The Lemon Drop Kid 1951 lobby card set image courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries
Paramount Pictures delivered The Lemon Drop Kid to movie theaters in the spring of 1951. The incomparable Bob Hope has the title role, with Marilyn Maxwell as his “dumb blonde” sidekick.
Damon Runyon’s The Lemon Drop Kid
The Lemon Drop Kid is based on the short story of the same name by Damon Runyon (1884-1946). The story, which first appeared in the February 3, 1934, edition of Collier’s, had been inspired by characters Runyon had met at Saratoga Racetrack in Saratoga Springs, New York.
On September 28, 1934, the first screen adaptation of The Lemon Drop Kid hit movie theaters. Directed by Marshall Neilan, the film starred Lee Tracy, Helen Mack and William Frawley.
Paramount Pictures Remakes The Lemon Drop Kid
Paramount Pictures viewed the remake of The Lemon Drop Kid as an opportunity to recapture the magic of a previous Bob Hope picture, Sorrowful Jones (1949). Both Hope and Paramount had high hopes for The Lemon Drop Kid, believing it could be a big moneymaker if done correctly.
Robert L. Welch produced The Lemon Drop Kid, with Edmund L. Hartmann, Robert O’Brien, Irving Elinson, Edmund Beloin and Frank Tashlin all contributing to the screenplay. Sidney Lanfield and an uncredited Frank Tashlin directed and Jay Livingston, Ray Evans and Victor Young served as the film’s music maestros.
Jay Livingston and Ray Evans wrote “Silver Bells” for the production. Originally titled “Tinkle Bells,” the song later took the country by storm, racking up an astounding 1,643,687 copies in sheet music sales and 31,800,000 in records sold.
The Lemon Drop Kid Cast
Bob Hope (Sidney Melbourne a.k.a. The Lemon Drop Kid) and Marilyn Maxwell (Brainey Baxter) head the fine cast. Other players include Lloyd Nolan (Oxford Charley), Jane Darwell (Nellie Thursday), Andrea King (Stella), Fred Clark (Moose Moran), Jay C. Flippen (Straight Flush), William Frawley (Gloomy Willie), Harry Bellaver (Sam the Surgeon), Sid Melton (Little Louie), Ben Weldon (Singing Solly), Ida Moore (The Bird Lady), Francis Pierlot (Henry Regan), Charles Cooley (Goomba), Tor Johnson (Super Swedish Angel) and Tommy Ivo (Boy Scout).
Bob Hope had originally wanted Jan Sterling as his female co-star, but when she became unavailable due to production delays, Hope went with his favorite backup and fellow USO performer Marilyn Maxwell.
The Lemon Drop Kid Filmed in Hollywood
Just a few days before Bob Hope and company began filming The Lemon Drop Kid, North Korean troops crossed the 38th Parallel on June 25, 1950, triggering the start of the Korean War. Almost immediately, Hope was on the telephone, making arrangements to take his USO show to the Far East.
Although filming was completed before Hope departed on his overseas tour, the comedian was not satisfied with the finished product. Barney Balaban, the head of Paramount Pictures, wanted a final cut made, telling the star, “Let’s get it out for the holiday trade.” Hope, however, who had a partnership in the picture, stood his ground, suggesting that Frank Tashlin be hired to rewrite portions of the screenplay. Tashlin subsequently agreed to do the rewrites, but only if he be allowed to direct the retakes as well.
By this time both Hope and Marilyn Maxwell were unavailable to do the retake work because of his planned trip to the Far East and her upcoming East Coast tour with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Thus, The Lemon Drop Kid was put on hold until November 1950, pending the return of its two stars.
Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell later completed their respective tours and reported to Paramount Pictures in Hollywood upon their return. Hope was especially pleased with Frank Tashlin’s rewrites and the restaging of the Christmas sequence featuring “Silver Bells,” and the picture was finally finished.
The Lemon Drop Kid: Racetracks, Gangsters and Christmas Joy
The Lemon Drop Kid opens with a magnificent scene of Times Square in New York, with the camera panning in on a huge Christmas tree. As strains of “Silver Bells” play in the background, the movie’s credits are presented via holly-decorated cards, leaving little doubt that this picture was originally intended for the holiday season.
The action begins in Florida where Sidney Melbourne, known as “The Lemon Drop Kid,” gives a bum tip to gangster Moose Moran’s girlfriend at a racetrack. The way Moose figures it, the Kid now owes him $10,000 for his girl’s losing bet on a nag called Lightning Streak. The Kid is a little short on cash, and convinces Moose to give him until Christmas, now a mere 23 days away, to come up with the money.
Arriving back in snowy New York, the Kid gets down to business, borrowing $10 from his old girlfriend, Brainey Baxter. He then tries to negotiate a $10,000 loan with Oxford Charley, who has the Kid tossed out of his nightclub. “Communist,” the Kid mutters outside.
The Kid then hatches several schemes to raise the needed dough. The first involves panhandling while dressed as Santa Claus, which earns him ten days in jail or a $50 fine. Brainey Baxter pays the $50, with the Kid launching another plan to raise money, this time for the fraudulent Nellie Thursday Home for Old Dolls. The Kid’s army of Santas hit the streets, collecting almost $2,000.
Oxford Charley learns of the Kid’s new racket and tries to muscle in on the operation. But the Kid eventually gets the upper hand, relieving Charley of a stolen $16,000 and making good on his debt to Moose Moran.
The Lemon Drop Kid Opens in New York City
The Lemon Drop Kid opened at New York City’s Paramount Theater on March 21, 1951.
“William Frawley and J.C. Flippen are a couple of the several grotesque mugs who assist in the madcap conniving, and Lloyd Nolan and Fred Clark are the thugs. All of them act as straight accessories to Mr. Hope’s eccentric show under the snappy direction of Sidney Lanfield. But it is all Mr. Hope, on the nose,” reported Bosley Crowther of The New York Times (3/22/51).
The Lemon Drop Kid Notes, DVD
- Director Sidney Lanfield hated the song “Silver Bells” and shot it in a very static scene that he knew would be cut from the movie. Producer Bob Welch later intervened, and the “Silver Bells” sequence was reshot in a more favorable light by Frank Tashlin.
- Both Bob Hope/Marilyn Maxwell and Bing Crosby with Carol Richards and the John Scott Trotter Orchestra recorded “Silver Bells.” But it was Bing’s original 1950 duet version on the Decca label (#27229 with “That Christmas Feeling” on the flip side) that received the most air play and attention.
- Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell reprised their roles for the CBS Lux Radio Theatre, which broadcast its version of The Lemon Drop Kid on Monday, December 10, 1951.
- Inside joke: When a cow crashes the party at the end of the film, Bob Hope tells the mooing animal, “Quiet, Crosby,” a little dig at his pal Bing Crosby.
- Best supporting performance in a minor role: Andrea King as Stella, the naive gal pal of mobster Moose Moran who accepts a bum tip on a racehorse from ”the nice man” in the white suit with a southern accent – a.k.a. the conniving The Lemon Drop Kid.
- The Kid dons a wig and dress and masquerades as “Mrs. Herbert Beasley.”
- On DVD: The Lemon Drop Kid (United American Video, 2000).
“Santy Claus don’t drink,” Bob Hope says, confiscating a bottle of whiskey from Santa-clad William Frawley.
“Oh no? Well, how come he’s always falling down chimneys?” Frawley replies.
The Lemon Drop Kid, holiday laughs and more…