Princess O'Rourke

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Princess O'Rourke
Directed byNorman Krasna
Produced byHal B. Wallis
Written byNorman Krasna
Music byFriedrich Hollaender
CinematographyErnest Haller
Edited byWarren Low
Warner Bros. Pictures
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • October 23, 1943 (1943-10-23)
Running time
93 or 94 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2.3 million (US rentals)[2] or $3,099,000[1]

Princess O'Rourke is a 1943 American romantic comedy film[3][4]directed and written by Norman Krasna (in Krasna's directorial debut), and starring Olivia de Havilland, Robert Cummings and Charles Coburn. Krasna won the 1944 Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.[5]

Although conceived as a vehicle for de Havilland, Princess O'Rourke turned out to be a troubled project that led to the de Havilland Law, that changed the status of contracts in the U.S. film industry. Filmed in 1942, the release was held up for one year due to legal issues that resulted from the production.[6]


Eddie and Maria meet aboard a Douglas DST "Skysleeper" with sleeping bunks for passengers.

During World War II, Princess Maria (Olivia de Havilland) and her uncle Holman (Charles Coburn), exiles from their (unnamed) conquered European country, live in New York City. Holman hopes that his niece will marry and produce a male heir as soon as possible, but she is not interested in his preferred choice, Count Peter de Chandome (Curt Bois), or the other candidates that he has suggested.

While flying to California incognito as "Mary Williams", the princess—fearful of flying—is given too many sleeping pills. When the Douglas DST airliner returns to New York because of bad weather, the crew cannot wake her. The pilot, Eddie O'Rourke (Robert Cummings), takes care of her, still unaware who she is. She wakes up the next morning in his apartment wearing his pajamas.

To explain her absence, Maria tells her uncle that she slept at the airport. She spends the day with Eddie, his friend and co-pilot, Dave Campbell (Jack Carson), and Dave's wife Jean (Jane Wyman) (who had put Maria to bed). "Mary" tells them she is a war refugee and was traveling to California to work as an upstairs maid. She and Eddie quickly fall in love. With both Eddie and Dave about to join the United States Army Air Forces, Eddie impulsively proposes to Mary. She accepts, but sadly believes that, as a princess, she cannot marry him.

A Secret Service agent assigned to protect Maria tells her uncle of the relationship. Holman is not opposed to Maria marrying a commoner, and is pleased to learn that Eddie is one of nine brothers and his father one of 11. Holman also knows that his niece marrying an American would strengthen his country's vital relationship with the United States. To Maria's surprise and joy, he permits the marriage, and Eddie is stunned to learn that his poor European refugee is actually royalty.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt invites Maria and Eddie to stay at the White House. Given a crash course in royal protocol by a representative of the State Department, Eddie becomes increasingly uncomfortable with becoming a prince consort, financially supported by his wife, with no career other than fathering an heir. While discussing the prenuptial agreement, he refuses to surrender his American citizenship. After making an impassioned speech about how lucky he is to be an American, Eddie asks "Mary" to choose between him and her family. Maria obeys her uncle and leaves the room; a disappointed Eddie calls her a "slave". Holman locks her in the Lincoln Bedroom.

After much crying, Maria writes a note and slips it under the door to Roosevelt's dog, Fala, to deliver to his master. In the middle of the night, the President summons a Supreme Court judge (Harry Davenport) to marry Eddie and Maria. Afterward, the newlyweds sneak out of the White House. On the way out, Eddie tips a butler he bumps into. Outside, Maria tells him that the "butler" was actually the President.[Note 1]


As appearing in Princess O'Rourke, (main roles and screen credits identified):[7]


The male lead was meant to be Fred MacMurray but he went on to do another film and Warners borrowed Robert Cummings in June 1942.[8]

Set in wartime Washington, with one scene in the White House, the production was entirely shot on Warner Bros. Studio 1 backlots in Burbank, California.[9] Principal photography took place between early July and late August 1942, with the airport scenes shot at Burbank Airport.[Note 2] [10]

Filming took place from July to September 1942.[11]

The pairing of Robert Cummings (on loan from RKO Pictures) and top-draw Olivia de Havilland appeared to be a good studio decision, but the production soon ran into problems, with de Havilland initially refusing to take the part and subsequently being suspended by Warner Bros.[12][Note 3]

Feeling that being cast in a lightweight role was limiting her future in Hollywood features, de Havilland also began to have medical problems that compounded her anxiety. During her suspension, Alexis Smith was tested as a replacement for the role of Princess Maria. The other lead role was originally to be played by Fred MacMurray, who dropped out, citing prior commitments to Paramount. Claude Rains campaigned to be in the film, but the casting of Charles Coburn solidified the main cast choices.[14]

