Friday, December 29, 2017

50th Anniversary of Walt Disney's The Happiest Millionaire (Mega Post!)

This year marked the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney's, The Happiest Millionaire. The film was the very last live-action film that Walt Disney oversaw production on, before passing away in December of 1966.

The Happiest Millionaire was originally a 1956 Broadway play, starring Walter Pidgeon in the title role.

The play itself, was based on the book, My Philadelphia Father by Cordelia Drexel Biddle (with Kyle Chrichton), which was published in 1955 and told the story of her eccentric millionaire father, Anthony J. Drexel Biddle and his family.

Walt Disney aquired the rights to the story in the early sixties, but he wasn't planning to make it a musical until the huge box office success of Mary Poppins in 1964. The Sherman Brothers, fresh off of their double Academy Award win with Mary Poppins (for Best Score and Best Song), were brought in again, to compose the music for The Happiest Millionaire.

I'm going to attempt to give a condensed synopsis of the movie. For anyone that wants to skip my synopsis, you can scroll down to the image of the white plastic "Happiest Millionaire" VHS case from Walt Disney Home Video and the other film-related merchandise.

Okay, here we go. Picture it....Philadelphia, 1916! "Elegant" millionaire, Anthony J. Drexel Biddle (Fred Mac Murray) and his wife (Greer Garson) live in a large Philadelphia mansion with their "elegant" family and a handful of servants.

John Lawless (Tommy Steele), an Irish immigrant who is "one day off-the-boat," comes dancing down the street and singing about a potential job that is "nearly" his, with said "elegant millionaire and his elegant family." He tells us that we might call that luck and we might call it fortune, but he calls it, "Fortuosity."

"Fortuosity," is his byword. It also happens to be his "never feel alone" word, and his "twinkle in the eye" word.

Among the Biddle family members are tomboyish daughter, Cordelia/"Cordy" (Lesley Ann Warren). While growing up, Cordy was taught how to box by her father, who happens to run a boxing school at home under the name, "Biddle Bible Class."

Cordy has two brothers, Livingston (former Mouseketeer, Paul Peterson on the left) and Tony (Eddie Hodges on the right). They are always scaring away Cordy's potential suitors, by warning them that if they get too amorous with her, she'll give them "a jab, a right hook, or an uppercut!" Of course they do this through song ("Watch Your Footwork").

This leads Cordy to question her femininity. While looking into her bedroom mirror, she asks herself if she's "Valentine Candy" or boxing gloves.

John Lawless ends up getting hired as the butler and that's cause for a song and dance number with Mr. Biddle, Cordy and one of their servants, Mrs. Worth (Hermione Baddeley).

Yes, Hermione Baddeley....the Banks' maid in Mary Poppins and Bea Arthur's maid in Maude.

At the suggestion of Cordy's aunt Mary (Gladys Cooper), Cordy chooses to leave home and go off to a boarding school for girls.

While away at school, Cordy's roommate, Rosemary (Joyce Bullifant) teaches her how to "vamp it up" and land herself a man. Through a song called "Bye-Yum Pum Pum," she tells her that it's necessary for her to "slink across the floor as if it's a dreadful bore!" She also adds that she must be "oh-so mysterioso," because "the men in college always acknowledge, a woman who dances in a trance." This song might just be my favorite in the category of "little-known Sherman Brothers songs."

Cordy and Rosemary attend a society party, where Cordy figures she will be able to use her newly acquired man-luring techniques. Rosemary is the blond doing the tango on the far right.

Cordy is off in another room practicing her vamping, when Angier "Angie" Duke (John Davidson) sees her and tells her that she isn't like the other girls and that he likes that.

They end up waltzing while singing, "Are We Dancing?" Personally, I think this scene is a little reminiscent of the one from Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1965 TV Special, "Cinderella," in which Lesley Ann Warren dances with Stuart Damon while singing "Ten Minutes Ago." But that's not a bad thing!

Cordy and Angie fall in love during a montage of scenes showing them going on dates, which mostly seem to involve driving all around the countryside in his car.

