Cast & Crew
In the 1830s, in the small Danish town of Odense, cobbler Hans Christian Andersen spends his day spinning fairy tales for the village children, teaching them lessons about pride, humility, love and growing up through his fanciful characters. One day, the stern schoolmaster, who believes Hans is wasting his pupil's precious time, implores the Burgomaster and councilmen to curtail the cobbler's habit of distracting the students with his storytelling, but even the adult citizens easily become a rapt audience for Hans' fables. Hans finally agrees to stop distracting the children and returns to his shop, where his teenage assistant, the orphan Peter, begs him to stop causing trouble. However, later that day Hans is drawn back to the schoolhouse to see the children. As he hears the schoolchildren drone mathematical phrases, he compares an inchworm's myopic measuring of beautiful blossoms to the schoolmaster's blindness to beauty and creativity. On yet another day, when the children do not arrive at the sound of the school bell, the schoolmaster deduces that Hans is again distracting his pupils. When the schoolmaster then demands that the Burgomaster and the councilmen choose between him and the cobbler, they decide that Hans must leave Odense. Peter, who has witnessed the verdict, returns to the shop and secretly tries to save his friend from the shame of being exiled by eagerly suggesting Hans travel to Copenhagen. After much prodding, Peter succeeds in convincing Hans to leave that afternoon by reminding him that he will be the envy of the town for having been the first to visit the famous city. Soon after Hans begins his journey, Peter joins him on the trail, bringing all the shop's tools to start their business anew. After a sea voyage, the pair arrive at the city's harbor and find their way to the Great Square of Copenhagen, which is filled with vendors selling flowers, pots and pans and fresh foods. When Hans sets up shop and introduces himself to the crowd while standing on a statue of the king, police arrest him for defaming the image of their leader. Peter, who has sought refuge from the police by hiding near the back entrance of the Royal Theatre, overhears choreographer Niels demand that a company producer send for a cobbler and asks them to free his friend, a cobbler, from jail. Meanwhile, Hans sees a lonely young girl outside his jail cell window and offers to introduce her to his companion. By drawing on his thumb, Hans creates a puppet he calls "Thumbelina" and brings a smile to the girl's face. Soon after, Hans is bailed out of jail by the theater company and taken to the theater where he becomes entranced by the beauty and talent of a Royal Danish Ballet dress rehearsal. When Niels ridicules lead ballerina Doro's performance, she in turn complains that her shoes need adjusting. Doro gives the slippers to Hans, who is immediately smitten with the ballerina. After Hans leaves, Peter learns that Niels and Doro are a happily married couple, despite their theatrical quarrels. When Hans returns, Niels is equating his wife's performance with an "elephant in the snow drift," prompting Doro to break into tears. After learning that the couple is married, Hans fantasizes that he can save Doro from her horrible fate with "the cruel" Niels. Later, when Peter explains that the couple is actually in love, Hans resists the idea and writes a love letter to Doro in the form of a fable called "The Little Mermaid," in which he tells her that she has chosen the wrong man. That night while Peter surreptitiously reads the letter, a gust of wind whisks it from his hands and carries it into the theater through an open window, where a stage doorman finds it and delivers it to Doro. The next morning, Peter tells Hans that Doro has the letter, but Hans is unconcerned, believing that Doro's possession of the letter is a good omen. The next day, the entire ballet company sets off on their annual tour, leaving Hans bereft, but he soon finds comfort entertaining a new group of children with his stories. One day, Lars, a sad boy with a shaved head, remains behind after the other children tease him. Hans tells him the story of an ugly duckling who is ostracized by his peers until the ice melts at winter's end, and he sees his reflection in the lake and finds he has become a handsome swan. When not with the children, Hans counts the days by making pair after pair of brightly colored satin slippers for his absent ballerina and dreaming of her love. One day, Hans receives an invitation from the Gazette newspaper office, where Lars's father, the publisher, thanks Hans for helping his son overcome his difficulties and offers to publish "The Ugly Duckling" in the newspaper. Overjoyed by the news, Hans asks that his credit be changed from "Hans, the cobbler" to "Hans Christian Andersen" and runs down the street singing his full name with pride. That evening, when the ballet company returns, Doro tells Hans that they have created a ballet based on his story "The Little Mermaid," which Hans believes is a sign of her love for him. The next evening, Peter tells Hans about the councilmen's verdict and warns Hans that Doro will humiliate him as well. Disappointed by his friend's attitude, Hans suggests that they part ways and leaves for the opening of the new ballet. When Hans tries to deliver Doro's slippers backstage, Niels locks the insistent writer in a closet to prevent him from disrupting the performers. While Hans listens to the music and dreams of his story, the performance opens on stage. In the ballet, mermaids float in the ocean, while a ship carrying a handsome prince sinks to the mermaids' garden at the bottom of the sea. The littlest mermaid helps the unconscious man to the surface, saving his life. Having fallen in love with the prince, she seeks the help of the sea witches, who transform the mermaid into a woman, so she might find the prince on land. She arrives at the palace during a masquerade ball and dances with the prince, but his attentions are for another. Heartbroken, the mermaid returns to the sea. The morning after the ballet, Doro sends for Hans and discovers that he is in love with her and has misunderstood her relationship with Niels. Niels inadvertently interrupts their conversation and insults Hans by offering to pay him for "The Little Mermaid." To save face, Hans refuses Niels's offer and claims that his writing was a fluke. Doro knowingly accepts the slippers Hans made for her and graciously allows him to leave. On the road to Odense, Hans meets Peter and renews their friendship. Upon reaching town, Hans is greeted as a celebrity and regales the citizens, including the schoolmaster, with his now famous moral tales.
