Cast & Crew
Edward Everett Horton
After passing through Paris, popular American dancer Guy Holden and his best friend, English lawyer Egbert "Pinky" Fitzgerald, land in London for the final leg of their vacation. While waiting at the London docks, Guy sees pretty American Mimi Glossop struggling with her dress, which is snagged in one of her aunt Hortense's trunks, and offers his help. In his haste to free Mimi, Guy pulls too hard and splits the back of the dress. Although furious at Guy, Mimi accepts his coat and his calling card, then storms away without revealing her name or address.
Soon after, Mimi returns the coat anonymously through a hotel bellboy, further frustrating Guy, who is now madly in love with her. The desperate Guy drives the streets of London in search of Mimi and by chance crashes into the back of her car. Mimi takes off, but Guy pursues and eventually corners her in a park. After he proposes to her, Mimi tells Guy she cannot see him again, but accepts his telephone number and promises to call. Later, Hortense, who was once engaged to Egbert, brings the unhappily married Mimi to Egbert's law offices to discuss divorce proceedings. Apprised that Mimi's husband Cyril, a neglectful English geologist, has refused to grant Mimi a divorce, Egbert advises that a professional co-respondent be hired. Unaware that Mimi is the object of Guy's obsession, Egbert then convinces his lovesick friend to accompany him to the seaside resort, Brightbourne, where the co-respondent is to rendezvous with Mimi.
In Brightbourne, Egbert meets Rodolfo Tonetti, the foppish Italian co-respondent, and tells him that his "password" with Mimi will be "Chance is the fool's name for fate," a line spoken earlier by Guy. That night, while Tonetti searches the hotel for his liaison, whom he has never seen, Guy spots Mimi in the hotel restaurant and immediately resumes his romancing. However, when Guy then casually utters his line about fate, Mimi assumes that he is her co-respondent and grows instantly cold toward him. Although confused by Mimi's sudden hostility, Guy agrees to come to her hotel room at midnight and there does his best to flirt with her. Egbert, meanwhile, finally connects with a bemused Tonetti and directs him to the correct room, while Hortense pulls Mimi aside and informs her that her assessment of Guy is mistaken.
After Tonetti enters her room, Guy demands an explanation from Mimi, who finally confesses her mission. Egbert and Hortense then rush back to London to secure the needed detectives, and Mimi convinces Guy to go along with the scheme and accept Tonetti's presence. Defying Tonetti's orders to stay in the room, Mimi and Guy sneak off, using the shadows of paper dolls to make him believe that they are still there, and pursue their romance on the hotel dance floor. The next morning, Hortense and Egbert, having been unable to find detectives, bring Cyril to the hotel. Although at first defiant and unyielding, Cyril gives in to Mimi's divorce demands when a hotel waiter unwittingly reveals to the group that he had met Cyril under a different name and with a different "wife" in tow. While Mimi and Guy celebrate her impending freedom, Hortense and Egbert announce that they were married on the train from London.
Edward Everett Horton
J. G. Mcmahon
E. E. Clive
Pandro S. Berman
J. R. Crone
P. J. Faulkner Jr.
H. W. Hanemann
George Marion Jr.
Hugh Mcdowell Jr.
Van Nest Polglase
Best Art Direction
The Gay Divorcee - The Gay Divorcee
Guy is first introduced along with his best pal Egbert "Pinky" Fitzgerald (Edward Everett Horton), an incompetent English lawyer whose own father doesn't trust him to run the family firm. Later, arriving in England after a sojourn to Paris, Guy spies the gorgeous Mimi with her skirt caught in her suitcase and her magnificent legs revealed. It is love at first sight for Guy who begins a relentless pursuit of this lovely but the elusive woman is not interested in being chased. Guy finally tracks Mimi down at the English seaside town of Brightbourne where she is conspiring with her flighty aunt Hortense (Alice Brady) and lawyer Egbert to be caught in flagrante delicto, thus establishing grounds for divorce. Into this delicate plot stumbles Guy and a madcap battle for a happy ending begins.
The combination of smashing musical numbers and loopy comic incident in The Gay Divorcee is best exemplified by the film's opening number ("Don't Let It Bother You") at a Paris nightclub floorshow, where a bevy of beautiful dames on a rotating stage make tiny lady hand puppets dance in chorus line synchronization. Another segment at an English beach resort, "Let's K-Nock K-Neez," is equally eye-popping and boasts an appearance by seventeen-year-old future pin-up queen Betty Grable. Other dance numbers in The Gay Divorcee prove more representative of the magic Astaire/Rogers touch. One of the movie's best numbers "Needle in a Haystack," features Guy's fruitless, obsessed search in London's streets for his dream girl. Equally inventive are the elaborate, glamorous "Continental" number, in which Astaire and Rogers and a plethora of gorgeously turned out dancers trip the light fantastic, and the couple's romantic dance against a backdrop of a glistening nighttime beach to Cole Porter's "Night and Day." In the film's perpetual battle of the sexes, pitting the overzealous Guy against the romance-shy Mimi, the only harmony is achieved during these stunning musical numbers where the couple put aside their quibbles and simply dance.
Meant to capitalize on their success with Flying Down to Rio (1933), The Gay Divorcee was the first time in the team's nine collaborations that they received top billing after having only secondary roles in Rio. Oddly enough, the amount of time the couple spent actually dancing in The Gay Divorcee totals a meager 10 minutes. The pairing of Astaire and Rogers proved enormously advantageous to both of their careers, though Astaire initially resisted being teamed with Rogers again, fearing he would be stuck in a screen couple after only recently ending his longtime collaboration with sister Adele.
Director Mark Sandrich's film was actually based on a Broadway musical by Dwight Taylor and Cole Porter called The Gay Divorce in which Astaire, Erik Rhodes and Eric Blore all appeared. Hollywood's censorship-prone Hays Administration insisted that the title be changed to The Gay Divorcee with the strange reasoning that divorce could not be a happy event, but a divorcee could be happy. Considered one of the best Depression-era musicals, The Gay Divorcee was nominated for a slew of Academy Awards and won the first Best Song Oscar® for that catchy tune, "The Continental." Ironically, another Astaire-Rogers film was nominated that same year for Best Song, the "Carioca" number from Flying Down to Rio.
A publicity stunt for The Gay Divorcee in which RKO organized "Continental" demonstrations and parties never really helped the dance catch on, but one thing in that extravagant number did start a fad. Reportedly, sales of Venetian blinds soared after audiences got a taste of the window treatments in Van Nest Polglase and Carroll Clark's inventive set design.
Director: Mark Sandrich
Producer: Pandro S. Berman
Screenplay: George Marion Jr., Dorothy Yost, Edward Kaufman based on the musical play The Gay Divorce by Dwight Taylor and Cole Porter
Cinematography: David Abel
Production Design: Van Nest Polglase, Carroll Clark
Music: Max Steiner
Cast: Fred Astaire (Guy Holden), Ginger Rogers (Mimi Glossop), Alice Brady (Hortense Ditherwell), Edward Everett Horton (Egbert Fitzgerald), Erik Rhodes (Rodolfo Tonetti), Eric Blore (Waiter), Lillian Miles (Hotel Guest), Charles Coleman (Valet), William Austin (Cyril Glossop), Betty Grable (Hotel Guest).
BW-105m. Closed captioning.
by Felicia Feaster
The Gay Divorcee - The Gay Divorcee
I was chasing you, you shouldn't run away like that.- Guy Holden
Why not?- Mimi Glossop
It's bad for my health.- Guy Holden
I don't care what you did as a boy.- Mimi
Well, I did nothing as a girl, so there goes my childhood.- Guy
Please don't ask me to stay.- Mimi Glossop
All right, I won't. Don't go!- Guy Holden
The husband is coming! Hooray! Hooray!- Guy Holden
That's what they call an igneous intrusion.- Waiter
You're somewhat of an igneous intrusion yourself.- Guy Holden
Advertisements for the film touted Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers as "The King and Queen of the Carioca" in reference to their previous film, Flying Down to Rio (1933).
Helen Broderick was asked to play the role of Hortense but was unavailable.
The bugle call at the beginning of the "Don't Let It Bother You" dance was developed from clowning during rehearsals, and became an in-joke in future Astaire-Rogers films.
The original movie on which this musical was based was called "The Gay Divorce", but because of problems arising from the sensor, it was renamed "The Gay Divorcee" (one 'e' added) for the silver screen.
The musical The Gay Divorce was based on the unproduced play An Adorable Adventure by J. Hartley Manners. The working title of the film was The Gay Divorce. According to a July 1934 New York Times article, RKO changed the title to avoid censorship problems with the PCA. Modern sources contend, however, that the title change was instigated not by the Hays Office, but by RKO itself, which offered fifty dollars to any employee who could come up with a better title. In his autobiography, Fred Astaire claims that director Mark Sandrich told him that the title The Gay Divorcee was selected because the studio "thought it was a more attractive-sounding title, centered around a girl." Modern sources claim that studio executives changed the word "divorce" to "divorcee" because, while they believed that a divorcee could be gay, a divorce could not. The original stage title was restored for British release prints.
Astaire, Erik Rhodes and Eric Blore appeared in the Broadway production and recreated their roles for the film. Only one song from the stage musical, "Night and Day," was used in the film. According to a March 1934 Hollywood Reporter news item, RKO executive producer Pandro Berman approached Fox's Roy Del Ruth to direct, but refused to pay Ruth's $40,000 a picture salary. A Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Sandrich filmed shots for the English countryside scenes in Clear Lake, CA, and RKO production files indicate that additional exteriors were shot in Santa Monica and Santa Barbara, CA. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, Brandon Hurst was cast in the film, but his participation in the final film has not been confirmed. According to files contained in the MPAA/PCA files at the AMPAS Library, in a June 22, 1934 letter, James Wingate, Director of the Studio Relations Office of the MPAA/PCA, warned Berman that "considering the delicate nature of the subject upon which this script is based...great care should be taken in the scenes dealing with Mimi's lingerie, and... no intimate article should be used." Wingate added that the word co-respondent should be replaced with "something less pointed," and insisted that none of the actors appear in pajamas in the film. In a July 2, 1934 letter, Wingate noted that the song title "Let's K-nock K-nees" had been rejected by his office and suggested that the phrase also be delected from the lyrics. (It wasn't). In a studio memorandum, music soundman Murray Spivack advised the producers that "due to censorship, it was necessary to change [the] lyrics to 'Let's K-nock K-nees,'" but added that because songwriters Mack Gordon and Harry Revel were busy working on a production at Paramount, another writer would have to be hired to do the rewrites. The identity of the songwriter has not been determined, but according to a August 4, 1934 letter from MPAA/PCA director Joseph I. Breen, the second chorus of "Let's K-nock K-nees" was altered and approved "from the standpoint of the Production Code and censorship." Breen cautioned in a July 31, 1934 letter that "the scenes having to do with Mimi's skirt being caught in the locked trunk should all be handled with great care to avoid any objectionable exposure of her person." Con Conrad and Herb Magidson won the first Academy Award for Best Song for their composition "The Continental." (The song "The Carioca," which was the big Astaire-Rogers number of RKO's 1933 musical Flying Down to Rio, was also included in the balloting.) The film was nominated as Best Picture but lost to Columbia's It Happened One Night. Other Academy Award nominations included Best Art Direction (Van Nest Polglase and Carroll Clark), Best Score (Max Steiner) and Best Sound Recording (Carl Dreher, head of RKO's sound department).
Modern sources add the following information about the production: After the success of Flying Down to Rio, the first RKO film to team Rogers and Astaire, the studio planned a follow-up film, in which Rogers and Astaire would be the stars, called Radio City Revels. When RKO's acting production head, Pandro Berman, suggested that The Gay Divorce, then a hit play on Broadway, be used as a follow-up to Radio City Revels, Lou Brock, who had produced Flying Down to Rio and was slated to produce the follow-up pictures, ridiculed the idea. Although Brock disliked the play and its libretto, which he thought was antequated, Berman went ahead and purchased the screen rights for $20,000 after seeing the play in London. Plans for Radio City Revels were eventually dropped, and Brock went on to produce another film, Down to Their Last Yacht, which had been considered briefly as a replacement for Radio City Revels. (In 1938, RKO made a film called Radio City Revels, but that film had no connection to the Astaire-Rogers project.) After Berman chose to produce The Gay Divorce himself, he asked Cole Porter to write new songs for the film but was turned down. Berman hired Mark Sandrich and then assigned Zion Myers, Sandrich's cousin, to supervise the production. Before Flying Down to Rio had established itself as a hit, RKO considered hiring Claire Luce, Astaire's stage co-star, to appear as "Mimi" in the film. When Astaire balked at the idea of casting Rogers, who he felt would not be right playing the refined English woman of the stage show, Berman supposedly offered him ten percent of the film's profits as incentive to concede. The studio originally wanted Helen Broderick to play "Hortense," but the actress was unavailable for the part.
According to Astaire's autobiography, the cast "rehearsed for about six weeks on the dance routines, those tricky ones like 'Night and Day' and the table dance I brought from the stage show." (Astaire at one point wanted to drop the "Night and Day" number from the film because he felt the song had been overexposed.) Choreographer Hermes Pan acted as a liaison between Astaire, who was adapting his stage choreography, and credited choreographer Dave Gould. While Pan planned the majority of the group choreography for the film, Gould worked on the cinematic aspects of the dancing, planning camera angles and creating the look of the choreography. As part of the film's promotion, RKO organized "Continental" demonstrations and parties and encouraged dancing instructors and ballrooms to teach and highlight the dance. Although the film was a success, "The Continental" failed to catch on as a popular dance. However, Polglase and Clark's set design in the "Continental" sequence reportedly caused an increase in the sales of venetian blinds.
Modern sources credit Ben Holmes as dialogue director, Hal Borne as Astaire's rehearsal pianist, Mel Berns as makeup artist and Elizabeth McGaffey as researcher. In addition, modern sources credit actors George Davis and Alphonse Martel as French waiters. For more information about the Astaire-Rogers RKO films, see entry for Top Hat.