The Student Prince, Ann Blyth, Edmund Purdom

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. 🙂

Found this old MGM photo print from the scene when we are marching down the hall. Probably used in Movie Theater lobby photo previews:

Want to read more about The Student Prince?

Take a look at this blog which is a treasure of information with great details about the strange twists that preceded the actual production of this movie.   Of course we all know or think we know how Mario Lanza was replaced by Edmund Purdom.    Read this blog for the real story as well as the on/off and on again scheduling for the start of production.  

Jacqueline T. Lynch takes us on a wonderful voyage regarding the final solution that matched Ann Blyth with Edmund Purdom.


6 thoughts on “The Student Prince, Ann Blyth, Edmund Purdom

  1. Classic movie of its type. Thanks for some oral history of 50’s Hollywood and the making of this film. Hearing an extra’s recollections is not only interesting but also unique and valuable.

  2. Hahaha, it was easy to spot you as one of the liveried footmen in the first clip, but in the succeeding videos I’d have found it impossible to pick you out in the crowd without your helpful signs. Liked the jaunty red cap though, it looked good on you! 🙂

    Not too familiar with the story of the movie, but it looked like tremendous fun to do those drinking-‘n’-singing scenes — and standing 2 feet away from Ann Blyth no less!

    Thanks for this post, Ralph! Made me smile =D

    • EG,

      Thanks for seeing me (with a little help 🙂 ). Of course that’s what made me a good background actor. In crowd scenes no extra should ever stand out enough to upstage the principals or you will soon be watching the stars only from a seat in a theatre.
      This was the only time that I worked in a movie that real beer was used, although it was only 2% alcohol. Yet after putting in a 10 hour day with constant drinking many of the extras actually got drunk. Fortunately, as you can see in the clip, I was placed near the back where I could fake drinking the beer. Only when I was in the closeup near Ann Blyth did I need to really imbibe.
      While I’m talking about drinking in a scene, it may be of interest to any one who reads this as to how we maintain continuity with drinks. The carpenters make a series of huge boards, laid flat, with squares so they look like big chekerboards. Each square has the name of one of us printed on it. When we finish a scene, we put our steins in our named square. Then when the scene continues from say a different angle, we each will have the same amount of liquid in our individual steins as we had at the end of the prior scene. Secondly as a health measure we always have the same stein. 🙂

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