Skip to main content

The Fred MacMurray Blogathon: The Collaborations of Fred MacMurray & Claudette Colbert

After the success of It Happened One Night (1934), Claudette Colbert became the biggest actress under contract to Paramount Pictures. Although the film had been made at Columbia, its popularity did not escape the attention of Paramount's executives, who decided to capitalize on Colbert's newfound fame as a comedienne. The studio promptly commissioned screenwriter Claude Binyon to create another romantic comedy for the actress. The result was The Gilded Lily (1935), the story of a stenographer who becomes a member of café society and must choose between a dashing English aristocrat and a common newspaper reporter.

Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert appeared in seven pictures together.

Whereas the part of the Englishman was perfectly suited for Ray Milland, there was some difficulty in casting the role of the reporter. Paramount initially wanted Franchot Tone, but Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer refused to loan him out. Cary Grant was then considered, but his light cockney accent made him «not American enough» to play a New York reporter.
 
Meanwhile, Wesley Ruggles, the director of The Gilded Lily, heard from his brother, actor Charlie Ruggles, of a tall, handsome young man he thought had «something.» That young man was Fred MacMurray, whom Charlie had worked with on Friends of Mr. Sweeney (1934). Accepting his brother's suggestion, Ruggles watched the film and, even though it was only a walk-on part, he agreed that Fred had «an imposing screen presence despite his rawness.»
 
Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert in The Gilded Lily.
 
Ruggles wanted to give Fred a chance, but The Gilded Lily was supposed to be a high-profile picture, and the studio expected a bigger star to appear opposite their number-one leading lady. The director then tried to enlist the support of Colbert, who had casting approval, behind Fred. He asked her to watch a screening of Grand Old Girl (1935) and this convinced Colbert of Fred's suitability for the role. She appealed on his behalf with the Paramount front office and, after much insistence, the studio finally agreed to cast Fred. When he learned that Colbert had requested him as her leading man, Fred felt like «all air had been let out of me
 
The day Fred met Claudette on the set he «felt all empty and hollow inside and weak in the knees. I felt drained. My mouth was dry and I was hyperventilating. I practically collapsed.» She immediately tried to put her inexperienced co-star at ease, but still the love scene was especially hard for Fred. «We had a big emotional scene,» he later recalled. «Kissing Claudette before the crew, the props and the electricians had me so embarrassed I didn't know what I was doing [...] Claudette rumpled my hair and kidded me, and finally I made it.» Fred would always credit Colbert with giving him the confidence to do a credible job despite his nerves.
 
Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert in The Gilded Lily.

Depression-era audiences were delighted with The Gilded Lily, which was placed on the National Board of Review's list of the ten best films of 1935. Paramount wanted to cash in on the successful duo with more joint features, while also exploiting the chemistry between Fred and Claudette in the fan magazines by fostering the idea that they were a romantic item on and off screen. Although Claudette had recently divorced her first husband, Fred was engaged to Lillian Lamont, whom he would eventually marry in 1936. He later said that Colbert was «a little rich for my blood romantically, though as a friend and a co-worker, she was A-number one

With no chance of building a romance between them in real life, Paramount continued to pair Fred and Claudette romantically on film. Their second picture together was The Bride Comes Home (1935), again written by Binyon and directed by Ruggles. It told the story of a penniless socialite (Colbert) who finds work as an assistant to a magazine editor (MacMurray). Like its predecessor, The Bride Comes Homes was a big hit, turning Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray into one of the most profitable teams in Hollywood.
 
Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert in The Brides Comes Home.
 
The duo was next cast in Maid of Salem (1937), their only dramatic picture together. Set during the Salem witch trials in 1692, the film was about a young woman (Colbert) sentenced to death on suspicion of witchcraft, but saved by her dashing adventurer lover (MacMurray). Maid of Salem was a critical and commercial failure, and both stars were disappointed with the outcome. Fred, for instance, always felt that he was miscast, recalling with a laugh, «I was the Irish cavalier. I can remember one review after the picture came out that said, 'At any minute we expected Fred MacMurray to take a saxophone out from under his cape.'»
 
Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert in Maid of Salem.
 
The failure of Maid of Salem made it obvious that Fred and Claudette were better suited to comedies. As such, Paramount again hired Claude Binyon to pen a vehicle for the two stars. He came up with No Time For Love (1943), the story of a magazine photographer (Colbert) assigned to take pictures of a tunnel construction site. While there, she falls in love with a cocky sandhog (MacMurray), after saving him from a fatal accident. Director Mitchell Leisen remembered the film as a «happy collaboration,» saying,
«Fred and Claudette worked so wonderfully together. Many times when I was setting up the next scene, they'd go off in a corner and work it up themselves. They'd show me how they wanted to do it and it would be just right [...] they were talented natural performers and I wanted them to do it in a way that was comfortable for them
 
No Time For Love was a great success among fans and critics alike, receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Art Direction/Interior Decoration (Black-and-White).
 
Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert in No Time For Love.
 
The fifth Colbert-MacMurray collaboration was Practically Yours (1944), which reunited them with Leisen. Fred played a Navy pilot who is presumed dead after crashing his plane into a Japanese aircraft carrier. The footage of the crash and his supposedly final reminiscence of walking in Central Park with «Piggy» and kissing her on the nose is sent back home and he becomes a national hero. Due to a typographical error, everybody thinks that «Piggy» was «Peggy» (Colbert), a girl who worked in his office, when in fact «Piggy» was his dog.

Neither Fred nor Claudette thought that they were right for their parts in Practically Yours. One day during the making of the film, he took her aside and complained, «Claudette, the trouble with his picture is that we're both goddamn old for it!» He was right; their characters should have been in their twenties when in fact Claudette was forty-one and Fred was thirty-six. As such, they were both ready to make the transition to more mature roles.
 
Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert in Practically Yours.
 
Fred and Claudette followed Practically Yours with The Egg and I (1947), based on the eponymous bestselling memoir by Betty MacDonald. They played a married couple who decide to leave the city and move to the country to become chicken farmers. Of course, they have the inevitable problems of adjusting to country life and fitting in. «Claudette and I worked darn hard,» Fred would later recall. «It wasn't easy for her getting all dirtied up, sliding off roofs and what not, but she was a wonderful sport, as always.» Directed by Chester Erskine, The Egg and I was a massive critical and financial success, becoming one of the biggest moneymakers of 1947 and one of biggest box office hits of Fred and Claudette's careers.
 
Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray in publicity stills for The Egg and I.

Their seventh and final picture together was Family Honeymoon (1949), directed by their old friend, Claude Binyon. Colbert played a widow with three children who falls in love with a botany professor (MacMurray). They get married, but find it hard to consummate their wedding vows when her children end up accompanying them on their honeymoon. Family Honeymoon opened to a lukewarm reception, which the two stars saw as an indication that perhaps the Colbert-MacMurray teaming had become outdated as Hollywood prepared to enter a new age.
 
Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert in Family Honeymoon.
 
Fred and Claudette enjoyed making Family Honeymoon, but they realized that their teaming was running out of gas. «We had been getting together fourteen years,» Fred said, «and by 1949 Claudette knew as well as I did that things run their good and proper course and then they are simply over. We had a long run, and a rewarding one, and there are no complaints to offer in retrospect.» They would never work together again, but Fred always regarded Claudette as a friend and essential to his career as an actor. «I'll never forget how kind Claudette was,» he recalled many years later. «She was so positive, so kind-hearted, and so unselfish with other players [...] Her work with me in The Gilded Lily set the pace for my future work [...]
 
 
This post is my contribution to The Fred MacMurray Blogathon, hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies. To view all entries to the blogathon, click HERE.


_____________________________________________ 
SOURCES:
Claudette Colbert: She Walked in Beauty by Bernard K. Dick (University Press of Mississippi, 2008)
Fred MacMurray: A Biography by Charles Tranberg (BearManor Media, 2014)

Comments

  1. The team came together at the right time and left us a lot of wonderful movie memories.

    When I'm having a movie snack I can't help but recall the exchange in The Gilded Lily about the difference between peanut eaters and popcorn eaters. We take a lot of things from the movies.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I havent seen any Fred Claudette pairings yet- but want to see The Gilded lily and The Egg and I- my Mom loves Ma and Pa kettle. But Fred's daughter in her TCM tribute video said Claudette and Carole were his 2 fave leading ladies I need to see the Claudette as Ive seen the Carole!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You should definitely see «The Egg and I». It's a really fun film. It's actually my favorite out of all the Colbert-MacMurray pairings.

