The Happiest Millionaire
The Happiest Millionaire is a 1967 musical film starring Fred MacMurray, based upon the true story of Philadelphia millionaire Anthony J. Drexel Biddle. The film, featuring music by the Sherman Brothers, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Costume Design by Bill Thomas. The screenplay is by A. J. Carothers and based on the play that was based on the book My Philadelphia Father by Cordelia Drexel Biddle, the daughter of Anthony Biddle. Walt Disney acquired the rights to the play in the early 1960s. The film was the last live-action musical that he produced, as he died during its production.
|The Happiest Millionaire|
1967 Theatrical poster
|Directed by||Norman Tokar|
|Produced by||Walt Disney|
|Screenplay by||A. J. Carothers|
|Story by||A. J. Carothers|
|Based on||My Philadelphia Father|
by Cordelia Drexel Biddle
Lesley Ann Warren
Richard M. Sherman
Robert B. Sherman
|Edited by||Cotton Warburton|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Distribution|
(Los Angeles premiere)
(New York City premiere)
|Box office||$5 million (US/ Canada rentals)|
The story begins in Autumn of 1916, and follows an Irish immigrant named John Lawless (Tommy Steele) as he applies for a butler position with eccentric Philadelphia millionaire Anthony J. Drexel Biddle (Fred MacMurray). Even though the family is a bit strange, Lawless soon learns that he fits right in. Mr. Biddle takes a liking to him immediately. For the rest of the film, Lawless serves as the narrator/commentator.
Mr. Biddle busies himself with his Biddle Boxing and Bible School (located in his stable) and with his alligators in the conservatory. He is also anxious to get America into the War in Europe (World War I), despite the government's policy of neutrality. His wife, Cordelia (Greer Garson), stands quietly by, accepting his eccentricities with a sense of pride and class. Their two sons, Tony and Livingston (Paul Petersen and Eddie Hodges, respectively) are headed off to boarding school, never to be seen in the film again. Their daughter, Cordy (Lesley Ann Warren, in her film debut), is a tomboy with a mean right hook who was educated by private tutors and has had limited contact with conventional society. She is frustrated by her apparent inability to attract suitors and wants to see what is beyond the Biddle manor.
Mr. Biddle reluctantly lets Cordy go to a boarding school as well (after some prodding from both Cordy and from his Aunt Mary (Gladys Cooper), where her roommate teaches her how to lure men with feminine wiles, known as "Bye-Yum Pum Pum". At a social dance hosted by her aunt and uncle, Cordy meets Angier Buchanan Duke (John Davidson, in his film debut) and they fall in love. He tells Cordy that he is fascinated with the new automobile and wants to head to Detroit, Michigan to make his fortune there, instead of taking over his family's tobacco business.
That winter, Cordy comes back to her parents' home and tells them that she is engaged. At first, this is a difficult thing for Mr. Biddle to take. He does not want to give up his little girl. But, after meeting Angie and witnessing first-hand his Jiu Jitsu fighting skills, Mr. Biddle takes a liking to him and accepts the engagement. Then Cordy travels with Angie to New York City to meet his mother (Geraldine Page). Soon the Biddles and the Dukes are making arrangements for a very grand wedding.
Constant condescending comments from Angie's mother angers Cordy. To make matters worse, their families' elaborate planning for the "social event of the season" (it is by now the spring of 1917), makes both Cordy and Angie feel pushed aside. The tension reaches a climax when Cordy learns that Angie has abandoned his plans for Detroit, and is instead taking his place in the family business, following his mother's wishes. Cordy angrily calls the wedding off, thinking of Angie as a mama's boy, and Angie storms out of the house. Both families are instantly in a tremendous state of upheaval. Mr. Biddle sends John Lawless to look after Angie.
John finds Angie at the local tavern, contemplating what he will do next. During a rousing song-and-dance sequence, John tries to convince Angie to go back to Cordy. However, Angie is stubborn and thinks of other ways to deal with his problems, among other things saying that he wants to join the Foreign Legion. Angie unwittingly starts a bar fight (with a little help from John) and is hauled off to jail.
