Gertrude Lawrence was a huge star in England and on Broadway, but not in movies, and this cinematic biography left audiences wondering why Fox spent about $14 million to tell her story. Julie Andrews, on the other hand, was a huge marquee star after MARY POPPINS and THE SOUND OF MUSIC,

and director Robert Wise and producer Saul Chaplin thought she would make a smashing Lawrence. Viewers disagreed, and the picture plummeted from its opening day. (It was re-released in a cut version, titled THOSE WERE THE HAPPY TIMES, a year later, but with no success either.) The film begins

during WWII, as Lawrence, starring in the musical play Lady in the Dark, watches a newsreel about her own life. The film flashes back to 1915 in Clapham, England, when she leaves home to join her vaudevillian father (Bruce Forsyth), who is working in a run-down Brixton music hall. Gertrude decides

to follow in her dad's footsteps and gets a job as a chorine in one of Andre Charlot's famous revues. Though Charlot (Alan Oppenheimer) is annoyed when she steals scenes and throws carefully rehearsed sketches out of whack, stage manager Jack Roper (John Collin) steps in and keeps her from getting

fired. Jack and Gertrude marry but cannot agree on her role as a wife (he wants her to stay home; she wants to perform). After their daughter is born, Gertrude leaves. She becomes great friends with Noel Coward (Daniel Massey, who actually was Coward's godson), who uses his influence to get her a

spot in Charlot's latest show, and she is instantly acclaimed as a new find after the opening in New York. Her career and romantic prospects soar, but her relationship with her neglected daughter (Jenny Agutter) is poor; moreover, she spends all her considerable earnings and overtaxes herself to

is happy and fulfilled at last. There the picture ends, though in real life Lawrence lived another eight years and died at age 54. The movie lost millions, but it deserved a better fate for its enormous score, top-flight production, excellent choreography, and fine acting.