Cast & Crew
The Philadelphia of 1916 is the home of Anthony J. Drexel Biddle, an eccentric millionaire and boxing enthusiast whose chief pastimes are raising alligators and teaching the members of his Bible class the art of self-defense, the virtues of physical fitness, and military preparedness. Newly arrived in the unorthodox household is a young Irish immigrant, John Lawless, who has hired on as the family butler. Biddle and his long-suffering but adoring wife, Cordelia, give in to straight-laced Aunt Mary Drexel's suggestion that they send their tomboyish daughter, Cordy, to a finishing school in New Jersey. Once Cordy has enrolled, she quickly falls in love with Angie Duke, the heir to a tobacco fortune, who is passionately interested in Detroit's burgeoning automobile industry. When the youngsters announce their engagement, Cordy goes to New York to be introduced to the "proper" people and taken to the right places by the socially prominent Mrs. Duke. Not to be outdone, the well-intentioned Mr. Biddle gives a large garden party in Philadelphia. But the overbearing interference of the two parents only succeeds in precipitating a series of arguments climaxed by Angie storming out of the house. Sent by Mr. Biddle to keep an eye on Angie, John Lawless trails him to an Irish pub and cleverly instigates a brawl which lands the young heir in jail. The following morning the Biddles and Mrs. Duke go to bail out Angie. Putting aside their personal grievances, Mr. Biddle and Mrs. Duke consent to the wedding and give their children their blessings. Hoisting Cordy on his shoulder, Angie declares that he and she will elope to Detroit--"the shining city where dreams are booming into gear." Biddle's time will now be devoted to training marines in hand to hand combat for World War I.
Lesley Ann Warren
William Wellman Jr.
A. J. Carothers
Robert O. Cook
John B. Mansbridge
Frank R. Mckelvy
Richard M. Sherman
Robert B. Sherman
Dee Dee Wood
Best Costume Design
The Happiest Millionaire
The property itself had first begun as a book, My Philadelphia Father, by Kyle Crichton and Cordelia Drexel Biddle Robertson. It was about Cordelia's unusual upbringing in 1916 Philadelphia as the daughter of an eccentric millionaire, Anthony J. Drexel Biddle. As shown onscreen, his boisterous household includes live alligators, jujitsu matches in his stables and boxing lessons under cover of bible classes. When Cordelia falls in love with the son of another wealthy family, the Dukes, a family rivalry begins.
The book was the basis for a Broadway comedy written by Crichton and starring Walter Pidgeon. It ran 271 performances starting in November 1956. For the movie, Disney cast Fred MacMurray, in the midst of starring in a series of films for the studio, and Greer Garson, ironically Pigeon's frequent leading lady of the past. He also cast Gladys Cooper in her first feature film since her Oscar-nominated turn in My Fair Lady (1964). Cooper and Geraldine Page portray the two family matriarchs and perform the song "There are Those."
Also in the cast is Lesley Ann Warren as Cordy (Cordelia), in her first credited feature film role, Mary Poppins favorite Hermione Baddeley, and British pop star Tommy Steele in his first Hollywood film as the butler. Disney handed the directing reins to Norman Tokar, who had just directed a string of six other Disney films.
Production started in May 1966. Walt Disney was diagnosed with lung cancer but still oversaw the production, with Bill Anderson handing the day-to-day producing. It would be the last film to be personally overseen by Walt Disney. He saw a rough cut of the picture in the fall, and he died on December 15, 1966.
Post-production was completed in the spring, and the studio held a lavish $100,000 premiere at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood on June 23, 1967--"the granddaddy of Hollywood premieres," declared Variety. It doubled as a tribute to Walt Disney as well, and began with a parade, dinner at the Brown Derby, a party and stage show, a champagne intermission and a two-block walk to the Hollywood Palladium after the screening, on a closed-off street teeming with Disneyland entertainers. At the Palladium, which was essentially converted into the 1916 Biddle mansion in Philadelphia, guests enjoyed another extravagant party, a second dinner, stage show and dancing until 2:00 am. The stars arrived in old-time cars matching the period of the film, and author Cordelia Drexel Biddle Robertson arrived with California's then-first lady, Nancy Reagan. After the parade, according to a news article, "thousands and thousands of balloons [were sent] soaring into the sky."
