Monday, December 10, 2012

The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942): Wild and Woolley!

It all started with the famous Algonquin Round Table, where New York City’s elite would meet to eat, drink, and crack each other up with sly, witty bon mots. The most outrageous gadabout of them all was Alexander Woollcott, a larger-than-life character even by the Algonquin Round Table’s standards.  Woollcott was one of the most eminent critics and radio personalities of the 1920s and ’30s—and also one of the most maddening men you’d ever meet!  As author Jared Stone describes him in his 2006 book Moss Hart: A Prince of the Theatre, “While many prominent people called Woollcott a friend, he was also known for his acid tongue and demanding, impossible-to-please attitude. He could be charming and generous one minute; petulant and venomous the next.”

As Andrea Passafiume explains on the TCM Web site, Woollcott’s many notable friends included the very successful playwriting team of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart: “One evening while Woollcott was visiting Moss Hart, he made an unusual request. He wanted Hart and Kaufman to write a new play for him to star in. Woollcott had dabbled in acting before, and thought that being in a play would be a new way in which to reach his massive audience.  Somewhat dubious, but not wanting to disappoint his friend, Hart agreed to give the matter some thought.”  Then Hart remembered an overnight visit with Woollcott in his country home.  Woollcott had badgered Hart and his household with all manner of unreasonable non-stop demands.  He unfairly accused Hart’s servants of stealing; he whined for cookies and milkshakes at odd hours; he demanded the heat be turned off; he insisted that Hart trade beds with him — it was always something!  As Hart described the maddening no-sleep-over to Kaufman, he had a brainwave:  “Wouldn't it have been awful if (Woollcott) had broken a leg and been on my hands for the rest of the summer?”  Ta-da!  A classic comedy was born!  Talk about turning lemons into lemonade!

Sophisticates on a Train!
George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s comedy The Man Who Came to Dinner (TMWCtD) debuted at New York City’s Music Box Theatre on October 16th, 1939.  It made Monty Woolley a Broadway star, and in January 1942, he became a movie star, too, when the Warner Bros. film version hit theaters.  The film version pretty much became an instant classic.  Even today, TMWCtD is a gift that’s kept on giving to delighted audiences over the decades, with awards and revivals in New York and London.  There was even a 1950 Radio broadcast starring Clifton Webb as Sheridan Whiteside, and Lucille Ball as Maggie Cutler.  Knowing that Webb and Ball were equally talented in both comedy and drama, I for one can cheerfully imagine going back in time to hear Webb and Ball do comedy together after their awesome dramatic performances in The Dark Corner!   I wonder how TMWCtD‘s Sherry (as friends call him) and Laura’s Waldo Lydecker would have gotten along, murder not withstanding?

Oh, my!  Will the gifts be returned?
Born in August 1888, Monty Woolley came from an elite family, owners of the renowned Marie Antoinette Hotel on Broadway.  Despite his youth, Woolley cut quite a swath through Manhattan society, along with Master’s degrees at Yale and Harvard.  He returned to Yale as an English instructor and drama coach, counting Thornton Wilder and Stephen Vincent Benet among his students, intimates, and confidants.  Woolley’s friend Cole Porter (we should all have such friends!) encouraged him to become a stage director himself, resulting in such Broadway hits as Fifty Million Frenchmen (1929), The New Yorkers, and Jubilee (1935). Woolley took his first Broadway bow in the hit musical On Your Toes (a revival is set for 2013) and soon it was Hollywood’s turn to sit up and take notice as Woolley ascended the ranks of supporting actors at MGM, Warner Bros., and Paramount.

Maggie loves Bert because he's a good skate!
Woolley came into his own in the 1940s, with hits like the Christmas classic The Bishop’s Wife; When Irish Eyes are Smiling; the rather fanciful Cole Porter biopic Night and Day; and best of all, two Oscar nominations: a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his role in the WW II drama The Pied Piper (1942), and a Best Supporting Actor nomination for another war classic, Since You Went Away (1944).  But for the life of me, I can’t imagine why Woolley wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for his iconic performance for TMWCtD! Just one of cinema’s little mysteries, I guess!

