More Fun Than Winning The Pot O’ Gold!

Pot O’ Gold is a comedy/musical/romance from 1941 that stars one of my all time favorite actors: Jimmy Stewart. Most movie fans will probably recognize Jimmy as the star of the Christmas classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) but Jimmy had a Hollywood career that spanned nearly 60 years. He also took time out to join the US Army during World War II and follow that with a 27 year career in the US Air Force Reserve. Jimmy retired with the rank of Brigadier General.

James Stewart was never billed as “Jimmy” for any of his many movies; he was always “James”. But to most movie fans he will always be “Jimmy”, the down-to-Earth “average American middle class man”. His relatable performances won him five Academy Award nominations, one Academy Award win for Best Actor, and a Lifetime Achievement Award. The American Film Institute named Jimmy Stewart “the third greatest male screen legend in cinema history”. He was an all-round good guy. Really.

Jimmy Stewart was born in Indiana, Pennsylvania on May 20, 1908. He had Scottish and Irish ancestry and a slew of ancestors who had fought in the American Revolution, War of 1912, and the American Civil War. Jimmy was a shy boy who loved sitting in his room and building model airplanes. Jimmy’s father insisted he attend Princeton University and he developed a gradual interest in drama and music clubs while there. That led to an invitation to join an intercollegiate summer stock company where Jimmy met and became roommates with future film legend Henry Fonda and, eventually, to Broadway. But the Great Depression hit Broadway hard and Jimmy and his friend Henry were barely eking out a living. Henry Fonda went to Hollywood in 1934 and encouraged Jimmy to follow in 1935. Jimmy started out as a contract player for $350 a week but in just three years he starred in You Can’t Take it With You which won the 1938 Academy Award for Best Picture. Jimmy followed that with his first of five nominations for Best Actor for his starring role in 1939’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In 1940, Jimmy won the Academy Award for Best Actor with his second nomination for his stellar performance in The Philadelphia Story.

Jimmy Stewart was drafted into the US Army in October 1940 but was ultimately rejected for being underweight. But Jimmy was determined  to serve his country and turned to MGM Studio’s trainers to help him add on some pounds. He finally made it into the US Army in March, 1941. Jimmy was “the first major American movie star to wear a military uniform in World War II”. He achieved his boyhood dream by earning his pilot rating and went on to instruct other pilots and also appeared in recruitment films. He flew his first combat bombing mission over German U-boat facilities on December. 13, 1943. He finished his World War II career as a full colonel in charge of the 2nd Bomb Wing.

After the war, Jimmy eventually returned to Hollywood and acting and he also married his wife Gloria (they were married for 45 years until her death). Additionally, Jimmy  continued his military service in the United States Air Force Reserve and was the Air Force Reserve commander of Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Georgia. He was promoted to Brigadier General and flew one bombing mission over Viet Nam, as a non-duty observer. Jimmy retired from the service in 1968 and was promoted to Major General on the retired list.

Jimmy restarted his post WWII Hollywood career with It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) and his third Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Jimmy actually described this holiday favorite film as “his favorite”. His fourth Best Actor nomination was for Harvey (1950) and his fifth was for Anatomy of a Murder (1959). Besides his many great movie roles, Jimmy Stewart also helped change the way Hollywood does business. In 1950, Jimmy wanted to make the film Harvey but the studio originally balked at his $200,000 fee. The studio head ultimately came up with a plan for Jimmy to make both Harvey and the film Winchester 73 for no pay but he would instead get a percentage of the profits as well as control of director and co-stars. This plan netted Jimmy more than $600,000 for Winchester 73 alone and other Hollywood stars quickly jumped on the bandwagon of this new, more profitable arrangement.

In later years, Jimmy was a prominent voice against the colorization of old movies. He spoke out before Congressional hearings against media mogul Ted Turner’s decision to colorize black-and-white films, including Jimmy’s own It’s a Wonderful Life. Jimmy proclaimed, “The coloring of black-and-white films is wrong. It’s morally and artistically wrong and these profiteers should leave our film industry alone.”  

