The thump of boxing gloves in the hall and splash of alligators moving around a bathtub are just some of the interesting sounds that come from the Biddle mansion in The Happiest Millionaire. This 1967 Disney film stars Fred MacMurray (previously in The Shaggy Dog and The Absent-Minded Professor) as Mr. Biddle, an eccentric millionaire who juggles his boxing and bible schools, his new butler, and his daughter’s impending wedding. Amid the crazy cacophony, this lighthearted musical first delighted audience’s ears with the introduction of 12 snappy new songs from the legendary Sherman Brothers.
Equally snappy are Mr. Biddle’s exotic pets: a collection of alligators housed in the conservatory. The star of the group is George the alligator. All the alligator actors literally came from the same casting pool—the California Alligator Farm in Buena Park, California, near Disneyland. During filming, and in true Hollywood fashion, the local talent had a dedicated make-up artist. A handler would gussie them up after their mouths had been taped and camouflaged to make sure the talent looked good for the camera and behaved around their co-stars. Curiously, there is no word on whether the animals were paid “scale” wages.
The Happiest Millionaire was intended to be a follow-up musical success to Mary Poppins. While the film garnered an Academy Award® nomination for costume design, it produced only moderate box office returns. Yet this film holds a very special place in Disney history. The Happiest Millionaire was the last live-action film Walt Disney personally oversaw, and its grand style holds a beloved place in Disney film history.
By D23′s Brian Gay