The Story Behind “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House”

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House

When I was growing up, my mom and I used to watch old movies together on Saturday afternoons, and we loved anything with Cary Grant in it. One of my favorites was Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, so today I’m going back and taking another look at it.

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House movie stills

The story starts in New York City, where the Blandings live with their children in a small apartment:

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House movie stills

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House movie stills

Feeling cramped in the city, they go looking for a bigger place in the country.

Jim Blandings earns a good living as an advertising exec, we’re told — $15,000 a year! I ran across an old review of the film from when it came out in 1948 that said, “It’s hard to feel sorry for a man trying to make ends meet on $15,000 a year when most people earn considerably less.”

This is the first place they see, known to the locals as the old Hackett place:

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House movie stills

The real estate agent knows a couple of suckers when he sees them. He tells them a story about how the house is an historical landmark because General Gates stopped to water his horses here during the Revolutionary War.

This is how Mrs. Blandings imagines fixing it up:

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House movie stills

And how Mr. Blandings envisions it:

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House movie stills

Their imaginations are so good that they buy the old Hackett place, only to discover that it’s a tear-down. It can’t be saved.

They decide to build on the land instead, but the plans from the architect end up being much more than expected. The new house, he says, will cost $12,500 to build. Jim and Muriel are in shock. How could it possibly cost that much? They already spent $13,000 just on the lot and tearing down the old house.

The architect shows them the rendering of how it will look when it’s finished and the music swells. The Blandings decide to bite the bullet and build it despite the soaring costs.

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House movie stills

A real house was built for the film. According to CaryGrant.net:

In 1948, RKO Studios needed a rural setting in which to film exteriors for their comedy “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.” Their neighboring studio, 20th Century Fox, had 2,000 acres of dramatic landscape in the Malibu hills that served as their location ranch, so a deal was made and construction began.

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House movie stills

Despite all of the problems, the headaches, the mixups, and the soaring costs, the house is finished and moving day finally arrives:

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House movie stills

Jim carries Muriel (played by Myrna Loy) over the threshold:

"Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" movie screencaps

And right across the wet varnish on the hardwood floors.

"Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" movie screencaps

“Oh, Daddy! Look at this!” The windows on the side of the house aren’t in yet, so it’s gonna be a chilly night in the new house. . .

"Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" movie screencaps

One of my favorite scenes is when Mrs. Blandings gives instructions to the painter on moving day, patiently explaining:

“First, the living room. I want it to be a soft green. Not as blue-green as a robin’s egg, but not as yellow-green as daffodils. Now, the dining room. Not just yellow–something bright and sunshiny. If you send one of your workers to the grocer for a pound of butter and match that, they can’t go wrong.” Etc, etc., with detailed descriptions of each room’s color.

As soon as she leaves the room, the painter turns to the guy next to him and asks, “Got that, Charlie?”

“Uh-huh,” he says. “Red, green, yellow, blue, and white.”

"Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" movie screenshots

We get a glimpse of the dining room, but we never see the kitchen:

"Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" movie screenshots

"Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" movie screenshots

"Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" movie screenshots

"Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" movie screenshots

Just as Jim is about to give up on ever coming up with a promotional strategy for WHAM (it’s a Whale of a Ham!), his housekeeper Gussie (Louise Beavers, who also played Mamie in Holiday Inn with Bing Crosby) saves the day. When Jim asks for HAM for breakfast instead of WHAM, Gussie says:

"Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" movie screenshots

So he keeps his job, he keeps his house, and everybody’s happy.

"Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" movie screenshots

In the final scene we see him holding the book he has published about his adventures in house building:

"Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" movie screenshots

Here’s the real book, written by the real Mr. Blandings–Eric Hodgins. He based the story on his own trials and tribulations with a house he built. The actual house built by Hodgins still stands in the town of New Milford, Connecticut. It sold in August 2004 for $1.2 million.

According to an article in the Washington Post, Hodgins and his wife began construction in the classic New England small town in 1939, anticipating a budget of $11,000. It ultimately cost $56,000 to finish and nearly drove him into bankruptcy.

After living in their dream house for only 2 years, they were forced to sell and downsize.

eric-hodgins-photo

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, Hodgins said, “wrote itself.” It was published in 1946 and was an instant bestseller. He made $200,000 on the movie rights alone, and the film was a hit. Hodgins wrote a sequel called Blandings Way, published in 1950.

