The Mighty Barnum


1h 25m 1934

Film Details

Also Known As
Barnum, P. T. Barnum, The Great Barnum
Release Date
Dec 25, 1934
Premiere Information
New York opening: 22 Dec 1934
Production Company
20th Century Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 25m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7,871ft (10 reels)

Synopsis

In 1935, scenes of Barnum and Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth are presented. One hundred years earlier in New York City, P. T. Barnum, the proprietor of a general store, upsets his wife Nancy by continually buying freaks of nature, such as a stuffed two-headed calf and a three-headed frog. Barnum further irritates his wife by keeping in their house the alcoholic Mr. Walsh, an "educated" man whom Barnum hopes will help him open a museum of freaks once he has given up drinking. When the Barnums' niece Ellie tells Mr. Walsh that she loves him, he promises that he will not fall in love with anyone else until she comes of age. Having had enough of her husband's obsession, which has left them in debt, Nancy gives him money sent from her father to buy railroad tickets for them to return to Connecticut. Barnum, however, sees Mr. Walsh order buttermilk in a saloon and decides that it is time to go into business. He uses $200 of his wife's money to rent a livery stable in which to exhibit his collection and the remaining $50 to pay promoter J. P. Skiff for the right to exhibit Joice Heth, supposedly a 160-year-old woman who was the nurse to George Washington. Barnum's museum is an instant success. When Skiff informs Barnum that Heth is a fake and demands $1,000 to keep quiet, Barnum throws him out. Although Skiff goes to the newspapers, who expose the fraud, Barnum's next acquisition, Madame Zorro, the original Bearded Lady, revives public interest. Editor Horace Greeley calls Madame Zorro another hoax and publicly wagers Barnum $5,000, which the winner is to donate to charity, that she is no woman. Skiff then succeeds in bribing Madame Zorro with $1,000, and she allows him to replace her with a man with hair on his chest. This sight shocks the ladies from the cream of New York society, who examine "her." The public riots and the museum is destroyed. As Nancy packs, Walsh is again drunk and Ellie cries. A midget then arrives named Tom Thumb, who needs a job so that he can marry his sweetheart Lavinia, who is smaller than him. They become the basis of Barnum's revival, and he rises to international fame as he tours Europe, where he is received by Queen Victoria. Back in America, Barnum is disappointed when Walsh returns from Europe having failed to procure Jumbo, the world's largest elephant. Instead he has brought soprano Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale. When Barnum hears her sing and sees the crowd go wild, he sees that Jenny is even more valuable than Jumbo. As Barnum falls in love with Jenny, his ego grows, and as an "impresario," he neglects his museum and wife and snubs his friends, the "freaks" in the museum. At a banquet for Jenny, with the Swedish consul, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and the mayor as guests, Barnum insults the Swedish consul by interrupting the Swedish National Anthem, and when Barnum innocently toasts Jenny with a vulgar Swedish phrase, everyone leaves in a huff. The next day, after Jenny leaves with Walsh, whom Barnum fights, Barnum learns that Nancy has left him. Barnum goes bankrupt, and sometime later, as he sits on a bench near his old museum, Tom Thumb walks by. Tom invites Barnum to dinner, where the other freaks, including Madame Zorro, agree to work for him for nothing. At the new opening, Nancy returns. Skiff, who had wanted the freaks for his own show, starts a fire. Barnum rescues Walsh, who upon arriving, hid himself in a mummy's case to surprise Barnum. Although the museum burns down, Walsh has brought back Jumbo as a gift from an apologetic Jenny. He says that he never loved her and tells Ellie, who has come of age, that nothing can keep him away now. As Barnum and Walsh lead Jumbo in a parade, they decide to go into partnership and create a traveling circus. Not happy with the sound of "Barnum and Walsh," Barnum, upon learning that Walsh's first name is Bailey, christens their endeavor "Barnum and Bailey, the Greatest Show on Earth."

Cast

Wallace Beery

Phineas T. Barnum

Adolphe Menjou

Mr. [Bailey] Walsh

Virginia Bruce

Jenny Lind

Rochelle Hudson

Ellen

Janet Beecher

Nancy Barnum

Tammany Young

Todd

Herman Bing

Farmer Schultz

Lucille La Verne

Joice Heth

George Brasno

General Tom Thumb

Olive Brasno

Lavinia Thumb

Richard Brasno

Gilbert

May Boley

Bearded lady

John Hyams

[J. P.] Skiff

R. E. "tex" Madsen

Cardiff Giant

Ian Wolfe

Swedish consul

Davison Clark

Horace Greeley

George Macquarrie

Daniel Webster

Charles Judels

Maitre d'hotel

Christian Rub

Ole

Frances White

Jenny Lind--Singing double

Franklyn Ardell

Sam

Ethel Wales

Mrs. Wendell-Wendell

Theresa Maxwell Conover

Mrs. Waldo Astor

Brenda Fowler

Mrs. Rhinelander-Fish

Greta Meyer

Jenny Lind's maid

Frank Mcglynn Sr.

Barnum's butler

Pat Flaherty

"Mike"

Snooky, A Chimpanzee

Sam Adams

First collector

Sam Godfrey

Second collector

Milton Wallace

Third collector

Maurice Black

Imposter

Captain E. H. Calvert

House detective

Bert Lindley

Mayor of New York

Emilie Cabanne

Mrs. Astor

Wilbur Higby

Mr. Astor

Robert Dunbar

Mr. Vanderbilt

Frederick Vroom

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Frank Morgan

"Joe"

