The Reluctant Debutante
Cast & Crew
In London, Lord James Broadbent and his wife, Lady Sheila, look forward to the arrival of Jane, Jimmy's seventeen-year-old American daughter from his first marriage. Jane and Sheila take to each other immediately, but their meeting at the airport is interrupted by Sheila's second cousin, the brassy Mabel Claremont and her daughter Clarissa. Mabel presses Sheila and Jimmy into giving her and Clarissa a ride into town and then chats nonstop about the opening of the debutante season.
Clarissa asks if she might show Jane the changing of the royal palace guards, but when the girls are alone, Clarissa admits that she has a crush on royal guard David Fenner. Later over tea, Jane inquires about the "season" and Clarissa explains that every year, girls of seventeen are launched into society by their parents who throw a lavish ball, which, in turn, secures invitations to all the other balls. When the girls arrive at the Broadbents' apartment, Mabel laments that Jane will not be partaking in the coming festivities, but Sheila startles everyone with her announcement that she arranged Jane's coming out long ago. Jane is dismayed and although Jimmy realizes that Sheila has made the decision on the spur of the moment in reaction to Mabel's boasting, he goes along uneasily.
A few nights later, Jane attends her first ball with Sheila and Jimmy, and Clarissa introduces her to the pompous David Fenner. When David asks Jane to dance, Jimmy remains in the bar where he meets young American musician David Parkson, who plays drums with the dance orchestra. Later, Jane complains to Sheila that all the young men dance too formally and that she believes dancing should be wild and free, like that of African natives. Jimmy presents David Parkson to Jane, but after the two leave to go dancing, Mabel warns Sheila that David is part-Italian and therefore untrustworthy. Sheila grows alarmed when Mabel then reveals several well-known sources have linked David to a scandal with a debutante the previous year.
The next day, Jane meets David Parkson alone at a café at his invitation. After Jane admits that she has never dined alone with a man before, David tells her that although he is departing for a three-week stay in Italy to care for a sick uncle, he would like to see her upon his return. Over the next few weeks, Jane and her parents attend fancy balls nightly, which begins to exhaust Jimmy. As Jane's own ball looms, she looks forward to David Parkson's return. Meanwhile, Sheila expresses her grave concern to Jimmy about Jane's apparent lack of interest in any of the young men at the parties. Faced with another dinner invitation and no escort for Jane, Sheila impulsively telephones Mabel to ask for David Fenner's number. Suspicious of Sheila's motives, Mabel gives her David Parkson's number instead. Having just returned from Italy, David is grateful for the invitation and accepts. Moments later, David Fenner telephones to invite Jane to dine alone. Believing she has just spoken with him, Sheila advises David that it would be best if they all dined together at a fashionable restaurant.
That evening when David Fenner arrives at the restaurant, Clarissa is pleased, while Jane remains indifferent. Jimmy runs into David Parkson in the men's room, but does not recognize him. Although puzzled by Jimmy's behavior, David follows him back to the table where Jane lights up upon seeing him. Sheila is confused when David Parkson thanks her for the invitation and becomes uneasy when he then describes his enthusiasm for native dancing. Later on the dance floor, Jane and David Parkson realize Sheila's mix-up, but are happy to see each other again. While they arrange to go to a nightclub following the ball, Clarissa confronts David Fenner about continually flirting with Jane.
At the ball later, fearful that Jane is attracted to David Parkson, Sheila orders Jimmy to help watch over her. While waiting for David Parkson, Jane is pursued by David Fenner, who attempts to kiss her on the patio. Escaping David Fenner, Sheila and Jimmy, Jane slips away with David Parkson to a nightclub. Upon returning home at five in the morning, Sheila is scandalized to find that Jane has not yet returned, but Jimmy remains unruffled. When the young couple arrive moments later, Sheila insists that she and Jimmy pretend to have retired, but the pair eavesdrop until Jane discovers them and pleads for them to leave.
When they are alone, Jane asks David about his relationship with other girls, then kisses him. After Jimmy reappears and David takes his leave, Jane joins Jimmy in the kitchen and asks her father about his first experience with love. Once Jimmy retires, David slips back in the apartment to return Jane's key and runs into Jane. Jane declares her love for him, and David apologetically reveals that his uncle's recent death makes him the new Duke of Positano. When Sheila catches the two embracing, she demands that Jimmy throw David out. Ordering Sheila away to spare her from the violence, Jimmy pretends to thrash David, who informs him that he would like to marry Jane and explains the confusion over his reputation was actually a mix-up with David Fenner.
Later that morning, David Fenner arrives to propose to Jane, who rejects him to Sheila's dismay. Sheila tearfully insists that she only wanted the best for Jane and pleads with her not to see David Parkson. Having read about David Parkson's inheritance and title in the paper, Jimmy suggests that they invite the Duke of Positano to Jane's ball that evening. That night, Clarissa arrives with David Fenner. When the Duke is announced, Sheila is amazed to recognize David Parkson, then, seeing Jane's happy expression, realizes that all has turned out for the best after all.
Pandro S. Berman
A. J. D'eaubonne
William Douglas Home
The Reluctant Debutante
An executive in MGM's London office had caught the play in its pre-London tryout. His rave inspired producer Pandro S. Berman, then in London filming Quentin Durward (1955), with Robert Taylor and Kay Kendall, to see the show in London. He recommended that MGM buy the film rights. Not only did they outbid Paramount with an offer of $150,000, but they also footed the bill for a New York stage production. Wilfrid Hyde-White and Anna Massey repeated their father-daughter roles on Broadway. Celia Johnson, the acclaimed star of Brief Encounter (1945), refused to stay with her role as the mother unless MGM promised her the chance to play the role on screen, but by then the studio had other plans.
Like most people who worked with her, Berman was totally enthralled with Kendall. The accomplished comedienne, who was often compared to Carole Lombard, had scored in the British comedy Genevieve (1953). After a stock romantic lead in Quentin Durward, she had dazzled audiences and critics with her comic turn as a British showgirl in Les Girls (1957). Berman thought the eccentric, fast-talking mother in The Reluctant Debutante would be perfect for her, even though, at 32, she was a little too young for it. That problem was easily solved, however, by making her the leading man's second wife. Also in Kendall's favor was her recent marriage to Harrison, who had just scored the hit of his stage career in My Fair Lady. They were looking for another chance to work together (having co-starred in the British film The Constant Husband in 1955). And just to add a little box-office insurance, the studio decided to Americanize the script by having the daughter and her love interest raised in the U.S. so they could be played by popular young American stars.
Initially, Berman wanted to hire writers Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, who had written the similar Father of the Bride (1950), one of the studio's most successful comedies. They turned him down, though, arguing that the script was fine as written and would suffer too much if it were Americanized. He then turned to Julius Epstein, one of the most successful screenwriters of the '40s. Minnelli, who had directed Father of the Bride to great acclaim, was finishing work on Gigi (1958), making him the ideal choice to direct. He signed on eagerly for the chance to work with Harrison and Kendall.
When Harrison read Epstein's first draft, however, the project almost died an early death. He hated it. Minnelli agreed and accepted the actor's suggestions on how to return to the story's charming English setting. When he presented the ideas to Epstein, the writer said, "I'll put all of Harrison's things in, and once he's signed, I can take them out again." He never got around to that. When Harrison saw the re-writes, he flew into a rage. At this point, time was running short. Shooting was due to start and had to be done quickly because of Harrison's commitment to the London Company production of My Fair Lady. Desperate, Berman and Minnelli asked Home if he would consider taking over the script. He did, simply returning most of what had worked on stage in the first place.
One challenge facing Minnelli was creating the film's very British atmosphere without being able to shoot in England. Harrison was a tax exile, living most of the year in Switzerland to avoid the high British income taxes. Since he would already be spending a good deal of time in London for My Fair Lady, he had to shoot the picture in Paris, with some additional work in Hollywood. This was no real problem for the director, who had just done an extensive location shoot there for Gigi, except that it kept him removed from the studio battles over how to cut that film. Amazingly, he not only pulled off the illusion that the whole story was "veddy, veddy" British, but turned in a picture that was more glamorous than most of what was being shot on the MGM back lot at the time.
When The Reluctant Debutante premiered at the Radio City Music Hall, critics raved about its sophisticated humor and Harrison and Kendall's deft comic team work. Her breathless delivery and his expert reactions to the insanity she created made for high comedy, and the film was the second most successful MGM release to play that theatre. But neither the picture's sophistication nor the presence of teen heartthrobs Dee and Saxon could attract audiences outside New York and London. Despite strong business in its premiere engagements in both cities, The Reluctant Debutante ended up losing money. That wasn't the only sad thing about the picture, however. Throughout filming Harrison and Kendall had kept a heartbreaking secret. She was dying of leukemia. Kendall would only make one more film (Once More, with Feeling! in 1959) before her death, never realizing the dream of future team-ups for the dazzling husband-and-wife team.
Producer: Pandro S. Berman
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Screenplay: William Douglas-Home, Julius J. Epstein
Based on the play by Home
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Art Direction: Jean d'Eaubonne
Music: Eddie Warner
Cast: Rex Harrison (Jimmy Broadbent), Kay Kendall (Sheila Broadbent), John Saxon (David Parkson), Sandra Dee (Jane Broadbent), Angela Lansbury (Mabel Claremont), Peter Myers (David Fenner), Ambrosine Phillpotts (Miss Grey).
