The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle


1h 33m 1939
The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle

Brief Synopsis

True story of the dancing team who taught the world to two-step.

Film Details

Also Known As
The Castles, The Life of Vernon and Irene Castle, The Romantic Vernon Castles
Genre
Drama
Musical
Biography
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Apr 28, 1939
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 31 Mar 1939
Production Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Bel Air, California, United States; Long Beach Municipal Airport, California, United States; Newport Beach, California, United States; Triunfo, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the book My Husband (New York, 1919) by Irene Castle and her short story "My Memories of Vernon Castle" in Everybody's Magazine (Nov 1918--Mar 1919).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 33m
Sound
Mono (RCA Victor System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
10 reels

Synopsis

Vernon Castle is performing a slapstick routine as "second banana" to vaudevillian Lew Fields when he meets Irene Foote, the daughter of a staid New Rochelle doctor. Irene, who loves to dance, arouses Vernon's ambition to become a great dancer, and she weans him away from vaudeville. After working on dance routines together for three months, they are married and go to Paris under the misconception that they have been hired to perform dance specialties. The Parisian managers, however, only want Vernon to repeat his slapstick act. Irene and Vernon are down to their last franc when they meet Maggie Sutton, an English talent agent who gets them a chance to exhibit their dance, the Castle Walk, at the Cafe de Paris. The Walk is an immediate success, and the Castles' rise to stardom is meteoric. Soon the fashion world is emulating Irene's new hair bob and Vernon's shoes. After many successful tours, they return to the United States to retire and spend quiet hours together. When war breaks out, Vernon, who is British, enlists in the British Flying Service. Many dangerous missions later, he is sent back to the U.S. to teach flying to American aviators. Separated for a long time by the war, the Castles arrange a romantic meeting at a quiet hotel near the air field, and as Irene anxiously awaits the return of her husband, Vernon tragically dies in a plane crash when he swerves to avoid a collision with a student pilot.

Film Details

Also Known As
The Castles, The Life of Vernon and Irene Castle, The Romantic Vernon Castles
Genre
Drama
Musical
Biography
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Apr 28, 1939
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 31 Mar 1939
Production Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Bel Air, California, United States; Long Beach Municipal Airport, California, United States; Newport Beach, California, United States; Triunfo, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the book My Husband (New York, 1919) by Irene Castle and her short story "My Memories of Vernon Castle" in Everybody's Magazine (Nov 1918--Mar 1919).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 33m
Sound
Mono (RCA Victor System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
10 reels

Articles

The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle


The last, and least representative, of the musicals Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made for RKO, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939) is unusual in that the pair play real-life characters in a down-to-earth story that even includes the death of the Astaire character. To soften this ending, the team of screenwriters (which included Oscar Hammerstein II) concluded the movie with a dream sequence in which the dancing lovers waltz through heaven.

The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, based on the memoirs of Irene Castle, tells of her great love for her husband and ballroom dancing partner, Vernon. After achieving spectacular success in the days preceding World War I, the couple sees their happy, glamorous life torn apart when Vernon is called to action and killed in a training accident. Before that happens, Astaire and Rogers have a chance to perform a dozen or so numbers including "The Yama Yama Man," "By the Light of the Silvery Moon," "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee," "Too Much Mustard" and a "medley montage" with Fred and Ginger literally dancing across a map of the U.S. as they demonstrate how the Castles launched a nationwide dance craze with the Tango, the Polk and the Maxixe.

Astaire, who first saw the Castles dance in a silent movie when he was only 14, idolized Vernon Castle and was thrilled to play the dancer onscreen. The fact that Castle was British created no problem for the American Astaire since audiences never heard Castle speak. Irene Castle, still only 46, served for a time as technical consultant on the RKO production, with approval of script, cast, direction and costumes. "I'm sure they were rather I had been dead," she told a reporter. "They even waited two years for me to kick off, I suspect, after I had sold them the story." Out of deference to the Castles, Astaire and choreographer Hermes Pan were content to stage the dances in the Castle manner, with limited creative input of their own.

