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Call Me Madam
Alternate Title: Irving Berlin's Call Me Madam
Director: Walter Lang (Dir)
Release Date:   Apr 1953
Premiere Information:   World premiere in Los Angeles: 4 Mar 1953; New York opening: 25 Mar 1953
Production Date:   4 Sep--30 Oct 1952; 19 Nov--late Nov 1952
Duration (in mins):   114-115 or 118
Duration (in feet):   10,625
Duration (in reels):   12
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Cast:   Ethel Merman (Sally Adams)  
    Donald O'Connor (Kenneth Gibson)  
    Vera-Ellen (Princess Maria)  
    George Sanders (Gen. Cosmo Constantine)  
    Billy De Wolfe (Pemberton Maxwell)  
    Helmut Dantine (Prince Hugo)  
    Walter Slezak (August Tantinnin)  
    Stevan Geray (Prime Minister Sebastian)  
    Ludwig Stossel (Grand Duke Otto)  
    Lilia Skala (Grand Duchess Sophie)  
    Charles Dingle (Senator Brockway)  
    Emory Parnell (Senator Gallagher)  
    Percy Helton (Senator Wilkins)  
    Leon Belasco (Leader)  
    Oscar Beregi (Chamberlain)  
    Nestor Paiva (Miccoli)  
    Sidney Marion (Proprietor)  
    Richard Garrick (Supreme Court justice)  
    Walter Woolf King (Secretary of State)  
    Olan Soule (Clerk)  
    John Wengraf (Ronchin)  
    Fritz Feld (Hat clerk)  
    Erno Verebes (Music clerk)  
    Hannelore Axman (Switchboard operator)  
    Lal Chand Mehra (Minister from Magrador)  
    Charles Legneur (Cabinet minister)  
    George Nardelli (Cabinet minister)  
    Julio Bonini (Cabinet minister)  
    Betty Allan (Singing telephone operator)  
    Imogene Lynn (Singing telephone operator)  
    Betty Stevens (Singing telephone operator)  
    Charles Conrad (Reporter)  
    Rennie McEvoy (Reporter)  
    Don Dillaway (Reporter)  
    Frank Gerstle (Reporter)  
    Allen Wood (Cameraman)  
    Johnny Downs (Cameraman)  
    Gene Roth (Equerry)  
    William Yetter (Equerry)  
    Arno Frey (Butler)  
    Mack Williams (Butler)  
    Everett Glass (Butler)  
    Eddie Firestone (Newsreel man)  
    Charles Tannen (Newsreel man)  
    Leon Alton    
    Stuart Holmes    
    George Calliga    

