WEIRDLAND: Fred MacMurray & Ray Milland: rivals in "The Gilded Lily"

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Fred MacMurray & Ray Milland: rivals in "The Gilded Lily"

"The Gilded Lily" (1935) directed by Wesley Ruggles, starring Claudette Colbert, Ray Milland and Fred MacMurray

"The Gilded Lily" (working title "One Night Like This") told the story of a New York stenographer (Claudette Colbert) who meets an Englishman (the rising Ray Milland) and falls in love with him. She finds out that the Englishman is a nobleman and is also engaged. There is a third character (the more pivotal male role, actually), a reporter and platonic friend, who writes a series of articles about the girl who refuses nobility. When the stories reach the mases Colbert's character becomes a member of café society. Ultimately, she must choose between the nobleman and the reporter.

The nobleman is not written as an out-and-out scoundrel, and, as played by Ray Milland, is quite attractive. But the pivotal role of the reporter hadn't yet been cast, and he had to be attractive enough to compete with the darkly handsome Milland. Paramount attempted to borrow Franchot Tone from MGM, but since they had just loaned him to Paramount for "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" they were not about to allow Paramount to borrow him for a second picture in a row. There was some thought of 30-year-old Cary Grant for the reporter, but with his slight cockney accent he was not considered American enough.

Ruggles decided to try and enlist the support of Colbert behind Fred MacMurray. In his autobiography, George Murphy recalls that he is the one instrumental in getting Wesley Ruggles to select Fred for "The Gilded Lily." After Gary Cooper had proved unavailable for "Hands Across the Table" (1935) the studio had thought of Ray Milland for the part of Ted.

Mitchell Leisen had just worked on a picture with Milland: "Four Hours to Kill!" (1935) and felt that the actor could handle the job, but Milland backed off because at this point in his career, despite "The Gilded Lily," he felt uncomfortable performing comedy. Again, the studio thought of Franchot Tone, but when Lombard saw "The Gilded Lily" all bets were off. Lombard's biographer would later write, "Carole certainly knew who Fred MacMurray was. She had danced to music generated by local bands that employed him as a saxophonist, before she had made her first real dent in pictures."

Fred MacMurray's big 1938 release was William Wellman's production of "Men with Wings", an aviation film he starred in with Ray Milland. The Hollywood Reporter had at one time reported that Cary Grant and Randolph Scott were locked into making this film. Wellman was one of Hollywood's supreme action directors and had a particular feeling and love for aviation films and he would go to great lengths on this film to get the kinds of aerial shots necessary as well. Fred MacMurray had thought of being a pilot when he was growing up and as things would turn out he would appear in several films as a pilot.

In 1941 while working on "I Wanted Wings" with William Holden, Ray Milland went up with the flight crew filming aerial scenes. While in mid-air Milland decided on the spur of the moment that he'd like the chance to do a parachute jump, but at the last minute the pilot decided that Milland would have to wait till next time, their fuel situation was getting to low to reach the proper altitude for a jump. It was a good thing too. When Milland got back on the ground he learned that the "parachute" he intended to use was really "just a prop."

Boo Roos (a financial advisor of Hollywood actors) soon found that Fred was the ideal client because of his incredible fidelity to the extraordinary budget that he often placed his famous clients on. Roos' Beverly Management paid the MacMurray's mortage and utility bills. Meanwhile, the bulk of Fred's money was invested. In the early 1940s Boo Roos and his seventeen-employee company, Beverly Management Corporation, was at its peak and had a client list which was the envy on Hollywood: John Wayne, Merle Oberon, Bing Crosby, Ray Milland, Red Skelton, Johnny Weissmuller, Lupe Velez, Joan Crawford and Marlene Dietrich.

In August 1941, Roos took MacMurray, John Wayne, Ray Milland and Ward Bond in his forty-foot cabin cruiser on what had been called a 'pleasure cruise' to Mexico. While they were in Acapulco, Roos convinced the foursome to invest in a 28-room resort hotel which stood high above a cliff along the Acapulco beach. Many of the investors would often come and stay or allow their friends to stay for free. All but Fred, who believed if enough people stayed for free the hotel would eventually lose money. Bo Christian Roos would one day become a controversial figure when some of his clients found that the investments that he had made on their behalf were bad and they lost their fortunes and had to start over again. John Wayne is the primary example of this. At one time he was one of Roos' most famous clients but when Wayne was financing his dream project, the film "The Alamo" in the late '50s, he asked Roos to give him a report. Roos eventually had to admit the awful truth that Wayne had lost virtually everything. -"Fred MacMurray: A Biography" (2007) by Charles Tranberg

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