Anna and the King of Siam


2h 8m 1946
Anna and the King of Siam

Brief Synopsis

A young Englishwoman becomes royal tutor in Siam and befriends the King.

Film Details

Genre
Romance
Drama
Release Date
Jun 1946
Premiere Information
New York opening: 20 Jun 1946
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the book Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon (New York, 1944).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 8m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
11,829ft (14 reels)

Synopsis

In 1862, Anna Owens, a young English widow of an army officer who died in India, arrives in Bangkok with her son Louis after accepting a job teaching English to the children of the King of Siam. Despite Anna's protests that she was promised her own house, the Kralahome, the prime minister, insists that she not approach the King with her displeasure until after the New Year and its attending festivals. Anna and Louis settle into their living quarters in the palace, only to discover they are living next to the King's harem. After a number of months, Anna boldly presents herself to the King, who prides himself on introducing the country to the modern world through his self-described "scientific" outlook. Anna agrees to teach English, not only to the King's sixty-seven children, but also to his many wives. When he insists that she live in the palace permanently, however, she packs to leave. A servant then conducts her to a house the King has agreed to let her have, but when she finds that it is in the fish market and in horrible disrepair, Anna is angry and vows revenge. She returns to the palace and begins classes with the help of the King's first wife, Lady Thiang, who learned English from a missionary. Anna gets back at the King by teaching the wives and children songs and proverbs about houses and honor. When the French place Cambodia under their protection, the King realizes that partitioning is inevitable, and rather than fight, chooses to save as much of the country as possible. He grants Anna her house and, having won, Anna decides to leave Siam, but she is forcibly brought before the Kralahome, who convinces her to stay and help the King with his struggle to advance his country. One day after class, Lady Thiang tells Anna that Tuptim, a beautiful young woman who was recently given to the King as a birthday present from the governor, is the King's new favorite. She adds that she herself is not in favor with her husband, but her position is secure because she is the mother of the royal prince. In the middle of the night, the King summons Anna to discuss a passage from the Bible, and while returning home later, she passes Tuptim's weeping slave, who is in chains and cradling a baby. Anna confronts Tuptim the next day, pointing out that because the slave's husband has offered to buy her, by law she should be freed. Tuptim bitterly refuses, and Anna appeals to the King, explaining the importance of applying the law consistently. When Anna mentions Abraham Lincoln's mission to bring equality to everyone in the United States, the King immediately dictates a letter to the President, offering to send him elephants to help with the war effort. Shortly after receiving Lincoln's warm reply, the King asks Anna to instruct the prettiest women in the harem in European dress and manners in time for a visit from the British representative, Sir Edward Ramsey. With Anna's help, the King gives a formal dinner for Sir Edward and other European dignitaries, and Siam's image greatly improves. Later, Lady Thiang tells Anna that Tuptim has been captured after running away and hiding in a monastery, where her former betrothed is a priest. Anna watches Tuptim's interrogation and interferes when the guards start to beat her. She then goes to the King and pleads that Tuptim be given a fair trial, angrily denouncing him as a barbarian when he refuses. Tuptim and the priest are burned at the stake, and Anna resigns her post. After saying goodbye to the King's wives and children, Anna calls on Lady Thiang, who reproaches her for not having spent more time with the Prince, who needs guidance to become a better man than his father. That afternoon, Louis is thrown from his horse and killed, and the King designates a national day of mourning and gives Anna a royal title as a sign of respect. The Prince visits Anna to offer his cherished baby elephant as a gift, and, moved by the boy's loneliness and grief, Anna embraces him. The King asks her to stay, and Anna continues her work at the school, devoting extra attention to the Prince. Years pass, and one day the King falls ill. Anna rushes to his side, and before dying, he expresses gratitude for all she has done. The Prince is crowned king, and Anna watches with pride as he begins to institute reforms, as his father would have wished.

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Film Details

Genre
Romance
Drama
Release Date
Jun 1946
Premiere Information
New York opening: 20 Jun 1946
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the book Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon (New York, 1944).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 8m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
11,829ft (14 reels)

Award Wins

Best Art Direction

1946

Best Cinematography

1946
Arthur Miller

Award Nominations

Best Music, Original or Comedy Series

1947

Best Supporting Actress

1946
Gale Sondergaard

Best Writing, Screenplay

1947

Articles

The Essentials - Anna and the King of Siam


SYNOPSIS

Before there was the colorful musical classic The King and I (1956), there was Anna and the King of Siam (1946). A more thoughtful and dramatic depiction of the engaging story based on actual events, Anna and the King of Siam was the first film adaptation of the real-life adventures of Anna Leonowens, the British widow hired in 1862 to teach English to the numerous wives, concubines and children of Mongkut, the King of Siam (now known as Thailand).

In this gorgeous black and white production from Twentieth Century-Fox, Irene Dunne stars as Anna, who travels with her young son Louis (Richard Lyon) to the exotic land of Siam as a means to earn her own income in the wake of her husband's death. Almost immediately she finds herself at odds with the vainglorious King, played by Rex Harrison in his first Hollywood film role, and his Prime Minister Kralahome (Lee J. Cobb). Wanting desperately to be perceived as a forward thinking ruler, the King asks for Anna's help in learning the ways of western culture while she simultaneously struggles to adapt to her new surroundings and the King's imperious attitude. Gradually, the two work towards a mutual understanding and affection as she wins his respect and becomes a trusted advisor and friend.

CAST AND CREW

Director: John Cromwell
Writer: Talbot Jennings, Sally Benson
Based on the book Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon
Producers: Darryl F. Zanuck, Louis Lighton
Cinematography: Arthur Miller
Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler, William Darling
Editing: Harmon Jones
Costumes: Bonnie Cashin
Music Composer: Bernard Herrmann
Make Up: Ben Nye

Cast: Irene Dunne (Anna Owens), Rex Harrison (The King), Linda Darnell (Tuptim), Lee J. Cobb (Kralahome), Gale Sondergaard (Lady Thiang), Mikhail Rasumny (Alak), Dennis Hoey (Sir Edward Ramsay), Tito Renaldo (Prince, as a man), Richard Lyon (Louis Owens), William Edmunds (Moonshee)

B and W - 126 min.

Why ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM is Essential

Anna and the King of Siam was the first cinematic adaptation of the true account of Anna Leonowens' experiences in Siam, which she recounted in two popular books published in 1870 and 1872. People couldn't get enough of Anna's story, which gained renewed interest when author Margaret Landon published a romanticized version of her story in the 1944 book Anna and the King of Siam. This film was also a precursor to the classic stage and film musical The King and I. It is a story so beloved that it has never been forgotten, having been remade and reimagined time and again over the years in film and stage versions around the world.

This film is one of Twentieth Century-Fox's most handsome black-and-white productions. Featuring lavish and detailed eye-popping sets recreating imperial Siam, Anna and the King of Siam won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction.

Anna and the King of Siam marked the Hollywood film debut of legendary actor Rex Harrison. He had been building a distinguished career in British stage and film roles, but until Anna, he had never appeared in a U.S. film production. With a freshly signed contract with Twentieth Century-Fox, Harrison began his American film career with the colorful and unforgettable role of The King, which kick-started his long career in Hollywood and put him on the radar of American audiences.

This film was a huge hit with audiences and critics alike. It was nominated for a total of five Academy Awards, and took home two. Its level of excellence helped set the standard for all versions of the story that followed on stage and screen.

