There are big personalities, and then there’s Auntie Mame! Rosalind Russell brought contagious energy to the carefree hedonist, and audiences flocks to see her on stage and on the screen.
Russell said, “She just flew into everybody’s hearts. It was the Eisenhower fifties. People were desperately looking for color in their lives.”
Below are some colorful behind-the-scenes facts about the beloved comedy.
1. It was a Broadway smash.
Auntie Mame opened on Broadway in 1956 and ran for over 600 performances with rave reviews for Rosalind Russell in the lead. Interestingly, Eve Arden was, at one point, talked about to take the helm for the film adaption. However, Russell, Peggy Cass, Jan Handzlik, and Yuki Shimoda were allowed time off from the production to star in the film. When she heard about the news, Russell telegrammed Handzlik: “Dear Little Patrick: Now wash your hands and comb your hair and be my own darling nephew all over again. Good luck. Auntie Mame.”
2. Vivian Vance was almost cast.
The I Love Lucy co-star screen tested to play Vera Charles, the boozy Broadway actress. However, she eventually backed out when her schedule wouldn’t allow her to commit to the film. Coral Browne, a Broadway veteran herself, took the part. Unfortunately, a hair dresser gave her a bad dye job for the film, and Browne said, "I arrived on set bald!" A turban was used to conceal the over-treatment.
3. The studio wanted a sequel.
Auntie Mame was based on the novel by Patrick Dennis, and before filming began, Dennis dedicated his sequel book Around the World With Auntie Mame to her. Russell telegrammed: “How can I begin to thank you for the warm and wonderful dedication. I am so touched and grateful.” After the success fo the film, Jack Warner wanted the sequel to be adapted. However, Russell declined – a choice she later said was a bad decision. She said, “I think I should have done it, but I didn’t want to repeat myself in any way.”
4. Scenes were cut for time.
Screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green were hired, at Russell’s suggestion, to adapt the play for the screen. They had previously written Wonderful Town, for which Russell won a Tony award. Unfortunately, due to the film’s run time, some of the new content they created didn’t make the cut, including moments when Auntie Mame goes looking for work. Comden said, "She tried to run the house, tried to get a job as a cook somewhere. There were several job-hunting expeditions which all ended up horribly for her." One addition that they were particularly proud that did remain was the hydraulic furniture at the end.
5. The cocktails were dangerous.
And no one could actually drink them. Auntie Mame’s “Flaming Mame” cocktails consisted of synthetic alcohol and sterno, a jellied alcohol. The cups were made out of metal to keep from melting, and gelatin was used at the bottom of the cup to keep the actors from getting burned. A fire crew was standing by as they filmed. When Russell playfully slapped Willard Waterman, he accidently spilt the concoction onto his hand, onto Lee Patrick’s dress, and on the carpet. Thankfully, his hand wasn't severely injured, though the dress and carpet were singed.