Little Nellie Kelly • 1940


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“It’s a Great Day for the Irish!” Here’s the next title card I designed and lettered for my Judy Garland film title series.

The trailer features some fun inline typography (seen below) but I thought the treatment created for the main titles was much more interesting and in-line with the content and themes of the film so I chose that as reference for my piece instead.

It’s 1940 and MGM producer Arthur Freed was looking for the right vehicle to move Judy into more “adult” parts. In Little Nellie Kelly she would play a dual role, one part as an Irish woman who travels to the U.S. with her feuding husband and father only to die in childbirth, and the other as the daughter raised by the two quarreling men.

Just before Judy began work on Little Nellie Kelly, MGM raised her salary from $600 to $2000 a week with options for seven years that would eventually bring her to $3000 a week.

In the film, Judy sings a chorus of “A Pretty Girl Milking Her Cow” as Nellie Kellie, and a jazzed-up reprise of it as Little Nellie. She would later describe the song as one of Roger Edens’ discoveries: “...an obscure Irish folk song that fit the picture well. And we did it, and they released the picture, and the song became... an obscure Irish folk song!” Edens also wrote “It’s a Great Day for the Irish,” which became a Garland standard. The song was written to capitalize on her identification with her Irish roots and was used in a recreation of New York’s famed annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade marching up Fifth Avenue. It was a major production number requiring the New York Street set on the backlot of MGM to be enlarged, involving the main characters of the film and showcasing Judy’s enormously strong voice as she sang and danced up the avenue.

Little Nellie Kelly is an important film for Judy as she practically grew up on the screen bearing a child, playing a death scene (the only one she ever played on-screen), and receiving her first romantic adult kiss. It was also the first film to showcase her very impressive dramatic abilities. Sadly, MGM would do very little to build on her dramatic impact in film, confining her to musicals for all but one feature called The Clock, during her time there.

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Here’s the main title treatment for the film which I really enjoy although it is a bit too “woodland” and “fairy-tale” for the movie.

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The promotional materials for the film included a wide range of title treatments and I especially enjoyed the sans-serif inline type on this colorful half-sheet poster.

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Here you can see Judy growing up and looking mature and beautiful in her first “real” romantic role.

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I love reading the articles found in the popular movie magazines in the 40s and 50s. Here are two from my collection.

The first article is called Beginning Judy Garland’s Gay Life Story from Screenland magazine in December 1940. It’s the first part of a two-part story of Judy’s life according to her as told to Gladys Hall.

MGM loved putting out the life stories of their stars to make them seem like everyone else but deeply and importantly talented.

The second article is part two and is called Judy Garland’s Gay Life Story from Screenland magazine in January 1941. In this second and final installment, Judy addresses filming Little Nellie Kelly and includes a lovely picture with her on-screen father.

In the article, Judy says: “And now I’m playing my first grown-up, dramatic character part in Little Nellie Kelly. I even die in Nellie. And—and this is a VERY important first in my life, I play my first grown-up love scene in the picture, too! I’m really blushing even as I write about it. I, who have said I was never embarrassed on the stage, in front of a mic or camera, take it all back now. George Murphy plays my sweetheart (and my husband, I play a dual role, too!) in the picture. And he was certainly the most perfect choice, for he is so kind and tender and understanding—and humorous, too. But just the same, after we made that love scene, I didn’t know what to do or where to look. I’d just kind of go away between scenes because I couldn’t look at him. He kept kidding me, too, saying he felt like he was “in Tennessee with my child bride!”

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Here’s the theatrical trailer! I love how its copy references two films that Judy had just filmed.

Strike Up The Band • 1940


Here’s some fun futurist deco type for the next title card in my series!

Strike Up the Band was a follow up to the massively successful film Babes in Arms. Its title was chosen for no other reason than that it sounded “patriotic” which was especially important with the rumblings of World War II overseas. The film encapsulates the optimism of America’s youth and the finale is a fascinating commentary on the state of the nation in 1940.

In the film, Rooney plays a high school band drummer with hopes of leading his own jazz orchestra one day, while Garland plays Mary, a singer who can't get Jimmy to notice her as anything more than a friend. Doesn’t this sound familiar?

Jimmy and his band eventually get the chance to audition for the famous orchestra leader Paul Whiteman which leads to a manic baton-whirling finale with enough cheerfulness to bring a smile to any pessimist’s face.