The next morning, Mr. Biddle comes to bail Angie out. He tells Angie he has to forget about his own dreams and accept his place in the family business. His words have the desired effect, inspiring Angie to defy his mother and elope with Cordy and go to Detroit. Cordy, however, believes her father talked Angie into it, so to prove his sincerity, amid the cheering of the cell mates, Angie throws Cordy over his shoulder and carries her out of the jail house to start their new life together. (The short version of the film ends at this point.) After Mr. and Mrs. Biddle return home a delegation of Marines arrive to inform him he has been made a "provisional captain" in the Marine Corps; and is wanted immediately to go to Parris Island to help/continue training the recruits, now that America is finally entering the War. Mr. Biddle accepts with delight, and the hearty congratulations of his suddenly appearing Bible Boxing Class. Behind the final credits, a car with two people (apparently Cordie and Angie) is seen driving toward a city skyline (apparently Detroit) dominated by factories spewing smoke to blacken the sky over the city.
- Fred MacMurray as Anthony J. Drexel Biddle
- Greer Garson as Cordelia Biddle
- Gladys Cooper as Aunt Mary
- Geraldine Page as Mrs. Duke
- Tommy Steele as John Lawless
- Hermione Baddeley as Mrs. Worth
- John Davidson as Angier Buchanan Duke
- Lesley Ann Warren as Cordy
- Paul Petersen as Tony
- Eddie Hodges as Livingston
- Joyce Bulifant as Rosemary
- Sean McClory as Police Sgt.
- Jim McMullan as Lt. Powell
- William Wellman Jr. as Lt. Grayson
- Aron Kincaid as Walter Blakely
- Larry Merrill as Charlie Taylor
- Frances Robinson as Aunt Gladys
This section may stray from the topic of the article. (October 2020)
The film had its origins in the 1955 book My Philadelphia Father by Cordelia Biddle, as told to Kyle Crichton. The New York Times said the story was told with "charm." There was early interest in the book for stage adaptation. Crichton adapted the story into a play called The Happiest Millionaire, which opened on Broadway on November 20, 1956 at the Lyceum Theatre. Walter Pidgeon portrayed Anthony J. Drexel Biddle and George Grizzard played Angie. It was Pidgeon's first appearance on Broadway in 21 years, and MGM obtained film rights in exchange for permitting him to appear in the play. Howard Erskine and Joseph Hayes produced the play, and Guthrie McClintock was to direct, but he left the production before opening night. The New York Times called the production "decent and amusing" and Pidgeon "wonderful." The production ran for 271 performances, closing on July 13, 1957.
In the early 1960s, Walt Disney acquired the rights to the play, but he had no intent of making it into a musical at first. After the box-office success of Mary Poppins, My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music, the first of which he had produced, the film's original producer Bill Walsh decided to make the film into a musical. However, Disney reassigned him to Blackbeard's Ghost, replacing him with Bill Anderson.[self-published source]
The Sherman Brothers, who wrote the film's music, wanted Rex Harrison for the lead role, but Disney insisted on Fred MacMurray. Regardless, Harrison would not have been available, as he was shooting Doctor Dolittle for 20th Century Fox.
In January 1966, a key role went to Tommy Steele, who had achieved success on Broadway in Half a Sixpence. Lesley Ann Warren, whom Disney had seen in the 1965 CBS television production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, made her screen debut in the film. She also met future husband Jon Peters during the film's production. The role of MacMurray's wife went to Greer Garson, who called the film "... a delightful Life with Father type picture. I don't have much to do but I love working with Fred MacMurray."
The Happiest Millionaire premiered in Hollywood on June 23, 1967 with a running time of 164 minutes. It was edited down by 20 minutes for its November 1967 premiere at Radio City Music Hall. For its general release, the film was again edited down to almost two hours. The film was poorly received by critics, who criticized its running time but praised the music and cast, and it was a box-office disappointment.
- "Fortuosity" – Tommy Steele
- "What's Wrong with That?" – Fred MacMurray
- "Watch Your Footwork" – Paul Petersen and Eddie Hodges
- "Valentine Candy" – Lesley Ann Warren
- "Strengthen the Dwelling" – Fred MacMurray and Biddle Bible Class
- "I'll Always Be Irish" – Tommy Steele, Fred MacMurray and Lesley Ann Warren
- "Bye-Yum Pum Pum" – Joyce Bulifant and Lesley Ann Warren
- "Are We Dancing?" – John Davidson and Lesley Ann Warren
- "I Believe in This Country" – Fred MacMurray
- "Detroit" – John Davidson and Lesley Ann Warren
- "When a Man Has a Daughter" – Fred MacMurray
- "There Are Those" – Gladys Cooper, Tommy Steele and Geraldine Page
- "Let's Have a Drink on It" – John Davidson, Tommy Steele, and Chorus
- "It Won't Be Long 'Til Christmas" (Roadshow version only) – Greer Garson and Fred MacMurray
- "Finale (Let's Have a Drink On It)" – Tommy Steele and Chorus
The song "Detroit" contains the lyric "F.O.B. Detroit". According to the Shermans, Disney overheard them singing the song and misheard the phrase as "S.O.B.", then scolded them for using such language in a Disney movie. The Shermans corrected Disney and the three laughed about it.
