AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
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Auntie Mame
Director: Morton DaCosta (Dir)
Release Date:   27 Dec 1958
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 4 Dec 1958; Los Angeles opening: 19 Dec 1958
Production Date:   early Apr--mid-Jun 1958
Duration (in mins):   143
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Cast:   Rosalind Russell (Auntie Mame [Dennis])  
    Forrest Tucker (Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside)  
    Coral Browne (Vera Charles)  
    Fred Clark (Dwight Babcock)  
    Roger Smith (Patrick Dennis as a young man)  
    Patric Knowles (Lindsay Woolsey)  
    Peggy Cass (Agnes Gooch)  
    Jan Handzlik (Patrick Dennis as child)  
    Joanna Barnes (Gloria Upson)  
    Pippa Scott (Pegeen Ryan)  
    Lee Patrick (Doris Upson)  
    Willard Waterman (Claude Upson)  
    Robin Hughes (Brian O'Bannion)  
    Connie Gilchrist (Norah Muldoon)  
    Yuki Shimoda (Ito)  
    Brook Byron (Sally Cato McDougal)  
    Carol Veazie (Mrs. Burnside)  
    Henry Brandon (Acacius Page)  
    Larry Rio (Taxi driver)  
    Saundra Edwards (Guest)  
    Michael Harris (Guest)  
    Bob Crawley (Drunk)  
    Colin Kenny (Drunk)  
    Rand Harper (Pianist)  
    Gregory Gay (Vladimir Klinkoff)  
    Gladys Roach (Mrs. Klinkoff)  
    Booth Colman (Perry)  
    Charles Heard (Dr. Feuchtwanger)  
    Jack Daly (Workman)  
    Paul Davis (Stage manager)  
    Olive Blakeney (Dowager)  
    Margaret Dumont (Dowager)  
    Owen McGiveney (Man with monocle)  
    Robert Gates (Lord Dudley)  
    Mark Dana (Reginald)  
    Dick Reeves (Mr. Krantz)  
    Barbara Pepper (Mrs. Krantz)  
    Chris Alexander (Mr. Loomis)  
    Ruth Warren (Mrs. Jennings)  
    Butch Hengen (Emory)  
    Daniel Meyers (Groom)  
    Roydon Clark (Stable boy)  
    Dick Hudkins (Stable boy)  
    Cajan Lee (Woman hunter)  
    Dub Taylor (Veterinarian)  
    Evelyn Ceder (Woman in white)  
    Max Cutler (Gangster)  
    Louise Lane (Jazzy dame)  
    Hazel Shermet (Macy's customer)  
    Doye O'Dell (Cousin Jeff)  
    John Caler (College boy)  
    Tom McDonough (Expressman)  
    Terry Kelman (Michael Dennis)  
    Peter Bourne    

