The Gay Divorcee
|The Gay Divorcee|
theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Mark Sandrich|
|Produced by||Pandro S. Berman|
|Screenplay by||George Marion Jr.|
|Based on||Gay Divorce|
by Dwight Taylor
|Edited by||William Hamilton|
|Distributed by||RKO Radio Pictures|
|Box office||$1.8 million|
The Gay Divorcee is a 1934 American musical film directed by Mark Sandrich and starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It also features Alice Brady, Edward Everett Horton, Eric Blore, and Erik Rhodes, and was based on the Broadway musical Gay Divorce, written by Dwight Taylor from an unproduced play by J. Hartley Manners, which was adapted into a musical by Kenneth S. Webb and Samuel Hoffenstein. The film's screenplay was written by George Marion Jr., Dorothy Yost, and Edward Kaufman. Robert Benchley, H. W. Hanemann, and Stanley Rauh made uncredited contributions to the dialogue.
The stage version included many songs by Cole Porter, which were left out of the film, except for "Night and Day". Although the film's screenplay changed most of the songs, it kept the original plot of the stage version. The film features three members of the play's original cast repeating their stage roles - Astaire, Rhodes, and Eric Blore. The Hays Office insisted on the name change, from "Gay Divorce" to "The Gay Divorcee", believing that while a divorcee could be gay or lighthearted, it would be unseemly to allow a divorce to appear so. Although according to Astaire's autobiography (Steps in Time: An Autobiography), the change was made by a proactive effort from RKO. He claims that director, Mark Sandrich, told him that The Gay Divorcee was selected as the new name because the studio "thought it was a more attractive-sounding title, centered around a girl." RKO even offered fifty dollars to any employee who could come up with a better title. In the United Kingdom, the film was released with the original name of the play, Gay Divorce.
Mimi Glossop (Ginger Rogers) arrives in England to seek a divorce from her geologist husband Cyril Glossop (William Austin), whom she has not seen for several years. Under the guidance of her domineering and much-married Aunt Hortense (Alice Brady), she consults incompetent and bumbling lawyer Egbert Fitzgerald (Edward Everett Horton), once a fiancé of her aunt. He arranges for her to spend a night at a seaside hotel and to be caught in an adulterous relationship, for which purpose he hires a professional co-respondent, Rodolfo Tonetti (Erik Rhodes). But Egbert forgets to arrange for private detectives to "catch" the couple.
By coincidence, Guy Holden (Fred Astaire) an American dancer and friend of Egbert's, who briefly met Mimi on her arrival in England, and who is now besotted with her, also arrives at the hotel, only to be mistaken by Mimi for the co-respondent she has been waiting for. While they are in Mimi's bedroom, Tonetti arrives, revealing the truth, and holds them "prisoner" to suit the plan. They contrive to escape and dance the night away.
In the morning, after several mistakes with the waiter, Cyril arrives at the door, so Guy hides in the next room, while Mimi and Tonetti give a show of being lovers. When Cyril does not believe them, Guy comes out and embraces Mimi in an attempt to convince him that he is her lover, but to no avail. It is an unwitting waiter (Eric Blore) who finally clears the whole thing up by revealing that Cyril himself is an adulterer, thus clearing the way for Mimi to get a divorce and marry Guy.
- Fred Astaire as Guy Holden
- Ginger Rogers as Mimi
- Alice Brady as Hortense
- Edward Everett Horton as Egbert
- Erik Rhodes as Tonetti
- Eric Blore as The Waiter
- William Austin as Cyril Glossop
- Charles Coleman as The Valet
- Lillian Miles as Guest
- Betty Grable as Guest
New songs introduced in the film
- The Continental (w. Herb Magidson m. Con Conrad) which won the first Academy Award for Best Original Song, and is the music to the twenty-minute dance sequence towards the end of the film, sung by Ginger, Erik Rhodes and Lillian Miles, danced by Ginger and Fred. Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra recorded the music in their very first RCA Victor recording session, in Boston's Symphony Hall, on July 1, 1935; the recording can be heard on YouTube.