The original cast soundtrack was released on Buena Vista Records in stereo (STER-5001) and mono (BV-5001) versions. A second cast recording with studio singers and orchestrations by Tutti Camarata appeared on Disneyland Records in stereo (STER-1303) and mono (DQ-1303).
The cast soundtrack was re-released on CD in 2002 (60781-7), remastered from the original eight-track master tapes to reduce the heavy reverb from the original LP. The soundtrack is currently available on iTunes.
When Walt Disney died on December 15, 1966, the film's first cut had already been completed. Disney told Anderson to use his own judgement, but added, "Don't let the distribution people rush you..." Anderson wanted to shorten the film, as he disliked the musical number "It Won't Be Long 'Til Christmas" as performed by Greer Garson. Disney COO Card Walker wanted to excise even more material, and the two men fought bitterly over the extent of the cuts. The film opened at 164 minutes on a "reserved seating" basis.
Robert Sherman was in England during the film's Hollywood premiere at the Pantages Theatre, but he became furious when he discovered in the Los Angeles Times that a theater in the vicinity was showing a double feature of The Shaggy Dog and The Absent-Minded Professor at a much lower price. In order to satisfy requests from Radio City Music Hall, the site of the film's New York premiere, the studio cut 20 minutes from the film after the premiere. For the general release, the film was shortened even further to 118 minutes. It was not reissued and did not appear on television until 1984, when the 164-minute version was screened at the Los Angeles International Film Expo and aired on The Disney Channel.
The film was first released on VHS format in 1983, then reissued in 1986. Both releases are of the 144-minute version.
Anchor Bay Entertainment released separate DVDs of both the long and short versions on July 20, 1999. The long version, presented on home video for the first time, was in 1.66:1 non-anamorphic widescreen, but the short version was 1.33:1.
Disney re-released the film on DVD on June 1, 2004, featuring only the long version and including the intermission music at the end of Act I and the exit music at the end of Act II, elements that had been missing from the Anchor Bay release.
Writing in The New York Times, critic Bosley Crowther panned the film: "...the whole picture is vulgar. It is an over-decorated, over-fluffed, over-sentimentalized endeavor to pretend the lace-curtain millionaires are—or were—every bit as folksy as the old prize-fighters and the Irish brawlers in the saloon."
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote that "... adults will find the plot thin and the characters one-dimensional. Lots of kids will find little to hold their interest except the alligators. The adults will wonder how John Davidson could have possibly been cast in such an innocent and naive role when he looks at least 25 years old. I mean, that's a little late to steal your first kiss. As for the musical numbers, I found them eminently forgettable, with the sole exception of a nicely staged Irish reel."
Reviewing the film for Life, Richard Schickel remarked: "What is missing, quite literally, is magic. The movie's length, period, cost, even its eccentric central figure indicate Disney was trying for another Mary Poppins. It desperately needs her magic umbrella to lift MacMurray and the whole project off the ground. But the people who created the highest moments in Poppins with the dance across the rooftops are absent."
Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times stated that the film was "a disappointment" and compared it unfavorably to Mary Poppins: "There is no such unity of interest and identification in The Happiest Millionaire. If there is not really anybody to root against (except maybe Geraldine Page as the tart-tongued Mrs. Duke), there are too many people to root for, and each of them is pursuing his own story-line."
- Bart, Peter (May 14, 1966). "Hollywood Finds Harmony Paying: Recent Success of Musicals on Film Sparks a Revival". The New York Times. p. 17.
- "Big Rental Films of 1968". Variety. January 8, 1969. p. 15. Please note this figure is a rental accruing to distributors.
- Burt, Nathaniel (1999). The Perennial Philadelphians: The Anatomy of an American Aristocracy. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 55. ISBN 978-0812216936.
