The Gay Divorcee (1934)

107 mins | Musical, Romantic comedy | 19 October 1934

Full page view
HISTORY

The musical The Gay Divorce was based on the unproduced play An Adorable Adventure by J. Hartley Manners. The working title of the film was The Gay Divorce . According to a Jul 1934 NYT article, RKO changed the title to avoid censorship problems with the PCA. Modern sources contend, however, that the title change was instigated not by the Hays Office, but by RKO itself, which offered fifty dollars to any employee who could come up with a better title. In his autobiography, Fred Astaire claims that director Mark Sandrich told him that the title The Gay Divorcee was selected because the studio "thought it was a more attractive-sounding title, centered around a girl." Modern sources claim that studio executives changed the word "divorce" to "divorcee" because, while they believed that a divorcee could be gay, a divorce could not. The original stage title was restored for British release prints.
       Astaire, Erik Rhodes and Eric Blore appeared in the Broadway production and recreated their roles for the film. Only one song from the stage musical, "Night and Day," was used in the film. According to a Mar 1934 HR news item, RKO executive producer Pandro Berman approached Fox's Roy Del Ruth to direct, but refused to pay Ruth's $40,000 a picture salary. A HR news item announced that Sandrich filmed shots for the English countryside scenes in Clear Lake, CA, and RKO production files indicate that additional exteriors were shot in Santa Monica and Santa Barbara, CA. According to a HR news item, Brandon Hurst was cast ... More Less

