Cast & Crew
During the Christmas season, Dudley, an angel in the guise of a mortal, strolls around a small town and notices Julia Brougham, the bishop's wife, gazing wistfully through a store window. Dudley follows Julia to a Christmas tree lot, where she meets her old friend, Professor Wutheridge, and expresses her sadness that her husband Henry is too busy worrying about fund raising for a new cathedral to enjoy the season with his parishioners. The professor offers Julia a contribution of an ancient Roman coin from his collection. After Julia leaves for home, Dudley purposely bumps into the professor and makes inquiries about the Broughams. When Julia arrives home, she finds Henry in a tense meeting with several important parishioners, including Mrs. Agnes Hamilton, a wealthy widow, who insists that her large contribution toward the cathedral's construction guarantee a proper memorial to her dead husband. Henry is upset by Julia's tardiness and the meeting breaks up after Mrs. Hamilton threatens to withdraw her support unless satisfied. Julia mentions seeing the professor and gives Henry the ancient coin, which he angrily dismisses as worthless. Trying to make amends for his curtness, Henry asks Julia to have lunch with him the following day as they used to do, and she delightedly agrees. After retiring to his study, however, Henry is beset by messages and demands on his time. Dismissing his assistant, Mildred Cassaway, Henry prays for guidance, and a few moments later, Dudley mysteriously arrives and informs Henry that he is an angel sent in answer to his prayer. Henry is immediately skeptical, and when Julia comes in a few moments later, Dudley introduces himself as Henry's assistant, which pleases her and upsets Henry. The next morning Henry is dismayed to see that Dudley has returned and ingratiated himself with Mildred Cassaway, the maid, Matilda, and even the family dog, Queenie. Julia is disappointed that Henry has broken their luncheon date and sadly takes their young daughter Debby to the park. After Henry departs, Dudley follows Julia and Debby to the park and helps the little girl build her confidence during a snowball fight. Dudley offers to take Julia to lunch just as Matilda inexplicably shows up to relieve her of Debby. Dudley takes Julia to Michel's, which she reveals is her favorite restaurant and is where Henry proposed to her. When they are spotted by several parish ladies, Dudley wards off gossip by inviting them to join him and Julia. Walking home later, Julia and Dudley run into the professor, who is suspicious of Dudley, yet invites them to his tiny apartment, where he admits that due to a lack of inspiration he has not worked for some time on his manuscript about ancient Rome. Dudley, who has retrieved the ancient coin from the Brougahms', returns it to the professor and piques his interest by informing him of the rare and valuable coin's unique history. Meanwhile, Henry has rescheduled his appointments so that he can make his lunch date with Julia and is annoyed to discover that she has gone out with Dudley. The next day, Dudley tells Debby the story of David, who is helped by an angel, which only vexes Henry further. Later, Henry accepts an appointment to meet with Mrs. Hamilton, knowing it will conflict with his promised appearance at choir practice at his old parish. Despite Julia's pleas, Henry insists on seeing Mrs. Hamilton, and Dudley accompanies Julia to the rehearsal. At Mrs. Hamilton's, Henry agrees to all her demands in exchange for her complete support of the cathedral but, while hastening to leave to meet Julia, finds himself stuck to a recently varnished chair. At the church, meanwhile, Rev. Miller is embarrassed by the poor turnout, but Dudley reassures him and asks the couple of boys present to begin singing. Gradually all the boys arrive and give an inspiring performance under Dudley's direction. As the still-stuck Henry fumes at Mrs. Hamilton's, Dudley and Julia catch a cab into town where Dudley purchases a hat for Julia he knows she admires. Then Dudley asks the cab driver, Sylvester, to stop at a park where a crowd is ice skating and, with Dudley's guidance, both Julia and Sylvester skate enthusiastically. Dudley and Julia return home, where Henry angrily demands that Dudley leave for good. Henry's outburst depresses Julia, and the next day, Christmas Eve, the household wonders if Dudley will ever return. After Henry and Julia leave to make calls, Dudley arrives and rewrites Henry's Christmas sermon, dictating while the typewriter takes down the new speech. Dudley then transforms the Christmas tree over which Matilda has been laboring and departs to see Mrs. Hamilton. While waiting in the wealthy woman's drawing room, Dudley discovers a hidden piece of sheet music inscribed to Mrs. Hamilton from a man who is not her husband. Dudley plays the tune on Mrs. Hamilton's harp, and she confesses that in her youth she was in love with the tune's composer, but feared poverty and rejected him. In an effort to make up for not loving her wealthy husband, she