As a promotion for the film, 73 full-scale replicas of the house were built in various locations in the US and raffled off. Here’s one such house in Fresno, California (via the Providence Journal), as it looks today.

Promotional house built for the 1948 movie "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" in Fresno

The house from the film is still standing. In 1974, Fox sold the ranch to the state of California. The land is now part of Malibu Creek State Park, and the house is used for the administrative offices for park employees. Here’s how it looks today:

Real "Blandings" house still standing today

But maybe it’s best to remember it as it was. . .

The house in the Cary Grant movie "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" | hookedonhouses.net

P.S. Visit Houses Onscreen to see more, including…

Bringing Up Baby-Susan's house

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Comments

  1. says

    A great post – loving all the images from the movie. I do think I’d prefer to think of the house in its original state. Thanks so much for the link.
    .-= Mrs. Blandings´s last blog ..Plaza Prize =-.

  2. Cristan says

    Oh thanks! I just discovered your site – this is one of my all time favorites and I also LOVE the paint color quote! I think we had similar tv childhoods!

  3. says

    This is one of the few movies I had to buy for myself! It’s my all time favorite, and the paint color quote makes me laugh every time I hear it. My daughters and I always use it when we describe a paint color we’re looking for!
    What a perfect pairing in Cary Grant and Myrna Loy. It couldn’t be more perfect.
    This house is one of those dream houses to me…the entire country setting and all.
    Yes, this house really stuck my heart strings..loved it!

  4. says

    Oh, this is one of my favorite movies too! I love this! They don’t make movies like they used to. Isn’t that something knowing it was a real house built for the movie! Poor little thing today! Very sad.
    Oh, I took the what movie star are you test last year and I was Myrna Loy! :)
    Be a sweetie,
    Shelia 😉
    .-= Shelia´s last blog ..Autmun on the Island and a Makeover =-.

  5. says

    Great post!! Can’t help wondering if you’ve discovered the British TV show, Grand Designs? It’s in its 1oth year now and each episode features a different person/couple/family building their own dream home.
    VERY addictive viewing!

  6. says

    I love this movie, too and remember watching with my Mom-love all Cary Grant (Penny Serenade-boohoo)…But this one was so sweet and my fav scene is the paint! Thanks for posting!
    ~Nancy
    .-= Nancy ´s last blog ..Frugalicious Friday Finds IKEA! =-.

  7. Mary Frances says

    I grew up looking forward to seeing this on the afternoon matinee! And yes, the paint quote scene cracked me up the first time and every time since then…Myrna Loy was only a better wife to Dick Powell as Nick Charles…what a great catch in Cary Grant…too bad we all can’t have a little bit of movie magic resolve our remodeling woes!!
    Mary Frances

  8. says

    I adore this classic film. Aside from elegant Cary Grant and Myrna Loy just being themselves, I’ve always been drawn to the story. And before long, I’ll be moving from the city to the country, so it has even more significance. Thanks for posting this.
    .-= Shannon´s last blog ..Objects Reborn: Old Things, New Uses =-.

  9. says

    Wonderful! We are going to be adding on to our dream home. I must watch this again.
    Love Mrs.Blandings too.
    pve

  10. says

    I’ll take that hutch, the grandfather’s clock, the fireplace…and Cary Grant. Thank you.

    : )

    Julie M.

    ps How wonderful that Mr. Blanding’s dream houses are still standing..but pretty gross what they’ve done with the original set. Ugh! Wouldn’t taking it back to its original charm be something good for California?
    .-= Julie M.´s last blog ..Think Pink! =-.

  11. Ryan says

    Another great post! I’ve always felt that Mr. Blandings was the ultimate “house movie.” I watch it over and over and over again, and I agree with others about what they’ve recently done to the actual house used in the movie. Hideous! Which genius came up with that fugly two-tone brown color scheme, I wonder?

