Merrily We Live

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Merrily We Live
Merrily We Live poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Norman Z. McLeod
Produced by Hal Roach
Milton H. Bren
Written by E.J. Rath (novel)
Courtenay Savage (play)
Eddie Moran
Jack Jevne
Ed Sullivan (add'l dialog)
Starring Constance Bennett
Brian Aherne
Music by Marvin Hatley
Cinematography Norbert Brodine
Edited by William H. Terhune
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • March 4, 1938 (1938-03-04)
Running time
95 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Merrily We Live (1938 in film) is a comedy film directed by Norman Z. McLeod, starring Constance Bennett and Brian Aherne and featuring Ann Dvorak, Bonita Granville, Billie Burke, Tom Brown, Alan Mowbray, Clarence Kolb and Patsy Kelly. The film was produced by Hal Roach for Hal Roach Studios, and was released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The screenplay is by Eddie Moran and Jack Jevne.

The film is considered to have set the standard for later family comedy films and TV sitcoms. A number of critics have erroneously claimed that the film is based on the 1936 film My Man Godfrey when in fact it is a reworking of the 1930 movie What a Man (1930 film), based on the 1924 novel The Dark Chapter; a Comedy of Class Distinctions by E. J. Rath[1][2] and its 1926 Broadway adaptation They All Want Something by Courtenay Savage.[3] In the movie, the lines "What a family!" said twice seems to indicate the screenwriters acknowledgment of the earlier movie What a Man.

Merrily We Live was extremely successful and garnered five Academy Award nominations.


Butler Grosvenor (Mowbray) discovers at breakfast that the family silver has been stolen by the latest tramp, Ambrose, whom Emily Kilbourne (Burke) had taken under her wing as the chauffeur, in her latest attempt to reform fallen and destitute men, much to the exasperation of the rest of the family. A distressed Emily swears off taking in any more tramps to the delight of the rest of the family. However, later in the morning, a new dusty tramp Wade Rawlins (Aherne) appears at the doorstep and is immediately adopted by Emily Kilbourne, despite the rude efforts of Grosvenor and Emily's daughters Geraldine "Jerry" (Bennett) and Marion (Granville). Further attempts to convince Mrs. Kilborne to get rid of this latest tramp are blissfully ignored.

The tramp, Rawlins, appointed as the new replacement chauffeur is set up in the servant's quarters. He is overheard talking to himself while cleaning up by the butler and suspected to be crazy. Jerry and Marion see the spruced up tramp looking the perfect gentleman and Jerry likes his later putting in place Jerry's arrogant wannabee boyfriend, Herbert Wheeler (Reed). They now have second thoughts when their father, Henry Kilbourne (Kolb), who has returned from work tells Emily that he is putting his foot down and orders getting rid of the new tramp the next day.

A comedy of errors, nighttime interludes with drunken family behavior, the arrogant boyfriend making a move at Jerry, follows with the rescue of the damsel in distress who has also somehow misplaced her keys where some delightful flirting ensues, resulting in Jerry falling in love with Wade. Marion also expresses a crush on Wade. The next day, Emily Kilbourne, despite orders to get rid of Wade, trains him to be a footman at the important dinner party that evening for Senator Harlan (Everton). That evening through a contrived prank by Marion, the new chauffeur and now footman is accidentally invited to the important dinner party for Senator Harlan, who takes quite a liking to him, as does his daughter Minerva (Dvorak).

The next morning, the family finds Wade occupying the guest room. It is impossible to throw him out, as it is discovered that he is now a confidante of Senator Harlan and his daughter's target of affection. Jerry is consumed with jealousy, as she sees Minerva flirting with Wade at golf later that morning. After a fudge-making spat with Jerry, Wade takes the rest of the day off to settle his affairs. He has a strange interlude at a general store where the assistant George (Best) thinks he is a ghost. Wade is nowhere to be found late in the evening when everyone has gone to bed, much to Jerry's dismay after waiting up to reconcile with him.

The next morning at breakfast, the newspaper reports his death from a car crash, much to the shock and dismay of the family, the cook and the maid. After an epidemic of fainting seeing ghosts and pratfalls, Wade reappears, very much alive, to Jerry's immense relief.



Merrily We Live was in production from October 27, 1937 to January 10, 1938.[4] Some location filming took place at Arrowhead Hot Spring and Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains of southern California.[5][6]

Titles that were considered for the film included "Take It Easy," "Love Without Reason" and "Dark Chapter", which is the title of the E.J. Rath book the film is in part based on – although neither Rath's novel nor Courtenay Savage's play are credited.[5]

Noted Broadway columnist Ed Sullivan provided additional dialogue for the film, his first assignment for Hal Roach Studios.[5]

Awards and honors[edit]

Merrily We Live received five Academy Award nominations in total: Supporting Actress, Sound (Elmer A. Raguse), Song, Art Direction and Cinematography.[7][8] Billie Burke's nomination was the only Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination of her career.


  • On March 3, 1938, parts of Merrily We Live were recreated for the radio on MGM's Good News Radio program, featuring the stars of the film.[5]
  • In 1955, there was a Mexican version of the film under the title Escuela de vagabundos (School for Vagabonds) with Pedro Infante and Miroslava Stern as the lead actors.


  1. ^ Frank Nugent (March 18, 1938). "Godfrey's Ghost Haunts 'Merrily We Live,' at the Capitol". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-20. 
  2. ^ Hal Erickson. "Merrily We Live Plot Synopsis". Allmovie. Retrieved 2008-10-20. , "a blatant copy of My Man Godfrey"
  3. ^ They All Want Something at the Internet Broadway Database
  4. ^ IMDB Business
  5. ^ a b c d TCM Notes
  6. ^ IMDB Filming locations
  7. ^ "The 11th Academy Awards (1939) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-08-10. 
  8. ^ "NY Times: Merrily We Live". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-10. 

External links[edit]