by Andrea Passafiume
The Essentials - Anna And The King Of Siam

The Essentials - Anna and the King of Siam

SYNOPSIS Before there was the colorful musical classic The King and I (1956), there was Anna and the King of Siam (1946). A more thoughtful and dramatic depiction of the engaging story based on actual events, Anna and the King of Siam was the first film adaptation of the real-life adventures of Anna Leonowens, the British widow hired in 1862 to teach English to the numerous wives, concubines and children of Mongkut, the King of Siam (now known as Thailand). In this gorgeous black and white production from Twentieth Century-Fox, Irene Dunne stars as Anna, who travels with her young son Louis (Richard Lyon) to the exotic land of Siam as a means to earn her own income in the wake of her husband's death. Almost immediately she finds herself at odds with the vainglorious King, played by Rex Harrison in his first Hollywood film role, and his Prime Minister Kralahome (Lee J. Cobb). Wanting desperately to be perceived as a forward thinking ruler, the King asks for Anna's help in learning the ways of western culture while she simultaneously struggles to adapt to her new surroundings and the King's imperious attitude. Gradually, the two work towards a mutual understanding and affection as she wins his respect and becomes a trusted advisor and friend. CAST AND CREW Director: John Cromwell Writer: Talbot Jennings, Sally Benson Based on the book Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon Producers: Darryl F. Zanuck, Louis Lighton Cinematography: Arthur Miller Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler, William Darling Editing: Harmon Jones Costumes: Bonnie Cashin Music Composer: Bernard Herrmann Make Up: Ben Nye Cast: Irene Dunne (Anna Owens), Rex Harrison (The King), Linda Darnell (Tuptim), Lee J. Cobb (Kralahome), Gale Sondergaard (Lady Thiang), Mikhail Rasumny (Alak), Dennis Hoey (Sir Edward Ramsay), Tito Renaldo (Prince, as a man), Richard Lyon (Louis Owens), William Edmunds (Moonshee) B and W - 126 min. Why ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM is Essential Anna and the King of Siam was the first cinematic adaptation of the true account of Anna Leonowens' experiences in Siam, which she recounted in two popular books published in 1870 and 1872. People couldn't get enough of Anna's story, which gained renewed interest when author Margaret Landon published a romanticized version of her story in the 1944 book Anna and the King of Siam. This film was also a precursor to the classic stage and film musical The King and I. It is a story so beloved that it has never been forgotten, having been remade and reimagined time and again over the years in film and stage versions around the world. This film is one of Twentieth Century-Fox's most handsome black-and-white productions. Featuring lavish and detailed eye-popping sets recreating imperial Siam, Anna and the King of Siam won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction. Anna and the King of Siam marked the Hollywood film debut of legendary actor Rex Harrison. He had been building a distinguished career in British stage and film roles, but until Anna, he had never appeared in a U.S. film production. With a freshly signed contract with Twentieth Century-Fox, Harrison began his American film career with the colorful and unforgettable role of The King, which kick-started his long career in Hollywood and put him on the radar of American audiences. This film was a huge hit with audiences and critics alike. It was nominated for a total of five Academy Awards, and took home two. Its level of excellence helped set the standard for all versions of the story that followed on stage and screen. by Andrea Passafiume

Pop Culture 101 - Anna and the King of Siam


Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison reprised their roles in the film for the Lux Radio Theatre broadcast on January 20, 1947. Irene Dunne reprised her role again for Lux on May 30, 1949, this time opposite James Mason as The King.

Another radio version of Anna and the King of Siam was broadcast on The Hallmark Playhouse on September 15, 1949 starring Deborah Kerr, who would go on to portray Anna in the big screen musical version The King and I in 1956.

Anna and The King's story was turned into a smash hit Tony Award-winning Broadway musical in 1951 called The King and I. It has since been performed regularly all over the world as one of the most beloved treasures of the musical theater.

The Broadway musical The King and I was turned into a film of the same name in 1956 starring Deborah Kerr and Yul Brenner. It went on to win five Academy Awards and become a timeless classic.

A short-lived television series was made out of Anna's story for CBS called Anna and the King which ran for a few months in 1972. Yul Brenner from The King and I played The King, and Samantha Eggar played Anna.

In 1999 Warner Bros. released an animated feature version of The King and I featuring the voice of Miranda Richardson as Anna.

In 1999 Jodie Foster starred as Anna in the big screen production Anna and the King with Chow Yun-Fat as The King.

by Andrea Passafiume

Pop Culture 101 - Anna and the King of Siam

Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison reprised their roles in the film for the Lux Radio Theatre broadcast on January 20, 1947. Irene Dunne reprised her role again for Lux on May 30, 1949, this time opposite James Mason as The King. Another radio version of Anna and the King of Siam was broadcast on The Hallmark Playhouse on September 15, 1949 starring Deborah Kerr, who would go on to portray Anna in the big screen musical version The King and I in 1956. Anna and The King's story was turned into a smash hit Tony Award-winning Broadway musical in 1951 called The King and I. It has since been performed regularly all over the world as one of the most beloved treasures of the musical theater. The Broadway musical The King and I was turned into a film of the same name in 1956 starring Deborah Kerr and Yul Brenner. It went on to win five Academy Awards and become a timeless classic. A short-lived television series was made out of Anna's story for CBS called Anna and the King which ran for a few months in 1972. Yul Brenner from The King and I played The King, and Samantha Eggar played Anna. In 1999 Warner Bros. released an animated feature version of The King and I featuring the voice of Miranda Richardson as Anna. In 1999 Jodie Foster starred as Anna in the big screen production Anna and the King with Chow Yun-Fat as The King. by Andrea Passafiume

Trivia - Anna and the King of Siam - Trivia & Fun Facts About ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM


There is a scene in which Anna quotes President Abraham Lincoln as having said the following: "True progress must bear some relation to man's character. It must have its roots in his heart." According to the American Film Institute Catalogue, the veracity of this quote cannot be verified since it does not appear in any of Lincoln's major speeches or writings. According to Twentieth Century-Fox records, studio head Darryl Zanuck sent a memo to producer Louis Lighton and director John Cromwell that said, "If we cannot find a great Lincoln quote we should write one."

In the film, The King writes a letter to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln offering him a gift of elephants for the purpose of multiplying in North America. The real King Mongkut did indeed write such a letter, though it was actually sent to then President James Buchanan. However, since Abraham Lincoln was elected the new president of the United States by the time the letter arrived, it was Lincoln who responded with his polite decline of the unique offer.

In the film, Anna's young son Louis dies in a horse riding accident while in Siam. In reality, no such accident ever happened to Anna's son. In fact, young Louis went on to return to Siam later in his life and become a cavalry officer. He ended up outliving his mother.

Anna Leonowens' stories have always been controversial with the Thai government. From the time her original writings came out in the 1800s when the country was still known as Siam, the government objected to her depiction of the King and culture as "barbaric." The film versions over the years have been generally unwelcome there.

When Rodgers and Hammerstein were ready to mount their musical stage version of Anna and the King of Siam called The King and I in the early 1950s, Rex Harrison was interested in playing The King. He even auditioned to play the role on Broadway for the famed musical team. "I sang some songs for them," said Harrison in his 1975 autobiography Rex, "but they didn't like me, and I didn't get it."

By the same token, the composer of the original score for Anna and the King of Siam, Bernard Herrmann, also found himself unwanted when Rodgers and Hammerstein were creating their musical The King and I. According to the 1991 book A Heart at Fire's Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann by Steven C. Smith, Herrmann offered all of the research he had already done on Siamese music to the musical team, but they didn't want it. They were "not interested in Siamese music" according to Herrmann.

According to the AFI Catalogue, the original cut of Anna and the King of Siam ran two hours and forty-one minutes. Darryl Zanuck promptly had the film re-edited and cut down.

An article in Time magazine dated March 24, 1947 points out that Anna and the King of Siam was allowed to be shown in its entirety in Thailand at the time of its release despite the fact that "leading Siamese critics and historians had taken pains to point out that it was more than 75 per cent inaccurate."

Famous Quotes from ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM

"Mem, if I tell King he breaks his promise, I will make anger in him. I think it is better if I make anger in him about larger matters."
- Prime Minister Kralahome (Lee J. Cobb), to Anna (Irene Dunne), after she reminds him that The King has not kept his promise to give her a private house.

"Do as you wish, Mem. But remember, you are not the only one with temper. The King has temper, too."
- Kralahome, to Anna

"You do not look like scientific person for teaching of school. How old shall you be?"
"I am 150 years old, your Majesty."
- The King and Anna

"You not afraid to tell King something is not his business?"
"It would not be a compliment to His Majesty if I were afraid of him."
- The King and Anna

"I have 67 children. Not many. I began marriage a little late."
- The King, to Anna

"How can King be wrong and woman be right? I ask you that. How?"
- The King, to Anna

"They think you wear dress like that because you're shaped like that down there."
- Lady Thiang (Gale Sondergaard), to Anna, noticing the large hoopskirt of her dress.

"Take a lesson from her, my friend, and you'll never give up on anything."
- The King, to Kralahome, talking about Anna.

