Duchess of Idaho (1950): Robert Z. Leonard’s Musical Romantic Comedy, Starring Esther Williams and Van Johnson in Fourth Film Together

Robert Z. Leonard directed Duchess of Idaho a musical romantic comedy pairing Esther Williams and Van Johnson in their fourth film together.

Duchess of Idaho
Duchess of idaho-poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster

Christine Riverton Duncan (Williams) plays matchmaker for her lovelorn friend Ellen (Paula Raymond) by pursuing all the way to Idaho Douglas J. Morrissen, Jr. (John Lund, as usual cast as second banana), the man Ellen loves.

While there, Christine plays a joke on Douglas, after boarding his train to Sun Valley, she wins the man’s affections and then shocks him with her expectations for a commitment.

Once in Sun Valley, however, things become problematic when Christine falls for hotel bandleader Dick Layne (Van Johnson).

The film’s title derives from the sequence in Sun Valley, where Christine wins the “Duchess of Idaho” dance contest.

There is not much chemistry between Williams and Van Johnson, a likable actor though devoid of any sex appeal.

Hugely commercial at the box-office, Dutchess of Idaho reaffirms Esther Williams as one of MGM’s most bankable stars.

In her autobiography, Million Dollar Mermaid, Williams called this a “rehash of the Esther Williams formula: the mismatched lovers plot. It was enough to give one a case of cinematic deja vu.”

This marked Eleanor Powell’s first appearance in six years as well as her last film. 

The MGM contract of Lena Horne, who sings in the film, also ended with this movie, though she would make several musicals for that studio later in the decade.

Esther Williams as Christine Riverton Duncan
Van Johnson as Dick Layn
John Lund as Douglas J. Morrissen Jr.
Paula Raymond as Ellen Hallet
Mel Tormé as Cyril, the Bellhop
Lena Horne as Herself – Cameo appearance
Eleanor Powell as Herself – Cameo appearance
Clinton Sundberg as Matson
Connie Haines as Peggy Elliot
Amanda Blake as Linda Kinston
Red Skelton as Himself – Cameo appearance
The Jubalaires in a cameo appearance


Directed by Robert Z. Leonard
Produced by Joe Pasternak
Written by Dorothy Cooper, Jerry Davis, Sid Fields
Music by Albert Sendrey, George Stoll
Cinematography Charles Edgar Schoenbaum
Edited by Adrienne Fazan
Distributed by MGM

Release date: July 14, 1950

Running time: 98 minutes
Budget $1,705,000
Box office $4,236,000