Cummings often was unavailable, as he was simultaneously at work on Between Us Girls at Universal Studios, forcing de Havilland to deliver lines to a stand-in. Aged actor Coburn also frequently forgot his lines, leading to many retakes which sapped her energy further.[6] Cummings also fell ill with ptomaine poisoning during the shoot and missed several days.[15]

De Havilland fought openly with Warner Bros.[16] Tired and suffering from low blood pressure, the formerly steady and hard-working actress began reporting late for work, leaving the set abruptly and going home when her frustrations became too much. She would eventually file a lawsuit against the studio in a landmark case, known as the de Havilland Law (California Labor Code Section 2855), that set a seven-year limit on studio-player contracts.[17] The film was completed ten days behind schedule, and due to the legal issues, was eventually released a year after the production wrapped. Princess O'Rourke became the penultimate film that de Havilland completed while on contract to Warner Bros.[6][Note 4][Note 5]

The composer Arthur Schwartz and lyricists Edward "Yip" Harburg and Ira Gershwin who had earlier written the featured song, "Honorable Moon" (1941), donated the money they received from Warner Bros. to the United China Relief organization.[20] Nan Wynn sings the song during a Chinese restaurant scene.[14]

Government involvement[edit]

While in post-production, the wartime Bureau of Motion Pictures (BMP) screened a copy of Princess O'Rourke and strenuously objected to the film. Unlike other feature productions, a script had not been pre-approved by the BMP. Nelson Poynter, the director of the liaison office in Hollywood, stated that the film was an example of studios "... recklessly using the war for background incidents in an opportunistic attempt to capitalize on the war rather than interpret it."[21] Poynter was particularly upset about the "ridiculous" caricatures of Red Cross workers, European nobility, the Secret Service, and even the President (described as a "busybody"). With the film already finished, however, no attempt was made to censor or restrict its release.[22]


Although largely forgotten today, Princess O'Rourke was a moderate success at the time.[18] It received generally favorable contemporary reviews. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times was intrigued by a story that he thought could only be possible in America, and that "... it happens with such spirit and humor that you'll be bound to concede it might be."[23] The review in Variety was even more effusive. "Princess O'Rourke is a spritely, effervescing and laugh-explosive comedy-romance. Credit for general sparkle and excellence of the picture must be tossed to Norman Krasna, who handled the writing and directing responsibilities. It's Krasna's initial directing assignment."[24] The film marked a turning point in Jane Wyman's career, as she displayed her comedic talents, sparring capably with her foil, Jack Carson.[25][Note 6]

More recent reviews, however, have been far more critical, with Leonard Maltin, noting, "[The] very dated comedy starts charmingly with pilot Cummings falling in love with Princess de Havilland, bogs down in no longer timely situations, unbearably coy finale involving (supposedly) F.D.R. himself."[27] Film historian Thomas G. Aylesworth stated, "[the] supporting cast of real professionals probably saved the movie."[28]

Film historians such as Roger Fristoe, retired film critic for the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky, have noted similarities to the later, more highly regarded romantic comedy Roman Holiday (1953), directed and produced by William Wyler, starring Gregory Peck as a reporter and Audrey Hepburn as a royal princess out to see Rome on her own.[6] Biographer Daniel Bubbeo characterized Princess O'Rourke as a "fluffier" antecedent of Roman Holiday.[29]


Norman Krasna won the 1944 Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay) for Princess O'Rourke.[30]

Box Office[edit]

According to Warner Bros records the film earned $2,257,000 domestically and $842,000 foreign.[1]



  1. ^ Although mostly obscured behind a door in his sole appearance onscreen, Roosevelt is depicted standing up rather than in his wheelchair. His disability was usually hidden from the public during his lifetime.
  2. ^ Besides the DST, a Douglas DC-3 in Eastern Air Lines livery is featured in a later scene. The stock footage of the airliner taking off silhouetted against the sky, however, is of a Boeing 247.
  3. ^ The casting of de Havilland was due to producer Hal B. Wallis wanting to showcase his "protege".[13]
  4. ^ Following the protracted legal tussles, Jack Warner "assigned" de Havilland to RKO to star in Government Girl (1943), another project that she detested.[18]
  5. ^ Devotion (1946), completed in 1943 and released in 1946, was de Havilland's last Warner Bros. film.[19]
  6. ^ Despite the turmoil on the set, in later years, de Havilland considered the role of Princess Maria, one of the few truly satisfying characters she played for Warner Bros.[26]


