Alfred Sinclair Alderdice was born on this day- August 5th, in Brooklyn. At some point in his stage career & after several other name changes, he became Tom Drake. He made films starting in 1940 & continuing until the mid-1970s, & also made many TV appearances. Drake was deeply closeted, easily given to despair, never known to have a serious romance (although he bedded Rock Hudson & James Dean), with a profound drinking problem & lived a life of fear of being found out. Sound familiar?
1942 &1943 were years of tremendous change at MGM. The majority of the great stars groomed by Irving Thalberg during the 1930s departed the studio. Clark Gable, Robert Taylor, Lew Ayres, Mickey Rooney, Robert Montgomery, & James Stewart joined the armed services & were away from Hollywood for the duration of WW2. Greta Garbo & Norma Shearer left the business. Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Jeanette MacDonald, Nelson Eddy, Eleanor Powell, Myrna Loy, Margaret Sullivan, & Robert Young fulfilled their contracts & then left for other studios & other pursuits.
These stars were replaced by young "boy & girl next door" types: June Allyson, Van Johnson, Robert Walker, Esther Williams, &Tom Drake. Drake was enormously popular with a primarily teenage audience for a couple of years, although he was eventually overshadowed by the more ebullient Van Johnson. Tom Drake was excused from serving in WW2 due to health problems.
After a number of films, Drake had his best role as John Truett, the boy next door, in the classic musical- Meet Me In St. Louis (1944) with Judy Garland. He appeared in more than 40 films, including Mrs. Parkington (1944), The Green Years (1946), & Words & Music- MGM’s top budget production of 1948. Ironically, Drake was cast as the very heterosexual composer Richard Rodgers to Micky Rooney’s Lorenz Hart, who was gay in real life). He was good in the part, but the film was over produced & purported to tell the life stories of the famous partners, but the screenplay was entirely fictional.
Words & Music does contain the songwriting partner’s great songs: My Heart Stood Still, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, Small Hotel, The Lady Is A Tramp, & Where or When taken from their shows: Babes In Arms, I Married An Angel, Pal Joey, & On Your Toes. Guest stars performing the various musical numbers included Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Lena Horne, Mel Torme, & Cyd Charisse. These greats stars’ take on the musical numbers make this movie worth viewing.
Drake returned to the stage in 1952 appearing briefly on Broadway & he toured in 1953 in a stage version of Stalag 17. His friend, Elizabeth Taylor, persuaded MGM to cast him as her brother in Raintree County in 1957.
Later that year Drake traveled to England to star in a film- Date With Disaster (also the name of a chapter in my memoirs- Jockstraps &Vicodin: The Early Years). He remained in Europe for over a year, living most of the time in Rome. Drake returned to California with his drinking problem out of control. He was also a very heavy cigarette smoker. But, a determined Drake managed to kick both habits. He continued his career on TV, & with occasional movie roles such as The Sandpiper, with his friend Elizabeth Taylor, The Singing Nun &The Red Tomahawk (by coincidence, a nickname given to me in college).
Never able to fulfill his potential, Drake continued into the 1970s playing small roles in 'A' pictures, the occasional lead in low-budget films, plus guest roles in numerous different TV drama series in almost every year from 1950 onwards.
A classic example of how talented people could fall between the tracks of the studio contract system, Tom Drake spent his final years with a job as a used car salesman. His health began to deteriorate & he was forced to give up work. Tom moved in with his sister & retired from acting. He died alone & mostly forgotten of pneumonia in Torrence, California in 1982.
An Anecdote: Drake loved to eat garlic. The garlic caused a problem during filming of Faithful in My Fashion, in which he was co-starred with Donna Reed. Tom had eaten a heavily garlic dinner the previous night, & the 1st shot in the morning called for him to romance Reed while dancing &singing softly in her ear. Reed strenuously objected to the strong odor that seemed to exude from Drakes's every pore. It made her physically ill. Production was suspended for the day, & Drake was ordered not to eat garlic while working on a film. Donna forgave Drake & they remained friends during the rest of their lives.