Gold Diggers of Broadway

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Gold Diggers of Broadway
theatrical poster
Directed by Roy Del Ruth
Written by De Leon Anthony (titles)
Story by Robert Lord
Based on The Gold Diggers 
by Avery Hopwood
Starring Winnie Lightner
Nick Lucas
Music by Joseph Burke (music)
Al Dubin (lyrics)
Cinematography Barney McGill
Ray Rennahan
Edited by William Holmes
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • August 30, 1929 (1929-08-30)
Running time
101 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $500,000
Box office $2.25 million[1]

Gold Diggers of Broadway is a 1929 American Pre-Code musical comedy film directed by Roy Del Ruth and starring Winnie Lightner and Nick Lucas. Distributed by Warner Bros., the film is the second two-color Technicolor all-talking feature-length movie (after On With the Show, also released that year by Warner Bros).

Gold Diggers of Broadway was also the third movie released by Warner Bros. to be shot in color; the first was a black-and-white, part-color musical, The Desert Song (1929). Gold Diggers of Broadway became a box office sensation, making Winnie Lightner a worldwide star and boosting guitarist crooner Nick Lucas to further fame as he sang two songs that became 20th-century standards: "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" and "Painting the Clouds with Sunshine."

Based on the 1919 play The Gold Diggers[2] – which was also turned into a silent film of the same name in 1923 — now lost, Gold Diggers of Broadway utilized Technicolor, showgirls and sound as its main selling points.

It earned a domestic gross of $3.5 million, extending to over $5 million worldwide (approximately $68,905,000 today). The original production cost was approximately $500,000. It was chosen as one of the ten best films of 1929 by Film Daily. As with many early Technicolor films, no complete print survives, although the last twenty minutes do, but are missing a bridging sequence and the last minute of the film. Contemporary reviews, the soundtrack and the surviving footage suggest that the film was a fast-moving comedy which was enhanced by Technicolor and a set of lively and popular songs. It encapsulates the spirit of the flapper era, giving us a glimpse of a world about to be changed by the Great Depression.

Because the film is considered a partially lost film, the loose remake, Gold Diggers of 1933, is the most frequently seen version of the story.


Frame from Gold Diggers of Broadway

The film opens on an audience watching a lavish 1929 Broadway show, featuring a giant gold mine production number ("Song of the Gold Diggers"). Famous guitarist Nick Lucas sings "Painting the Clouds with Sunshine", which climaxes on stage with a huge art deco revolving sun.

Backstage, the star of the show (Ann Pennington) fights over Nick with another girl. Also introduced are a group of chorus girls who are 'man hungry'. They are all looking for love and money, but are not sure which is the more important. They are visited by a faded star who is reduced to selling cosmetic soap. They gossip about how they all want a man with plenty of money, so they do not end up the same way.

Businessman Stephen Lee (Conway Tearle) angrily forbids his nephew Wally (William Bakewell) to marry Violet, one of the showgirls. A corpulent lawyer friend, Blake (Albert Gran), advises him to befriend the showgirl first before making a decision. The showgirls are friends who stick together, and the most raucous girl called Mabel (Winnie Lightner) takes a fancy to Blake, calling him 'sweetie' and showing her appreciation by singing him a song ("Mechanical Man").

That evening, they all visit a huge nightclub. Mabel ends up on a table singing another song to Blake, "Wolf from the Door", before jumping into his lap. Showgirl Jerry (Nancy Welford) moves the party to her apartment. Everyone gets drunk and after seeing Ann Pennington dance on the kitchen table, Lee decides he is 'getting to like these showgirls'. Blake says he is 'losing his mind or just plain mad'. Keeping the fun going, Lucas sings "Tiptoe Through the Tulips". Complications come thick and fast after a balloon game, with both Blake and Lee falling under the spell of Mabel and Jerry. The party ends with Lucas singing "Go to Bed" and Jerry contriving to get Lee back after everyone has left. She gets him more drunk whilst tipping her own drinks away when he is not looking. Her aim is to get Lee to agree to allow Wally to marry. To do this, she lies and is shown up by her own mother, who accidentally finds them together.