has steadfastly tried to maintain his legacy. Later, when Henry and Julia arrive, Mrs. Hamilton thanks Henry for sending Dudley to her and tells them that he has inspired her to give her money to the needy rather than build the cathedral. Utterly dismayed, Henry tells Julia he will meet her at home and, wandering into town, stops by the professor's, where he confides that Dudley is an angel who has upset everything. He apologizes for rejecting the professor's coin, which the old scholar returns to him, declaring that it has inspired him and may help Henry too. When Henry sadly reveals he believes he has lost Julia to Dudley, the professor reminds him that he is human and Dudley is not and encourages him to fight for Julia. At the Broughams' home, while Dudley and Julia stand admiring the Christmas tree, Dudley tells her it is time for him to leave, but asks her to have him stay. Disturbed by his implication, Julia tells him that he must go and hastens upstairs just as Henry arrives to challenge Dudley. Dudley is pleased that Henry has finally acknowledged that Julia is the most important thing in his life and reminds the bishop that he never prayed for a cathedral, but for guidance. He wistfully adds that it is bad when an angel envies a mortal and informs Henry that after he goes, no one will have any memory of his existence. Henry then finds himself alone in his study praying before the painting of the cathedral, and abruptly races upstairs looking for Julia, who is putting Debby to bed. They embrace and then depart for St. Timothy's where Henry delivers Dudley's Christmas sermon. Dudley listens from the street, and satisfied, departs.
The Mitchell Boy Choir
Joseph J. Greene
Robert E. Sherwood
Reverend J. Herbert Smith
The Bishop's Wife - Lobby Cards
The Bishop's Wife - Lobby Cards
The Bishop's Wife - The Bishop's Wife
Taking his cue from one of RKO's biggest hits of 1945, The Bells of St. Mary's (Leo McCarey's smash sequel to 1944's Going My Way), he decided he would make a picture that was heartwarming and inspirational with a background Christmas setting. For his source material, Goldwyn optioned The Bishop's Wife, a popular novel by Robert Nathan whose other fantasy romance, Portrait of Jennie, would eclipse Bishop as both a literary work, and, as a 1948 Selznick movie. The fact that another RKO film, Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, containing a similar earthbound angel storyline, flopped miserably the same year as Best Years, fell upon deaf ears.
In an odd move, the producer next hired writer Robert Sherwood, who had done such a splendid job on Best Years, to pen the script; Goldwyn figured Sherwood could do no wrong. Sherwood, whose take on the reality of post-war America was dead-on, was not equipped to handle the lighthearted whimsical narrative concerning a heavenly being sent to mend a shaky mortal marriage. It was the second of many mistakes. William A. Seiter, a fine comedy director who had guided everyone from Laurel and Hardy (Sons of the Desert, 1933) and the Marx Brothers (Room Service, 1938) to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (Roberta, 1935), was set to direct after William Wyler turned the picture down.
Next came the casting. Loretta Young (whom Goldwyn would constantly refer to as "Laurette Taylor," a famous actress who had recently died) and Cary Grant would be paired as the troubled couple with David Niven, ending his contract with the producer, slated as the angel, Dudley. From day one, Grant voiced his problems with the script, and stipulated re-writes. Soon, he realized that he had the wrong part: he should be the angel with Niven relegated to the title character's husband.
Shortly after this casting change went into effect, Grant had new doubts about his decision and wondered if perhaps he should have stuck with his original role. But Goldwyn had other problems to contend with according to co-star David Niven in his biography, Bring on the Empty Horses: "The day before shooting was to start, Goldwyn decided that the interiors of the Bishop's house were not ecclesiastical enough and ordered several sets to be torn down, redesigned and rebuilt. For three weeks, while this was going on, production was halted, then, two days after the cameras finally had a chance to turn, Goldwyn decided that Seiter's hand was a little too heavy on the tiller: he was removed, paid his full salary and after a week, Goldwyn hired Henry Koster to start again from scratch - with another two weeks of rehearsal. All this must have cost Goldwyn several hundred thousand dollars...."
Almost before Koster could cry his first "Action!," problems arose between Grant and Young - due primarily to Grant's notorious perfectionism. Off screen, the star was going through a rash of personal problems underlined by the near-death of his close friend Howard Hughes, who was hospitalized in critical condition after a plane crash. But on the set, Grant's obsessive attention to small details often irritated Young, who could be quite headstrong in her own working methods.