The film is obviously a vehicle for Rooney, but Garland’s role is quite a feature and she sings many memorable songs. One of them is a beautiful number called, “Our Love Affair” with music written by her mentor Roger Edens and the lyrics by Arthur Freed, the film's producer. The song was nominated for an Academy Award that year!

Judy turned 18 years old while making this picture and she met one of her future husbands, director Vincente Minnelli. They wouldn’t fall in love, however, until they worked together in 1944 on a little film called Meet Me In St. Louis.

Minnelli was on the set at the request of Arthur Freed who was having trouble with a scene. “We need a big production number here,” Freed told Minnelli. “Mickey and Judy are in the house, and he’s telling her he wants to be a famous band leader like Paul Whiteman. Something big has to happen.” Minnelli looked around and noticed a bowl of fruit on the table and said, “Why don’t you take that bowl of fruit and have Mickey set each piece of fruit as if it were a musical instrument. Apples for fiddles, oranges for brass, bananas for woodwinds. Then have Mickey conduct with his hands. The pieces of fruit are now puppet characters of musicians." (This is an excerpt from his fascinating 1974 autobiography I Remember it Well.)

The charming and imaginative number is one of the film’s highlights and Louis B. Mayer always referred to Minnelli as “the genius who took a bowl of fruit and made a big production number out of it.”

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The trailer titles feature two deco sans serif type treatments and the standard music note motif which was very popular at the time with the explosion of the musical motion picture.

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The main titles are really lovely and feature some unique futurist deco type. Paul Whiteman even gets third billing!

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It’s fascinating to see Garland growing up on film. She’s one of the first stars we get to see grow from a child star into an icon and observe what happens to a person during those years. I’ve bored so many of my friends to death telling them about how much I believe Judy Garland and Britney Spears have in common and how the time they existed in facilitated many of their successes or failures and the constantly observed life is bound to be affected by that observation and the constant commentary that goes along with it. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’ll get to writing that book eventually...

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I love collecting lobby cards and posters. Check out the cool type solutions found here and also the color photographs of Garland and Rooney. I believe these were shot in Kodachrome.

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Here’s the theatrical trailer! Warning: It’s quite frantic and joyful!

Everybody Sing • 1938


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Next up in my series is Everybody Sing from 1938! The film teams up Judy and Billie Burke one year before they were immortalized as Dorothy and Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz. It’s a musical comedy where Judy plays a precocious singing daughter of a madcap theatrical family who saves them from financial ruin with help from their Russian maid (Fanny Brice, in a rare film role!) and singing chef. Why not? haha.

The film is certainly an important reminder of the the development of Garland’s career and was even more important due to a seven-week, seven-city promotional tour made to promote the film. She traveled with her mentor, Roger Edens, who accompanied her on the piano. (Roger used to be the mentor of Ethel Merman who was a great battle ax of a broadway belter!) These performances were the first opportunities for her to command large stages, alone, to sing in front of adoring crowds and establish a dedicated audience and sincere rapport that would, in time, make her one of the world's greatest live entertainers in the world. (Listen to Judy at Carnegie Hall  recorded in 1961 if you need me to convince you of this!)

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The main title type uses a very lovely deco sans serif and the trailer uses more of that fun deco bulb typography. I combined both for my reinterpretation and I am really loving working with “bulbs” as building blocks for type.

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Here’s the complete theatrical trailer. You must watch it for the hilarious use of music notes as windows for all of the actor’s faces. It’s quite a sight and thoroughly enjoyable!

The Wizard of Oz • 1939


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My love for old movies, Judy Garland, and “The Wizard of Oz” inspired me to have a little fun and design and letter this retro title-card of sorts. I’ve always been obsessed with the deco motifs found throughout the Oz set designs and lately I’ve been enjoying and inspired by the quirky lettering that was created for the trailers and movie titles in films of this era.

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There have been many different typographic solutions created for the promotion of the film ranging from this quirky type used in a rare trailer from Cairo in 1939 (above left) to the US re-release trailer in 1948 (above right) and, of course, the classic iconic serif type from the official main titles seen below.

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Of all of the deco motifs in the Emerald City I have always loved these circles of diamonds and the framework on the walls in the background.

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Olivia’s Birth Announcement


I lettered and designed this piece to celebrate the birth of my cousin Tiffanee’s beautiful daughter Olivia. 

My cousin is a huge Disney fan so I took inspiration from the title cards of a few classic films and developed a typographic art nouveau “title card” for Olivia to have from the very beginning of her story.