A few days ago, I mentioned William Powell and Myrna Loy appearing together in Manhattan Melodrama. One of their great comedies, Libeled Lady, will be airing on TCM at 8:00 AM ET on March 16.
Loy plays the title role, socialite Connie Allenbury, who is libeled about a romantic tryst by the newspaper publisher Mr. Haggerty (played by Spencer Tracy). She sues him, and he, trying to get out of the suit, hires noted detective Bill Chandler (that's Williams Powell) to seduce Connie so that there will no longer be any libel. What actually happens, however, is that Chandler falls in love with Allenbury, with hilarious consequences. Also appearing, as Haggerty's long-suffering fiancée Gladys, is Jean Harlow. Note her and Tracy on the right of the photo, with Loy and Powell on the left. Finally, Mr. Allenbury, Connie's father, is played by Walter Connolly, who also appeared as the father in the classic screwball comedy It Happened One Night.
Libeled Lady is in itself a hugely enjoyable movie, but there's a bit of a backstory that's interesting. At the time, Tracy hadn't really done any comedies; most of his movies had been at Fox, with a number of less savory types included. Libeled Lady showed that Tracy could really do comedy, and this movie, combined with another 1936 release, San Francisco, helped make Tracy a big star.
It's fairly well-known, but despite appearing together in a slew of movies, William Powell and Myrna Loy were not romantically involved. At the time Libeled Lady was released, Powell had gone through a divorce from Carole Lombard, and was quite smitten with Jean Harlow. (Well, who wouldn't be?)
Watch for the opening credits. With so much star power, it's only logical to conclude that there was going to be a dispute over who should get top billing. So MGM came up with an interesting solution that obviated this problem: the four stars are walking together arm in arm, with their names being superimposed over them. All four stars ger more or less simultaneous top billing. (I do wonder, however, whether anybody complained about being further to the right of anybody else.)
Libeled Lady was remade by MGM as the Technicolor movie Easy to Wed, starring Lucille Ball, Van Johnson, and Esther Williams. Both versions are available on DVD.
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