Next morning, Jerry feels disgraced. Mabel has been given an extra line for the show "I am the spirit of the ages and the progress of civilisation", but cannot get the words right. Lucas is told off for singing poor songs and sings another "What will I do without you". Ann Pennington fights with another showgirl and hurts her eye. Jerry is asked to take her place as the star of the evening performance. Mabel receives a proposal of marriage from Blake, but worries about her extra line.

The show starts with Nick Lucas reprising "Tiptoe Through the Tulips"' with full orchestra in a huge stage set that shows girl tulips in a huge greenhouse. Backstage, Uncle Steve comes back to give his consent to his nephew and to tell Jerry he wants to marry her.

The finale starts with Jerry leading the "Song of the Gold Diggers" against a huge art deco backdrop of Paris at night. Various acrobats and girls litter the stage as all the songs are reprised in a fast moving, lavish production number. This ends with Jerry sweeping through the middle as the music reaches a climax. Mabel then says her line, but forgets the end.


Cast notes[edit]

  • Winnie Lightner became one of Warner Bros. biggest stars in 1930. She starred in two lavish Technicolor features in that year: Hold Everything and The Life of the Party. Winnie Lightner's first appearance as the title character in the 1931 Olsen & Johnson comedy Gold Dust Gertie pays homage to her success in Gold Diggers of Broadway by utilizing "Song of the Gold Diggers" as the musical underscoring during this sequence. Her flapperish care-free demeanor became decidedly dated as the conservatism of the 1930s took its course and this probably explains why she retired from films in 1934.
  • In a late 1960s audiotaped interview with Winnie Lightner, she speculated that her extremely poor eyesight (which began to fail unusually early) was due to her frequent exposure to the brilliant lighting required for the string of early Technicolor films she appeared in between 1929 and 1930.
  • Director Roy Del Ruth married Winnie Lightner in 1940.
  • The only actors in the 1929 film to have also appeared in the 1923 silent version, The Gold Diggers, were Gertrude Short and Louise Beavers. Largely forgotten today, Short is perhaps best known to film buffs as the aggressive reporter who hounds Robert Armstrong in the opening reel of Son of Kong (1933). Beavers, who made her (uncredited) film debut in the silent The Gold Diggers would eventually make 156 film appearances, many of them as scene-stealing maids, and played "Beulah" for a season on the television series of that name.[3] She also starred with Claudette Colbert in the original 1934 version of Imitation of Life, largely considered her greatest role.


The song "Painting the Clouds with Sunshine" was originally the main theme for the film. After Nick Lucas signed up for the film – he was hired by Darryl Zanuck – the film was spotted as a potential hit and "Tiptoe through the Tulips" was written to enlarge the film; Zanuck provided an extra production number for the tune. The song was later performed in a much different version by the camp singer Tiny Tim, who recorded it as a novelty, accompanying himself on ukelele. The notoriety attached a stigma to the tune that would remain. However, Lucas was a favorite of Tiny Tim's and even appeared as a guest at Tim's noted wedding ceremony on The Tonight Show in 1969,[4] singing the song together.

The two production numbers for "Painting the Clouds with Sunshine" and "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" both start on a smaller set and move to a larger one. To change between sets while the song was sung and create a seamless transition, instead of using a curtain, a shot of a stagehand was shown, throwing a sparking electric lighting switch which darkens one scene out and fades in another. The basic storyline was modified and reused in later Warner Bros. films such as Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) and Painting the Clouds with Sunshine (1951).

Majestic Pictures attempted to cash in on the "Gold Diggers" concept by naming a feature Gold Diggers of Paris, however Warner Bros. prevented this via legal action. Warners released a film called Gold Diggers in Paris in 1938.


