Cast & Crew
In Houndsditch, London, in the mid-eighteenth century, Kitty, a hungry gamin, is beaten by her keeper, Old Meg, when she fails to bring home expensive buckles. After Kitty is caught stealing a pair of shoes belonging to noted painter Thomas Gainsborough, Gainsborough paints her portrait, titling it "Portrait of an Unknown Lady." Ne'er-do-well Sir Hugh Marcy visits Gainsborough with Brett Harwood, the Earl of Carstairs, and meets Kitty. Hugh, who was expelled from the Foreign Office in favor of the Duke of Malmunster's nephew, and presently is close to debtor's prison, takes Kitty home to be his scullery maid. Gainsborough's work is rivalled only by that of Sir Joshua Reynolds, and at the unveiling of Kitty's portrait, all of London's high society is awed by the anonymous beauty. When the Duke of Malmunster demands to know who she is, Hugh fabricates Kitty's origins so that the duke will want to marry her, and the duke agrees to restore him to the Foreign Office in exchange for an introduction to Kitty. Hugh and his drunken aunt, Lady Susan Dewitt, give Kitty etiquette and elocution lessons. When Hugh is taken to debtor's prison, Kitty, now in love with him, marries her neighbor, an ironmonger named Jonathan Selby, in order to pay for Hugh's release. When Selby catches Kitty stealing from him and starts to beat her, her devoted maid kills Selby, then herself. Kitty soon learns she is pregnant and agrees to marry the duke for Hugh's sake. The duke, an old man who is desperate for an heir, is delighted to learn, at the return of their honeymoon, that his bride is pregnant. She gives birth to a boy, but after his first glimpse of the baby, the duke, who has a weak heart, falls down the stairs and dies, leaving a considerable fortune to his duchess. When Hugh again suggests that Kitty marry, she angrily confesses that she is in love with him, but he cannot see past her sordid upbringing. While out with Gainsborough, Kitty again meets Brett, who has just returned from India, and he falls in love with her. While viewing Gainsborough's latest portrait of Kitty as the Duchess of Malmunster, Hugh finally realizes he is in love with her, but Kitty meets his ardent confession with bitterness and throws him out. At Brett and Kitty's engagement party, Hugh brings Old Meg to meet Brett and divulge Kitty's past, believing that Brett will call off the marriage. Brett is determined to marry Kitty despite her lowly birth, however, causing Hugh to exit graciously. Touched by Hugh's genuine love, Kitty runs after him, and they kiss.
T. Arthur Hughes
Ethel May Halls
Haldor De Becker
Ruth St. Denis
Dr. Maurice Black
Daniel L. Fapp
Raoul Pène Du Bois
Helen Gladys Percey
Best Art Direction
Crowther was referring to the heroine of Forever Amber, a scandalous and extremely popular novel that was still in the works as a movie from Twentieth Century Fox. Kitty, released by Paramount, was a similar story with a similar tone, and not by accident; Paramount had originally owned the rights to Forever Amber but lost them to Fox. An adaptation of the novel Kitty, by Rosamond Marshall, seemed like a good substitute.
Even though Forever Amber takes place in the seventeenth century and Kitty is set in the eighteenth, the two characters, Crowther aptly noted, "are sisters under their coiffures," with both using sex and cunning to make their way up from nothing to the top tiers of London society. Kitty (Paulette Goddard) is a cockney girl who is discovered and painted by artist Thomas Gainsborough (Cecil Kellaway). She marries a man (Dennis Hoey) for his money, then after his death marries a duke (Reginald Owen), before finally winding up with the lord she's loved all along (Ray Milland).
Kitty showcases Paulette Goddard at the peak of her beauty and ability. To transform in the film from street urchin to refined duchess required Goddard, a native Long Islander, to master two distinct British accents. She worked intensely with a dialogue coach, Phyllis Loughton, but that wasn't all. Director Mitchell Leisen, a stickler for authenticity, had Ida Lupino's cockney mother Connie Emerald move in with Goddard so that the actress could have someone to converse with in cockney literally all day long, every day. Once shooting began, Leisen ordered other actors to speak to Goddard only in cockney even when the cameras weren't rolling. (Leisen did so as well.)
When it came time for Goddard to speak in the more posh accent, "we moved Connie Emerald out and [actress] Constance Collier in," Leisen later recalled. Collier has a role in the film herself, with her character teaching Goddard proper diction and etiquette, Pygmalion-style. Leisen figured having Collier do this off-screen as well would be a good idea.
Of working with Goddard, voice coach Loughton later said: "She is one of the most intelligent women I've ever worked with, but she has never projected her intelligence on screen the way it projects when she is sitting talking in a living room. Her problem was to shift over from the pantomime techniques Chaplin taught her to the kind of dialogue comedy we did at Paramount."
Goddard had earlier been married to, and co-starred with, Charles Chaplin, but at the time of Kitty's production she had just gotten remarried, to Burgess Meredith. In fact, she was pregnant during shooting and suffered a miscarriage shortly afterward.
While Goddard shows off her skills well here, Kitty is even more of a showcase for Mitchell Leisen. The director of such classics as Easy Living (1937) and Midnight (1939) had started his career as an art director and costume designer, and his attention to décor remained his defining stylistic trait even as director. With Kitty, Leisen was able to indulge his obsession to an unusual degree. As biographer David Chierichetti later wrote: "With its opportunity for exact historical reproduction, it was precisely the kind of picture Leisen could do better than anybody else, and its mixture of mannered comedy and gutsy drama suited him perfectly, too. Many critics consider Kitty Leisen's best picture."
