1959 was a watershed year for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. That’s the year they decided to split the music/comedy award, giving two separate Golden Globes, one to Gigi for best musical, and the other to Auntie Mame for best comedy. The precedent lasted four years until 1964, when again the award reverted back to best comedy or musical. Yet, surprisingly, the acting awards remained the same. Danny Kaye, an HFPA favorite, was named Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy for Me and the Colonel, an award he had won previously for On the Riviera, and Rosalind Russell was named Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy for Auntie Mame.
Even today, any production of Auntie Mame, without Rosalind Russell is inconceivable, as was proven years later when a musical version of the play was made into a movie with Lucille Ball as Mame. It failed miserably. Russell had created the role on Broadway and despite her two decades working in Hollywood, His Girl Friday notwithstanding, Mame is the role she will always be remembered for.
Morton DaCosta, who directed the stage production, was signed by Warner Bros to direct the film, his first. He later directed The Music Man, another Golden Globe winner, but after one other movie, he never worked in Hollywood again. Auntie ended up becoming the year’s biggest box office hit and was hugely popular across the board despite its liberal agenda.
Gigi was not quite as popular, but it remains the screen’s greatest original musical, thanks to Arthur Freed, the producer. He enlisted Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, the reigning kings of Broadway; to adapt the Colette play - and they composed a miraculous score. To paraphrase Audrey Hepburn in Charade, “You know what’s wrong with Gigi? Absolutely nothing.”
The cast (Leslie Caron became a major star after this, Maurice Chevalier revitalized his once glorious screen career, and Louis Jourdan finally found his forte in Hollywood) were all beyond reproach. England’s Hermione Gingold was the sole Golden Globe acting award winner (she won for Best Supporting Actress) although all four of them were nominated. Vincente Minnelli finally picked up his long overdue Golden Globe, although when a major reshoot was required, he bowed out, and Charles Walters filled in for him.
Although the score was mildly criticized for being too reminiscent of My Fair Lady, it is arguably the best original score ever written for a Hollywood movie. The HFPA didn’t give awards for Best Song until 1962, but if it had, the title song would likely have won.
Incidentally, English actor Dirk Bogarde was sought after for Jourdan’s role, but the Rank Organization would not release him from his contract. Cecil Beaton’s costume design is another highlight of the film.