State fair, all three of them


By Bob Sanders

Finally. The third part of the puzzle. Yes, yes. Everybody here knows of my infatuation with the movie “State Fair.” We’ve talked about it many times. Actually. we’ve talked about the second movie version. I never had seen the first one until  just a few nights ago.
It wasn’t a musical,just a nice little tale about this farm family in southeast Iowa, getting ready and going to the state fair. Charming.
Fellow named Phil Stong wrote the little book in the early 1930s. Surely he couldn’t have realized that it would become the source of three major movies. But it did.
You know the story. You talk about tailgating! They take the kitchen sink with them. It’s a farmer and his wife and their two college-age kids. The wife always enters the pickles and mincemeat contests, and the dad has his hog to enter in that contest. And the kids both find romance at the fair. I understand. I used to love fairs. There was a big one every year in the big town about 30 miles away. And my best friend James and I went to Birmingham just to see the Alabama State Fair. More about that adventure sometime later.
It’s difficult to figure out why I like Number Two so much. There are several ridiculous things about it. For instance, apparently nobody works at this farm. Yet it seems to be prosperous. Must have a good farm manager. The two kids should be in school, or in the army, but they’re not. They sit around singing and things.
Of course, the old man is working with his hog all the time, and the mother is making her pickles and mincemeat (that great scene is in all three versions).  And imagine wearing a suit to a fair! Come on.
Will Rogers played the father in that first, non-musical, filming. The movie concentrated on him and his hog. Nice little movie, but not a must see.
On the other hand, Number Two, made a dozen years later, is a must see, even if it comes on every week. Twentieth Century Fox decided to make it into a musical and got Rodgers and Hammerstein to do the songs… and they did some great ones, songs that have become all-time standards, like “It Might as Well be Spring” and “That’s for Me” and “It’s a Grand Night for Singing.” The stars are Dana Andrews, Vivian Blaine, Jeanne Crain and Dick Haymes. This, by the way, was the only time Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote a set of songs exclusively for a movie. Of course, several of their Broadway plays have been made into movies.
Another odd, laughable thing: Haymes’ parents don’t even notice when he comes in one night smashed, bombed, plastered, falling-down drunk. Mine would have noticed a mile away.
About the third version: well, Momma always said, if you can’t say something nice about someone or something, don’t say anything at all.
By the way, as I write this, the Iowa State Fair is starting. Frosty and I have been there. And the Lee County Fair is just over Happy fair-going! See you on the Ferris Wheel.
Bob Sanders is a veteran local radio personality, columnist, author and raconteur of note. He can be reached at


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