Angie's passion turns out to be automobiles, and his dream is to move to Detroit and "invent new motors and design new rotors," as he declares in the song, "Detroit."

Meanwhile back in the Biddle household....did I mention that Mr. Biddle raises alligators? That's just one of the things that makes him an eccentric millionaire. Well, a window is left open in the conservatory where the alligators are kept, and being wintertime in Philadelphia, the alligators freeze! John Lawless helps Mr. Biddle thaw out his "babies" by the fireplace, and then has to wrangle them back into their holding pools in the conservatory.

Okay, here is where the movie (and probably this post) starts to feel a little long. And since I'm short on images for this last part of the film anyway, I'll speed it up a little.

Cordy comes back home with Angie and they announce their engagement to the family. Mr. Biddle isn't too happy about it at first, but Angie eventually wins him over. Cordy meets Angie's snooty-patootie mother, Mrs. Duke (Geraldine Page). There ends up being some conflicts and misunderstandings among the families and Cordy ends up calling off the wedding. The primary problem being, that Angie gives up on his own personal dream of going to Detroit and decides to enter into the family's tobacco business, because that's what his mother expects him to do.

Angie goes to a bar to drink and decides that he is going to (among other things) just run off and join the Foreign Legion. John Lawless, who was sent to follow him and look after him, starts a fight at the bar to keep Angie from running out and doing anything rash.

Angie ends up getting arrested. The families come to bail him out and that is when he stands up to his mother and tells her that he is going to follow his own dreams after all. He picks up Cordy and throws her over his shoulder and they run off to elope.

And they all lived happily ever after!

The movie was originally 164 minutes in length, for it's initial premiere in New York City. For it's Los Angeles premiere, the film was edited down to 144 minutes. The studio ended up shortening it even further (by another 26 minutes) for it's general release. The movie was not a financial success and unlike many of Disney's earlier films, it was never re-released in movie theaters. I saw The Happiest Millionaire for the very first time, after it was released on Walt Disney Home Video in 1983 (the 144 minute version).

I always say that it's an odd little movie (okay, not so little) but I completely fell in love with it and it's soundtrack (with the exception of the two songs Fred MacMurray sings by himself). After watching it that first time, it didn't take me very long to find a used copy of the soundtrack on vinyl.

I recently did a search on ebay, to see what other merchandise might have been available at the time the film was released. I found a small selection of items, including this comic book.

A book of paper dolls also turned up in my search.

Joyce Bulifant's character (Rosemary) was represented on the back cover.

And here's a strange movie tie-in, a book of The Happiest Millionaire "play money."

A coloring book and children's records were also available back in 1967. I wonder if any of these items were sold at Disneyland?

A songbook was published, containing all of the Sherman Brothers music from the film.

Individual sheet music was also available.

In 2002, the soundtrack was remastered and re-released on CD, and included two bonus tracks. One of these is, "It Won't Be Long 'til Christmas," which is a song that was cut for the shorter versions of the film. The other is a demo track (sung by Richard Sherman), for a song that never made it past the pre-production stages.

And in 2004, Disney released the original "Roadshow Edition" (the long version) of the film on DVD.

We will wrap up this post with a few "sort-of-related" tidbits here:

The same year that The Happiest Millionaire premiered, Club 33 opened at Disneyland. Located in New Orleans Square, the private club is decorated with many historic and antique pieces. A phone booth was specially built for the club, using the leaded glass panels from the phone booth featured in the film. The original prop can be seen on the far right of the photo below.

Here's a picture showing the Club 33 phone booth, back in 2010.

Lesley Ann Warren visited Disneyland in 2012 and was photographed with Mickey in front of the film-inspired piece. (Photo from the Disney Parks Blog.)

Also on display in Club 33 are Bill Thomas' costume sketches for The Happiest Millionaire. Mr. Thomas was nominated for an Academy Award for his costume design (the film's only nomination), but lost to John Truscott for his costume designs for the film, Camelot.

Lesley Ann Warren and John Davidson were paired up once again, in the 1968 Walt Disney film, The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band. (That film will have to be the subject of a future post......maybe.)