- Don't Let It Bother You (w. Mack Gordon m. Harry Revel) opening number, sung by chorus, danced by Fred
- Let's K-nock K-nees (w. Mack Gordon m. Harry Revel) at the beach resort, sung by Betty Grable, danced by Betty Grable, Edward Everett Horton and chorus
- Needle in a Haystack (w. Herb Magidson m. Con Conrad), sung and danced by Fred
- Night and Day (Cole Porter) sung by Fred, danced by Ginger and Fred in a hotel suite overlooking an English Channel beach at night
After the success of Astaire and Rogers’ first feature, Flying Down to Rio, RKO’s head of production, Pandro S. Berman, purchased the screen rights to Dwight Taylor’s Broadway hit Gay Divorce with another Astaire and Rogers matchup in mind. According to Fred Astaire’s autobiography, director Mark Sandrich claimed that RKO altered the title to insinuate that the film concerned the amorous adventures of a recently divorced woman (“divorcée”).
Dance routines from the film, specifically "Night and Day" and the scene where Astaire dances on the table, were taken from Astaire’s performances in the original play, The Gay Divorce. The "Don't Let It Bother You" dance came from foolhardy antics during rehearsals and became an in-joke in future Astaire-Rogers films.
Exteriors set in what was supposed to be the English countryside were shot in Clear Lake, California. Additional exteriors were filmed in Santa Monica and Santa Barbara, California.
James Wingate, Director of the Studio Relations Office for RKO, warned: “considering the delicate nature of the subject upon which this script is based...great care should be taken in the scenes dealing with Mimi’s lingerie, and… no intimate article should be used”. Wingate also insisted that no actor or actress appear in only pajamas.
The title from the musical - Gay Divorce - was dropped "as too frivolous toward marriage by the censors" and modified to Divorcee
According to RKO records the film earned $1,077,000 in the US and Canada and $697,000 elsewhere resulting in a profit of $584,000.
New York Times Critic Andre Sennwald (November 16, 1934) said of the film: “Like the carefree team of Rogers and Astaire, The Gay Divorcee is gay in its mood and smart in its approach. For subsidiary humor, there are Alice Brady as the talkative aunt; Edward Everett Horton as the confused lawyer .. and Erik Rhodes ... as the excitable correspondent, who takes the correct pride in his craftsmanship and objects to outside interference. All of them plus the Continental, help to make the new Music Hall show the source of a good deal of innocent merriment.” 
Awards and honors
- Art Direction (Van Nest Polglase, Carroll Clark) (Nominated)
- Music (Scoring) (Max Steiner) (Nominated)
- Music (Song) - "The Continental" (Won) - the first winner of this award; it won against "Carioca", from the previous Astaire-Rogers film, Flying Down to Rio
- Best Film (Nominated)
- Sound Recording (Carl Dreher) (Nominated)
- Richard Jewel, 'RKO Film Grosses: 1931-1951', Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television, Vol 14 No 1, 1994 p55
- ReelClassics.com (December 16, 2008). "Ginger Rogers & Fred Astaire 2: The Gay Divorcee (1934) at Reel Classics". Reelclassics.com. Retrieved July 23, 2016.
- Gay Divorce at the Internet Broadway Database
- "Screenplay ino" on TCM.com
- "Talkin' Broadway Regional News & Reviews: San Francisco - "Gay Divorce" - 4/29/07". Broadwaytalk.com. November 29, 1932. Retrieved July 23, 2016.
- Astaire, Fred (2008). Steps in Time: An Autobiography. New York: Harper. p. 198. ISBN 0061567566.
“The Gay Divorcee” was selected as the new name because the studio "thought it was a more attractive-sounding title, centered around a girl."
- "Detail view of Movies Page". www.afi.com. Retrieved December 16, 2016.
- "Earliest Videos/TV Episodes/Feature Films/Short Films/Documentaries/Video Games/Mini-Series/TV Movies/TV Specials With Fred Astaire And Ginger Rogers". IMDb.com. Retrieved July 23, 2016.
- "The Gay Divorcee (1934) - Notes - TCM.com". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved December 16, 2016.
- "The Gay Divorcee (1934) - Trivia - TCM.com". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved December 16, 2016.
- Sarris, 1998. p. 43
- "The Gay Divorcee". The New York Times. Retrieved December 7, 2008.
- By, A. S. (November 16, 1934). ' The gay divorcee,' with fred astaire and ginger rogers, at the music hall -- 'redhead.'. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/101148306
- "The 7th Academy Awards (1935) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved August 7, 2011.
- Mankiewicz, Ben (June 7, 2016) outro to the Turner Classic Movies showing of The Gay Divorcee