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Olga San Juan: One Touch of Olga

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Posted: Wednesday, January 8, 2014 7:21 pm

The 1940s were glamorous, but turbulent, years in Hollywood. While World War II raged, the aggressors barred American films from vast swaths of the European and Asian markets. How could film studios make up for this loss of revenue? The moguls looked southward for an answer and began cultivating the neglected Latin American market in hopes of making up some of their box office losses.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration earlier had adopted a "Good Neighbor Policy" with the Latin American nations. One of the policy’s ideas was to use various cultural exchanges to build friendly relations with our neighbors to the south. By 1940, with things looking bleak for our democratic friends in Europe, it seemed more vital than ever for the US to become a "good neighbor" to Latin America. Thus, the 1940s became the decade of "Pan-Americana." Suddenly, all things Latin were in vogue. Glitzy nightclubs with Latin themes became the rage where Americans danced to sizzling sambas, melodious merengues, romantic rumbas, and beguiling boleros. Conga lines became a national fad.

As Latin music swept America, Hollywood musicals syncopated to the South American beat. Latin entertainers were spotlighted in flashy Technicolor production numbers. The fabulous Carmen Miranda, "The Brazilian Bombshell", with her platform shoes, outrageous costumes and amazing tutti frutti turbans piled high with tropical fruits and flowers became an overripe sensation. How the movie-going public loved the exotic Latin bombshells!

One particular favorite of the era, while not widely remembered today, was a vivacious charmer named Olga San Juan. A delectable American girl of Puerto Rican descent, the petite Olga possessed a curvaceous figure, and a delightful singing voice. Amazingly, she also was an accomplished actress and comedienne. Tiny, dark-haired, dark-eyed Olga had a bright, flavorful, fiery personality that often drew comparisons to Carmen Miranda. There were similarities in that Olga was also a small, spunky, scene-stealing bombshell like Miranda. Olga also could explode into fervid Spanish and demolish the English language reminiscent of the way Miranda mangled English and lapsed into florid Portuguese when excited. Olga, on the other hand, also could speak perfect English flavored with a subtle hint of a charming Spanish accent. Performing dazzling musical numbers in elaborate native costumes, Olga, like Carmen, provided a welcome distraction to American audiences. During her heyday, she was dubbed, "The Puerto Rican Pepperpot." If Olga San Juan was in a movie, the audience was guaranteed a fun-filled time.

Overall, Olga San Juan was a more versatile performer than Miranda in that she frequently played non-Latin roles. In one movie, Olga even portrayed a Norwegian barmaid—something Carmen Miranda never could have done. In a bevy of musicals and comedies during the war and post-war years, Olga enlivened her films with a spicy blend of Latin glamour and all-American pizzazz. The results were irresistible. During the war years and after, Olga often posed for glamorous pin ups, providing the armed forces with a sexy image of an effervescent Latin dream girl.

Olga San Juan was born on March 16, 1927 in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, New York. Her family returned to Puerto Rico when Olga was three, but in a few years they moved back to the States and settled in the Spanish Harlem section of New York City.

Olga began taking dancing lessons at the age of three. Impatiently, the ambitious Mrs. San Juan pushed her talented little daughter into the show business limelight. By age eleven Olga, along with five other young girls, performed the fandango for President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House.

As an attractive teenager, Olga performed at such swank Manhattan night spots as El Morocco and the Copacabana. Olga subsequently appeared as a dancer with Tito Puente, the famed jazz and mambo musician who earned the title, "The King of Latin Music."

Olga next appeared on various radio programs. In the early 1940s, she also formed a popular nightclub act, Olga San Juan and Her Rumba Band and appeared in various Manhattan clubs. Soon, she attracted the attention of Paramount Pictures and was signed to a contract with the studio in 1943. Paramount’s star-making machinery went to work publicizing their new Latin starlet. Later in her career, determined to stand out, Olga decided to become a dyed-blonde Latin bombshell in her movies.

Olga made her screen debut in the Paramount Musical Parade short, Caribbean Romance (1943). Directed by Lester Fuller, Caribbean Romance was a pleasant miniature musical comedy featuring Olga as a tropical senorita, along with Eric Blore, Mabel Paige, Jimmy Lydon and Marie "The Body" McDonald. The Musical Parade shorts were designed to play on the same bill with the studio’s feature attractions. As a screen newcomer, Olga made a lively impression on audiences.

Olga made her feature film debut in Paramount’s south sea island musical spoof, Rainbow Island (1944), starring the studio’s sarong queen Dorothy Lamour, along with comedians Eddie Bracken and Gil Lamb. Shot in vivid Technicolor, Rainbow Island featured handsome Barry Sullivan, Forrest Orr, Reed Hadley, Marc Lawrence and Anne Revere as the island’s ruler Queen Okalana. When three merchant seamen (Bracken, Lamb and Sullivan) flee the Japanese and seek refuge on a Pacific palm-tree paradise, they encounter a white doctor (Orr) and his lovely raised-in-the-native style daughter Lona (Lamour). The natives are a hostile tribe and plan to sacrifice the sailors for trespassing on their sacred ground . . . until they discover Bracken resembles one of their native gods.

Directed by Ralph Murphy, Rainbow Island is filled with native dances, melodious tunes, wacky comedy and lots of shots of luscious Lamour in her trademark sarong. Dotty plays it all tongue in-cheek and sings the lovely, "Beloved" by Ted Koehler and Burton Lane. Olga plays Miki, one of Lamour’s handmaidens. Rainbow Island was diverting escapist entertainment for wartime audiences and a popular feature film debut for Olga. Future stars Yvonne De Carlo and Elena Verdugo were among Rainbow Island’s beauteous female population.

Olga’s second Musical Parade short, Bombalera, was released on February 9, 1945. Directed with flair by Noel Madison, the compact 20-minute musical comedy showcased Olga as entertainer Rose Perez, "La Bomba" singing and dancing infectious numbers and billed as "The Cuban Cyclone." Bombalera also featured Johnny Johnston (here billed as Stan Johnston), Mikhail Rasumny Frank Faylen and Billy Daniel. Bombalera earned an Academy Award nomination in the best short subject category for 1945.

Olga’s third and last Musical Parade short film was The Little Witch (1945). In this sprightly musical comedy, Olga portrays Guadalupe, the singing and dancing star of a South American nightclub. Guadalupe loves handsome Pedro Castillo (Bob Graham), an orchestra leader and vocalist. Pedro’s wealthy parents (Pedro de Cordoba and Adeline De Walt Reynolds) believe Guadalupe is after their son’s future inheritance and so oppose the romance. In the true tradition of romance and rumba, Guadalupe convinces Pedro and his parents of her sincere affections and wins her man. Olga is a delight in this short and performs her songs with gusto. A fast-moving musical pastiche, The Little Witch received a short subject Academy Award nomination for 1945.

