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. It was based on a true story, which was turned into a bestselling book. They built a real house while shooting it, which is still standing today. Take a look…
Mr. Blandings and His Dream House
The story starts in New York City, where the Blandings live with their children in a small apartment:
Jim Blandings earns a good living as an advertising exec, we’re told — $15,000 a year. An old review of the film written in 1948 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.”
They go looking for a place in the country. This house is known to locals as the Old Hackett Place:
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:
And how Mr. Blandings envisions it:
They buy the old Hackett Place, only to discover it can’t be saved. It’s a tear-down.
They decide to build on the land instead, but they’re shocked to learn the new house they want to build will cost $12,500. 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.
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.
Despite all the headaches, mixups, and soaring costs, the house is finally finished and moving day arrives:
Jim carries Muriel (Myrna Loy) over the threshold:
And right across the wet varnish on the hardwood floors…
“Oh, Daddy! Look at this!” The windows on the side of the house aren’t in yet:
Mrs. Blandings gives detailed instructions to the painter, explaining what she wants in each room:
“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.”
The painter turns to the guy next to him. “Got that, Charlie?”
“Uh-huh. Red, green, yellow, blue, and white.”
We get a glimpse of the dining room, but we never see the kitchen (boo!):
The Living Room:
WHAM: It’s a Whale of a Ham!
Jim is so stressed about the house, his work is suffering. When he can’t come up with a promotional strategy for WHAM, his housekeeper Gussie (Louise Beavers, who also played Mamie in Holiday Inn) saves the day by giving him this idea:
So he keeps his job, he keeps his house, and everybody’s happy. I just hope Gussie got a raise!
In the final scene he’s holding the book by Eric Hodgins the movie was based on:
The book was inspired by his own house-building nightmare:
The house Hodgins built still stands in the town of New Milford, Connecticut. It sold in August 2004 for $1.2 million.
According to 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, the Real Mr. Blandings:
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House “wrote itself,” he said.
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 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.
Thousands of people went to see this replica in Ohio:
The current owner Debbie and her daughter Hayley in front of it today:
You can read the story about it in the Toledo Blade.
The house built for 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.
The House Built for “Mr. Blandings” Today:
But maybe it’s best to remember it this way. . .
P.S. Visit my Houses Onscreen page to see more, including…