Sixty-three years ago today, the film Auntie Mame premiered at Radio City Music Hall. I have no idea how many times I have seen this movie, I am guessing at least two dozen. It is in beautifully luscious Technicolor, the costumes are superb, and the dialogue is spectacular. You have to see this movie.
Title: Auntie Mame
Directed by: Morton DaCosta
Produced by: Morton DaCosta
Screenplay by: Betty Comden, Adolph Green
Based on: Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis; Mame by Jerome Lawrence, Robert Edwin Lee
Starring: Rosalind Russell, Forrest Tucker, Coral Browne, Roger Smith, Peggy Cass, Jan Handzlik, Joanna Barnes, Robin Hughes, Pippa Scott
Music by: Bronislau Kaper
Cinematography: Harry Stradling
Edited by: William H. Ziegler
Set Decoration by: George James Hopkins
Costume Design by: Orry-Kelly
Distributed by: Warner Bros.
Release date: December 4, 1958 (Radio City Music Hall), December 27, 1958 (US)
Running time: 143 minutes
Country: United States
Box office: $9.3 million
Patrick Dennis, orphaned in 1928 when his father Edwin dies unexpectedly, is placed in the care of his aunt Mame Dennis in Manhattan. Mame is flamboyant and exuberant, hosting frequent parties with a variety of guests and free-spirited friends including the frequently-drunk actress Vera Charles; Acacius Page, who runs a nudist school; and Lindsay Woolsey, a book publisher. Mame quickly becomes fond of Patrick, and aims to give him as broad a view of life as possible. Patrick’s inheritance is managed by Dwight Babcock, a trustee of the highly-conservative Knickerbocker Bank, who was instructed by Edwin to restrain Mame’s influence. Without Babcock’s knowledge, Mame enrolls Patrick in Page’s school. When this is discovered, Babcock forcibly enrols Patrick into his alma mater, preventing Mame from seeing her nephew except during holidays and during the summer.
When Mame is bankrupted by the 1929 stock market crash, she takes a series of jobs which end disastrously. During one job as a Macy’s sales girl, she meets Southern oil baron Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside. Both are smitten, and he invites Mame to his estate. Despite an attempt on her life by Beau’s original betrothed, Mame and Beauregard are married, travelling around the world for their honeymoon. Mame continues to receive letters from Patrick (and vice versa), indicating Babcock is influencing him into a more conventional personality. After Beau dies while climbing the Matterhorn in 1937, Mame comes home after a prolonged period of mourning to discover the now-adult Patrick gifted her with a dictaphone, typewriter, and secretary, Agnes Gooch. He and her friends persuade her to write her autobiography. Patrick and Lindsay arrange for a collaborator-come-ghost writer for Mame, Brian O’Bannion, who rapidly proves to be a fortune hunter.
Patrick announces to Mame that he is engaged to Gloria Upson, a girl approved by Babcock from a “restricted” community in Connecticut called Upson Downs. Mame is initially angered by the change in his character, but relents to please him. She also sabotages O’Bannion’s attempted wooing by sending Agnes to a party in her place, lying to O’Bannion that Agnes is a secret heiress. When Agnes returns, she barely remembers the evening, thinking they saw a movie with a wedding scene. After Mame meets Gloria, who proves to be spoiled and prejudiced, she secretly visits Gloria’s parents in Upson Downs some time later. Finding them to be just as bad, she invites them and Gloria to a dinner party at her apartment with Patrick, Babcock, and some of her friends.
On the night of the party, Patrick meets Mame’s new secretary Pegeen, and the two immediately become attached; Agnes also lives there, now pregnant due to her night with O’Bannion and presumed to be unmarried. The entire party is choreographed to show up the Upsons, but when Gloria insults Mame’s company, Patrick instead defends them and insults Gloria’s own circle, ending their relationship. Lindsay surprises the attendees with galleys from Mame’s autobiography, reminding Patrick of forgotten adventures. Mame dedicates her royalties to a home for refugee Jewish children in Mountebank, much to the Upsons’ horror. The book’s release prompts a telegram from O’Bannion demanding half the royalties for his efforts, also revealing that he married Agnes on their night out. The Upsons leave in a huff, and Mame berates Babcock’s attempts to manipulate Patrick’s life before he also leaves. By 1946, Patrick and Pegeen are married and have a son Michael. Mame and Michael persuade his parents to let Mame take the child on a journey to India, and the movie fades as Mame tells Michael of all the wondrous sights they will see.