Only two actors besides Monty Woolley reprised their original Broadway roles for the movie:
  • Mary Wickes (Now, Voyager; June Bride; It Happened to Jane; and many TV series, including several with frequent co-star Lucille Ball), making her Broadway debut, and then her movie debut, as Miss Preen, the ever-startled and put-upon nurse.
  • Ruth Vivian, who plays the sweet, soft-spoken, but apparently batty Harriet Stanley (Confidential Agent; A Letter to Three Wives).
Then television came along, bringing a (reportedly so-so) 1972 TV movie starring Orson Welles, Lee Remick, and even Mary Wickes reprising her debut role.  In 2000, there was a delightful Broadway revival at The Roundabout Theatre, starring Team Bartilucci favorite Nathan Lane, also broadcast on PBS (which we watched and loved). There had even been a musical version in 1967, Sherry!, by none other than James Lipton!   Alas, it was short-lived, but the soundtrack is still available on as of this writing, with a powerhouse cast including Lane, Bernadette Peters, Tommy Tune, and Carol Burnett!

But of course, movies are the medium we’re most mad about here at TotED, so we’re focusing on the 1942 Warner Bros. version of TMWCtD, one of our favorite holiday comedies!  Naturally, Warner Bros. snapped up the movie rights, and the result has something for everyone:  comedy chock-full of witty dialogue by brothers Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein (the writers who brought us such hits as Casablanca and the film version of Arsenic and Old Lace), adapted from Kaufman and Hart’s play, of course, not to mention romance and rivalry; gorgeous gals; screwball comedy; even penguins and octopi!  How’s that for getting your movie-going money’s worth (so to speak, considering most of us here are most likely watching in on DVD/Blu-Ray and such)? 

Granted, at that time, Monty Woolley wasn’t as familiar to moviegoers as he was to Broadway audiences, so Warner Bros. surrounded Woolley with a galaxy of stars, including:
  •  Bette Davis, incomparable superstar and two-time Oscar-winner, as Sherry’s secretary Maggie Cutler. In fact, Davis had gone to New York to see the play herself, and she loved it.  She thought this comedy would be a nice change of pace from her usual heavy dramatic roles, and having Davis’ star power on the marquee sure couldn’t hurt!
  • Billie Burke as the dithering Mrs. Stanley, known and loved from the Topper films, the Father of the Bride films, and most iconic of all, her performance as The Wizard of Oz’s Glinda the Good Witch!
  • Grant Mitchell as the ever-irked Ernest Stanley, known for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; Arsenic and Old Lace; The Grapes of Wrath;
  • Reginald Gardiner as Noel Coward manqué Beverly Carlton, also known for Laurel and Hardy’s The Flying Deuces, as well as The Great Dictator and Christmas in Connecticut;
  • Ann Sheridan, the “Oomph Girl” herself, as the popular, man-hungry movie/stage star Lorraine Sheldon, who was known for They Drive By Night; Nora Prentiss; George Washington Slept Here.  At the same time she made TMWCtD, the busy Sheridan was also shooting Kings Row (1942).
  • Jimmy Durante as Banjo, the husky-voiced zany with the impressive proboscis and rapid-fire wacky wit, inspired in real life by Harpo Marx. Durante could do it all, in every medium, as an actor (You’re in the Army Now; It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; On an Island with You), comedian, composer, singer, and songwriter.  Who can forget Durante’s hit songs "Inka Dinka Doo," Umbriago,” and “Make Someone Happy,” especially at holiday time? Heck, while I was writing this post, I heard Durante’s cheerfully gruff voice singing “Make Someone Happy” for a commercial for!
Sheridan Whiteside calls in the Cavalry in his ongoing war
against happiness in those other than himself!

The film opens on Sherry and his longtime secretary Maggie Cutler, arriving from New York City to do a favor for Sherry’s old friend Harry Clarke, who’s running a lecture tour.  Despite the friendship, Sherry’s raising the roof even before the train to Mesalia, Ohio has pulled into the station:

 Sherry:  “I simply will not sit down at dinner with Midwestern barbarians.  I think too highly of my digestive system.”

 Maggie:  “Harry Clarke is one of your oldest friends.”

Sherry:  “My stomach is an older one.”