"Please stop calling me 'Sir!'"
"I call you 'Sir' so you will not be lowly like a woman."
- Anna and The King

"Wherefore have you decorated yourself better than all rest? Shall it be for my observation?"
- The King, to Anna

"Herewith shall be list of subjects for you to bring up for talk. Because on such subjects I am very brilliant and will make fine impression."
- The King, to Anna

"You can't refuse her a trial. There must be a law in this."
"I am the law."
- Anna and The King

"Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera..."
- The King

Compiled by Andrea Passafiume

Trivia - Anna and the King of Siam - Trivia & Fun Facts About ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM

There is a scene in which Anna quotes President Abraham Lincoln as having said the following: "True progress must bear some relation to man's character. It must have its roots in his heart." According to the American Film Institute Catalogue, the veracity of this quote cannot be verified since it does not appear in any of Lincoln's major speeches or writings. According to Twentieth Century-Fox records, studio head Darryl Zanuck sent a memo to producer Louis Lighton and director John Cromwell that said, "If we cannot find a great Lincoln quote we should write one." In the film, The King writes a letter to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln offering him a gift of elephants for the purpose of multiplying in North America. The real King Mongkut did indeed write such a letter, though it was actually sent to then President James Buchanan. However, since Abraham Lincoln was elected the new president of the United States by the time the letter arrived, it was Lincoln who responded with his polite decline of the unique offer. In the film, Anna's young son Louis dies in a horse riding accident while in Siam. In reality, no such accident ever happened to Anna's son. In fact, young Louis went on to return to Siam later in his life and become a cavalry officer. He ended up outliving his mother. Anna Leonowens' stories have always been controversial with the Thai government. From the time her original writings came out in the 1800s when the country was still known as Siam, the government objected to her depiction of the King and culture as "barbaric." The film versions over the years have been generally unwelcome there. When Rodgers and Hammerstein were ready to mount their musical stage version of Anna and the King of Siam called The King and I in the early 1950s, Rex Harrison was interested in playing The King. He even auditioned to play the role on Broadway for the famed musical team. "I sang some songs for them," said Harrison in his 1975 autobiography Rex, "but they didn't like me, and I didn't get it." By the same token, the composer of the original score for Anna and the King of Siam, Bernard Herrmann, also found himself unwanted when Rodgers and Hammerstein were creating their musical The King and I. According to the 1991 book A Heart at Fire's Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann by Steven C. Smith, Herrmann offered all of the research he had already done on Siamese music to the musical team, but they didn't want it. They were "not interested in Siamese music" according to Herrmann. According to the AFI Catalogue, the original cut of Anna and the King of Siam ran two hours and forty-one minutes. Darryl Zanuck promptly had the film re-edited and cut down. An article in Time magazine dated March 24, 1947 points out that Anna and the King of Siam was allowed to be shown in its entirety in Thailand at the time of its release despite the fact that "leading Siamese critics and historians had taken pains to point out that it was more than 75 per cent inaccurate." Famous Quotes from ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM "Mem, if I tell King he breaks his promise, I will make anger in him. I think it is better if I make anger in him about larger matters." - Prime Minister Kralahome (Lee J. Cobb), to Anna (Irene Dunne), after she reminds him that The King has not kept his promise to give her a private house. "Do as you wish, Mem. But remember, you are not the only one with temper. The King has temper, too." - Kralahome, to Anna "You do not look like scientific person for teaching of school. How old shall you be?" "I am 150 years old, your Majesty." - The King and Anna "You not afraid to tell King something is not his business?" "It would not be a compliment to His Majesty if I were afraid of him." - The King and Anna "I have 67 children. Not many. I began marriage a little late." - The King, to Anna "How can King be wrong and woman be right? I ask you that. How?" - The King, to Anna "They think you wear dress like that because you're shaped like that down there." - Lady Thiang (Gale Sondergaard), to Anna, noticing the large hoopskirt of her dress. "Take a lesson from her, my friend, and you'll never give up on anything." - The King, to Kralahome, talking about Anna. "Please stop calling me 'Sir!'" "I call you 'Sir' so you will not be lowly like a woman." - Anna and The King "Wherefore have you decorated yourself better than all rest? Shall it be for my observation?" - The King, to Anna "Herewith shall be list of subjects for you to bring up for talk. Because on such subjects I am very brilliant and will make fine impression." - The King, to Anna "You can't refuse her a trial. There must be a law in this." "I am the law." - Anna and The King "Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera..." - The King Compiled by Andrea Passafiume

The Big Idea - Anna and the King of Siam


The origins of Anna and the King of Siam can be traced back to the real-life story of Anna Leonowens, the British widow who traveled to Siam in 1862 to teach English to King Mongkut's numerous wives, concubines and children. After her eventual return to England and following the King's death in 1868, Leonowens began publishing stories in Atlantic Monthly magazine about her vivid experiences within the royal Siamese court.

The stories that Leonowens wrote were so popular that she ultimately compiled them into a book called The English Governess at the Siamese Court published in 1870. The book was such a success that she wrote a follow-up in 1872 called The Romance of the Harem in which she recalled even more tales about life in Siam that captured the public's imagination.

Many years later a writer named Margaret Landon, who lived in Siam herself from 1927-37, re-discovered these two remarkable books by Leonowens and promptly fell in love with them. Landon wanted to re-introduce Anna's stories to the world so that new generations could appreciate them. Using the original two books as a starting point, Landon set out to write her own romanticized version of Anna's adventures in Siam.

The book that Landon wrote was called Anna and the King of Siam, which was published in 1944. In this somewhat fictionalized account of Anna's story, Landon included the following author's note for clarification: "The method of presentation was determined by the form of the incidents as recorded by Anna Leonowens herself...If I were asked to give to fabric content of the book I should say that it is 'seventy-five per cent fact, and twenty-five per cent fiction based on fact'."

There was such interest in Landon's new book before it even hit stores that Twentieth Century-Fox production chief Darryl Zanuck snapped up the movie rights when it was still in galleys. He saw great cinematic potential in Anna's story and believed it would translate into a terrific film. Zanuck's instincts proved to be excellent, as Landon's book turned out to be a big success among readers when it was finally published. Translated into numerous languages, Anna and the King of Siam helped renew interest in Anna's story with modern audiences.

Zanuck quickly had a treatment for a screenplay adaptation written as a first step towards turning the story into a major motion picture at Fox. He initially saw great comic potential in the narrative. In a memo he wrote to producer Louis Lighton dated March 8, 1945, Zanuck wrote: "...This is a great personal story which cannot help but be a wonderful film in every respect. Its simplicity is its greatest charm and by keeping the story intimate between four or five characters we achieve a much larger picture than we could achieve if we went into spectacle, which, in my opinion, would ruin the wonderful personal drama...The comedy possibilities are enormous. This picture, with all its tenderness and conflict, is basically one of the funniest stories I have ever read. It is genuine comedy because it comes out of the characters themselves and is a result of clashes of personalities."

In the meantime, screenwriters Talbot Jennings and Sally Benson completed their adaptation of Landon's book. In their version, tweaked for the screen, a few liberties were taken with factual events. The tone became more dramatic than comic, although it retained some amusing moments throughout.

Zanuck soon began to mull over which actors to cast in the lead roles. For Anna, Zanuck initially wanted actress Dorothy McGuire. However, according to a memo he wrote at the time, David O. Selznick, who controlled McGuire's contract, was making things difficult. "Just as I anticipated," wrote Zanuck, "David is now asking for certain conditions that are not covered in our original contract with him for McGuire. Among many other petty things, he wants to announce that he has put her in the story; that he has thus approved the project, etc. etc...Dorothy McGuire would be great in the role, but I want you to know we are not going to get down on our knees to get her."

According to Zanuck there was a great deal of interest from other actresses in playing Anna. Jean Arthur, he reported, desperately wanted the role and was willing to "drop anything" for it. Myrna Loy and Olivia de Havilland were also pursuing the part. "I personally feel that while Dorothy McGuire would be great in every respect," wrote Zanuck, "Jean Arthur would give as great or even a greater performance, and of course with her name the enormous cost of the production would be completely safeguarded...If David [O. Selznick] comes off his high horse we will use McGuire; if not, we will have practically the pick of the industry for this role. I forgot to mention Irene Dunne, although in my opinion she is too old for it. She also wants to play it, and you cannot entirely thrust this aside when you consider that she has been in three great successes, one after another."

In the end, it was Irene Dunne who won the role, despite her age. As a four-time Academy Award nominee for Best Actress (her fifth nomination would come a few years later for I Remember Mama in 1948), Dunne was a superlative actress capable of tackling almost any role. At 47, it was true that Dunne was beyond playing ingénues. However, she looked far younger than her true age and made an attractive leading lady that would be very appropriate for the part.

For the role of The King, Zanuck originally thought of actor William Powell, whom he thought would be "sensational." Also mentioned along the way was Charles Boyer, who reportedly was also eager to sink his teeth into the role. Fearing that most actors might shy away at the thought of having to play second fiddle to the female lead, Zanuck made sure to keep the parts evenly distributed so that both roles would have the opportunity to shine.

Rex Harrison wasn't even mentioned to play The King in the beginning. He was a dynamically talented English actor who had been steadily building a name for himself in British theater and film productions. However, Harrison was virtually unknown to American audiences when he was offered a lucrative seven year contract with Twentieth Century-Fox to make movies in Hollywood. Basing their offer primarily on the success of his work in the British film Night Train (1940), Fox believed in his talent and set out to make him a leading man in America.