- Poore, Charles (May 5, 1955). "Books of The Times". The New York Times. p. 31.
- The Happy Millionaire: My PHILADELPHIA FATHER By Cordelia Drexel Biddle as told to Kyle Crichton. Illustrated. 256 pp. New york: Doubleday & Co. $4. By CLEVELAND AMORY. New York Times 8 May 1955: BR6.
- GENERAL AND SON TO PRODUCE PLAYS: C.W. Christenberrys, Sr. and Jr., Form Company--Katz Musical First Project By LOUIS CALTA. New York Times 10 May 1955: 24.
- OCT. 24 BOW SET FOR 'LARK' HERE: Longacre Theatre Is Chosen for Bloomgarden Offering -Producer Casting 'Diary' By LOUIS CALTA. New York Times ]25 June 1955: 8.
- PIDGEON TO STAR IN CRICHTON PLAY: Film Actor Will Return Here in 'The Happiest Millionaire' After 21-Year Absence A Change of Plans By SAM ZOLOTOW. New York Times 10 July 1956: 27.
- Calta, Louis (October 13, 1956). "M'CLINTIC LEAVES CRICHTON COMEDY: Director in Disagreement on 'Happiest Millionaire'-- Erskine Takes Over Play by Fry Tomorrow O'Neill Premiere Monday". The New York Times. p. 15.
- Atkinson, Brooks (November 21, 1956). "Theatre: Happy Evening: The Cast". The New York Times. p. 21.
- Gheiz, Didier (2009). Walt's People - Volume 8. Xlibris Corporation. p. 246. ISBN 978-1-4415-5183-2.[self-published source]
- "Shermans---They Feel a Song Coming On". Los Angeles Times. January 31, 1966. p. C14.
- Gheiz, Didier (2009). Walt's People - Volume 8. Xlibris Corporation. pp. 203, 206–208. ISBN 978-1-4415-5183-2.
- "Gwynne Makes a Lovable Munster". Los Angeles Times. January 4, 1966. p. B8.
- Masters, Kim; Nancy Griffin (1997). Hit & Run: How Jon Peters and Peter Guber Took Sony For a Ride in Hollywood. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. pp. 20–21. ISBN 0684832666.
"When I met Jon, I was appearing in The Happiest Millionaire — a perfect Jon Peters story," says Lesley Ann Warren.
- Scott, Vernon (June 21, 1966). "Greer Garson Keeps Herself Busy". Times Herald. The Washington Post. p. B5.
- Walt Disney's "The Happiest Millionaire", Original Cast Soundtrack, Buena Vista Records STER 5001, 1966
- Murray, R. Michael (1997). The Golden Age of Walt Disney Records: 1933-1988. Dubuque, Iowa: Antique Trader Books. p. 33. ISBN 0-930625-70-6.
- Hollis, Tim; Greg Ehrbar (2006). Mouse Tracks: The Story of Walt Disney Records. University Press of Mississippi. p. 100. ISBN 1-57806-849-5.
- Taraborrelli, J. Randy (2007). Diana Ross: An Unauthorized Biography. New York, NY: Kensington Publishing Corporation. p. 504. ISBN 978-0-8065-2850-2.
- Champlin, Charles (May 28, 1967). "Disney After Disney: Roy & the Seven". Los Angeles Time. p. K8.
- Holliss, Richard; Sibley, Brian (1988). The Disney Studio Story. London: Octopus Books Limited. p. 202. ISBN 0-517-57078-5.
- King, Susan (July 29, 1999). "Choices to Make 'Millionaire' Fans Happy". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 28, 2013.
- Crowther, Bosley (December 1, 1967). "Screen: Thin Blue Blood: Music Hall Is Offering 'Happiest Millionaire' 'An Uncommon Thief'". The New York Times. Retrieved January 14, 2020.
- Ebert, Roger (October 16, 1967). "The Happiest Millionaire movie review (1967)". rogerebert.com. Retrieved January 14, 2020.
- Schickel, Richard (January 5, 1968). "Walt's Good — and Bad — Goodbye". Life. Vol. 64 no. 1. p. 11. Retrieved January 14, 2020.
- Champlin, Charles (July 9, 1967). "So Little From So Much". Los Angeles Times. p. 11. Retrieved January 14, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
- "The Happiest Millionaire (1967)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 14, 2020.