Rogers, however, chafed at what she saw as interference by Mrs. Castle, beginning with the suggestion that Rogers dye her hair brunette to resemble her more closely -- then to cut it into the famous "Castle bob." Mrs. Castle, who had wanted RKO to mount a Scarlett O'Hara-type search to find an actress to play her, had never liked the idea of Rogers stepping into her shoes. "I felt that Irene Castle looked down her nose at me," Rogers wrote in her autobiography, Ginger: My Story. "I certainly wasn't going to have my hair bobbed for this lady, when I could easily pin it up to look more in the period of that day."

A fashion trendsetter in her day, Mrs. Castle was credited as Rogers' costume designer and wanted to dictate every detail of the star's clothes, right down to the ribbons on her shoes. Rogers balked, maintaining that she wasn't "an Irene Castle clone." Because she was passionately involved in animal rights, Mrs. Castle soon abandoned the production to join a campaign opposing vivisection -- much to the relief of director Hank Potter, who had been faced with resolving the Rogers-Castle disputes.

Although it wasn't definite at the time that this would be the last teaming at RKO for Astaire and Rogers (and they would be reunited a decade later at MGM for The Barkleys of Broadway in 1949), the two stars and their coworkers approached the filming of the final number, "The Missouri Waltz," with a certain sadness. "People were coming from far and wide, even nearby Paramount and Columbia, along with employees from the front office and other stages in production, to see this last dance," Rogers wrote. "It even got to me -- I sort of teared up as we were dancing our last waltz together."

Producer: Pandro S. Berman (Executive Producer), George Haight
Director: H.C. Potter
Screenplay: Oscar Hammerstein II, Dorothy Yost, Richard Sherman, from memoirs My Husband and My Memories by Irene Castle
Cinematography: Robert De Grasse
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase
Original Music: Shelton Brooks, Con Conrad, Harry Ruby, Herman Ruby
Editing: William Hamilton
Costume Design: Walter Plunkett, Irene Castle, Edward Stevenson
Principal Cast: Fred Astaire (Vernon Castle), Ginger Rogers (Irene Castle), Edna May Oliver (Maggie Sutton), Walter Brennan (Walter Ash), Lew Fields (Himself), Etienne Girardot (Papa Aubel), Marge Belcher (later Champion as Irene's girlfriend).
BW-94m. Closed captioning.