Main article: Technicolor

The Technicolor process used for Gold Diggers of Broadway was a subtractive two-color process. It used a single camera negative passed through filters and skip-printed to create two separate color matrices which were then used to make new prints utilizing dye-transfer printing onto clear base film. The process could not reproduce a full range of color, but careful planning could minimize the obviousness of the limited color pallet for the audience, by choosing colors for sets and costumes which reproduced well under the system. Because the speed of the camera and film was low, studio lighting had to be very bright. Pure white was forbidden because of the "white out" it caused on the matrix film, which could lead to transfer problems.

Warner Bros. was one of the primary users of this system, although other studios used it as well, often for color sequences within an otherwise black-and-while film. Warners, however, often made films that were color throughout: in 1930 they released 15 films which utilized two-color Technicolor, only 4 of which used color only for limited sequences.[5]


  • "Song of the Gold Diggers" (WB Vitaphone orchestra and stage chorus)
  • "Painting the Clouds with Sunshine" (Nick Lucas with WB Vitaphone orchestra and stage chorus)
  • "And Still They Fall in Love" (Winnie Lightner with backing)
  • "Song of the Gold Diggers" (Nancy Welford)
  • "Blushing bride" (Nancy Welford)
  • "Mechanical Man" (Winnie Lightner with backing)
  • "Painting the Clouds with Sunshine" – reprise (Nick Lucas with band)
  • "Keeping the Wolf from the door" (Winnie Lightner with band)
  • "Tip-toe thru the Tulips" (Nick Lucas with guitar and band)
  • "The Pennington Glide" (Instrumental – Apartment Party Sequence) (Title cited in script)
  • "The Poison kiss of that Spaniard" (need confirmation of this band instrumental) is connected with above entry?
  • "In a Kitchenette" (Nick Lucas on guitar)
  • "Go to Bed" (Nick Lucas on guitar)
  • "What Will I Do Without You?" (Nick Lucas on guitar)
  • "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" – reprise (Nick Lucas with WB Vitaphone orchestra and chorus)
  • Finale featuring Nancy Welford with WB Vitaphone orchestra – "Song of the Gold Diggers" introduction/"Tip-toe thru the Tulips" (instrumental WB Vitaphone orchestra) /"Painting the Clouds with Sunshine" (instrumental WB Vitaphone orchestra) and chorus/"Mechanical Man" (instrumental WB Vitaphone orchestra) / Nancy Welford with WB Vitaphone orchestra – "Song of the Gold Diggers" – reprise and finale.


Original advertisements for the film promised:

"VITAPHONE recreates The Gold Diggers of Broadway in 100% natural color in Technicolor"

"One hundred percent Color, an additional feature of Vitaphone all talking pictures, doubles the 'life-likeness' of this most vivid and enjoyable of all talking pictures."

"Look for the thrill of a lifetime the day you see Gold Diggers of Broadway.....And look for the Vitaphone sign when you want talking picture entertainment-always!"

"Picture a profuse procession of revue spectacle scenes in amazing settings....superbly staged chorus dancing numbers......the flashing wit of Winnie Lightner....the charm of Nancy Welford.....the astounding dancing of Ann Pennington.....the crooning of Nick scenes as only Conway Tearle can play them......a story that had New York gasping and giggling for one solid year....and you only begun to imagine the treat that is in store for you"


Contemporary reviews by film critics were very positive. Mordaunt Hall wrote in his review for The New York Times:

The fun, coupled with the lovely pastel shades, the tuneful melodies, a sensible narrative, competent acting and elaborate stage settings, resulted in an extraordinarily pleasing entertainment. It caused one to meditate in the end on the remarkable progress of the screen, for not only are the voices reproduced with rare precision, but every opportunity is taken of the Technicolor process in producing the hues and glitter of a musical comedy.[6]

Variety called it "a very good entertainment on the screen" and highly acclaimed Lightner's performance, writing, "Somebody tossed the picture right into Winnie Lightner's lap, or else she stole it." It, too, was very impressed by the color process, writing, "While the Warners' Say It with Songs is also an all-colored talker, somehow here the Technicolor process appears to give a greater strength to the picture; a part of it."[7]