Olga was featured next in Paramount’s Out of This World (1945), a pleasant black-and-white musical spoof satirizing mellifluous male crooners and the frenzy they create in hordes of screaming and swooning bobbysoxers. Directed by Hal Walker and produced by Sam Coslow, Out of This World starred the studio’s resident comic Eddie Bracken as Herbie Fenton, a Western Union messenger who wants to become a crooner. The movie’s novelty is that every time Herbie opens his mouth to sing, out comes the voice of Bing Crosby! The film’s opening credits even include the statement that Mr. Bracken’s songs are sung for him by an old friend of his and yours.

The film’s plot has Herbie (Bracken) joining a struggling all-girl orchestra, "Betty Miller and her Sirens", led by vivacious Betty Miller (Diana Lynn) as the band’s female singer who doubles on the piano. With golden-voiced Herbie Fenton on board, the orchestra finally begins to achieve success, and Herbie falls for Betty. Veronica Lake plays Dorothy Dodge, a savvy secretary with a theatrical booking agency who helps Herbie to become a bobbysoxer idol pursued by legions of young females. (Unfortunately, the sultry Lake’s famous peek-a-boo hairstyle is only on view once in the movie.)

In Out of This World, Olga portrays a character named, what else, Olga! Olga is the orchestra’s trumpet player who doubles as a member of the band’s singing sweethearts, The Glamourette Quartet. The other members of the quartet, who also play instruments in the band, are Nancy Porter, Audrey Young and Carol Deere. The four are first seen in a number called, "The Ghost of Mr. Chopin," which attempts to blend classical music with swing. After the four young ladies perform a snappy introduction, the number segues into Diana Lynn’s brilliant interpretation of Chopin’s "Minute Waltz." (Miss Lynn was a concert pianist before being discovered by Paramount.) At the conclusion of the "Minute Waltz," the quartet concludes the sequence with a jazzy refrain of "The Ghost of Mr. Chopin" by Sam Coslow.

Later in the movie, The Glamourette Quartet return as backup singers while Herbie (Bing) croons "June Comes Around Every Year" by Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen. The silky, smooth harmony provided by the quartet is exactly what this romantic number needs. Olga also appears in various non-musical scenes throughout the movie offering witty observations to the band members.

In "It Takes A Little Bit More" by Sam Coslow, the film’s big production number finale, the tune is used to incorporate several specialty numbers by various cast members, such as Paramount’s wildly-energetic funny lady Cass Daley. One terrific section features four famous piano maestros, Carmen Cavallaro, Ted Fio Rito, Henry King and Ray Noble, performing a splendid piano ensemble simultaneously.

Olga is spotlighted in her own number, a scintillating samba to the tune of "Tico Tico." Clad in a long black rhinestone studded split skirt, black halter top, with black rhinestone bracelets on each wrist and a black feathered headdress, Olga shakes her shoulders, sways her hips and swings herself across the stage with abandon. She looks adorable in her Edith Head costume moving gloriously to the sensuous rhythm of the song. At last, Olga is given the special treatment she deserves.

Also featured in Out of This World are comic Harry Parke, aka radio’s Parkyakarkus, with Florence Bates, Don Wilson, Mabel Paige and Esther Dale. Even Bing Crosby’s four sons, Gary, Phillip, Dennis and Lindsay make an appearance as kids in the audience at one of the concerts. Perhaps due to the novelty of Crosby’s celebrated voice issuing from Bracken’s mouth, not to mention the popularity of Bing’s recording of the title song by Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen, the picture performed exceptionally well at the box office.

Paramount’s Duffy’s Tavern (1945) was loosely based on the popular ‘40s radio series starring Ed Gardner as Archie whose famous tagline was: "Duffy’s tavern, Archie the manager speaking, Duffy aint here." Produced by Joseph Sistrom and Danny Dare and directed by Hal Walker, the film has Archie and his boozy patron, Michael O’Malley (Victor Moore), trying to enlist Hollywood stars in staging a huge benefit show to rescue O’Malley’s failing recording studio. There was also a mild romantic subplot involving O’Malley’s daughter Peggy (Marjorie Reynolds) and handsome Danny Murphy (Barry Sullivan).

The film was a flimsy excuse for Paramount to team the talents of nearly every star in the studio’s stable to perform songs, dances and comedy skits as part of an all-star extravaganza. The starry assemblage all playing themselves included Bing Crosby, Betty Hutton, Paulette Goddard, Alan Ladd, Dorothy Lamour, Eddie Bracken Brian Donlevy, Sonny Tufts, Veronica Lake, Arturo de Cordova, Barry Fitzgerald, Cass Daley, Diana Lynn, Robert Benchley, William Demarest, Howard Da Silva, Billy De Wolfe, the four Crosby kids, William Bendix, Joan Caulfield, Gail Russell, Helen Walker and Jean Heather! Also featured in the cast were Ann Thomas, Walter Abel, Johnny Coy, Charles Cantor, Eddie Green, Frank Faylen, Noel Neill, Audrey Young and Grace Albertson. Olga’s contribution to this spectacular parade of personalities was a brief turn as a cute dancer named Gloria.

Duffy’s Tavern contains some amusing comedy routines and catchy tunes, the best of which is probably Betty Hutton’s frantic rendition of "Doin’ It The Hard Way" by Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen. All that’s missing is Technicolor to show off the high-powered performers. The 1940s movie going public’s fascination with all-star musical revues guaranteed big box office returns for Duffy’s Tavern, despite its contrived plot.

Olga’s next screen appearance was in Paramount’s 20-minute featurette, Hollywood Victory Caravan (1945). Produced with the cooperation of the U.S. Treasury Department Finance Division and the Office of War Information, the short was yet another star-studded variety show, but with a special purpose. The film was made to promote war bonds for one final victory loan to help bring home the troops, and provide needed medical care, hospitalization, rehabilitation, and economic assistance to returning veterans.

Hollywood Victory Caravan’s slim story line centered on a young woman’s attempts to secure train reservations from Los Angeles to visit her wounded brother in a Washington, D.C. army hospital. Since seats on trains were nearly impossible to obtain at war’s end, she is out of luck. However, a reservation agent informs her that the government is adding a special railcar to the Washington-bound train to transport movie stars appearing at the Hollywood Victory Caravan bond rally. He suggests she arrive early the next morning at Paramount and attempt to contact Bing Crosby who may be able to help her. She manages to elude the studio cop (William Demarest) at the Paramount gate and gain entrance to a soundstage where rehearsals are underway for the big show. Crosby sympathizes with her plight and convinces Bob Hope, who is hosting the rally, to share a berth with him so the young lady can board the Hollywood Victory Caravan train.

In Washington, Crosby accompanies the young lady and her wheel-chair bound brother to the show. Here, Bob Hope introduces Olga San Juan, who will sing a song that he says "is south of the border and north of the Hays office!" The curtains part, revealing Olga leaning against an artificial tropical tree; she is clad in a native costume with billowy skirt, off-the-shoulder blouse, platform shoes, a bandanna topped with a huge straw hat and loads of beads, bracelets and earrings. A four-piece rumba band accompanies as Olga sings and dances to a fast-moving, Spanish-language number called, "Rumba Matumba," and turns up the heat with this frenetic shoulder-shaking, hip-swaying torrid exhibition that provides a rousing opening number for the rally.