by Roger Fristoe
The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle

The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle

The last, and least representative, of the musicals Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made for RKO, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939) is unusual in that the pair play real-life characters in a down-to-earth story that even includes the death of the Astaire character. To soften this ending, the team of screenwriters (which included Oscar Hammerstein II) concluded the movie with a dream sequence in which the dancing lovers waltz through heaven. The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, based on the memoirs of Irene Castle, tells of her great love for her husband and ballroom dancing partner, Vernon. After achieving spectacular success in the days preceding World War I, the couple sees their happy, glamorous life torn apart when Vernon is called to action and killed in a training accident. Before that happens, Astaire and Rogers have a chance to perform a dozen or so numbers including "The Yama Yama Man," "By the Light of the Silvery Moon," "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee," "Too Much Mustard" and a "medley montage" with Fred and Ginger literally dancing across a map of the U.S. as they demonstrate how the Castles launched a nationwide dance craze with the Tango, the Polk and the Maxixe. Astaire, who first saw the Castles dance in a silent movie when he was only 14, idolized Vernon Castle and was thrilled to play the dancer onscreen. The fact that Castle was British created no problem for the American Astaire since audiences never heard Castle speak. Irene Castle, still only 46, served for a time as technical consultant on the RKO production, with approval of script, cast, direction and costumes. "I'm sure they were rather I had been dead," she told a reporter. "They even waited two years for me to kick off, I suspect, after I had sold them the story." Out of deference to the Castles, Astaire and choreographer Hermes Pan were content to stage the dances in the Castle manner, with limited creative input of their own. Rogers, however, chafed at what she saw as interference by Mrs. Castle, beginning with the suggestion that Rogers dye her hair brunette to resemble her more closely -- then to cut it into the famous "Castle bob." Mrs. Castle, who had wanted RKO to mount a Scarlett O'Hara-type search to find an actress to play her, had never liked the idea of Rogers stepping into her shoes. "I felt that Irene Castle looked down her nose at me," Rogers wrote in her autobiography, Ginger: My Story. "I certainly wasn't going to have my hair bobbed for this lady, when I could easily pin it up to look more in the period of that day." A fashion trendsetter in her day, Mrs. Castle was credited as Rogers' costume designer and wanted to dictate every detail of the star's clothes, right down to the ribbons on her shoes. Rogers balked, maintaining that she wasn't "an Irene Castle clone." Because she was passionately involved in animal rights, Mrs. Castle soon abandoned the production to join a campaign opposing vivisection -- much to the relief of director Hank Potter, who had been faced with resolving the Rogers-Castle disputes. Although it wasn't definite at the time that this would be the last teaming at RKO for Astaire and Rogers (and they would be reunited a decade later at MGM for The Barkleys of Broadway in 1949), the two stars and their coworkers approached the filming of the final number, "The Missouri Waltz," with a certain sadness. "People were coming from far and wide, even nearby Paramount and Columbia, along with employees from the front office and other stages in production, to see this last dance," Rogers wrote. "It even got to me -- I sort of teared up as we were dancing our last waltz together." Producer: Pandro S. Berman (Executive Producer), George Haight Director: H.C. Potter Screenplay: Oscar Hammerstein II, Dorothy Yost, Richard Sherman, from memoirs My Husband and My Memories by Irene Castle Cinematography: Robert De Grasse Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase Original Music: Shelton Brooks, Con Conrad, Harry Ruby, Herman Ruby Editing: William Hamilton Costume Design: Walter Plunkett, Irene Castle, Edward Stevenson Principal Cast: Fred Astaire (Vernon Castle), Ginger Rogers (Irene Castle), Edna May Oliver (Maggie Sutton), Walter Brennan (Walter Ash), Lew Fields (Himself), Etienne Girardot (Papa Aubel), Marge Belcher (later Champion as Irene's girlfriend). BW-94m. Closed captioning. by Roger Fristoe

Quotes

Trivia

Jean Sablon refused the part of the French singer played by Louis Mercier (I) because of its size, but his voice is used on the soundtrack.

Last Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film for 10 years, until Barkleys of Broadway, The (1949).

Notes

The working titles of this film were The Castles, The Life of Vernon and Irene Castle and The Romantic Vernon Castles. According to New York Times, RKO wanted Irene Castle to play the role of her mother in the film, but she declined, preferring to have her role limited to consultant. The New York Times notes that Mrs. Castle was pleased with the film and commented that Fred Astaire played the role of Vernon perfectly, even fitting into his old uniforms. Mrs. Castle noted that some of the episodes depicted in the film were slightly exaggreated and the character of Walter Ash, a black man who was the Castles protector in Paris, was altered to fit actor Walter Brennan. This picture marked Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire's last collaboration for RKO. Materials contained in the RKO Production Files at the UCLA Theater Arts Library add that the picture was partially filmed on location at the Russel Ranch at Triunfo, CA; Newport Beach, CA; Bel Air, CA and the Long Beach Municipal Airport. According to modern sources, in 1937, RKO paid Irene $20,000 for the rights to her story. Under her RKO contract, Mrs. Castle had approval of costumes and script treatment on which she worked closely with scriptwriter Oscar Hammerstein, II. She plagued the studio with complaints over departures from the script and Rogers' costumes and hairstyles. Mrs. Castle opposed Rogers as the lead and was particularly upset that Rogers refused to cut her hair in the style of the "Castle Bob." The studio silenced Mrs. Castle with an additional payment of $5,000. In 1915, the Castles starred in The Whirl of Life, which was loosely based on the couple's life (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20; F1.4919).