Ultimately, the first project chosen for Harrison was Anna and the King of Siam with him playing The King. In his 1991 memoir A Damned Serious Business: My Life in Comedy, Harrison recalled the feeling of anticipation for the new career that awaited him in Hollywood. "It was all very exciting," he said, "and though I didn't have a clue how I could play an oriental potentate, I booked myself on the first transatlantic liner out of Southampton I could find."

Eventually, the rest of the excellent supporting cast was named. Lee J. Cobb would play Prime Minister Kralahome, while sultry Linda Darnell would portray The King's rebellious favorite concubine Tuptim, and Gale Sondergaard would play Lady Thiang, The King's loyal first wife and mother to the young prince who will succeed him.

Names such as Elia Kazan, John M. Stahl and Ernst Lubitsch were initially discussed to direct the film. However, it was ultimately John Cromwell (Of Human Bondage [1934], Abe Lincoln in Illinois [1940]) who was tapped for the job.

With all the players set, Darryl Zanuck couldn't help but be excited about Anna and the King of Siam. "...I would like to go on record as saying that this, in my opinion, will be the best picture of the year," he wrote to producer Louis Lighton. "It is something entirely original and has great quality."

by Andrea Passafiume

The Big Idea - Anna and the King of Siam

The origins of Anna and the King of Siam can be traced back to the real-life story of Anna Leonowens, the British widow who traveled to Siam in 1862 to teach English to King Mongkut's numerous wives, concubines and children. After her eventual return to England and following the King's death in 1868, Leonowens began publishing stories in Atlantic Monthly magazine about her vivid experiences within the royal Siamese court. The stories that Leonowens wrote were so popular that she ultimately compiled them into a book called The English Governess at the Siamese Court published in 1870. The book was such a success that she wrote a follow-up in 1872 called The Romance of the Harem in which she recalled even more tales about life in Siam that captured the public's imagination. Many years later a writer named Margaret Landon, who lived in Siam herself from 1927-37, re-discovered these two remarkable books by Leonowens and promptly fell in love with them. Landon wanted to re-introduce Anna's stories to the world so that new generations could appreciate them. Using the original two books as a starting point, Landon set out to write her own romanticized version of Anna's adventures in Siam. The book that Landon wrote was called Anna and the King of Siam, which was published in 1944. In this somewhat fictionalized account of Anna's story, Landon included the following author's note for clarification: "The method of presentation was determined by the form of the incidents as recorded by Anna Leonowens herself...If I were asked to give to fabric content of the book I should say that it is 'seventy-five per cent fact, and twenty-five per cent fiction based on fact'." There was such interest in Landon's new book before it even hit stores that Twentieth Century-Fox production chief Darryl Zanuck snapped up the movie rights when it was still in galleys. He saw great cinematic potential in Anna's story and believed it would translate into a terrific film. Zanuck's instincts proved to be excellent, as Landon's book turned out to be a big success among readers when it was finally published. Translated into numerous languages, Anna and the King of Siam helped renew interest in Anna's story with modern audiences. Zanuck quickly had a treatment for a screenplay adaptation written as a first step towards turning the story into a major motion picture at Fox. He initially saw great comic potential in the narrative. In a memo he wrote to producer Louis Lighton dated March 8, 1945, Zanuck wrote: "...This is a great personal story which cannot help but be a wonderful film in every respect. Its simplicity is its greatest charm and by keeping the story intimate between four or five characters we achieve a much larger picture than we could achieve if we went into spectacle, which, in my opinion, would ruin the wonderful personal drama...The comedy possibilities are enormous. This picture, with all its tenderness and conflict, is basically one of the funniest stories I have ever read. It is genuine comedy because it comes out of the characters themselves and is a result of clashes of personalities." In the meantime, screenwriters Talbot Jennings and Sally Benson completed their adaptation of Landon's book. In their version, tweaked for the screen, a few liberties were taken with factual events. The tone became more dramatic than comic, although it retained some amusing moments throughout. Zanuck soon began to mull over which actors to cast in the lead roles. For Anna, Zanuck initially wanted actress Dorothy McGuire. However, according to a memo he wrote at the time, David O. Selznick, who controlled McGuire's contract, was making things difficult. "Just as I anticipated," wrote Zanuck, "David is now asking for certain conditions that are not covered in our original contract with him for McGuire. Among many other petty things, he wants to announce that he has put her in the story; that he has thus approved the project, etc. etc...Dorothy McGuire would be great in the role, but I want you to know we are not going to get down on our knees to get her." According to Zanuck there was a great deal of interest from other actresses in playing Anna. Jean Arthur, he reported, desperately wanted the role and was willing to "drop anything" for it. Myrna Loy and Olivia de Havilland were also pursuing the part. "I personally feel that while Dorothy McGuire would be great in every respect," wrote Zanuck, "Jean Arthur would give as great or even a greater performance, and of course with her name the enormous cost of the production would be completely safeguarded...If David [O. Selznick] comes off his high horse we will use McGuire; if not, we will have practically the pick of the industry for this role. I forgot to mention Irene Dunne, although in my opinion she is too old for it. She also wants to play it, and you cannot entirely thrust this aside when you consider that she has been in three great successes, one after another." In the end, it was Irene Dunne who won the role, despite her age. As a four-time Academy Award nominee for Best Actress (her fifth nomination would come a few years later for I Remember Mama in 1948), Dunne was a superlative actress capable of tackling almost any role. At 47, it was true that Dunne was beyond playing ingénues. However, she looked far younger than her true age and made an attractive leading lady that would be very appropriate for the part. For the role of The King, Zanuck originally thought of actor William Powell, whom he thought would be "sensational." Also mentioned along the way was Charles Boyer, who reportedly was also eager to sink his teeth into the role. Fearing that most actors might shy away at the thought of having to play second fiddle to the female lead, Zanuck made sure to keep the parts evenly distributed so that both roles would have the opportunity to shine. Rex Harrison wasn't even mentioned to play The King in the beginning. He was a dynamically talented English actor who had been steadily building a name for himself in British theater and film productions. However, Harrison was virtually unknown to American audiences when he was offered a lucrative seven year contract with Twentieth Century-Fox to make movies in Hollywood. Basing their offer primarily on the success of his work in the British film Night Train (1940), Fox believed in his talent and set out to make him a leading man in America. Ultimately, the first project chosen for Harrison was Anna and the King of Siam with him playing The King. In his 1991 memoir A Damned Serious Business: My Life in Comedy, Harrison recalled the feeling of anticipation for the new career that awaited him in Hollywood. "It was all very exciting," he said, "and though I didn't have a clue how I could play an oriental potentate, I booked myself on the first transatlantic liner out of Southampton I could find." Eventually, the rest of the excellent supporting cast was named. Lee J. Cobb would play Prime Minister Kralahome, while sultry Linda Darnell would portray The King's rebellious favorite concubine Tuptim, and Gale Sondergaard would play Lady Thiang, The King's loyal first wife and mother to the young prince who will succeed him. Names such as Elia Kazan, John M. Stahl and Ernst Lubitsch were initially discussed to direct the film. However, it was ultimately John Cromwell (Of Human Bondage [1934], Abe Lincoln in Illinois [1940]) who was tapped for the job. With all the players set, Darryl Zanuck couldn't help but be excited about Anna and the King of Siam. "...I would like to go on record as saying that this, in my opinion, will be the best picture of the year," he wrote to producer Louis Lighton. "It is something entirely original and has great quality." by Andrea Passafiume

Behind the Camera - Anna and the King of Siam


As Rex Harrison arrived in Hollywood, he was very excited about launching his acting career in America. At the same time, he was also a little nervous.

When he was finally able to meet John Cromwell, the director of the film that could make or break him in Tinseltown, Harrison found him pleasant enough, but rather aloof. "At least two months passed before the production began," recalled Harrison in his 1975 autobiography Rex, "during which time, if we did come across each other, [Cromwell] withdrew, either physically or mentally; I was never able to sit down with him and discuss my fears and worries about playing an Oriental, and he never told me what he thought about the character."

Harrison, unfortunately, fared no better trying to communicate with the film's producer, Louis Lighton. He called Lighton "a highly intelligent man who had difficulty in articulating his thoughts. He talked in riddles, so abstruse that I used to sit in his office and try in vain to make out their meaning."

The man in charge at Fox, Darryl Zanuck, was not much help to him, either. With his hands too full trying to run a studio, Zanuck had little time to talk with actors about how they should play their roles. Rex Harrison felt alarmed. "I'd done lots of homework about the Siamese background before leaving England," he said, "but I'd never played an Oriental before, and I simply didn't know how to tackle it."