C-96m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Frank Miller
The Reluctant Debutante
Sandra Dee, 1944-2005
She was born Alexandra Cymboliak Zuck on April 23, 1944 (conflicting sources give 1942, but the actual birth year has been verified by the family) in Bayonne, New Jersey. She was abandoned by her father by age five, and her mother, Mary Douvan, lied about Sandra's age so that she could put her in school and get a job. She was only five when she entered the 2nd grade. Mature for her age, Sandra's mother kept the lie going when she began her modeling career. With her fetching blonde curls and pretty face, Dee found herself moving up quickly on the modeling ladder. By the time she was 10, she was one of the top child models in the country, and by age 13, she met producer Ross Hunter, who signed her to a seven-year contract for Universal. She had her named changed to Sandra Dee (a stage name combining her shortened first name and using her stepfather's surname initial D to sign vouchers) and made her film debut in Until They Sail (1957), starring Joan Fontaine, John Gavin.
Her next film, The Reluctant Debutante, a bubbly romantic comedy with Rex Harrison, Kay Kendall and John Saxon, proved Dee to be adept in light comedy. Yet she would prove her versatility as a performer the following year - 1959, when she scored in the three biggest films of the year:A Summer Place, a brooding melodrama with fellow teen-heartthrob, Troy Donohue; Imitation of Life, a glossy, Ross Hunter sudser; and of course Gidget, the archetypical, sand and surf movie. By the dawn of the '60s, Sandra Dee mania ruled the movie fanzines worldwide.
Her personal life took a surprising turn when she hooked up with singer Bobby Darin. She met Darin in 1960 in Portofino, Italy, where they were both cast in Come September with Rock Hudson and Gina Lollobrigida as the older romantic couple. They eventually married and she gave birth to a son, Dodd Mitchell Darin in 1961. All the while, Dee still plugged away with a series of hit films over the next few years: Romanoff and Juliet a charming satirical comedy directed by Peter Ustinoff; Tammy Tell Me True with John Gavin (both 1961; If a Man Answers (1962) a surprisingly sharp comedy of manners with husband Bobby Darin; Tammy and the Doctor, another corn-fed entry that was her leading man's Peter Fonda's big break; and Take Her, She's Mine (1963), a rather strained generation-gap comedy with James Stewart.
Her success was not to last. By the late `60s, as "youth culture" movies became more confrontational and less frivolous with references to open sexuality and drugs in the American landscape, Dee's career began to peter out. Her few films of that period : Rosie, and Doctor, You've Got To Be Kidding (both 1967) were pretty dreadful and were disasters at the box-office; and her divorce from Bobby Darin that same year, put a dent in her personal life, so Dee wisely took a sabbatical from the limelight for a few years.
The '70s actually saw Dee improve as an actress. Although by no means a classic, her role as woman falling pray to a warlock (Dean Stockwell) who sexually and psychologically dominates her in the The Dunwich Horror (1970), was nothing short of startling. Yet despite her competency as actress, her career never regained its footing, and she appeared in only a few television movies later on: The Daughters of Joshua Cabe (1972), Fantasy Island (1977).
Dee resurfaced in 1991, when she gave an interview with People magazine about her personal demons: molestation by her stepfather, anorexia, drug use and alcoholism, that had haunted her her entire life. That same year, much to the delight of her fans, she resurfaced briefly when she starred in a stage production of Love Letters at the Beverly Hill's Canon Theatre with her friend and former co-star, John Saxon. Since she was diagnosed with throat cancer and kidney failure in 2000, Dee had been in and out of hospitals for her failing health. She is survived by her son Dodd; and two granddaughters -Alexa and Olivia.
by Michael T. Toole
Sandra Dee, 1944-2005
According to a September 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, Debbie Reynolds was scheduled to star as "Jane Broadbent." The role was originated by seventeen-year-old Anna Massey, daughter of actor Raymond Massey, on the London and Broadway stage. The Broadway production, which opened on October 10, 1956, was produced in association with M-G-M's parent company, Loew's Inc. A February 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item indicates that Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett would be meeting with producer Pandro Berman to discuss the screenplay. A December 1957 Hollywood Reporter item notes that Julius Epstein completed a script. According to director Vincente Minnelli's autobiography, an early script was originally set in America and was only loosely based on the William Douglas Home play. Both Minnelli and Rex Harrison disliked the script and Minnelli suggested they return to the play's setting and dialogue.
When the script was completed, Harrison rejected it, as did Minnelli, who then suggested offering Home the opportunity to adapt his own play. Minnelli does not indicate the writer or writers of the rejected scripts. Because of time pressures on Harrison, who was to open in the London production of My Fair Lady, and the necessity to utilize the Paris studio sets that were already constructed, filming proceeded with Home writing one day ahead of shooting. As stated in the film, 1958 was the last year for the British society custom of an official debutante season, which was then abolished by Queen Elizabeth II. The film was shot on location in England and Paris. In 2003, Warner Bros. released What a Girl Wants, which was loosely based on The Reluctant Debuntante. Home received onscreen credit for both his original play and the screenplay for the 1958 film on the 2003 picture.
Released in United States 1958
Released in United States Summer August 1958
Released in United States 1958
Released in United States Summer August 1958