The Happiest Millionaire is a 1967 musical film starring Fred MacMurray and based upon the true story of Philadelphia Main Line millionaire Anthony J. Drexel Biddle. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Costume Design by Bill Thomas. The musical song score is by Robert and Richard Sherman. The screenplay is by AJ Carothers based on the play that was based on the book My Philadelphia Father by Cordelia Drexel Biddle. This was the last film with involvement from Walt Disney, who died during its production.
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 are painful for Cordy. To make matters worse, their families' elaborate planning for the "social event of the season" (it is by now 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 (Short version ends here). 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 songs "Let's Have a Drink on It" and "Fortuosity" are used in the Main Street USA loops at the Disneyland-style parks.
The phone booth Mrs. Worth uses to make a call still exists. It is located inside Club 33 at Disneyland Park. Guests of the Club can use it to make phone calls.
Some of the décor and set pieces from the "Let's Have a Drink on It" bar set were salvaged and placed into the Café Orleans restaurant in Disneyland's New Orleans Square.
The film previewed at the length of 172 minutes, which included overture, intermission music, entr'acte, and exit music. However, the studio decided to shorten the film to 160 minutes soon afterwards for its premiere. In the face of mixed reviews and low box-office returns, the studio cut it to 144 minutes. Again failing to stem the tide, they cut it to 118 minutes. The complete 172 minute version was restored for the Disney Channel, and has been released on DVD, as have shorter versions. The full-length version was released on DVD in 2004, and was called the "Road Show" edition.