Summary: In 1928, Edwin Dennis completes his last will and testament stating that, upon his death, his only son Patrick will be reared by his sister, Mame Dennis, under the conservative eye of banker Dwight Babcock. The day after the will is signed, Dennis drops dead and his faithful Irish servant, Norah Muldoon, takes the young Patrick from Chicago to Mame’s residence at 3 Beekman Place, New York City. They arrive during a party, in which the flamboyant Mame is graciously entertaining with breezy charm and bootlegged alcohol. Among the Bohemian guests are a man and his monkey, the headmaster of a nudist school, a composer and his wife, artists of all kinds, someone who looks like Gertrude Stein and a non-English-speaking Orthodox Lithuanian bishop. Upon realizing that Patrick is her nephew, Mame invites him to join the party and he hungrily eats caviar, which he calls “fishberry jam.” Afterward, Mame instructs Patrick to write down all the words he heard that he did not understand and promises that she will “open doors” that he “never dreamed existed.” Two weeks and thirteen cocktail parties later, Norah and Patrick have settled into the eccentric household with Mame’s houseboy, Ito, her best friend, actress Vera Charles, who sleeps off hangovers in one of Mame’s extra rooms, and Mame’s boyfriend, publisher Lindsay Woolsey, who also visits frequently. When Babcock arrives to check on Patrick, the well-mannered boy skillfully mixes him a martini. Babcock wants to enroll Patrick in an “exclusive and restricted” boys’ school and Mame pretends to agree. Later, when Babcock learns that Patrick is enrolled at Acacius Page’s experimental school in Greenwich Village, he insists on sending the boy to a boarding school, breaking the hearts of both Mame and Patrick, who have grown close. In the stock market crash of 1929, Mame loses her fortune and then breaks off with Lindsay, because she refuses to marry for security. Needing a job, she takes a small role in Vera’s new play, but, unable to be inconspicuous in her tiny role, Mame ad-libs, jangles her jewelry and catches her bracelets on Vera’s costume during the play’s New Haven tryouts, turning the drama into comedy. Only Patrick is impressed with her performance and she is soon looking for another job. After failing as a switchboard operator, Mame takes a job as a sales clerk at Macy’s department store during the pre-Christmas season. That job, too, is short-lived, because Mame can only write sales slips that are “Cash On Delivery.” With no money coming in, Mame’s close-knit household struggles to have a meaningful, if meager, Christmas. Norah, who finds Mame “odd, but lovin’”, and Ito have stayed on without being paid and settle the butcher’s bill with their own savings as a Christmas present. Soon after, oil millionaire Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside knocks on the door, after having seen Mame at Macy’s and consequently searching the city for her. He invites them out to dinner, and later, to his Georgia plantation. Although Beauregard is captivated by Mame, his family is not, and Sally Cato McDougal, a neighbor who has failed to capture Beauregard’s heart, tries to sabotage their blooming relationship. When Mame, to please Beauregard, claims untruthfully that she can ride a horse, Sally arranges a foxhunt and gives Mame an untrainable horse to ride. Although Mame has difficulty controlling the horse, at the end of the hunt, she is holding the exhausted fox and the impressed Beauregard proposes to her in front of everyone. For their honeymoon, the newlyweds embark on an extended world tour, and Patrick, now a university student, joins them during holidays. While skiing the Matterhorn, Beauregard, who is a camera buff, falls over a cliff to his death while taking a picture and the grieving Mame continues traveling alone, revisiting the places she and Beauregard had been. When she eventually returns to Beekman Place, Patrick, believing Mame needs a project, has arranged for her to write her memoirs, which Lindsay will publish. To assist Mame, Patrick hires a stenographer, timid and frumpy Agnes Gooch, to take dictation and an Irish poet, Brian O’Bannion, to serve as her editor. For the next few months, Mame dictates to Agnes, and O’Bannion lives well and does little. Unexpectedly one day, Patrick arrives, wanting Mame to meet his girl friend, Gloria Upson. Claiming that Gloria is from “good conservative stock,” Patrick admits that he is ashamed of Mame’s “peculiarities” and begs her to act normal when Gloria visits. Sadly, Mame realizes that Patrick has become a product of Babcock’s choice of schooling: “beastly,” “bourgeois” and a “snob.” Although Patrick has embraced the opposite of everything she believes in, Mame loves him deeply and says she will do anything for him. As Patrick is to arrive with Gloria within the hour, Mame breaks a date to attend a party with O’Bannion and dresses up Agnes to escort him. To calm Agnes, Mame gives her a whiskey, which the frightened woman is unused to drinking, and, for courage, tells her the motto by which she lives: “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.” When Patrick and the spoiled and shallow Gloria arrive, they tell Mame that they are already engaged. Agnes returns the next day, alone and remembering little of her adventure. Soon, Mame journeys to Connecticut to meet Gloria’s family, the bigoted and gauche Claude and Doris Upson. The Upsons have planned the children’s wedding, decided on Patrick’s career and even ask Mame to pay for half of the cost of property adjacent to theirs for a wedding present. Mame learns that the Upsons have a double motive for choosing that particular wedding gift, as they wish to prevent a Jewish man from buying the property and moving into the neighborhood. While secretly abhorring the Upsons, Mame offers to have them come to Beekman Place for an “intimate family dinner” in the near future. A few months later, final preparations are being made for the dinner. Patrick is horrified to find Agnes several months pregnant by O’Bannion, who has not been seen since the night of the party. Patrick insists that she must go upstairs when the Upsons arrive. Upon meeting Mame’s new secretary, Pegeen Ryan, who is hanging an odd-looking sculpture in Mame’s newly redecorated foyer, Patrick jokes and temporarily regains his former, unpretentious charm. When Gloria, the Upsons and Babcock arrive, Mame directs them to sit in her new, avant-garde seating area that can be raised and lowered by the push of a button. For hors d’oeurves, she serves pickled rattlesnake and a flaming beverage in a martini glass, bewildering her guests as to how to drink it. Agnes waddles down to take a calcium pill, and then cries when Doris asks about her “husband.” After Acacius, Vera and Lindsay arrive, Mame passes out chapters from the galleys of her book for all to read. At first Patrick is embarrassed, but soon begins to reminisce. Mistaking Pegeen for Patrick’s intended, Vera toasts them. Gloria, wanting attention, tells a meaningless story that embarrasses everyone but her parents. The Upsons are shocked when Vera points out that Mame’s book will be the “raciest” of the year, but are even more scandalized when they learn that Agnes is unwed. When a telegram from O’Bannion arrives, demanding money and claiming that he and Agnes are married, Mame congratulates the relieved Agnes. Offended, Gloria expresses her disapproval of Patrick’s family and after Patrick calls her selfish and empty headed, she breaks off their engagement. Mame then announces that she is donating money to build a home for refugee children on the lot next to the Upsons’. Infuriated, the Upsons inadvertently cause their seats to elevate, and after disentangling themselves, leave in a huff. Babcock berates Mame for ruining his carefully laid plans for Patrick, but Mame says she could not watch her nephew be “shut in a safe-deposit box.” Patrick simply thanks her and, years later, watches with his wife Pegeen as Mame lures their entranced son Michael through “open doors” he “never dreamed existed.”