  1. ^ a b c Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1-31 p 24 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
  2. ^ "Top Grossers of the Season", Variety, 5 January 1944 p 54
  3. ^ Film review: Princess O'Rourke." Variety, September 22, 1943, p. 12.
  4. ^ Harrison 1997, (Film review: September 25, 1943), p. 154.
  5. ^ Erickson, Glenn. "Princess O'Rourke." DVD Savant, February 20, 2011. Retrieved: August 27, 2013.
  6. ^ a b c d Fristoe, Roger. "Articles: Princess O'Rourke (1943)." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: January 27, 2013.
  7. ^ "Credits: Princess O'Rourke (1943)."Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: August 24, 2013.
  8. ^ DRAMA: Olivia, Bob Cummings 'Princess O'Rourke' Los Angeles Times 5 June 1942: 17.
  9. ^ "Details: Princess O'Rourke (1943)." IMDb. Retrieved: August 26, 2013.
  10. ^ "Original Print Information: Princess O'Rourke (1943)." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: August 26, 2013.
  11. ^ "United States Court of Appeals For the Ninth Circuit Cummings v Universal - 1944". Internet archive. p. 569.
  12. ^ Freedland 1983, p. 172.
  13. ^ Wallis and Higham 1990, p. 86.
  14. ^ a b "Notes: Princess O'Rourke (1943)." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: August 24, 2013.
  15. ^ DRAMA: Hepburn Stage Play Commands High Price Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times ]17 Aug 1942: 22.
  16. ^ Sperling et al. 1998, pp. 194–195.
  17. ^ Maltin 1994, p. 214.
  18. ^ a b DeWelles, Orson. "Princess O’Rourke (1943)." Classic Film Freak, October 4, 2012. Retrieved: January 27, 2013.
  19. ^ Thomas 1983, p. 35.
  20. ^ "Music: Honorable Moon." Time, July 21, 1941.
  21. ^ Koppes and Black 1987, p. 93.
  22. ^ Koppes and Black 1987, pp. 93–94.
  23. ^ Crowther, Bosley. "Princess O Rourke (1943); 100 PerCent American Comedy, With Olivia de Havilland, Robt. Cummings, Chas. Coburn at the Strand." The New York Times, November 6, 1943.
  24. ^ "Princess O'Rourke."Variety, December 31, 1942.
  25. ^ Morella and Epstein 1985, p. 61.
  26. ^ Thomas 1983, p. 34.
  27. ^ Maltin, Leonard. "Leonard Maltin Movie Review: Princess O'Rourke." Turner Classic Movies: Leonard Maltin Ratings & Reviews. Retrieved: January 27, 2013.
  28. ^ Aylesworth 1986, p. 80.
  29. ^ Bubbeo 2001, p. 63.
  30. ^ "Awards: Princess O'Rourke." IMDb. Retrieved: January 27, 2013.


  • Aylesworth, Thomas G. The Best of Warner Bros. London: Bison Books, 1986. ISBN 0-86124-268-8.
  • Bubbeo, Daniel. The Women of Warner Brothers: The Lives and Careers of 15 Leading Ladies. Jefferson, North Carolina: Mcfarland & Co. Inc. Publishers, 2001. ISBN 978-0-78641-137-5.
  • Freedland, Michael. The Warner Brothers. Edinburgh: Chambers, 1983. ISBN 978-0-24553-827-8.
  • Harrison, P. S. Harrison's Reports and Film Reviews, 1919-1962. Hollywood, California: Hollywood Film Archive, 1997. ISBN 978-0-91361-610-9.
  • Koppes, Clayton R. and Gregory D. Black. Hollywood Goes to War: How Politics, Profits and Propaganda Shaped World War II Movies. New York: The Free Press, 1987. ISBN 0-02-903550-3.
  • Maltin, Leonard. Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia. New York: Dutton, 1994. ISBN 0-525-93635-1.
  • Morella, Joe and Edward Z. Epstein. Jane Wyman: A Biography. New York: Delacorte Pr Books, 1985. ISBN 978-0-38529-402-7.
  • Sperling, Cass Warner, Cork Millner and Jack Warner.Hollywood be Thy Name: The Warner Brothers Story. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1998. ISBN 978-0-81310-958-9.
  • Thomas, Tony. The Films of Olivia de Havilland. New York: Citadel Press, 1983. ISBN 978-0-80650-988-4.
  • Wallis, Hal B. and Charles Higham. Starmaker: The Autobiography of Hal Wallis. London: Macmillan Publishers, 1980. ISBN 0-02-623170-0.

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