    In a timely coincidence, A couple weeks ago I happened to catch some deliberately campy sci-fi movie, from the 1980s, called Strange Invaders (or something like that) about this kid who witnesses an alien spaceship landing behind his house one night and how nobody but his teacher would believe what he was saying about the aliens taking over the local people’s minds. It starred Karen Black (and her young son), Timothy Bottoms, Louise Fletcher and Lorraine Newman (sp?) from SNL. Anyway, I could swear that the kid’s house in that aliens movie was the exact same house used in Mr. Blandings. If it was not actually the same building but instead just one of the replica homes mentioned in this post, then I’d say it was a much, Much, MUCH more faithful replica of the Blandings house than any of the other copycats I’ve seen. To me the houses in these two movies are virtually identical, and I’ve recently been trying (with no success) to find out whether I’m right about my suspicions.

    Hmmmph!

  12. Ryan says

    LOL Oops, I posted too soon! Just now I tried googling it again and finally found what I was looking for…apparently I had the movie’s name wrong. It was actually called “Invaders From Mars,” and according to imdb’s trivia page, that movie was indeed filmed at the very same location where “Mr. Blandings” was filmed. Whew, I feel slightly less crazy now:-)

  13. says

    This is one of my all-time favorite movies! And the line you quoted with the painters had me laughing…love that one! Cary Grant and Myrna Loy were perfect together. Thanks for the tour.
    .-= Susan Drummond´s last blog ..It started last year =-.

  14. Linda in AZ * says

    * I’ve just GOT to see this delightful movie again, even if I didn’t love houses OR the movie that much… (Just to see “MY CARY” would bring the bigggggest smile to my heart right now!!! And MYRNA was ALWAYS just fabulous, too!)~~~

    Many thanks,
    Linda in AZ *

  15. says

    Julia-I think this might be my favorite Monday post ever–and I haven’t seen the movie. I don’t know how it has escaped me, but I will remedy that soon! I especially love the paint color descriptions and the Washinton Post article. I think I may try to find the book first. Wonder what his laxative slogan was ? :) Thanks–I love Mondays!
    .-= susan´s last blog ..Metamophosis Monday…New Look for the Nook =-.

  16. says

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen this one. Can you imagine living in a cramped little apartment . . . and still having a maid! Don’t I wish! Very nice house, I like her imagination sketch of it best.
    .-= SueLovesCherries´s last blog ..CAT-CAPADES =-.

  17. says

    I loved reading this post! This is one of my absolute favorite movies. I’ve watched too many times to count as well! I love that this movie still holds true today. Even though it was filmed in the 40’s all of the issues that come up when building a home are the same today. Budgets, contractors, decorating, etc.
    I think you are right though, it is better to remember the house as what it was in the movie as opposed to how it looks today! Yikes!
    .-= Jamie´s last blog ..Thankful Tree =-.

  18. Jackie W. says

    Everything with the park service is brown. Even their uniforms.

  19. says

    I’ve actually seen part of this movie. It was on TV and I’m not sure why I didn’t finish watching it since I loooove Cary Grant, old movies and Louise Beavers. I love the old house and will definitely remember it the way it was. The real Mr. Blandings story is so sad but I’m glad that it worked out for him in the end…and that Cary Grant played the part.
    .-= Amy´s last blog ..My Birthday in Pictures =-.

  20. says

    Julia,
    You picked out my favorite “house” movie of all time. I also liked the remake with Tom Hanks and Shelly Long (The Money Pit). Try that one.
    .-= Bonnie´s last blog ..More Flowers =-.

  21. hookedonhouses says

    Bonnie–
    I actually watched “Money Pit” intending to do a post about it, but at the end they only show the front two rooms’ remodels and it hardly seemed like enough to write about. Maybe I will anyway, though. I get a lot of requests for it! -Julia :-)

  22. says

    I just love that movie so much, too!! I think it’s cool how you went into so much detail about it here for those who have never seen it. YES – the paint color scene was a fav of mine, also!! +-D

    And how SAD the house looks today! :-( You’d think they would have done more to try and keep it charming.

    Great post! I love it!

  23. Charis says

    We saw this movie for the first time when we bought our fixer-upper 7 years ago. A great way to start a big house project! Keeps things in perspective. My favorite scene is about the paint colors, too!

  24. says

    Oh, Julia, this is one of my favorite movies, too! Nice to know there are fellow Cary Grant lovers out there. And the paint color scene is absolutely my favorite of the whole movie, followed by the scene in the bathroom in the Manhattan bathroom. I can just see Myrna Loy’s hand sticking out over the top of the shower curtain. Thanks for this reminder! I’m smiling as I type!
    .-= Richella at Imparting Grace´s last blog ..A transformation and A GIVEAWAY! =-.

