The Grand Hotel is a movie that was adapted from a German novel of the same name in 1932. The film won the Best Picture Academy Award on November 18. 1932 at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, CA. Starring John and Lionel Barrymore, Greta Garbo, and Jane Crawford, the movie grossed $2.6 million – more than tripling its $750,000 price tag. Joel and I watched the movie together, just after the 1931 winner, Cimarron. If you love old movies and want to go down the rabbit hole, you’ve arrived at the right place.
This post includes a 9-minute news reel from 1932 – a 90-year-old glimpse at Hollywood’s biggest night; the original trailer for The Grand Hotel, and an extremely rare Disney animation that Walt Disney made of the Best Actor and Actress nominees in a parade with Mickey Mouse. This is the first time Mickey Mouse ever appeared in color.
The Grand Hotel Movie Trailer
Please enjoy this incredible newsreel footage of the opening night for The Grand Hotel. Includes beautiful shots of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in the 1930s. Celebrities, political diplomats, and others are seen signing into the hotel’s guestbook. Wallace Beery, Louis B. Mayer, gives an interview while men and women walk behind them in incredible black-tie apparel.
The 5th Academy Awards
November 18, 1932, Hollywood’s best and brightest gathered in the Fiesta Room of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, CA. Already, the Academy Awards had a reputation for running behind schedule. This year, the Academy had secured a national radio spot. In order to keep the ceremony running on time, stars were asked not to give any speeches. Several actors gave speeches anyway.
The Oscar’s First Scandal
This award ceremony was held during American prohibition. Franklin Roosevelt had just been overwhelmingly elected to office for his first term. The vote for President was a landslide, the electoral college vote 472-59. The people hired by the Academy Awards to count ballots weren’t so lucky to have a margin so wide in the award for Best Picture. Wallace Beery had lost the race for which he was a solid front runner to Fredric March by *one* vote.
What happened next was a pretty big scandal at the time. I’m writing about it 90 years later, so I guess it was a pretty big deal. The host of the Academy awards that year was the Academy president, Conrad Nagel. When he was informed that March had won by one vote, he declared that would qualify as a tie. He called Wallace Beery, the one-vote loser, up to the stage and gave him the award. The Academy later reversed Nagel’s decision, but no one asked Beery for the award back. He was known to be a “tough guy.”
Walt Disney was given an honorable mention for his innovation in animated film. His short film, “Parade of the Award Nominees” was created for the 5th Academy Award ceremony. Keep scrolling, it’s up next!
Source: The Academy Awards, the Complete Unofficial History, by Jim Piazza and Gail Kinn, Wikipedia
The Parade of the Award Nominees
There was a special treat for this Academy Awards. Walt Disney produced an animation of the nominees walking in a parade with Mickey, Pluto, and others. This was the first time Mickey Mouse was ever seen in color. It’s 2 minutes long and features Helen Hayes, Marie Dressler, Fredric March, and Wallace Beery. Walt Disney made this short cartoon to entice the movie studios to fund full-color animated features. It worked! Just 5 years later, Snow White was released. Watch here:
The Grand Hotel Plot
The Grand Hotel was adapted from the novel of the same name by Vicki Baum. The novel was originally German and set in a grand hotel in Berlin. The movie was the first ever with a cast full of superstars. The producer of the film, Irving Thalberg, had commissioned a screen play of the novel two years before. The play ran on Broadway to some success. This allowed Thalberg to entice the all-star cast into making the film. A popular play usually translated to a hit movie in the first half of the 20th century.
The plot of the movie follows several hotel guests throughout a single day. Joan Crawford plays a ‘Stenographess” hired to transcribe a meeting for Mr. Preysing, a wealthy businessman. While waiting in the hallway, she meets Baron Felix von Gaigem. The Baron is broke and earns money stealing jewels and playing cards. There’s a nice old man who is dying, played by Lionel Barrymore, who has decided to live out his final days in luxury at the hotel. Greta Garbo’s character, a Russian ballerina named Grusinskaya, utters the famous “I want to be alone” line while the Baron is hiding in her room, trying to steal her jewels. Upon hearing how depressed she is, he comes out of his hiding place. Somehow, instead of bludgeoning him to death like any real-life woman would do at this point, she falls in love with him and invites him to come to live in Vienna with her.
Sadly, he’s later caught rifling through a rich man’s suitcase in search of anything he can sell. He is killed by Preysing. Preysing is arrested. The Ballerina, Grusinkaya, later waits at the train station for the Baron to show up. The sick old man and the stenographess leave together. He offers to use his money to take care of her, and she urges him to use it to find a cure for his ailment. It’s quite sweet that they seem happy together.
The film ends to this narration: “People come and go, and nothing ever happens in the Grand Hotel.” This is a line of great irony, given the story the audience has just witnessed.
The Best Picture History Project
My husband and I watched this movie as part of the Best Picture History Project. It was a good movie and kept my attention. This was the first time I had seen Joan Crawford as a young woman, and her beauty is striking. The flirtation between her and the Baron was well-executed. His remark, “Would you take some dictation from me?” Is clearly a euphemism. Watch the scene here:
I was looking for a resemblance to Drew Barrymore, as John Barrymore is her grandfather; Lionel Barrymore her great uncle. I found it, not in her grandfather but in her great Uncle Lionel. There’s something about his jaw and face when he smiles that I see in Drew. Lionel had two children who died in infancy, and no more. It’s nice to see a bit of him in the latest generation. Her children are so blessed to be able to see their ancestors whenever they wish.
New York Times Movie Review of The Grand Hotel, March 27, 1932
Grand Hotel Trivia
- The Grand Hotel was the first picture to win Best Picture without any other nominations.
- As a play, The Grand Hotel ran over 459 shows
- Fredric March won Best Actor by one vote, but the host decided to present the Oscar to Wallace Beery. The award was rescinded but Beery did not return the statuette.
- Actors wore woolen socks over their shoes to avoid being noisy, as the hotel had real guests.
- MGM remade the film in 1945 at Weekend at the Waldorf.
- Clark Gable and Buster Keaton were originally expected to be male leads.
If you’re interested in learning more, the book is available here, and as of 1/2022, the movie streams on HBO Max. You can rent it for $1.99 or purchase for $4.99. If you’re interested in a book about the Academy Awards, I’ve used The Complete Unofficial History of the Academy Awards by Jim Piazza and Gail Kinn. I highly recommend it.