Tonight: Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan and Hermione Gingold in the five-star musical Gigi.
Arthur Freed produced the film. Vincent Minnelli directed it, and Alan Jay Lerner wrote it. The score was written by Frederick Loewe.
Lerner and Loewe already had a huge hit on Broadway with My Fair Lady. The delay in bringing that musical to Hollywood—because of its ongoing success on the stage—prompted Freed to urge Lerner and Loewe to write a similar musical for the screen.
The result is a complimentary Pygmalion tale—in which a young girl is reluctantly taught to become a courtesan by her grandmother—but so magnificently rendered that it remains one of the truly great musicals of all time. And one of the most romantic!
Based on a French Colette novel that was probably inspired by Bernard Shaw’s British play, Pygmalion, which was based, in turn, on the Greek “Pygmalion” legend, Gigi was turned into a French film in 1950. A year later, it was turned into a Broadway play that starred Audrey Hepburn before she made her Hollywood film debut.
Swifty Lazar negotiated the screen rights for Arthur Freed, which cost $125,000—plus $37,000 for Anita Loos, who had written and produced the play and another $10,000 for Swifty.
It was Lerner and Loewe’s first musical written specifically for the screen. It also constituted Chevalier’s first screen appearance in 22 years.
The idea of having Chevalier speak and sing directly to the camera as the narrator of the film was taken directly from the sophisticated Ernst Lubitsch musicals in which Chevalier starred in the early 1930s.
Gigi made Chevalier a star all over again.
Freed offered the role of Gigi to Hepburn since she had starred in the non-musical version on Broadway, but she declined. But when My Fair Lady was finally made into a movie in 1964, Hepburn accepted the role of Eliza Doolittle.
Caron, who had been starring in Gigi for two years in a London production of the stage play, got the part.
It was a good choice since she was actually French, and she could sing—for My Fair Lady, Hepburn’s songs were dubbed.
Jourdan’s role was originally offered to English actor Dirk Bogarde. Go figure!
Jacques Bergerac, who plays Eva Gabor’s skating instructor, was the husband of Ginger Rogers. No one bothered to ask if he could skate. He couldn’t.
The Production Code was still in effect in the 1950s, and Hollywood censors objected to a story that was based on upper-class prostitution.
They needn’t have worried. In the hands of Minnelli, Gigi became a romantic fairytale where love conquers all.
Chevalier, known to be difficult, was so pleased by Minnelli’s direction that he sent him a note after the first day of shooting saying, “If I were a sissy, I would be in love with you!”
Minnelli, the former husband of Judy Garland and father of Liza Minnelli, swung both ways.
The production began shooting in Paris in mid-July 1957—with 24 days in France and 35 days of interiors in Culver City.
The film ran 12 days over schedule and about $1.5 million over budget.
But no matter! The movie premiered on May 15, 1958 to rave reviews and proved to be a box office sensation.
The worldwide gross was $13.2 million, including revenues from the 1966 reissue.
Lerner and Loewe received 10 percent of the unknown net profits.
Gigi won 10 Oscars—earning Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Art and Set Direction, Best Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Musical Score, Best Song (for “Gigi”) and a special Oscar for Chevalier.
It was the most successful film in the long Freed/Minnelli collaboration.
When Minnelli wrote his autobiography, he titled it, I Remember It Well.
So now, the unforgettable Gigi.