Harrison was shocked and frustrated by the seeming lack of interest that his new studio had in Anna and the King of Siam. "This lackadaisical attitude was not at all what I'd expected," said Harrison, "and I began feeling pretty desperate. Everything was so slow; I wasn't geared to relaxing around pools and drinking all day. I'd been used all my life to working hard, and now suddenly I was in a hot bath, growing weaker and weaker. The sets were only just being constructed, so there was no hope of beginning for weeks, and in the meantime there was nobody I could talk to constructively about how I was to tackle this frightfully difficult role, for which I was far too young and two feet too tall."

In the meantime, Harrison did as much research as he could about the role on his own. He cared deeply about doing a good job playing The King and spent time working with a private coach to work out the speech patterns and physicality of this new character. "Our [house] was high up in the hills," said Harrison, "and it had a tiny garden where I used to pace, day after day, like a caged animal, with the script in my hands, trying to work out what the devil I was going to do."

When it was nearing time for the cameras to actually roll on Anna and the King of Siam, Harrison was finally beginning to feel like he had some grasp on playing his character. The elaborate makeup created by the studio also helped make him feel more like The King. He had to endure having a plaster cast made of his head for the makeup as well as small rubber attachments for his eyes, but the final effect was worth it.

When production started on the film in November 1945, Harrison ended up going in front of the camera and directing his own performance, more or less. "Still without help I went to work," he said, "and having worked on the part for so long on my own, with no real contact with John Cromwell, I had to take my own course. This only widened the gap between us, because Cromwell saw that I wasn't waiting for him. I'd play each scene as I'd prepared it, to the best of my ability, always suspecting that I could never really get inside the mind of the King of Siam, and John Cromwell, from the beginning, just left it, never trying to make suggestions or improvements."

One particular problem that seemed to generate animosity on the set had to do with the speech pattern that Harrison had chosen to use for his characterization. "When we started shooting...John Cromwell was horrified to hear the authentic high-pitched laughs and strange guttural noises I made," said Harrison later, "and asked me to please speak in my normal, Rex Harrison, voice. After all, that was what they were paying for." The conflict over the matter was such that Harrison had to get studio head Darryl Zanuck to intervene on his behalf and back him up. To his surprise and delight, Zanuck supported him. However, it ended up causing a rift with Cromwell. "From then on," said Harrison, "I did my part as I wanted to, but John Cromwell never spoke another word to me." Regardless of his difficulties working with Cromwell, Harrison thoroughly enjoyed co-starring with Irene Dunne. He thought her "an excellent actress" and was pleased that she had the confidence to follow her own instincts. "She too went her own way," said Harrison, "and tactfully used the director, as I later learned to do myself, to her own advantage; she listened to what he had to give, and discarded it or used it, as she wished."

Filming went on over the course of five months. Producer Louis Lighton ended up being the biggest help to Harrison along the way since he was willing to show him the dailies and give useful suggestions along the way about Harrison's performance, for which the actor was grateful.

Despite the challenges Harrison faced during shooting, he was still happy with the experience of making Anna and the King of Siam. "I have to admit that [the problems] did not stop me from enjoying the part enormously," he said. "It was quite a challenge, and I had a marvelous death scene at the end. There was also the great good fortune to be acting with Irene Dunne and Lee J. Cobb. Irene Dunne was a delight to work with, a dear woman and tremendously accomplished actress, and Lee J. Cobb one of the strongest American actors of his generation, and one I have always admired."

The sets for Anna and the King of Siam were some of the most elaborate ever built at Twentieth Century-Fox. Exquisitely detailed and painstakingly constructed, the expensive sets ended up covering several acres of the studio's backlot. According to a Time magazine article dated June 24, 1946, the film was "one of the first postwar productions to splurge on lavish, prewar-style props," which was shot "over five acres of lot covered with $300,000 worth...of Oriental rococo background. Notable eye-filling items: the King's four gold-and-diamond crowns ($84,000) and 23 silk-and-brocade costumes ($23,000);" along with "a coronation scene costing $80,000."

To write the film's musical score, Twentieth Century-Fox Music Department Head Alfred Newman approached famed composer Bernard Herrmann. Best known for his scores to classic films like Citizen Kane (1941) and numerous Alfred Hitchcock films including Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960), Herrmann researched the history of Siamese music to add veracity to the film's original score. "The music was based on authentic Siamese scales and melodic fragments," said Herrmann according to Steven C. Smith's 1991 book A Heart at Fire's Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann. "I tried to get the sounds of Oriental music with our instruments. The music made no attempt to be a commentary on, or an emotional counterpart of, the drama, but was intended to serve as musical scenery."

When Anna and the King of Siam opened in June 1946, it was a smash success, winning the favor of audiences and critics alike. It received five Academy Award nominations including Best Art Direction, Cinematography, Supporting Actress (Gale Sondergaard), Screenplay and Original Score. It went on to take home two of the golden statuettes for Best Art Direction and Cinematography (Black and White). The film also helped establish Rex Harrison's presence in Hollywood, which kick-started a long and distinguished acting career in the U.S.

The story of Anna and the King of Siam was later famously adapted into a musical stage version by the legendary team of Rodgers and Hammerstein called The King and I. Opening on Broadway in 1951, the musical became an instant sensation starring Yul Brenner as The King and Gertrude Lawrence as Anna. It took home five Tony Awards that year, including Best Musical. Twentieth Century-Fox went on to turn the musical stage version into the classic film The King and I in 1956 starring Yul Brenner and Deborah Kerr.

Over the years the story of Anna and her extraordinary experiences in Siam has continued to remain in the public's consciousness with contemporary film adaptations such as 1999's Anna and the King starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat as well as countless revivals of the stage musical all over the world. With its vivid unique characters and exotic period locale, this beautiful and fascinating story continues to be discovered over and over again by new generations who are all able to find something new and relevant to take away. As the very first screen adaptation of the story, the excellence of 1946's Anna and the King of Siam set the standard for all versions that followed.

