Kiss Me Kate (1953)

Lilli (Kathryn Grayson) and Fred (Howard Keel) talk about their past marriage and work in her dressing room.

[1] This is my favorite musical, not for the dancing alone, but it is the best. The dancers, not just Ann Miller and Rall, but Bob Fosse, Bobby Van, and Carol Haney!! What more could any dance fan want? There is always something new to see, no matter how many times you have watched it. The lyrics are magnificent, tricky and intriguing. I will admit that the music is great, but folks, catch the dancing!

[2] Keel, with his big big voice and untrained natural talent, fills the screen (and his tights!) with his masculine presence. He struts, swaggers, and yet shows his vulnerable side believably enough to make us *like* his character, ego or no ego. Grayson… really comes into her own here–she’s excellent as Lilli, swooning at the right moments, strident during the rest, and actually bites out ‘I Hate Men’ with conviction…  I’m also partial to Tommy Rall, whose soaring athletic ability just crackles off the screen. It’s such a thrill to see Miller get matched with someone who can dance circles around most everyone else alongside her. They make the cutest couple in their two numbers together, with the energetic, exuberant dance to ‘Why Can’t You Behave?’ definitely making one of my favourite film dance routines of all time.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

I became a fan of this musical after seeing a version of it on Great Performances (PBS) several years ago; it stars Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie, two VERY well-respected Broadway veterans. I bought the soundtrack (released in 2006). Seriously, WHO can resist Stokes’ voice!? 

Marin Mazzie (Lilli/Katharine) and Brian Stokes Mitchell (Fred/Petruchio)

I saw this movie on TCM two weeks ago; it was pretty fun, though NOT as fabulous as the Broadway version. Fred Graham (Howard Keel) and Lilli Vanessi (Kathryn Grayson) are a divorced pair of actors who are brought together by Cole Porter, who has written a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew. Lilli, recently engaged to a Texas oilman, is reluctant to act w/ Fred, who is involved w/ Lois Lane (Ann Miller). It’s obvious that the tap dancing ingenue (Lois) and more mature leading lady (Lilli) resent each other. 

Katharine (Kathryn Grayson) and Petruchio (Howard Keel) fighting during the play.

We soon seen that Fred and Lilli act a LOT like the mismatched lovers they play, Petruchio and Katharine. A fight between them on opening night threatens the production. Also, two thugs w/ thick New York accents (who are BIG fans of the theater) think that Fred owes their boss a LOT of money, so insist on staying next to him ALL night. Lois (who is cast as Bianca) is in love w/ another of her co-stars, Bill Calhoun (Tommy Rall), who forged that IOU. 

Three suitors woo Bianca (Ann Miller) during the Tom, Dick, or Harry number.
Bianca/Lois (Ann Miller) and Bill (Tommy Rall) talk in the theater’s alley.

…Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore, who get into the play and later get to sing one of Cole Porter’s best satirical numbers and a personal favorite of mine, ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare.’ It’s their own ode to their theatrical experience and also advice to the lovelorn that if you want to win the mate of your choice, learn the classics so you can wow them with rhetoric. Wynn and Whitmore are priceless.

Excerpt from IMDB review

If you’re a big fan of The Bard, you will definitely enjoy the thugs’ song (Brush Up Your Shakespeare); it’s a combo of high culture and naughty wordplay.

I esp. like Lois’ signature song Always True To You (In My Fashion). Here is the (updated) song from the 2006 Broadway play, sung by Amy Spanger.



5 thoughts on “Kiss Me Kate (1953)

  1. I really love this musical (although I have ambivalent feelings about The Taming of the Shrew). Great musical numbers and great singing, colorful, funny jokes, and “I Hate Men” and “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” are true highlights.

    A few weeks ago TCM was running classic musicals on Friday night — they did a series with Howard Keel. It included this, Showboat and Lovely to Look at — all musicals in which Grayson and Keel appeared together — as well as some others Keel was known for. Keel is interesting in that after his musical headliner career faded, he returned to tv in Dallas, which was where I encountered him for the first time. He had a truly impressive voice, I find.


    • Wow, did NOT realize that re: “Dallas!” But when I searched for pics of Howard Keel on the TV show, it made sense (duh)! My fam used to watch that back in the ’80s.

      Of course, “Taming of the Shrew” is pretty problematic (esp. for modern world), BUT this spin gives it some freshness & light-heartedness.


      • yeah — my parents were extremely dedicated viewers as well. I was less excited but, you know, togetherness in the days when we only had one TV. (well actually we still only have one TV).

        The Burton / Taylor “Taming of the Shrew” was also on TCM recently and I caught the end of it. It had been years — I was surprised at how much it bugged me this time.


      • It’s basically the old-school arranged marriage- Baptista gives great dowry to Petruchio for Katharine (b/c he’s rich & her notoriously “difficult” personality). Petruchio wants wealth, but perhaps he also relishes a challenge? There’s NOT much to like about him! At least the guy that likes Bianca gets to tutor her, know her a bit, and then win her hand. Yeah, he lies and disguises himself, BUT his heart is in right place!


      • I think what freaked me out was that the last time I saw the film would have been in the 80s with my mom. I’ve seen other productions of it in the interval, but I remember seeing it with mom and us both being utterly entertained. Now I watch and I am just horrified by the sexual politics. How were we so naive back then?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.