 

Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.  
Distribution Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.  
Director: Morton DaCosta (Dir)
  Don Page (Asst dir)
Writer: Betty Comden (Scr)
  Adolph Green (Scr)
Photography: Harry Stradling, Sr. (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Malcolm Bert (Art dir)
Film Editor: William Ziegler (Film ed)
Set Decoration: George James Hopkins (Set dec)
  Robert Hanley A.I.D. (Consultant for interior dec)
Costumes: Orry-Kelly (Cost des)
  Delman (Miss Russell's shoes by)
  Maximilian (Miss Russell's furs by)
Music: Bronislau Kaper (Mus)
  Ray Heindorf (Mus supv)
Sound: M. A. Merrick (Sd)
  Mike Colgan (Sd ed)
  Larry Meek (Sd ed)
  Bruce Flu (Sd ed)
Make Up: Gordon Bau (Makeup supv)
  Gene Hibbs (Miss Russell's makeup by)
  Myrl Stoltz (Miss Russell's hairstyles by)
Country: United States
Language: English

Music:
Songs:
Source Text: Based on the novel Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis (New York, 1955) and the play Auntie Mame by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, produced by Robert Fryer and Lawrence Carr (New York, 31 Oct 1956).
Authors: Patrick Dennis
  Jerome Lawrence
  Robert E. Lee
  Robert Fryer
  Lawrence Carr

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc. 27/12/1958 dd/mm/yyyy LP15313

PCA NO: 19033
Physical Properties: Sd: RCA Sound Recording
  col: Technicolor
  Widescreen/ratio: Technirama

 
Genre: Comedy
 
Subjects (Major): Aunts
  Children
  Maturation
  Nephews
  New York City
  Nonconformists
  Orphans
  United States--History--Social life and customs, 1921-1929
  Wards and guardians
 
Subjects (Minor): Actors and actresses
  Bigotry
  Brothers and sisters
  Christmas
  Class distinction
  Cocktail parties
  Connecticut
  Falls from heights
  Fox hunts
  Friendship
  Georgia
  Honeymoons
  Interior decorators
  Irish
  Liquor
  Love
  R. H. Macy's Department store (New York City)
  Matterhorn (Switzerland and Italy)
  Memoirs
  Plantation owners
  Plays
  Pregnancy
  Publishers and publishing
  Romantic rivalry
  Schools
  Secretaries
  Servants
  Snobs and snobbishness
  Southerners
  Unmarried mothers
  Voyages and travel
  Wills