Merry Christmas to Sherry from Madagascar!
The worldly, arrogant, tart-tongued Sheridan Whiteside — “Sherry” to his sophisticated friends — couldn’t be more different from the genteel — if impatient — bourgeois ball-bearing magnate Ernest Stanley and his wife, Daisy.  It’s clear that Sherry is a termagant under even the best of circumstances.  Then Sherry slips and racks himself on the Stanleys’ snowy, poorly-shoveled steps, and the Stanleys’ well-organized life turns upside-down, with wickedly funny results!  The shenanigans bring to mind a quote from a lecture by Stephen King during my college days at Fordham University:  “When bad things happen to others, it’s funny.  When it happens to you, it’s horror!”  Luckily for us viewers, the funny parts override everything else in this hilarious nightmare!

Sexy stage siren Lorraine Sheldon can always get a cab!
At least Sherry is a witty, entertaining, fun-to-watch tyrant, as long as you don’t cross him somehow.  He’s a great host — albeit at the bedeviled Stanleys’ expense — as he invites everyone and everything to his hosts’ home, from convicts to overseas visitors from many lands and languages, even different  species, including octopi and penguins.  Those poor Stanleys — their phone bills alone must be through the roof with the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt and Sherry’s other famous friends gabbing away!  Slipping on ice and landing painfully on his rump certainly may not always lift Sherry’s spirits, but it sure leaves us howling with laughter as pandemonium reigns in the Stanley home, with scads of famous friends calling and visiting while Sherry amuses himself with gossip and guile.

We give Lorraine's blouse buttons 3 thumbs up!
Call it Stockholm Syndrome, or call it just plain warming up to each other, but as Sherry’s convalescence progresses, he finds himself taking a liking to some members of the household, including the couple working for the Stanleys, John (Edward Starkey) and Sarah (Betty Roadman), which just goes to show that if you feed people well, they’ll be your friends for life!  Sherry also takes a shine to the Stanley family’s young adult kids, June (Elisabeth Fraser) and Richard (Russell Arms).  Mr. Stanley keeps the young folks on short leashes, and when they confide in Sherry about Richard’s aspirations to be a professional photographer and June’s love for a labor union agitator who Mr. Stanley disapproves of, Sherry does his bit to help them while at the same time ensuring apoplexy from the easily-shocked Ernest and Daisy.  That’s what I call a win-win situation!

Sheesh, Lorraine! Beverly C helps Maggie phone it in!
Meanwhile, sophisticated Maggie finds herself drawn to the editor of the Mesalia Journal, Bert Jefferson (Richard Travis from The Big Shot; Mission to Moscow; and many TV Westerns — appropriate, since his real name was William Justice!).  Bert proves to be an easygoing, affable fella; indeed, he must be the most laid-back newspaperman in or out of movies!   Bert doesn’t even get rattled when Sherry tricks him out of a dollar to pay the cab driver — which Bert firmly but good-naturedly gets back from Bert.  Good for you, Bert!  No wonder Maggie’s falling for this sweet,  handsome, refreshingly uncomplicated man.  Bette Davis turns out to be a swell comedienne with her droll delivery, while subtly letting her both her hair and her guard down to let Bert win her heart.Will there be a Christmas wedding with everyone living happily ever after?  Not so fast!  When Sherry realizes love is blossoming between Maggie and Bert, Sherry doesn’t like it a bit!  Beneath Sherry’s acid tongue, he’s genuinely fond of Maggie, but he’s even more fond of having everything his own way, with no disruptions of his precious routine!  So the rascally Sherry launches his secret weapon:  glamorous actress Lorraine Sheldon, who’s been looking for a new play to star in, and is always open for mixing business with pleasure.  Without spoiling the screwball surprises, I can only say that love just might conquer all with a little help from your zaniest, most talented friends!  That said, I must say Maggie needs more faith in Bert.  Newspaperman or not, I don’t think it’s occurred to Bert that Lorraine’s hot for him.  Maybe he’s too uncomplicated?

The secret of "Oomph Girl" Lorraine's fab  figure:
she sleeps in a mold!