In 1974, The Happiest Millionaire song, "Fortuosity" was sung by Ruth Buzzi and Sandy Duncan during the TV special, Sandy In Disneyland. The interesting thing here is, that they sing the song while traipsing through a Doombuggy-less Haunted Mansion. I remember seeing this as a kid and thinking, I want to do that!

That same 1974 TV special also happens to include John Davidson, singing with Sandy Duncan while strolling down Main Street. Right after that, he sings The Carpenters song, "Top Of The World" while riding on the Main Street Fire Engine. I've included the link to the special in it's entirety, just in case anyone is interested. (John Davidson's appearance begins at the 24:23 mark.)

Fast-forwarding six years to 1980....John Davidson was on hand at Walt Disney World, to unveil the Magic Kingdom's newest attraction, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

This year, Disney actually came out with a 50th anniversary pin for The Happiest Millionaire. The pin was available exclusively to Disney cast members.

The pin's design was taken from the cover of this 1967 long-playing children's record.

A very happy 50th anniversary to Walt Disney's The Happiest Millionaire!

**BONUS!** Major Pepperidge of Gorillas Don't Blog, has generously offered to share some Happiest Millionaire-related items from his collection. Thank you, Major!

This first item is a special 1967 Disneyland Grad Nite flyer.

It offers Grad Nite attendees the chance to buy discounted tickets for The Happiest Millionaire, which was playing at The Pantages Theater in Hollywood.

This second item is an ad from the back cover of a "Two Wonderful Ways To Enjoy Disneyland" flyer.

Now I'm wondering if over they years, tickets for other Disney films were available at Disneyland's Main Gate?


Snow White Archive said...

Wow! I'd never even heard of the movie before. Really like the b&w photo of Fred Mac Murray, Greer Garson, and Walt Disney. And the 2012 pics of Lesley Ann Warren visiting Club 33. Who knew? Fairly awesome to be able to run through the Doombuggy-less Haunted Mansion. Celebrities get to do all the cool stuff. ;) Excellent post TM. Thanks for sharing.

The Magic Ears Dudebro said...

Rather disappointing that the very last movie that Walt himself worked on was also one of his most obscure. I have heard about it before this post, but this is the first time actually learning more about it.

Somehow I doubt a movie like this could be made today in our post-Occupy world. In this current socio-economic landscape, it seems like moviegoers are less inclined to watch movies about how "good" the one percent have it, and would only watch a movie about the rich if it's about how "not good" they are. (See: Wolf of Wall Street, The Great Gatsby). The real exceptions would be with rich superheroes like Batman or Iron Man.

Though admittedly, a movie about a woman bravely defying gender roles does seem very feminist for a Disney movie, especially since Disney movies, or rather, the earlier ones, aren't exactly well praised for being very "feminist", especially with their princesses. Somehow, if Disney were to remake the movie today, they'd probably add a greater emphasis on that storyline. Of course, that would probably involve renaming the movie.

Good read, anyway.

Major Pepperidge said...

Wow! What a thorough article! As I have mentioned elsewhere, I have never seen The Happiest Millionaire - I was curious, but not curious enough to purchase a DVD. And I never really knew exactly what it was about, so now I do (thanks). I was aware of Fred Mac Murray’s character keeping alligators, which seemed like a bad writer’s attempt to show how eccentric he was, but I guess Cordelia Biddle’s father really did keep them. How do you potty train a gator? If the movie was made today, he would ride a skateboard.

Leslie Ann Warren, wow, she was pretty - and she still looks great in those more recent photos. John Davidson… once he was on “Real People”, there was no where to go but down. (Sorry John, I know that you are reading this, and I know that was a cheap shot).

Possibly my favorite part of this amazing post is when you cover the merchandise. What is up with the book of play money?! I have perhaps two Disneyland items that mention The Happiest Millionaire, I should scan them so that you can add them to your article.

If I ever see THM I might as well be a glutton for punishment and watch the full-length road-show version!

I am very happy that there is a mention of both Sandy Duncan AND Ruth Buzzi; this automatically qualifies this post as eligible for the Pulitzer Prize. I HOPE YOU WIN!