Note: The film begins with a red-gloved hand holding a kaleidoscope. The object is turned so that the audience appears to be looking through the eyepiece and the opening credits are superimposed over the patterns formed. Many scenes end with a theatrical-style black-out, in which a light is focused on the character “Mame” before the screen turns black. As noted in the MPHPD review, the film “provided a unique means of establishing time and plot progression” by showing a change in the style of Mame’s Beekman Place apartment décor at the beginning of sequences. According to a Jun 1958 LAEx article, the set was decorated in six different styles: Chinese, 1920s Modern, a French style called Syrie Maugham period named for writer Somerset Maugham’s wife, English, Danish Modern and East Indian. As discussed in a Jan 1959 LAEx article, the Danish Modern set featured sofas, chairs and tables that could be elevated and lowered. The furniture was used to comic effect in the sequence in which the "Upsons" visit Mame's apartment.
       Edward Everett Tanner III wrote the novel on which the film and stage play was based under the pseudonym Patrick Dennis. After his birth in 1921 and early years in Chicago, Tanner lived as colorfully as his aunt. A bon vivant, critic and popular novelist in the style of Noël Coward, he was a popular figure in New York society. His many other works include a novel, Around the World with Auntie Mame , which continued his autobiographical adventures, and Little Me , the "memoirs" of a fictional actress Belle Poitrine, which was adapted by Neil Simon into a Broadway musical. According to modern biographies, he was a loving husband and affectionate father. Upon realizing he was homosexual, Tanner entered a sanitarium and submitted himself to shock treatments, but eventually left his wife. Modern sources state that, after battling alcoholism and dwindling finances, he later seemed to find contentment in a second career as butler for Ray Kroc, CEO of McDonald’s, before dying in his mid-fifties in 1976.
       As noted in the Var review, risqué language and “gamier aspects” of Dennis’ novel, which remained in the stage play, were “toned down” for the film and “suggested rather than stated.” The Var review mentioned that at least one scene written for the film was excised in the final editing.
       Auntie Mame was first adapted for the stage and directed by Morton Da Costa, who later directed the film. Rosalind Russell, Peggy Cass and young Jan Handzlik reprised their Broadway roles in the film. Both Russell and Cass were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, but lost, respectively, to Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Wendy Hiller in Separate Tables . The film was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Art Direction, Best Editing and Best Cinematography, but in all categories lost to the film Gigi (see entries below). Although his appearance in the film has not been confirmed, a Jun 1958 HR news item adds Edgar Johnson to the cast. A modern source adds Gloria Holden to the cast.
       In 1966, Angela Lansbury starred on Broadway in Mame , the Jerry Herman musical that was based on the Patrick Dennis novel. In 1974, Robert Preston, Beatrice Arthur and Lucille Ball as “Auntie Mame” starred in the Warner Bros. film version of the Herman musical. A Sep 2003 DV news item reported that the Dennis estate had been queried regarding film rights on behalf of director Spike Lee and actress-singer Queen Latifah. An online website dedicated to the actress Cher reported in Apr 2003 that she and director Rob Marshall had planned to make a version of Mame for television, but those plans never came to fruition. Although in 2004 the ABC-TV network announced a version of Mame to be produced by Barbra Streisand, no further information has been found on this production. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
American Cinematographer   Apr 1959   p. 222.
Box Office   15 Dec 1958.   
Daily Variety   19 Oct 1955.   
Daily Variety   26 Nov 58   p. 3.
Film Daily   26 Nov 58   p. 7.
Hollywood Citizen-News   6 Jan 1959.   
Hollywood Reporter   4 Apr 1958   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   7 May 1958   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Jun 1958   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   18 Jun 1958   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   16 Sep 1958   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   26 Nov 58   p. 3.
Los Angeles Examiner   8 Jun 1958.   
LAEx Pictorial Living   18 Jan 1959   pp. 7-8.
Los Angeles Mirror   20 Dec 1958.   
Los Angeles Times   30 Nov 1958.   
Los Angeles Times   20 Dec 1958   pp. 2-3.
Los Angeles Times   6 Jan 1959.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   29 Nov 58   p. 68.
New York Times   5 Dec 58   p. 39.
Saturday Review   27 Dec 1958.   
Variety   26 Nov 58   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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