Wednesday 19 April 1995
"I became what was called the resident Astaire-Rogers writer", Scott said. "Uppermost in my mind was sentiment and absurdity - in other words to combine the two in a rippling kind of dialogue without too many obvious jokes so that even if people missed them the next audience would get it. We kept the dialogue going and it was the first time the American public experienced what the critics - the benign critics - like to call high comedy."
Today the dialogue between the dances is merely a way of distracting us till the next one comes along; whether it is high comedy to audiences accustomed to Wilde or Coward is another matter. But even Wilde or Coward might make us impatient if we're waiting for that incomparable dance team and the wonderful scores written for them by some of the great composers of the century.
Scott, in any case, does have other claims on our attention. A former Oxford Rhodes scholar, he had a success in 1932 with a Broadway play, Goodbye Again, which he wrote with George Haight. It starred Osgood Perkins (Anthony's father) and Sally Bates (with James Stewart in a small role); Warner Bros bought it for filming and cast Warren William as the famous novelist whose loving secretary, Joan Blondell, gets in a tizzy when he falls again for an old flame, Genevieve Tobin.
This brought him to the attention of RKO, who assigned him to work on the screenplay of the third Astaire-Rogers film, Roberta (1935), which gave them a parallel romance with Irene Dunne, who was top-billed, and Randolph Scott. For the record, Fred and Ginger only had supporting roles in Flying Down to Rio (1933), but the huge success of their first real teaming, The Gay Divorcee (1934) let to a virtual remake, Top Hat (1935), on which Scott also worked.
The Astaire-Rogers movies were the only sure bets at a time when RKO was in financial difficulties. Scott was one of the writers on the next one, Follow the Fleet, as well as the most polished and entertaining of the series, Swing Time (1936). Shall We Dance (1937) followed and then Carefree (1938), which was the first Astaire-Rogers film to lose money - as had Astaire's venture without Rogers, A Damsel in Distress. RKO announced that the teaming would be dissolved after The Story of Irene and Varnon Castle, which also did poorly at the box-office. But the pictures which Rogers did without Astaire were all successful and she had become the most important female star on the lot. RKO accordingly gave her one of its leading directors, Gregory La Cava, for a comedy on which she got solo star billing, Fifth Avenue Girl (1939) - who, in the plot, is befriended by a millionaire, Walter Connolly, in a deliberate attempt to upset his family. This is one of Scott's few screenplays without a collaborator, and a very good one; he and La Cava jointly wrote The Primrose Path (1940), another vehicle for Rogers, more expressly intended to display her talents as a dramatic actress.
Among the other movies Scott helped to write while at RKO was an adaptation of J.M. Barrie's Quality Street (1937). He moved to Paramount in 1939 and was reunited with Mark Sandrich, who had directed most of the Astaire- Rogers movies, for a frothy comedy, Skylark (1941). The star was another lady who could dictate her own terms, Claudette Colbert, and she asked for Scott when she went to 20th Century-Fox to do a gentle piece about a small-town schoolteacher, Remember the Day (1941).
She, Sandrich and Scott (another of his sole credits) were reunited for Paramount's flag-waving tribute to the nurses serving in the Pacific, So Proudly We Hail (1943), which also starred Paulette Goddard. The critics were not too kind, nor did they like any better the next Sandrich-Scott effort, I Love A Soldier (1944), with Goddard and Sonny Tofts. The one after that, Here Come the Wavers (1945), was a vehicle for Bing Crosby and Betty Hutton (who played twins). Crosby was also the star of their Blue Skies (1946), but after Sandrich's death the screenplay was rewritten, by Arthur Sheekman, and Paul Draper was replaced by Astaire - then on the verge of retirement.
It was MGM which brought Astaire back to movies, and it was he who asked for Scott when he returned to Paramount for Let's Dance (1950), an unhappy teaming with Hutton. Scott had no credits in the interim, and only one outstanding screenplay in the future, Wait Til the Sun Shines, Nellie (1952), which, like Remember the Day, was another affectionate look back at the recent past, also directed by Henry King for Fox. In 1973 he returned to screenwriting, co-authoring Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now with Chris Bryant from the story by Daphne du Maurier.L. Allan Scott, screenwriter: born 1906; died Santa Monica, California 13 April 1995.
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