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For those who always thought, like Spencer Tracy's character in Father of the Bride (1950), that marriage was a simple affair, MGM's hit 1950 comedy is the perfect cureas comical as it is all too true. The only thing simple about this story of a father reluctantly giving his daughter away was the production process, one of the smoothest in MGM history thanks to director Vincente Minnelli and a strong, very professional cast. Getting it into production, however, was another story entirely.
Studio head Dore Schary thought Edward Streeter's best-selling comic novel was a natural for the husband-and-wife team of Francis Goodrich and Albert Hackett, who had worked magic on such simple, all-American stories as It's a Wonderful Life and Easter Parade. But they took one look at the episodic novel and swore it was unadaptable. Schary was used to such reluctance on their part, and patiently led them through the first few weeks of the writing. Every time they swore they had failed, he showed them what worked in their scenes, until they came up with a screenplay that pleased everyone.
Goodrich and Hackett had shaped the father's role for Spencer Tracy, the only actor Minnelli thought capable of capturing the story's humor along with the heartache of a man giving up his beloved daughter. Then Jack Benny approached Schary at a party, and the studio head foolishly said he could do it. Minnelli had to test him for the part, but though he worked tirelessly to reduce Benny's trademarked double takes to a minimum, it was clear that the brilliant comic just didn't have the dramatic chops for the role.
Unfortunately, when Tracy heard that another actor had tested, he turned the picture down. Minnelli got Katharine Hepburn to arrange a dinner party where he convinced Tracy that they couldn't make the film without him. That was just the reassurance Tracy needed to change his mind.
The 17-year-old Elizabeth Taylor, MGM's top young actress at the time, was the only choice to play Tracy's daughter. And just to add to the film's publicity, when they announced her casting, Taylor announced her engagement to Conrad Hilton Jr. As she told the press, the thought of planning her own wedding and playing a young bride at the same time was "positively drooly."
When Taylor got married just a few weeks before the film's June 1950 release, it created a PR bonanza that helped make it one of the year's top-grossing pictures. Only it wasn't William Pawley who met her at the end of the aisle. By the time Taylor got around to making Father of the Bride, Pawley had tired of living around her schedule, and the engagement had ended. Instead, Taylor fell for hotel heir Nicky Hilton, who became her first husband on May 6, 1950.
The first rushes for Father of the Bride were so strong that MGM immediately registered the title Now I'm a Grandfather and negotiated sequel rights with Streeter. The sequel was made a year later, under the title Father's Little Dividend, and defied conventional wisdom by doing almost as well at the box office as the original. By the time of the second film, in which a happily married Taylor has her first child, Taylor's first marriage was over, a fact not trumpeted in the film's publicity.
Trivia: No company has been more involved in placing their product in Hollywood films thanCoca-Cola. It started with Dinner at 8, which was promoted at hundreds of Coca-Colaoutlets with posters that featured Jean Harlow and other cast members drinking theproduct during breaks in filming. In Father of the Bride, Spencer Tracy (who was usedin print ads for Coca-Cola), offers guests at the engagement party Cokes to drink.
Screenplay:Edward Streeter (novel), Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett
Art Direction:Cedric Gibbons, Leonid Vasian
Cast:Spencer Tracy (Stanley Banks), Joan Bennett (Ellie Banks), Elizabeth Taylor (Kay Banks), Don Taylor (Buckley Dunstan), Billie Burke (Doris Dunstan), Leo G. Carroll (Mr. Massoula)
BW-93m. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video.
by Frank Miller