Cover Girl, 1944, Columbia Pictures. Starring Rita Hayworth, Gene Kelly. Co-starring Phil Silvers. Directed by Charles Vidor. Technicolor, 107 minutes.
Rusty Parker (Rita Hayworth), a showgirl at a Brooklyn dive nightclub, wants more for her life. She hears about a contest to be a cover girl for a prestigious magazine from Maurine Martin (Leslie Brooks), one of the other young women in her act, and decides to try out. However, when Maurine, who’s also angling for this top prize, fails to win over magazine executive Cornelia Jackson (Eve Arden) she proves she’s not that much of a friend and gives Rusty some bad advice for charming Cornelia.
Maurine’s interview wasn’t entirely for naught, as the magazine’s publisher, John Coudair (Otto Kruger), sees her picture and decides to check out her act. While watching Maurine, he sees Rusty, and is struck by her resemblance to a showgirl he once fell in love with, Maribelle Hicks (Rita Hayworth, in a dual role). As it turns out, Maribelle was Rusty’s grandmother. Soon, Rusty has won the coveted prize as a cover girl.
As thrilled as she is, this isn’t such good news for her boyfriend, Danny McGuire (Gene Kelly), who owns the nightclub she works in. While he adamantly refuses to stand in her way, he desperately doesn’t want to lose her. Soon, however, she’s appearing on Broadway, and Danny, it seems, has indeed lost the woman he loves. But this is a Hollywood musical, and the story doesn’t end there.
Cover Girl was nominated for five Academy Awards and won one, for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture. It was also nominated for Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Original Song for “Long Ago (and Far Away),” and Best Sound, Recording. The Best Original Song award that year went to “Swinging on a Star” from Going My Way.
Columbia studio head Harry Cohn originally wanted Dennis Morgan in the role Kelly would play, but gave in to producer Howard Schwartz’ suggestion of Kelly. On loan from MGM, Kelly had yet to make a name for himself, but his work on Cover Girl set him up well. Columbia allowed him to choreograph the musical numbers, something MGM had not permitted, and he brought along his friend Stanley Donen to help him do just that. Cover Girl proved to be a substantial showcase of Kelly’s (and Donen’s) skills, and MGM took notice. Later, when Columbia wanted to use Kelly again for Pal Joey, MGM refused to loan him out.
This was Hayworth’s third musical, the first two being You’ll Never Get Rich and You Were Never Lovelier, in which she shared top billing with Fred Astaire. She was the first of only six women to dance onscreen with both Astaire and Kelly.
It was during the filming of Cover Girl that Hayworth married the man she would later call “the love of her life,” Orson Welles. Despite her love for him, the marriage was troubled almost right from the beginning, and the two divorced in 1947.
Cover Girl is a charming musical starring two great talents (and co-starring several others, including Phil Silvers and Eve Arden). While originally intended as a showcase for Rita Hayworth, today it is better remembered as the break-out film for Gene Kelly. It was one of the top-grossing movies of the year, and remains a film well worth the watch.