I would guess that most people are familiar with the idea of “chick-flicks” but might not realize that it’s not a new concept, even if the actual term wasn’t used in the early days of Hollywood. But no matter what it was called, once movie-makers caught on to the fact that ladies had a big influence on how a family’s entertainment dollars were spent, it followed that there would be a lot of films aimed their way.
I wasn’t around in the early days of Hollywood, but I definitely remember being dragged to a few of those films when I was a kid in the post-war years. My folks were on a tight budget, but movies were always relatively cheap fun (and small kids got in free). And I won’t pretend that I can remember a lot of specific movies but at least one comes to mind. It was a not only a tear-jerker but a musical too, and even had a soundtrack album — unusual for those days.
Susan Hayward was a favorite of my Mom’s, and when she made With A Song In My Heart (Susan — not my Mom) it was a sure bet we’d go. It was the story of real-life singer Jane Froman, who did the actual singing on the soundtrack, including the title tune.
Froman’s story was certainly custom-made for a movie. At the time World War II broke out, she was already in her mid-thirties and had been working in show business for quite a while, mostly as a band singer and on Broadway, but had not really reached stardom. She’d had a couple of small parts in movies too, but her career took a sudden turn when the war started and she joined the USO.
She toured extensively in the early years of the war, but in 1943 her USO plane crashed in Portugal and most of the passengers died. Jane survived with severe injuries, and the co-pilot, John Curtis Burn, is credited with helping rescue her — even though he had a broken back. Jane had to resist doctors’ advice to amputate a leg but it still marked the beginning of a long period of pain and recurring problems.
Eventually she was able to resume singing but remained on crutches, and was an inspiration to troops when she again began appearing in USO shows. Continuing to perform in the post-war years while fighting constant physical problems, she was able to return to playing clubs only by employing special rigs on stage. She had a special platform on wheels, and was able to move around only with the help of a brace and chain controlled by the pianist.
It was a tough way to survive and it’s not surprising that her marriage broke up. Undergoing dozens of operations through the years didn’t help either, but finally she found a doctor who used some new techniques that helped her to heal. She also ended up marrying John Curtis Burn, the guy who’d rescued her — and Hollywood couldn’t have written a better script. (Bet you saw that coming.)
The movie came along in 1952 and boosted her career, and she even had her own TV show for a while. Unfortunately, her marriage to Burns didn’t last but she eventually returned to her hometown in Missouri, married an old sweetheart, and enjoyed her remaining years until her death in 1980. Although she had an eventful life and left a definite musical legacy, she’s seldom remembered these days and is probably best known as the subject of that chick-flick.
Jane Froman singing “Boy, What Love Has Done To Me.”