by Andrea Passafiume

Behind the Camera - Anna and the King of Siam

As Rex Harrison arrived in Hollywood, he was very excited about launching his acting career in America. At the same time, he was also a little nervous. When he was finally able to meet John Cromwell, the director of the film that could make or break him in Tinseltown, Harrison found him pleasant enough, but rather aloof. "At least two months passed before the production began," recalled Harrison in his 1975 autobiography Rex, "during which time, if we did come across each other, [Cromwell] withdrew, either physically or mentally; I was never able to sit down with him and discuss my fears and worries about playing an Oriental, and he never told me what he thought about the character." Harrison, unfortunately, fared no better trying to communicate with the film's producer, Louis Lighton. He called Lighton "a highly intelligent man who had difficulty in articulating his thoughts. He talked in riddles, so abstruse that I used to sit in his office and try in vain to make out their meaning." The man in charge at Fox, Darryl Zanuck, was not much help to him, either. With his hands too full trying to run a studio, Zanuck had little time to talk with actors about how they should play their roles. Rex Harrison felt alarmed. "I'd done lots of homework about the Siamese background before leaving England," he said, "but I'd never played an Oriental before, and I simply didn't know how to tackle it." Harrison was shocked and frustrated by the seeming lack of interest that his new studio had in Anna and the King of Siam. "This lackadaisical attitude was not at all what I'd expected," said Harrison, "and I began feeling pretty desperate. Everything was so slow; I wasn't geared to relaxing around pools and drinking all day. I'd been used all my life to working hard, and now suddenly I was in a hot bath, growing weaker and weaker. The sets were only just being constructed, so there was no hope of beginning for weeks, and in the meantime there was nobody I could talk to constructively about how I was to tackle this frightfully difficult role, for which I was far too young and two feet too tall." In the meantime, Harrison did as much research as he could about the role on his own. He cared deeply about doing a good job playing The King and spent time working with a private coach to work out the speech patterns and physicality of this new character. "Our [house] was high up in the hills," said Harrison, "and it had a tiny garden where I used to pace, day after day, like a caged animal, with the script in my hands, trying to work out what the devil I was going to do." When it was nearing time for the cameras to actually roll on Anna and the King of Siam, Harrison was finally beginning to feel like he had some grasp on playing his character. The elaborate makeup created by the studio also helped make him feel more like The King. He had to endure having a plaster cast made of his head for the makeup as well as small rubber attachments for his eyes, but the final effect was worth it. When production started on the film in November 1945, Harrison ended up going in front of the camera and directing his own performance, more or less. "Still without help I went to work," he said, "and having worked on the part for so long on my own, with no real contact with John Cromwell, I had to take my own course. This only widened the gap between us, because Cromwell saw that I wasn't waiting for him. I'd play each scene as I'd prepared it, to the best of my ability, always suspecting that I could never really get inside the mind of the King of Siam, and John Cromwell, from the beginning, just left it, never trying to make suggestions or improvements." One particular problem that seemed to generate animosity on the set had to do with the speech pattern that Harrison had chosen to use for his characterization. "When we started shooting...John Cromwell was horrified to hear the authentic high-pitched laughs and strange guttural noises I made," said Harrison later, "and asked me to please speak in my normal, Rex Harrison, voice. After all, that was what they were paying for." The conflict over the matter was such that Harrison had to get studio head Darryl Zanuck to intervene on his behalf and back him up. To his surprise and delight, Zanuck supported him. However, it ended up causing a rift with Cromwell. "From then on," said Harrison, "I did my part as I wanted to, but John Cromwell never spoke another word to me." Regardless of his difficulties working with Cromwell, Harrison thoroughly enjoyed co-starring with Irene Dunne. He thought her "an excellent actress" and was pleased that she had the confidence to follow her own instincts. "She too went her own way," said Harrison, "and tactfully used the director, as I later learned to do myself, to her own advantage; she listened to what he had to give, and discarded it or used it, as she wished." Filming went on over the course of five months. Producer Louis Lighton ended up being the biggest help to Harrison along the way since he was willing to show him the dailies and give useful suggestions along the way about Harrison's performance, for which the actor was grateful. Despite the challenges Harrison faced during shooting, he was still happy with the experience of making Anna and the King of Siam. "I have to admit that [the problems] did not stop me from enjoying the part enormously," he said. "It was quite a challenge, and I had a marvelous death scene at the end. There was also the great good fortune to be acting with Irene Dunne and Lee J. Cobb. Irene Dunne was a delight to work with, a dear woman and tremendously accomplished actress, and Lee J. Cobb one of the strongest American actors of his generation, and one I have always admired." The sets for Anna and the King of Siam were some of the most elaborate ever built at Twentieth Century-Fox. Exquisitely detailed and painstakingly constructed, the expensive sets ended up covering several acres of the studio's backlot. According to a Time magazine article dated June 24, 1946, the film was "one of the first postwar productions to splurge on lavish, prewar-style props," which was shot "over five acres of lot covered with $300,000 worth...of Oriental rococo background. Notable eye-filling items: the King's four gold-and-diamond crowns ($84,000) and 23 silk-and-brocade costumes ($23,000);" along with "a coronation scene costing $80,000." To write the film's musical score, Twentieth Century-Fox Music Department Head Alfred Newman approached famed composer Bernard Herrmann. Best known for his scores to classic films like Citizen Kane (1941) and numerous Alfred Hitchcock films including Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960), Herrmann researched the history of Siamese music to add veracity to the film's original score. "The music was based on authentic Siamese scales and melodic fragments," said Herrmann according to Steven C. Smith's 1991 book A Heart at Fire's Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann. "I tried to get the sounds of Oriental music with our instruments. The music made no attempt to be a commentary on, or an emotional counterpart of, the drama, but was intended to serve as musical scenery." When Anna and the King of Siam opened in June 1946, it was a smash success, winning the favor of audiences and critics alike. It received five Academy Award nominations including Best Art Direction, Cinematography, Supporting Actress (Gale Sondergaard), Screenplay and Original Score. It went on to take home two of the golden statuettes for Best Art Direction and Cinematography (Black and White). The film also helped establish Rex Harrison's presence in Hollywood, which kick-started a long and distinguished acting career in the U.S. The story of Anna and the King of Siam was later famously adapted into a musical stage version by the legendary team of Rodgers and Hammerstein called The King and I. Opening on Broadway in 1951, the musical became an instant sensation starring Yul Brenner as The King and Gertrude Lawrence as Anna. It took home five Tony Awards that year, including Best Musical. Twentieth Century-Fox went on to turn the musical stage version into the classic film The King and I in 1956 starring Yul Brenner and Deborah Kerr. Over the years the story of Anna and her extraordinary experiences in Siam has continued to remain in the public's consciousness with contemporary film adaptations such as 1999's Anna and the King starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat as well as countless revivals of the stage musical all over the world. With its vivid unique characters and exotic period locale, this beautiful and fascinating story continues to be discovered over and over again by new generations who are all able to find something new and relevant to take away. As the very first screen adaptation of the story, the excellence of 1946's Anna and the King of Siam set the standard for all versions that followed. by Andrea Passafiume

Anna and the King of Siam (1946) - Anna and the King of Siam


The story of English schoolteacher Anna Leonowens, who was hired by King Mongkut of Siam (now Thailand) to educate his dozens of wives and children in the 1860s, has fascinated the world since she wrote two memoirs about the experience in the 1870s. Leonowens's books, as well as a popular 1944 novel based on them, Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon, probably exaggerated Leonowens's importance and influence on the king. The real Mongkut was an educated and remarkably progressive ruler, and it was his own inspiration to open up his country to modernization and Western ideas and customs.

20th Century Fox bought the rights to Landon's novel, and studio head Darryl F. Zanuck originally wanted Elia Kazan to direct Anna and the King of Siam (1946), William Powell to play the king, and Dorothy McGuire as Anna. In a memo to producer Louis D. Lighton, Zanuck mentioned that Jean Arthur, Myrna Loy, Olivia de Havilland, and Irene Dunne all wanted to play Anna Owens (as the character is called in the film), but he felt that Dunne, then in her mid-40s, was "too old" to play the thirtyish widow with a young son. But negotiations with David O. Selznick, who had McGuire under contract broke down, and Dunne, who by then was making only one film a year, ended up with the part. It became one of her biggest successes.

Kazan's involvement also did not work out, and John Cromwell was assigned to direct. According to an article in the Hollywood Reporter, Charles Boyer was originally cast as the King, but dropped out "because of other commitments." Fox had distributed the British thriller, Night Train to Munich (1940) in the U.S., and it had been a success, so the studio offered its star Rex Harrison a contract, with the promise of the lead in Anna and the King of Siam to sweeten the offer. Harrison accepted, and in the fall of 1945, he and his wife, German actress Lilli Palmer, crossed the Atlantic on the Queen Elizabeth, among the few civilians aboard the ship carrying thousands of U.S. soldiers home from World War II.

Harrison, a master of drawing room comedy, was nervous about making his American film debut in a role that was so alien to his experience. He was even more dismayed to get little guidance from director John Cromwell. "In fact, nobody told me how to do anything, and the only thing they seemed to be interested in at the studios was the problem with my eyes," Harrison recalled in his memoir, A Damned Serious Business (1991), referring to the prosthetics used to make his eyes look Asian. So Harrison researched, consulted a drama coach, and worked with her privately to create the character of an Asian potentate, and how he would speak and move. "I felt it was important to get the movements exactly right, especially the hand movements, which are rather controlled in Orientals, so my whole performance had to be rather still and precise." When they began shooting, Cromwell "was horrified to hear the authentic high-pitched laughs and strange, guttural noises I made, and asked me to speak in my normal, Rex Harrison voice." Harrison, incensed, appealed to Zanuck, who took his side. Harrison claimed that Cromwell never spoke another word to him during the filming. In his biography of Harrison, film critic Alexander Walker describes the performance as "very physical, unpredictable from moment to moment, filled with tiny pauses suggesting a primitive but cunning mind being made up...he uses his head, arms, hands, eyes and accusing forefinger with kinetic impact. He is quite unlike any other star then appearing on the American screen."

Critics at the time were equally impressed with Harrison. After faint praise for Dunne ("Her lady is on a level with some that Greer Garson has played"), Bosley Crowther of the New York Times added, "But it is really in the performance of Rex Harrison as the king and in his cunning conception of his character that the charm of the picture lies...Casting this excellent British actor for this highly demanding role was most wise...A more familiar star might have botched it." Howard Barnes of the New York Herald Tribune called Harrison's portrayal "nothing short of perfect." Harrison's American film career was successfully launched, and he thrived in Hollywood for a couple of years, before a scandal--the suicide of his mistress, actress Carole Landis--sent him back to the stage and to England.

Variety called Anna and the King of Siam "Socko adult drama," and added kudos for Dunne, calling her work "superb." Life magazine praised the film as a "beautifully acted movie...examines with wit and delicacy the conflicting aims and ideas of a proper Victorian lady and the gorgeous autocrat she serves." Dunne's career got a boost, and she followed Anna and the King of Siam with two more plum roles in Life with Father (1947) and I Remember Mama (1948). The latter earned her another Oscar© nomination.

