Call Me Madam


1h 57m 1953
Call Me Madam

Brief Synopsis

A Washington hostess takes an assignment as ambassador to the world's smallest nation.

Film Details

Also Known As
Irving Berlin's Call Me Madam
Genre
Comedy
Musical
Adaptation
Release Date
Apr 1953
Premiere Information
World premiere in Los Angeles: 4 Mar 1953; New York opening: 25 Mar 1953
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Washington, District of Columbia, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the musical Call Me Madam , book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, produced on the stage by Leland Hayward (New York, 12 Oct 1950).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 57m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
10,625ft (12 reels)

Synopsis

In 1951, Sally Adams, a wealthy Oklahoma widow who has become Washington D.C.'s premiere hostess, is sworn in as the U.S. Ambassador to the Grand Duchy of Lichtenburg. Although the boisterous Sally has no idea where Lichtenburg is, she is thrilled by her appointment and throws a farewell party for herself that evening. At the party, reporter Kenneth Gibson, who had interviewed Sally that afternoon, asks her to hire him as her press attaché and assures her that he is very knowledgeable about European politics. Sally demurs, but when Kenneth helps her with a speech she must give for a newsreel, she changes her mind and sends him ahead to Lichtenburg. At the U.S. embassy in the quaint and lovely country of Lichtenburg, Kenneth attempts to calm Pemberton Maxwell, the embassy's snobbish charge d'affaires, who assumes that he will be able to intimidate a female ambassador. Upon meeting her, Maxwell is outraged by Sally's insistence that he call her "Madam" and her determination to run things as she sees fit. Meanwhile, at the palace, Grand Duke Otto and Grand Duchess Sophie are negotiating the marriage of their niece, Princess Maria, to Middledorf's pompous Prince Hugo. The arranged marriage will be politically advantageous for both countries, although the Middledorf officials are concerned that impoverished Lichtenburg will not be able to raise the promised dowry. Prime Minister Sebastian and August Tantinnin, the minister of finance, are certain that the inexperienced Sally will agree to a large American loan, although when they approach her, Sally, who has already been apprised of the situation, turns them down. Sally's attitude changes, however, when she meets the handsome, charming foreign minister, Gen. Cosmo Constantine. Sally offers Cosmo as much money as he wants, but he insists that Lichtenburg needs to solve its problems without foreign aid. After Cosmo departs, Kenneth also leaves and goes to a department store to buy a hat for that evening's ball at the palace. At the store, Kenneth is mistaken for a salesclerk by a lovely young woman, who turns out to be Maria. Kenneth and Maria are immediately attracted to each other, although Maria cautions him that she cannot talk to him until they have been formally introduced. At the ball, Maxwell's worst fears are realized when Sally falls while curtseying and makes a faux pas , calling the people of Lichtenburg Dutch because their country is a duchy, but her natural appeal shines through and she wins over the duke and duchess. Sally also insures that Kenneth is introduced to Maria, and while the young couple waltz, she dances with Cosmo. Kenneth is dismayed, however, when Maria runs off after sharing a passionate kiss with him. Sally's happiness is tempered by Maxwell's insinuation that Cosmo is romancing her only to obtain the loan, which he wants despite his protests. Sally and Kenneth attempt to comfort each other but spend a miserable week until the annual fair opens. Cosmo is baffled by Sally's coldness to him, but she soon finds herself unable to resist him. Kenneth finds Maria and confesses his deep feelings for her, but after she brushes him off to defuse a potential fight between him and Hugo, Kenneth gets wildly drunk at a beer garden. Kenneth is arrested for disorderly conduct, and the next morning, Maxwell attempts to get him fired. Sally destroys Maxwell's report but warns Kenneth to be more discreet. She then receives a call from Maria, who wants to meet Kenneth in the underground passageway linking the embassy and the palace. There, the princess admits that she returns his feelings and assures him that she will not be marrying Hugo, because without the American loan, there will be no dowry. Soon after, Sally dines with Cosmo and falls so deeply in love with him that she asks her good friend, President Harry Truman, if the United States can spare $100 million. Later, senators Brockway, Gallagher and Wilkins form an investigatory committee and come to Lichtenburg, where Maxwell is dismayed to learn that they are investigating the feasibility of a loan to the small country, not Sally's management. Sally throws a lavish party that evening and introduces the senators to Cosmo, who was prime minister by the Lichtenburg cabinet members after they discovered that the senators will deal only with him. Cosmo emphatically tells the senators that he does not want foreign aid, and they are so impressed with his statesmanship that they offer him $200 million. Horrified, Cosmo storms out, pausing only to tell Sally that she has destroyed his life's work. Crushed, Sally commiserates with Kenneth, who has been told by Maria that they must end their relationship because she will now have to marry Hugo. Their misery is completed when Truman orders Sally home, for Sebastian has complained that she was interfering with Maria's engagement to Hugo. Back in Washington, Sally hosts a welcome home party for herself, at which the senators congratulate her on saving the country $200 million, as Cosmo convinced the parliament to refuse the loan. Kenneth then informs Sally that Cosmo, who has been named Lichtenburg's ambassador to the United States, was seen traveling with a female companion. Sally puts on a brave face when Cosmo arrives and is delighted to learn that his companion, Miss Hammenschlaffen, is Maria. Sally sends Maria out to the balcony to greet Kenneth, and the excited former princess tells him that she has refused the throne in order to marry him. Inside, Cosmo confers the Order of Philip on Sally, which entitles her to be called a Dame. Replying that it is "quite a promotion," Sally happily embraces Cosmo.