The film's critical reception was by contrast quite mild. Newsweek declared "it suffers from cirrhosis of the script." The New York Times deemed it "a laboriously low-brow, high-hat film... The whole picture is vulgar. It is an over-decorated, over-fluffed, over-sentimentalized endeavor." But Variety found it "an outstanding family comedy, with pertinent dramatic overtones, which blends all creative and technical elements to near-perfection... Tommy Steele projects warmth, sincerity, and the right amount of deviltry. A big film career lies ahead."
Film historian and Disney expert Leonard Maltin, in his book The Disney Films, later wrote that the movie hangs uneasily between reality and fantasy. "That it is a lightly enjoyable film is not much to say about such an ambitious production, but that is about the best one can do."
The film premiered in a roadshow version running 164 minutes. It was cut by 46 minutes for general release, so that theaters could squeeze in more screenings per day. The excised footage was restored in 1984.
According to Variety, the film cost $5 million and grossed nearly $13 million, though other sources indicate a much lower gross. The Happiest Millionaire received one Academy Award nomination for Best Costume Design. Bill Thomas created 3000 costumes in all for the film, including 250 for the principal characters. Composer Richard M. Sherman can be seen in a cameo as a flautist at a garden party toward the end of the movie.
By Jeremy Arnold
The Happiest Millionaire
Sean McClory (1924-2003)
Born on March 8, 1924 in Dublin, Ireland, he became a leading man at the famous Abbey Theatre in the early '40s and relocated to the United States shortly after World War II. His first roles were small bits as a police officer in two RKO quickies: Dick Tracy's Dilemma and Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (both 1947). He eventually graduated to more prestigious pictures like The Glass Menagerie (1950), Les Miserables (1952) and John Ford's The Quiet Man (1952).
After a few more supporting roles in quality pictures: Niagara (1953); the sci-fi chiller Them! (1954); and for John Ford again in The Long Gay Line (1955), McClory turned to television. He kept busy for several years with guest roles in a variety of popular shows: Bonanza, Wagon Train, Rawhide, Gunsmoke, The Outer Limits (1964) and countless others. By the mid-'60s, McClory became slightly more heavy-set, and began tossing off variations of jovial, "oirish" blarney for, yet again John Ford in Cheyenne Autumn (1964); and in a string of Disney pictures: Follow Me, Boys! (1966, his best role, a moving performance as the alcoholic father whose behavior alienates his son, played by a 15-year old Kurt Russell); The Happiest Millionaire (1967), and The Gnome-Mobile (1967), before he returned to television. His final role was in John Huston's acclaimed Irish opus The Dead (1987). He is survived by his wife, Peggy Webber McClory.
by Michael T. Toole
Sean McClory (1924-2003)
Now there's a gorgeous sight! Are you getting ready for a party, Mrs. Worth?- John Lawless
No, Mr. Biddle's on a chocolate cake diet.- Mrs. Worth (seriously)
I beg your pardon?- John Lawless
He says it's the perfect food, containing "every essential element."- Mrs. Worth
The last live action film that Walt Disney worked on.
The song fortuosity was written for Tommy Steele, who sings the song in the movie.
The film is based on the now forgotten non-musical Broadway play of the same name which played on during the 1956-57 season and starred Walter Pidgeon in the title role.
Also reviewed at 159 min, 154 min, and 141 min; copyright length: 160 min.
Released in United States 1967
Released in United States July 1984
Feature acting debut for Lesley Ann Warren.
Released in United States July 1984 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (American Cinema - Hollywood Showcase) July 5-20, 1984.)
Released in United States 1967