by Hal Holly
Hollywood – Warner Brothers’ forthcoming remake of The Jazz Singer, starring Danny Thomas in the role enacted by the late Al Jolson in the 1927 version that ushered in the industry-shaking era of sound pictures, takes on new interest for music-conscious moviegoers with the signing of Peggy Lee for what, at this stage of the operation, would appear to be virtually a costarring role with Thomas.
The part for which Peggy was signed had been planned for Doris Day; and though Doris withdrew from the assignment because she – and her studio bosses – decided the part was not up to Doris’ present standing as an attraction, it nevertheless may mark a major milestone for Peggy, who has done very little in pictures to date. The situation naturally gives rise to speculation as to whether Peggy’s pact with Warner Brothers will be as important to her as that picture contract with the same studio was to Doris a few years ago.
There are both parallels and differences to be noted. Both Peggy and Doris started their careers as band singers, and both came into prominence in the music world on the success of specific recordings – Doris via her vocal with Les Brown on “Sentimental Journey,” and Peggy via her vocal with Benny Goodman on “Why Don’t You Do Right?” Like Doris, Peggy will be doing her first important film work under director Michael Curtiz. (It was Curtiz who spotted Doris as a potential star and brought her to Hollywood under a personal contract.)
Some of the differences: Doris had left Les Brown and seemed on her way to obscurity as a single when she caught the screen role in Romance on the High Seas that led to stardom. Doris, who started her Warner Brothers job at $350 per week, is now reliably reported to be earning $5,000 a week.
Peggy, on the other hand, after a number of years of moderate success and the usual ups and downs, is currently enjoying the greatest popularity of her career. She has one of the biggest records, sales-wise, in “Lover” since she left Benny Goodman here to make her way as a solo performer. Peggy has been getting as high as $5,000 a week on theater and nitery engagements. She also has her own twice-weekly CBS show.
Her contract with Warners is, it is understood, a nonexclusive arrangement calling for two pictures a year if the option is picked up. This means she will be able to make “outside” pictures at other studios, and – more important – will not be restricted from television, as are many top bracket film performers.
Incidentally, she also has been signed to collaborate with Sonny Burke on a set of songs for a forthcoming Disney feature.
Peggy’s progress from this point should be interesting to watch. Much will depend on how she makes out in her Jazz Singer role.