The 1958 movie Auntie Mame is considered a classic, and it’s a kick to watch for the constantly changing, over-the-top sets and costumes.
It was based on a popular stage play starring the fabulous Rosalind Russell, who reprised her role in the film.
It opens in 1928 when her young nephew Patrick arrives at her doorstep as an orphan, in need of a guardian. His Auntie Mame isn’t the model parental figure, however (*understatement*).
Let’s take a look back at the sets they created for the movie!
The Sets from “Auntie Mame”
When Patrick and his caretaker Norah arrive at Mame’s apartment for the first time,
they’re a little startled by the “unique” hallway decor:
Norah remarks that the hallways resembles “The ladies’ room at the Oriental theater.”
When they ring the doorbell, steam shoots out of the dragon’s nostrils and the eyes move:
Inside the apartment, a party (which in 1958 may have seemed wildly hedonistic,
but now looks kind of stuffy with mostly older people standing around in suits) is in full swing:
Mame makes her appearance at the top of the stairs:
When they shot the first scene with her running down the curved staircase,
Rosalind Russell tripped and broke her ankle. Filming was delayed until she recovered.
Auntie Mame has lots of memorable lines, including the famous, “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!”
It was voted as the #93 movie quote by the American Film Institute.
It was adapted from the stage play, in which she said, “most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death,” but the language was deemed too racy for film.
The play and movie were based on a popular novel by Patrick Dennis,
who was reportedly inspired by his own real-life Aunt Marian.
Mame takes Patrick to the dining room where a buffet has been set up behind an ornate set of metal doors:
The bedroom she gives Patrick to sleep in is called “The Marie Antoinette Room:”
Norah complains that in the 14 days they’ve been living there,
Mame has thrown 13 parties (one was canceled “because the bootlegger didn’t show”).
Mame’s apartment is redecorated at least 6 times during the course of the film.
Even though the majority of the action takes place in the same set, it is constantly changing.
After the first redesign, the walls are now gray.
The furniture, pillows, and lamps are in shades of blue and purple.
The staircase is even different with a new metal railing.
It’s fun to try to spot all the little changes from scene to scene.
I got a kick out of how they painted Mame’s radio and cart to match the rest of the room:
The new entry is flanked by fake palm trees:
The mantel has gone from being sleek and modern to ornate and traditional:
Russell was nominated for a Tony Award in 1957 for her role in the stage play and was nominated for an Oscar for the movie version.
She also had a scene-stealing turn as Sylvia in The Women, but my favorite Russell movie has to be the hilarious screwball comedy His Girl Friday with Cary Grant.
Apartment Makeover #4:
This version of the apartment is very sedate and traditional with shades of brown and tan:
Even the books in the bookshelves have been given brown and off-white covers to match the rooms:
And Mame, as always, is dressed to match her decor.
Even her hair changes colors with each apartment (it was red during this period).
Remember those ornate doors leading into the dining room at the beginning of the movie?
They’ve been replaced by traditional French doors:
When Patrick tells Mame he’s going to bring his future in-laws to her house, she goes all out on the apartment, redecorating it once again.
This time, she’s got an ulterior motive behind it, however.
She doesn’t like his fiancee or her snooty parents, so she decides to shake them up a bit, starting with the odd fishbowl light fixture in the hall:
Patrick’s fiancee Gloria was played by Joanna Barnes,
who you may recognize from The Parent Trap.
The movie was remade in 1974 as a musical starring Lucille Ball.
The beautiful woodwork has been taken down and the stairs now have brown carpet on them:
Mame feeds the fish that swim under the new sculpture:
Imagine her guests’ surprise when Mame shows them
that the benches they’re sitting on are adjustable!
When the movie ends, her apartment has been transformed again — this time with a Far East vibe:
This set was used countless times for different movies. It’s fun to play “spot that staircase.”
A reader named Richard actually compiled a video with clips of the set from various films that you can see here.
He says that during World War II materials were so scarce that they were unable to build new sets for every movie, so they got creative with “recycling” them!
Visit my TV/Movie Houses page to see the others I’ve featured.
Juju at Tales of Whimsy & Vintage Whim Wham! says
Her bedroom is such fun! What a fab chaise.
.-= Juju at Tales of Whimsy & Vintage Whim Wham!´s last blog ..Free Reads- Christian Fiction Sunday =-.
That is one of my favorite movies of all time. I knew the decor changed, but didn’t notice it changed that much. I like the movie with Lucille Ball, but it can’t compare to this version.
.-= Karen´s last blog ..No comment =-.
[email protected] says
just added this movie to my netflix queue! so many fun interior changes…
.-= [email protected]´s last blog ..baby rolls =-.
Love this post! I’ve not seen this film, but I’ll be watching it ASAP. Thank you for sharing the oldies, but goldies with us… Lx
.-= Laura´s last blog ..A weekend of baking- shopping and wine =-.
What a great post! My favorite apartment makeover is the 4th one. Second would be the 1st one. I didn’t like the 5th and 6th makeovers. They weren’t very nice.
Amanda @ Serenity Now says
Too cool!!! I think that I’d really enjoy this movie. It looks like fun, and I love the changing sets. 🙂
.-= Amanda @ Serenity Now´s last blog ..First of Fall Thrifting and a Little Organizing =-.
[email protected] happy says
I think I have seen this but can’t recall for sure. The set decorators must have had fun with all of the changes. I do love old movies from the 40’s-60’s and love seeing how things have changed (or not) over the years. I don’t have a favourite though.
.-= [email protected] happy´s last blog ..A New York Minute =-.
Never have I seen this movie. I am not enamoured of any of these sets. But I do love the old movie sets. I just LOVED the clothes in the old 1940s movies with stars like Betty Grable. In this one movie I saw on Turner Classics lately, she has these hair snoods that are absolutely fabulous. Never saw anything like them before in my life.
I’ve been waiting for this post. A set designers nightmare or dream depending on how you look at it. How fun would it be to redecorate to suit the different phases of your life. To change your whole enviroment based on your current passion.
What style would fit your current passion?
.-= Derek´s last blog ..Old House Dreams =-.
Sarah @ myfirstlittleplace says
When people ask me what is my favourite film for interiors, I always say Aunty Mame and it has to be the Rosalind Russell version. I absolutely love every fit out of her apartover the years and would easily take ownership of any and every piece of furniture, accessories and the fixtures. Just simply devine and timeless.
Thank you so much for sharing with us, my fav yet xx
.-= Sarah @ myfirstlittleplace´s last blog ..Fashion House – Tamara Mellon take 2 =-.
Centsational Girl says
‘Auntie Mame’ is one of my all time favorite movies ! Not only for the ever changing set design, which you so masterfully captured, but also for Rosalind Russell’s brilliant portrayal. The book is absolutely hysterical! Skip the Lucille Ball version (as much as I Love Lucy, it was a dud). So delighted you shared this set today!
Oh Auntie Mame!! I loved that movie growing up! Thank you for posting this. You might also post about “What a Way to Go!” with Shirley Maclaine. She had some great places too!
.-= Cori´s last blog ..New Pictures =-.
This movie is one that my mother and I love! I saw it as a child and fell in love with Auntie Mame. I think my mother secretly wished she could be more like that.
We have seen it countless times and when one of us comes across it on television, we call the other so we can either watch it together (in 2 different states) or at least share an Auntie Mame moment.
The sets and costumes have always amazed me and I frequently do try to count all of the changes.
Thanks for bringing back such fond memories.
.-= Jill´s last blog ..Seasonal Home Staging- Yes or No =-.
Oops…forgot to mention that I have seen the Lucille Ball version. Hated it. I am loyal to the original. Rosalind Russel was masterful in this role and the music and Ball’s interpratation were just too over the top.
.-= Jill´s last blog ..Seasonal Home Staging- Yes or No =-.
Robyn Wright of Robyn's Online World says
I love this movie – and yes I have seen both versions. The one with Russel is far better than the one with Ball. I adore that they changed the set to match Mame’s moods throughout the movie and how it reflected what was going on in her life and that her demeanor changed as well. Just a fabulous movie and love, love, love all the craziness in some of the sets!
.-= Robyn Wright of Robyn’s Online World´s last blog ..Conferences Via Remote =-.
black eyed susans kitchen says
I have never seen this movie, but now I must!!! All of the decor is over the top fun. I love old movies…have watched and rewatched the Thin Man series with Nick and Nora just to see the decor and costumes. Have always loved Easter Parade for the same reason, and was just thinking last night that it is time to rent Gone with the wind as I just found out that my husband has never seen it. Thanks for a fun post Julia…you always get it right!
.-= black eyed susans kitchen´s last blog ..FESTIVALS AND TOWN WIDE YARD SALES =-.
While the RR version is vastly superior to the Lucille Ball, “Mame,” the interiors of the 1974 film are worth seeing too. I especially love the Christmas scene in the Lucy version.
I lobbied hard to name my daughter Mame/Mamie because of my deep and abiding love for the character, but I was outvoted. I’m still a wee bit bitter…
.-= paige´s last blog ..“hey lady- you wanna buy a watch” =-.
say what? outvoted? she who does the carrying, does the naming.
O wow! I love each new decor! I will have to rent this movie just to look at it all.
.-= rhianna´s last blog ..Day 12 of 30 – Something I Am OCD About =-.
Great post, Julia! Would you believe I have never seen this movie? Never knew what it was about either. I think I will watch it from Netflix, thanks for opening my eyes to this movie! Love that kid in the short pants – he’s quite big to be wearing that style, even in those days, so it is a hoot to me just looking at him.
