A few months after I was accepted by SEG and Central Casting I was booked on The Student Prince. May I use my own word ‘funnest’ to describe one of the most enjoyable times I had as an extra?
Possibly MGM was the most famous studio for presenting lavish colorful musicals in the 1950s. And the Student Prince would have to rank high in this category. The sets were so realistic that to my feverish imagination I was constantly transported to Heidelberg truly feeling I was indeed the student I was portraying.
The strange thing is that I was booked twice for this movie, first as a liveried footman for a very short scene walking in a hall:
The day I arrived at the studio for my second booking, I was sent to join the other students, you see in the movie, to a rehearsal hall. Wow, did that make me feel as some one special. Extras rarely saw the insides of this kind of building where normally such stars as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers tapped out the nuances of their immaculate dance routines. We sat in a semicircle around a musical director. We were given copies of all the songs that we would be mouthing during the filming of our scenes. No we don’t sing in the movie. All the songs were prerecorded by professional singers. Nor would you enjoy listening to us sing. We had to be absolutely perfect in lip synching the songs. The English songs were fairly easy to memorize. Gaudeamus Igitur though was a toughy. Several times Ann Blyth and/or Edmund Purdom rehearsed with us in the rehearsal hall for the parts we would sing with them. We rehearsed for about 2 weeks. This was great work. We would only be at the studio for a half day most of the time assuming we spent the other half at home memorizing the lyrics. (sure. lol.) And we got a full day’s pay.
It would take another 2 months to shoot all the scenes in which we students appeared. Keep in mind that all the cuts had to be synchronized with the prerecorded music and vocals. Then too for each minute you see in the final version, there are about 30 minutes of footage that is left on the cutting room floor.
For those who do not know, when I say the ‘backlot’ of any studio, I’m referring to the part of the studio that holds all the streets and buildings from all around the world and sets that are too big to fit on a sound stage. One of the sets at MGM’s 1950s backlot included a huge train terminal. Though I can’t remember exactly, it seemed to have about 5 sets of tracks leading to 3 platforms as well as ticket booths and other train station paraphernalia. Many famous WWII departing soldier scenes were captured in this station. Naturally for the really big train sets the Los Angeles Union Terminal was used as the setting. Here at MGM’s terminal is were we filmed the first of our songs while getting off the train. This is where the prince first arrives in Heidelberg.
From the train station we go to the beer garden where Ann Blyth sings her first song. I was in constant awe working so closely with this charming, beautiful, friendly actress. She treated all of us as equals, joking, talking and enjoying our company as we enjoyed hers. To this day I can recall the good feelings on that set just because Ann Blyth made it that way. BTW this is the only set I worked on where we drank real near beer, about 2% alcohol. Fortunately I was placed near the back and was able to fake drinking. Some of the students in the front became intoxicated by the end of the day as they had to repeatedly take sips from their steins. I only had to take real sips when I was in the close-up with Ann Blyth near the end of the scene. Enjoy Ann Blyth in this clip (and watch for me too near the end of the clip. lol.).
Finally the world famous drinking song and Gaudeamus Igitur. I’m the last to leave the beer garden leading a hound. And this was the last set that I worked in. In keeping with the tone of the song and the muted lighting of the set, I felt a little sad that I would be leaving the company of Ann Blyth and Edmund Purdom. It’s the same feeling you get on the last day of a summer camp vacation.
A few seconds of me extracted and enlarged.