State Fair – Part I

Where do you go when you’re in the mood to enter a Rubber Chicken Throwing Contest, bite into a deep fried double-bacon corndog, try your hand at milking a cow, watch a few llamas going under a limbo stick or take a ride on a rainbow-colored Super Slide?

I betcha dollars to doughnuts you know the answer to that question!

Yes, folks, it’s that time of year again. From August 9-19, 2012, Iowa is welcoming more than a million people from around the world to its annual State Fair.

Iowa’s first State Fair was held in 1854. It is one of the oldest and largest fairs in the country. Known as the “quintessential American experience,” this summer gathering goes on for eleven awesome days during the month of August. The fairgrounds (over 445 acres) are located in Des Moines and are listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Not surprisingly, the New York Times best-selling travel book “1000 Places To See Before You Die” highlights the Iowa State Fair as a “must-see” event.

Certainly Rogers and Hammerstein understood the appeal of this uniquely authentic American experience. In 1945 they collaborated on a musical salute to the Iowa State Fair… “the very best fair in the State”!

Perhaps many people are not aware that the story of State Fair actually involved several “incarnations.” It made the progression from page, to screen (3 different times) and finally to the stage.

State Fair was originally published as a book way back in the early 1930s. The author, Phil Stong,  wrote the novel based on his memories of attending the Iowa State Fair – first as a kid and then as an adult when he reported on the fair’s stock shows for the Des Moines Register. The book became an instant hit as soon as it was released in May, 1932. It was picked as a Literary Guild Selection the very same month it was published. Everyone was talking about the book that “had a hog as its hero.” There were foreign editions, paperback versions and even an Armed Services edition.

In the fall of ‘32, Hollywood turned Phil Stong’s book into a movie. This was a non-musical, black and white film starring Will Rogers as “Pa Frake” and Janet Gaynor playing the role of Margy Frake, the daughter. The movie was hailed as a “fresh and exuberant slice of Americana.” Reviewers described it as… “two hours of welcome relief from the depression“ and “a story of honest, hard-working farm people who have plenty of gusto and relish for life.”

Thirteen years later, State Fair made another transformation and was remade into a movie musical. It became a bright “Technicolor” film (something to boast about in those days) with unforgettable music and lyrics by Rogers and Hammerstein. This movie, which premiered in August, 1945,  has the unique distinction of being the only musical that R&H ever wrote for the screen. The song “It Might As Well Be Spring” won them the Academy Award for Best Original Song that year. (It is interesting to note that in the movie the song was sung by Jeanne Crain who played Margy Frake but dubbed by Louanne Hogan.)

Contemporary recordings of this ever-popular song have been made by Shirley Bassey, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra and Andy Williams.

As the month of August draws to a close, perhaps you’ll be making a trip to your own state fair. Nothing says summer better than a Lemon Shake-Up, a spin on the Tilt-A-Whirl, and a big smackeroo from the pot-bellied pig at the Kissing Booth!

Entertaining, fun, adventurous and zany … the all-American country fair has something for everyone.

Hey, you gotta go!

“Don’t miss it… don’t even be late!”

Lynda Elizabeth Jeffrey grew up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and has happy childhood memories of attending the Southampton Fire Co.’s annual Carnival. Popcorn, snow cones and cotton candy; pinwheels and pony rides; Balloon Darts, Ring Toss, Dime Pitch, Ping Pong Fish and Pie-In-The-Face; the Pet Parade, BINGO in the firehouse, the fortune-telling gypsy roaming the fairgrounds and best of all… the local school principal sitting nervously in the suspended seat of the Dunking Booth! GERANIMO!


More on the Iowa State Fair;

the 1962 State Fair movie;

the 1996 Broadway State Fair musical production.


2 thoughts on “State Fair – Part I

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