Both these photographs surfaced on eBay (where else?) and I presume they come from the short-lived 1939 musical production SWINGIN’ THE DREAM (a “hot” version of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM) which featured Louis, Maxine Sullivan, and a Benny Goodman small group.  How it managed to close after only a few performances is beyond me, but I wasn’t there in 1939 to ask my parents to take me to the show.  (Somewhere I read that James P. Johnson was the rehearsal pianist, which astonishes me.)

I invite the creative writers in the audience to submit appropriate dialogue for the first shot — where Louis appears to be wearing an ascot (or is it a bandanna), a tight, short white jacket, and a large sombrero.  A very pretty Maxine appears to be serenading a jack-o-lantern while dressed as a maid, no surprise — against a background of shiny metallic fabric:

That one took all my energy to describe: the second one has fewer details (the seller, I presume, has photographed it with a scrap of paper or tape at top, “ebay,” in case we needed to be reminded):

No jack-o-lantern, no sombrero, no bandanna; Louis is aiming his trumpet at another angle . . . Is #2 the rehearsal, #1 the performance?  Can anyone explain, or are you all equally speechless?


  1. Wonderful pics, but I don’t know what to say about the horn angles. . . .

  2. This is more likely from the 1938 Warner Brothers musical “Going Places,” in which Maxine played a maid (hence the uniform) and Louie introduced “Jeepers Creepers” (the name of a racehorse). That same year, Louis and Maxine literally closed the Cotton Club, breaking through a movie screen at each show following a clip from their film (which starred Dick Powell and Anita Louise). “Swingin’ the Dream” was based on Shakespeare and Maxine played Titania.

  3. Thanks for the information, Alan — I should have known! And the picture of Louis and Maxine breaking through the movie screen is priceless. But can anyone explain the sombrero?

  4. Alas, I am at a loss for Louis’ headgear, but it may help you to realize that (in photo #1) they are standing, not in front of crumpled metallic fabric, but corn stalks. Your misperception was certainly understandable, but I’ve been around enough corn to know it when I see it…

  5. Thank you, Eric — one of the nice things about having a blog is that people can add to your knowledge (or perhaps pare away some ignorance). Surely now someone will pose an intelligent causality for corn and sombrero – – – as in corn tortillas? But GOING PLACES wasn’t set in Mexico. I surrender, dear!

  6. Here’s a link to complete production info on “Swingin’ The Dream,” which only managed 13 performances despite its stellar credits. Based on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the mixed-race cast included the Dandridge Sisters (with Dorothy) as pixies, actresses Dorothy McGuire and Ruth Ford, comediennes Butterfly McQueen (as “Puck”) and Jackie “Moms” Mabley, and the Benny Goodman Sextet! Details at: http://www.ibdb.com/production.php?id=13212

  7. The Goodman Sextet (Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Christian, Fletcher Henderson, Artie Bernstein, and Nick Fatool) can be seen in this picture (from Leo Valdes’s site).

  8. I can’t answer any of your questions but the first photo looks different to me than your description, the background looks like corn stalks- indicative of Fall and Halloween, which matches the jack-o-lantern she is holding, Louis’s costume is probably Hollywood’s idea of a farm worker-from South of the Border… the straw hat, the bandana and the peon’s coat… would be nice to know what is really meant to be going on…..

  9. Ross Firestone

    Yes, Michael, as improbable as it sounds, James P. was the rehearsal pianist. If you’re interested in finding out more about the show, take a look at my Benny Goodman biography.

  10. James P. was indeed the rehearsal pianist. Of course, he could play anything, and was ” in ” with the Harlem Renaissance crowd,playing Spirituals to Swing, and recording with John Hammond at that time.

    JAMES P. JOHNSON; ‘A Cast To Dream About’
    Published: March 1, 1992

    Correction Appended
    To the Editor:
    The article about James P. Johnson, “A Pianist With Harlem on His Mind” [ Feb. 16 ] , is a long-delayed recognition of an enormous talent and influence, one whom I knew personally.
    In 1939, I was the stage manager of “Swingin’ the Dream,” a musical version of Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” set in antebellum Louisiana. It played a mere two weeks at the Center Theater, but it had a cast to dream about: Louis Armstrong as Bottom, Butterfly Mc Queen as Puck, Maxine Sullivan as Titania, “Moms” Mabley as Quince, Oscar Polk, Dorothy Danbridge and Bill Bailey singing and dancing, plus Dorothy Maguire, Ruth Ford and Joseph Holland as members of the “gentry.”
    More: Adaptation and book by Gilbert Seldes, choreography by Agnes de Mille, direction by Philip Loch, scenery from designs by Walt Disney.
    The score: Mendelssohn, Jimmy Van Heusen and Eddie de Lange, played by three orchestras: Don Voorhees and 50 in the pit; Benny Goodman’s sextet, including Fletcher Henderson, Lionel Hampton and Charlie Christian on one side, and Bud Freeman with Max Kaminsky, Pee Wee Russell, Eddie Condon and others on the other.
    Where did James P. Johnson figure in this? He was the rehearsal pianist. FRANKLIN HELLER Stamford, Conn.
    Correction: March 15, 1992, Sunday A letter to the editor on March 1 about James P. Johnson misidentified the director of the 1939 musical “Swingin’ the Dream.” He was Philip Loeb.

    New York Times

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