Sunday, June 3, 2018

THE BROADWAY BOUND BLOGATHON: The Royal Family of Broadway (1930)


Rebecca Deniston of Taking Up Room is hosting The Broadway Bound Blogathon, a look at movies about Broadway, Broadway plays, the whole lovely mix. Here is your backstage pass: Day 1 contributions  Day 2 contributions  Day 3 contributions to the blogathon running on June 1, 2, and 3.


Hirschfeld's mind-boggling Kaufman and Ferber portrait

The Royal Family ran on Broadway for 345 performances beginning in 1927. It was the first collaboration between Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman, who enjoyed further success with Dinner at Eight and Stage Door. Edna Ferber won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel So Big, and Kaufman won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Of Thee I Sing and You Can't Take It With You.

Ferber and Kaufman combined their observations, experience, considerable wit, and their honest love of the theatre to write this fantastic fable of a theatrical family based on the Barrymores and their legend. Ethel Barrymore had enjoyed a successful run in 1915 as Mrs. McChesney, playing Edna's popular traveling saleslady character from a series of stories. Edna relates in one of her volumes of autobiography, A Peculiar Treasure, that Ethel was rather put out by The Royal Family, and it was years before they spoke again as friends.

I don't think Ethel had anything to really complain about. The outlandish Cavendish clan is presented with affection as much as humor. Julie, in particular, is an admirable character. Many other famous actors and acting families, such as the Davenports, play as much a role in the way the audience reacts to the play.


Otto Kruger as Tony and Haidee Wright as Fanny
Original Broadway Cast

The late Aubrey Cavendish was a theatrical idol and his family carries on the tradition proudly. Widow Fanny Cavendish (Henrietta Crosman) is the grandest old trouper of them all and her daughter Julie (Ina Claire) is acclaimed as America's greatest actress. Fanny's son Tony (Fredric March) - ah, Tony - may be a great actor. Indeed it is often said of him that he is a great actor. However, his exploits with the ladies get more publicity than his stage antics. Tony has, for all intents and purposes, abandoned the family by succumbing to the lure of Hollywood. Julie's daughter Gwen (Mary Brian) is set to make her debut with her mother next season. Love, in the form of a handsome and attentive stockbroker (Charles Starrett), hopes to break up Gwen's plan.

Perhaps it is Gwen's happiness at her engagement and her chafing at the responsibilities inherent in the acting profession that is making Julie restless. Maybe all she needs is a break. Whatever it is, when Julie hears from an old beau, the one she let get away, she starts to pine for a different kind of life. At the very least, she'd rather go to dinner than rehearsal. Old Fanny, laid up with a leg injury, is at a loss to understand the younger generation. The only thing keeping her going is the thought of returning to the stage next season.

Into the midst of the Cavendish's lavish and crazy apartment comes the one and the only Tony! He's on the run from a breach of promise suit and an injured director. Neither things are Tony's fault because others always seem to misunderstand him. However, Tony is hiding from both the press and the police. He relishes the chance to tell his story, in the most dramatic fashion possible, to his adoring family. When not in a disguise, Tony is in various stages of undress as he bounds through the penthouse bringing life and a lot of noise everywhere he goes.

By the next theatrical season, Tony has escaped to Europe, Fanny is back on tour in Shakespeare, Julie is preparing to marry her millionaire businessman and relocate to South America. Gwen is perfectly happy as a married woman, yet has taken up the family manager's offer of a small, but important role in a limited run play. She's a Cavendish after all. Julie is a Cavendish through and through as well. Everyone seems to know it, but she needs a reminder; a somewhat stark reminder that the show must go on.


The Cavendish Family on screen
Mary Brian as Gwen, Henrietta Crosman as Fanny
Fredric March as Tony and Ina Claire as Julie

The Royal Family was produced for film by Paramount and made at the Astoria Studios in New York in 1931. It was co-directed by George Cukor and Cyril Gardner, and the editor was future director Edward Dmytryk. Travis Banton designed the costumes. The play was adapted by Gwen Purcell and Herman J. Mankiewicz and retitled The Royal Family of Broadway.

The cast is stellar with each actor bringing these wild personalities to life perfectly. Fredric March's portrayal of Tony is a scathingly spot-on spoof of John Barrymore, yet beneath the caricature completely human. March was nominated as Best Actor in a Leading Role by the Academy. He lost the trophy to the star of A Free Soul, Lionel Barrymore. March would win the following year for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the role John Barrymore played effectively in 1920. March tied for Best Actor in a Leading Role with Wallace Beery for The Champ.

Ina Claire left us very few movies to enjoy, but her theatrical career would rival that of the fictional Julie Cavendish. The role of the Countess in Ninotchka is a wonderful way to enjoy and remember her talent. She makes of Julie Cavendish, a great star, and a very likable and relatable woman. A woman of independence who can't help but wonder what she is missing despite her great success.

Mary Brian, a WAMPAS Baby Star of 1926 has a lovely charm as Gwen and in movies from The Virginian to Charlie Chan in Paris. Despite her appeal and talent, Mary's film career never took off as anticipated.

Henrietta Crosman shares that trouper gene with the character of Fanny. Her Broadway roles were extensive, and her lineage goes back to her great uncle, composer Stephen Foster. Like Fanny, Henrietta was married to an actor, Maurice Campbell. Look for some of her movies on TCM including Pilgrimage, The Dark Angel and Among The Missing. She rules the roost delightfully in Charlie Chan's Secret.

This amusing and affectionate play about players is a delightful look into the absurd heart of the theatre.

Trivia:


Fredric March played Tony Cavendish again in a television episode of The Royal Family of Broadway on the series The Best of Broadway (1954-1955). The rest of the cast was Helen Hayes as Fanny, Claudette Colbert as Julie, Nancy Olson as Gwen and Charles Coburn as Oscar Wolfe.

















10 comments:

  1. I'm not surprised Ina Claire came from the stage. She had a theatrical air about her, like a lot of actors in the 30s. I could picture her as a faux Ethel Barrymore type.

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    1. An actress named Ann Andrews played the role on Broadway, and also played in Dinner at Eight by Ferber and Kaufman. I'd love to be able to compare the different performances in these roles. Guess I'm just a nerd waiting for a time machine.

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  2. Replies
    1. Thank you so much. I am humbled and pleased by those words.

      Now watch me give a humble and pleased bow worthy of Fanny Cavendish. Whoops!

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  3. Ina Claire! I've not seen her in much, but I adore her in everything I've seen so far.

    What a treat this production must be, both on the stage and on screen. That Edna Ferber really knew her way around Hollywood AND the publishing industry, didn't she? A remarkable woman.

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    1. I am a great admirer of Edna Ferber. Have you ever noticed that when she is the "question" on Jeopardy! that nobody ever gets it! Makes me so angry the family starts laughing.

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  4. Hi Patrica
    For you I finally figure out which username /password works to make comment! 😊
    I am always in awe of your posts. I learn from you as I read them. I am glad The Royal Family comes on TMC so I can finally see it. After reading your post, I look forward to it.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you very much for reading, and for the lovely compliment.

      The Royal Family is a delightful screwball type of comedy and I am sure you will enjoy it. It is currently on YouTube, and although the copy isn't very good, it still delivers the laughs.

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  5. Wonderful post! Fredric March is an actor I've been meaning to check out more, and this sounds like a fun way to start doing that. Glad to know it's on YouTube!

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    1. Fredric March was my grandfather's favourite actor. Coming from a long line of movie buffs this makes March a legacy of sorts. Once you start in on his filmography you will become obsessed. He is that good!

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