As a resident of the state of Wisconsin as well a huge football fan, I’ve certainly been no stranger to the world of union disputes lately. With the labor unrest in Madison and the battle between NFL players and owners both dominating the news, it was quite timely but totally coincidental that I decided to watch a movie whose plot basically revolves around a union dispute.
However, there was just a *slight* difference in the amount of money being fought over in the movie. By slight I mean billions of dollars (in the NFL) vs. 7 ½ cents an hour. Sounds a bit ridiculous I know, but the movie I’m referring to is a musical comedy from 1957 called The Pajama Game, which centers around a union in a pajama factory fighting for a 7 ½ cent raise. With $1/hr. being the minimum wage in 1957, 7 ½ cents probably did seem like a lot back then, but it’s funny how insignificant it seems now compared to the amounts currently being contested.
Origins of The Pajama Game
The movie The Pajama Game, which was co-directed by George Abbott and Stanley Donen was based on a 1954 Tony award winning Broadway musical of the same name, which was in turn based on the novel by Richard Bissell. Bissell wrote the book about his experiences as vice-president of a pajama factory in Dubuque, Iowa. Most of the cast from the Broadway play returned for the movie version except for the female lead, Janis Paige, who was replaced by Doris Day. Frank Sinatra was reportedly offered the male lead, but when he turned it down, John Raitt (father of singer Bonnie Raitt) was brought back to recreate his Broadway role.
Wonderful Song and Dance Numbers
As you might expect from a Doris Day movie, The Pajama Game featured many memorable songs all of which were written by the duo of Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. One of the more well known songs and a highlight for me was the song “Hey There” which John Raitt, in his wonderful baritone voice, essentially sang as a duet with himself after recording and then singing along with the first part of the song on a memo machine.
The movie also included some great dance numbers featuring the choreography of Bob Fosse. The two numbers that stood out as being the most special to me were danced to the songs “Hernando’s Hideaway” and “Steam Heat,” and both featured the actress and dancer, Carol Haney. Many consider the “Steam Heat” routine to be the highlight of the entire movie, and I can’t say that I disagree. Even if you’re not typically a fan of dance, it is a number that you really need to see to understand how wonderful it is.
Another highlight of the movie for me was the work of the husband-and-wife design team of William and Jean Eckart, who designed the costumes for The Pajama Game. I loved the summer dresses that the women were wearing in a dance number that took place in a park and was set to the song “Once a Year Day”. Unfortunately, I watched the movie through Netflix Instant, and the screen quality was poor so the colors were not very vibrant. I plan on watching it again on DVD in order to see the colors and the costumes more clearly, and I would recommend you do the same if you plan on watching it. And I *would* highly recommend watching The Pajama Game especially if you are a fan of musicals, Doris Day, or Bob Fosse.
What is your favorite movie that was based on a Broadway play?
P.S. If you like vintage clothing, check out this cool post I found on the blog Sewing Vintage, which shows various pajama styles from the 40’s and 50’s. If I knew how to sew, I’d totally be making the bell bottom pajamas!