In a keen send-up of Shirley Temple, June Preisser plays Rosalie Essex, or Baby Rosalie as she is known by her movie fans, in MGM's let's-put-on-a-show musical, Babes in Arms (1939). Perky, pampered and spectacularly self-centered, Rosalie is a veteran of such films as The Queen’s Little Daughter and The Baby General. Now a teenager and looking for a starring role somewhere—anywhere—to combat a dip in popularity, she agrees to be in a stage revue directed by Mickey Moran (Mickey Rooney), which Mickey’s friend Patsy Barton (Judy Garland) is planning to headline. A lack of funds for the show compels Rosalie to invest some of her movie earnings in the production—as long as she is the star.
This is all amusing enough, but what really grabs attention is Preisser’s startling acrobatic prowess. By the time she came to MGM in the late 1930s, Preisser was a veteran of vaudeville, having hit the boards with her sister, Cherry, in an act that showcased the youngsters’ tumbling talents. In Babes in Arms, a supremely peppy Rosalie shows up for rehearsals and launches into an impressive series of one-arm cartwheels followed by what I can only describe as a sort of drunken man’s fall and flip, effectively repeated several times.
“Just getting the kinks out,” Rosalie explains to stunned onlookers.