Anna and the King of Siam won two Academy Awards for cinematography and art direction, and nominations for supporting actress Gale Sondergaard, for Talbot Jennings and Sally Benson's screenplay, and Bernard Herrmann's musical score. In 1951, Rodgers and Hammerstein's Broadway musical version of the Leonowens story, The King and I, became a huge hit. It starred Gertrude Lawrence as Anna and made a star out of Yul Brynner, whose staccato vocal rhythms and swagger seemed to echo Harrison's performance, with an added dose of sex appeal. Brynner repeated his success in the 1956 film version of the musical, opposite Deborah Kerr, and in a failed 1972 television series based on the story with Samantha Eggar. A 1999 film, Anna and the King, based on Leonowens's books, starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun Fat, did not have the success or the charm of the 1946 film, or of the stage and film musicals.

Director: John Cromwell
Producer: Louis D. Lighton
Screenplay: Talbot Jennings, Sally Benson, based on the novel by Margaret Landon
Cinematography: Arthur Miller
Editor: Harmon Jones
Costume Design: Bonnie Cashin
Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler, William Darling
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Irene Dunne (Anna Owens), Rex Harrison (The King), Linda Darnell (Tuptim), Lee J. Cobb (Kralahome), Gale Sondergaard (Lady Thiang), Mikhail Rasumny (Alak), Dennis Hoey (Sir Edward Ramsay), Tito Renaldo (Prince Chulalongkhorn as an adult), Richard Lyon (Louis Owens).
BW-128m.

by Margarita Landazuri

Anna and the King of Siam (1946) - Anna and the King of Siam

The story of English schoolteacher Anna Leonowens, who was hired by King Mongkut of Siam (now Thailand) to educate his dozens of wives and children in the 1860s, has fascinated the world since she wrote two memoirs about the experience in the 1870s. Leonowens's books, as well as a popular 1944 novel based on them, Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon, probably exaggerated Leonowens's importance and influence on the king. The real Mongkut was an educated and remarkably progressive ruler, and it was his own inspiration to open up his country to modernization and Western ideas and customs. 20th Century Fox bought the rights to Landon's novel, and studio head Darryl F. Zanuck originally wanted Elia Kazan to direct Anna and the King of Siam (1946), William Powell to play the king, and Dorothy McGuire as Anna. In a memo to producer Louis D. Lighton, Zanuck mentioned that Jean Arthur, Myrna Loy, Olivia de Havilland, and Irene Dunne all wanted to play Anna Owens (as the character is called in the film), but he felt that Dunne, then in her mid-40s, was "too old" to play the thirtyish widow with a young son. But negotiations with David O. Selznick, who had McGuire under contract broke down, and Dunne, who by then was making only one film a year, ended up with the part. It became one of her biggest successes. Kazan's involvement also did not work out, and John Cromwell was assigned to direct. According to an article in the Hollywood Reporter, Charles Boyer was originally cast as the King, but dropped out "because of other commitments." Fox had distributed the British thriller, Night Train to Munich (1940) in the U.S., and it had been a success, so the studio offered its star Rex Harrison a contract, with the promise of the lead in Anna and the King of Siam to sweeten the offer. Harrison accepted, and in the fall of 1945, he and his wife, German actress Lilli Palmer, crossed the Atlantic on the Queen Elizabeth, among the few civilians aboard the ship carrying thousands of U.S. soldiers home from World War II. Harrison, a master of drawing room comedy, was nervous about making his American film debut in a role that was so alien to his experience. He was even more dismayed to get little guidance from director John Cromwell. "In fact, nobody told me how to do anything, and the only thing they seemed to be interested in at the studios was the problem with my eyes," Harrison recalled in his memoir, A Damned Serious Business (1991), referring to the prosthetics used to make his eyes look Asian. So Harrison researched, consulted a drama coach, and worked with her privately to create the character of an Asian potentate, and how he would speak and move. "I felt it was important to get the movements exactly right, especially the hand movements, which are rather controlled in Orientals, so my whole performance had to be rather still and precise." When they began shooting, Cromwell "was horrified to hear the authentic high-pitched laughs and strange, guttural noises I made, and asked me to speak in my normal, Rex Harrison voice." Harrison, incensed, appealed to Zanuck, who took his side. Harrison claimed that Cromwell never spoke another word to him during the filming. In his biography of Harrison, film critic Alexander Walker describes the performance as "very physical, unpredictable from moment to moment, filled with tiny pauses suggesting a primitive but cunning mind being made up...he uses his head, arms, hands, eyes and accusing forefinger with kinetic impact. He is quite unlike any other star then appearing on the American screen." Critics at the time were equally impressed with Harrison. After faint praise for Dunne ("Her lady is on a level with some that Greer Garson has played"), Bosley Crowther of the New York Times added, "But it is really in the performance of Rex Harrison as the king and in his cunning conception of his character that the charm of the picture lies...Casting this excellent British actor for this highly demanding role was most wise...A more familiar star might have botched it." Howard Barnes of the New York Herald Tribune called Harrison's portrayal "nothing short of perfect." Harrison's American film career was successfully launched, and he thrived in Hollywood for a couple of years, before a scandal--the suicide of his mistress, actress Carole Landis--sent him back to the stage and to England. Variety called Anna and the King of Siam "Socko adult drama," and added kudos for Dunne, calling her work "superb." Life magazine praised the film as a "beautifully acted movie...examines with wit and delicacy the conflicting aims and ideas of a proper Victorian lady and the gorgeous autocrat she serves." Dunne's career got a boost, and she followed Anna and the King of Siam with two more plum roles in Life with Father (1947) and I Remember Mama (1948). The latter earned her another Oscar© nomination. Anna and the King of Siam won two Academy Awards for cinematography and art direction, and nominations for supporting actress Gale Sondergaard, for Talbot Jennings and Sally Benson's screenplay, and Bernard Herrmann's musical score. In 1951, Rodgers and Hammerstein's Broadway musical version of the Leonowens story, The King and I, became a huge hit. It starred Gertrude Lawrence as Anna and made a star out of Yul Brynner, whose staccato vocal rhythms and swagger seemed to echo Harrison's performance, with an added dose of sex appeal. Brynner repeated his success in the 1956 film version of the musical, opposite Deborah Kerr, and in a failed 1972 television series based on the story with Samantha Eggar. A 1999 film, Anna and the King, based on Leonowens's books, starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun Fat, did not have the success or the charm of the 1946 film, or of the stage and film musicals. Director: John Cromwell Producer: Louis D. Lighton Screenplay: Talbot Jennings, Sally Benson, based on the novel by Margaret Landon Cinematography: Arthur Miller Editor: Harmon Jones Costume Design: Bonnie Cashin Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler, William Darling Music: Bernard Herrmann Cast: Irene Dunne (Anna Owens), Rex Harrison (The King), Linda Darnell (Tuptim), Lee J. Cobb (Kralahome), Gale Sondergaard (Lady Thiang), Mikhail Rasumny (Alak), Dennis Hoey (Sir Edward Ramsay), Tito Renaldo (Prince Chulalongkhorn as an adult), Richard Lyon (Louis Owens). BW-128m. by Margarita Landazuri

Critics' Corner - Anna and the King of Siam


"The noble and triumphant female, an ever-popular figure on the screen...is exalted in the usual plushy manner but under circumstances which make for much appeal in the new picture at the nation's showplace...this film should be vastly attractive to those who respectably delight in the idealized picture of a female whose splendid qualities accomplish worthy ends. For Irene Dunne plays the fabled governess briskly and winsomely, and the whole pattern of her characterization is designed to shower her strength of mind and will...But it is really the performance of Rex Harrison as the king and in the cunning conception of his character that the charm of the picture lies. For this king is a most exceptional person, as was well indicated in the book; he is strangely desirous for enlightenment and for progress, while preserving feudal rules. And his quaintly eccentric nature, his difficult comprehensions of new thought, his pride and his poignant humility supply the humor and appeal in this film. The fact that Mr. Harrison is able to play the role with rare personality and authority while wearing some of the silliest costumes--droopy bloomers, spiked headgears and silken jerkins--manifests the exceptional talent that he has. Casting this excellent British actor for this highly demanding role was most wise of Producer Louis D. Lighton. A more familiar star might well have botched it--good." -- The New York Times

"Socko adult drama. Anna and the King of Siam is a rather faithful screen adaptation of Margaret Landon's biography, intelligently handled to spellbind despite its long footage...Irene Dunne does a superb enactment of Anna...Rex Harrison shines particularly in his American film debut. It's a sustained characterization of the King of Siam that makes the role real. Linda Darnell, third star, has little more than a bit as one of the king's wives, who incurs his displeasure and is burned at the stake. She does well." -- Variety

"Anna and the King of Siam flies in the face of established Hollywood precedent by ignoring Young Love, and proves that a movie can be lively entertainment even if boy doesn't get--or even meet--girl." -- Time magazine

"Sumptuous production...Dunne and Harrison (in his Hollywood debut) are superb." -- Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide

AWARDS AND HONORS

Anna and the King of Siam was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Supporting Actress (Gale Sondergaard), Best Musical Score (Bernard Herrmann) and Best Writing, Screenplay (Sally Benson, Talbot Jennings). It won for Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography.

