The Gumm Sisters on film, 1929-30 and 1935
Biographical excerpts from Wikipedia:
Born Frances Ethel Gumm in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, Judy Garland was the youngest child of Francis Avent “Frank” Gumm (March 20, 1886–November 17, 1935) and Ethel Marion Milne (November 17, 1893–January 5, 1953). Garland’s parents were vaudevillians who settled in Grand Rapids to run a movie theatre that featured vaudeville acts.
Garland’s ancestry on both sides of her family can be traced back to the early colonial days of the United States. Her father was descended from the Marable family of Virginia, and her mother from Patrick Fitzpatrick, who emigrated to America in the 1770s from Smithtown, County Meath, Ireland.
Named after both her parents and baptized at a local Episcopal church, “Baby” (as Frances was called by her parents and sisters) shared her family’s flair for song and dance. Baby Gumm’s first appearance came at the age of two-and-a-half when she joined her two older sisters, Mary Jane “Suzy” Gumm (1915–64) and Dorothy Virginia “Jimmie” Gumm (1917–77), on the stage of her father’s movie theater during a Christmas show and sang a chorus of “Jingle Bells.” Accompanied by their mother on piano, The Gumm Sisters performed at their father’s theater for the next few years. The family relocated to Lancaster, California, in June 1926. Frank purchased and operated another theater in Lancaster, and Ethel, acting as their manager, began working to get her daughters into motion pictures.
The Gumm Sisters
In 1928, The Gumm Sisters enrolled in a dance school run by Ethel Meglin, proprietress of the Meglin Kiddies dance troupe. The sisters appeared with the troupe at its annual Christmas show. It was through the Meglin Kiddies that Garland and her sisters made their film debut, in a 1929 short subject called The Big Revue. This was followed by appearances in two Vitaphone shorts the following year, A Holiday in Storyland (featuring Garland’s first on-screen solo) and The Wedding of Jack and Jill. They next appeared together in Bubbles. The final on-screen appearance of The Gumm Sisters [billed as the Garland Sisters] came in 1935, in another short entitled La Fiesta de Santa Barbara.
In 1934, the sisters, who by then had been touring the vaudeville circuit as “The Gumm Sisters” for many years, performed in Chicago at the Oriental Theater with George Jessel. He encouraged the group to choose a more appealing name after the name “Gumm” was met with laughter from the audience. “The Garland Sisters” was chosen, and Frances changed her name to “Judy” soon after, inspired by a popular Hoagy Carmichael song.
Several stories persist regarding the origin of the name “Garland”. One is that it was originated by Jessel after Carole Lombard’s character Lily Garland in the film Twentieth Century which was then playing at the Oriental; another is that the trio chose the surname after drama critic Robert Garland. Garland’s daughter Lorna Luft stated that her mother selected the name when Jessel announced that the trio of singers “looked prettier than a garland of flowers”. Another variation surfaced when Jessel was a guest on Garland’s television show in 1963. He claimed that he had sent actress Judith Anderson a telegram containing the word “garland,” and it stuck in his mind.
At any rate, by late 1934 the “Gumm Sisters” had changed their name to the “Garland Sisters.” The trio was broken up in August 1935, however, when Suzanne Garland flew to Reno, Nevada, and married musician Lee Kahn, a member of the Jimmy Davis orchestra playing at Cal-Neva Lodge, Lake Tahoe.
(above left) Baby Gumm in 1929, and (right) 1930
Complete Gumm Sisters filmography from the Judy Garland Database. I’ve corrected the date given for The Wedding of Jack and Jill and Bubbles from 1929 to 1930 (they were each released in 1930).
They were credited as “The Three Gumm Sisters” for each of the first four films.
