William Anthony McGuire: Architect of Broadway and Hollywood Magic


Today is the birthday of Broadway and Hollywood writer/ director/ producer William Anthony McGuire (1881-1940). McGuire has no obvious vaudeville connection, but his career touched so many of the folks we have written about that he seems a relevant guy to celebrate.

McGuire’s career seems to have been guided by a lucky star. He wrote his first play “The Walls of Wall Street” while a student at Notre Dame; it was produced in South Bend, Indiana  with himself and Allan Dwan (later to be a famous film director himself) in the lead roles. His debut as a Broadway playwright came with The Heights (a different The Heights! 1910) starring Frank Keenan. Among other shows, he wrote and directed the revue Frivolities of 1920, wrote the hit comedy Six Cylinder Love (1921-1922) and the Eddie Cantor smash Kid Boots (1923-1925), penned sketches for the Ziegfeld Follies of 1924. 


Twelve Miles Out (1925-1926) was the first show he wrote, directed and produced; after this he frequently wore more than one hat on the productions of his plays. He wrote and directed the hit musicals Rosalie (1928), The Three Musketeers (1929), the Eddie Cantor vehicle Whoopee! (1928-1929), Show Girl (1929),  and many others. Some of these productions are legendary: Rosalie, for example starred Marilyn Miller, Frank Morgan, and Jack Donahue, had sets by Joseph Urban, choreography by Michel Fokine, songs by the Gershwins and P.G. Wodehouse, and Guy Bolton collaborating with McGuire on the book. Show Girl had songs by the Gershwins and Gus Kahn, choreography by Albertina Rasch, and a cast featuring Ruby Keeler (this was the show on which Al Jolson publicly embarrassed her by singing from the audience), Jimmy Durante, Eddie Foy Jr., and Nick Lucas. 


He had also dabbled in films from the beginning of his career. He’d written several silent film scenarios since the teens. Then some of his hit plays were adapted into silent films: Six Cylinder Love (1923), Kid Boots (1926) and Twelve Miles Out (1927). And then talkies beckoned. Show Girl was made into a movie with Alice White in 1928; Whoopee in 1930; a talkie version of Six Cylinder Love starring Spencer Tracy and Edward Everett Horton came out in 1931 (it was remade once again as The Honeymoon’s Over in 1939).


Soon McGuire made the move to Hollywood himself. He wrote The Kid from Spain (1932) for Eddie Cantor, and adapted Roman Scandals (1933) for him as well. Given the fact that he had worked closely with Flo Ziegfeld on several shows it was fitting that he was nominated for an Oscar for The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and wrote the original story for Ziegfeld Girl (1941). He adapted Rosalie for the screen in 1937. He wrote the screenplay for the bio-pic Lillian Russell in 1940. He also dabbled in movie producing on two films Rosalie, and The Girl of the Golden West (1938).

For more on show business historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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