Summary: In 1951, Sally Adams, a wealthy Oklahoma widow who has become Washington D.C.'s premiere hostess, is sworn in as the U.S. Ambassador to the Grand Duchy of Lichtenburg. Although the boisterous Sally has no idea where Lichtenburg is, she is thrilled by her appointment and throws a farewell party for herself that evening. At the party, reporter Kenneth Gibson, who had interviewed Sally that afternoon, asks her to hire him as her press attaché and assures her that he is very knowledgeable about European politics. Sally demurs, but when Kenneth helps her with a speech she must give for a newsreel, she changes her mind and sends him ahead to Lichtenburg. At the U.S. embassy in the quaint and lovely country of Lichtenburg, Kenneth attempts to calm Pemberton Maxwell, the embassy's snobbish charge d'affaires, who assumes that he will be able to intimidate a female ambassador. Upon meeting her, Maxwell is outraged by Sally's insistence that he call her "Madam" and her determination to run things as she sees fit. Meanwhile, at the palace, Grand Duke Otto and Grand Duchess Sophie are negotiating the marriage of their niece, Princess Maria, to Middledorf's pompous Prince Hugo. The arranged marriage will be politically advantageous for both countries, although the Middledorf officials are concerned that impoverished Lichtenburg will not be able to raise the promised dowry. Prime Minister Sebastian and August Tantinnin, the minister of finance, are certain that the inexperienced Sally will agree to a large American loan, although when they approach her, Sally, who has already been apprised of the situation, turns them down. Sally's attitude changes, however, when she meets the handsome, charming foreign minister, Gen. Cosmo Constantine. Sally offers Cosmo as much money as he wants, but he insists that Lichtenburg needs to solve its problems without foreign aid. After Cosmo departs, Kenneth also leaves and goes to a department store to buy a hat for that evening's ball at the palace. At the store, Kenneth is mistaken for a salesclerk by a lovely young woman, who turns out to be Maria. Kenneth and Maria are immediately attracted to each other, although Maria cautions him that she cannot talk to him until they have been formally introduced. At the ball, Maxwell's worst fears are realized when Sally falls while curtseying and makes a faux pas , calling the people of Lichtenburg Dutch because their country is a duchy, but her natural appeal shines through and she wins over the duke and duchess. Sally also insures that Kenneth is introduced to Maria, and while the young couple waltz, she dances with Cosmo. Kenneth is dismayed, however, when Maria runs off after sharing a passionate kiss with him. Sally's happiness is tempered by Maxwell's insinuation that Cosmo is romancing her only to obtain the loan, which he wants despite his protests. Sally and Kenneth attempt to comfort each other but spend a miserable week until the annual fair opens. Cosmo is baffled by Sally's coldness to him, but she soon finds herself unable to resist him. Kenneth finds Maria and confesses his deep feelings for her, but after she brushes him off to defuse a potential fight between him and Hugo, Kenneth gets wildly drunk at a beer garden. Kenneth is arrested for disorderly conduct, and the next morning, Maxwell attempts to get him fired. Sally destroys Maxwell's report but warns Kenneth to be more discreet. She then receives a call from Maria, who wants to meet Kenneth in the underground passageway linking the embassy and the palace. There, the princess admits that she returns his feelings and assures him that she will not be marrying Hugo, because without the American loan, there will be no dowry. Soon after, Sally dines with Cosmo and falls so deeply in love with him that she asks her good friend, President Harry Truman, if the United States can spare $100 million. Later, senators Brockway, Gallagher and Wilkins form an investigatory committee and come to Lichtenburg, where Maxwell is dismayed to learn that they are investigating the feasibility of a loan to the small country, not Sally's management. Sally throws a lavish party that evening and introduces the senators to Cosmo, who was prime minister by the Lichtenburg cabinet members after they discovered that the senators will deal only with him. Cosmo emphatically tells the senators that he does not want foreign aid, and they are so impressed with his statesmanship that they offer him $200 million. Horrified, Cosmo storms out, pausing only to tell Sally that she has destroyed his life's work. Crushed, Sally commiserates with Kenneth, who has been told by Maria that they must end their relationship because she will now have to marry Hugo. Their misery is completed when Truman orders Sally home, for Sebastian has complained that she was interfering with Maria's engagement to Hugo. Back in Washington, Sally hosts a welcome home party for herself, at which the senators congratulate her on saving the country $200 million, as Cosmo convinced the parliament to refuse the loan. Kenneth then informs Sally that Cosmo, who has been named Lichtenburg's ambassador to the United States, was seen traveling with a female companion. Sally puts on a brave face when Cosmo arrives and is delighted to learn that his companion, Miss Hammenschlaffen, is Maria. Sally sends Maria out to the balcony to greet Kenneth, and the excited former princess tells him that she has refused the throne in order to marry him. Inside, Cosmo confers the Order of Philip on Sally, which entitles her to be called a Dame. Replying that it is "quite a promotion," Sally happily embraces Cosmo. 

Production Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Distribution Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Director: Walter Lang (Dir)
  Hal Klein (Asst dir)
Producer: Sol C. Siegel (Prod)
Writer: Arthur Sheekman (Scr)
Photography: Leon Shamroy (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler (Art dir)
  John De Cuir (Art dir)
Film Editor: Robert Simpson (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Walter M. Scott (Set dec)
Costumes: J. C. Joseff (Costume jewelry)
  Irene Sharaff (Cost des)
Music: Alfred Newman (Mus dir)
  Ken Darby (Vocal dir)
  Herbert Spencer (Orch)
  Earle Hagen (Orch)
Sound: Bernard Freericks (Sd)
  Roger Heman (Sd)
Special Effects: Ray Kellogg (Spec photog eff)
Dance: Robert Alton (Dances and mus numbers staged by)
Make Up: Ben Nye (Makeup artist)
Production Misc: Jerry Bryan (Dial coach)
Color Personnel: Leonard Doss (Technicolor col consultant)
Country: United States
Language: English