      Delete
  3. This is a wonderful overview of the MacMurray-Claudette team, and what a team they were! I didn't realize they had done these many films together...some of them I hadn't heard of before. Thanks for all this new-to-me info. :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Can you believe I've only seen one of their collaborations together?! I must rectify this immediately.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert were a lovely couple on-screen. I really enjoyed watching them together even if I saw only one of the productions you mentioned. However, I understand the need they felt to work separately after making so many films with each other.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Golden Couples: Gary Cooper & Patricia Neal

It was April 1948 when director King Vidor spotted 22-year-old Patricia Neal on the Warner Bros. studio lot. A drama graduate from Northwestern University, she had just arrived in Hollywood following a Tony Award-winning performance in Lillian Hellman's Another Part of the Forest . Impressed by Patricia's looks, Vidor approached the young actress and asked if she would be interested in doing a screen test for the female lead in his newest film, The Fountainhead (1949). Gary Cooper had already signed as the male protagonist, and the studio was then considering Lauren Bacall and Barbara Stanwyck to play his love interest.          Neal liked the script and about two months later, she met with the director for sound and photographic tests. Vidor was enthusiastic about Patricia, but her first audition was a complete disaster. Cooper was apparently watching her from off the set and he was so unimpressed by her performance that he commented, « What's that!? » He tried to con

Golden Couples: Henry Fonda & Barbara Stanwyck

In the mid- and late 1930s, screwball comedy was in vogue and practically every actress in Hollywood tried her hand at it. Barbara Stanwyck never considered herself a naturally funny person or a comedienne per se , but after delivering a heart-wrenching performance in King Vidor's Stella Dallas (1937), she decided she needed a « vacation » from emotional dramas. In her search for a role, she stumbled upon a « champagne comedy » called The Mad Miss Manton (1938), originally intended as a Katharine Hepburn vehicle. Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda as Melsa and Peter in The Mad Miss Manton .   Directed by Leigh Jason from a script by Philip G. Epstein, The Mad Miss Manton begins when vivacious Park Avenue socialite Melsa Manton finds a corpse while walking her dogs in the early hours of the morning. She calls the police, but they dismiss the incident — not only because Melsa is a notorious prankster, but also because the body disappears in the meantime. Sarcastic newspaper editor

Films I Saw in 2020

For the past four years, I have shared with you a list of all the films I saw throughout 2016 , 2017 , 2018 and 2019 , so I thought I would continue the «tradition» and do it again in 2020. This list includes both classic and «modern» films, which make up a total of 161 titles. About three or four of these were re-watches, but I decided to include them anyway. Let me know how many from these you have seen. As always, films marked with a heart ( ❤ ) are my favorites. Sherlock Jr. (1924) | Starring Buster Keaton, Kathryn McGuire and Joe Keaton The Crowd (1928) | Starring James Murray, Eleanor Boardman and Bert Roach Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) | Starring Henry Fonda, Alice Brady and Marjorie Weaver Brief Encounter (1945) | Starring Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard and Stanley Holloway The Bells of St. Mary's (1945) | Starring Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman The Girl He Left Behind (1956) | Starring Tab Hunter and Natalie Wood Gidget (1959) | Starring Sandra Dee, Cliff Robertson an

Wings of Change: The Story of the First Ever Best Picture Winner

Wings was the first ever film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Since then, it has become one of the most influential war dramas, noted for its technical realism and spectacular air-combat sequences. This is the story of how it came to be made.   A man and his story The concept for Wings originated from a writer trying to sell one of his stories. In September 1924, Byron Morgan approached Jesse L. Lasky, vice-president of Famous Players-Lasky, a component of Paramount Pictures, proposing that the studio do an aviation film. Morgan suggested an «incident and plot» focused on the failure of the American aerial effort in World War I and the effect that the country's «aviation unpreparedness» would have in upcoming conflicts. Lasky liked the idea, and approved the project under the working title «The Menace.»   LEFT: Byron Morgan (1889-1963). RIGHT: Jesse L. Lasky (1880-1958).   During his development of the scenario with William Shepherd, a former war correspondent, Morga

80 Reasons Why I Love Classic Films (Part II)

I started this blog six years ago as a way to share my passion for classic films and Old Hollywood. I used to watch dozens of classic films every month, and every time I discovered a new star I liked I would go and watch their entire filmography. But somewhere along the way, that passion dimmed down. For instance, I watched 73 classic films in 2016, and only 10 in 2020. The other day, I found this film with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. that I had never heard of — the film is Mimi (1935), by the way — and for some reason it made me really excited about Old Hollywood again. It made me really miss the magic of that era and all the wonderful actors and actresses. And it also made me think of all the reasons why I fell in love with classic films in the first place. I came with 80 reasons, which I thought would be fun to share with you. Most of them are just random little scenes or quirky little quotes, but put them together and they spell Old Hollywood to me. Yesterday I posted part one ; here i