Next Hope introduces Humphrey Bogart who takes the stage to urge audience support for the final victory loan. Hollywood Victory Caravan concludes with the patriotic number, "We’ve Got Another Bond to Buy," performed by Bing Crosby and the members of a navy choir. Although Hollywood Victory Caravan is a mere twenty minutes in length, it provides as much entertainment as many full-length features. And Olga’s number is a highlight.

Paramount’s rather disappointing musical remake of their True Confession (1937), which starred Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray, resulted in the uninspired Cross My Heart (1946) starring Betty Hutton and Sonny Tufts. The fantastic premise has Peggy Harper (Hutton), a chorus girl turned private secretary, confessing to a murder she didn’t commit in order to give her attorney boyfriend Oliver Clarke (Tufts) a chance to prove himself as a trial lawyer. His job of defending her promises to be tough because Peggy not only lies, she precedes each falsehood by thrusting her tongue in her cheek! Hutton tried her best to enliven the silly plot by performing five Johnny Burke-Jimmy Van Heusen tunes in her inimitably supercharged style. The zany farce seemed to pose a difficult challenge for director John Berry, and was nearly impossible for the wooden Sonny Tufts. Also in the cast were Ruth Donnelly, Rhys Williams, Al Bridge, Iris Adrian and Michael Chekov in the role played by John Barrymore in True Confession.

Unfortunately, in Cross My Heart, Olga was relegated to an uncredited role as a dancer in the chorus of the opening production number, "It Hasn’t Been Chilly In Chile" sung by Betty Hutton. Although listed in Olga’s filmography, it’s difficult to spot her among the dozen background dancers surrounding Hutton. One wonders what Paramount was thinking by wasting the talented Senorita San Juan in this, the low point of her career.

Despite their initial build up, Paramount had never thought to feature the Puerto Rican Pepperpot in a solid supporting role in a movie, or even a leading role in one of their minor musicals. Over at 20th Century-Fox, Olga’s contemporary, the flamboyant Carmen Miranda, was showcased in elaborate Technicolor musicals costarring with Alice Faye, Betty Grable and Vivian Blaine. Miranda was even top-starred in a couple of her musicals. At Paramount, the equally-talented Olga San Juan was allowed to languish in an unbilled bit in a black-and-white inane comedy. Perhaps realizing its mistake, Olga’s next screen role takes us from the ridiculous to the sublime when Paramount cast her in a film that would become the high point of her career.

Blue Skies (1946) was Paramount’s lavish $3 million Technicolor Irving Berlin musical re-teaming of Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, the stars of the studio’s hugely-successful Holiday Inn (1942). Based on a story by Berlin, Blue Skies was directed by Stuart Heisler. It was initially to be produced by Mark Sandrich, who cast dancer Paul Draper in the Astaire role. Nine days into shooting, however, Sandrich suffered a fatal heart attack and was replaced by Sol C. Siegel, who, in turn, replaced Paul Draper with Fred Astaire.

Blue Skies offers a cornucopia of some twenty Irving Berlin songs, four of which were newly composed for the film. The nostalgic story recounted in flashbacks by Astaire covers the period 1919 to 1946, focusing on the personal and professional lives of a former vaudeville team, Johnny Adams (Bing Crosby) and Jed (Fred Astaire). Johnny is a carefree guy who can’t seem to settle down. He owns one nightclub after another, building each into a success before selling it and moving on to the next, each more lavish than the last. Jed (Fred) is a Broadway headliner starring in musical comedies, and like Johnny (Bing) he is romancing a lovely chorus girl Mary O’Hara (Joan Caulfield) who has to contend with these two rivals for her affections. Also prominent in the story are Johnny’s sidekick and headwaiter Tony (Billy De Wolfe) and peppery Latin singer and dancer Nita Nova (Olga San Juan), who performs at various times in both Johnny’s clubs and Jed’s Broadway shows. Nita also pursues a somewhat reluctant Tony romantically. After an off-and-on courtship, Mary and Johnny tie the knot and have a child. Then trouble arises in their marriage, giving Jed another chance, but Mary and Johnny reconcile, and by the end the future seems to hold nothing but blue skies.

Bing and Fred are splendid performing the bulk of the great Irving Berlin score. Joan Caulfield is beautiful, but rather languid as Mary. Joan’s not a musical actress, though she is featured in two numbers. In the movie’s opening production number, Caulfield is one of several elaborately-costumed chorus girls descending a staircase while Astaire sings and dances to "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody." Astaire picks her out of the chorus to do a few turns and spins around the stage with him, which she handles competently. Later, Mary (Caulfield), now a Broadway star, sings "Serenade To an Old-Fashioned Girl" backed by a male quartet. Joan’s vocals are dubbed by Betty Russell.

Olga San Juan’s contributions to Blue Skies are immense. Olga looks fabulous in this, her initial Technicolor feature. She’s a feast for the eyes in breathtaking gowns and costumes designed by Edith Head and Waldo Angelo. In the absence of a musical leading lady, all the female musical numbers are left for Olga to tackle, and tackle them she does with fiery brilliance. Olga performs three outstanding numbers here. We are introduced to Olga as the star of the floor show at an elegant nightclub, when early in the film Crosby and Astaire escort Joan Caulfield to a party in progress there. Olga appears in a clinging, yellow gown trimmed in sequins. Her hair is styled in an attractive upsweep and she holds a large, green ostrich fan in one hand. She sings the provocative Irving Berlin tune from 1919, "You’d Be Surprised." Olga moves around the floor, swaying her hips, shaking her bare shoulders and rolling her limpid brown eyes, as she tantalizes the men in the audience with her ostrich fan. Olga sings the tune in a saucy, suggestive manner caressing Berlin’s racy lyrics with her expressive eyes and body movements. Her vocalizing of lyrics like, "he doesn’t look very strong, but when you sit on his knees, you’d be surprised," is sheer delight. Her performance of "You’d Be Surprised" is infused with contagious charm. Olga even manages to make ostrich plumes sexy.

Later in the film, Bing Crosby is on stage at his latest nightclub performing Irving Berlin’s "I’ll See You In C-U-B-A" dressed in a red bolero jacket and Cuban-style fedora. "I’ll See You in C-U-B-A" is a musical valentine to a long-vanished Cuba where "dark-eyed Stellas light their fella’s panatelas." Olga joins him on stage. She is costumed in a sexy two-piece, white lace gown with bare midriff and split skirt which reveals her shapely legs. The ensemble is sprinkled with sequins and adorned with flashy jewelry. Her headdress consists of a matching white lace, cone-shaped hat accented with white feathers. Olga parades across the stage, showgirl-style, striking glamorous poses before she begins to sing with Crosby, adding her own brand of snappy counterpoint to the song. Bing flirts a bit with Olga and the two add a few Spanish phrases to the number. The song concludes with Bing and Olga leaving the stage together, presumably they will see each other soon in C-U-B-A. Olga is quite vivacious in this number and proves a fine vocal match for Crosby’s easy-going crooning.

Olga’s most exciting number in Blue Skies is set to Irving Berlin’s 1933 song, "Heat Wave." It’s a lavish production number set in a tropical Latin marketplace where beautiful women parade holding baskets of fruit on their heads and handsome men laze in the sun in tight white pants and striped form-fitting shirts. Fred Astaire is discovered here among the over-heated natives looking rather bored. He is clad in white pants, a blue blazer and jaunty cap. Olga is performing "Heat Wave" in an upbeat sensuous style. Her costume consists of a flowing, multi-layered split skirt in varying shades of pink, a pink-colored halter top with bare midriff and multi-colored, gaudy earrings, bracelets and a necklace of large beads. Her headdress must be seen to be believed, a pink turban-style hat with a pair of large rabbit-like ears decorating the front and a cluster of red flowers in back.

To satisfy 1946 censorship standards, the lyrics of the risqué song have been altered so "she started this heat wave by making her seat wave" becomes "she started this heat wave by making her feet wave." Singing this lyric, Olga exposes a high-heeled, pink satin pump on her dainty foot. At the sound of Olga’s singing, Astaire moves toward her. As she finishes her song, Olga leads Astaire onto the floor and they begin to dance. It’s not a romantic dance, but an unsmiling duel of sexual attraction executed to a mambo drumbeat that accelerates during the dance and provides most of the music for their dance duet.

Astaire then spins’ Olga to the side and shatters the Latin mood by performing a jazzy dance solo backed by a native chorus. Olga returns and leads Astaire up a flight of stairs to an overhead bridge where he is suddenly overcome by dizziness due to drinking before the performance. As he dances around Olga, the dizziness causes him to plunge from the bridge to the stage below as the curtain rings down on his dancing career. Horrified, Olga watches in close-up.

"Heat Wave" offers a sensational display of Olga’s singing and dancing abilities as she proves a tremendously talented dance partner for Fred Astaire. Blue Skies also allows Olga to display her flair for comedy in several amusing scenes with Billy De Wolfe. In addition, Olga excels in a dramatic scene in which she visits Crosby and urges him to visit Caulfield and their child, Mary Elizabeth (Karolyn Grimes) for a possible reconciliation before she weds Astaire.

Blue Skies was the most financially-successful movie Olga San Juan would ever appear in, and a huge box office winner for Paramount. The movie earned nearly three times its original production cost of $3,000,000. Irving Berlin’s "You Keep Coming Back Like a Song" performed by Bing Crosby in the picture received an Academy Award nomination as 1946’s best original song. (The Oscar went to Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer for "On The Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe" performed by Judy Garland in MGM’s The Harvey Girls.)

Although released in late 1946, Blue Skies played the majority of its engagements in the following year and was listed among the top moneymaking films of 1947. Fred Astaire decided to retire from the movies after completion of Blue Skies to concentrate on his dance studios and his golf game. Fortunately, retirement would last only two years as Fred returned to the screen in Easter Parade (1948) replacing Gene Kelly.

Olga was next featured in Paramount’s mammoth all-star tribute to the charitable organization, the Variety Clubs International, Variety Girl (1947). The Variety Clubs International described as "The Heart Of Show Business" which beats constantly in behalf of the underprivileged children of the world, regardless of race, creed or color was formed by a group of theater managers after an abandoned infant girl was found in an empty movie house. A note from the child’s mother gave the baby’s name as Catherine.

Produced by Daniel Dare and directed by George Marshall, Variety Girl lensed in black-and-white showcased, according to studio publicity, featured 40 Paramount stars and supporting players in cameo roles performing songs, dances and comedy skits, or spotted on the Paramount lot where much of the movie takes place. Among the starry assemblage were Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Gary Cooper, Ray Milland, Alan Ladd, Barbara Stanwyck, Paulette Goddard, Dorothy Lamour, Sonny Tufts, Joan Caulfield, William Holden, Lizabeth Scott, Burt Lancaster, Gail Russell, Diana Lynn, Sterling Hayden, Robert Preston, Veronica Lake, John Lund, William Bendix, Cass Daley, Howard Da Silva, Macdonald Carey, Barry Fitzgerald, Billy De Wolfe, Patric Knowles, William Demarest, Mona Freeman, Cecil Kellaway, Virginia Field and directors Cecil B. DeMille, Mitchell Leisen and Frank Butler. Specialty numbers were performed by Pearl Bailey and Spike Jones and His City Slickers.

The slight story concocted to showcase all of the above marquee talent concerned the efforts of two young hopefuls to achieve Hollywood stardom. The now-adult Catherine Brown, played by Mary Hatcher billed as Paramount’s latest new star discovery, and the newly-blonde Olga arrive in tinseltown hoping for the big break. They become roommates by accident at a Hollywood girl’s club. Olga assumes the name of Amber La Vonne and confusion reigns supreme when brassy Amber and talented Catherine are mistaken for one another. Catherine is taken under the wing of Paramount’s head of talent Bob Kirby (DeForest Kelley) but can’t seem to avoid one mishap after another with reluctant studio head R. J. O’Connell (Frank Ferguson). Catherine manages to win an assignment in the Puppetoon cartoon, Romeow And JulieCat. In this filmed-in-Technicolor short, Catherine proves a success lending her speaking and lovely soprano singing voice to the animated JulieCat character.

Meanwhile, Olga, in a non-musical role, proceeds to steal Variety Girl in two hilarious comedy sequences as an overconfident Amber La Vonne attempts to attract the attention of producers and directors lunching at the famed Brown Derby restaurant by arranging to have herself paged several times over the restaurant’s public-address system. Her zany antics result in total pandemonium; but do attract the interest of Bob Kirby, the head of Paramount’s talent department, who offers her a screen test. Amber arrives at Paramount for her test in a flashy outfit and heavy makeup acting as if she is already a star. Promised a test with John Lund, Amber is vexed when William Bendix is substituted. Her diva-like hauteur infuriates Bendix and the director when she exclaims Bendix is all wrong for the role.

For the test, Amber is dressed in a frilly negligee serving a breakfast grapefruit to Bendix who promptly pushes it in her face. A second take results in another grapefruit in Olga’s face. On the third take, Olga manages to grab the fruit and, surprising Bendix, shoves it into his face. The scene ends in complete mayhem as Olga begins tossing dishes and pots and pans. She even delivers a swift kick in the Bendix rear as he attempts to crawl away. Exhibiting a delicious comic flair, Olga proves it takes a truly talented actress to effectively portray a not-so-talented one.