TokyoMagic! said...

SWA, thanks! It doesn't come anywhere near the caliber of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," but I think it is a must-see for anyone that is a fan of Disney's pre-1970's films.

Disney Dudebro, thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed the post! I never thought about it, but I think you are right about that subject matter maybe not being seen on film today. If the film was to be remade, they'd probably have to have the family fall on hard times and make Lesley Ann Warren somehow become a princess or a pirate.....or a Jedi. They could call it "Down and Out in Philadelphia" or "The Princess and the Alligator." "Socialites of the Caribbean in Outer Space"???

Major, who would be riding the skateboard...the millionaire, or the alligator? I have always loved Lesley Ann Warren. Unfortunately, we do not get to see enough of her. Have you ever seen "Victor/Victoria"? She was excellent in that. You might be confusing John Davidson with Skip Stephenson, who was on "Real People." Mr. Davidson was actually on "That's Incredible" and following that, he "moved up" (or maybe just laterally) to hosting "Hollywood Squares" for several years. I've always liked him too, and back in the 1980's, I went to see tapings of "That's Incredible!" as well as his afternoon talk show, "The John Davidson Show." I hope he IS readying this! By the way, Sandy Duncan and Ruth Buzzi rule! And I would love to see copies of your Disneyland items that mention "The Happiest Millionaire"!

Major Pepperidge said...

Oh yeah, I was confusing "Real People" with "That's Incredible". What a faux pas. But I would never confuse John Davidson with Skip Stephenson! I sent you some scans of those items I mentioned. I have never seen "Victor/Victoria". Or maybe I have and just forgot it. Is that the one where Julie Andrews shows her bosom? Or is that "SOB"? All I know is that I have never been the same.

K. Martinez said...

What an awesome post! This surpassed my expectations. So much to look at. I really love those three Disneyland Records singles in which the covers look like dimensional paper art using subtle shadow effects. Those are very cool!

And I love the B&W standing portrait of Fred MacMurray, Greer Garson and Walt Disney. I have never seen that publicity photo before. So much cool stuff to look at here.

That John Davidson/Big Thunder Mountain Railroad pic is also in the hardcover book "Walt Disney World - The First Decade". It's still my favorite book about WDW.

And finally I still have to watch "The Blah, Blah, Blah Band" aka "The One and Only Genuine Original Family Band".

Just want to say thank you for another great year of posts on "Meet the World" and I'm looking forward to more in 2018. After all, it's practically Bozo Approved!

Happy New Year, TM!

TokyoMagic! said...

Major, "S.O.B." is the one where Julie Andrews shows her bosom. I saw that in the theater and was pretty much scarred for life after watching "Mary Poppins" and "Fraulein Maria" do that. "Victor/Victoria" is the one where she plays a woman pretending to be a man, pretending to be a woman. I think it's a much better film than "S.O.B." and not as psychologically scarring. Thank you so much for the scans!

Ken, I love the style of artwork on those records too. It reminds me of the art used in the opening titles of the "Merlin Jones" movies. You will have to let me know what you thin of "The One and Only Genuine Original Family Band" after you watch it. Thank you for the kind words and a very happy New Year to you, too!

Stefano said...

This is a fun post, very well researched. I haven't seen "The Happiest Millionaire"; though it never had a wide theatrical reissue, it might show up at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles. Last November they had a Fred MacMurray double bill of "Absent Minded Professor" and "Son of Flubber"; over the Christmas weekend "Mary Poppins" screened, and a few years ago I saw "Darby O'Gill" there. Film prints only, 35mm or 16mm occasionally.

A 2014 book by Matthew Kennedy, ROADSHOW: THE FALL OF FILM MUSICALS IN THE 1960s, interestingly examines that era's trend of big movie musicals, art- and commerce-wise; several pages are devoted to "Millionaire". Busloads of senior citizens were ferried to the Pantages Theatre when the film opened, apparently because they were considered a target audience which would stir up positive word of mouth : didn't work.