Robert Perry

First drayman

Harry Strang

Second drayman

Ethan Laidlaw

First henchman

Mike Seibert

Second henchman

Alexander Schonberg

Musician on boat

Phon Levy

Musician on boat

Theodore Lorch

Bartender

Frank Hagney

First teamster

J. Merrill Holmes

Second teamster

Grace Goodall

Wife at table

Murdock Macquarrie

Husband at table

Douglas Greer

Boy fighting

Dorian Johnston

Boy fighting

Paul Panzer

Barber

Lou Archer

Customer

Cullen Johnston

Boy at museum door

Frank O'connor

Big bruiser

Jeanne Hart

Tough broad

Harry Wardell

Publicity man

Philo Mccullough

Publicity man

Billy Arnold

Publicity man

John Lester Johnson

Black attendant

Cornelius Ballard

Barnum's driver

Billy Mcclain

Barnum's footman

Robert Anderson

Hotel porter

Charles West

Hotel porter

Lester Dorr

Hotel bellhop

Dick La Marr

Hotel bellhop

Matty Roubert

Hotel bellhop

Ted Mangean

Hotel bellhop

Jane Hamilton

Mermaid

Jolly Ethel

Fat woman

Sid Marion

Sword swallower

Bert Wilson

Tattooed man

Harry Bowen

Spieler

Claude Bayton

Spieler

Tom Cherley

Siamese twin

John Cherley

Siamese twin

Ada Mae Moore

Snake charmer

Otto Frisco

Fire eater

Bhogwan Singh

Hindu fakir

Suzanne Leach

Old dowager

Herta Lind

Swede servant girl

Hal Price

Banker in montage

Lon Poff

Grocer in montage

Bert Sprotte

Butcher in montage

Floyd Shackelford

Black man in montage

Gus Leonard

Scissors grinder

Martin Zahn

Gambler in montage

Johnny Coonan

Young boy in montage

Bella Peterson

Young girl in montage

Kit Guard

Tough sailor

Margaret Daggett

Tart in montage

Frances Raymond

Matron in montage

Nadine Beresford

Cockney scrub woman

Lillian Adamson

Schoolteacher type

Cecil Chavers

Black boy in montage

Dorothy Vernon

Woman at dock

Ida Darling

Woman at dock

Merle Farris

Person at dock

Henry Herbert

Man at dock

Sidney Jarvis

Man at dock

Clinton Lyle

Man at dock

Sam Appel

Man at dock

Allen Caven

Man at dock

James Cooley

Man at dock

Jim Dundee

Man in museum

Leon Beaumont

Man in museum

Frank Mills

Man in museum

Frank Mayo

Man in museum

Billy West

Man in museum

Jack Stoney

Man in museum

Mark Strong

Man in museum

Frank O'connor

Man in museum

Jack Curtis

Man in museum

Pat Hartigan

Man in museum

Richard Kipling

Man in museum

Harry Semels

Man in museum

Eddie Hart

Man in museum

Max Wagner

Man in museum

Martin Turner

Cannibal man

Maude Ogle

Woman in museum

Gertrude Astor

Woman in museum

Alice Lake

Woman in museum

Naomi Childers

Woman in museum

Donald Meek

Howard Hickman

Film Details

Also Known As
Barnum, P. T. Barnum, The Great Barnum
Release Date
Dec 25, 1934
Premiere Information
New York opening: 22 Dec 1934
Production Company
20th Century Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 25m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7,871ft (10 reels)

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The working titles of this film were Barnum, P. T. Barnum and The Great Barnum. The Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Theater Arts Library contains a full treatment by John Huston, dated August 9, 1933. In his autobiography, Huston states that after his contract with Universal expired, Darryl Zanuck, 20th Century Pictures' Vice-President in charge of production, gave him two volumes of a current biography of Barnum to read and hired him to write a script based on Barnum's life. Huston writes that he saw in Barnum's "wild energy, boundless vulgarity and casual assumption that he was the shrewdest man alive, an exemplification of the nineteenth-century American dream of conquest and Manifest Destiny." Zanuck, according to Huston, did not care for his approach to the subject, and "wanted to make changes that were out of keeping with my original idea." Huston then suggested that it would be better to start with another script, and Zanuck took him off the project. Huston considered his script to be far better than the one used for the film. Although Huston states that apparently his script no longer exists, the Produced Scripts Collection contains a 115-page treatment by Huston. In addition, the Collection contains a synopsis by Huston dated October 17, 1933, which followed a conference with Zanuck. The synopsis contains many sequences that are in the final film.
       Zanuck subsequently put Associate Producer Raymond Griffith to work on the screenplay, and in a document dated February 7, 1934, following a treatment by Griffith, Zanuck states his intentions concerning the proposed film's style: "First, last and always our Barnum should be a comedy, a boisterous, loud-mouthed comedy with a tear. It should be the kind of a picture The Bowery was, full of laughs, full of punch and excitement, yet having a couple of sentimental, pathetic notes. It should not be the kind of picture Silver Dollar was. Silver Dollar made the artistic and box office mistake of taking itself too seriously. It was the Great Drama, the great baloney picture of the rise of a great American character. Audiences don't want to see history or costumes or learn anything about great men unless they can laugh while they are learning....[Barnum] is not a historical, stretched out, ponderous narrative like Silver Dollar that tried to take itself so seriously that audiences think they are being lectured to instead of being hysterically entertained. Do not worry about historical facts or times or dates or truth. We should write a picture for fiction and entertainment...." [The Bowery, 20th Century Pictures' first production, told the fictionalized story of legendary New York characters at the turn of the century, while Silver Dollar (see below), a 1932 First National production, made while Zanuck was production chief at that studio, was based on the life of Colorado silver magnate Horace A. W. Tabor.]
       Zanuck subsequently assigned Gene Fowler to write a treatment and then a continuity before appointing Bess Meredyth to collaborate with Fowler on the screenplay. In a modern source, Fowler states that he learned more about screenwriting from Meredyth than from anyone else in the studios. Fowler and Meredyth's screenplay was published in book form in 1934. New York Times commented that the film "is almost sober by comparison with the published edition of the Fowler-Meredyth screen play, with its hilarious marginalia." The pressbook in the copyright descriptions states that the screenplay was the first to be published in book form for the general public.
       Virginia Bruce's songs were dubbed by Frances White. New York Times commented, "The dubbing process by which Miss Bruce appears to be singing a lyric soprano is the most convincing that this reporter has ever seen." According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, Edna May Oliver declined Zanuck's offer of the role of "Mrs. Barnum" because she would have had to play alternate days with her role in M-G-M's David Copperfield. According to the pressbook, R. E. "Tex" Madsen, who played the Cardiff Giant, was eight-feet four-inches tall, and George and Olive Brasno, who played Tom and Lavinia Thumb, were brother and sister. The running time in Motion Picture Herald for the preview in Hollywood was 105 minutes. Subsequent listings for running times vary considerably.