Best Art Direction
Best Costume Design
Hans Christian Andersen
(Danny Kaye honored in 1981)
Goldwyn began commissioning scripts for the project in 1938, but finally pushed it into production when rival studio Paramount expressed interest in one of the thirty-two versions of the story. Goldwyn set screenwriter Moss Hart on the task of producing a final script (Hart would pen A Star is Born  two years later). After failing to convince the Broadway songwriting team of Rodgers and Hammerstein to write the score, Goldwyn secured Frank Loesser (of Guys and Dolls  fame) to write ten original songs for the film. Hart then wrote the story around the songs, each a musical interpretation of fables such as "The Ugly Duckling" and "The Emperor's New Clothes." The result was a rather disjointed and nonsensical plot, but Goldwyn was so close to the movie that he couldn't see the obvious flaws. In a letter from his secretary to his son, Goldwyn Junior, the enthusiasm was obvious: "Things are getting very exciting around the studio these days. Some of the sets are nearing completion and they are truly magnificent . . . gorgeous costumes are in work - tests are being made - and a million other things seem to be going on at the same time. Mr. Goldwyn is working very hard but is thriving on it. He is in the best of health and seems to enjoy every minute of the day." But all the excitement came with a hefty price tag - the production would ultimately total four million in costs. In all the commotion, Charles Vidor, the director, was getting lost in the shuffle (Vidor was best known for the Rita Hayworth film noir, Gilda ).
Comedian Danny Kaye had collaborated with Goldwyn five times before - most notably in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) - and declared he was "crazy to do the picture," to the tune of $200,000. Farley Granger, one of Goldwyn's last remaining contract players, was unwillingly cast in a supporting role; the handsome young actor was popular in the late 40s and early 50s, but left Hollywood for better opportunities abroad (he appeared in Luchino Visconti's Senso in 1954). He viewed Hans Christian Andersen as a demeaning and ridiculous project, and his objections to Goldwyn would ultimately result in the mutual dissolving of his contract. Goldwyn had wanted the star of the 1948 smash The Red Shoes (another Andersen tale), Moira Shearer, to perform the role of the ballerina but when delays set the production back several months she was no longer available - she was pregnant. Renee (Zizi) Jeanmarie, the prima ballerina for the Ballet de Paris, was cast in the role.
While Jeanmarie and Granger got along well, the actress did not receive such a warm reception from Kaye. Her struggling grasp of English repeatedly frustrated the actor, according to the Kaye biography, Nobody's Fool, by Martin Gottfried. "On several occasions, Danny walked off the set, snapping at Charles Vidor, "Call me when she understands what you're saying." The meek director Vidor would accept that with a shrug." Kaye's bad attitude didn't end there: he ran hot and cold with Granger, friendly one moment then ignoring him in public later. "At one point during the making of the movie," according to Gottfried, "he became so petulant about the costumes that he wailed to Granger, "How come you get to wear all these beautiful clothes and I have to wear rags?" Kaye also demanded Granger's part in a duet with Jeanmarie, resulting in all the songs being sung by Kaye. But Goldwyn gave his star whatever he wanted - he loved the project too much to jeopardize anything. But Goldwyn didn't just have actors to worry about; he had a whole country creating problems for him.
Even before its release, Denmark protested against the film, decrying it as an unfair treatment of their national hero. Goldwyn promptly sent Kaye overseas to effectively allay their concerns. The ploy worked according to the A. Scott Berg book, Goldwyn: A Biography: "Danny Kaye visited Denmark in July 1952. From the airport he went straight to the statue of Andersen in one of Copenhagen’s central parks, to lay flowers. More than fifty policemen were needed to escort him through the throngs who awaited him at the memorial. "I came here to see if you would murder me," he said, only to be assaulted with cheers. He climbed the statue and embraced Andersen, then had to be carried on a policeman's shoulders past the thousands of fans." With the Danish public mollified, the production was cleared for takeoff: upon its release, Hans Christian Andersen earned six million dollars and scored six Oscar® nominations for the score, costumes, art direction, sound, cinematography, and song. Although returning empty-handed from the Academy Awards, Goldwyn was nonetheless delighted with his film's box office success, declaring, "It all proves to me that this business of ours is still a great and healthy one. If you make your pictures for the whole family, the whole family will make a bee-line for the theatre."
Producer: Samuel Goldwyn
Director: Charles Vidor
Screenplay: Moss Hart
Art Direction: Antoni Clave, Richard Day
Cinematography: Harry Stradling, Sr.
Editing: Daniel Mandell
Music: Frank Loesser
Cast: Danny Kaye (Hans Christian Andersen), Farley Granger (Niels), Zizi "Renee" Jeanmaire (Doro), Philip Tonge (Otto), Erik Bruhn (The Hussar), Roland Petit (Prince), John Brown (Schoolmaster).
by Eleanor Quin
Hans Christian Andersen (Danny Kaye honored in 1981)
Did you ever hear the story of the old woman who shook her head at the family so much that one night it fell off? Right on the dinner table.- Hans
You dance the waltz like an elephant in a snowdrift! No, like an elephant that's fallen and trying to get up!- Niels
You know I like to think that shoes have a mind of their own. The ones that squeak don't want to leave the shop, and the ones that don't fit don't like the person that's wearing them.- Hans
The other day I asked my Gertie what time it was and she said that the minute hand and the hour hand weren't speaking to each other. They were both in love with the second hand. And they wouldn't make up until they met at twelve o'clock and no one could tell what time it was until then.- Townsperson
You know, I never saw such a worrier as you, Peter. You want to worry? I'll give you something to worry about. Two years ago I took you out of that orphanage and promised them I'd make you into a good carpenter. Two whole years! Look at that shoe. Glues all smeared the nails go in crooked. Two years an apprentice and still the nails go in crooked.- Hans
I'm not as bad as all that, am I? You're not going to send me back are you?- Peter
Ah! A new worry appears in the sky.- Hans
Moira Shearer was to have played la bella ballerina but had to withdraw when she discovered she was pregnant
The opening and ending cast credits differ slightly in order. The following written prologue opens the film: "Once upon a time there lived in Denmark a great storyteller named Hans Christian Andersen. This is not the story of this life, but a fairy tale about this great spinner of fairy tales."
The real author Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) was born in the Danish town of Odense, near Copenhagen, but he did not work as a cobbler as portrayed in the film. Although he came from a humble background, with help of a friend in Copenhagen's Royal Theatre, Andersen received a formal education and began writing plays. By the 1840s he had written many of the fairy tales for which he later became famous, including some that were dramatized in the film, such as "The Ugly Duckling" and "The Little Mermaid."
Hans Christian Andersen features four dance sequences: "The Ice Skating Ballet," "The Dream Fantasy," "The Wedding Fantasy" and the climax of the film, "The Little Mermaid." The following written prologue introduces this final ballet: "This is the story of the Little Mermaid who fell in love with a Prince and turned to the terrible witches of the sea because they alone possessed that magic thing-a veil which can make a mermaid human." According to the Daily Variety review on the film, choreographer Roland Petit, who dances the character of the "prince" in "The Little Mermaid," used 28 supporting dancers in the ballets. Hans Christian Andersen marked famed ballet master Petit's first American film credit. The music for "The Little Mermaid" is based on works by composer Franz Liszt.
