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Fun Friday–Our State Fair Is a Great State Fair

Friday, July 18, 2008


“Our state fair is a great state fair;
Don’t miss it, don’t even be late!
It’s dollars to donuts that our state fair
Is the best state fair in our state!”

After Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s State Fair is my favorite musical. It could have something to do with the fact that it’s probably the only musical ever written where both of the leading female roles were written for altos, which means I can sing along at the top of my lungs without straining anything. But, really, I think it has more to do with the wonderful music and the simple but wonderful parallel romance storylines.

Based on a novel by Phil Strong, State Fair was originally made as a non-musical movie in 1933 starring Will Rogers, Janet Gaynor, and Lew Ayers. Because the story proved very popular amongst movie goers, in the early 1940s, it was thought that a musical version would do well. With Oklahoma! a huge success on Broadway, Rodgers & Hammerstein were approached and asked to adapt the story into a musical. They agreed—as long as they didn’t have to go to Hollywood to do it. Released in 1945, it would be the only musical they would ever write only for the movies. (The first stage version wasn’t produced until the 1990s.)

The cast is stellar, including the divine Dana Andrews (Laura, The Best Years of Our Lives), Jeanne Crain (A Letter to Three Wives, People Will Talk), one of the top crooners of the day Dick Haymes (whose biggest hits include “You’ll Never Know,” “Room Full of Roses,” “It’s Magic,” and several of the songs from State Fair that he re-recorded as singles), and Vivian Blaine (Guys & Dolls).

The storyline is pretty straight forward. The Frake family is headed for the Iowa state fair, each with his or her own goals: Dad wants to win the grand championship with his Hampshire boar Blue Boy; Mom hopes her mincemeat and pickles are winners; son, Wayne (Dick Haymes), wants to get back at the carnie who swindled him the previous year; daughter, Margie (Jeanne Crain), wants to get away from the doldrums of farm life—and her dull beau.

In what is perhaps the best-loved song from the musical, here is Margie (singing dubbed by Louanne Hogan) expressing her desire to do and see something different for a change in “It Might as well Be Spring”:

Even though he has a girl back home, when Wayne meets singer Emily Edwards (Vivian Blaine), he’s smitten and ends up spending most of his time at the fair with her.

Margie also has a chance at romance when she meets newspaper reporter Pat Gilbert (Dana Andrews) on the roller coaster. But will their love affair last longer than the fair?

And what’s a Rodgers & Hammerstein musical without a song about the state in which it’s set? Here’s one of the most fun sing-along songs in the film, “I Owe Ioway”:

Another version was made in 1962 starring Pat Boone, Bobby Darin, and Ann-Margret—but if you’re going to watch this, the 1945 original version is definitely the best (especially since one of the new songs written for/included in the 1962 version is the very rape-y “Never Say No to a Man” sung from mother to daughter).

If you do ever have the opportunity to see it on the stage, I highly recommend it. When it was adapted in the early 1990s, they added a few songs back into it that had been cut from the film (including Abel Frake crooning a lullaby to Blue Boy) as well as some that had been cut from other R&H musicals, like Flower Drum Song. Because it’s longer, they were able to add more humor into it, as well as develop the characters and the relationships much better.

Make this a State Fair weekend!

  1. Friday, July 18, 2008 9:30 am

    I absolutely adore this movie. Thanks to this film I fell in love with Dana Andrews when I was about…eight I think? 😉 I completely agree with you – the 1945 version is far and away superior to the 1962 film – although I have to give Pat Boone credit, I do like his vocals in the latter film. State Fair, Sound of Music, and Flower Drum Song are my favorite R&H shows.

    I wish I could see the stage version of State Fair someday. I have the Broadway cast album of the relaunch of Flower Drum Song – they revamped the storyline, added some songs – which makes the new stage version look very intriguing.


  2. Friday, July 18, 2008 10:00 am

    thanks for teaching me some things I didn’t know about this musical, Kaye. I did get to see State Fair in a regional theatre a couple years ago. Movies are great, but there is something special about the live performances. rose, another alto who likes being able to sing along to the songs without having to go down an octave!


  3. Jess permalink
    Friday, July 18, 2008 10:37 am

    I’ve always loved this movie. Especially Margie’s clothes.
    When my cousins saw this movie, they said “They’re all CHEATERS!” I never thought about it that way, and my grandmother explained that in the ’40s there was no concept of going steady.
    The live show sounds awesome. I hope I get to see it someday.