Later in Variety Girl, Olga is given the opportunity to sing at the Variety Club show emceed by Bob Hope. Olga reveals she can’t sing! So, Catherine is asked to dub Olga’s voice over the PA system sight unseen. Each time Olga begins the song, "He Can Waltz, " a glitch in the PA system causes her to pretend to faint and be carried from the stage. Finally, Olga is allowed to "sing" a few notes before she stops the show and reveals Catherine is the true vocalist. Catherine beautifully performs the song to the delight of the audience and a new star is born.

Variety Girl’s circus-themed finale begins with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope performing a duet to Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen’s "Harmony" in their patented signature style. Their routine leads into all the guest stars along with Olga and Mary Hatcher reprising "Harmony" as each of the stars is photographed in close-up. Olga is costumed in an abbreviated ringmaster outfit revealing her lovely legs. The film ends with a close up of Mary Hatcher surrounded by the Paramount stars logo. Variety Girl offered Olga a splendid opportunity to demonstrate her acting abilities and she looks quite glamorous in her blonde hairstyle. Variety Girl was rewarded with a major audience reception when it opened on August 29, 1947 and became one of the year’s top moneymakers for the studio. However, this would be Olga’s last film for Paramount.

On September 26, 1948, after a short courtship, Olga married actor Edmond O’Brien. The couple would have three children, Bridget, Maria and Brendan. O’Brien was born on September 10, 1915, in New York City, and made his Broadway debut at the age of 21 in 1936. His theater work led to a contract with RKO to appear in the plum supporting role of Gringoire in The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1939 with Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara. During the war he served in the Army Air Forces and acted in their highly successful Winged Victory stage show on Broadway (1943-44) billed as Pfc. Edmond O’Brien in the Irving Miller role. In the 20th Century Fox film version released in 1944 he played the same role but had risen in rank and so was billed as Sgt. Edmond O’Brien. After the war, he resumed his film career and appeared in over sixty movies both as a supporting player and an occasional leading man. Perhaps his best remembered, role was as a poisoned man seeking his own murderer before he dies in D.O.A. (Dead On Arrival) in 1950. His other noteworthy films include The Killers (1946), White Heat (1949), Julius Caesar (1953), Pete Kelly’s Blues (1955), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and The Wild Bunch (1969). O’Brien won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor as a harried publicity agent in The Barefoot Contessa (1954). He was also nominated for his supporting role as an alcoholic U.S. senator in Seven Days in May (1964). O’Brien made numerous radio and television appearances during his lengthy career and appeared in his final feature film, 99 and 44/100% Dead in 1974. O’Brien previously had been married to actress Nancy Kelly from February 19, 1941 to February 2, 1942.

Olga’s next three movies were all produced by Universal International. Are You With It? (1948) was a lively musical comedy based on the Sam Perrin-George Balzer Broadway show. The black-and-white feature was produced by Robert Arthur and directed by Jack Hively, with songs by Sidney Miller and Inez James. Donald O’Connor starred as Milton Haskins, a mathematical genius employed by the Nutmeg Insurance Company who is fired from his job when it is discovered he made a mistake in calculating auxiliary rates by misplacing a decimal point. Olga is cast as Vivian Reilly, the boss’ secretary and Milton’s fiancée. Milton meets carnival pitchman Goldie McGoldrick (Lew Parker recreating his role from the original Broadway production) who persuades him to join the traveling troupe. Goldie figures Milton’s mathematical knowledge makes him a natural assistant at his Wheel of Fortune game at the Acres of Fun carnival. The carnival also includes a midway show starring luscious entertainer Bunny La Fleur (Martha Stewart) who has a yen for Goldie. When the show’s male performer turns up drunk, Milton is recruited to replace him, thus permitting Milton to become the carnival’s song-and-dance man and allowing Donald O’Connor to perform several energetic dance routines. Vivian (Olga) begs Milton to return to his job at the insurance firm, but he decides to remain with the carnival, so Vivian joins the show as a striptease artist. During the performance of the Donald O’Connor-Martha Stewart number, "Daddy Surprise Me," Olga appears on stage sporting two large feathered fans and presumably little else and begins her strip routine to the cheers of a mostly male audience.

Are You With It? ends with a production number in which Donald O’Connor sings "It Only Takes a Little Imagination" to the audience while Olga clad in tights is perched on a swinging pendulum. The scene fades into a medieval castle setting with Olga as a lovely princess singing and dancing to her only musical number in the movie. "I’m Looking for a Prince of a Fellow" is performed in a swinging, effervescent manner, with Olga in a flowing gown with a long veil on her head topped with a sparkling tiara. A chorus of ladies-in-waiting appear on stage and perform a jazzy background ballet. The number concludes with O’Connor joining Olga for a romantic dance routine. The number, though set in the Middle Ages, is strictly 1948 in performance. The film’s supporting cast includes Walter Catlett, Pat Dane, Ransom Sherman and Noel Neill. Are You With It? was released on March 20, 1948 and emerged as a pleasant musical entertainment, if not a spectacular one.

One Touch Of Venus (1948) is the movie version of the 1943 Broadway musical starring Mary Martin. Produced by Lester Cowan and directed by William A. Seiter, the movie version’s music was composed by Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash, with new lyrics by Ann Ronell. Actress Mary Pickford and producer Sam Coslow had originally planned to film One Touch of Venus in 1945 for United Artists release with a cast that included Mary Martin repeating her stage role as Venus and co-starring Frank Sinatra, Clifton Webb and Bert Lahr. However, Pickford felt that only Clifton Webb had real box office appeal and hesitated to commit $2 million of her own money to the production. After much deliberation, Pickford finally sold the film rights to Universal-International.

Three years later in 1948, Universal-International released One Touch of Venus with a completely new cast. The studio borrowed luscious Ava Gardner from MGM to portray Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. Co-starring were Robert Walker, Dick Haymes, Eve Arden, Olga San Juan and Tom Conway.

Filmed in black-and-white—Technicolor would have suited it better—One Touch of Venus is a whimsical musical fantasy set primarily in the Savory department store in New York City owned by Whitfield Savory II (Tom Conway) where an extremely rare statue of the Anatolian Venus is to be put on display. Prior to the unveiling of the priceless artifact, window trimmer Eddie Hatch (Robert Walker) kisses the statue which comes to life in the form of Ava Gardner. The human "Venus" immediately falls in love with the befuddled Eddie. While Venus merrily pursues Eddie, his romantic life is complicated by his engagement to the vivacious store beautician Gloria (Olga San Juan).

One Touch of Venus includes only a handful of songs used in the Broadway production. The title song is sung by a vocal group over the opening credits. Ava Gardner (vocals dubbed by Eileen Wilson) seductively performs show’s hit number, "Speak Low," a torchy blues song, quite well on several occasions. She sings it to Robert Walker in the Central Park sequence. Dick Haymes and Olga also appear in the Central Park scene and Haymes reprises "Speak Low." The sequence was edited so that, although in different scenes, Ava and Haymes appear to be blending their voices in a duet. The Central Park scene also includes the movie’s only semi production number with Haymes and Olga singing and dancing to a song especially written for the film, "Don’t Look Now But My Heart Is Showing." They are joined by several other couples dancing together on the park’s bandstand. "Don’t Look Now But My Heart Is Showing" is one of the highlights of the film. Earlier, Ava, Eve and Olga perform the song, "That’s Him", an ode to the respective men in their lives. The witty lyrics are executed in the store’s beauty salon where Olga is styling Venus’ hair into a sleek 1948 look demanded by Mr. Savory in his efforts to turn Venus into a 1940s glamour girl.