  25. marieDee says

    Thrilled to see this wonderful old movie featured on your site! Thanks for including the back story that I had not heard before.

  26. Kay says

    Oh, I love, love, love this movie! So nice to see there are other fans out there!! They were great together. I really wish I could find someone to watch it with me who would “get into it” like I do as my husband fell asleep and my kids don’t like black and white movies.

  27. says

    I loved this movie! Thanks for the post. I wish they would’ve kept it to the original look. It sure looks cheerier.

  28. says

    I LOVE this movie – always have, always will. In fact, one of those raffled off homes is right down the street from where I live. Every time I drive by it, I think of the film. So fun. Loved this post.
    .-= Jocelyn Stott´s last blog ..And…They’re Off! =-.

  29. Kim says

    I watched this movie on youtube and really enjoyed it. I wish they still made movies like these today. They use to make cute movies in the 90’s, but then the 2000’s rolled around and they’ve stopped.

    I love the house, it’s warm and inviting. Too bad it doesn’t look the same today. It wouldn’t take much for the house to look same. All it would need was some paint and shutters.

  30. Jan says

    Another one here who hold this movie in very high esteem! Characters, storyline and of the sets are all brillant! Just wish that Hollywood would do an update that stayed faithful to the premise of the original book and movie! BTW — I believe that the paint scene (available on YouTube) should be required watching for all those known as interior designers or decorators! The other brillant scene — when Mrs. Blandings has a local New York designer do a makeover drawing for their tiny apartment. Also the scenes where the Blandings try to pencil in changes on the blueprints at the architects — another classic (and time-tested to be true) scene! Myrna Loy is such a brillant actress — and even better in The Thin Man series (which has wonderful settings too!)

    Cheers! Jan at Rosemary Cottage

  31. says

    I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the poster for that movie! I love it. I haven’t seen this movie in years and it would be great to revisit now that we’re homeowners…especially since I think I might have, sort of given that same speech about living room color without even realizing it. 😉 This movie would actually make a great stocking stuffer for the mister…so thanks for the idea!
    .-= Laura @ the shore house´s last blog ..Wrapping up the week. And my laptop. =-.

  32. says

    I rented the movie after reading Patricia’s blog. We were in the middle of gutting our home and I thought it was so funny and a little bit sad. I guess some things never change – we all go way over budget. Great post.
    .-= Bethany´s last blog ..Holiday Ideas and Decorating =-.

  33. Jacquie says

    Another great home make-over movie with a great cast ( Doris Day, David Niven!) is ‘Please Don’t Eat The Daisies”. Great blog!

  34. says

    That was so interesting! I’ve seen the movie once, but now I want to watch it again. And read the book! – I didn’t know it was based on a book. Thanks for such a fascinating article.
    .-= Jacki´s last blog ..Garage Sale Treasure and Tagged =-.

  35. says

    Julia, I cannot wait to see this movie now, because (ducking in shame) I have never heard of it! I love all of the background and little facts you give~
    .-= melissa´s last blog ..Favorite Things Party! =-.

  36. Paula says

    Thank you for posting this one: it’s one of my favorite movies!! I’m excited to see so many other posts mentioning that they now want to see the movie, too – Myrna Loy is such a great actress (I’m a huge Thin Man Series fan, too!) and I adore her with Cary Grant. The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer is another great film with this duo: and a another beautiful home. I’ve never been able to figure how the second level was constructed – the steps going up are only about half the amount of a normal staircase. I wonder if it was a “set” thing or if it was home built on a hill or something.

    I can’t wait to go back to this post with my hubby and look at all the history and interesting trivia – we love old houses. When we were dating , one of our favorite after dinner/bookstore things to do would be to drive around and “grade” report cards for different home & subdivions. We could be brutal! Curb appeal & lighting were key to getting a high score!!

  37. says

    I have never heard of this movie and it sounds like one that I would love!! THank you for sharing about it. It will be so much more fun to see it knowing all the details behind the movie!!! I just watched “The Bishop’s wife” which is my favorite Cary Grant film- gotta love an angel and a gorgeous one at that!!

    blessings
    mary
    .-= Mary´s last blog .. =-.

