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Saturday, January 19, 2013

"Everybody Has Something To Hide!" (Mata Hari)

Marisa Mell rehearsing her dancing steps for Mata Hari

During the autumn of 1967 Marisa Mell was rehearsing in America for her leading part as Mata Hari in the David Merrick musical with the same name. The promotional wagon was in full swing and gearing up for the January 13th premiere in New York City at the Alvin Theatre on Broadway. First the Broadway show should have some pre-Broadway shows in the cities of  Washington DC at the National Theatre from November 13th untill December 3rd, Boston at the Colonial Theatre from December 5th untill December 17th  and Philadelphia at the Shubert Theatre from December 20th untill January 6th. 

Vincenti Minnelli giving instructions to Pernell Roberts and Marisa Mell

Although Vincenti Minnelli had some serious movie flops at the box office in the years prior to his directional stint for Mata Hari his name still had some weight in the movie and theatre business and of course the American audience still linked him to his former wife Judy Garland and daughter Liza Minnelli so the producer David Merrick took him under contract to direct his new musical hoping to gain momentum by attaching his name to the project. Although David Merrick was not sure if Vincenti Minnelli could achieve his task in making the musical a success on Broadway the next step in his plan was to surround Vincentti Minnelli with a group of professionals like Martha Schlamme as co-singer or stage designer Jo Melziner or choreografer Jack Cole or wardrobe designer Irene Sharaff.  Even with the help of those professionals the rehearsals and the end product was a disaster from the beginning. Not only because Vincenti Minnelli saw this project as a movie on stage giving the cast a lot of difficulties to perform but also because the script was boring and uninspired from the first page. But that was no problem for producer David Merrick. He told casting director Hugh Fordin when asked about the bad state of the script: "I don't care! It is not my money! It is RCA/Victor's money!". Record company RCA as the major investor of the musical hoped to make a lot of money on selling records of the original cast when the musical became a hit on Broadway like they did in the past with other musicals. An official record of the musical was never to be produced after the terrible first performance in Washington D.C.

Pernell Robert and W.B. Brydon confront Marisa Mell

For the role of Mata Hari's lover Captain Lafarge the role was first offered to French movie super star and singer Yves Montand. After his decline the role was offered to tv's western "Bonanza" star Pernell Roberts. After six years playing the role of son Adam Cartwright he left the show to become part of the Mata Hari cast. Marisa Mell was not cast by director Hugh Fordin but by Denise Minnelli, then wife of Vincenti Minnelli. The story goes that she saw Marisa Mell as a model in photo shoots in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. They both met in Rome and had lunch together. Denise Minnelli was completely smitten with the European beauty of Marisa Mell, especially her husky sexy voice. She told her husband later via cable: "She is your girl!". Euginia Sheppard, reporter of the Washington Post Times Herald was also present at that lunch and she remarked afterwards that Denise Minnelli spoke only Italian with Marisa Mell  and had completely forgotten to ask her if she could speak English and could sing. Marisa Mell could both not. Oeps! Casting director Hugh Fordin later told when asked why Marisa Mell got the part, that she only got it because she had a love affair with Denise Minnelli.

Pernell Robert and Martha Schlamme try to comfort Marisa Mell

Martha Schlamme was Austrian just like Marisa Mell. She was famous for her folk song repertoire but also sang opera and musicals. During her career she also became a very well known recording artist especially singing work of German composer Kurt Weil and Israeli composer Nachum Nardi. She died in 1985 at age 62 from a stroke while on stage performing in Jamestown, New York. Marisa Mell is wearing in this picture a top by French fashion designer André Courrèges, who was at that time very en vogue with his space like fashion creations, having a big fan in Audrey Hepburn. What is also strange is that Marisa Mell and Pernell Roberts are both wearing an Ankh pendant. The Ankh is regarded as an Egyptian symbol of "Life". Does this mean that they were a couple during the production and rehearsals of Mata Hari?

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