1. The Big Revue – Meglin short subject, 1929
2. A Holiday in Storyland – Vitaphone short subject — dated 1929 by JGDb, April 1930 by IMDb
3. The Wedding of Jack and Jill – Vitaphone short subject, 1930
4. Bubbles – Vitaphone short subject, 1930
5. La Fiesta de Santa Barbara – MGM short subject, 1935 (as The Garland Sisters)
The Big Revue: The Gumm Sisters make their screen debut in the 1929 film The Big Revue, also known as Starlet Revue. Frances ‘Baby’ Gumm, later known as Judy Garland, is 7 years old.
That’s the Good Old Sunny South (Milton Ager, Jack Yellen) – According to JGDB Baby Gumm is the one making the repeated shouts of “Yes-sir!” This version appears to be a out of sync.
The young girl introducing the act says:
“Now you will see…a…dancing and singing number…by the Gumm Sisters…not the Wrigley Sisters.”
The lyrics, from the site uulyrics.com (line 6 modified from “all of the wise guys” to “all us wise guys”):
Don’t fly away, come along quick,
South where the breezes blow.
Leave this storm land,
Come away to a warm land.
Pack up, fly away, learn an old trick
All us wise guys know.
Headin’ to the south you can’t miss it,
Let me be explicit.
When you see blue skies and fields of white
And the sun is shinin’ bright,
Yes, sir! That’s the good old sunny South.
When you hear that same old robin sing
That you heard up north in spring,
Yes, sir! That’s the good old sunny South.
Where your heart wants to play
And your feet want to dance,
Where the close of each day
brings a night of romance.
Where you meet those gals that sweetly drawl,
“Mighty glad to meet you all”
Yes, sir! That’s the good old sunny South.
A Holiday in Storyland — IMDb gives the release date of the film as April 1930, but the song Blue Butterfly sung by Frances Gumm was recorded in November 1929.
Blue Butterfly (Johnny Tucker/Joe Schuster)* — solo vocal by Baby Gumm at age seven, recorded November 1929 in Burbank, CA
Stop your high flying
Or it will break your brow
The meadowlark sings
You still have beautiful wings
To fly with
Why can’t you try
Lyric transcribed by doc (Jim Radcliff), 2010
Where the Butterflies Kiss the Buttercups Good-night – sung by the Gumm Sisters. The provider seems to have given the wrong title. There is no soundtrack listing at IMDb. The title phrase is sung throughout the song as “Where the butterflies kiss the buttercups good-night.”A song of this title, with the same first line of the chorus, was written in 1929, music by Ed G. Nelson, lyrics by Harry Pease and Charles O’Flynn. It was performed by Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra during a radio broadcast of “The Old Gold Paul Whiteman Hour” (according to redhotjazz.com, date not found yet), and recorded by Mal Hallett and His Orchestra (1929), and by vocalist Bob Neilson with an arrangement by a 20 year old Archie Bleyer (1929).
Sites which give the title as “When the Butterflies Kiss the Buttercups Goodbye” credit, I think incorrectly, N. Jerome and H. Berg as the songwriters. I’ve been unable to identify a songwriter named N. Jerome. M. K. Jerome, with Harold Berg, wrote “Bubbles”, the title song of a 1930 short film which featured the Gumm Sisters.
The idea of affection between butterflies and buttercups had at least one precedent in American popular song at the time this one was written. “Carolina in the Morning,” written in 1922 with music by Walter Donaldson and words by Gus Kahn, included the following lines:
Strolling with my girlie where the dew is pearly early in the morning
Butterflies all flutter up and kiss each little buttercup at dawning
The Wedding of Jack and Jill
Hang Onto a Rainbow (Bud Green, Sam Stept)
I haven’t been able to find this song alone in a video so I’m posting this video which combines brief samples of three songs by the Gumm Sisters in their 1930 film appearances: “Where the Butterflies Kiss the Buttercups Good-night” and “Blue Butterfly” from A Holiday in Storyland, and “Hang Onto a Rainbow” from The Wedding of Jack and Jill. The last song is also credited elsewhere under the slightly different titles “Hang On to a Rainbow” and “Hang On to the Rainbow.”
“Hang Onto a Rainbow,” under the title “Hang On to a Rainbow,” was used in a big production finale of the feature film Show Girl in Hollywood (1930). Alice White performs the song, but her voice is dubbed by Belle Mann. The Boswell Sisters also recorded “Hang Onto a Rainbow” in 1930, but it was not issued.
In the Land of Let’s Pretend (m. Harry Akst, w. Grant Clarke) – In the fourth film in which The Gumm Sisters appeared, Bubbles (1930), “In the Land of Let’s Pretend” is a production number involving a large ensemble. Baby Gumm has a solo. The song was one of eight written by Akst and Clarke for the musical film On With the Show! (1929) the first ever all talking-all color feature length movie. The standard “Am I Blue?” was introduced by Ethel Waters in On With the Show!
The song is not to be confused with the similarly titled “The Land of Let’s Pretend” by Jerome Kern and Harry K. Smith, from the 1914 musical The Girl From Utah.
In the Land of Let’s Pretend (m. Harry Akst, w. Grant Clarke)
Gumm Sisters’ version, from Bubbles (1930)
Come, dear, and wander through
The land of let’s pretend, do-oo-ooh
Away out just where
The springtime knows no end, do-oo-ooh
Just as a child would
Let’s make believe
We’re in the wildwood
Dreaming knighthood was in flower
You’ll find no sorrow there
‘Cause everyone’s your friend
(Shh shh shh)
And each tomorrow there
the rainbow’s end
We’ll weave a life of dreams
With threads from bright moonbeams
They’ll all come true, dear
In the land of let’s pretend
Note, December 2013: The above lyric was transcribed by me, Jim Radcliff, in 2010. However, I left a couple of lines unfinished. It was finally completed (words in maroon added) with the help of a visitor, John Hines, who provided a transcript of the complete lyric for the chorus of the On With the Show! (1929) version in a comment in my “About” page on 18 January 2013.
Later, I discovered that chapters of a “novel,” titled On With the Show, written by Arline De Haas, including portions of both the verse and the chorus of the lyric to the number “The Land of Let’s Pretend,” were published in serial form in some daily newspapers in 1929. The subheading of one segment of the serial appearing in the Victoria (Texas) Advocate (see image below), refers to the 1929 Warner Brothers film On With the Show! as a “picturization” of the De Haas novel. However, only Robert Lord (scenario), and Humphrey Pearson, whose play “Shoestring” the story was adapted from, are mentioned in the writing credits by IMDb. This, and the presence in the aforementioned newspaper segments of the De Haas “novel,” of portions of the lyric written by Grant Clarke for the film, tend to suggest rather that the newspaper serial is novelization, adapted from the screenplay.
Links to segments of the De Haas serial appearing in newspapers in the summer of 1929:
- Victoria (Texas) Advocate, 19 August 1929, p. 4
- Altoona (Pennsylvania) Mirror, 29 July 1929, p. 13
- Manitowoc (Wisconson) Herald-Times, 30 August 1929, p. 7
- The Morning Herald (Hagerstown, Maryland), 27 July 1929. p. 5
(above) Screen shot from the Victoria (TX) Advocate, 19 August 1929, p. 4. The part of Chapter III from the de Hass “novel” contained in this segment of the serial contains portions of the verse and the chorus of the lyric to the number “The Land of Let’s Pretend,” as performed in the 1929 film On With the Show!
In On With the Show!, the song is performed by Mildred Carroll and a chorus in an extravagant production number. There is a verse preceding the chorus, with the first line being “Games we played when we were little children.” In the first section of the chorus, the line sung as “Away out just where” by the Gumm Sisters in Bubbles is sung here as “Away out yonder where,” internally rhyming “yonder” with “wander.” The “moonbeams” line is also slightly different here: “With threads of bright moonbeams.”
note: poor picture quality (to be replaced ASAP)
(below) The Gumm Sisters and ensemble perform the large production number “In the Land of Let’s Pretend” in Bubbles (1930). Baby Gumm has a brief solo.