Compiled by Andrea Passafiume

Critics' Corner - Anna and the King of Siam

"The noble and triumphant female, an ever-popular figure on the screen...is exalted in the usual plushy manner but under circumstances which make for much appeal in the new picture at the nation's showplace...this film should be vastly attractive to those who respectably delight in the idealized picture of a female whose splendid qualities accomplish worthy ends. For Irene Dunne plays the fabled governess briskly and winsomely, and the whole pattern of her characterization is designed to shower her strength of mind and will...But it is really the performance of Rex Harrison as the king and in the cunning conception of his character that the charm of the picture lies. For this king is a most exceptional person, as was well indicated in the book; he is strangely desirous for enlightenment and for progress, while preserving feudal rules. And his quaintly eccentric nature, his difficult comprehensions of new thought, his pride and his poignant humility supply the humor and appeal in this film. The fact that Mr. Harrison is able to play the role with rare personality and authority while wearing some of the silliest costumes--droopy bloomers, spiked headgears and silken jerkins--manifests the exceptional talent that he has. Casting this excellent British actor for this highly demanding role was most wise of Producer Louis D. Lighton. A more familiar star might well have botched it--good." -- The New York Times "Socko adult drama. Anna and the King of Siam is a rather faithful screen adaptation of Margaret Landon's biography, intelligently handled to spellbind despite its long footage...Irene Dunne does a superb enactment of Anna...Rex Harrison shines particularly in his American film debut. It's a sustained characterization of the King of Siam that makes the role real. Linda Darnell, third star, has little more than a bit as one of the king's wives, who incurs his displeasure and is burned at the stake. She does well." -- Variety "Anna and the King of Siam flies in the face of established Hollywood precedent by ignoring Young Love, and proves that a movie can be lively entertainment even if boy doesn't get--or even meet--girl." -- Time magazine "Sumptuous production...Dunne and Harrison (in his Hollywood debut) are superb." -- Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide AWARDS AND HONORS Anna and the King of Siam was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Supporting Actress (Gale Sondergaard), Best Musical Score (Bernard Herrmann) and Best Writing, Screenplay (Sally Benson, Talbot Jennings). It won for Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography. Compiled by Andrea Passafiume

Quotes

Trivia

In a scene early in the film, Anna is seen walking through an open air market. While this scene was being filmed, an airplane passed over the set, creating a low hum on the soundtrack. Composer Bernard Herrmann was instructed to compose an accompanying score that would obscure the airplane motor. He used low gongs.

Like the similar film Anna and the King (1999), this film was also banned in Thailand because of supposed historical inaccuracies of the King of Siam.

Notes

The film opens with a written prologue explaining that in the early 1860s, a young Englishwoman accepted a post teaching English to the children of the King of Siam, leading to a "necessary but almost terrifying adventure into that strange and still half-barbaric country." Siam's King Mongkut, also known as Rama IV, ruled from 1851 to 1868. As depicted in the film, he studied Western culture and greatly expanded his nation's trade and diplomatic relations with the Western countries. On March 15, 1862, British governess Anna Leonowens arrived in Bangkok, with her son Louis, to teach English in King Mongkut's court. She left Siam on July 5, 1867, a little more than a year before the King's death. After returning to England, Leonowens moved to the United States and published two books about her experiences in Siam: The English Governess at the Siamese Court (1870) and The Romance of the Harem (1872). Louis did not die in a riding accident, as depicted in the film, but returned to Siam in 1882 and became a cavalry officer. Mongkut's son, Chulalongkorn (Rama V), who ruled from 1868 to 1910, continued to modernize his country by abolishing slavery, reorganizing the government and developing the infrastructure. In 1939, the country's name was changed to Thailand.
       Author Margaret Landon, who lived in Siam from 1927-1937, drew material from Leonowens' books and personal correspondence in writing Anna and the King of Siam. In her author's note, Landon wrote, "The method of presentation was determined by the form of the incidents as recorded by Anna Leonowens herself....If I were asked to give the fabric content of the book I should say that it is 'seventy-five per cent fact, and twenty-five per cent fiction based on fact.'"
       An March 8, 1945 memo from studio production chief Darryl F. Zanuck to producer Louis D. Lighton reveals the following information: Zanuck originally wanted William Powell for the role of the King. He attempted to borrow Dorothy McGuire from David O. Selznick, but their negotiations broke down when Selznick attempted to add a number of "petty" conditions to their contract. Zanuck mentioned that Jean Arthur and Myrna Loy were eager to play the role of Anna, and that Olivia de Havilland had asked Ernst Lubitsch to intercede with Zanuck on her behalf. In any event, Zanuck assured Lighton, casting the role of Anna would not be a problem: "If David comes off his high horse we will use McGuire; if not, we will have practically the pick of the industry for this role. I forgot to mention Irene Dunne, although in my opinion she is too old for it."
       Elia Kazan was originally considered to direct the film, but Zanuck wrote, "If we get into difficulties with Kazan, John M. Stahl is eager to do this picture, and it would not surprise me to have Ernst Lubitsch ask to direct it himself, providing his health permits." A September 13, 1945 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Charles Boyer had been cast in the role of the King but was forced to withdraw from the production due to other commitments, and that McGuire had indeed been cast as Anna. According to a November 6, 1945 news item in Hollywood Reporter, Faye Marlowe, Gerald Perreau, Jean O'Donnell and Julie Carter were tested for roles in the film, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Studio publicity materials contained in the file on the film at the AMPAS Library add Jeanne Lafayette to the cast, but her appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. A June 13, 1945 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that the film would be shot in Technicolor.
       In the film, Anna quotes U.S. President Abraham Lincoln as having said, "True progress must bear some relation to man's character. It must have its roots in his heart." This quotation does not appear in any of Lincoln's major speeches or writings, however, and its authenticity is doubtful. According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection, located at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, Zanuck said in a September 6, 1945 memo to Lighton and director John Cromwell, "If we cannot find a great Lincoln quote we should write one. The best Wilson quote in the picture Wilson [see below] was written by Lamar Trotti and no one ever questioned it." According to Landon's book, King Mongkut and Lincoln actually did exchange letters, but this correspondence occurred before Anna came to Siam. The first finished version of the film ran two hours and forty-one minutes. Zanuck had the film re-edited, and three reels of footage were eliminated.
       An article in Time dated March 24, 1947 described the first screening of the film in Thailand, noting that the royal family allowed the film to be shown in its entirety, despite the fact that "leading Siamese critics and historians had taken pains to point out that it was more than 75% inaccurate (refined King Monkgut, for example, had certainly never burned a wife)." The film received Academy Awards for Best Art Direction (Black and White) and Best Cinematography (Black and White). It was nominated for Academy Awards in the following categories: Best Supporting Actress (Gale Sondergaard), Best Screenplay and Best Music (Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture). Anna and the King of Siam was the first film English actor Rex Harrison made in the United States and Cromwell's first directing assignment for Twentieth Century-Fox. Harrison and Irene Dunne repeated their roles on the Lux Radio Theatre on January 20, 1947. Anna and the King of Siam was again broadcast on Lux Radio Theatre on May 30, 1949, with Dunne and James Mason. The Hallmark Playhouse radio program broadcast Anna and the King of Siam on September 15, 1949, featuring Deborah Kerr.
       In 1950, British actress Gertrude Lawrence obtained the rights to Landon's book and asked Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, II to develop it as a musical. Modern sources assert that this was the only time Rodgers and Hammerstein ever created a show for the talents of a specific performer. The musical, The King and I, opened on Broadway on March 29, 1951. Rodgers and Hammerstein asked Harrison to repeat his role onstage, but he declined the offer, and Yul Brynner was cast as the King, a role with which he would be identified for the rest of his life. The King and I was released by Twentieth Century-Fox as a musical film in 1956, starring Brynner and Deborah Kerr. The story later resurfaced as a CBS television series, Anna and the King, which starred Brynner and Samantha Eggar and ran from 17 September-December 31, 1972. In 1999, Fox 2000 Pictures released a non-musical version of the story entitled Anna and the King, starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat and directed by Andy Tennant.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States on Video March 2, 1994

Released in United States Summer August 1946

Released in United States on Video March 2, 1994

Released in United States Summer August 1946