Doug Henry | UssPost.com
January 31, 2010 by USA Post
Mister Roberts is based on the 1946 best-selling novel of the same name by Thomas O. Heggen (1919-1949). A U.S. Navy veteran of World War II, Heggen’s experiences as a young communications officer aboard the USS Virgo in the South Pacific served as the basis for his novel.
On May 19, 1949, the 29-year-old Heggen was found drowned in the bathtub of his New York City apartment. An apparent victim of a barbiturate overdose, Heggen’s death was ruled a probable suicide.
Mister Roberts on Broadway
Mister Roberts made its Broadway premiere at the Alvin Theater on February 18, 1948, with Henry Fonda in the title role. Directed by Joshua Logan, Mister Roberts was a huge success, registering 1,157 performances on the Great White Way.
In August 1953, Broadway producer Leland Hayward sold the movie rights for Mister Roberts to Warner Bros. Hayward included two stipulations: that he produce the motion picture version and that Henry Fonda reprise his role from Broadway.
Director John Ford and Mr. Roberts
Joshua Logan and Frank S. Nugent penned the Mister Roberts screenplay. Tapped to direct the movie was John Ford, whose services were not immediately available as he had just committed himself to The Long Gray Line (1955) starring Tyrone Power. Franz Waxman created the original music score.
Mister Roberts Cast
Henry Fonda heads the cast as Lt. (junior grade) Doug Roberts. Other players include James Cagney (Captain Morton), William Powell (Doc), Jack Lemmon (Ensign Frank Thurlowe Pulver), Betsy Palmer (Lt. Ann Girard), Ward Bond (Chief Petty Officer Dowdy), Phil Carey (Mannion), Nick Adams (Reber), Perry Lopez (Rodrigues), Ken Curtis (Dolan), Robert Roark (Insigna), Harry Carey Jr. (Stefanowski), Pat Wayne (Bookser), Frank Aletter (Gerhart) and Tige Andrews (Wiley).
Studio chief Jack Warner had wanted to oust Henry Fonda at the last minute, replacing him with either Marlon Brando or William Holden. John Ford, however, lobbied in favor of Fonda, telling Warner, “If he (Fonda) doesn’t do this picture, then I don’t do it either.”
Mister Roberts Filmed in Hawaii and Midway Island
Mister Roberts was shot on location in Hawaii and Midway Island. The Araner, John Ford’s beloved yacht, served as the director’s personal living quarters during filming.
When John Ford and Henry Fonda had a disagreement on how the production was going, the hard-drinking Ford rose from his chair and delivered a haymaker to his star’s jaw. “It knocked me over backwards, and I crashed into some furniture…I was more embarrassed than hurt,” Fonda later recalled.
Ford was subsequently replaced on the production after he underwent emergency surgery for a ruptured gall bladder. Mervyn LeRoy stepped in as director, with uncredited assistance from Joshua Logan.
Mister Roberts: Classic World War II Service Comedy
Mister Roberts is set aboard the USS Reluctant – a.k.a. “The Bucket” – a U.S. Navy cargo ship operating in the back waters of the Pacific in April/May 1945. The ship’s executive officer, Lt. (j.g.) Douglas A. Roberts, is itching to get into the real action, but his transfer requests are repeatedly denied by the tyrannical Captain Morton, an old Merchant Marine salt who despises college boy officers.
The Reluctant’s 62 crew members experience their own slice of the Pacific war. They include a fortuitous meeting with a group of Navy nurses, a wild liberty call in the Limbo Islands and Ensign Pulver’s near mutiny against Captain Morton and his beloved palm tree.
Mister Roberts eventually secures his transfer to a combat unit, where he sees action aboard the destroyer Livingston during the Battle of Okinawa. A buddy named Farnell later informs Pulver of Mister Roberts’ fate via a letter: Roberts was killed by a Japanese kamikaze pilot while drinking coffee in the wardroom.
Mister Roberts Opens in New York City
Mister Roberts opened at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall on July 14, 1955.
“Now hear this! Another 21-gun salute is hereby accorded Mister Roberts and the raffish, rough and lovable World War II gobs who landed at the Music Hall yesterday…To Mister Roberts and all hands involved in one of the season’s greatest pleasures: Well done!” crowed A.H. Weiler of The New York Times (7/15/55).
Mister Roberts Box Office, Academy Awards, Sequels, DVD
- Mister Roberts grossed $8.5 million at the box office, good for the #3 position on the list of the top moneymaking films of 1955.
- Mister Roberts earned three Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Lemmon, won), Best Sound (William A. Mueller).
- Mister Roberts spawned one sequel, Ensign Pulver (1964), starring Robert Walker Jr.; a television series, Mister Roberts (NBC, 1965-66), starring Roger Smith; and a made-for-TV movie remake, Mister Roberts (1984), with Robert Hays in the title role.
- 1955′s Mister Roberts is available on DVD (Warner, 2006).
“Captain, it is I, Ensign Pulver, and I just threw your stinkin’ palm tree overboard! Now what’s all this crud about no movie tonight?” Jack Lemmon announces at the end of the picture.
Tonight, make your movie Mister Roberts…
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