Film Details

Also Known As
Irving Berlin's Call Me Madam
Genre
Comedy
Musical
Adaptation
Release Date
Apr 1953
Premiere Information
World premiere in Los Angeles: 4 Mar 1953; New York opening: 25 Mar 1953
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Washington, District of Columbia, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the musical Call Me Madam , book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, produced on the stage by Leland Hayward (New York, 12 Oct 1950).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 57m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
10,625ft (12 reels)

Award Wins

Best Music Original Dramatic Score

1954

Award Nominations

Best Costume Design

1953

Articles

Call Me Madam


In the delightful musical comedy Call Me Madam (1953), Broadway legend Ethel Merman recreates her Tony award-winning role as Sally Adams, a wealthy but down to earth widow known as "The Hostess With the Mostess" throughout Washington D.C. society. When President Harry Truman appoints Sally as a U.S. Ambassador, she and her bookish press attaché Kenneth (Donald O'Connor) travel to the tiny Grand Duchy of Lichtenburg where Sally promptly falls for handsome foreign minister Cosmo Constantine (George Sanders) and Kenneth falls for the beautiful Princess Maria (Vera-Ellen).

Following her triumphant run in Irving Berlin's Broadway sensation Annie Get Your Gun, Ethel Merman was reportedly looking to take a break from musical comedy and do a more dramatic role as a change of pace. However, a split second inspiration from writer Howard Lindsay changed her mind. Lindsay and his wife Dorothy Stickney were vacationing in Colorado with Merman and her family in 1948 when Lindsay reportedly came across an article on Perle Mesta, a renowned Washington hostess. Mesta, a colorful wealthy widow famous for her society parties, had recently been appointed Ambassador to Luxembourg. Lindsay immediately saw the potential for creating a show based on Mesta's life with Ethel Merman as the lead and Merman loved the idea.

Lindsay immediately pitched the scenario to his collaborator Russel Crouse, and the two began working on the book for what became Call Me Madam. Irving Berlin agreed to write the songs, eager to repeat the success he had recently enjoyed with Merman in Annie Get Your Gun.

Call Me Madam opened on Broadway in October 1950 and was an immediate smash. It played for 644 performances and won three Tony awards including one for Irving Berlin's score and one for Ethel Merman as Best Actress in a Musical. It took a light, good-natured approach to its political satire and took care not to offend the real Perle Mesta by running the following tongue-in-cheek disclaimer in the theater's Playbill: "Neither the character of Miss Sally Adams nor Miss Ethel Merman resembles any person alive or dead."

The team behind Call Me Madam needn't have worried as Perle Mesta loved the show. Columnist Leonard Lyons arranged for Mesta and Merman to meet face to face at a dinner party, and the two hit it off immediately. "We took to each other at once," recalled Merman in her 1978 autobiography. "I asked if she'd take a curtain call on opening night, she shot back, 'If I'm there, who'll stop me?'" Mesta quickly added Merman to the guest list for her famous parties and even gave a few in Merman's honor.

Even though Ethel Merman had made the show into a smash, it was a risk for 20th Century Fox to have her star in the film version of Call Me Madam. Merman was a powerhouse box office draw on the Broadway stage, but film success had so far eluded her. She had appeared in a few movies during the 1930s including an adaptation of her hit Broadway show Anything Goes (1936), but Hollywood had never been able to successfully translate her immense talent to the silver screen in a way that did her justice. However, Irving Berlin helped convince Fox studio chief Darryl Zanuck to allow Merman to reprise her role in Call Me Madam. It was a role that would showcase her at her very best, argued Berlin, and if anyone was born to play the role of Sally Adams, it was Ethel Merman.

Zanuck agreed and rolled out the red carpet for Merman to welcome her back to Hollywood. Call Me Madam would mark Merman's first film appearance in a decade - she had last appeared on screen performing one number in 1943's Stage Door Canteen. Zanuck secured Walter Lang (State Fair [1945], The King and I [1956]) to direct and gave Merman the full star treatment to make her feel at home at Fox, including giving her Betty Grable's plush dressing room to use for the duration of the shoot.

George Sanders was hired to play Merman's love interest, Cosmo Constantine. The Academy Award-winning actor (All About Eve [1950]) had never before appeared in a musical. However, Sanders did his own singing and surprised everyone with his impressive rich baritone voice. He and Merman worked well together, though Merman admitted that they were not close. "George was sweet and believable and warm as toast as Cosmo Constantine," she said in her autobiography, "but he was a strange man, very hard to get to. Between takes he locked himself in his dressing room and that was it. He didn't seem to want to bother with anybody. Obviously he was a very unhappy man even then or he wouldn't have done what he did," she said referring to Sanders' 1972 suicide.

The delightful Donald O'Connor, fresh off the success of his 1952 film Singin' in the Rain, was cast as Merman's press attaché Kenneth. He was paired with lovely Vera-Ellen as Princess Maria, the duo performing several elegant dance numbers throughout the film.

Call Me Madam remained remarkably true to its original stage source. However, there were a few small changes made for the film version. "They Like Ike," a song that was written for the Broadway show and was eventually adopted as Dwight D. Eisenhower's famous campaign song that helped win him the 1952 presidential election, was dropped from the film for being too political. The number was replaced with an old 1913 Irving Berlin song called "That International Rag." In addition, a new number called "What Chance Have I With Love?" was added to showcase the singing and dancing talents of Donald O'Connor.

With a host of gushing reviews, Ethel Merman's return to the silver screen in Call Me Madam was a triumph. "Call Me Madam...has become a handsome, hilarious, surefire hit movie," raved Time magazine. "...At its Technicolored best - with Walter Lang's zestful direction, Robert Alton's dances and a topnotch supporting cast - the movie is a bouncier, better show than it was on the stage...But best of all the movie captures on film the special talents of Ethel Merman...From the opening scene, she sparkplugs the picture with a powerhouse personality."

The New York Times said, "Whatever pleasure Ethel Merman bestowed in Call Me Madam on the stage - and the evidence is that it was plenty as she played it on Broadway 644 times - may be counted a minor fraction of the pleasure she is sure to convey as the boss-lady of this gay fandango in repeating it on the screen. For the sleek Technicolored movie version of the popular musical comedy...is an admirable duplication of the show as presented on the stage. And, in it, the wonderful Miss Merman is better than ever-in spades!"

Call Me Madam was a solid hit at the box office and was nominated for two Academy Awards. Irene Sharaff, whose sumptuous gowns helped feature Merman at her best, was nominated for Best Costume Design, and Alfred Newman was nominated (and won) for Best Musical Score. The songs in the film include "The Hostess With the Mostes' on the Ball," "Can You Use Any Money Today?" and the showstopping duet between Merman and O'Connor "You're Just in Love."

Producer: Sol C. Siegel
Director: Walter Lang
Screenplay: Arthur Sheekman; Russel Crouse and Howard Lindsay (musical "Call Me Madam")
Cinematography: Leon Shamroy
Art Direction: John De Cuir, Lyle Wheeler
Film Editing: Robert Simpson
Cast: Ethel Merman (Sally Adams), Donald O'Connor (Kenneth Gibson), Vera-Ellen (Princess Maria), George Sanders (General Cosmo Constantine), Billy De Wolfe (Pemberton Maxwell), Helmut Dantine (Prince Hugo), Walter Slezak (August Tantinnin), Steven Geray (Prime Minister Sebastian), Ludwig Stossel (Grand Duke Otto), Lilia Skala (Grand Duchess Sophie), Charles Dingle (Sen. Brockway), Emory Parnell (Sen. Charlie Gallagher), Percy Helton (Sen. Wilkins)
C-115m. Closed Captioning.