John Mosher of The New Yorker gave the film a positive review, calling the songs "exceptionally audible" and "unusually good".[8] Film Daily said it had "good music" and a story that was "generally amusing even if not particularly substantial", concluding that Lightner "does much to send the picture over."[9]


Gold Diggers of Broadway was filmed using the Vitaphone sound-on-disc system and released on ten reels of full frame 35mm nitrate film, two-component imbibition prints by Technicolor, with accompanying Vitaphone soundtrack discs. The discs, including the overture, have survived, but until around 1986 nothing was thought to have survived from the prints. At that time, an original print of the final reel, minus the final minute, was donated to the British Film Institute. It was faithfully copied to safety film and thus preserved. Nearly ten years later, another reel was discovered in Australia, the end of the distribution line. It proved to be the penultimate reel, featuring the "Tip-toe Through the Tulips" production number. It was missing a short bridging sequence. Only three brief fragments from earlier reels are known to survive: a few seconds from the "Song of the Gold Diggers" number, in black-and-white and with superimposed text, in the trailer for Gold Diggers of 1937; a 35mm nitrate fragment from the same number, running about twenty seconds, found included with a toy projector bought on eBay; and another 35mm nitrate fragment, also running less than a minute, from a non-musical scene featuring Lightner and Gran, which was found with fragments from another film in a small museum.

Although the film's copyright was renewed in 1956, it does not appear to have been shown on television. 16mm prints of early Warner Bros. films, including sound-on-disc films, were made in the 1950s for distribution to local television stations, and some two-color Technicolor films now survive (in black and white) only because of those prints. It is unclear why this film is not among them. Because it was one of the studio's greatest successes and was then less than thirty years old, it appears unlikely that it was simply overlooked. It may be that a sufficiently complete set of picture and sound elements could not be located at that time.[10]

Two excerpts from the film were to have been released as bonus features on the 80th Anniversary 3-Disc Deluxe Edition DVD of The Jazz Singer,[11] but due to an error only one was included. The excerpt identified as "Tip-toe Through the Tulips" is actually the finale, and the excerpt identified as the finale is actually a ballet sequence from MGM's The Rogue Song, another two-color Technicolor film for which only fragments of the picture element are known to exist. The correct pair of excerpts can be found on the Warner Bros. DVD release of Gold Diggers of 1937.[12][13]

Reel(s) Preservation
1 – 8 Film presumed lost, soundtrack discs exist.
9 Film survives nearly complete, soundtrack disc exists.
10 Film survives except final minute, soundtrack disc exists.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "WHICH CINEMA FILMS HAVE EARNED THE MOST MONEY SINCE 1914?". The Argus (Melbourne: National Library of Australia). March 4, 1944. p. 3 Supplement: The Argus Weekend Magazine. Retrieved August 6, 2012. 
  2. ^ IBDB The Gold Diggers
  3. ^ Gold Diggers of Broadway at the Internet Movie Database,; accessed August 11, 2015.
  4. ^ NBC. "Nick Lucas, Phyllis Diller, Victoria May 'Miss Vicki' Budinger, Tiny Tim, host Johnny Carson" Getty Images (December 17, 1969)
  5. ^ "Technicolor history" The American WideScreen Museum (1999-2003). Accessed November 19, 2015.
  6. ^ Hall, Mordaunt (August 31, 1929). "Movie Review". The New York Times. Retrieved December 7, 2014. 
  7. ^ "Gold Diggers of B'way". Variety (New York). September 4, 1929. p. 13. 
  8. ^ Mosher, John (September 7, 1929). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. p. 75. 
  9. ^ "The Gold Diggers of Broadway". Film Daily (New York). September 8, 1929. p. 9. 
  10. ^ 1957 MOVIES FROM AAP Warner Bros Features & Cartoons SALES BOOK DIRECTED AT TV,; accessed August 11, 2015.
  11. ^ The Jazz Singer (US – DVD R1) in News> Releases at DVDActive
  12. ^ Gold Diggers of 1937
  13. ^ Gold Diggers of Broadway,; accessed August 11, 2015.

External links[edit]