One Touch of Venus offers Olga San Juan one of her best non-Latin roles. Her Gloria is an intelligent, spirited career girl who appears quite chic in her Orry-Kelly designed fashions. Olga sparkles in her romantic scenes opposite Dick Haymes and the two are delightful in the excellent "Don’t Look Now But My Heart Is Showing" number. The sequence where Olga discovers Eddie (Robert Walker) is seeing Mr. Savory’s new glamour girl allows Olga to display her "pepperpot" temperament as she yells, tosses objects and slams doors. Olga accomplishes the nearly impossible feat of stealing One Touch of Venus from the ravishing Ava Gardner and the scene-stealing Eve Arden. One wonders how the film might have turned out had Olga San Juan been given the opportunity to portray Venus, a role she certainly could have tackled. While the film is entertaining, it seems to lack that one touch of sophistication such an ethereal fantasy needs. Instead, the whimsical fable is played for youthful innocence. Released in August 1948, the film performed moderately well at the box office.

After nearly a four-year absence from Hollywood, Norwegian born Olympic ice skating champion Sonja Henie returned to the screen in Universal-International’s musical romance, The Countess of Monte Cristo (1948). Sonja Henie had become a hugely-popular movie star at Twentieth Century-Fox beginning with 1936’s One In a Million, before going on to star in a string of box office hits throughout the 1930s and into the mid-1940s. After leaving Fox, Sonja appeared in her first Technicolor movie, It’s a Pleasure (1945). Sonja then concentrated on live appearances in her own ice skating revues which were extremely popular. Universal lured her back before the cameras with The Countess of Monte Cristo hoping to renew her box office magic. Produced by John Beck and directed by Frederick De Cordova, the black-and white feature co-starred Olga San Juan, Michael Kirby, Dorothy Hart, Arthur Treacher, Hugh French, Ransom Sherman and Arthur O’Connell.

The Countess of Monte Cristo is a featherweight pastiche enhanced by six ice skating sequences performed by Sonja Henie and three musical numbers composed by Jack Brooks and Saul Chaplin, all executed in a sprightly manner by Olga San Juan. The movie begins in Universal’s dreamland version of Oslo, Norway, where Karen Kirsten (Sonja) and Jenny Johnsen (Olga) are employed as barmaids at a local beer garden. Karen and Jenny circulate among the tavern’s customers smiling and offering frosty steins of cold beer. One of the patrons, Mr. Jensen (Arthur O’Connell), is an assistant director at National Pictures and he offers the girls an opportunity to appear in a movie. Karen and Jenny are dubious until Jensen convinces them his offer is on the level. Since our barmaids are entitled to a three-day holiday, the girls decide to report to the studio early the next morning.

At the studio, Karen and Jenny are told they will be playing The Countess of Monte Cristo and her maid. Provided with an ostentatious convertible automobile, Karen is costumed in a luxurious mink coat, while Jenny wears a maid’s uniform. The rear seat is filled with luggage befitting a countess. The movie’s director, Mr. Hansen (Ransom Sherman), instructs Karen to drive up to the hotel entrance set and hit her marks. The girls are to alight from the car announcing their identities. Jenny emerges, followed by Karen who promptly falls flat on her face. She informs the horrified director that the blame for her pratfall lies with the car which has no running board! Since the first take was a complete fiasco, Mr. Hansen orders a second take. In an aside to his assistant director, Mr. Hansen declares, "Their style of acting went out with chariots." This time, Karen purposely fails to stop the car, and instead, speeds off the outdoor set. After driving for hours, Karen informs Jenny they are headed for an expensive resort hotel and will have a glorious three-day vacation. Karen will pose as an aristocrat, the "Countess of Monte Cristo", and Jenny can be her maid. Jenny (Olga) remarks, "I always get the good parts." When Jenny asks how they are going to pay for it, Karen tells her they’ll pay with credit using the studio’s car, luggage, mink coat and her fake title. Karen has decided she is going to have a wonderful time at the resort, even if she has to spend the rest of her life paying it back.

Sonja Henie has no peer on ice and her skating numbers are the highpoint of The Countess of Monte Cristo. Staged by Catherine Littlefield with costumes by Billy Livingston, the routines are lavishly produced and impeccably executed. Sonja performs two of the numbers with co-star Michael Kirby, the handsome Canadian ice skating champion who made a brief foray into films. Perhaps the two most ambitious routines include a gorgeous waltz number on ice in which a Cinderella-style dream sequence allows Sonja and Kirby to demonstrate their extraordinary prowess surrounded by a squad of talented male and female skaters.

The movie’s finale is a dazzling South American number in which an exotically-costumed Sonja Henie demonstrates why she is queen of the ice performing a torrid samba backed by a flotilla of gaily-clad chorus girls and guys swaying to scintillating Latin rhythms guaranteed to melt the ice. It’s a routine that fairly cries for Technicolor. Sonja and co-star Michael Kirby sizzle as a skating team, but don’t show impressive chemistry off the ice. (On the ice, however, it must be noted that after this film, Henie and Kirby made a highly successful skating team, touring for years in the Hollywood Ice Review.)

While Miss Henie is charming throughout, her comic talents are not impressive. It’s left to Olga San Juan to provide the required comedy and musical expertise to this film, and that’s exactly what Olga does. Once again brunette, Olga is completely fetching as a Norwegian barmaid turned personal maid. In two terrific comic scenes, Olga tosses off zany one-liners and snappy repartee that even a seasoned scene stealer like Eve Arden might have envied. In the first, Olga attempts to vamp Count Holgar (Hugh French) trying to prevent him from retrieving cash from her bodice by flirting outrageously. When she fails, she hands over the loot. Then she slaps his face for making advances! Later in the film, Olga is called upon to delay the police from arresting Sonja by pretending she is the Countess. Olga executes a lengthy diatribe about her life in crime beginning at age five when she stole five dollars from her mother’s purse, to her exploits as a former gun moll to gangland hotshot. Olga displays superb comic timing in pulling off this complicated scene.

Musically, Olga performs the movie’s three original songs with her characteristic exuberance. The movie’s best number occurs at the opening of the picture at the Oslo beer garden when Olga sings and dances the charming "Friendly Polka" accompanied by the bar patrons. The joyous number moves from the tavern outside to the frozen lake where Sonja Henie performs her first skating routine. During the drive to the Hotel Trollheimer, Olga performs "Count Your Blessings" accompanied by music from the car radio. She’s joined by an obviously-dubbed Sonja Henie. In a scene that takes place on Christmas morning, Olga and Sonja sing and dance to the merry "Who Believes In Santa Claus?" while parading around their suite in gowns and furs. Although the songs are not especially memorable, they are enlivened by Olga’s cheery renditions.

