Costume Designer Bill Thomas, whose film credits passed the 200 mark in 1965, created more than 250 lavish costumes for the principal "Millionaire" players alone. More than 3000 complete outfits, valued at $250,000, were required for the entire production.
The story begins in Autumn of 1916, and follows an Irish immigrant named John Lawless (Tommy Steele) as he applies for a butler position with eccentric Philadelphia millionaire Anthony J. Drexel Biddle (Fred MacMurray). Even though the family is a bit strange, Lawless soon learns that he fits right in. Mr. Biddle takes a liking to him immediately. For the rest of the film, Lawless serves as the narrator/commentator.
Mr. Biddle busies himself with his Biddle Boxing and Bible School (located in his stable) and with his alligators in the conservatory. He is also anxious to get America into the War in Europe (World War I), despite the government's policy of neutrality. His wife, Cordelia (Greer Garson), stands quietly by, accepting his eccentricities with a sense of pride and class. Their two sons, Tony and Livingston (Paul Petersen and Eddie Hodges, respectively) are headed off to boarding school, never to be seen in the film again. Their daughter, Cordy (Lesley Ann Warren, in her film debut), is a tomboy with a mean right hook who was educated by private tutors and has had limited contact with conventional society. She is frustrated by her apparent inability to attract suitors and wants to see what is beyond the Biddle manor.
Mr. Biddle reluctantly lets Cordy go to a boarding school as well (after some prodding from both Cordy and from his Aunt Mary (Gladys Cooper), where her roommate teaches her how to lure men with feminine wiles, known as "Bye-Yum Pum Pum". At a social dance hosted by her aunt and uncle, Cordy meets Angier Buchanan Duke (John Davidson, in his film debut) and they fall in love. He tells Cordy that he is fascinated with the new automobile and wants to head to Detroit, Michigan to make his fortune there, instead of taking over his family's tobacco business.
That winter, Cordy comes back to her parents' home and tells them that she is engaged. At first, this is a difficult thing for Mr. Biddle to take. He does not want to give up his little girl. But, after meeting Angie and witnessing first-hand his Jiu Jitsu fighting skills, Mr. Biddle takes a liking to him and accepts the engagement. Then Cordy travels with Angie to New York City to meet his mother (Geraldine Page). Soon the Biddles and the Dukes are making arrangements for a very grand wedding.
Constant condescending comments from Angie's mother anger Cordy. To make matters worse, their families' elaborate planning for the "social event of the season" (it is by now the spring of 1917), makes both Cordy and Angie feel pushed aside. The tension reaches a climax when Cordy learns that Angie has abandoned his plans for Detroit, and is instead taking his place in the family business, following his mother's wishes. Cordy angrily calls the wedding off, thinking of Angie as a mama's boy, and Angie storms out of the house. Both families are instantly in a tremendous state of upheaval. Mr. Biddle sends John Lawless to look after Angie.
John finds Angie at the local tavern, contemplating what he will do next. During a rousing song-and-dance sequence, John tries to convince Angie to go back to Cordy. However, Angie is stubborn and thinks of other ways to deal with his problems, among other things saying that he wants to join the Foreign Legion. Angie unwittingly starts a bar fight (with a little help from John) and is hauled off to jail.
The next morning, Mr. Biddle comes to bail Angie out. He tells Angie he has to forget about his own dreams and accept his place in the family business. His words have the desired effect, inspiring Angie to defy his mother and elope with Cordy and go to Detroit. Cordy, however, believes her father talked Angie into it, so to prove his sincerity, amid the cheering of the cell mates, Angie throws Cordy over his shoulder and carries her out of the jail house to start their new life together. (The short version of the film ends at this point.) After Mr. and Mrs. Biddle return home a delegation of Marines arrive to inform him he has been made a "provisional captain" in the Marine Corps; and is wanted immediately to go to Parris Island to help/continue training the recruits, now that America is finally entering the War. Mr. Biddle accepts with delight, and the hearty congratulations of his suddenly appearing Bible Boxing Class. Behind the final credits a car is seen driving toward a city skyline (apparently Detroit) dominated by factories spewing smoke to blacken the sky over the city.Fred MacMurray as Father
Greer Garson as Mother
Gladys Cooper as Aunt Mary
Geraldine Page as Mrs. Duke
Tommy Steele as John Lawless
Hermione Baddeley as Mrs. Worth
John Davidson as Angie
Lesley Ann Warren as Cordy
Paul Petersen as Tony
Eddie Hodges as Livingston
Joyce Bulifant as Rosemary
Sean McClory as Police Sgt.