The musical The Gay Divorce was based on the unproduced play An Adorable Adventure by J. Hartley Manners. The working title of the film was The Gay Divorce . According to a Jul 1934 NYT article, RKO changed the title to avoid censorship problems with the PCA. Modern sources contend, however, that the title change was instigated not by the Hays Office, but by RKO itself, which offered fifty dollars to any employee who could come up with a better title. In his autobiography, Fred Astaire claims that director Mark Sandrich told him that the title The Gay Divorcee was selected because the studio "thought it was a more attractive-sounding title, centered around a girl." Modern sources claim that studio executives changed the word "divorce" to "divorcee" because, while they believed that a divorcee could be gay, a divorce could not. The original stage title was restored for British release prints.
       Astaire, Erik Rhodes and Eric Blore appeared in the Broadway production and recreated their roles for the film. Only one song from the stage musical, "Night and Day," was used in the film. According to a Mar 1934 HR news item, RKO executive producer Pandro Berman approached Fox's Roy Del Ruth to direct, but refused to pay Ruth's $40,000 a picture salary. A HR news item announced that Sandrich filmed shots for the English countryside scenes in Clear Lake, CA, and RKO production files indicate that additional exteriors were shot in Santa Monica and Santa Barbara, CA. According to a HR news item, Brandon Hurst was cast in the film, but his participation in the final film has not been confirmed. According to files contained in the MPAA/PCA files at the AMPAS Library, in a 22 Jun 1934 letter, James Wingate, Director of the Studio Relations Office of the MPAA/PCA, warned Berman that "considering the delicate nature of the subject upon which this script is based...great care should be taken in the scenes dealing with Mimi's lingerie, and... no intimate article should be used." Wingate added that the word co-respondent should be replaced with "something less pointed," and insisted that none of the actors appear in pajamas in the film. In a 2 Jul 1934 letter, Wingate noted that the song title "Let's K-nock K-nees" had been rejected by his office and suggested that the phrase also be delected from the lyrics. (It wasn't). In a studio memorandum, music soundman Murray Spivack advised the producers that "due to censorship, it was necessary to change [the] lyrics to 'Let's K-nock K-nees,'" but added that because songwriters Mack Gordon and Harry Revel were busy working on a production at Paramount, another writer would have to be hired to do the rewrites. The identity of the songwriter has not been determined, but according to a 4 Aug 1934 letter from MPAA/PCA director Joseph I. Breen, the second chorus of "Let's K-nock K-nees" was altered and approved "from the standpoint of the Production Code and censorship." Breen cautioned in a 31 Jul 1934 letter that "the scenes having to do with Mimi's skirt being caught in the locked trunk should all be handled with great care to avoid any objectionable exposure of her person." Con Conrad and Herb Magidson won the first Academy Award for Best Song for their composition "The Continental." (The song "The Carioca," which was the big Astaire-Rogers number of RKO's 1933 musical Flying Down to Rio , was also included in the balloting.) The film was nominated as Best Picture but lost to Columbia's It Happened One Night . Other Academy Award nominations included Best Art Direction (Van Nest Polglase and Carroll Clark), Best Score (Max Steiner) and Best Sound Recording (Carl Dreher, head of RKO's sound department).
       Modern sources add the following information about the production: After the success of Flying Down to Rio , the first RKO film to team Rogers and Astaire, the studio planned a follow-up film, in which Rogers and Astaire would be the stars, called Radio City Revels . When RKO's acting production head, Pandro Berman, suggested that The Gay Divorce , then a hit play on Broadway, be used as a follow-up to Radio City Revels , Lou Brock, who had produced Flying Down to Rio and was slated to produce the follow-up pictures, ridiculed the idea. Although Brock disliked the play and its libretto, which he thought was antequated, Berman went ahead and purchased the screen rights for $20,000 after seeing the play in London. Plans for Radio City Revels were eventually dropped, and Brock went on to produce another film, Down to Their Last Yacht , which had been considered briefly as a replacement for Radio City Revels . (In 1938, RKO made a film called Radio City Revels , but that film had no connection to the Astaire-Rogers project.) After Berman chose to produce The Gay Divorce himself, he asked Cole Porter to write new songs for the film but was turned down. Berman hired Mark Sandrich and then assigned Zion Myers, Sandrich's cousin, to supervise the production. Before Flying Down to Rio had established itself as a hit, RKO considered hiring Claire Luce, Astaire's stage co-star, to appear as "Mimi" in the film. When Astaire balked at the idea of casting Rogers, who he felt would not be right playing the refined English woman of the stage show, Berman supposedly offered him ten percent of the film's profits as incentive to concede. The studio originally wanted Helen Broderick to play "Hortense," but the actress was unavailable for the part.
       According to Astaire's autobiography, the cast "rehearsed for about six weeks on the dance routines, those tricky ones like 'Night and Day' and the table dance I brought from the stage show." (Astaire at one point wanted to drop the "Night and Day" number from the film because he felt the song had been overexposed.) Choreographer Hermes Pan acted as a liaison between Astaire, who was adapting his stage choreography, and credited choreographer Dave Gould. While Pan planned the majority of the group choreography for the film, Gould worked on the cinematic aspects of the dancing, planning camera angles and creating the look of the choreography. As part of the film's promotion, RKO organized "Continental" demonstrations and parties and encouraged dancing instructors and ballrooms to teach and highlight the dance. Although the film was a success, "The Continental" failed to catch on as a popular dance. However, Polglase and Clark's set design in the "Continental" sequence reportedly caused an increase in the sales of venetian blinds.
       Modern sources credit Ben Holmes as dialogue director, Hal Borne as Astaire's rehearsal pianist, Mel Berns as makeup artist and Elizabeth McGaffey as researcher. In addition, modern sources credit actors George Davis and Alphonse Martel as French waiters. For more information about the Astaire-Rogers RKO films, see entry for Top Hat . More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
29 Jun 34
p. 7.
Daily Variety
14 Aug 34
p. 6.
Film Daily
3 Oct 34
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Mar 34
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Jun 34
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Jun 34
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Jul 34
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Jul 34
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Jul 34
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Aug 34
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Aug 34
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Aug 34
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Sep 34
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Oct 34
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Oct 34
pp. 3-14.
International Photographer
1 Aug 34
p. 7.
Motion Picture Daily
3 Oct 34
p. 6.
Motion Picture Herald
13 Oct 34
pp. 60-64.
New York Times
15-Jul-34
---
New York Times
16 Nov 34
p. 27.
Variety
20 Nov 34
p. 15.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Pandro S. Berman Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2nd asst dir
2nd asst dir
PRODUCER
Prod assoc
WRITERS
Contr to dial
Contr to dial
Contr to dial
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
Cam op
Asst cam
Asst cam
Cooperated on photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus dir
DANCE
Dance dir
Dance ensemble staged by
PRODUCTION MISC
Tech dir
Prod mgr
Scr clerk
Grip
Projectionist
Still photog
STAND INS
Stand-in for Fred Astaire
Stand-in for Ginger Rogers
Stand-in for Alice Brady
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the musical The Gay Divorce , book by Dwight Taylor, musical adaptation by Kenneth Webb and Samuel Hoffenstein, music and lyrics by Cole Porter (New York, 29 Nov 1932).
SONGS
"Night and Day," music and lyrics by Cole Porter
"Don't Let It Bother You" and "Let's K-nock K-nees," music and lyrics by Mack Gordon and Harry Revel
"A Needle in a Haystack" and "The Continental," music and lyrics by Con Conrad and Herb Magidson.
DETAILS
Release Date:
19 October 1934
Production Date:
28 June--13 August 1934
retakes began 1 September 1934
Copyright Claimant:
RKO-Radio Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
11 October 1934
Copyright Number:
LP5063
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Victor System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
107
Length(in reels):
13
Country:
United States
PCA No:
282
SYNOPSIS