Banjo meets Miss Preen. Hello, Nurse!
Considering how many stars vied for roles in TMWCtD, there could have been several versions filmed to keep everyone in Hollywood busy!  According to the TCM Web site, the following actors all wanted to be considered for roles:

Laird Cregar (Ooh, would that have been awesome, or what?!)
Orson Welles
Charles Laughton
Fredric March
Robert Benchley
Cary Grant
Rosalind Russell
Myrna Loy
Jean Arthur
Olivia de Havilland

At one time, Howard Hawks was interested in directing The Man Who Came to Dinner.

Bette Davis desperately wanted John Barrymore to play Sheridan Whiteside, but Barrymores drinking problem prevented him from being able to handle the film's snappy, complicated dialogue.

A dog bite to the nose temporarily  kept Bette Davis from being able to film scenes.

The character of Lorraine was reportedly based on actress Gertrude Lawrence.

In the film Jimmy Durante's character Banjo refers to Ann Sheridan's character Lorraine as "The Oomph Girl,” which was Sheridan's real-life nickname. In the original play, Banjo calls Lorraine "Old Hot-Pants.”

Mary Astor was tested for the role of Lorraine. (She'd have been a great choice, too!)

Danny Kaye tested for the role of Banjo. (0h, I can just imagine the awesomeness!)

Harpo Marx played the role of Banjo himself in a 1941 stage production at the Bucks County Playhouse in Pennsylvania.

The character of Beverly Carlton was based on Noel Coward.

Rosalind Russell, Myrna Loy, Jean Arthur and Olivia de Havilland were considered to play the role of Maggie.

The play The Man Who Came to Dinner was considered to be the last great collaboration between the team of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart.

According to the IMDb, co-star Richard Travis came back to the town of Paragould, Arkansas to host the World Premiere of The Man Who Came to Dinner at the Capitol Theatre.  Travis had previously lived and worked there as the editor of the theater's coming-attractions magazine!  What’s more, Travis’ real name was William Justice, which no doubt explains why he went on to many Western roles. 

All of us here at Team Bartilucci HQ wish you and yours a truly joyful and safe:
Merry Christmas!
Happy Hanukkah!
Happy Kwanzaa!
And/or anything else 

you and yours wish to celebrate!


  1. The first time I saw this was when I was working video retail. One of the managers was very knowledgeable about the old stuff and he'd play this around this time or so every year, and I grew to love it too. Didn't know it was inspired by a real person. I'd like to see this on the stage one day.

    1. Rich, I couldn't agree more! We totally enjoyed seeing Nathan Lane's version on PBS, but we sure wouldn't complain if he decided to reprise the role on Broadway with a great cast. I discovered many classics while browsing in the video stores in my younger days myself! Glad you dropped by to chat, my friend!

  2. I have been waiting to watch this film, as I am trying to be a Bette Davis completest. You've put sooo much great fun facts and heart into the film and the back story that I'll be watching it with you in mind and smiling the whole time. What a breadth of material here to chew on. And to think of all those amazing people who wanted in on the film. I love Mary Astor...I know we're in for a hoot here at happiness house. We'll let you know when we've seen it. Might even put it on tonight, I feel so inspired. Don't you wish you could have been around the time of those salons...the brilliant humor, the sharp wit, all that drama... and mayhem..Wishing you and Team Bartolucci a very Happy and Healthy Christmas. Kudos on this wonderfully informative and inspiring post. Here's to life and good friends-Joey

    1. Joey, I assure you that watching THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER is always time well-spent! Also, I'm not surprised that you're a Mary Astor fan, too; it's further proof of your terrific taste in movies and actors! :-) (For what it's worth, my late Auntie Joy happened to look a lot like Mary Astor, and she had almost as exciting a life as Ms. Astor in her heyday! :-))

      You and I are also in agreement about imagining what it must have been like to spend time with the Algonquin crowd of wits back in the day. Those folks reportedly had their issues in life, but nobody can say they were dull company! But chatting with you and other blogger pals online is the next best thing, if you ask me! :-)

      I hope you get a chance to watch TMWCtD over the holiday season, Jo -- I think you'll love it, plus it's nice to see folks like Bette Davis and Ann Sheridan get more opportunities to see them funny-side-up! Thanks for the pleasure of your charming virtual company, as always, and I hope you and yours have the merriest of Christmases, and the happiest of New Years, too!