Jimmy Stewart died at age 89 of a blood clot to his lung on July 2, 1997. He died surrounded by his family and his final words were, “I’m going to be with (his wife) Gloria now!” He was almost universally described by his fellow actors and friends as a “kind, soft-spoken man and a true professional” with a “droll sense of humor”. An all round good guy.

Our movie, Pot O’ Gold, features Jimmy in one of his nice, relatable, everyman roles. He plays James Hamilton Haskell who loves music, plays a mean harmonica, and owns a failing music store in a little podunk town where the local teens gather to dance to the latest records and child musical prodigies practice their musical magic. Jimmy’s Uncle Charlie aka Charles “CJ” Haskell (played by actor Charles Winniger) is a big city businessman who owns a health food factory, has a rather boring radio program, and absolutely, totally, completely hates music of any kind. But he is fond of his nephew and wants Jimmy to join him in the food business. When Jimmy’s little music shop finally goes under, he reluctantly sets out to join his uncle. But before Jimmy can even get to his uncle’s house, he accidentally meets a rowdy Irish family, the McCorkles. The McCorkles, including pretty daughter Molly (played by actress Paulette Goddard) and daunting mother “Mom” McCorkle (played by actress Mary Gordon), are, unbeknownst to innocent Jimmy, involved in a flaming feud with his Uncle Charlie. The McCorkles won’t sell their home so Uncle Charlie can expand his factory. Plus they have a large band that practices constantly on their roof – right outside Uncle Charlie’s office window. The constant day and night booming of his factory does not bother the food mogul but the swinging tunes of the big band drive him absolutely bonkers. Poor Jimmy ends up in the middle of the feud when he tries to impress Molly McCorkle by throwing a tomato at a man arguing with her family (really the man is his Uncle’s employee) and ends up hitting his own Uncle Charlie in the face with the soft, squishy fruit. Soon, Jimmy is under arrest while trying to prevent his Uncle from finding out he was the assailant and Molly and her family and band from discovering he is actually a hated Haskell. Along the way Jimmy and the McCorkles and the band frequently break into some of the “swingiest, singiest, danciest” of songs.

The title of the movie comes from an actual radio giveaway program called Pot O’ Gold that played on NBC radio from September 26, 1939 to December 23, 1941 (and later with a new show on ABC radio from 1946 to 1947). The radio program was a big success with huge ratings and United Artists Studio decided to jump on the bandwagon with a film based on the radio show. The movie Pot O’ Gold premiered on movie screens on April 3, 1941, just eight months before the radio show Pot O’ Gold ended. In the movie, Paulette Goddard’s singing voice is actually dubbed by radio singer Vera Vann. Jimmy Stewart’s incredible harmonica playing was actually done off-screen by actor Jerry Adler who also taught Jimmy how to hold and mime playing for the movie. Although, Jimmy learned to play and love the harmonica and continued playing the instrument for years after the movie.

Pot O’ Gold is a sweet, funny romp. Jimmy is his usual nice guy self and Paulette is pretty and vivacious. They have a cute romance although in reality they did not like each other at all. Paulette reportedly dismissed Jimmy’s acting technique with the flippant comment “Anyone can swallow”. And Jimmy called this movie “his worse film”. But actually it’s not his “worse” film. The movie rockets along with toe tapping songs popping up every few minutes, including: “Pete the Piper”, “When Johnny Toots His Horn”, “A Knife, a Fork, and a Spoon”, “Do You Believe in Fairy Tales”, and “Broadway Caballero”. A couple of the songs I was still humming the day after I watched the movie. The harmonica playing is wonderful and the band members are all very talented including band leader Horace Heidt. He and his band also played on the real radio show Pot O’ Gold. Mary Gordon as Mom McCorkle and Charles Winniger as Uncle Charlie Haskell are absolutely hilarious combatants. He goes totally spastic over Mom and music and Mom slings the Irish fast and furious. Pot O’ Gold is just absolute fun. Keep an eye out at the end of the film for the reaction of the unsuspecting giveaway winner: “Heeeeeeeelga!” It’s a hoot! Audio is crisp and clear and the image is very good, not too dark and very little damage. Of course the best thing is that Pot O’ Gold is FREE in the Public Domain at the Internet Archive for anyone to watch any time they like. IA has two versions, Version #1 (the most popular) and Version #2. Enjoy!

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