Friday, January 15, 2021

William Powell and Carole Lombard in “My Man Godfrey”

My Man Godfrey (1936) is an American screwball comedy directed by Gregory La Cava and starring William Powell and Carole Lombard. The film is based on a short novel, 1101 Park Avenue by Eric S. Hatch. My Man Godfrey is considered one of the best screwball comedies of all time. In 1999, the film was deemed “culturally significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Carole Lombard and William Powell

During the Great Depression, two socialite sisters, Cornelia and Irene Bullock (Gail Patrick and Carole Lombard respectively) are competing in a charity scavenger hunt and need to find a “forgotten man.” They come across a man living in a New York City dump, but Cornelia gets to him first. She offers Godfrey Smith (William Powell) $5 if he will come play along and help her win the scavenger hunt. Godfrey finds Cornelia’s attitude annoying and backs her up into an ash pile. Irene who has been watching the whole episode ends up speaking with Godfrey who finds her to be kind, but a little bit crazy, decides to help her. Irene drives the two of them to the Waldorf-Ritz Hotel where she presents Godfrey as her forgotten man. Irene wins the scavenger hunt and is so grateful that she offers Godfrey a job as a butler in her family’s home. Little does Godfrey realize that the Bullock family is quite eccentric and hasn’t been able to keep a butler for more than a few days. 

Myrna Loy and Powell in The Thin Man

Godfrey is a success as a butler impressing the entire family especially Irene who finds herself falling in love with him. But Godfrey has a secret and Cornelia, who has held a grudge since she fell in the ash pile, is determined to expose it.

Gregory La Cava (1892 – 1952) was an American film director best known for several landmark films from the 1930s including My Man Godfrey and Stage Door (1937). La Cava was born in Pennsylvania and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. La Cava directed many of the top stars during his heyday including Irene Dunne, Helen Hayes, Constance Bennett, Charles Boyer, Claudette Colbert, Joel McCrea, Melvin Douglas, and Katharine Hepburn. LaCava directed Ginger Rogers in three films in three years: Stage Door, Fifth Avenue Girl (1939), and Primrose Path (1940).

William Powell (1892 – 1984) was an American actor who was most famous for the Thin Man series in which he costarred with Myrna Loy. Loy and Powell made 14 films together. Powell was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor three times: The Thin Man (1934), My Many Godfrey (1936), and Life With Father (1947). Powell was under contract to Paramount, Warner Bros., and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer where he had his greatest success. Some of Powell’s popular films include Manhattan Melodrama (1934), The Great Ziegfeld (1936), Libeled Lady (1936), The Last of Mrs. Cheney (1937), Love Crazy (1941), Life with Father (1947), The Senator Was Indiscreet (1947), Dancing in the Dark (1949), How to Marry a Millionare (1953), and Mister Roberts (1955).

Clark Gable and Carole Lombard on their wedding day

Carole Lombard (1908 – 1942) was an American film actress who gained great fame starring in screwball comedies. So popular was she as a comedic actress that Life magazine dubbed her “The Screwball Girl.” He got her start in silent films as a child and progressed to more important roles when a car accident almost ended her career. Glass from the car’s windshield cut up her face leaving her with a small scar. She eventually hit the big time in 1934 with her breakout performance in Twentieth Century co-starring John Barrymore. The film directed by Howard Hawks (a distant cousin of Lombard’s) lead to better roles and eventually superstardom. In Lombard’s short career, she appeared in several iconic films including My Man Godfrey, Nothing Sacred (1937), Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941) directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and To Be or Not to Be (1942). At the height of her career, Lombard died in a plane crash while returning from a bond tour. At the time of her death, she was married to Clark Gable. Together they were one of Hollywood’s original power couples.

The excellent supporting cast includes Alice Brady, Gail Patrick, Jean Dixon, Eugene Pallette, Alan Mowbray, Mischa Auer, and Franklin Pangborn.

My Man Godfrey trivia:

  • Was the first movie to be nominated in all four acting categories.
  • Marion Davies, Constance Bennett, and Miriam Hopkins were all considered for the role of Irene.
  • William Powell and Carole Lombard were once husband and wife and had been divorced for three years when they made the film.
  • Jane Wyman has an uncredited role standing in the crowd in the Waldorf-Ritz Hotel.
  • Gail Patrick (Cornelia) played Irene’s (Lombard) older sister, but in reality, was almost three years younger.

To watch the film on YouTube, click on the link below.

To join us for a discussion on Zoom on January 19, 2021, at 6 p.m. Central Time, click here. Once you RSVP, you will receive an email with an invitation to the discussion with the appropriate links. 

Questions for discussion:

  1. Is there a serious message amidst all the comedy? If yes, what is it?
  2. What do you think motivated Godfrey to get back on his feet?
  3. Did you have a favorite supporting character?
  4. Did Lombard and Powell have believable screen chemistry?
  5. Why do you think the film has remained a classic 85 years after its initial release?

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