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1952 – Musical: An American in Paris

1952 was the year the Hollywood Foreign Press decided to give a separate award for best musical or comedy, in addition to drama. The acting categories had already been separated a year before, so when the award went to An American in ParisA Streetcar Named DesireA Place in the Sun. The HFPA had chosen A Place in the Sun as best drama, but then it was the Academy’s turn to name the year’s best film. In the biggest upset in Academy history, they chose An American in Paris (which, of course, had already won at the Globes, thanks to the award’s new categories.)The film was a turning point in the career of legendary producer Arthur Freed, who went on to win a subsequent Oscar/Golden Globe for Gigi. It made a major star of Gene Kelly and  introduced French ballerina Leslie Caron who also became a major star. Maurice Chevalier was supposed to play Kelly’s romantic rival in the film, but because of his suspected Nazi collaboration during World War II, George Guetary, a French actor who had achieved a modicum of success on the London stage, replaced him. Also featured prominently in the cast were Nina Foch and Gershwin’s acolyte Oscar Levant.Vincente Minnelli, the director, went on to direct almost all of MGMs major movies of the decade. Broadway’s Alan Jay Lerner wrote the original script, which incorporated the Gershwin standards “Our Love Is Here to Stay”, “I Got Rhythm,” and “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” all co-written by George’s one and only lyricist, his brother Ira, a genius in his own right. Lerner had been brought to Hollywood by Freed, following the success of Brigadoon on Broadway, and the two of them continued a long association until Freed retired in 1963, two years before Lerner (and Loew’s) greatest film triumph, My Fair Lady. The highlight of the film is the 17-minute ballet based on the Gershwin orchestral suite.