the film. For Arthur Freed to embark on filming Cabin In The Sky it would take just the right director to pull it off. He instinctively knew that Vincente would give the film just the right touch to make it work. Cabin In The Sky is a slight fantasy with beautiful music and beautiful performances. Minnelli wisely kept away from most stereotypes of the day and directed the film as is should have been: like any other "non black" film. The result is a film that still stands up today. Although some things are dated, and some things in the film can been seen today as stereotypical, overall the film avoids stereotypes and concentrates on the story and performances. The film was a critical success, but due to the aforementioned "black" issue, not a huge financial success. Still, it made a profit, and is now considered a classic. Most importantly, Cabin In The Sky showed that Minnelli could not only direct a film, but handle the delicate double genres of Musicals and Fantasies.

Minnelli's next assignment was a let down. I Dood It was a "B" movie, a typical Red Skelton comedy of the time. Minnelli enjoyed working with a great talent like Skelton, but after the high of Cabin In The Sky - this was a let down. He would finally get his chance to really prove himself on his next film.

Minnelli's next project would be Meet Me In St. Louis. The film would firmly establish Minnelli's reputation for his unique use of color and movement and composition to advance the plot of his films. In Meet Me In St. Louis Vincente finally got the chance to put all of his talents to use. The result, of course, is the classic film this site it celebrating.

It is also the first masterpiece of the Freed Unit's "Golden Era." Freed's enlistment of talented individuals (mostly from the New York theatre scene) first came together with St. Louis and they would be at the forefront of the wonderful renaissance of the "MGM Musical." And Minnelli would be a key player. He would eventually be regarded as one of the most innovative and successful musical directors of all time.

The next few years were exciting one's in the Freed Unit. The atmosphere was one of innovation and experimentation. Freed and his staff wanted to advance the film musical into a true art form, as had been done on the stage. Because of the success of St. Louis and also Freed's relationship with studio head Louis B. Mayer, the Freed Unit 's was given free reign to experiment and an almost unlimited supply of money to achieve this with. And they were pretty much left alone.

Their next work was Freed's pet project Ziegfeld Follies. In and out of development for several years, filming started in 1944, with Minnelli directing all the sequences. The film was conceived as a showcase of all the talent at MGM, in glorious Technicolor, and in celebration of the studio's 20th anniversary. The anniversary angle would drop out as the film went through so many changes and alterations that it wasn't released until 2 years later, in 1946. And to mixed revues. What was intended as an "extravaganza to end all extravaganzas" became a sort of White Elephant. A ponderous mixture of musical numbers and comedy sketches. The format is simple: The great showman Florenz Ziegfeld looks wistfully down from the heavens and envisions a Ziegfeld Revue with the current crop of great stars (courtesy of MGM of course). Musically and visually the film is stunning. Minnelli gets the chance to showcase his eye for color, movement, costumes, set design, and his tendencies towards the surrealistic. Although it wasn't the huge success that Freed had hoped, it's important in that it gave Minnelli a chance to really experiment and learn more about what could be done with the camera.

JudyMinnelli's next project, The Clock is important for two reasons. 1) It's his first purely dramatic film and 2) It's the film that solidified his personal relationship with Judy Garland. The two had been seeing each other since Judy relaxed on the set of St. Louis. Minnelli's love for Judy is obvious in every shot of her in St. Louis. After The Clock they would marry.

The Clock is a very rare gem of a film. On one hand, it's a typical "World War Two" romance. On the other hand, it's a magical little film that was overlooked in it's day but is now regarded as one of the best "wartime romances" to come out of Hollywood during World War II. Originally the film was to be directed by Fred Zinnemann. Judy, being in love with Minnelli, felt that only he could direct her in this, her first dramatic film. She wanted to prove she was more that just a musical comedy star, and Minnelli had brought out her best qualities in both St. Louis and Ziegfeld Follies. This was a turning point in her career, and she knew it. So, Judy waited for Minnelli to finish with his chores on Ziegfeld Follies then lobbied to get Zinnemann taken off the picture. She did this by sabotaging the production by not giving her best. When looking at the rushes, Freed and company agreed that the film was woefully misguided. Minnelli stepped in, Judy perked up, and the film went along smoothly.

Minnelli began by making New York a sort of "third character" in the film. Always pulling the lovers apart and bringing them back together. And very prominent in the background, but not obtrusively so. Some other changes were made as well, as with making Robert Walker's character think he's good with children when in reality they don't respond to him at all. And Minnelli's eye for detail and nuances makes the film memorable.

After this, Minnelli went on to film Yolanda And The Thief - which would be his first real failure. Highly stylistic and quite beautiful to look at, the film suffers from a slight storyline and Lucille Bremer's boring performance. Minnelli gets to really show his flair for the surrealistic in the musical numbers, most notably the "Will You Marry Me" dream sequence and "Coffee Time." When seen today, the film is enjoyable yet oddly distant. On the whole a "memorable failure" as they say. Perhaps if Judy had been allowed to be in this film as she had wanted, it would have turned out differently. But Freed assured her that the other Freed musical in production at this time The Harvey Girls would be best for her. He was right.

After they finished these two project, Minnelli and Garland were married on June 15, 1945. They would continue with their professional and personal growth together, as Minnelli would direct Judy's guest appearances in Till The Clouds Roll By during her pregnancy with Liza. Although their domestic bliss wouldn't last long, it did produce Liza Minnelli and some of the best things that Judy ever committed to film.

JudyOne of these is The Pirate - Judy's first film after Liza's birth. A flop when first released, and still a slightly flawed film, The Pirate was definitely ahead of it's time. The performances are slightly over the top, and due to Judy's increasing illness the film focuses more on Gene Kelly than the two of them, but it's still a beautifully directed film - Minnelli's use of color and movement is once again a key to the film's worth. All in all a memorable failure.For the purpose of this web site, I'm stopping here as we've gone several years past the production of Meet Me In St. Louis. But I felt this was necessary to emphasize the role that Meet Me In St. Louis would play in Minnelli's career. Without an understanding of this, we don't get a idea of just how important the film was. And if Minnelli had not directed Meet Me In St. Louis he might not have been given the chance to flourish as he so greatly did.

Vincente Minnelli would go on and direct some of MGM's most successful musicals, as well as comedies and dramas. These include: Madame Bovary, An American In Paris, The Bad And The Beautiful, Father Of The Bride, Brigadoon, Lust For Life, Gigi (for which he won his only Oscar for Best Director), The Reluctant Debutante, Bells Are Ringing, and so many more. He would stay with the studio longer than any other director, and he became one of the most versatile directors in the history of cinema.

But Meet Me In St. Louis will always be considered the "perfect" film musical. While sometimes overlooked in "critical" overviews of great film directors, Minnelli is as good or better than most. He worked perfectly within the "studio system" so he was attuned to using the system to it's best advantages. When the studio system went into decline, so did his career. But it would have anyway - he was getting older and slowing down just like the rest of his contemporaries, and the public tastes for the colorful fantasies of the MGM Musical had waned.

But like everyone involved in Meet Me In St. Louis, Minnelli was a part of the creation of an American Classic and of a time and place that seems almost as mystical and magical as Camelot. And we're all the better for it - having the wonderful legacy of these great films to enjoy over and over again.

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