Meet Me in St. Louis: Making of Minnelli's Classic Christmas Musical
Minnelli was asked to recut Meet Me in St. Louis when it proved to be too long, running over two hours. A top Metro executive, instructed by Louis B. Mayer, wanted to excise the Halloween sequence, claiming that, "it's the only scene that doesn't have anything to do with the plot."
Please Read Part One, Two and ThreeMinnelli was flabbergasted. That Halloween scene was the reason he wanted to do the picture in the first place. He had worked very hard on that scene, which came off beautifully.
Before shooting the scene, Minnelli took the Metro kids to the costume department and spent a whole day collecting a wild assortment of clothes, the kinds people stored in old attics and closets for some special occasion. Margaret O'Brien's costume was a man's coat worn inside out, pajama bottoms, and a derby. Her face was smeared with burnt cork so that she wouldn't be as visible in the dark night.
When the new assemblage, without the Halloween scene, was run for Minnelli, he decided to keep quiet. After the screening, the lights in the projection room came back on and Freed said, "It's not the same picture. Let's put it back." Relieved, Minnelli considered it a major victory, one achieved without even fighting for.
Instead, Minnelli cut other scenes, such as "Boys and Girls Like You and Me," a song that was dropped from Oklahoma! Originally, Minnelli thought that it would develop Esther and John's affair, but their romance came through much better with the family as a counterpoint. The scene was easily excised.
Minnelli felt good about Meet Me, which was emotional without being sentimental. The film had human touches and wonderful characters: the crusty grandfather, the no-nonsense cook, the older sister. Minnelli particularly enjoyed directing the scene in which the husband and wife sing, "You and I," a beautiful ode to the stability of their marriage. This was the way Minnelli wished to remember his own parents, and this was the way he hoped to be with his own wife one day.
Minnelli didn't want a singer's voice for "You and I."
In a burst of spontaneity, he asked Arthur Freed if he would dub the singing for Leon Ames. Freed’s sweet croak was perfect for the song. At first, Freed sang in too high a key, but after a number of rehearsals, he did it well.
Meet Me in St. Louis was Minnelli's coming of age film at MGM. Overjoyed, Louis B. Mayer had to concede that his opposition to the picture had been all-wrong. The reviews were equally glowing. Time magazine wrote: "The real love story is between a happy family and a way of living."
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