Pigskin Parade (1936): College Musical, Featuring Judy Garland and Betty Grable

Fox’s clunky collage musical, “Pigskin Parade,” is now best-known for featuring two young actresses that would become major starts in the 1940s: Judy Garland and Betty Grable.

This was not Garland’s first film—“Every Sunday,” made in the same year at MGM and co-starring Deanna Durbin was—but “Pigskin Parade” was Garlan’s only loan-out from MGM during her long tenture there.

The movie, decently (but no more) directed by David Butler, and produced by Darry; F. Zanuck, was a hybrid, combining the formula of colle footbal movie and that of a campus musical comedy, a popular combo at the time.

Even by 1930s standards, the movie, scripted by Harry Tugend, Jack Yellan, and William Conselman (based on a story by Art Sheekman, Nat Perrin, and Mark Kelly), is verbose and disjointed, but some of the songs are good, and some of the comic antics and shticks funny.

The plot kicks in, when the Yale University football team, looking for a credible but not too tough opponent for a charity game, accidentally invites the team from tiny Tesax State University (enrollment 700) instead of the University of Texas (which is ten times bigger).

Texas State has also just gotten a new football coach, Slug Winters (Jack Haley), who’s had a lot of success coaching high school back in Flushing, New York, but still has to prove himself with college players.

He arrives for his job with his brassy, outspoken, and unpleasant wife (Patsy Kelly) just ahead of the invitation from Yale, which nearly sends them running back to New York. Through sheer luck and Mrs. Winters’ smarts, however, they figure out a way they can meet the Yale team on the field and not get steamrollered. Instead, they come up with a fast, highly mobile brand of football that makes them contenders, but then they lose their star-player.

Mrs. Winters manages to stumble onto Amos Dodd (Stuart Erwin), an Arkansas farm boy who developed his arm by tossing watermelons around, and brings him and his sister (Judy Garland) to the college. But now they have to make Amos, who never finished high school, eligible, and keep him interested enough in the team and the college to get him to the game.

Stuart Erwin plays Amos Dood, a farmer who is recruited for a college football team, because he can hurl melons!    Though he is cast as the lead, Erwin was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor, in the first year of that category (he didn’t win, see below).

The movie aso features Jack Haley (who would become Judy’s co-star in the 1939 “The Wizard of Oz”), Ptasy Kelly, and Elish Cook, Jr.

It’s noteworthy,that the critics of the time noticed Garland’s talent, but did not go out of their way in praising her work as Erwin’s young sister.  The N.Y. Times, for example, wrote: “Also in the newcomer category is Judy Garland, about 12 or 13 now, about whom the West Coast hs been enthusing as a vocal find.  She’s cute, not too pretty, but a pleasingly fetching personality, who certainly knows how to sell a pop.”

Oscar Nominations:

Supporting Actor: Stuart Erwin

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The Best Supporting Actor winner was Walter Brennan for “Come and Get It.”

About Stuart Erwin

Erwin achieved his greatest fame on TV, as one of the medium’s first stars, in the sitcom, “The Trouble With Father,” which was later renamed into “The Stuart Erwin Show.”