Leisen went to great lengths to ensure accuracy. For the sequences in which Gainsborough paints Kitty's portrait, Leisen recalled, "I spent two years researching Gainsborough and the way he painted. We determined that the picture took place in 1659, and there's nothing in the picture that was painted by him after that year. He painted by candlelight. Don't know why; he had his canvases laced on frames with leather thongs and he used a six-foot brush to paint. When it came to paint the faces, he relaced the canvas so that the face was right at the edge, and then he painted with very small brushes and very fine detail. These things are very interesting to me, and so we used them in the picture." When Leisen was unable to borrow real Gainsborough paintings to display in the film, he had high-quality copies made. He claimed to have rejected 13 copies of "Blue Boy" before he was satisfied.
Leisen also related how during the period setting for Kitty, wood-paneled rooms existed in their natural wood color. Soon afterward, a method for painting wood was perfected, and it became fashionable to paint the wood paneling over in white. Consequently, there remained in the 1940s extremely few real-life examples of unpainted, paneled rooms. Leisen, however, had personally bought one such room for his own art collection a few years earlier, from the Hearst estate, and he rented it to Paramount for use in Kitty. (Afterward, he donated it to the Huntington Museum in Pasadena.)
Beyond the amazingly accurate and exquisite sets, Leisen went to great pains to make the costumes, wigs, and even undergarments all faithful to the time period. When Ray Milland teaches Goddard how to hold her fan, it's based on actual literature of the time. Leisen's overall sense of historical accuracy was so great that he was lauded by British historical groups "who felt that Kitty was the most accurate film ever made about the Britain of an earlier day." The film was also nominated for an Oscar® for Best Black-and-White Art Direction, though it lost to Anna and the King of Siam (1946).
Kitty is sometimes referenced as being a 1945 film. In fact, while it had its premiere in 1945, it didn't open commercially until early 1946. It was a big hit and led to a new contract with a massive pay hike for Goddard: she went from $132,000 per year to $100,000 per picture.
Ray Milland, who co-starred with Goddard in four features (plus appearances together in two others), later said he "always liked working with Paulette. She was not a brilliant actress, she had no sense of timing and everything about her playing was mechanical and contrived, but nobody knew it better than she did, and she was completely honest about it. She is the most honest actress I ever knew."
Producer: Mitchell Leisen
Director: Mitchell Leisen
Screenplay: Karl Tunberg, Darrell Ware; Rosamond Marshall (novel "Kitty")
Cinematography: Daniel L. Fapp
Art Direction: Hans Dreier, Walter Tyler
Music: Victor Young
Film Editing: Alma Macrorie
Cast: Paulette Goddard (Kitty), Ray Milland (Sir Hugh Marcy), Patric Knowles (Brett, Earl of Carstairs), Reginald Owen (Duke of Malmunster), Cecil Kellaway (Thomas Gainsborough), Constance Collier (Lady Susan Dowitt), Dennis Hoey (Jonathan Selby), Sara Allgood (Old Meg), Eric Blore (Dobson), Gordon Richards (Sir Joshua Reynolds), Michael Dyne (Prince of Wales), Edward Norton (Earl of Campton).
by Jeremy Arnold
Julie Gilbert, Opposite Attraction: The Lives of Erich Maria Remarque and Paulette Goddard
David Chierichetti, Hollywood Director
Here, take this tea up to her ladyship.- Dobson
How'll I find 'er?- Kitty
Drunk as usual.- Dobson
Writer/producer Darrell Ware died during the course of this film's production. One of Paulette Goddard's Cockney dialect coaches, Constance Emerald, was the mother of actress Ida Lupino. According to studio press information, director Mitchell Leisen was unable to photograph Sir Thomas Gainsborough's famous "Blue Boy" painting owned by the Huntington Museum in Pasadena, CA, because it was still in war-storage in Arizona, to which most of the Huntington's masterpieces had been shipped after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Studio copyist Charles Gemora, of the makeup department, did a full-size reproduction of the oil painting from color prints. Geza Kende did the portraits of Paulette Goddard. In total, sixty reproductions of Gainsborough pictures were made for the film by ten well-known Southern California artists. Dr. Maurice Black, curator of the Huntington, acted as a technical advisor on the film.
Press information details the film's elaborate sets: Thirty-five antique fans from the 19th century were purchased by Paramount for the film. The film's set included an entire living room of hand-rubbed natural pine that had been taken by William Randolph Hearst from an English castle built for the Earl of Scarsdale at Sutton-Scarsdate in 1723. The living room was purchased by Leisen from the Hearst estate three years prior to the making of the film. The $15,000 diamond necklace worn by Paulette Goddard in the last scene was her own. The $25,000 vanity set on "Kitty's" dressing table as she prepares to wed the duke was made out of kingfisher green jade and was lent to the studio by the Dorothy Gray cosmetics company. Hans Dreier and Walter Tyler were nominated for an Academy Award for Art Direction (Black-and-White) for Kitty, and Sam Comer and Ray Moyer were nominated for Interior Decoration (Black-and-White). Goddard reprised her role in a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast on February 24, 1947, co-starring Patric Knowles.