According to the press material found in the AMPAS production file on the film, producer Samuel Goldwyn conceived of the idea for the film in 1936 and over time employed twenty writers on early drafts of the screenplay. A July 9, 1941 Hollywood Reporter article stated that Goldwyn was considering a deal with the Walt Disney Studios to produce the film. By August 1941, Hollywood Reporter reported that the deal was canceled and then reinstated; however, no further information about Disney's involvement has been found. By November 1946, Los Angeles Times reported that Joe Pasternak purchased the film from Goldwyn as a vehicle for Van Johnson, possibly for an M-G-M production; however, no mention of Pasternak or Johnson is found in later production materials on the film. In an March 18, 1953 Variety article, Frances Goldwyn recalled that her husband Samuel Goldwyn had been negotiating with Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II to score the film, but they were later replaced by Frank Loesser. A January 6, 1952 New York Times articles stated that during initial phases of development Don Hartman, Mel Shavelson, Jo Swerling and Samuel Taylor worked on the screenplays and set construction for the film, but the extent of their contribution is not known.
Moss Hart's screenplay, which was completed in 1951, finally met with Goldwyn's approval and the film was slated to roll in January 1952. According to a July 2, 1952 Daily Variety article, Hart asked the Screen Writers Guild to review the onscreen credit proposed by Myles Connolly, who claimed that he was the author of the original story. A July 13, 1952 New York Times article explained that the Screen Writers Guild determined that the onscreen credit should read, "Screenplay by Moss Hart based on a story by Myles Connolly."
A October 26, 1950 Los Angeles Times article stated that Goldwyn was considering Moira Shearer and Margot Fonteyn for the film; however, an March 18, 1953 Variety article stated that Shearer became pregnant. Shearer and Fonteyn were replaced by Parisian-born ballerina Renée Jeanmaire. As noted in the Hollywood Reporter production charts for the film, the ballerina's name was changed for Hans Christian Andersen to the single name Jeanmaire, as seen in the onscreen credits.
As noted in several reviews and the press materials, the film cost over $4,000,000 to produce. An March 18, 1953 Variety article stated that Goldwyn demanded that exhibitors charge higher admission prices for the film. According to a April 21, 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item, the United States Department of Justice requested that RKO furnish information regarding possible "price fixing" on the film. The Anti-Trust Division had received complaints from exhibitors accusing Goldwyn of forcing them to increase admissions to compensate for the film's large production costs. Angry exhibitors complained, but according to the March 1953 Variety article, exhibitor contracts did not have specific clauses regarding admission prices.
Before the film's release in December 1952, March 1952 Los Angeles Times articles stated that the Danish Foreign Office considered making a formal protest against the film due to its inaccurate portrayal of Andersen. Goldwyn then invited representatives from the Danish Foreign Office to view the film. According to a August 5, 1953 Daily Variety article, they dropped their complaint after the film was credited with drawing large tourist crowds to Copenhagen. A January 10, 1953 Daily Variety article stated that the film's release in Denmark was delayed due to a problem in negotiating the percentage of profit Goldwyn and RKO were requesting. Hans Christian Andersen was Goldwyn's last film for RKO. The film was released finally in Copenhagen on September 6, 1953; however, according to a October 3, 1953 Hollywood Citizen-News article, Hans Christian Andersen was not well received in the author's hometown of Odense, Denmark.
The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography (Color), Best Art Direction and Set Decoration (Color), Best Sound Recording, Best Music for the song "Thumbelina," Best Scoring of a Musical Picture and Best Costume Design (Color). The film marked the screen debuts of Jeanmaire, teenage actor Joey Walsh and Roland Petit, who danced in several ballet sequences as well as choreographed the film.
On April 13, 1952, CBS broadcast a fifteen-minute segment on the See It Now television program featuring the production of the "Ice Skating Ballet" sequence from the film. This was the first time a television broadcast featured a "behind the scenes" look at a film production.
Although there have been many film and television versions, as well as musicals and operas of Andersen's famous fairy tales, Hans Christian Andersen appears to be the only American cinematic portrait of the author released as a feature-length film. According to an November 18, 1952 Hollywood Reporter article, Hoffberg Productions was releasing a British-made film by the same name based on Andersen's writings, many of which were autobiographical, which was to have a brief theatrical release and broadcast on television. A Danish production entitled Tales of Hans Christian Andersen was reported to have been released in 1952 and then made into a series of half-hour television films. A November 1, 1999 Variety article notes that Sebastian Barry and Martha Clark were developing a stage musical adaptation of the film utilizing composer Frank Loesser's score; however, as of spring 2003 the production had not been staged.