Hollywood Flashback: Before 'La La Land,' an Original Musical Won in 1959

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Leslie Caron and Louis Jourdan in 1958's 'Gigi'

'Gigi' took home a then-recording-breaking nine statuettes, including best director for Vincente Minnelli, whose daughter Liza praises the movie as "really smart big-studio entertainment."

If the oddsmakers are correct, La La Land will be the first original musical to win the best picture Oscar since 1958's Gigi, an MGM production about a singing-and-dancing Parisian courtesan that THR called "a gaily naughty fairy tale for adults." Along with best picture, Gigi took home eight other Oscars, including best director for Vincente Minnelli, in a record-breaking sweep (that lasted exactly one year, until Ben-Hur took home 11).

Liza Minnelli credits the film's success to her father's knowledge of "art, painting and literature — he was an expert at bringing all the arts into the movies," she tells THR. "Not many directors in Hollywood have that talent. Gigi is really smart big-studio entertainment."

At the time, though, THR's coverage was fixated more on the Oscars' not-so-smooth telecast, only the seventh time the awards had been on TV. The paper called the ceremony "as ragged as ever witnessed on a prime TV show." One complaint was that it ended 20 minutes early despite host Jerry Lewis' epic ad-libbing, and NBC was forced to fill time with a "sports review film." THR even wondered whether "the $900,000 cost was worthwhile." (The show's current production budget is $43 million.)

If there was one part THR liked, it was Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster performing a number called "It's Great Not to Be Nominated," singing lyrics such as, "Since we haven't been vested/we're not interested/But who stuck those knives in our backs?" 

This story first appeared in the Feb. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.