Love the big hair on some of the performers. We are about as many years from the film's premiere as the period represented was from the film; but the cast looks 65% 1967 to 35% 1916.The couple spooning in two senses over malted milks might be in Main Street's Carnation Café.

In the Buzzi-_Duncan clip, that pop-up ghoul rising between them is quite startling! I don't remember him; is he still in The Haunted Mansion?

TokyoMagic! said...

Stefano, thank you very much! I didn't realize that the New Beverly Cinema showed Disney films at times. It would have been nice if it had been shown at the El Capitan Theater for it's 50th anniversary. Thanks for the heads-up about that book. I might just have to go looking for it. I never thought about the hair styles, but it makes sense. The studios often don't get the hair right in movies or TV shows. Look at the actors on the TV series, "Happy Days." Most of them had 1970's hair, instead of 1950's (the time when the show was supposed to have taken place.) And I'm not sure about that ghoul in the Haunted Mansion. I know I recognize him....I'm just not sure if he is still there.


The late Imagineer Dave Mumford said that the BIDDLE BIBLE CLASS grey sweaters had their lettering removed and were re-used on the dock workers and fisherman in the 1977 PETE'S DRAGON!!!

TokyoMagic! said...

Oh! Thank you for that info, Mike! So they were reused 10 whole years later! I wonder where those sweaters are now? And now I'm also wondering what they did with all the many other, more elaborate costumes from the movie?


I'm not sure - but as you mention Disney was notorious for making costumes that were more in styles from the year the movie was made - not the year the movie took place . When the Disney archives had a large Mary Poppins exhibit they featured many costumes from the film - and the most famous pink and white Jolly Holliday costume looked like it was 300 HUNDRED YEARS OLD! The exhibit explained the costume was dyed grey for Leslie Anne Warren in ( Millionaire or Family Band - I can't recall ) with many of the fancy elements removed - I couldn't believe that!! So if Disney Studios was willing to destroy and reused an iconic "Poppins" dress , I'm sure happiest millionaire costumes could have met a similar fate .

I love discovering reused props and costumes in Disney Movies - the BIDDLE Mansion entry doors were reused as the Grand Imperial Hotel front doors in Snowball Express 1972, the BIDDLE entry foyer table appears in Egglsntine Prices house in Bedknobs And Broomsticks .... captain nemo's triple backed parlor chair also appears in the hotel lobby of Snow Ball Express ..... the Full size Isle of Naboombo socir plsying animal "standees" used by actor David Thomlinson to film the live action/ animated parts in "Broom sticks" are used as appliance store window displays in the opening of THE BAREFOOT EXECUTIVE. The mercantile delivery truck used in Summer Magic is Disneyland's RED HORSELESS CARRIAGE - after the film it was refurbished and its passenger section lengthened to match the Yellow Horseless Carriage and sent bs k to Disneyland!

TokyoMagic! said...

Mike, thanks for all that additional info. I love stuff like that! I'm going to have to look for all those items now in those Disney movies you mentioned. I can't believe Disney was willing to destroy/ruin the iconic Jolly Holiday dress from Mary Poppins, just to reuse it in another film when they could have just made another dress. That is sad! I know today, the company doesn't seem to care so much about their own history, but I would have thought that back then they would have wanted to keep that dress for the archives.


Several years ago the Disney Studios cleared out its original property control building - the archives picked a few things but they had an outside company handle the liquidation - the last few days were free and open to the public . Disney could care less about what was in the buildings they just wanted it out quickly! The Big type things were sold during the first days but smaller things were left and sold cheaply because the liquidation company had no idea what the things were : giant banners and pennants for Medfield College and College Knowkedge signs , Emrlious Browne Magic show posters , so many things but also being sold " Edwardian Animal Toys" that were a risky 1950's Disneyland Jungle Cruise model maquettes!!! For 35.00 bucks each!! One just recently sold at the Van Eaton Gallery ..... for many thousands of dollars more than 35 bucks!!

TokyoMagic! said...

Oooooh, I hope you got some good stuff from that sale, Mike!


no- I didn't go and only saw pictures after the fact .