The Short List: Carol Haney

On the list of musicals I don't like, The Pajama Game ranks pretty high. Almost nothing in it appeals to me and some of it, like the Once a Year number at the company picnic, seems almost too cute to stomach. I can't deny the talent and likability of John Raitt and Doris Day (even if Day seems a little half-hearted) but there's still very little here to inspire me or catch my interest.

Except Carol Haney.

She has the supporting role as Gladys Hotchkiss, a role created from two separate characters for her after impressing the director with her talents. She went on to win the Tony for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical and then reprised her role for the film (she had small parts in a few other films but this was her one major role). And thank god she did because she carries the whole damn thing and does it without missing a beat. Her incredible charisma and "playing to the rafters" style clearly caught the eye of everyone involved in the original Broadway production because she's the lead dancer and singer of every important/good number in the show/movie: Hernando's Hideaway, Steam Heat and, hell, even that Once a Year number I don't like has its moments: the moments when Carol Haney's the main dancer on screen.

She's also an effective comedian, even if her delivery style is B-I-G with a capitol every-damn-letter. But that's the thing; The Pajama Game, about pajama factory union workers trying for more pay while finding love on the job, is pretty dull storytelling that only benefits from the electric style of a Haney. In fact, in as far as it does entertain, it entertains mainly because it has some engaging numbers and those numbers are only engaging because 1) Bob Fosse choreographs them and 2) Carol Haney performs them. Had those two not been involved I don't think this would have ever made it out of previews (well, okay, it would've but it wouldn't have been the same). Sometimes the talents of a great choreographer and dancer can make a show, and this is one of those cases.

But Carol Haney did so much more. She assisted Gene Kelly with the choreography of every major film he did and went on to win three more Tony awards for her own choreography on Broadway. Sadly, Carol died at the age of 39 from pneumonia, made worse by diabetes. She was an immense talent and her one major film credit, The Pajama Game, shows her at her best. Thank goodness we have it.

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The Short List, so far, can be viewed here.