The Countess of Monte Cristo is an entertaining show, but lacks the glamour of Sonja’s earlier Twentieth Century-Fox vehicles. The movie failed to ignite box office magic, indicating the vogue for ice skating musicals had passed. Advertised as "A Musical Ice-Travaganza," it was released in November 1948. It would be Sonja Henie’s final American film.

After three successive films at Universal-International, Olga journeyed to Twentieth Century-Fox for her next assignment in The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend (1949), a starring vehicle for Fox’s hugely-popular blonde with the million-dollar legs, Betty Grable. Written, produced and directed by Preston Sturges, Beautiful Blonde was a rowdy attempt at western satire based on a story called, "The Lady from Laredo". Preston Sturges had been Paramount’s golden boy in the 1940s writing and directing a series of phenomenally successful comedies, including such classics as The Lady Eve and Sullivan’s Travels (both 1941), The Palm Beach Story (1942), and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944). After a long series of disputes with Paramount management, Sturges signed a fabulous contract with Darryl F. Zanuck at Twentieth Century-Fox giving him complete control in the selection, development and production of his films, along with a handsome salary.

Sturges’ first film for Fox was a brilliant but morbid black comedy starring Rex Harrison and Linda Darnell titled Unfaithfully Yours (1948). After this film flopped, Zanuck still hoped Sturges could recreate his old magic and do for Betty Grable at Bashful Bend what he had done for Betty Hutton at Morgan’s Creek. Filmed in Technicolor, The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend co-starred Cesar Romero, Rudy Vallee and Olga San Juan with a host of supporting players including Porter Hall, Hugh Herbert, El Brendel, Sterling Holloway, Danny Jackson, Al Bridge, and an uncredited Margaret Hamilton.

Beautiful and high-spirited Winifred "Freddie" Jones (Betty Grable) has been taught to be a crack shot since age six by her grandfather (Russell Simpson) in the Wild West of the 1890s. Freddie grows up to be a gorgeous young entertainer and card dealer who still can hold her own with a six-gun. Freddie’s fondness for firearms lands her behind bars, however, after she finds her loving but fickle boyfriend, Blackie Jobero (Cesar Romero), has taken up with an "entertainer", a French charmer called Roulette (Pati Behrs). Furious over his infidelity, Freddie takes a shot at Blackie but misses, hitting judge Alfalfa J. O’Toole (Porter Hall) right in his seat of justice. Now, in pleading her case to the wounded judge, Freddie has to turn on all her charm, but loses her cool when Blackie and Roulette show up. Grabbing the sheriff’s gun, Freddie fires at Blackie, but again hits hizzoner right in the seat of justice. Making a quick getaway, Freddie and her girlfriend Conchita (Olga San Juan) steal train tickets and clothing, and board a train bound for Snake City. With tickets identifying them as schoolteacher Hilda Swandumper and her American-Indian companion Black Feet, Freddie and Conchita decide to assume their identities.

When the train arrives in Snake City, the town’s good and bad citizens turn out to greet the new schoolmarm Hilda Swandumper. Among the crowd are a grizzled old gunslinger called Old Man Basserman and his two unruly, cantankerous sons (Sterling Holloway and Danny Jackson). Freddie is willing to assume the duties of schoolmarm temporarily, even though she admits to knowing next to nothing about any subject she’ll be teaching. The town’s former schoolteacher and owner of a huge gold mine, Charles Hingleman (Rudy Vallee), soon becomes smitten with Freddie and begins to court her. Meanwhile Freddie has to deal with the ill mannered hooligans, especially the Basserman boys, in her classroom and then deal with the much more serious challenge posed by Blackie Jobero who intends to win Freddie back, or failing that, to collect the $1,000 reward for her capture.

In a typical Preston Sturges wild windup, Freddie is returned to face justice in Judge O’Toole’s court. During the trial, Blackie appears, accompanied by yet another tasty morsel of French pastry named La Belle Bergere (an unbilled Marie Windsor). Although Judge O’Toole refers to Freddie as a "blonde assassin," he considers suspending her sentence, but all hell breaks loose when Freddie realizes Blackie has gone Gallic. Mad with jealousy, Freddie starts a melee and grabs a gun. While trying to shoot Blackie, she again misses just as Judge Alfalfa J. O’Toole flees the courtroom. For the third time the seat of justice suffers gross indignity and the film concludes as it began with Freddie in a panic, exclaiming, "Say it ain’t so!" to which Conchita responds, "When it comes to him, you never miss!"

Twentieth Century-Fox advertised the movie with a poster of Betty Grable brandishing two six shooters and wearing a vivid red gown revealing her shapely legs. The tagline proclaims, "She Had The Biggest Six-Shooters In The West!!!!" a sly nod both to her guns and to Miss Grable’s charming assets. While it’s a low and often tasteless slapstick farce abounding with racial stereotypes and crude humor, the film has its admirers. Despite its sometimes grotesque stabs at horse opera burlesque, the picture contains some extremely funny moments as Sturges pours on snappy dialogue and rapid-fire one-liners. Just about every character utters the catchphrase, "Shut Up" at least two times. Sturges even resorts to the rather quaint device of having Miss Grable’s skirt torn off so he can focus the Technicolor camera lens on her shapely rearview.

As Freddie, Betty Grable pulls out all the stops, delivering a knockout performance that proves her splendid aptitude for screwball comedy. Handling a shooting iron with ease, La Grable appears in nearly every scene—she’s saucy, feisty, rambunctious, flirty, and glamorous. Although her role here is unlike any she had previously played, she handles it so well you simply can’t take your eyes off her. Betty looks luscious in Technicolor in her Rene Hubert period costumes, some of which appear much too gaudy for a movie set in the wild west—but who cares? One especially stunning ensemble consists of a long black gown with bright green bodice and black ornamentation topped with a feathered green boa, long black gloves and a large green picture hat trimmed with a giant ostrich plume of vivid green.

Miss Grable performs two numbers in the picture. "Everytime I Meet You," a lovely ballad by Mack Gordon and Josef Myrow is sung backed by a gentleman’s quartet on the saloon stage early in the movie. Later in the film, Rudy Vallee duets with Betty to "In The Gloaming," an old chestnut written by Meta Orred and Annie F. Harrison. The song is sung in the Snake City church with an organ accompaniment as Charlie Hingleman courts Freddie. "The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend," the movie’s title song composed by Leo Gordon and Lionel Newman, is performed over the opening credits by an unidentified vocal group; it’s a rowdy tune illustrating boisterous escapades in Freddie’s career.

Olga San Juan is perfectly cast as Betty’s wisecracking Mexican gal pal Conchita. Olga sports a Spanish accent lending her scene-stealing antics to the proceedings. When masquerading as an American-Indian lass, Olga spouts hilarious lines in her patented pepperpot style. When she’s introduced as "only part Indian," Olga replies, "Me no pure!"