According to Joe Morella and Edward Z. Epstein in the biography, Loretta Young: An Extraordinary Life, "Loretta and Cary were shooting a scene when Grant stopped abruptly, declaring, "If it's supposed to be cold outside, and the house is nice and warm inside, why isn't there any frost on the windows?" This was the kind of detail that was rarely overlooked at the Goldwyn studio, and everything stopped until the proper frost effect was accomplished by the propmen." It was just one of many incidents that encouraged Young to assert her own ego during production. The fact that the two leads had gotten along famously when they co-starred in Born to be Bad (1934) was apparently long forgotten when it came time to photograph them both in profile - from the same side - for a romantic scene. "Neither actor had ever objected to being shot in profile," wrote Charles Higham and Roy Moseley in Cary Grant: The Lonely Heart. "But now Cary said he looked better from his left side, and Loretta said that she also looked better from that side. In despair, Koster said, "How can I direct what is, in essence, a love scene if both of you are looking the same way?" Eventually, Koster worked out the blocking for the scene that pleased both actors but the completed scene angered Goldwyn who later confronted Grant and Young and warned them, "From now on, both of you guys get only half your salary if I can only use half your faces."
Usually, Grant and Young would have turned to their co-star David Niven for comfort. The renowned wit and raconteur was a great pal of Cary's since the mid-1930s when he officially joined the Hollywood colony of expatriate British actors living there; furthermore, he and Loretta were good friends, having worked together four times previously. But the usually cheerful Niven was going through his own private hell. Prior to production on The Bishop's Wife, the actor's beloved wife Primmie suffered a fatal head injury; it occurred during a party game of "sardines" at Tyrone Power's house. She thought she was running into a closet, but instead took a long fall down the cellar stairs and died of complications days later.
Meanwhile, Goldwyn focused his energies on improving the script. With key sequences in crucial need of tweaking, Sam sent out an A.P.B. for the writing/directing/producing team of Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett. During a frantic Friday meeting and rough-cut screening, Goldwyn offered the formidable scribes $25,000 for doctoring three crucial scenes on the proviso that they be ready for the cameras by Monday. The duo agreed and worked round the clock, handing in the newly scripted scenes with no time to spare. However, Wilder and Brackett had a proviso of their own: Since the 25 grand would ultimately cause them more trouble than it was worth (due to the strict California tax laws), Wilder told Goldwyn, 'Sam, about that $25,000 you were going to pay us for those three scenes. We've decided we don't need the money.' 'Funny,' replied Sam, 'I had just come to the same conclusion myself.'
Surprisingly, despite all the problems encountered during filming, The Bishop's Wife emerged unscathed to excellent reviews. While not coming close to rivaling Goldwyn's The Best Years of Our Lives, the comedy-fantasy took in more than respectable grosses, and has since become a perennial Yuletide classic. Goldwyn himself was shocked at how well the picture turned out. He even went as far as to predict that Loretta Young would win the Best Actress Oscar for 1947! Of her performance, Young later said, "I thought of the wife as a frustrated little thing, rather lonely and rather thwarted....This was the hardest part I'd ever played."
In all, The Bishop's Wife picked up five Academy nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director, as well as Best Sound Recording, Best Editing and Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture. But Goldwyn would only take home one statuette - for Best Sound. As for his prediction, it proved to be an ironic example of "Don't wish so hard for something, you just might get it." Loretta Young did indeed win the Best Actress Oscar that year - for The Farmer's Daughter, produced through RKO by David O. Selznick!
Producer: Samuel Goldwyn
Director: Henry Koster
Screenplay: Leonardo Bercovici, Robert E. Sherwood, Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder; based on the novel by Robert Nathan
Art Direction: Perry Ferguson, Charles Henderson, George Jenkins
Cinematography: Gregg Toland
Editing: Monica Collingwood
Music: Hugo W. Friedhofer
Cast: Cary Grant (Dudley), Loretta Young (Julia Brougham), David Niven (Henry Brougham), Monty Woolley (Prof. Wutheridge), James Gleason (Sylvester), Gladys Cooper (Mrs. Hamilton).
