I missed this when it was first published but it’s still a great article praising Jeanette MacDonald.
Last month was the 90th anniversary of San Francisco’s last movie palace, the Castro Theatre. Among the classic films to be screened to celebrate this was San Francisco. Sean Martinfield, a San Francisco cultural critic for the Huffington Post, wrote the following:
The Castro Theatre’s Anniversary roster of films features some of Hollywood’s greatest Leading Ladies, particularly those who are in the canon of Gay Icons…. Highest on this list of must-sees — especially if you’ve never seen it in a theatre and, specifically, the Castro — is San Francisco starring Jeanette MacDonald, Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy. The film features the city’s “official song” and what is still regarded as being among the most effective special effects ever created — the 1906 Earthquake and Fire. Its sharp witted screenwriter Anita Loos had already created fiery successes for Jean Harlow — Red-Headed Woman, The Girl from Missouri, Riffraff — and would go on to fashion more box office hits including The Women, Susan and God, Blossoms in the Dust, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Clark Gable was at first disinterested in the project. Soprano Jeanette MacDonald, a real red-headed woman, went to work on him. Even though she was considered one of the most beautiful stars in the film industry, Gable probably agreed to sign because of the literary flare of Anita Loos and his tailor-made role of “Blackie Norton” — also, director W.S. (“one take Woodie”) Van Dyke would encourage his newly grown moustache. Young Spencer Tracy received his first Academy Award nomination for playing a priest and Douglas Shearer (brother of Norma) took his third Oscar for Sound. And the title song, “San Francisco,” written for Jeanette MacDonald by Bronislau Kaper, would secure her immortality by forever linking her to the city, aka, “Baghdad by the Bay.”….
It’s a shame that Jeanette did not record “San Francisco” at the time the film was released. Her voice was in fantastic shape and the arrangement would have replicated the vitality she displayed in the film. As it turned out, and in spite of her objections, she recorded the song for RCA in 1950 and then tried to have it suppressed. The version included the jazzier section featured in the film, just prior to the quake. Miss MacDonald hated the end results. The recording was re-released in 1967 as a 45 rpm and is now included in a wide variety of CD complications….
In May 1984, just prior to the Democratic National Convention held at Moscone Center, Quentin Kopp, a member of the City’s Board of Supervisors, proposed an ordinance to have the 1936 composition established as the city’s “Official Song” — replacing “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” — arguing that it was mushy and outdated. A lively challenge followed. Then-Mayor Diane Feinstein was on a campaign to have the cable cars refurbished in time for the Convention and was determined that she and singer Tony Bennett would enjoy a unique photo-op as the first car rolled onto the tracks. The Board of Supervisors let the public decide. At their regular Tuesday meeting, broadcast on the radio, the rival factions assembled various musicians to perform the separate songs as the public (including me!) phoned in their votes. Bronisalu Kaper’s “San Francisco” was the overwhelming favorite. Turns out, Blackie Norton was right — “This is about San Francisco!” Nevertheless, Mr. Kopp offered a happy compromise. “San Francisco” was declared the Official Song and that other tune named Official Ballad. (Note: This year, during an affectionate Valentine’s Day salute to Tony Bennett under the dome at City Hall, the 86-year-old crooner remained mute on the subject and refrained from singing.)….
M.G.M.’s San Francisco will survive the Test of Time, and is destined to be adapted to every format ever imagined. Like The City itself, Jeanette MacDonald remains a gorgeous and temperamental Diva. She will always be the “First Lady of San Francisco”.
Link to complete article.