Those Elusive Movies

My dad always admired Frankie Laine’s singing. He told me that his favorite singers were Mario Lanza, Frankie Laine, Teresa Brewer, and Patti Page. I was always proud of the fact that my dad lived long enough to see me in photographs with Frankie Laine and Patti Page. And he knew all about my personal visits with Frankie.

I was a young teenager when I first began listening to Frankie Laine in earnest. This is the time that Dad told me how much he enjoyed Frankie’s singing. Because I was beginning to really love Frankie’s recordings, it always roused my interest whenever my dad talked about Frankie. Of course, Dad was a fan during the early 1950s—most likely before I was born in 1956. He used to tell me how he remembered seeing Frankie on television and in the movies.

Ah, the movies . . .

I grew up on a farm in eastern Iowa. When I first began collecting Frankie Laine material, I was limited to buying “Greatest Hits” albums. There was no Internet. And, without a license to drive, my record buying chances were limited to the record section in a furniture store located in a town near where I lived. And I could only go there if Mom wanted to take a road trip to town. All I knew about Frankie’s career was that he was this great singer, and I really dug his voice.

It wasn’t until 1985, when I first met Frankie in person, that I became aware of his movies. I have written in more detail about my first meeting with him in an earlier blog I’ve posted. I was riding in Frankie’s car and he was driving us to one of his scheduled appointments. I reached into my briefcase, pulled out pen and paper, and asked Frankie the titles of his movies. “I am in seven movies,” he replied.  Then he rattled off the titles: Make Believe Ballroom, When You’re Smiling, Sunny Side of the Street, Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder, Bring Your Smile Along, He Laughed Last, and Meet Me in Las Vegas.

After I obtained the titles to these movies, it became my quest to find copies. I wanted to see Frankie perform in his youthful heyday!

When my search for these movies began, it was in the early days of movies becoming available on VHS tape. As a first-hand movie night consumer, I know that local grocery stores carried the feature films that could be rented for a couple of days, along with a video player. Not many older movies were yet available. Movie companies had yet to transfer most films to video. And, while it wasn’t too long after the VHS craze began that you could find Elvis or Bing Crosby movies on videotape, there were no Laine movies to be had.

This was quite a dilemma for me. Around this time, during the mid-1980s, I subscribed to an entertainment collectors magazine. This magazine featured records, movie posters, and other entertainment memorabilia information and want ads. This was where I discovered movie rental companies. These companies each had inventories of 16 millimeter prints of many old movies for rent. The prints were old copies that used to belong to television stations. The idea was to rent a movie, find a projector, and have a movie night with your friends. The rental prices were reasonable. Rent a movie of your choice, and return the movie to the rental company when you’re finished. I selected a couple of these companies, wrote for the inventory catalog, and discovered my first two Frankie Laine movies!

Imagine my joy. The first movie I ordered was a tired old print of the 1950 movie, When You’re Smiling. It arrived in a movie case and was comprised of two reels of 16 millimeter film. I watched it with bated breath waiting for Frankie to appear. First reel finished and no Frankie! He finally appeared in reel two, singing “Georgia on My Mind.” How very cool for me! Having spent the entire day with Frankie on November 20, 1985, I am now watching him in 1950!

My thoughts: I’ve got to capture this. I have an idea. I know a guy with a video camera. If I set the camera on a tripod, I could videotape the entire film.

My reality: Early video cameras were not very good. They recorded for playback on a two-head recorder. I didn’t realize that they would, however, pick up the flicker of the film quite nicely.

In time, I rented all of Frankie Laine’s movies—getting to watch them all.

These days, Frankie’s movies are sometimes scheduled for viewing on TCM. However, none of Frankie’s movies have yet been distributed in digital form by Columbia. Hopefully that day will come sooner than later. Most other film companies have digitally converted movie catalogs. Frankie’s movie Meet Me in Las Vegas, which is an MGM movie, is available on DVD, as are all other MGM movies.

Having now seen all of Frankie Laine’s movies and early television shows, I am finally able to treasure them all—just like Dad did.

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About the Author:

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Craig Cronbaugh, Director of the Legislative Information Office with the Legislative Services Agency at the Iowa State Capitol. As famed singer Frankie Laine’s special friend and a collector of Laine’s recordings and career memorabilia, Craig has written articles; has written, produced, directed, and hosted a distinctive radio program; and has appeared on Iowa statewide television regarding his Frankie Laine avocation. Craig has been highlighted briefly and has been given a research screen credit in the 2003 internationally distributed documentary Frankie Laine: An American Dreamer. Craig’s book, a memoir, Reaching for a Star, featuring his friendship with Laine, was published in 2005.