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Life with Father was adapted from the 1939 play based on Clarence Day’s autobiographical stories. The production was extremely successful – so much so that it still holds the record for the longest running non-musical play.
Jimmy Lydon remembered, "We worked for four and a half months on that picture. Mr. Warner wanted to spend all the money in the world on it and take his time to produce a prestige piece for Warner Brothers."
1. Powell wanted the role.
When Warner Brothers secured the rights, William Powell immediately went to studio head Jack Warner to request it. Others considered for the highlight coveted role included Cary Grant, Fredric March, Walter Pidgeon, and Frank Morgan. Since Powell was under contract to MGM, the studios decided to make a deal. Warner could have Powell in exchange for lending Errol Flynn out for That Forsyte Woman.
2. The final line got censored.
“I’m going to be baptized, damn it!” Clarence Day Sr. says. With the Motion Picture Production Code in place, the curse caused a problem. As Warner Brothers negotiated the line with the Production Code Administration, it was believed that the final line could stay intact if they removed other instances of “damn” and “damnation.” In the end, though, the phrase didn’t make the cut.
3. Powell could have been paired with an old pal.
Myrna Loy was considered for the part of his wife, Vinnie, as was Rosalind Russell, Jean Arthur, Bette Davis, and Mary Pickford. Pickford is an especially interesting consideration since she had been in retirement since 1933. When Irene Dunne was cast, Pickford was hurt.
4. Taylor cried on the set.
Elizabeth Taylor was fourteen when the film was made. While filming with Jimmy Lydon, she wasn’t getting the jump on his lap right in the eyes of director Michael Curtiz. He threw such a fit that it made Taylor cry and retreat to her trailer. The director immediately regretted his behavior and according to Lydon paced outside telling her, “Don’t cry! You break my heart – I kill myself – I’m sorry!” As an aside, Shirley Temple was also considered for this role.
5. Everyone got their hair dyed.
Since the story was based on a real family which were natural redheads, producers wanted the cast to be gingers too. Jimmy Lydon was the only one with naturally red hair, but he still had to get his hair dyed with the rest of the cast. He remembered, “We were all sent to Westmore Salon on Sunset Boulevard every second Sunday to get our hair dyed – including me! Kind of odd to have a red-haired kid dye his hair red, but it had to do with the lighting and cameras, and everyone had to have the same shade of red hair.”