BW-110m. Closed captioning.
by Mel Neuhaus
The Bishop's Wife - The Bishop's Wife
The main trouble is there are too many people who don't know where they're going and they want to get there too fast!- Sylvester
Sometimes angels rush in where fools fear to tread.- Dudley
Are you expecting a letter?- Bishop
Well, you never know. If I did get one, the stamp would certainly be worth saving.- Dudley
This first filming was directed by William A. Seiter, but Samuel Goldwyn Jr. didn't like it and so he asked Henry Koster for a completely new film. The preview-audience didn't like the new version, so Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett had to rewrite a couple of scenes without screen screen credit.
The film was originally cast with 'Niven, David' as the Angel and Cary Grant as the Bishop. Grant had signed to play the Bishop, but eventually agreed to swap parts with Niven.
One scene shows Grant and Loretta Young in a conversation. Koster staged this with the two facing each other, but both complained the this showed the "wrong" sid e of their faces. In order to show the "right" side, they both had to be looking screen left, which made a face-to-face talk impossible to film. Koster had a window set piece brought in, and he filmed it from outside, with both looking out in the same direction, Grant behind Young. The next day, producer Samuel Goldwyn visited the set after seeing dailies and berated Koster for shooting the scene in that manner. Koster replied by asking Young and Grant to explain why the scene was shot that way. After both told Goldwyn about the "right" and "wrong" sides of their faces, Goldwyn said "Look, if I'm only getting half a face, you're only getting half a salary!" and stormed off the set. The subject of "right" and "wrong" sides never came up again.
Actress Kitty O'Neil's name was misspelled as "O'Neill" in the onscreen credits. Hollywood Reporter news items indicate that Dana Andrews was considered for a major role in The Bishop's Wife. Teresa Wright was originally cast as "Julia Brougham" but pregnancy forced her to withdraw just before filming began. She was replaced by Loretta Young, who was borrowed from RKO by producer Samuel Goldwyn. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, the original production, which commenced in February 1947 under the direction of William A. Seiter, starred Cary Grant as "Bishop Henry Brougham" and David Niven as "Dudley." News items note that in March 1947, Goldwyn halted production due to a problematic script and requested Sherwood begin re-writes. Goldwyn was also apparently displeased with Seiter's direction and replaced him with Henry Koster. In a modern interview, Koster stated that he assisted Sherwood in re-writes and makes no mention of contributions by Leonardo Bercovici, who is credited onscreen with Sherwood. Koster also noted that he and Goldwyn agreed to switch the actors in the starring roles which, Koster asserted, made Grant unhappy throughout the duration of the shoot. Some modern sources allege that it was Grant who insisted on the casting change, while other sources claim that Grant had been cast as "Dudley" from the beginning.
During the month's delay, several supporting actors withdrew from the production due to prior commitments. These included five year-old Marcia Anne Northrop as "Debby," Dame May Whitty and Elsa Lanchester, who was to be replaced by Edit Angold as "Matilda." The extended delay, however, allowed Lanchester to complete her other commitment and resume the role after Angold developed her own scheduling conflict. Others cast in the original production were Selma Ross, Jerry de Castro, Mary Field and Edwin Maxwell, none of whom appeared in the released film. According to Hollywood Reporter, second unit filming was done in Minneapolis. Hollywood Reporter news items note that Eugene Turner, Fran Shore and James Clemons were cast in the film, but their appearance in the final film has not been verified. Hollywood Reporter news items indicate that Goldwyn suffered an estimated loss of $700,000 to $800,000 because of the delay and new set construction.
Modern sources indicate that over Grant's protests, a skating double wearing a mask with Grant's features was used in the long shots of the complex skating routine. A skating double was also used for Young on all long shots. Contemporary sources note that Gail Laughton coached Grant and recorded "Dudley's" harp solo on the soundtrack. Several modern sources note that toward the end of production, Goldwyn brought in writers Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, who made critical uncredited contributions to the script. The Bishop's Wife won an Academy Award for Best Sound Recording and was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Film Editing, and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedic Picture. David Niven recreated the role of "Henry" on the Lux Radio Theatre broadcast on December 19, 1949. Tyrone Power performed the role of "Dudley" and Jane Greer performed the role of "Julia." Cary Grant recreated the role of "Dudley" on the Lux Radio Theatre broadcast on May 11, 1953 and again on March 1, 1955, with Phyllis Thaxter co-starring both times as "Julia." In 1996 The Bishop's Wife was remade as The Preacher's Wife, directed by Penny Marshall and starring Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston.