Gwen Verdon sighting: ‘Drink your prune juice!’ 1

Dance · Film
There’s our girl: Gwen Verdon

You’re a contract dancer at Twentieth Century-Fox, and you’re lazing around the studio with the guys, killing time. No assignment. All of a sudden into the rehearsal hall strides Jack Cole, hurriedly. He impatiently assembles a sage bit of dancing for you. Growling orders at Matt Mattox and Frank Radcliffe (aka “Jumbo” because of his girth), Cole sews together a trio number, and you’re in the center. You rehearse this frenetic bit with zero idea why you are doing it, jump into the costume Cole throws at you, stick on makeup, and bolt to the soundstage for filming. The movie? DREAMBOAT (1952) starring Ginger Rogers and Clifton Webb. The number is an early-television satire on an indelicate subject — a commercial for prune juice.

What do I know? I’m just your dance-detective at work, conjuring the daily work life of Gwen Verdon in 1952 while at Fox, prior to her transfer to Broadway to dance in “Can-Can.”

“If you wanna be a regular guy … “

How could she leave behind Los Angeles, and lyrics like this?

Savor the flavor, you’ll do yourself a favor
The luscious royal nectar of the prune. Skol!
If you wanna be a regular guy, better get Prunectar soon!

The movie streams above. The Prunectar commercial is at 05:30. There is no doubt in my mind that Jack Cole choreographed it. It’s the high energy, primarily. You have to be really good to assemble chains of movement that fast. It’s also the beat-by-beat quality that is so extreme in directional pull. It’s the arm work. Cole also liked playing against size. He liked big dancers dipping down next to smaller ones. It’s just a little space filler he used; he has (the tall) Jane Russell dip down to Marilyn’s height in “Just Two Little Girls from Little Rock.” Finally, it’s the tidiness. (Note how clean and sharp the Cole-trained dancers are. )

A second snippet, at 50:15, also has Cole’s signature moves. Who is that dancer? She’s great!

[Ed. note: A reader, in a comment below, i.d.s the harem dancer as Ginger Rogers!]

Radcliffe, Verdon, Maddox in very Jack Cole poses

Dance Detective’s Deep Throat, aka “Stan,” has provided a source for his information. Stan tells us that in her autobiography, “Ginger, My Story,” chapter 35 entitled ‘One More Time,’ Rogers spends a paragraph talking about Dreamboat. She writes:

In her autobiography, “Ginger, My Story,” chapter 35, entitled ‘One More Time,’ Rogers spends a paragraph talking about Dreamboat. She writes:

“Gwen Verdon has a tiny spot on a television screen in the film, but more important, she helped to choreograph the harem dance I did, in costume, in one of the silent-screen segments.”

Thank you, Stan!

One comment on “Gwen Verdon sighting: ‘Drink your prune juice!’

  1. Vert001 May 24,2019 10:10 am

    The dancer at 50:15 is Ginger Rogers. I believe I read somewhere that the choreography for that little dance was a collaborative effort and that Gwen Verdon was involved.

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