AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Man Who Came to Dinner
Director: William Keighley (Dir)
Release Date:   24 Jan 1942
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 1 Jan 1942
Production Date:   21 Jul--18 Oct 1941
Duration (in mins):   112, 115 or 118
Duration (in feet):   10,121
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Cast:   Bette Davis (Maggie Cutler)  
    Ann Sheridan (Lorraine Sheldon)  
    Monty Woolley (Sheridan Whiteside)  
    Richard Travis (Bert Jefferson)  
    Jimmy Durante (Banjo)  
    Billie Burke (Mrs. Ernest Stanley [Daisy])  
    Reginald Gardiner (Beverly Carlton)  
    Elisabeth Fraser (June Stanley)  
    Grant Mitchell (Mr. Ernest Stanley)  
    George Barbier (Dr. Bradley)  
    Mary Wickes (Miss Preen)  
    Russell Arms (Richard Stanley)  
    Ruth Vivian (Harriet [Stanley])  
    Edwin Stanley (John)  
    Betty Roadman (Sarah)  
    Charles Drake (Sandy)  
    Nanette Vallon (Cosette)  
    John Ridgely (Radio man)  
    Pat McVeigh (Harry)  
    Frank Coghlan Jr. (Telegraph boy)  
    Roland Drew (Newspaper man)  
    Sam Hayes (Announcer)  
    Eddy Chandler (Guard)  
    Frank Moran (Michaelson)  
    Ernie Adams (Haggerty)  
    Hank Mann (Expressman)  
    Cliff Saum (Expressman)  
    Billy Wayne (Vendor)  
    Dudley Dickerson (Porter)  
    Ralph Peters (Taxi driver)  
    Herbert Gunn (Radio man)  
    Creighton Hale (Radio man)  
    Jack Mower (Plainclothesman)  
    Frank Mayo (Plainclothesman)  
    Leah Baird    
    Frank Kelsey    
    Vera Lewis    
    Lottie Williams    
    Gertrude Carr    
    Inez Gay    
    Georgia Carroll    
    Lorraine Gettman    
    Peggy Diggins    
    Alice Talton    

Summary: Popular radio broadcaster Sheridan Whiteside arrives in Mesalia, Ohio, where he is to give a lecture. Against his will, he must first dine at the home of Ernest and Daisy Stanley, but climbing the snowy steps to the house, Sherry falls and hurts his hip. The Stanleys' staff is overwhelmed by the get-well presents and phone calls that the bedridden Sherry receives, and Sherry runs the household ragged with his demands. When Sherry finally emerges from his sick bed in a wheel chair, it is to announce that he plans to sue the Stanleys for $150,000. He then commandeers the downstairs rooms, the telephone, and the cook and butler for himself and his secretary, Maggie Cutler. Bert Jefferson, the handsome young owner of the local paper, asks the broadcaster for an interview, and Sherry instructs Maggie to turn him away. Bert charms Sherry, however, and is invited to lunch along with five convicts from Sherry's fan club at the state penitentiary. While Sherry rules the downstairs, the Stanleys and their two children, Richard and June, are confined to the upstairs. Although Ernest demands that Sherry leave their home immediately, Sherry counters that he will sue for an even larger sum if he has to leave. Meanwhile, Maggie and Bert go skating together, and Bert reads her a play that he has written. Maggie thinks it is so good that she gives it to Sherry, hoping he will send it to his friend, actress Katherine Cornell. When Sherry learns that Maggie has fallen in love with Bert and intends to marry him, he determines to break up the affair and keep his secretary. He telephones his friend, Lorraine Shelton, a glamorous actress, and suggests that she could have the lead role in Bert's play if she came to town right away. Sherry then learns that his hip was never injured, but that the doctor had looked at the wrong x-rays. Sherry, however, is determined to stay in town long enough to prevent Maggie from marrying Bert. He also suggests that June and Richard leave home so that June can marry Sandy, a union organizer who is working at her father's ball bearing plant, and Richard can pursue his interest in photography. On Christmas Eve, Bert gives Maggie a charm bracelet and Ernest's strange sister Harriet gives Sherry a picture of herself as a young woman. After Lorraine arrives in town, dressed in furs and jewels, Sherry warns her not to mention the play in front of Maggie and urges her to use her charms on Bert. Lorraine immediately goes to work on Bert, but Maggie quickly understands Sherry's intentions. She thinks her problem is solved when writer Beverly Carlton arrives and does a devastating imitation of Lorraine's latest millionaire lover, Lord Bottomley. At Maggie's request, Beverly telephones from the train station, pretending to be Lord Bottomley, and asks Lorraine to marry him. At first Sherry is furious that his plans are failing, but when Bert innocently mentions seeing Beverly phoning from the station, Sherry reveals the trick to Lorraine, who then doubles her attentions to Bert. On Christmas morning, after Maggie quits her job, a drunken Bert tells her he is going away with Lorraine to work on his play. Then a penguin that was sent as a gift to Sherry bites his nurse, Miss Preen, and she quits, and Ernest finds his runaway children and hires a couple of sheriffs to evict Sherry. In the midst of this chaos, Sherry's friend Banjo arrives from Hollywood, and a contrite Sherry, realizing that Maggie really loves Bert, begs him to get rid of Lorraine. The two men maneuver Lorraine into a mummy case, and Sherry, having recognized Harriet as an ax murderer, blackmails Ernest into taking the case to the airport. With Maggie's happiness now assured, Sherry warns Ernest that his children should be allowed to follow their own paths, "Or else." To everyone's great relief, Sherry is on his way out, but then he falls down the slippery steps and is carried back into the Stanley house to begin his reign of terror all over again. 

Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.  
Brand Name: A Warner Bros.--First National Picture
Distribution Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.  
Director: William Keighley (Dir)
  Dick Mayberry (Asst dir)
Producer: Sam H. Harris (Prod)
  Hal B. Wallis (Exec prod)
  Jack Saper (Assoc prod)
  Jerry Wald (Assoc prod)
Writer: Julius J. Epstein (Scr)
  Philip G. Epstein (Scr)
Photography: Tony Gaudio (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Robert Haas (Art dir)
Film Editor: Jack Killifer (Film ed)
Costumes: Orry-Kelly (Gowns)
Music: Leo F. Forbstein (Mus dir)
  Frederick Hollander (Mus)
Sound: Charles Lang (Sd)
Make Up: Perc Westmore (Makeup artist)
Country: United States

Songs: "Did You Ever Have the Feeling That You Wanted to Go?" by Jimmy Durante.
Composer: Jimmy Durante
Source Text: Based on the play The Man Who Came to Dinner by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart (New York, 16 Oct 1939).
Authors: Moss Hart
  George S. Kaufman

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc. 24/1/1942 dd/mm/yyyy LP11031

PCA NO: 7628
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: RCA Sound System

 
Genre: Comedy
 
Subjects (Major): Accidents
  Celebrities
  Egotists
  Houseguests
  Radio performers
  Secretaries
 
Subjects (Minor): Actors and actresses
  Blackmail
  Butlers
  Christmas
  Cooks
  Family relationships
  Murder
  Nurses
  Ohio
  Penguins
  Photographers
  Physicians
  Playwrights
  Practical jokes
  Reporters
  Romance

Note: Many contemporary and modern sources have noted that the character of "Sheridan Whiteside" was based on writer Alexander Woollcott, who became famous in the 1930s for his sentimental radio broadcasts. "Banjo" was based on actor Harpo Marx, "Beverly" on playwright Noël Coward, and "Lorraine" on Broadway actress Gertrude Lawrence. On 4 Jan 1940, LAT reported that Moss Hart, George S. Kaufman and Sam H. Harris proposed to do their own film of The Man Who Came to Dinner and planned to release it through RKO. According to an 11 Apr 1940 LAEx news item, Warner Bros. offered Kaufman and Hart a percentage of the film's profits and a small guarantee instead of the $300,000 they had originally wanted for their play.
       A memo in the Warner Bros. Collection at the USC Cinema-Television Library notes that Howard Hawks at one time expressed interest in directing this film. Hawks wanted Cary Grant to play the lead. A news item in HR reports that Grant was prepared to donate his salary to the British relief fund. Papers in the Warner Bros. Collection add the following information: Mary Astor was tested for the role of "Lorraine" and Dorothy MacKaill asked to test for the same role. Danny Kaye tested for the role of "Banjo," Ronald Reagan was a possibility for the role of "Burt Jefferson," and producer Hal Wallis was interested in either Jean Arthur and Myrna Loy for the role of "Maggie Cutler," which was played by Bette Davis. Mary Wickes, who also played "Miss Preen" in the Broadway production of the play, made her motion picture debut in this film.
       Many actors were considered for the part of "Sheridan Whiteside." News items in HR mention Fredric March, Charles Laughton, Robert Benchley and John Barrymore as possibilities. Correspondence in the Warner Bros. Collection reveals that Charles Coburn was also considered for the role but refused to make a screen test. According to modern sources, Bette Davis asked the studio to purchase the Kaufman-Hart play as a vehicle for herself and Barrymore. Barrymore had trouble remembering his lines, however, so former Yale drama professor Monty Woolley, who created the character on Broadway, was finally cast in the film. According to the daily production reports, filming was shut down between 18 Sep and 10 Oct 1942 because of an injury to Davis' nose. When shooting ended on 18 Oct 1941 the film was sixteen days behind schedule. The film marked the motion picture debuts of actress Mary Wickes and actor/singer Russell Arms. At one time, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were to star in a version of the play. The Kaufman-Hart play was produced twice for television. Monty Woolley again played the lead in a one-hour production in 1954, and the 1972 "The Hallmark Hall of Fame" production starred Orson Welles and Lee Remick. In 1958, television rights to the play were purchased as a possible vehicle for Clifton Webb, but that version was never produced. Webb starred with Lucille Ball in a 27 Mar 1950 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast of the story. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   27 Dec 1941.   
Daily Variety   14 Oct 1958.   
Film Daily   24 Dec 41   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Apr 1940.   
Hollywood Reporter   10 Feb 41   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   18 Mar 41   p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter   28 Mar 41   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   21 Apr 41   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   28 Apr 41   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   7 May 41   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Dec 41   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   9 Sep 1966.   
Los Angeles Examiner   11 Apr 1940.   
Los Angeles Examiner   14 Oct 1958.   
Los Angeles Times   1 Apr 1940.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   27 Dec 41   p. 429.
New York Times   2 Jan 42   p. 25.
Variety   7 Jun 42   p. 44.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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