  3. Sherry and that would be quite a twosome! Honestly, I can't imagine anyone else as Sherry. Surprisingly, I only saw TMWCtD for the first time a few years ago. I became an instant fan and it's become a holiday mainstay in our house.

    1. Rick, I must admit I'm still giggling over the prospect of Sherry and Waldo teaming up! :-) Glad to hear TMWCtD made you a fan and regular viewer of the film, too! It's just not Christmas without it - though Christmas-themed THE THIN MAN comes a close second here at Team B. HQ! :-) Thanks for joining the TMWCtD chat, and Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and yours from all of us here at Team Bartilucci HQ!

  4. We saw a revival of The Man Who Came to Dinner at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago a few years back. John Mahoney was in the lead. Delightful show and it's great to hear about it's history. Star vehicle indeed!

    1. Glad to have you join the TMWCtD chat, Avery! Lucky you, getting to see the play at Steppenwolf Theatre! While Monty Woolley is a tough act to follow (so is Nathan Lane, for that matter :-)), there's no doubt in my mind that John Mahoney must have been stellar as the sly, cantankerous Sherry! Thanks for your kind words, and Happy Hanukkah and Happy Holidays to you, Susan, your boys, and everyone you care about from all of us here at Team Bartilucci HQ!

  5. Dorian,
    Your historical background is breathtaking! I love this film too. It’s a favorite to watch this time of the year or at any time. The cast is fabulous, though as you list, there were some other notables who would have been great in this film, Orson Welles, Roz Russell and Jean Arthur in particular. I also saw the Nathan Lane Broadway/PBS revival which was very good. I was aware of Woollcott, a big admirer of the early Marx Brothers, being the in inspiration for Kaufmann and Hart. A great and informative work as always.

    And a happy holiday season to Team Bartilucci!

    1. John, thanks ever so much for your generous praise for my post about THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER! For me, the fascinating research on this wacky holiday favorite was almost as fun as watching the movie itself!

      All of us here at Team Bartilucci HQ wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and the happiest of holidays, and may all your holiday visitors be far more fun to have around than Sheridan Whiteside, witty bon mots notwithstanding! :-D

  6. A great look at a great film. Such a wonderful cast, and so pleased it brought Mary Wickes to Hollywood's attention.

    1. Many thanks for your comments, Jacqueline! I hope you and yours, including your talented brother of ARTE ACHER's FALLING CIRCUS fame, are having a wonderful holiday season; you deserve it!

  7. Hey, gang, it's just come to my attention that our dear buddy and fellow blogger Yvette Banek of " so many words" fame wrote a dandy post about THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER in 2011 on her own fabulous blog! The more ...MAN..., the merrier, I always say! ;-D Here's a link to Yvette's superb version for all to read and enjoy!

  8. I love the terrific cast in this film, and it's refreshing to see Bette Davis in a "lighter" role.

    Dorian, I really enjoyed this post. I think it's my favourite TOTED to date. :)

    Oh, and Happy Holidays to you and your family!

    1. Ruth, I'm happy as a new puppy for Christmas to hear that you found my TMWCtD post to be your favorite TotED post to date - it's high praise indeed! Thanks a zillion for your kind praise, my friend! I agree with you that this was a swell lighthearted role for Bette Davis, too! All of us here at Team Bartilucci HQ hope you and yours have a festive and joyful Christmas and the happiest of New Years!

  9. No less a worthy than Dorothy Parker remarked that the Algonquin Round Table was somewhat overrated. But that hasn't stopped me from fantasizing about being able to witness the goings-on which took place during its heyday. I've known people with Woollcott's personality. Unfortunately very few of them had anything near the wit to justify putting up with it.

    ("Monty's friend Cole Porter") Doesn't it make you sick?

    But if people like Woollcott could inspire creations such as THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER, then I say bring 'em on.

    1. Michael, I'm tickled to have you drop by and visit us here at TotED! With all due respect to the Algonquin Round Table crowd, I always look forward to your witty, playful writings for even more! But as you say, when those folks were at their best, putting up with Woollcott's more maddening aspects seemed justified when it resulted in classic plays - and the resulting great film adaptations - like THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER. That said, I'm still giggling over your comment "'Monty's friend Cole Porter.' Doesn't it make you sick?'"

      By all means, feel free to join our TotED jamboree anytime, Michael, and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and the rest of the gang at Schloss Wolff from all of us here at Team Bartilucci HQ!

  10. Well, I don't think I have to say it too loudly but I will anyway: I LOVE THIS MOVIE!!!!

    What's more, I love your post, Dorian, m'dear, it's full of all sorts of interesting tidbits I had no notion of when I was writing my own post. That's why you're the expert and I'm just the dithering amateur. Ha!

    This is one of those films I've decided I must own in the new year. This one and CONTRABAND and that Deanna Durbin Christmas mystery one - remember? I could easily spend a weekend in bed watching these and of course, GHOSTBREAKERS!!

    I love Mary Wickes and the penguins and that big old house full of looney-tooneys.

    1. Pshaw, Yvette, if everyone "dithered" like you in " so many words," there would be more and better writers and reviewers in the world, and more movies like TMWCtD! Nevertheless, I thank you most kindly for your much-appreciated praise for my take on it; we both have swell taste in movies, don't we? :-)

      As for CONTRABAND, it sounds intriguingly deranged enough for me to keep an eye out for it when it hits cable! Your reviews are always a delight to read in any case. And thanks for reminding me to ballyhoo what has become one of my favorite comedy-thriller Christmas movies, LADY ON A TRAIN! Here's the link, for anyone who hasn't had the loopy charm of this movie, based on a Leslie Charteris story (of THE SAINT fame), no less! Here's the link:

      Thanks for your comments and friendship, Yvette! All of us here at Team Bartilucci hope you and your family (including your adorable granddaughter Julianna!) have a truly Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  11. When I first shared "The Man Who Came to Dinner" with my daughter and she said "That guy is awesome!", I thought she was referring to Woolley, but she was commenting on Grant Mitchell. As a huge Grant Mitchell fan myself, I couldn't have been more pleased.

    I've heard some people say that the movie/play (when considered for community theatre) wouldn't do well today because of the contemporary references. That's silly. That's like saying "Auntie Mame" wouldn't work. My kid loved it as it stood, and then loved it even more with footnotes. May I say, your footnotes rock! Inka-dinka-doo!

    1. Caftan Woman, thanks so much for your kind words about my post! I'm especially delighted that you enjoyed my footnotes (research is fun for me, especially when movies are involved!

      C.W., considering your excellent taste in character actors, you're clearly raising your kids right - pat yourself on the back, my friend! Also, I agree that the then-contemporary references in TMWCtD shouldn't be a problem for younger audiences. Heck, when I was a kid watching classic movies and cartoons, I picked up on the references well enough, and the few references I didn't readily figure out, I heard or read about them from my older siblings or relatives online. Besides, there's nothing wrong with a little research if it's needed! :-)

      I'm always glad to have you joining in the TotED chats! All of us here at Team Bartilucci HQ hope you and yours have a Merry Christmas, a very Happy New Year, and anything other happy thing you'd like to celebrate!

  12. Really, nobody could have done a better performance as Sherry, but I would love to see Charles Laughton do it! I LOVE this movie, and can't help but watch it whenever it's on. Besides being so beautifully written with sharp wit and the fast dialogue I am partial to, it has Bette Davis and Mary Wickes! And Ann. Can't beat that! Oh, and in answer to your question "I wonder how TMWCtD‘s Sherry (as friends call him) and Laura’s Waldo Lydecker would have gotten along, murder not withstanding?" --- it would have been a verbal bloodbath, perhaps even a physical one if each resorted to their canes in the end!

    Dorian, this is a really thorough, funny and excellent write-up about a fantastic play/movie/radio/musical that is always primo!

