There are many books and films that tell the story of a princess in love that have delighted audiences for generations. Once upon a time, MGM made its own contribution to the vast body of works featuring a fictitious royal heroine, but starring one of their own contractual princesses–Hedy Lamarr–in the romantic comedy, Her Highness and the Bellboy (1945).
Rather than being set in a strange, faraway kingdom, the story plays out in New York City, spotlighting the adventures of the European Princess Veronica (Hedy Lamarr) who comes to America to find her love. In this case, her heart is set on Paul MacMillan (Warner Anderson), the newspaper columnist that she met six years earlier. While entering her exquisite New York hotel, she is mistaken for a maid by a well-meaning bellboy, Jimmy Dobson (Robert Walker). Delighting in his confusion and the possibility of making a new friend, she invites him to be her personal attendant. Unbeknownst to Princess Veronica, he has fallen in love with her. While the bellboy is chasing after the princess, the girl next door, Leslie Odell (June Allyson), continues to think of him as her knight in shining armor. Unable to walk, she stays in her apartment, dreaming of Jimmy and cherishing her visits with him, which become all the more sparing as his relationship with Princess Veronica evolves. As romance ensues around Leslie, she grows as lonely as a princess in a tower.
Her Highness and the Bellboy features supporting performances by Rags Ragland as Albert Weever, Jimmy’s slow-witted friend and coworker, and Agnes Moorehead as Countess Zoe, who wants to prevent Princess Veronica’s romance with Paul. The full cast listing is as follows:
- Hedy Lamarr as Princess Veronica
- Robert Walker as Jimmy Dobson
- June Allyson as Leslie Odell
- Carl Esmond as Baron Zoltan Faludi
- Agnes Moorehead as Countess Zoe
- Rags Ragland as Albert Weever
- Ludwig Stössel as Mr. Puft
- George Cleveland as Dr. Elfson
- Warner Anderson as Paul MacMillan
- Konstantin Shayne as Yanos Van Lankovitz
- Tom Trout as Hack
- Ben Lessy as Himself
- Patty Moore as Fae
- Edward Gargan as 1st Cop
As the story unfolds, the film brims with a variety of fairy tale motifs. The film begins with a “once upon a time” narrative, and features its characters reading fairy tales. Moreover, a princess goes to a ball, wishes are granted, and a romantic “happily ever after” epilogue concludes the story.
While tales of royalty are often extravagant and backed by a hefty budget, MGM saved money on Her Highness and the Bellboy by re-purposing a set. Once Weekend at the Waldorf (1945) concluded filming, the crew for Her Highness and the Bellboy took over and began their production work.
Efficiency was crucial for this production because of the film’s leading lady, who was expecting a child. As a result, MGM rushed her scenes. At the same time, another issue arose when Lamarr insisted upon receiving top billing. Nonetheless, many of the other cast members in this production were up-and-coming actors and actresses gaining attention of audiences. Though Lamarr received top billing, MGM would not renew her contract. Her Highness and the Bellboy would be her last film under contract with MGM, leading her to freelance work.
While this film is not a musical, June Allyson does carry out several musical numbers. Not only does she sing “Honey” by Seymour Simons, Haven Gillespie, and Richard A. Whiting but she also dances during a fantasy sequences in which Jimmy the bellboy is her prince. Furthermore, many of the characters in the film whistle, hum, or sing Ed Haley’s “The Fountain in the Park.” The same song also occurs as background music throughout the film.
Though Robert Walker is optimistic in his portrayal of the bellboy throughout the film, his life behind the scenes was no fairy tale. During the film’s production, he was in the midst of divorce proceedings with wife Jennifer Jones, who had left him for producer David O. Selznick. Walker would suffer from stress and depression for the rest of his life, passing away just six years after the film’s release.
Though the film received mixed reviews, it rendered a profit for MGM and showcased actors who would become key players for the studio. The sincere performances by each of the cast members make this film an enjoyable escape into a New York fairy tale.