(Above) Ethel Gumm and her daughters, The Gumm Sisters, c. 1934. Left to right: Ethel, Mary Jane, Dorothy Virginia, and Frances Ethel (called “Baby” by her family)
La Fiesta de Santa Barbara
“La Cucaracha” (traditional Mexican folk song) – sung by The Garland Sisters
Judy Garland Database says:
It seems rather odd that the Garland Sisters appear in this MGM film, yet Judy was not “discovered” by MGM until one month later, especially since the Garland Sisters are listed fourth in the opening credits. Obviously, someone at MGM was aware of Judy’s talent before her audition for L.B. Mayer in September 1935.
This was the last film that the Gumm Sisters (having changed their name to the Garland Sisters by late 1934) appeared in together.
The music is traditional and lyrics have been altered periodically to provide currency. Two of the stanzas sung by the Garland Sisters are said by the article at wikipedia to be the most commonly quoted of the verses written during the Mexican Revolution. They are described as Villist anti-Huerta stanzas, a political distinction. The use of marijuana was legal in the United States until 1937, although some states had implemented regulations on it’s sale as early as 1906 (according to this wikipedia article — “Legality of Cannibis“).
|La cucaracha, la cucaracha,||The cockroach, the cockroach,|
|ya no puede caminar||can’t walk anymore|
|porque no tiene, porque le falta||because it doesn’t have, because it’s lacking|
|marihuana pa’ fumar.||marijuana to smoke.|
|Ya murió la cucaracha||The cockroach just died|
|ya la llevan a enterrar||now they take her to be buried|
|entre cuatro zopilotes||among four buzzards|
|y un ratón de sacristán.||and the sexton’s mouse.|
Judy Garland’s first film role after the Garland Sisters disbanded was in the 1936 short film Every Sunday. She co-starred with Deanna Durbin (still using her birth name Edna Mae Durbin) also making her debut. There is some question as to whether the film was ever released. It may have been essentially a screen test for both future stars (jgdb, film reviews).
Plot (from Wikipedia):
Small town friends Edna (Deanna Durbin) and Judy (Judy Garland) are upset. Edna’s grandfather and his orchestra, who play free Sunday concerts at a local park, have been fired by the town council because the concerts are poorly attended. The girls hit upon the idea of singing at the concerts and set about promoting the next concert. The following Sunday Edna and Judy join Granddad on the bandstand. Edna’s operatic style and Judy’s swing bring crowds running from all over the park. The event is a huge success and Granddad’s concerts are saved.
The Durbin performance of Il Bacio (The Kiss), words and music by the composer Luigi Arditi, is omitted from the following clip in which Judy sings a medley of two songs: Waltz with a Swing (Con Conrad) /Americana (Roger Edens).
Judy Garland, Patricia Palmer, and Edna Mae (later Deanna) Durbin on the MGM lot during or prior to the filming of Every Sunday,16 September 1936. The attached description notes that Palmer is being welcomed from the airport.
- “The Gumm Sisters/Garland Sisters Early Short Subjects” at The Judy Room
* “Blue Butterfly” songwriter credits: For months I had credited M. K. Jerome and Harold Berg as the co-songwriters though I don’t recall where I’d found that information. On 11 September 2010, while searching for sheet music for the song I came across a review on a French site, fremeaux.com, of the JG collection “Classiques et inédits 1929-1956.” The article provides songwriter credits for all of the 40 songs on the 2 CD set. Blue Butterfly is credited to (Johnny Tucker/Joe Schuster). This is confirmed by ASCAP’s ACE title search, which gives Tucker’s middle name as Aloyseus, and by the Milne Special Collections at the UNH Library.
“Blue Butterfly” was also recorded by Sam Lanin and his Orchestra on 26 November 1929, and issued as one side of the Harmony label single 1067-H.