Du Barry Was a Lady (1943): Roy Del Ruth’s Technicolor Musical, Starring Red Skelton, Lucille Ball and Gene Kelly

Based on the 1939 stage musical, Roy Del Ruth’s Technicolor musical Du Barry Was a Lady stars Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Gene Kelly and Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra.

The nightclub act of May Daly includes her portrayal of Madame Du Barry.

Coatroom attendant Louis Blore and master of ceremonies Alec Howe are smitten by her, but May persists in holding out for a wealthy husband, like the haughty Willie.

After swordplay and the sentencing of the Black Arrow, Louis awakens from his dream, realizing that May is in love with Alec; he offers them a wedding gift of $10,000. By that time, May claims she has changed her mind about money.

All seems good, until a tax collector comes to demand that Louis pay him $80,000.

Hair stylist Sydney Guilaroff tinted Lucille Ball’s hair red for this film, and she was so pleased, that she kept it that way for the rest of her life.

Musical numbers featured Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra, with Buddy Rich, Ziggy Elman, Dick Haymes, Jo Stafford, The Pied Pipers, Six Hits and a Miss, and the Music Maids.

Lucille Ball’s singing voice was dubbed by Martha Mears, except for the number “Friendship.”

Music and lyrics are by Cole Porter, except where noted.

MGM purchased the rights to Du Barry was a Lady for $80,000 as a vehicle for Ann Sothern. When Sothern turned down the revised role (citing pregnancy as reason), MGM cast Lucille Ball.

The film used very little of the original Cole Porter’s seductive and bawdy score, retaining only few of the original songs and substituting new ones by studio songwriters. The movie also cut out the racier overtones in the musical’s story.

New characters were added, and many of the original characters’ names were changed. The basic outline remained the same, although the relationships of the characters were different. In the film, Ginny (another singer) pines away for Louis, who is too infatuated with May Daly to notice; only at the end, he realizes that Ginny loves him.

But most of the humor is maintained through Red Skelton’s idiosyncratic talents.

Adding Rags Ragland and Zero Mostel was also a plus.

Production values are lush, especially the Technicolor opulence, which was greatly appreciated during the rationed times of WWII.

A commercial hit for MGM, the musical earned $2,6 million in the U.S. and close to $1 million elsewhere, resulting in a solid profit.

Lucille Ball as May Daly and Madame Du Barry
Gene Kelly as Alec Howe and The Black Arrow
Virginia O’Brien as Ginny
Rags Ragland as Charlie
Zero Mostel as Rami the Swami
Donald Meek as Mr. Jones and Duc de Choiseul
Douglass Dumbrille as Willie and Duc de Rigor
George Givot as Cheezy and Count de Roquefort
Louise Beavers as Niagara
Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra as themselves
Hugh Beaumont as footman (uncredited)
Clara Blandick as old lady on subway (uncredited)
Charles Coleman as Charlie, the doorman (uncredited)
Ava Gardner as perfume girl (uncredited)
Marilyn Maxwell as Miss February – Vargas calendar girl (uncredited)
Lana Turner as herself (uncredited)