After passing through Paris, popular American dancer Guy Holden and his best friend, English lawyer Egbert "Pinky" Fitzgerald, land in London for the final leg of their vacation. While waiting at the London docks, Guy sees pretty American Mimi Glossop struggling with her dress, which is snagged in one of her aunt Hortense's trunks, and offers his help. In his haste to free Mimi, Guy pulls too hard and splits the back of the dress. Although furious at Guy, Mimi accepts his coat and his calling card, then storms away without revealing her name or address. Soon after, Mimi returns the coat anonymously through a hotel bellboy, further frustrating Guy, who is now madly in love with her. The desperate Guy drives the streets of London in search of Mimi and by chance crashes into the back of her car. Mimi takes off, but Guy pursues and eventually corners her in a park. After he proposes to her, Mimi tells Guy she cannot see him again, but accepts his telephone number and promises to call. Later, Hortense, who was once engaged to Egbert, brings the unhappily married Mimi to Egbert's law offices to discuss divorce proceedings. Apprised that Mimi's husband Cyril, a neglectful English geologist, has refused to grant Mimi a divorce, Egbert advises that a professional co-respondent be hired. Unaware that Mimi is the object of Guy's obsession, Egbert then convinces his lovesick friend to accompany him to the seaside resort, Brightbourne, where the co-respondent is to rendezvous with Mimi. In Brightbourne, Egbert meets Rodolfo Tonetti, the foppish Italian co-respondent, and tells him that his "password" with Mimi will ... +


After passing through Paris, popular American dancer Guy Holden and his best friend, English lawyer Egbert "Pinky" Fitzgerald, land in London for the final leg of their vacation. While waiting at the London docks, Guy sees pretty American Mimi Glossop struggling with her dress, which is snagged in one of her aunt Hortense's trunks, and offers his help. In his haste to free Mimi, Guy pulls too hard and splits the back of the dress. Although furious at Guy, Mimi accepts his coat and his calling card, then storms away without revealing her name or address. Soon after, Mimi returns the coat anonymously through a hotel bellboy, further frustrating Guy, who is now madly in love with her. The desperate Guy drives the streets of London in search of Mimi and by chance crashes into the back of her car. Mimi takes off, but Guy pursues and eventually corners her in a park. After he proposes to her, Mimi tells Guy she cannot see him again, but accepts his telephone number and promises to call. Later, Hortense, who was once engaged to Egbert, brings the unhappily married Mimi to Egbert's law offices to discuss divorce proceedings. Apprised that Mimi's husband Cyril, a neglectful English geologist, has refused to grant Mimi a divorce, Egbert advises that a professional co-respondent be hired. Unaware that Mimi is the object of Guy's obsession, Egbert then convinces his lovesick friend to accompany him to the seaside resort, Brightbourne, where the co-respondent is to rendezvous with Mimi. In Brightbourne, Egbert meets Rodolfo Tonetti, the foppish Italian co-respondent, and tells him that his "password" with Mimi will be "Chance is the fool's name for fate," a line spoken earlier by Guy. That night, while Tonetti searches the hotel for his liaison, whom he has never seen, Guy spots Mimi in the hotel restaurant and immediately resumes his romancing. However, when Guy then casually utters his line about fate, Mimi assumes that he is her co-respondent and grows instantly cold toward him. Although confused by Mimi's sudden hostility, Guy agrees to come to her hotel room at midnight and there does his best to flirt with her. Egbert, meanwhile, finally connects with a bemused Tonetti and directs him to the correct room, while Hortense pulls Mimi aside and informs her that her assessment of Guy is mistaken. After Tonetti enters her room, Guy demands an explanation from Mimi, who finally confesses her mission. Egbert and Hortense then rush back to London to secure the needed detectives, and Mimi convinces Guy to go along with the scheme and accept Tonetti's presence. Defying Tonetti's orders to stay in the room, Mimi and Guy sneak off, using the shadows of paper dolls to make him believe that they are still there, and pursue their romance on the hotel dance floor. The next morning, Hortense and Egbert, having been unable to find detectives, bring Cyril to the hotel. Although at first defiant and unyielding, Cyril gives in to Mimi's divorce demands when a hotel waiter unwittingly reveals to the group that he had met Cyril under a different name and with a different "wife" in tow. While Mimi and Guy celebrate her impending freedom, Hortense and Egbert announce that they were married on the train from London. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.