Cast & Crew
Gregory La Cava
During the second world war, and just before he is to take up his overseas assignment, Army flier Leo Gogarty spends one last hour dancing with his wife, Margaud "Maggie" Morgan, a model whom he met only nine days earlier. Three years pass, and with the end of the war, Leo and his Army buddies are back in America, resettling into civilian life. Accompanied by his pal Schultz, Leo surprises Maggie at a fashionable pool party, but, after fainting when she first sees Leo, she gives him the brush off and tells him that she has become "selfish and spoiled" in his absence. Despite Maggie's indifference, Leo is determined to win her over and rekindle their romance. He befriends Maggie's kindhearted grandmother, Abigail, and then pressures Maggie into disclosing their secret marriage to her family. After breaking the news to her "high-strung" family, Maggie accuses Leo of having taken advantage of her generosity by rushing her into a hasty marriage. Leo all but ignores Maggie's demand for a divorce, claiming he does not believe in it, and refuses to leave her home. With Abigail on his side, Leo uses his old-fashioned charms to get Maggie's attention, and even serenades her and dances for her. In time, Maggie succumbs to Leo's romantic ploys, while Abigail donates her old house to Leo and his war buddies. While turning the house into a "G.I. housing project," Leo catches the eye of war widow Peggy Randall, who moves in with her young son. One day, while visiting the house to present Leo with divorce papers, Maggie is moved by the community construction effort and promises to help by donating bathtubs. Leo and Peggy soon become good friends, which stirs Maggie's jealousy and causes her to change her mind about Leo. Realizing that she is truly in love with Leo and that their marriage means more than just a patriotic gesture on her part, Maggie drops her divorce suit and decides to take back her husband. In the meantime, however, Leo has abandoned hope for a resumption of their nuptials, and offers Maggie the divorce she sought earlier. Leo and Maggie nearly separate for good until Abigail and Leo's pals step in to bring the two together. The couple then begin living as husband and wife for the first time in an apartment in Abigail's refurbished house.
Gregory La Cava
Wm. "bill" Phillips
Robert E. O'connor
Pandro S. Berman
Gregory La Cava
Gregory La Cava
Gregory La Cava
Jack D. Moore
Edwin B. Willis
Living in a Big Way
Kelly didn't really want to make Living in a Big Way. Since his release from the Navy, MGM had had little for him to do. The studio was focusing on bigger male stars who had been kept off the screen longer by military duty. In addition, executives weren't sure if the brash persona he had already developed in films like his debut, For Me and My Gal (1942), and Anchors Aweigh (1945) would play well in peacetime. Still, he had enough of a fan following that his presence could bolster beauty queen Marie McDonald, whom MGM was trying to turn into a star to rival Lana Turner. Kelly didn't like the colorless role the script offered or the fact that he'd be teamed with an actress best known by the nickname her press agents had created, "The Body." Finally, studio executive Benny Thau appealed to his loyalty by reminding him that the studio had given him a boost by pairing him with Judy Garland in his first film. Now he could return the favor by agreeing to co-star with McDonald.
Fortunately for Kelly, the film's director was far from the usual studio hack. Gregory La Cava had built a reputation for himself with a series of stylish comedies that showed actors to their best advantage. After a string of '30s hits, including My Man Godfrey (1936) and Stage Door (1937), La Cava had directed only sporadically in the '40s, mainly because of his heavy drinking. He also tended to alienate studio executives with his seemingly chaotic working methods. He rarely followed shooting scripts, preferring to use improvisation and inspiration as a source of new material while shooting. Although this usually led to extended shooting schedules, the results could be stunningly creative. Even though he had written the story for Living in a Big Way, he refused to nail down the script, working with Irving Ravetch to re-write scenes as the film was shooting. Producer Pandro S. Berman, who had fought to keep La Cava on Stage Door when studio executives were in a panic, gave La Cava his head.
La Cava's improvisatory approach was a boon to Kelly. When the dancing star suggested adding some musical numbers to the film, La Cava was all too willing. Kelly and Donen staged a romantic duet for the courtship scenes with McDonald, a comic dance with a dog who, like Kelly, has been rejected by the leading lady, and a lengthy sequence in which Kelly seemingly improvises an athletic dance to entertain some children while he's building a house. The dog dance gave Kelly a chance to choreograph around the character's persona, something he and Donen would explore further in the "Day in New York" ballet for On the Town. The improvisatory feel of the house-building routine would become a Kelly staple in films like Summer Stock (1950), An American in Paris (1951) and Singin' in the Rain.
Shooting on Living in a Big Way dragged on for nine months, partly because the studio gave Kelly, an officer in the Screen Actors Guild, time off to help negotiate an end to a strike against the studios by the Carpenter's Union. When the film was finally finished, it did poorly at the box office. Later critics have noted that La Cava's directions revealed a comic dimension to Kelly's acting that had not been exploited well before and that the film fits well with the director's other comic treatments of class warfare. But contemporary audiences didn't take to a musical with just three numbers and were even less enthusiastic about McDonald. The studio later gave up plans to make her a star, and her career petered out. Eventually she would be more famous for a series of scandals, including seven marriages (two to shoe magnate Harry Karl, later Debbie Reynolds' second husband), drug arrests, nervous breakdowns and a mysterious death at the age of 42.
Producer: Pandro S. Berman
Director: Gregory La Cava
Screenplay: Gregory La Cava, Irving Ravetch
Based on a story by La Cava
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, William Ferrari
Music: Lennie Hayton
Cast: Gene Kelly (Leo Gogarty), Marie McDonald (Margaud Morgan), Charles Winninger (D. Rutherford Morgan), Phyllis Thaxter (Peggy Randall), Spring Byington (Mrs. Morgan), Jean Adair (Abigail Morgan), Clinton Sundberg (Everett Hanover Smythe), Barbara Billingsley (G.I. Bill's Wife), Ellen Corby (Broken Arms' Sailors Wife), Charles Lane (Hawkins), Marie Windsor, Shelley Winters (Junior League Girls).
by Frank Miller
Living in a Big Way
Working titles for this film were Life's for the Loving and To Kiss and To Keep. The film marked Gene Kelly's first film since returning from his two-year stint in the Army. It was also the last film made by Gregory La Cava, who died in 1952. Hollywood Reporter production charts include Robert Rose and Bunny Gaines in the cast, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Although Randall Duell is listed as the film's art director in the first Hollywood Reporter production chart, the extent of his contribution to the released film has not been determined. Some contemporary sources erroneously spell actress Marie McDonald's last name "MacDonald."
According to modern sources, only one dance number, the "It Had to Be You" sequence, was written into the original script. The additional dance numbers were invented by Gene Kelly and were added to the film after the initial shooting was completed. The construction site dance number is often used in documentaries on film dancing and on Kelly. A biography of Kelly notes that the performer disliked the script and hated working with McDonald. It also notes that production on the film dragged on for nine months because of a union stike. Kelly, who was on the Screenwriters' Guild board of directors at the time, served as one of the arbitrators in the dispute and reportedly helped bring about the end of the strike.