Olga even takes part in the film’s big shootout, showing a surprising skill with a six-shooter. Unfortunately, Olga has no musical numbers in the movie. Whether playing a fiery Mexican saloon gal or a monosyllabic American-Indian sidekick Olga is a delight to watch. Grable and San Juan are a marvelous screen team and their scenes together are some of the funniest in the picture. As always, her zany behavior adds sparkle to her every scene.

Olga models two fabulous gowns by Rene Hubert in her scenes as Conchita. As a saloon card dealer in the early scenes, Olga appears in a lovely pink gown with rhinestone accents. In the finale courtroom scene, Olga’s gorgeous blue skirt and matching jacket trimmed in red and white ornamentation with matching bonnet are something to see. In her American-Indian costume Olga sports a long skirt, peasant blouse and beads. Her hairstyle consists of a single braid and a large feather in her hair.

The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend was released on May 27, 1949. The production cost $2,260,000 to film and earned a disappointing $1,489,000 in domestic box office receipts. Many loyal Betty Grable fans were displeased that the film showcased a darker side of their favorite blonde. Perhaps a stronger leading man—Betty had hoped for Gregory Peck—more song and dance numbers and a more generous display of Betty’s legs might have made the film more successful. Perhaps, however, the sight of Betty shooting up the landscape was too great a shock for her fans.

Over the past sixty years, some critics and viewers have come to appreciate The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend’s raucous humor, irreverent attitude and high-spirited shenanigans. The film has developed a cult following as its similarity to the over-the-top, bawdy laugh fests of today has become more obvious. The film was ahead of its time, but that didn’t do Preston Sturges any good. Following Beautiful Blonde’s lackluster box office, Darryl Zanuck fired Sturges, and this was the former golden boy’s last Hollywood feature. He would direct two more films in France but his career had fizzled and he died in 1959.

The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend also marked the last major screen role for Olga San Juan. Olga continued to receive scripts

but now devoted herself to marriage and motherhood.

Then one night in 1951, famed lyricist Alan Jay Lerner heard Olga sing at a swanky Hollywood party and offered her a role in the new Broadway musical he and composer Frederick Loewe were producing with Cheryl Crawford. Olga accepted the role in Paint Your Wagon which opened on Broadway in November 1951. Paint Your Wagon struck it rich both musically and dramatically, perfectly imitating the roistering, robust California gold fields of 1853. Olga portrayed Jennifer Rumson, the daughter of grizzled prospector Ben Rumson (James Barton). When Jennifer discovers gold near their camp, word of the strike spreads quickly. Before long, there are over 4,000 inhabitants of the new town of Rumson. Jennifer falls in love with Julio (Tony Bavaar), a Mexican prospector. Jennifer goes East to school, but returns when the gold strike peters out. Rumson is now virtually a ghost town and Ben is left with only his hopes and dreams.

Paint Your Wagon’s score featured such songs as "I Talk to the Trees," "Wand’rin’ Star" and its most famous, "They Call the Wind Maria." Olga left the show before the run ended, after becoming pregnant with her second child.

After appearing in Paint Your Wagon, Olga received the Donaldson Award for her performance in the musical. In 1969, Paramount released a big screen version of Paint Your Wagon starring the distinctly unmusical cast of Lee Marvin, Clint Eastwood and Jean Seberg. Harve Presnell was the only real singer in the bunch. Marvin and Eastwood did their own singing, with Seberg dubbed by Anita Gordon. The film used a very different story than the Broadway musical and some new tunes were added. Still, Paint Your Wagon was a complete box office failure and a waste of Paramount’s $17 million investment.

Following the birth of her second child, Olga appeared in a few guest star roles on television shows with comedians Ed Wynn and Alan Young. Olga then remained completely retired from show business. She would be seen briefly only two more times in films starring her husband, Edmond O’Brien.

The Barefoot Contessa (1954) starred Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner, Rossano Brazzi and Edmond O’Brien in his Oscar-winning role of a loud, mouthy press agent. The story concerns an extraordinarily beautiful Spanish dancer Maria Vargas (Ava Gardner) who, aided by an American movie director Harry Dawes (Humphrey Bogart), attains great success and fortune as a Hollywood star. After a failed marriage to an Italian count (Rossano Brazzi), Maria’s ill-fated life ends in tragedy. Olga can be seen in a brief uncredited role as a beautifully-gowned lady who congratulates Maria at her first Hollywood premiere.

Six years later, Olga was briefly glimpsed in a bit role in a second film starring Edmond O’Brien, The Third Voice (1960), a Twentieth Century-Fox mystery-thriller co-starring Laraine Day and Julie London. Billed as a "blonde prostitute", Olga would make this her farewell to movies.

The O’Briens settled in West Los Angeles, but in 1970, Olga suffered a stroke and her health declined. In 1976, Olga divorced Edmond O’Brien after 28 years of marriage. He died of Alzheimers disease on May 9, 1985 at age 69. After many decades out of the spotlight, Olga San Juan died of kidney failure at age 81 on January 3, 2009, following an extended illness.

One distinction Olga received was the Screen Actors Guild Latino Legacy Award for her work over her long career. One bit of Olga trivia is that song parodist Alan Sherman mentioned her in his song, "The Ballad of Oh Boy!"

Olga San Juan was a unique personality who sang, danced, and captured the hearts of movie audiences in the 1940s with a tempestuous Latin magic and a scene-stealing comic brilliance. Audiences of her day eagerly awaited her escapist comedies and musicals. The sight of her face, and the sound of her voice practically guaranteed a good time.

Perhaps she retired too soon, but like many another, Olga might have found the rewards of marriage and family more attractive than the show biz grind. Her life out of the limelight seems to have been, for the most part, a good one.

She could have continued her career in nightclubs or on television, but the vogue for fiery Latin lady entertainers was at an end. The Brazilian Bombshell Carmen Miranda passed away in 1953, and the ‘40s love of Latin music was replaced by a new and different craze for Rock ‘n’ Roll. In the postwar years, audiences turned away from Latin America fixed their gaze on actresses from Europe. In the films of the 1950s and ‘60s, earthy beauties like Pier Angeli, Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, Anita Ekberg, Brigitte Bardot and Claudia Cardinale came to the fore.

Olga San Juan is virtually unknown to today’s movie audiences. Those of us who enjoyed Olga onscreen during her youth still remember her with fondness, but she does not even rate an entry in most film reference books. Usually, if her name is mentioned at all, it is relegated to a brief mention or a simple footnote in a piece on the career of her more famous husband, Edmond O’Brien.

It is hoped this article will serve as a fitting tribute to her memory. Thankfully, those of us who remember Olga, can still return to her films and bask in the pleasure of her company. And we hope that those unfamiliar with Olga will be inspired to seek out her films to learn why The Puerto Rican Pepperpot is too talented to be forgotten!