For over a hundred years, visitors to the Iowa State Fair have been awe-struck by a life-size cow who literally stands like a statue as throngs of admiring fans pass by. Carved out of butter, this world-famous bovine sculpture has been a staple at the Fair since 1911. One of the most talented “butter cow” carvers (and the first woman to have the job) was named Norma “Duffy” Lyons. She was the niece of Phil Stong (who wrote the book State Fair). During her 46 years as ”The Butter Cow Lady” Duffy carved all six breeds of dairy cows as well as a variety of other artistic creations – including a panorama of the Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper made from Iowa sweet cream butter, of course! Visitors to the Fair this summer will get to see not only the 600 lb. “Butter Cow” in all its glory but also the companion statues of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
I believe that Oscar would have truly appreciated this slick and fatty icon of the Fair since we know he had an affinity for cows. The Hammerstein estate in Bucks County, Highland Farm, was not only a beautiful country home and retreat, it was also a working farm on which prize-winning Aberdeen Angus cattle were raised. (A man by the name of Peter Moen and his son, Walter, managed the farm for the Hammersteins.) It has been said that the famous line “the cattle are standing like statues” (from the opening song in Oklahoma “Oh What A Beautiful Mornin’”) was inspired by a herd of motionless cows that Oscar once saw as he stood on the wrap-around porch of his house and gazed out on the surrounding hillsides.
No wonder the story of State Fair appealed to Oscar. It’s easy to think that he had a special “Ioway” place in his heart for a home-spun, hard-working Midwestern family who were devoted to each other, to their animals and to their farmstead.
Oscar must have been so pleased to see the 1945 version of the movie State Fair spring to life like a Norman Rockwell painting. In spite of wartime restrictions, the movie was given a gorgeous Technicolor production and an excellent cast. Of course, it was the musical score that really made this movie such a big hit. Most people will agree that there were two songs in particular which set the film aglow – “It’s a Grand Night for Singing” and “It Might As Well Be Spring.”
A third State Fair film was released in 1962. This new version had a Texas setting and featured five new songs. The cast included a young Pat Boone, an up-and-coming star by the name of Ann-Margret and the singer, Bobby Darin. (Boone played the part of Wayne Frake, Ann-Margret was the smoldering singer, Emily, who enticed Wayne to “have a little fun” and Darin played the part of Jerry Dundee, the smooth-talking TV announcer who woos Margy.) Since Oscar Hammerstein had passed away the year before, Rodgers wrote the lyrics as well as the music for the new songs. (The additional songs were: “Never Say No To A Man, “Willing and Eager,” “This Isn’t Heaven,” “More Than Just A Friend,” and “The Little Things in Texas.”)
This movie version of State Fair was never considered to be highly successful. (However, the “Willing and Eager” duet between Pat Boone and Ann-Margret has to be one of the hottest scenes in musical movie history! Check it out for yourself on this youtube clip.)
Perhaps switching the setting to Dallas, Texas, and trying to give it a “groovy” sixties feel spoiled the original flavor of the story. It seems like a lot of movie-goers had the hunch that this was not the “Real McCoy”!
State Fair still had more lives to go, however. In 1996 the story was adapted for a musical stage production. The Frake family who owed everything to “Ioway” eventually found themselves on a strange new street… Broadway!
Lynda Elizabeth Jeffrey grew up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and fondly remembers her parents taking her to many old-fashioned country fairs. With a brown bag of peanuts in one hand and a stick of cotton candy in the other hand, Lynda was in “Carnie Heaven”!
STATE FAIR – Part III
The 1996 Broadway production – continued