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Thu, 10.28.1954

Carmen Jones, (The Movie Musical) Debuts

*The movie Carmen Jones debuted on this date in 1954. 

This was an American musical film starring Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte, produced and directed by Otto Preminger. The screenplay was based on the lyrics and book by Oscar Hammerstein II, from the 1943 stage musical of the same name, set to the music of Georges Bizet's 1875 opera Carmen.  

Because the producer/director was sensitive to the issue of racial representation in the film, the script was first submitted to Walter Francis White, executive secretary of the NAACP, who had no objection to it.  Belafonte, a folk singer who recently had introduced Calypso music to a mainstream audience, was cast as Joe. Pearl Bailey was assigned the role of Frankie. Joe Adams was Husky. Diahann Carroll auditioned for the title role, but she was so terrified of the director that she could barely focus on the scene, and Preminger cast her in the small supporting role of Myrt instead.

Finally, every Black actress, from Eartha Kitt to Joyce Bryant, was tested for the role of Carmen.  The film premiered at the Rivoli Theatre in New York City. The following February, it opened in London and Berlin, and in both cities, it played for more than a year in exclusive first-run engagements. Because of a technicality in French copyright laws on the order of the estate of composer Georges Bizet (who wrote the opera on which the film was based), the film was banned in France until 1981.  However, it was permitted to open the 1955 Cannes Film Festival, where for the first time, Preminger and Dandridge openly flaunted their relationship.

Soon after Cannes, Dandridge was offered the role of Tuptim in the screen adaptation of The King and I, but Preminger, acting as both lover and mentor, urged her not to accept a supporting role after proving her worth as a star. Dandridge complied but later regretted her decision, certain it had been instrumental in starting her career's slow but steady decline.  Carmen Jones began shooting within the first year of Twentieth Century Fox's venture in 1953 to CinemaScope Technicolor as its main production mode.

Carmen Jones was released in October 1954, exactly one year and one month after Fox's first CinemaScope venture, the Biblical epic The Robe, had opened in theatres.  In 1992, the Library of Congress selected Carmen Jones for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."  

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