The film Marjorie Morningstar should have been a great success. It was based on a best-seller by the popular author Herman Wouk. Its sound track was by Max Steiner, the venerable Hollywood composer who wrote the music for Gone With the Wind, Casablanca and Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny. The director was Irving Rapper, who had such credits as The Glass Menagerie, The Corn Is Green and Rhapsody in Blue.

It had a box-office draw in Gene Kelly, who played Noel Airman and crooned "A Very Precious Love" with sexy feeling. It had Ed Wynn, a revered comic actor who gave a bravura performance in the fiesta scene toward the end of the movie.

Not only that, its filming at Scaroon Manor in 1957 was a press agent’s dream, with a red-hot romance in progress between the handsome Robert Wagner and the nubile star of the movie, 19-year-old Natalie Wood. Wood was an experienced actress who had gotten her start at age four; her best-known adult roles were in West Side Story, Splendor in the Grass and Rebel Without a Cause. (Wood married Wagner after the filming of Marjorie Morningstar. They were divorced in 1962 and remarried in 1972. In 1981, in a tragic end to the story, she drowned off the family yacht near Catalina Island in California.)

The film was about a young Jewish woman from New York who works as a counselor at a girls’ camp and falls for Noel Airman, musical production director at a glamorous hotel across the lake. Noel is a lovable heel and the wrong man for Marjorie. Their romance ends badly, Marjorie returns to her roots, and Noel, after attempting to break into Broadway, returns to his perpetual role as the romantic heartthrob in the summer hotel.

While the movie did not become the success Warner Brothers hoped for, it had a hit song in Sammy Fain’s evocative "A Very Precious Love." And Scaroon Manor became a movie star. In the film, the hotel’s days are sunny and its nights moonlit. The fictional "South Wind" looks like a great place for a vacation. The scenes shot on and from the lake are especially memorable. Set up on boats rented from Stan Cole, the cameras pan the brightly lit hotel, creating fantasy of action and glamour that, in fact, reflected the real Scaroon Manor.

The cast and staff enjoyed the charms of Scaroon Manor and the Adirondacks. Robert Wagner spent much of his time water-skiing; he had come to the hotel specially to court Natalie Wood, and when she was working he had little else to do. Wood enjoyed swimming and tennis. Gene Kelly was the social leader, getting the cast and crew together for special outings. After discovering the gourmet Chalet Francoise restaurant in Athol, across the Hudson River from Warrensburg, he organized frequent dinner trips there.

For local people, a highlight of the movie was the fiesta scene in which Ed Wynn clowns in a mock bullfight. Joe Frieber called his friend Aletha Haley, secretary of Schroon Lake Chamber of Commerce, to say that 150 extras were needed to fill the bleachers (rented from the Schroon Lake Central School). They must be on the young side, they needed Social Security cards to get the film’s payroll and they must be available for several days’ shooting. The well-connected Aletha, as everyone called her, got on the phone with contacts in Schroon Lake, Pottersville, Chestertown, North Creek and Olmstedville. She easily filled the casting call; a flock of year-round and summer residents thought the filming was a great lark. Even today, in living rooms around the North Country and elsewhere, people fast-forward the video and – quick! – find themselves in the bleachers for what was to be their two or three seconds of fame.

On The Set of
Marjorie Morningstar

By ANN BREEN METCALFE

Published by the Warren County
Historical Society

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