8 Things You Didn’t Know About: ‘Father of the Bride’
Say Father of the Bride to today’s film buffs and most may think of the 1991 Steve Martin heartwarmer that became a family classic despite its tepid reviews. But diehard movie fanatics know that the original Father of the Bride arrived in cinemas in 1950 and starred Spencer Tracy, Joan Bennett and a luminous, 18-year-old Elizabeth Taylor. Trumpeted as the big-screen adaptation of Edward Streeter’s bestselling 1949 novel of the same name, the Vincente Minnelli comedy featured Tracy as Stanley T. Banks, the bereft, sticker-shocked and largely ignored papa of Taylor’s starry-eyed bride — and earned three Oscar nominations, including a Best Picture nod. Here are eight more things you (probably) didn’t know about filmdom’s first Father of the Bride.
Though the onscreen Stanley Banks was crafted specifically with Tracy in mind, other actors — The Best Years of Our Lives Oscar winner Fredric March, Mutiny on the Bounty’s Charles Laughton and Madame Curie star Walter Pidgeon among them — were considered for the role. Comedy icon Jack Benny badly wanted to play the Banks patriarch, but execs feared he couldn’t handle the more sentimental and dramatic elements of the part.
Unsurprisingly, Tracy wanted his now-legendary paramour Katharine Hepburn to play his wife, Ellie, in the film, but their intense bond burned so brightly, onscreen and off, that producers felt the pair wouldn’t be believable as a long-wed couple raising grown kids. Instead, Bennett — who had previously costarred with Tracy in the 1932 films She Wanted a Millionaire and Me and My Gal, and had reinvented herself as a raven-haired femme fatale — got the role.
According to The New York Times reporter Thomas F. Brady, when Tracy learned that other actors were testing for the role, he turned it down flat. Recognizing his mistake in approaching others, Minnelli talked Hepburn into bringing Tracy to a dinner party where he then persuaded the actor to come aboard.
Minnelli chose June 10 for Taylor’s Kay Banks and her fiancé Buckley Dunstan (played by Don Taylor) to wed because it was his wife Judy Garland’s birthdate.
The film marked Taylor’s first commercial success in a fully adult role. Though she played the American teen bride of a Soviet spy in 1949’s Conspirator, the fact that Taylor was just 16 to her costar Robert Taylor’s 37 helped doom the film, and MGM lost more than $800,000 on the picture.
Father of the Bride premiered at New York’s Radio City Music Hall just 12 days after Taylor wed hotel heir Conrad “Nicky” Hilton Jr., a carefully calculated — and wildly successful — move by MGM to bolster publicity for the film.
At the time of the film’s release, Reno, Nevada, was a popular destination for discreet, quickie divorces. Thus, when a guest at Kay and Buckley’s engagement party remarks that his own daughter was “on her way to Reno” six months after her own lavish wedding, it was cemented as a polite means of saying one was getting a divorce.
Father’s costume designer, Helen Rose, first worked for 20th Century Fox before MGM hired her away in 1943, promoting her to chief designer by the end of the decade. Her propensity for crafting elegant, romantic looks, and a particular affinity for chiffon, made her a natural at designing bridal gowns, including Taylor’s Father of the Bride wedding dress and the stunner she wore to marry Hilton.