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Oscar Profile #74: Joshua Logan

Born October 5, 1908 in Texarkana, Texas, Joshua Logan’s father committed suicide when the younger Logan was just three years old. He then moved with his mother and sister to his maternal grandparents’ home in Mansfield, Louisiana. After his mother’s remarriage he was sent to a military boarding school. He became interested in acting while at Princeton where he became a member of the University Players acting with and directing such fellow members as James Stewart and Henry Fonda.

He made his Broadway debut as an actor in 1932’s Carry Nation. He may his film debut as director of 1938’s I Met My Love Again but did not get another call from Hollywood until 1955.

Among his early successes as a Broadway director were On Borrowed Time; I Married an Angel; Knickerbocker Holiday and Irving Berlin’s This Is the Army. After service in World War II, he directed Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun, wrote and directed Mister Roberts and South Pacific and directed Picnic and Fanny among others before going to Hollywood.

He served un-credited as the interim director between John Ford and Mervyn LeRoy on the 1955 film version of Mister Roberts and then directed that same year’s Picnic for which he received his first Oscar nomination. Both Mister Roberts and Picnic were nominated for Best Picture, losing to Marty.

Logan’s next film was another stage adaptation, albeit one he did not direct on Broadway, 1956’s Bus Stop starring Marilyn Monroe in what is generally regarded as her best screen performance. He followed that with the screen version of James Michener’s novel, Sayonara, a natural selection in that he had previously adapted and directed Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific as Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific. The Marlon Brando starrer brought him his second Oscar nomination.

Next up was the long awaited screen version of South Pacific, a box office smash if not a critical one. He followed that with another stage adaptation, Howard Lindsay’s Tall Story introducing Jane Fonda, daughter of his old friend, Henry.

Logan’s Fanny based on Marcel Pagnol’s trilogy of Marius, Fanny and Cesar. The play, with a score by Harold Rome, was a musical. Logan’s 1961 film version kept Rome’s score but jettisoned his lyrics, many of which were then incorporated into the screenplay. His direction earned him his third and final Oscar nomination.

He returned to Broadway to direct such shows as Adams and Strouse’s All-American with Ray Bolger and Irving Berlin’s Mr. President with Robert Ryan and Nanette Fabray.

Back in Hollywood, he directed three more films, Ensign Pulver, a disappointing sequel to Mister RobertsCamelot and Paint Your Wagon.

Logan had been married briefly to actress Barbara O’Neill in the early 1940s. He was married to Nedda Harrigan, daughter of vaudevillian Edward Harrigan and widow of actor Walter Connolly, nine years his senior, from 1945 to his death at 79 in 1988. Nedda died at 89 the following year.

ESSENTIAL FILMS

PICNIC (1955)

Logan’s film of William Inge’s play endures as one of the best examples of 1950s Americana. The extended picnic scenes, George Duning’s stirring score and of course, the performances, all combine to make viewing a memorable experience whether you’re seeing it for the first or fiftieth time.

William Holden may have been a bit long in the tooth at 37 to be playing a young stud who stirs the local female population from teenage Susan Strasberg to elderly Verna Felton, but it works all the same. Kim Novak has never been more beautiful nor Rosalind Russell more dramatically moving, with Cliff Robertson, Arthur O’Connell and Betty Field each providing one of their most memorable performances as well.

SAYONARA (1957)

A huge hit at the time of its release, this striking looking film gave audiences a glimpse into the seldom seen world of post-War Japan and movingly portrayed two inter-racial romances, neither of which has a happy ending.

Unfortunately the film has not aged well. Today’s audiences, more familiar with Japanese films and culture than they were then, tend to cringe at the clichés which only serve to underscore the film’s many faults. Chief among them are Marlon Brando’s ludicrous Southern accent; Ricardo Montalban’s atrocious interpretation of a Japanese Kabuki dancer and Seattle born Miiko Taka’s inability to convince as a real Japanese woman as co-star Miyoshi Umeki so easily did, becoming the first Asian performer to win an Oscar. Umeki and Red Buttons as the secondary love interest are fine, but their Oscar wins now seem to have been more in recognition of their characters’ plight to legally marry than for their performances which lack depth.

SOUTH PACIFIC (1958)

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s beloved musical suffers from Logan’s lame-brained idea of having mood altering color filters employed during several of the musical numbers. It obscures not only the actors, but the beautiful camerawork supplied by ace cinematographer Leon Shamroy.

Fox contract player Mitzi Gaynor is in fine voice as the female lead, but her acting lacks the spark that a more accomplished actress such as Doris Day or Shirley Jones might have brought to the project. The other actors, though, including Rossano Brazzi, John Kerr and Ray Walston are all perfectly cast. If only they could edit out those damn color filters.

FANNY (1961)

Those familiar with Harold Rome’s magnificent score for the Broadway musical will forever wonder why Logan chose to jettison the score’s lyrics and film this as a straight romantic comedy-drama. Nevertheless what’s there is pristine with Jack Cardiff’s stunning cinematography unhampered by the color filters Logan made Leon Shamroy employ in South Pacific.

The film’s four stars all give unforgettable performances with Leslie Caron in the title role as the abandoned pregnant girl; Horst Buchhholz as the sailor who figures out her condition too late; Maurice Chevalier as the elderly rich merchant who married the pregnant girl and Charles Boyer as the sailor’s father and husband’s best friend. Caron and Chevalier were nominated for Golden Globes and Boyer for an Oscar.

PAINT YOUR WAGON (1969)

It’s a bit difficult to figure why Lerner & Loewe allowed Logan to direct the film version of their 1951 musical after the misfire he created with their 1960 musical Camelot which he had filmed two years earlier.

Whereas Camelot lacked the intensity and thrill of the original, Paint Your Wagon goes off in a completely different direction. Instead of being about an old prospector, his daughter and the daughter’s newfound lover, the narrative is now about two prospectors who marry the same woman and live in a ménage-a-trois. It’s all very silly, but at least Logan retains most of the score, which is not badly sung by Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood, with a pleasing new song written for Jean Seberg. Fortunately Logan had the good sense to cast a real singer, the wonderful Harve Presnell to sing the immortal “They Call the Wind Maria”.

JOSHUA LOGAN AND OSCAR

  • Picnic (1954) – Nominated – Best Director
  • Sayonara (1957) – Nominated – Best Director
  • Fanny (1961) – Nominated – Best Director
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