Cast & Crew
While Julia Cavendish is starring in Romeo and Juliet on Broadway, a rumor arises that she is retiring from the stage. Although Julia is set to star in a new play with her mother Fanny, the grand dame of the New York stage, and her daughter Gwen, who will make her stage debut, Julia yearns for love. Meanwhile, Julia's brother Tony, who has compromised the Cavendish name and "gone Hollywood," arrives home incognito to avoid the police, who are after him for injuring a movie director during a skirmish on the set. Also in pursuit of Tony is a temperamental actress who is suing him for half a million dollars for breach of promise. Tony's dramatic entrance puts the house in chaos, which increases Julia's yen for the quiet life. When Gilmore Marshall, a platinum magnate and old admirer of Julia, arrives in New York, she decides to quit the stage and settle down. That afternoon, however, the Cavendish manager, Oscar Wolfe, has scheduled a reading with a playwright, and Julia is forced to cancel her date with Gil. Gwen has a date with her stockbroker boyfriend, Perry Stewart, and when they quarrel over their different lifestyles, she refuses to attend the reading. Fanny then advises Gwen that marriage isn't a career and tells her daughter and granddaughter that their succeeding her in the theater is all that has kept her alive. After Fanny collapses in grief, Gwen blames herself. Tony, meanwhile, is trying to find a way out of the country and is given a passport by Gil. Dressed as a bellhop, Tony escapes a throng of fans outside the house. When Perry then enters, Julia tells her daughter to marry him, vowing herself to live from now on. By the next season, Gwen has forfeited her stage debut to become Mrs. Perry Stewart and Julia has quit the stage to marry Gil. Fanny, however, is starring in The Merry Wives of Windsor against her doctor's orders. Oscar warns Julia that she will be miserable without her life in the theater. That same evening, when eight o'clock rolls around and she doesn't have to be at the theater, Julia is melancholy. When Gil then tells her about the "vast solitude" of the South American plains, where he is planning to live, she begins to re-think her plans. Gwen then enters with Perry and announces that she will be doing Oscar's play while Perry is on a business trip. Tony arrives, this time in flight from the Princess of Albania, and begins to describe a play he recently bought. While Gil and Perry talk dryly about business, the Cavendishes revel in theater chat with Oscar. They then receive word that Fanny has collapsed between acts. All rush to the theater, where Fanny, determined to finish the play, dies backstage. Julia says goodbye to Gil forever and readies herself to finish the play for her mother.
Royal C. Stout
George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber's play, which ran forty-three weeks on Broadway, openly satirized the Barrymore family. This film was called The Royal Family in New York, but was titled The Royal Family of Broadway outside of New York, as Variety states, in order to "preclude the possibility of anyone guessing it's a costume picture." This film marks the first time Fredric March's name was placed above the title. In the film, March, who played the role of Tony on the stage when a road company brought The Royal Family to Los Angeles, does an overt imitation of John Barrymore. The New York Times reviewer remarked that in this early "talkie" the "voices are admirably recorded, so well that one can't help thinking now and again of the vast progress made in the technical end of this relatively new form of entertainment."
Ferber, as quoted in a modern source, states, "George Kaufman and I had decided to write a play about a glamorous theatrical family-no particular theatrical family, I hastily add-but an imaginary one that might be any family wedded to the stage." According to a modern source, when Ferber submitted the script of The Royal Family to Ethel Barrymore with the intention of casting her as Julie Cavendish, Ethel, who saw the role as an insulting caricature of herself, was outraged and reportedly said: "The legend has it that we artists are wild, careless, tousled and immoral....We live en famille and such a famille! An organization of idiots, chaotic, arty, self-conscious, thinking theater, breathing theater, smelling theater. To those half-baked intelligences a theatrical family is only a theatrical family, not an association of normal, healthy human beings." Ferber and Kaufman responded with a disclaimer, denying any intent to parody, and, according to another modern source, it was never publicly stated that the Cavendishes of the play were based on the Drews and Barrymores. Following the altercation with Ethel, Ferber had difficulty finding an actor to play the role of Julie. When approached, Ina Claire, in Ferber's words (as quoted in a modern source), announced that she "wasn't going to be a walking ad for the Barrymores." Although Ethel reportedly consulted famed trial lawyer Max Steuer about suing the playwrights, after attending the play, Steuer concluded that Ethel had no case. Ferber admitted to drawing upon certain aspects of John Barrymore for the character of Tony, bt added, "not as a whole...he was, of course, too improbable to copy from life." When John saw March's performance on the stage in Los Angeles, he reportedly told March, with a roar of laughter, "Christ, you were great!," and later encouraged March to impersonate him in the film. March was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance.