"New York, New York! You high and mighty, bright and shiny fabulous place, New York!
New York, New York! You busy, dizzy, razzle-dazzle, scandalous place, New York!
Guys with easy money tryin' to blow it! Dolls with hidden talent dyin' to show it!
Take off for Broadway by taxi, by subway! And land on the town! A merry-go-round!
New York, New York! Where millionaires and Cinderellas rendezvous at the Stork!
In Central Park, romantic babies and their fellas rendezvous in the dark!
Crazy city with its hat on the steeple!
Noisy city with its millions of people!
Doorway to glory and fortune and fame!
You'll never get your fill of it! Never forget the thrill of it!
Glorious, glamorous wonderland - New York!"
Which is often.
That said, its memorable opening, unusual for its time, was a conceit to introduce moviegoers to the wonders of Stereophonic Sound and the new CinemaScope process. "Millionaire" was planned as Fox's first presentation in a modern anamorphic format but its release was delayed. And so, "The Robe," a 1953 biblical epic considered the more important film by the studio, introduced CinemaScope. (The two titles were filmed concurrently.)
Which is always.
To say that it's aged well is to seriously underestimate the film. It's effortlessly funny and incredibly watchable, thanks largely to the three-way chemistry and off-screen camaraderie of its leads - Betty Grable (a Fox veteran who receives top billing on screen), Marilyn Monroe (Fox's new darling who received top billing in the ads) and, in her first comedy, Lauren Bacall (who, of the three, provides the film with its titanic supporting structure and, despite its status as an ensemble piece, is the movie's actual star).
And scenarist Nunnally Johnson (with Marilyn, on her right) - the author of "The World of Henry Orient" - based his fizzy script on two plays, "Loco" by Dale Eunson and Katherine Albert and "The Greeks Had a Word for It" by Zoë Akins.
All of this is in preamble to a conceit of my own - a little fantasy casting. While I don't necessarily endorse the idea of remakes, I do appreciate that a few have worked - and must confess that I toy with the idea of a remake of "How to Marry a Millionaire" every time I stop what I'm doing to sit down and watch it yet again - yes, again - on Turner Classic Movies.
I can't resist - either the film or my fantasy.
Even though the movie purist in me bristles at the thought of an actual remake of the film (and would accuse Hollywood of creative bankruptcy if it even dared to try), I continually indulge my own fantasy version.
I'm not singular here. Fantasy casting is something that movie geeks have practiced for ages. But I tend to take it to solipsistic extremes.
That said, my version could be an update but I kind of favor the '50s milieu of the original. I would definitely retain the wacky names of the three women who dominate it and also would populate my version with - now get this - a cast of mostly millennial talent. My unlikely, unorthodox choices might seem blasphemous and worthy of ridicule - and, by all means, feel free to disagree and share your own casting ideas.
But the bottom line is: I believe in my vision. It could work.
And so, throwing caution to the wind, here's my dream cast...
Kristen Stewart as Schatze Page (the Lauren Bacall role) - Stewart is arguably the best actress of her generation and she's done varied, compelling work with fascinating filmmakers ever since she freed herself from the yolk of the "Twilight" series (a franchise that brought her fame, fortune and a lot of negative publicity). Stewart has the perfect slouch and cynical air that the character Schatze demands. And, much like Bacall back in the day, it's time for her to have some fun and do a comedy. And I'd give anything to hear Stewart snap out the line, "Nobody's mother lives in Atlantic City on a Saturday night!," something that I'm certain that she'd invoke with the hauteur of a Lauren Bacall.
Emma Stone as Loco Dempsey (the Betty Grable role) - Loco is the most unaffected and least manipulative of the three women - friendly, down-to-earth and accessible, the same qualities that Stone has conveyed so effortlessly on screen. But the character is no pushover and is actually a lot smarter than she looks. As one of the potential monied targets in the film learns, it's unwise to underestimate Loco. It can be humiliating.
Miley Cyrus as Pola Debevoise (the Marilyn Monroe role) - Pola is something of a cartoon character, oblivious to her good looks and self worth because she wears glasses. She literally bumps her way through life and sometimes has no idea who's in front of her. She mistakes a thief for a visitor, and her date for a waiter. And about that date, does he have a black eye? Or is the guy wearing a black patch? The ever-playful, mischievous Cyrus, who has potential to spare, could be a revelation channeling Monroe's creation in a wholly contemporary way.
Jake Gyllenhaal as Tom Brookman (the Cameron Mitchell role) - Tom is a genuine millionaire who is written off by Schatze largely because he doesn't look like a millionaire. He doesn't carry himself as one. She sizes him up as a "gas-pump jockey" who eats "horseburgers" (which she kind of likes herself). Gyllenhall could be terrific sparring with Stewart, alternately challenging her and flirting with her, and I can already see him showing up with a golf club in tow for the design-house sequence in which Schatze and others model the latest couture fashions for him.
Chris Evans as
Eban Salem (the Rory Calhous role) - Thanks to a weekend trip to his "lodge" with Waldo Brewster (see below), Loco meets Eban who she thinks is a rich land baron with a ga-zillion trees. But Eban is just a dedicated forest ranger who enjoys overseeing said trees. This is a relatively small role but Eban's laid-back personality is in line with Evans' easy-goingness.
But then there's the other Chris - Chris Pine as Eban. Pine would be more than perfect, too. Decisions, decisions.
Warren Beatty as J.D. Hanley (the William Powell role) - J.D. is a patrician and represents Old Money which is catnip for Schatze. Beatty has just the right amount of reserve and mature good looks for the role.
But then there's the temptation to see George Clooney as J.D. He's a bit younger and less reserved and might be more credible opposite Stewart.
John C. Reilly as Waldo Brewster (the Fred Clark role) - It's difficult to imagine anyone but Fred Clark as a patented Fred Clark/conservative character but it's easy to imagine Reilly trying to impress Loco by complaining ad nauseam about his wife and her family and bragging about how he disinherited his daughter because she ran off with a guy he pegs as "a gigolo."
Sasha Baron Cohen as J. Stewart Merrill (the Alex D'Arcy role) - Again, it's not much of a role - a bit part really - but I can't think of anyone more appropriate to play the faux exotic guy who dazzles Polo with endless wealth. Plus, Cohen would look appropriately suspect wearing that eye patch.
So much for my solipsistic fantasy. Now share yours...
Notes in Passing: "How to Marry a Millionaire" was adapted into a TV series - by Johnson himself - in 1957 and ran for two seasons until 1959. In syndication. It reportedly has the distinction of being the first syndicated television show, although I would love to know why Fox didn't market it to one of the three major networks at the time. Anyway, it starred a young Barbara Eden (center) in one of her first roles as Loco Jones, the only character whose name was (partially) retrained from the movie. Merry Andrews (on Eden's left) played Mike McCall and Lori Nelson (on Eden's right) was Greta Hanson.
I'm a little surprised that the material hasn't been revived since, given that TV is into so much rebooting these days.
Also surprising is the fact that no one has thought to adapt it into a stage musical, given that Broadway has become so dependent on movies for (not-so-)fresh material. It's called ... creative bankruptcy.
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~images from "How to Marry a Millionaire"
~photography: Twentieth Century-Fox 1953©
~images from "How to Marry a Millionaire"
~photography: Twentieth Century-Fox 1953©