Helen Morgan Story, The (1957): Michael Curtiz Biopic Starring Paul Newman and Ann Blyth

Warner had the rights to “The Helen Morgan Story” since 1942, a year after the famous singer died, but due to casting and screenplay problems, Michael Curtiz’s production was delayed by years.


Newman, then 32, is well cast as prohibition-era gangster and bootlegger Larry Maddux, but Ann Blyth gives an unconvincing performance as Helen in this fictionalized, maudlin story, which whitewashed many the harsher facts of the famed singer’s career and life.

Curtiz had previously directed Ann Blyth as Joan Crawford’s daughter Vida in the 1945 noir melodrama, “Mildred Pierce,” which earner her a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.  But he got a more exciting turn from Newman as the opportunistic, toughly insensitive Maddux, and his charismatic persona made it easier to believe why women like Morgan would be infatuated with him.

The rise and fall yarn follows Helen Morgan from her song-dance days in a Chicago amusement park, where she meets the smooth promoter Maddux, through her abortive beauty contest triumph in Canada, of which she was robbed because she was not Canadian, to her encounter with the lawyer Russell Wade (Richard Carlson) and her on-again-off-again destructive affair with Maddux, who periodically deserts her, each time leaving her more wounded and jaded.


He compensates for his failure to give Helen emotional security by booking her on several singing gigs, but he betrays her when he tips off the police to raid a New York spot in which she is singing because he has quarreled with the owner over bootlegging turf.  In jail, Helen appeals to Wade, who obtains her release and begins romancing her.  The publicity over the raid catapults her into engagements that make her the toast of Broadway for her piano-top, heart-in-her-voice style.  Morgan’s famous tunes, “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man” and “My Bill,” are dubbed for Blyth by Gogi Grant.

Morgan’s romance with Wade withers when she learns he is married, and Maddux comes back into her life.  Though disillusioned with him, she cannot resist him.  Then Maddux suggests that the wealthy attorney purchase a nightclub for Morgan and him as front man, and to grant her security, Wade consents.

The opening night of The House of Morgan is a successful affair, and when Ziegfeld casts her as Julie in “Showboat” in 1927, she becomes the Queen of Broadway.  When she learns that Wade, not Maddux, backs her club, and that the latter has been exploiting her fame to further his own interests, she breaks up with him-again.  Wade’s wife visits Morgan in her dressing room, claiming she would never grant him a divorce.  As a result, beginning a slide down, Morgan turns to the bottle, and further tragedy strikes when revenue agents break up her club.  She begins losing jobs because of drunkenness, and goes to Europe.  The stock-market crash wipes out her savings, and Maddux is wounded and sent to jail after hijacking a warehouse.

With pathos and self-pity, Morgan simply drinks herself to the gutter.  Wade traces her in a Harlem dive and tries to help her but it’s too late.  She winds up in an alcoholic ward, where Maddux is allowed to visit her, and for the first time, declares his love for her. When her illness is cured, Maddux takes her to her old club, where presumably Broadway’s elite is waiting to celebrate her comeback.  With tears in her eyes, she sings emotionally heartfelt torch songs.


Curtiz’s helming is reliably solid, but he is defeated by the sentimental and contrived screenplay, credited to Oscar Saul, Dean Riesner, Stephen Longstreet, and Nelson Gidding (other scribes contributed but are uncredited), which deviates substantially from any factual account of Morgan’s life.




Ann Blyth

Paul Newman

Richard Carlson

Gene Evans

Alan King

Cara Williams

Virginia Vincent

Walter Woolf King

Dorothy Green

Ed Platt

Warren Douglas

Sammy White

Peggy De Castro

Cheri De Castro

Babette De Castro

Jimmy McHugh

Rudy Vallee (as himself)

Walter Winchell (as himself)



A Warner release of a Martin Rackin production.

Directed by Michael Curtiz.

Screenplay by Oscar Saul, Dean Riesner, Stephen Longstreet, and Nelson Gidding.

Camera, Ted McCord.

Art Director, John Beckman.

Musical numbers staged by LeRoy Prinz.

Songs sung by Gogi Grant.

Editor, Frank Bracht.

Running time, 117 mninutes.