    1. Becky, beaucoup thanks for your praise of my TMWCtD post! We're definitely on the same page here, including a possible verbal bloodbath between Sherry and Waldo Lydecker, as well as imagining the great Charles Laughton as Sherry. But according to Andrea Passafiume on the TCM Web site, I'm sorry to report that despite his Oscar and other prizes, Laughton was unfairly snubbed for the role, and here's why:

      "'...Laughton was desperate to play the part," said (producer Hal) Wallis,' and even offered to test for it. His agent, Phil Berg, sent me an endless stream of notes urging me to consider him. Jack Warner was afraid that Laughton, a homosexual, might be effeminate in the role. Director Edmund Goulding handled his test very carefully, but Jack turned out to be right. We had to tell his agent that his client was out of the question." Laughton was upset. "Laughton, a very emotional man," said Wallis, "broke into tears when he heard the news. Berg called and asked me to give him another chance...I was touched by the call and gave Laughton another test. But it was a disaster, worse than the first. When he left the studio, Laughton's face was a picture of despair.'"

      While I still think Monty Woolley was the best choice for the part, it saddens and angers me that Laughton was treated so shabbily, though I'm glad Laughton had many other cinematic triumphs for the rest of his long career.

      On a more upbeat note, Becks, all of us here at Team Bartilucci HQ send hugs and Merry Christmas joy and frolic to you and yours, dear friend!

  13. I can't believe that! Being a gay man NEVER affected any of his performances! I didn't even know he was until just a few years ago. I doesn't make any sense to me that this particular part would be so different with his acting style. Captain Bligh, the Hunchback, the advocate in Witness for the Prosecution, many different kinds of parts -- how come nobody ever thought it was a problem before? I guess you can tell I cannot understand and it makes me mad!

    1. Believe me, Becks, I agree with you 1,000% that Laughton got a raw deal in this case! As I say, Woolley was perfect for the part, but I don't see why they had to be unkind and make Laughton's personal life the villain, so to speak. Of course, nowadays gay actors can be out in the open and enjoy a long career in various roles (including Team Bartilucci's beloved Nathan Lane, who was wonderful in the Roundabout Theatre's version of TMWCtD, as mentioned), but I guess back in the 1940s, studio executives got gun-shy about these things. As I always say, we can't fault people for NOT being ahead of their time - but that doesn't mean we have to like it, either. Guess we should be glad we're not actually living in 1942, huh?

  14. Another great post, Dorian, on a movie that's overdue for revival.

    Some years ago I got wind of another radio version of TMWCtD, on Christmas Day 1949. I got excited -- and you will too, I'll bet -- at just five words: Jack Benny as Sheridan Whiteside. It wasn't until a week or so ago that I learned this hourlong adaptation has survived and is available here from, so I wasted no time ordering my copy.

    And as if Jack weren't enough all by himself, just get a load of this supporting cast: Charles Boyer, Gregory Peck, Rosalind Russell, Dorothy Maguire, Henry Fonda, John Garfield and Gene Kelly. I don't know who plays whom (Boyer: Beverly Carlton?; Russell: Lorraine Sheldon?; Kelly: Banjo?), but with those names, who cares? Can't wait to hear it!

    1. Jim, I'm glad you enjoyed my TMWCtD post, and I also congratulate you on being a lucky dog, getting ahold of that Radio Spirits TMWCtD broadcast! With a fabulous cast like these folks, who WOULDN'T be I'm salivating?! :-) I'll bring it to hubby Vinnie's attention ASAP - thanks for the tip!

      All of us here at Team Bartilucci HQ hope you and yours have a truly Merry Christmas, a wildly Happy New Year, and everything else you could possibly want in 2013, my friend!

  15. Wow- what a fun and entertaining post. I always loved this film (even though Bette Davis looks annoyed that she had to take a back seat to anyone). I especially love Ann Sheridan here - and oh those buttons! Great work, Dorian.

    1. Chick, many thanks for your kind praise for my TMWCtD post! According to TCM's Andrea Passafiume, it was Bette Davis herself who lobbied for the role of Maggie to expand her range to comedy after all her heavy, serious roles. If the Divine Miss Davis did indeed have second thoughts during filming, she only had herself to blame. Nevertheless, I thought Davis did a fine job as Maggie; I especially loved her machine-gun laugh! :-)

      All of us here at Team Bartilucci HQ hope you and yours have a wonderful Christmastime (or any other winter holiday, for that matter), and a Happy New Year chock full of cinematic delights and superb blog posts! :-D

  16. A great favorite of mine as well, and your wonderful post does it justice. For me, what softens the Whiteside character is his treatment of the servants, John and Sarah. He seems to genuinely like them and is not condescending to them. If he was rude to them, he would be truly insufferable, but the way he is cordial and complimentary to John and Sarah means he's not a total ogre. It's a small matter, but a pertinent one, I think.