  4. Friday, July 18, 2008 10:44 am

    Not a fan of this musical. However, if you’re a Dana Andrews fan, he co-stars in The Frogmen,with Hollywood legend Richard Widmark. It’s an action packed story about the men in UDT, the forerunner of today’s Navy SEALS


  5. Emilie permalink
    Friday, July 18, 2008 11:19 am

    Not the biggest fan of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, but I have to agree with you on State Fair. I love the idea of movies that have a narrowly-confined space or time-frame–like everything happening at a fair over a weekend–and the music is great. Watching this with my grandparents (the way I discovered so many musicals), I loved how both of them kept waiting for the scene with the rum cake where everyone puts in a bit extra. Still cracks me up:)


  6. Friday, July 18, 2008 12:32 pm

    I’ve never even heard of this one.

    Therefore I don’t really have any snappy or even relevant comments about the content. Setting something at a fair seems like a fun setting for a musical though.


  7. Friday, July 18, 2008 1:21 pm

    Just came across this:

    Given your penchant for old movies, I thought there might be some titles in there you liked. Same goes for a lot of your readers.


  8. Friday, July 18, 2008 1:55 pm

    Thanks, Caleb! There are some great movies on that list. My recommendations are:
    Roman Holiday (Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck)
    Harvey (Jimmy Stewart)
    Laura (mentioned in this post!)
    The Best Years of Our Lives (also mentioned in this post!)
    the Bishop’s Wife (Cary Grant)
    The Rainmaker (Katharine Hepburn, Burt Lancaster)

    But here’s what I just bought.


  9. Friday, July 18, 2008 2:08 pm

    John Wayne…that’s way cool! My dad loved his stuff. I must take the time to try some of these oldies out. Perhaps tonight. Hubby and I were planning a movie night. I’ll have to slip one of the oldies in.


  10. Friday, July 18, 2008 2:12 pm

    Yes–the Duke’s movies are my “cultural tie” between my hero and heroine in Menu for Romance, like Dean Martin’s music is for Anne and George in Stand-In Groom. But since I wasn’t a John Wayne movie buff before I started writing MFR, I’ve been trying to catch up. The collection I bought has several of the movies I just referenced in the scene I’ve been working on the last couple of days (Searchers/Fort Apache) and another that plays a role near the end of the book (She Wore a Yellow Ribbon).


  11. Friday, July 18, 2008 2:32 pm

    I have to admit, I’ve never seen State Fair…another one we’ll have to add to the list of ‘must see’s while you’re here, Kaye!


  12. Friday, July 18, 2008 5:35 pm

    I watched this one with my grandma back when we were on an “old musical” kick, and it was the only one I wouldn’t have turned off if I was by myself (the others included Oklahoma! and Carousel).

    Don’t really remember why I liked it, other than I recognized Margie from “Cheaper by the Dozen” and had liked her there. (The storyline with the brother made no sense to me. I kept expecting it to end badly for him.)

    As a soprano (and a blond) I’d like to point out that for whatever reason blonds seem to be favored for lead roles, and I have not yet met (or heard of) a natural blond who has a low singing voice; so there’s my explanation for all your soprano leads.

    As a soprano I have also been very frustrated at the lack of “solo-roles” that don’t involve the inevitable hook-up (and obligatory kiss) that I don’t mind seeing, certainly, but I’m not willing to do with a stage-beau (DQing me for most of the local musical-theatre roles I’d love to sing).

    Perennial gripe; sorry.


  13. Saturday, July 19, 2008 9:33 am

    I haven’t seen this one. It was nice to you had some video of the songs I could check-out. I just remembered one of my other favorites is Singing in the Rain. I can’t remember if that was actually a movie or a song in The Easter Parade (which would be another one I remember enjoying.) You have inspired me to introduce my girls to the old classic musicals.


  14. Amy permalink
    Saturday, July 19, 2008 2:39 pm

    Kaye, I feel like I’ve seen none of the oldies but goodies! I liked The King and I with Yul Brynner — does that count? Thanks for the recommendations, and for the interesting history about the making of this film!


  15. Sunday, July 20, 2008 2:17 am

    BEST R&H Musical EVER! I love them. Thanks for sharing the extra info!


  16. Nicole (ikkinlala) permalink
    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 12:40 am

    As I think I’ve mentioned before, I haven’t seen a lot of musicals. You’re inspiring me to see some… or maybe to enter something in the local fair instead.


  17. M Isaac permalink
    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 6:51 am

    when I was a teen I used to stay home and watch old movies all day – strange as I rarely watch them now. Film has grown so much from the “early days”. I have never seen oklahoma from start to finish – just in bits and pieces. I am a huge movie buff and generally musicals are top on the list of genres that I like.

    Do you write screenplays also? You seem to have a passion for both writing and movies / plays.


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