Top 10 Favourite Christmas Films

Christmas has always been a source of inspiration to many artists and writers. Over the years, filmmakers have adapted various Christmas stories into both movies and TV specials, which have become staples during the holiday season all around the world. Even though Christmas is my favourite holiday, I haven't watched a lot of Christmas films. Still, I thought it would be fun to rank my top 10 favourites, based on the ones that I have indeed seen. Here they are.  10. Holiday Affair (1949) Directed by Don Hartman, Holiday Affair tells the story of a young widow (Janet Leigh) torn between a boring attorney (Wendell Corey) and a romantic drifter (Robert Mitchum). She's engaged to marry the boring attorney, but her son (Gordon Gebert) likes the romantic drifter better. Who will she choose? Well, we all know who she will choose.   Holiday Affair is not by any means the greatest Christmas film of all time, but it's still a very enjoyable Yule-tide comedy to watch over the holi

The Gotta Dance! Blogathon: Gene Kelly & Judy Garland

In 1940, up-and-coming Broadway star Gene Kelly was offered the lead role in Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's new musical Pal Joey , based on the eponymous novel by John O'Hara about an ambitious and manipulative small-time nightclub performer. Opening at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Christmas Day of that year, the show brought Gene his best reviews up to that date. For instance, John Martin of The New York Times wrote of him: «A tap-dancer who can characterize his routines and turn them into an integral element of an imaginative theatrical whole would seem to be pretty close, indeed, to unique .»   One of Gene's performances in Pal Joey was attended by established Hollywood star Judy Garland , who requested to meet him after the show. Gene agreed and then accompanied Judy and her entourage, which included her mother Ethel and several press agents, to dinner at the newly-opened Copacabana nightclub, at 10 East 60th Street. They sang and danced until 3 a.m., after whi

Films I Saw in July & August

In the past five years, I shared a year-end list of the films I saw throughout 2016 , 2017 , 2018 , 2019 and 2020 . For 2021, I decided to do this monthly and share a list of the films I saw during each month of the year. These are the films I saw in July and August, which make up a total of 18 titles. As always, films marked with a heart ( ❤ ) are my favourites.   Resistance (2011) | Starring Andrea Riseborough, Tom Wlaschiha and Michael Sheen Siberian Education [Educazione siberiana] (2013) | Starring Arnas Fedaravi čius The Last of Robin Hood (2013) | Starring Kevin Kline and Dakota Fanning The Water Diviner (2014) | Starring Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko and Yılmaz Erdoğan Holding the Man (2015) | Starring Ryan Corr, Craig Stott and Anthony LaPaglia The Last King [Birkebeinerne] (2016) | Starring Jakob Oftebro and Kristofer Hivju The Pass (2016) | Starring Russell Tovey and Arinzé Kene Access All Areas (2017) | Starring Ella Purnell, Edward Bluemel and Georgie Henle

The Sinatra Centennial Blogathon: Frank Sinatra & Gene Kelly

  In January 1944, MGM chief Louis B. Mayer happened to see a young crooner by the name of Frank Sinatra perform at a benefit concert for The Jewish Home for the Aged in Los Angeles. According to Nancy Sinatra, Frank's eldest daughter, Mayer was so moved by her father's soulful rendition of « Ol' Man River » that he made the decision right then and there to sign Frank to his studio. Sinatra had been on the MGM payroll once before, singing with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in the Eleanor Powell vehicle Ship Ahoy (1942), although it is very likely that Mayer never bothered to see that film. Now that Frank was «hot,» however, Metro made arrangements to buy half of his contract from RKO, with the final deal being signed in February of that year. Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in  Anchors Aweigh Being a contract player at the studio that boasted «more stars than there are in the heavens» gave Frank a sudden perspective regarding his own talents as a film performer. The «g

Films I Saw in May & June

In the past five years, I shared a year-end list of the films I saw throughout 2016 , 2017 , 2018 , 2019 and 2020 . For 2021, I decided to do this monthly and share a list of the films I saw during each month of the year. These are the films I saw in May and June, which make up a total of 16 titles. As always, films marked with a heart ( ❤ ) are my favourites.   Pelle the Conqueror [Pelle Erobreren] (1987) | Starring Pelle Hvenegaard The Elementary School [ Obecná škola] (1991) | Starring Václav Jakoubek Female Agents [Les Femmes de l'ombre] (2008) | Starring Sophie Marceau Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe [Vor der Morgenröte] (2016) | Starring Josef Hader ❤ Cold War [Zimna wojna] (2018) | Starring Tomasz Kot, Joanna Kulig and Borys Szyc Dreamland (2019) | Starring Finn Cole, Margot Robbie, Travis Fimmel and Garrett Hedlund Mr Jones (2019) | Starring James Norton, Vanessa Kirby and Peter Sarsgaard Official Secrets (2019) | Starring Keira Knightley, Matt Smith an