  38. says

    Oh Julie what a great read!! I really enjoyed that,you really work hard with all your research, love your new banner too & I will grab your button, its so good to be back blogging after 3 months away, Elaine :)
    .-= Elaine´s last blog ..I am back!! =-.

  39. Joanne says

    The house the author actually built is in New Milford, CT.

  40. Kristen says

    I’m a huge Cary Grant fan. I don’t know how I missed this movie with this house. I’m going to have to check it out now. Thanks.

  41. Marija says

    Love this movie also – for years tried to find information about this house, now here it is. Thank you for posting.
    Another old movie house that always had my curiosity was in “Dear Ruth” with William Holden & Joan Caulfield, has that fuzzy cozy charm, wonder if that would ever be a project?

    • hookedonhouses says

      Hi, Marija! I’ve never seen “Dear Ruth.” I’ll have to check it out! -Julia

  42. MrsTailleur says

    This is one of my favorite movies. I too love the scene where she is telling the workers the paint color. I have loved Cary Grant all my life.
    You would have thought the selling of the book would have kept the family in the house.

  43. Ron H says

    This is my (almost) favorite movie house. (It’s tied with the Bringing Up Baby stone house). When I first heard a few years ago that this one was still standing in Malibu State Park, I found the aerial shots of it in Google and Bing maps. It took a bit of searching to locate in the photos, but wasn’t too difficult to find. The aerial shots aren’t very good (with the Bing Bird’s Eye views the best), but you could tell the main architectural features were intact.

    Thanks for posting the “as is” image, which is certainly a disappointment in it’s current state, but obviously wouldn’t take all that much to restore the exterior to its movie looks.

    As an aside, I understand that two houses were actually built for the film, one for the “under construction” filming, and one for filming in a finished state. Obviously this makes sense, as you wouldn’t want to tie a shooting schedule to the building schedule, and further keep interrupting the construction for filming. I always wondered where the second house was built, and if it, too, was still standing. A lot of the movie houses built around the country for the promotion seemed to be smaller and not exactly like the original, but the second shooting house would have to be virtually identical.

    One interesting thing about the “then” and “now” photographs is that the shape of the main chimney differs from almost square in the film era photos, to rectangular in the current version of the house. That’s major construction, as it would have to go from the ground up, unless the current rectangular version is the original, and for some reason was built out cosmetically above the roof line to it’s square configuration just for the film.

    Anyway, I wish the State of California would someday decide to restore the Blandings house!

    Love this site–I’d still like to know something about the Bringing Up Baby house, of which there doesn’t seem to be any references at all, except that I did read somewhere that Howard Hawks’ home was later built using the plans for the movie house.

    Ron H
    Reno NV

  44. Richard Orton says

    I once tried to visit Howard Hawk’s house in Bel-Air. I read a biography of his and had a pretty good idea where to find it but driving there was impossible. It’s now a private road in a nice canyon and there’s guard and gate keeping from traveling down the street. Bet it’s still nice. Nearby there was William Wellman’s house built around the same time. It was for sale recently and in pictures that I saw it looked like it had some of that nice colonial stonework popular in Hollywood in the late 1930s.

  45. says

    Love this website!
    Mr. Blandings is one of my favorite movies- just like everyone else
    has commented! This home just has a warmth that touches your
    soul and makes you want to live a better, happier more productive
    life! Well, at least for me it’s true!
    Yes, it’s very sad to see the house the way it currently is-so disappointed
    the state of Cali is so remiss in taking care of what people have given
    to it; sadly, our wonderful state is so cash poor that I doubt anything
    can be done to save this home.

  46. says

    This is one of my favorite movies also! I love watching old movies like this to see the classic architecture – the beautiful house design and detailing was never better. Love the 12-over-12 sash windows. I wish that kind of woodwork detailing and architectural features were just as commonplace today.

  47. a says

    I live in New Milford, Connecticut, and was delighted to find out that the author built his real dream house here, not far from where I live.

  48. Chris says

    This is also one of my favorite movies of all time. My husband and I both watch it, and refer to lines from it when we’re doing a remodeling project of our own. The paint scene is one of our favorites, and when we “exchange words” our kids will say “bicker bicker bicker.” Love seeing the photos.