skip navigation
A Tribute to the George Eastman House
Remind Me
,The Lottery Bride

The Lottery Bride

WWhen it was a failure on its initial release the original film operetta, The Lottery Bride (1930), went through several changes. Eventually it would lose the color from its original two-strip Technicolor finale along with about 13 minutes of footage, trimmed for a 1937 re-issue. The new version was created because star Jeanette MacDonald had risen to new heights of stardom after MGM teamed her with Nelson Eddy in Naughty Marietta (1935) and a string of profitable musicals. For decades, that was the only version available until some of the lost footage, including the color sequence, was found in the George Eastman House and restored with the support of the Film Foundation. Now you can see MacDonald and forgotten tenor John Garrick in the first of only two operettas Rudolf Friml wrote directly for the screen (the other was the 1947 Northwest Outpost, starring Eddy).

The plot combines the romantic confusion common to musical theatre at the time with a sense of spectacle best realized in the movies. MacDonald stars as a young Norwegian who embarrasses her true love (Garrick) by entering a dance marathon to help her brother. When Garrick flees to a remote mining camp, she signs up as a mail order bride, not realizing the Svenson to whom she has promised herself is his brother. On her arrival, Garrick runs off to join an Arctic expedition headed by yet another romantic rival, setting the stage for an epic rescue scene as his brother and MacDonald marshal the local inhabitants to save the downed explorers in a Zeppelin.

The production was the brainchild of Broadway veteran Arthur Hammerstein (uncle of lyricist Oscar), who had produced such legendary operettas as Friml's The Firefly (filmed by MacDonald in 1937) and Rose Marie, another MacDonald hit in later years. With the arrival of talking films, musicals were big business, so Hammerstein signed with United Artists to add to the growing list of on-screen musicals such as Rio Rita (1929) and The Rogue Song (1930). He was wise enough to sign Friml to write the score for The Lottery Bride, but not wise enough to keep him happy. Friml left the production in disgust partway through filming. Hammerstein trusted the lead to MacDonald, who had just started climbing to stardom at Paramount, while hiring Joe E. Brown and ZaSu Pitts to provide the comedy. Garrick was more of a chance. The British-born singer had starred for two years in the Australian company of Rose Marie, but had yet to headline a film musical.

The results seem somewhat stilted. When preview audiences hooted in derision at certain scenes, Hammerstein sprung for expensive re-takes. That delayed the film's release until December 1930, by which time filmgoers were so tired from the glut of musical films that had hit the screen since 1927 that some theatres were advertising movies with the sign "Not a Musical" to lure in weary customers. The bad reviews certainly didn't help. Writing in the New York Times Mordaunt Hall wrote, "It is a pictorial contribution that causes one to wish that the performers would sing more and talk less." As a result, The Lottery Bride flopped, and Hammerstein returned to Broadway.

Although the film sank Hammerstein's film career, it didn't have a negative effect on MacDonald, who was building an international audience through concert appearances and her successful films at Paramount. In 1934, MGM signed her, making her an even bigger star in films of her own and opposite Eddy. Garrick was less fortunate. He held on in Hollywood for another year, then tried Broadway briefly before returning to England, where he continued appearing on stage and screen, most notably in the Arabian Nights adventure Chu Chin Chow (1934), starring Anna May Wong.

Producer: Arthur Hammerstein, Joseph M. Schenck
Director: Paul L. Stein
Screenplay: Horace Jackson, Howard Emmett Rogers
Based on the story "Bride 66" by Herbert Stothart Cinematography: Karl Freund, Ray June
Art Direction: William Cameron Menzies
Score: Rudolf Friml
Cast: Jeanette MacDonald (Jenny Swanson), John Garrick (Chris Svenson), Joe E. Brown (Hoke Curtis), ZaSu Pitts (Hilda), Robert Chisholm (Olaf Svenson), Joseph Macauley (Alberto), Carroll Nye (Nels Swanson).

by Frank Miller