You’re Just In Love

Perhaps my first brush with someone really famous was the time I poured a glass of water for Donald O’Connor. Growing up in the early days of the VCR (video cassette recorder), our family’s video collection was largely comprised of re-released MGM musicals. American In Paris introduced me to the music of George Gershwin, but Singin’ in the Rain introduced me to the song and dance man Donald O’Connor. His Make ‘em Laugh sequence is one of my favourite moments of film to this day.

We were in the green room at the channel nine tv studios in Sydney, before a taping of the Morning Show with John Mangos. O’Connor was one of the guests on the show that day and my colleague David Gauci and I would be the musical act. O’Connor was holding court in the green room, being quite approachable and sharing stories.

My favourite from that day was when he recalled the sound recording session he did for the song You’re Just in Love from the 1953 film Call Me Madam, in which he co-starred with Ethel Merman.

Merman was known for her comic timing and for a voice that could easily sing over a broadway orchestra and bounce off the back wall of the theatre in the days before actors were amplified. This taping was in a Hollywood recording studio back in the day where the vocals were recorded live in the same space as the musicians.

The song, which you can see in this scene from the film here, starts with a tender verse “I hear music but there’s no-one there” sung by O’Connor over a gentle string accompaniment. A minute into the song, the tempo picks up and Merman begins “you don’t need analysing…”

At this point on the first take the recording engineer stopped the take and asked Merman if she’d take a step back from the microphone, as the volume of her voice was overpowering the rest of the band in the recording.

Everyone reset and began take two. O’Connor began again, his verse finishing “stars that used to twinkle in the skies, are twinkling in my eyes, I wonder why.” Merman took over “…analysing, it is not so surprising…” but the engineer cut her short again before she finished her third phrase.

Clearing his throat and being a little apologetic he explained to the actress that he’d need her to take a further two steps back.

I think it was the sixth take that they eventually used for the film soundtrack. For this one, Ethel Merman was standing just outside the door of the studio. Twenty feet away from the microphone her voice was balanced perfectly with O’Connor’s and the volume of the orchestra.

The larrikin in me loves the visual of Merman having to stand outside the studio. The broadway belter with a powerful voice that was used to having to soar over and above a full orchestral accompaniment.

The artist in me appreciates having a talent that will linger with people even when you’ve left the room.

The human in me realises that what’s the point in being in a room with other people if the only voice you’re willing to hear is your own.

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