Jim McMullan as Lt. Powell
William Wellman, Jr. as Lt. Grayson
Aron Kincaid as Walter Blakely
- "What's Wrong with That?"
- "Watch Your Footwork"
- "Valentine Candy"
- "Strengthen the Dwelling"
- "I'll Always Be Irish"
- "Bye-Yum Pum Pum"
- "Are We Dancing?"
- "I Believe in This Country"
- "There Are Those"
- "Let's Have a Drink On It"
- "It Won't Be Long 'Til Christmas (Let Them Go)" (Roadshow version only)
The song "Detroit" contains the lyric "F.O.B. Detroit" (free on board). According to the Shermans, Walt Disney was walking down the hall of the studio animation building and overheard them singing the song. Walt, misinterpreting the phrase as "S.O.B.", immediately went into their office and scolded them for using such offensive language in a Disney movie. The Shermans explained Walt's misinterpretation and they all had a good laugh about it.
The original cast soundtrack was released on Buena Vista Records in stereo (STER-5001) and mono (BV-5001) versions. A second cast recording with studio singers and orchestrations by Tutti Camarata appeared on Disneyland Records in stereo (STER-1303) and mono (DQ-1303).
The cast soundtrack was re-released on CD in 2002 (60781-7), remastered from the original 8-track master tapes to reduce the heavy reverb from the original LP. It is currently available on iTunes.
Diana Ross and the Supremes covered "It Won't Be Long 'Til Christmas" for their planned album of Disney covers, but the tracks from that session were not released until the 1980s.
The 1955 book My Philadelphia Father by Kyle Crichton laid the foundation for the story. Crichton adapted his book for the Broadway stage. The play, now called The Happiest Millionaire, opened on Broadway on November 20, 1956 at the Lyceum Theatre. Walter Pidgeon portrayed Anthony J. Drexel Biddle, while George Grizzard played Angier Duke. The production ran for 271 performances, closing on July 13, 1957.
Walt Disney acquired the rights to the play in the early 1960s, but he had no intent of making it into a musical at first. After noting the collective box office success of Mary Poppins, My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music, the first of which he actually produced, the film's original producer, Bill Walsh, decided to make the film into a musical. Afterwards, Walt reassigned him to Blackbeard's Ghost, replacing him with Bill Anderson.
While the Sherman Brothers wanted Rex Harrison for the lead role, Walt Disney insisted on, and eventually got, Fred MacMurray. Harrison would have been unavailable anyway, as he was shooting Doctor Dolittle for 20th Century Fox.
Lesley Ann Warren, whom Walt had seen in the 1965 CBS television production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, made her film debut here. She also met her future husband, Jon Peters, during the film's production.
When Walt Disney died on December 15, 1966, the film had a first cut already completed. Walt told Anderson to use his own judgement, but added, "Don't let the distribution people rush you..." Anderson wanted to shorten the film (he disliked "It Won't Be Long 'Til Christmas" and Greer Garson's performance of it ), but not as much as Disney COO Card Walker wanted to. They fought bitterly over the extent of the cuts.
The film opened at 164 minutes to mixed reviews. Robert Sherman was in England during the film's Hollywood premiere at the Pantages Theatre, but he became furious when he discovered in the Los Angeles Times that a theater in the vicinity was showing a double feature of The Shaggy Dog and The Absent-Minded Professor at a much lower price. In order to satisfy requests from Radio City Music Hall, the site of the film's New York premiere, Disney cut 20 minutes from the film after the LA Premiere. For the general release, the film was shortened even further to 118 minutes. After that, it never had any theatrical reissues or appeared on TV until 1984 (coincidentally, the same year the real Cordelia Drexel Biddle died), when the 164-minute version was screened at the Los Angeles International Film Expo and aired on The Disney Channel.
The film was first released to videotape in 1983, then reissued in 1986. Both releases are of the 144-minute version.
Anchor Bay Entertainment released separate DVDs of both the long and short versions on July 20, 1999. The long version, presented on video for the first time, was in 1.66:1 non-anamorphic widescreen, but the short version was 1.33:1.
Disney released its own DVD of the film on June 1, 2004, including only the long version. It adds two things missing from the Anchor Bay DVD: the Intermission music at the end of act I and the exit music at the end of act II.