Footlight Parade

Footlight Parade is a Warner Bros. musical film starring James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell (whose character is almost autobiographical) and featuring Frank McHugh, Guy Kibbee, Hugh Herbert and Ruth Donnelly. The movie was written by Manuel Seff and James Seymour from a story by Robert Lord and Peter Milne. It was directed by Lloyd Bacon.

The spectacular Busby Berkeley musical numbers, written by Harry Warren (music) and Al Dubin (lyrics) and Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics), include "By a Waterfall", "Honeymoon Hotel", and "Shanghai Lil".

In 1992, Footlight Parade was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".


Footlight Parade tells the story of Chester Kent (James Cagney), who replaces his failing career as a director of Broadway musicals with a new one as the creator of musical numbers called "prologues," short live stage productions presented in movie theaters before the main feature is shown. He faces pressure from his business partners to constantly create a large number of marketable prologues to service theaters throughout the country, but his job is made harder by a rival who is stealing his ideas, probably with assistance from someone working inside his company. Kent is so overwhemed with work that he doesn't that realize his secretary, Nan (Joan Blondell), has fallen in love with him, and is doing her best to protect him.

Kent's business partners announce that they have a big deal pending with the Apolinaris theater circuit, but getting the contract depends on Kent impressing Mr. Apolinaris with three spectacular prologues, presented on the same night, one after another at three different theatres. Kent then stages "Honeymoon Hotel", "By a Waterfall", featuring the famous 'Human Waterfall', and "Shanghai Lil", featuring Cagney and Ruby Keeler dancing together.


  • James Cagney as Chester Kent, creator of musical prologues
  • Joan Blondell as Nan Prescott, his secretary
  • Ruby Keeler as Bea Thorn, dancer turned secretary turned dancer
  • Dick Powell as Scott 'Scotty' Blair, juvenile lead, former protege of Mrs. Gould
  • Frank McHugh as Francis, dance director
  • Ruth Donnelly as Harriet Bowers Gould, the producer's nepotistic wife
  • Guy Kibbee as Silas 'Si' Gould, producer
  • Hugh Herbert as Charlie Bowers, Mrs. Gould's brother, the censor
  • Claire Dodd as Vivian Rich, Nan's friend, a gold digger
  • Gordon Westcott as Harry Thompson, Kent's assistant
  • Arthur Hohl as Al Frazer, the other producer
  • Renee Whitney as Cynthia Kent, Kent's ex-wife
  • Barbara Rogers as Gracie, a dancer
  • Paul Porcasi as George Apolinaris, owner of a chain of movie theaters
  • Philip Faversham as Joe Barrington, juvenile lead, protege of Mrs. Gould
  • Herman Bing as ''Fralick, the music director
  • Billy Barty as Mouse and Little Boy
  • Hobart Cavanaugh as Title-Thinkerupper

Cast notes:

  • Dorothy Lamour and Ann Sothern were among the many chorus girls in the film. It was Lamour's film debut.
  • It is often written that John Garfield made his (uncredited) film debut in this film, but experts were divided if it was actually him in the very quick (5/6ths of a second) shot. According to the 2003 Turner Classic Movies documentary The John Garfield Story, it is not Garfield.

Musical numbers

  • "Honeymoon Hotel" – by Harry Warren (music) and Al Dubin (lyrics)
  • "Shanghai Lil" – by Harry Warren (music) and Al Dubin (lyrics)
  • "By a Waterfall" – by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics)
  • "My Shadow" – by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics)
  • "Ah, the Moon Is Here" – by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics)
  • "Sitting on a Backyard Fence" – by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics)


Early casting had Stanley Smith playing the juvenile lead eventually played by Dick Powell, and Dorothy Tennant playing Mrs. Gould instead of Ruth Donnelly. Other actors considered for various roles included Eugene Pallette, George Dobbs and Patricia Ellis. Remarkably, consider that his musical numbers are the highlight of the film, Busby Berkeley was not the original choice to choreograph - Larry Ceballos was signed to direct the dance numbers, and sued Berkeley and the studio for $100,000 for breach of contract when he was not allowed to do so. (Ceballos also claimed to have created a number later used in the Warner Bros. film Wonder Bar, which was credited to Berkeley.)

Cagney's character, Chester Kent, was modelled after Chester Hale, a well-known impresario at the time, and the offices he worked in were based on the Sunset Boulevard offices of the prologue production company "Fanchon and Marco" in Los Angeles.

Footlight Parade was shot at the Warner Bros. studio in Burbank, California, and cost an estimated $703,000 to make. It premiered on 30 September 1933, and was released generally on 21 October.

Pre-code era

The film was made during the Pre-Code era, and its humor is sometimes quite risqué, with multiple references to prostitution and suggestions of profanity largely unseen in studio films until the 1960s, when the Production Code collapsed.

One character in the film, played by actor Hugh Herbert acts as the censor for Kent's productions, constantly telling Kent certain parts of his production numbers have to be changed. His character is portrayed as buffoonish and comical, saying disagreeable lines to Kent such as "You must put brassieres on those dolls..." (referring to actual dolls) "...uh uh, you know Connecticut." This character foreshadows the coming Production Code, which was in full force less than a year later.


Chester Kent: "Aw, talking pictures, it's just a fad."


External links

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