    Dorian, best wishes to you and your family for a joyous and blessed holiday season.

    1. Kevin, thanks so much for your enthusiastic comments on my TMWCtD post! You're right, Sherry's kindness to and appreciation of John and Sarah definitely brings out a softer side of Sherry. On a related note, I also liked the way Sherry eventually became a friend and advisor to the Stanley kids, encouraging their life goals. As you put it so well, Kevin, these are small matters, but pertinent ones!

      Kevin, all of us here at Team Bartilucci HQ hope you and yours have a very Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and anything else you'd like to celebrate!

  17. Hey, gang, thought you'd enjoy this tidbit from TMWCtD: the radio man putting together Sheridan Whiteside's Christmas broadcast was John Ridgely, who also played Eddie Mars in THE BIG SLEEP, as well as appearing in ARSENIC AND OLD LACE and DESTINATION TOKYO (on TCM as I type this)!

  18. OH, how much I loved this post!!!! I'm a HUGE Monty fan and this is a humdinger of a movie. Thanks for making the effort to bring out so many details and beautiful insights. Thanks, Dorian. I just loved this! Holiday hugs and may all your Christmas kisses involve whiskery old gents (and a few John Payne types!). Love, Kay

    1. Kay, we're delighted to have you joining our merry madcap holiday conversation on THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER! Many thanks indeed for your bubbly praise, though of course, I'm not surprised that a gal with your wit, style, panache, and cinema smarts is also a fan of TMWCtD! :-D (As for whiskery gents, Monty's got wit, style, and class, although my favorite bewhiskered contemporary Oscar-winning actor is Adrien Brody! :-)) Thanks a million for your enthusiastic comments, Kay! All of us here at Team Bartilucci HQ wish you and yours a truly Merry Christmas, a very Happy New Year, and any other happy things you and yours like to celebrate!

  19. Great post! I actually haven't seen this film yet but am familiar with the story as I did tech work for the play in high school. Happy Holidays!

    1. Chris, thanks for your kind words about my MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER post! I'm glad to hear you worked on the play in high school; it'll be a swell warm-up for the movie! :-) I think you'll really enjoy the movie version. Happy Holidays to you and yours, Chris, and feel free to drop by TotED any time!

  20. Had to stop by and wish you and yours a wonderful New Years and let you know how much I enjoyed your post for MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER. Whiskery gents & Bette Davis too!

    It's so chock full of great tidbits about the brilliant cast, it made me feel all warm and bubbly inside. What a great madcap romp!

    You always entertain and inform...see you round the bend-Joey

    1. Aw, many thanks for your kind words, Joey! I'm so glad we became friends through THE LAST DRIVE-IN, and I'm tickled pink that you enjoyed my post! I hope you got a chance to watch the movie, too, if you haven't already, because I think you'll love it as much as I do! I hope you and your dear ones will have a splendid New Year, and I look forward to more LAST DRIVE-IN fun and frolic in 2013 and beyond! Hugs to you from all of us here at Team Bartilucci HQ!

  21. I love your post on The Man Who Came To Dinner! You have brightened my day with your thoughts on such a great movie, and I have learned some new things about it. Who knew that so many people wanted to be in here? Maybe all of them wanted to be in a movie with penguins. :)
    By the way, I published my post for the Hitchcock blogathon a while back, but in case you missed it, here it is:
    Thank you so much for letting me participate in a fun event!

    1. Matt, we of Team Bartilucci are delighted to see you dropping by with your enthusiastic comments about THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER - many thanks! We can certainly sympathize on how moving and life's other obligations can discombobulate things. Thanks for your link to your wonderfully entertaining post about NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH, too; I'll post it on my Facebook page so others can find and enjoy it! Feel free to pay us a visit at TotED anytime!