Music:
Songs: "That International Rag," "Hostess with the Mostes' on the Ball," "Something to Dance About," "Can You Use Any Money Today?" "It's a Lovely Day Today," "Marrying for Love," "The Best Thing for You," "You're Just in Love," "(Dance to the Music of) The Ocarina," "Mrs. Sally Adams" and "What Chance Have I with Love," music and lyrics by Irving Berlin.
Composer: Irving Berlin
Source Text: Based on the musical Call Me Madam , book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, produced on the stage by Leland Hayward (New York, 12 Oct 1950).
Authors: Leland Hayward
  Russel Crouse
  Irving Berlin
  Howard Lindsay

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. 5/3/1953 dd/mm/yyyy LP2650

PCA NO: 16117
Physical Properties: Sd: Western Electric Recording
  col: Technicolor

 
Genre: Musical comedy
 
Subjects (Major): Ambassadors
  Americans in foreign countries
  Imaginary lands
  Loans
  Politicians
  Romance
  Women in politics
 
Subjects (Minor): Balls (Parties)
  Beer gardens
  Drunkenness
  Embassies
  Etiquette
  Fairs
  Hangovers
  Marriage--Arranged
  Parties
  Pride and vanity
  Prime ministers
  Reporters
  Royalty
  Secret passageways
  Snobs and snobbishness
  Harry S. Truman
  Washington (D.C.)
  Wealth
  Widows

Note: The opening title cards of this film read: "Twentieth Century-Fox presents Irving Berlin's Call Me Madam ." After the opening credits, a written prologue states: "This story of the past, 1951, takes place in two mythical countries...One is called Lichtenburg, the other the United States of America." In addition to the songs listed above, brief snippets of "Lichtenburg Song" and "Washington Square Dance," written by Berlin, are heard. As noted by contemporary sources, "They Like Ike" was the only song written by Berlin for the long-running Broadway musical Call Me Madam that did not appear in the film version. Instead, Berlin's 1913 hit "That International Rag" was used, because the filmmakers felt "They Like Ike," which eventually became Dwight D. Eisenhower's popular campaign song "I Like Ike," was too political.
       According to a modern source, Ethel Merman, for whom Call Me Madam was written, received ten percent of the profits from the Broadway show and the sale of the film rights. Lilia Skala, who played "Grand Duchess Sophie," was the only other cast member of the Broadway show to reprise her role for the film. As noted by numerous contemporary sources, the musical was inspired by the life and career of Perle Mesta (1889--1975), a wealthy American socialite and renowned party-giver who, in 1949, was appointed by President Harry S. Truman to be the first United States ambassador to Luxembourg.
       HR news items include William Lester and Adele Taylor in the cast, but their appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed. A 1 Aug 1952 HR news item noted that a second unit photographed special background material in Washington, D.C. for the production. Call Me Madam , which marked George Sanders' onscreen singing debut, received an Academy Award nomination for Best Costume Design (Color) and an Academy Award for Best Music (Scoring of a Musical Picture). The picture also marked Merman's first film appearance since the 1943 United Artists release Stage Door Canteen . According to a modern source, Carol Richards dubbed Vera-Ellen's vocals. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   7 Mar 53   p. 20.
Box Office   14 Mar 1953.   
Daily Variety   25 Jul 51   p. 2.
Daily Variety   4 Mar 53   p. 3.
Film Daily   6 Mar 53   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Aug 52   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Aug 52   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   4 Sep 52   p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter   12 Sep 52   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   16 Sep 52   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   17 Sep 52   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   14 Oct 52   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   30 Oct 52   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   14 Nov 52   p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter   19 Nov 52   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   4 Mar 53   pp. 2-3.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Apr 53   p. 1.
Los Angeles Examiner   5 Mar 1953.   
Los Angeles Times   5 Mar 1953.   
Look   5 Mar 1953.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   7 Mar 53   p. 1749.
New York Times   7 Dec 1952.   
New York Times   15 Mar 53   Section VI, p. 40.
New York Times   26 Mar 53   p. 37.
New Yorker   28 Mar 1953.   
Newsweek   30 Mar 1953.   
The Saturday Evening Post   16 Jan 1954.   
Time   23 Mar 1953.   
Variety   4 Mar 53   p. 6.

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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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