by Andrea Passafiume
Call Me Madam

Call Me Madam

In the delightful musical comedy Call Me Madam (1953), Broadway legend Ethel Merman recreates her Tony award-winning role as Sally Adams, a wealthy but down to earth widow known as "The Hostess With the Mostess" throughout Washington D.C. society. When President Harry Truman appoints Sally as a U.S. Ambassador, she and her bookish press attaché Kenneth (Donald O'Connor) travel to the tiny Grand Duchy of Lichtenburg where Sally promptly falls for handsome foreign minister Cosmo Constantine (George Sanders) and Kenneth falls for the beautiful Princess Maria (Vera-Ellen). Following her triumphant run in Irving Berlin's Broadway sensation Annie Get Your Gun, Ethel Merman was reportedly looking to take a break from musical comedy and do a more dramatic role as a change of pace. However, a split second inspiration from writer Howard Lindsay changed her mind. Lindsay and his wife Dorothy Stickney were vacationing in Colorado with Merman and her family in 1948 when Lindsay reportedly came across an article on Perle Mesta, a renowned Washington hostess. Mesta, a colorful wealthy widow famous for her society parties, had recently been appointed Ambassador to Luxembourg. Lindsay immediately saw the potential for creating a show based on Mesta's life with Ethel Merman as the lead and Merman loved the idea. Lindsay immediately pitched the scenario to his collaborator Russel Crouse, and the two began working on the book for what became Call Me Madam. Irving Berlin agreed to write the songs, eager to repeat the success he had recently enjoyed with Merman in Annie Get Your Gun. Call Me Madam opened on Broadway in October 1950 and was an immediate smash. It played for 644 performances and won three Tony awards including one for Irving Berlin's score and one for Ethel Merman as Best Actress in a Musical. It took a light, good-natured approach to its political satire and took care not to offend the real Perle Mesta by running the following tongue-in-cheek disclaimer in the theater's Playbill: "Neither the character of Miss Sally Adams nor Miss Ethel Merman resembles any person alive or dead." The team behind Call Me Madam needn't have worried as Perle Mesta loved the show. Columnist Leonard Lyons arranged for Mesta and Merman to meet face to face at a dinner party, and the two hit it off immediately. "We took to each other at once," recalled Merman in her 1978 autobiography. "I asked if she'd take a curtain call on opening night, she shot back, 'If I'm there, who'll stop me?'" Mesta quickly added Merman to the guest list for her famous parties and even gave a few in Merman's honor. Even though Ethel Merman had made the show into a smash, it was a risk for 20th Century Fox to have her star in the film version of Call Me Madam. Merman was a powerhouse box office draw on the Broadway stage, but film success had so far eluded her. She had appeared in a few movies during the 1930s including an adaptation of her hit Broadway show Anything Goes (1936), but Hollywood had never been able to successfully translate her immense talent to the silver screen in a way that did her justice. However, Irving Berlin helped convince Fox studio chief Darryl Zanuck to allow Merman to reprise her role in Call Me Madam. It was a role that would showcase her at her very best, argued Berlin, and if anyone was born to play the role of Sally Adams, it was Ethel Merman. Zanuck agreed and rolled out the red carpet for Merman to welcome her back to Hollywood. Call Me Madam would mark Merman's first film appearance in a decade - she had last appeared on screen performing one number in 1943's Stage Door Canteen. Zanuck secured Walter Lang (State Fair [1945], The King and I [1956]) to direct and gave Merman the full star treatment to make her feel at home at Fox, including giving her Betty Grable's plush dressing room to use for the duration of the shoot. George Sanders was hired to play Merman's love interest, Cosmo Constantine. The Academy Award-winning actor (All About Eve [1950]) had never before appeared in a musical. However, Sanders did his own singing and surprised everyone with his impressive rich baritone voice. He and Merman worked well together, though Merman admitted that they were not close. "George was sweet and believable and warm as toast as Cosmo Constantine," she said in her autobiography, "but he was a strange man, very hard to get to. Between takes he locked himself in his dressing room and that was it. He didn't seem to want to bother with anybody. Obviously he was a very unhappy man even then or he wouldn't have done what he did," she said referring to Sanders' 1972 suicide. The delightful Donald O'Connor, fresh off the success of his 1952 film Singin' in the Rain, was cast as Merman's press attaché Kenneth. He was paired with lovely Vera-Ellen as Princess Maria, the duo performing several elegant dance numbers throughout the film. Call Me Madam remained remarkably true to its original stage source. However, there were a few small changes made for the film version. "They Like Ike," a song that was written for the Broadway show and was eventually adopted as Dwight D. Eisenhower's famous campaign song that helped win him the 1952 presidential election, was dropped from the film for being too political. The number was replaced with an old 1913 Irving Berlin song called "That International Rag." In addition, a new number called "What Chance Have I With Love?" was added to showcase the singing and dancing talents of Donald O'Connor. With a host of gushing reviews, Ethel Merman's return to the silver screen in Call Me Madam was a triumph. "Call Me Madam...has become a handsome, hilarious, surefire hit movie," raved Time magazine. "...At its Technicolored best - with Walter Lang's zestful direction, Robert Alton's dances and a topnotch supporting cast - the movie is a bouncier, better show than it was on the stage...But best of all the movie captures on film the special talents of Ethel Merman...From the opening scene, she sparkplugs the picture with a powerhouse personality." The New York Times said, "Whatever pleasure Ethel Merman bestowed in Call Me Madam on the stage - and the evidence is that it was plenty as she played it on Broadway 644 times - may be counted a minor fraction of the pleasure she is sure to convey as the boss-lady of this gay fandango in repeating it on the screen. For the sleek Technicolored movie version of the popular musical comedy...is an admirable duplication of the show as presented on the stage. And, in it, the wonderful Miss Merman is better than ever-in spades!" Call Me Madam was a solid hit at the box office and was nominated for two Academy Awards. Irene Sharaff, whose sumptuous gowns helped feature Merman at her best, was nominated for Best Costume Design, and Alfred Newman was nominated (and won) for Best Musical Score. The songs in the film include "The Hostess With the Mostes' on the Ball," "Can You Use Any Money Today?" and the showstopping duet between Merman and O'Connor "You're Just in Love." Producer: Sol C. Siegel Director: Walter Lang Screenplay: Arthur Sheekman; Russel Crouse and Howard Lindsay (musical "Call Me Madam") Cinematography: Leon Shamroy Art Direction: John De Cuir, Lyle Wheeler Film Editing: Robert Simpson Cast: Ethel Merman (Sally Adams), Donald O'Connor (Kenneth Gibson), Vera-Ellen (Princess Maria), George Sanders (General Cosmo Constantine), Billy De Wolfe (Pemberton Maxwell), Helmut Dantine (Prince Hugo), Walter Slezak (August Tantinnin), Steven Geray (Prime Minister Sebastian), Ludwig Stossel (Grand Duke Otto), Lilia Skala (Grand Duchess Sophie), Charles Dingle (Sen. Brockway), Emory Parnell (Sen. Charlie Gallagher), Percy Helton (Sen. Wilkins) C-115m. Closed Captioning. by Andrea Passafiume

Quotes

When you call me madam, smile.
- Sally Adams

Trivia

Carol Richards dubbed Vera-Ellen's singing.

Ethel Merman recreated the role that she had originated in the original Broadway production.

This movie is not available on VHS and DVD due to legal problems concerning 'Irving Berlin' 's estate. It can only be viewed on TV.

Notes

The opening title cards of this film read: "Twentieth Century-Fox presents Irving Berlin's Call Me Madam." After the opening credits, a written prologue states: "This story of the past, 1951, takes place in two mythical countries...One is called Lichtenburg, the other the United States of America." In addition to the songs listed above, brief snippets of "Lichtenburg Song" and "Washington Square Dance," written by Berlin, are heard. As noted by contemporary sources, "They Like Ike" was the only song written by Berlin for the long-running Broadway musical Call Me Madam that did not appear in the film version. Instead, Berlin's 1913 hit "That International Rag" was used, because the filmmakers felt "They Like Ike," which eventually became Dwight D. Eisenhower's popular campaign song "I Like Ike," was too political.
       According to a modern source, Ethel Merman, for whom Call Me Madam was written, received ten percent of the profits from the Broadway show and the sale of the film rights. Lilia Skala, who played "Grand Duchess Sophie," was the only other cast member of the Broadway show to reprise her role for the film. As noted by numerous contemporary sources, the musical was inspired by the life and career of Perle Mesta (1889-1975), a wealthy American socialite and renowned party-giver who, in 1949, was appointed by President Harry S. Truman to be the first United States ambassador to Luxembourg.
       Hollywood Reporter news items include William Lester and Adele Taylor in the cast, but their appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed. A August 1, 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that a second unit photographed special background material in Washington, D.C. for the production. Call Me Madam, which marked George Sanders' onscreen singing debut, received an Academy Award nomination for Best Costume Design (Color) and an Academy Award for Best Music (Scoring of a Musical Picture). The picture also marked Merman's first film appearance since the 1943 United Artists release Stage Door Canteen. According to a modern source, Carol Richards dubbed Vera-Ellen's vocals.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Spring April 1953

Released in United States Spring April 1953