The Happiest Millionaire
The Happiest Millionaire probably sits a bit under the wire for most people, though it has an important place in film history. It was the last live-action movie made by Walt Disney, who passed away during post-production. A musical, the film was produced in 1967 and seems pretty clear that it tried to recapture the success three years earlier with Mary Poppins. It told the story of an eccentric, turn-of-the-century 1916 family who have a butler come to the house to help, all with a score by the Sherman Brothers, who won a couple of Oscars for Mary Poppins. It wasn't nearly as successful as its predecessor, though was reasonably fun. I didn't see it in its original incarnation (though did have the soundtrack album), in part because it had the reputation of been drastically cut from its original release. However, I did go around 25 years later when the Motion Picture Academy screened the film with a lot of previously-cut material was added back.
In its original, limited, special engagement at the Radio City Music Hall, the film ran 164 minutes. But for general release it got cut a couple of times, and ended up at 118 minutes. That's a lot to cut. I saw the longer version. It's a mixed bag of coins -- the original version tells the story better and has all the songs, but it's probably longer than the material can support. The shorter version is more palatable, but from most accounts doesn't tell as fun or interesting a story. I saw it on television last week (on Turner Classic Movies, I believe) and they showed the full, 164-minute version. That's what prompted me to write this. The good news is that the movie now appears to be in TCM's rotation, for those who'd like to catch it.
The story, by the way, is true, about off-beat Philadelphia millionaire Anthony Drexel Biddle, Jr. (whose father founded Drexel University), based on a memoir co-written by his daughter Cordelia. It was originally adapted into a play, that starred Walter Pidgeon.
The movie starred Fred MacMurray, with Greer Garson as his wife, Leslie Ann Warren as Cordelia, and had a respectable cast, including Tommy Steele as the butler, and John Davidson (a popular singer of the day, who did a little bit of acting) as the young man particularly interested in Cordy. Whatever its flaws, it does have a very fun score by the Shermans. Not nearly as distinguished as Mary Poppins, more light-hearted, but then few meet that standard.
Though I like many of the numbers in the film, two songs particularly have stood out for me. The first unfortunately doesn't have a video to post, which is a particular shame because it's one of my favorite Sherman Brothers songs and a lively dance number. It's another of their songs based on a funny word -- like they did with "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" -- but this time it's a word they made up, "Fortuosity."
Side note: Yes, "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" existed before the Shermans. In fact, not only did I hear the word as a wee little kid several years before Mary Poppins, but I learned it from a childhood friend who lived down the block who has a connection to these pages that long-time readers will recognize. My friend David Apatoff taught it me, and many years later married his childhood sweetheart -- the oft-mentioned here Nell Minow! For the sake of accuracy, the word that David taught me was slightly different from the Shermans' but it overlapped. His word was pronounced.""Super-cadge-ifragilistic-expi-alodge-idocious." By the way, until I wrote this just now, I never realized a hilarious and wonderful connection between David teaching me the word and a particular lyric of the song, with a warning about using the word --
"But better use it carefully
Or it could change your life.
One night I said it to me girl --
And now me girl's me wife."
I suspect that that's precisely what drew Nell close to David when they were young and stayed together all these years through today. Because now the girl's his wife.
But I digress.
Back to "Fortuosity" which is a wonderful song that opens the movie, sung and danced through the streets with great joy by Tommy Steele, an Irish immigrant just off the boat, celebrating his new life in America and his good luck getting a job with a millionaire. I wish there was video of it because it's as fun a dance number as a song. But we'll go with what we've got. And here's the song as it is -- you'll just have to fill in the lively dancing down the street with your imagination in the places where it should clearly seem appropriate. Thanks for your participation...
The second song is admittedly one of those "personal favorite" kind of songs. It just hit me right as a kid for reasons unknown to Man (other than I found its dry, elegant subtlety so wonderful fun and witty) and it''s stuck with me since.
Helping too is that it's sung by two grand dames of the theater, Gladys Cooper and Geraldine Page. They play rival dowagers, one Old Money and the other Nouveau Riche, and their disdain for one another is seething right below the surface, as they sing, "There Are Those."
Just to put the actresses in perspective, Gladys Cooper is best known today for playing Henry Higgins' mother in the film of My Fair Lady. However she began her acting career back in 1905, and in 1911 appeared on the West End stage in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest and George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman. She made her first film in 1913. (Sound movies didn't even come in for another 14 years!) That's a long career. She got three Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actress -- Now, Voyager, and The Song of Bernadette, as well as My Fair Lady. And was named a Dame in 1967. (Point of personal privilege: in 1964 three years before The Happiest Millionaire, she played the matriarch in perhaps my favorite unsuccessful TV series (though it did last a full season of 30 episodes) that has arguably the greatest, high-quality cast in television history -- The Rogues, which starred Charles Boyer and David Niven, along with Gladys Cooper, as well as Robert Coote (who played Col. Pickering in the original Broadway production of My Fair Lady) and Gig Young.
Geraldine Page has four Tony Award nominations. As well as two Oscar nominations for Supporting Actress -- and she won the Academy Award as Best Actress for The Trip to Bountiful.
And happily we do have video of the scene, as they elegantly seethe at one another in "There Are Those."
9/11/2019 10:03:09 pm
I skipped it because I have too much on the DVR, including several episodes that I need to watch before the shows' new seasons start next month. I do have a soft spot for the movie though, from when it was in rotation on The Disney Channel in it's late, lamented, premium service glory days. Bad news on the TCM front though. TCM has been running a ten to twelve hour block of Disney programming about ten times a year; with Leonard Maltin hosting the prime time portion. It could show up again on another Disney evening, assuming they survive Disney+ launching in November; but I don't think that any of the Disney productions have shown up on the regular TCM schedule.
9/12/2019 10:36:14 am
The good news is that that's why God created Netflix --
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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