.-= Gloria´s last blog ..My New Tea Towels =-.
P.S. You asked if we love old movies, what is one of my favorite sets? It is the movie, “Rebecca” — I know you did a post on this, which I LOVED, you did a fabulous job. I love this movie because of Rebecca’s bedroom, just amazing. those windows and billowy drapes are to die for; love that little cottage too; and loved the little study that was Rebecca’s, with all of her things in her desk. Loved the entrance hall, loved everything about that movie!
.-= Gloria´s last blog ..My New Tea Towels =-.
I *love* that you chose this film to feature. It’s one of my all-time favorites (the Rosalind Russel version, not the Lucille Ball version — though I love her in her own right).
.-= Mandi´s last blog ..Autumn is Here =-.
This movie has been one of my favorites since I was a child. It always cheers me up!
It’s too bad that Patrick Dennis’ novels have fallen out of print and out of favor – they are witty and delightful.
Fun fact: the adult Patrick in the movie is played by the handsome Roger Smith, who went on to star in “77 Sunset Strip” – and marry the gorgeous Ann-Margret.
.-= Suzy´s last blog ..Reversed =-.
I’ve been waiting for this one. As with all your Movie Monday posts, great job! I’ve watched and rewatched Auntie Mame numerous times and can assure you that you’ll spot something new each time. This is such a feast for the eyes. Did you notice the banister change from normal to a serpent/dragon (ala Beetlejuice) at the end in the party scene? The banister finishes with a little flourish in almost all incarnations – one of my favorite things. Had the sets not changed, Auntie Mame would have been much more boring. I’ve tried to choose a favorite and they all seem so fun, it’s really difficult. I treasure this movie and watch it every year at Christmas. I am not a fan of the Lucille Ball version – it lacks a certain light humor this version has.
The musical version with Lucille Ball and Bea Arthur is one of my favorite movies of all time. It would be interesting to see the differece in the sets for each movie version!
.-= Deb´s last blog ..Rah – Rah =-.
This has been one of my favorite posts! Thank you!
Pamela @Atmosphere ID says
I now really want to watch that movie.
.-= Pamela @Atmosphere ID´s last blog ..Are You Suffering from an Overweight Mattress =-.
Lesley @ TheDesignFile says
When I first saw that you were doing an older film, I didn’t think it would interest me that much…but it was fantastic! It is so fun to see all the changes and now I really want to see the movie.
Thanks as always for a great post. I never should have doubted you!
.-= Lesley @ TheDesignFile´s last blog ..Idea 27- Change up a rooms accessories =-.
I love it when you post reviews on classic old movie sets. They were so extravagant! I’ve never seen this movie before but I’ll definitely be on the hunt for it now. Thanks~
Visual Vamp says
My whole interior design (and life) point of view is based on this movie! I wanted to open a home decor shop called “Mame”, and I have always wanted to do a blog post on the decor in the movie, but could never find any stills. I imagine you did a little work here, capturing them from the DVD. And I thank you for it! I am going to bookmark this post and treasure it.
.-= Visual Vamp´s last blog ..Anna Wintours Bolthole =-.
Mame, the R.R. version…had the best set ‘costume changes’ of all time. I was just reading about the fabulous Kay Thompson of ‘Funny Face & Eloise’ fame and the article said that Mame’s character was developed from hers…doesn’t that make sense?! It was an aha moment for me…
Fabulous post dahling (that’s what Mame would say)…thank you ever so! ; )
Thanx for the post. Although I have watched the film many times I never noticed that the sets started with deco Chinoiserie and finished with the post war version that includes pieces from the Asian Sub-Continent.
jennifer black says
I love this movie and have seen it many times. It’s not just great fun, though; it has a wonderful message (and timely even today). I love the fiance’s line about how books can be so decorative–and Mame’s reaction.
Thanks for the memories!
P.S. To Kill a Mockingbird–how ’bout the homey scenes of the kitchen, the kids’ bedrooms, Boo Radley’s porch, the school gym, the courthouse … (built to look like the real thing!). Oh and Atticus. Who wouldn’t want him for your dad?
.-= jennifer black´s last blog ..I Stand Corrected sitting- actually- but oh well =-.
E. George says
Hi Julia love the post thankyou it is so cheerful. I love the staircase and the radio. Well now I will try and get my hands on the dvd to watch its been a long long time since last time I saw this movie I agree it was great. I have to tell you just watched Letters to Juliet maybe 3 times and I want to go to Verona. Its more of a road movie you don’t get to see many interiors this was unfortunate but the exteriors beautiful. Regards Esther from sunny Sydney….. ps has Lily picked her costume yet?
I would like one staircase, one pink bedroom carpet, and all of the gorgeously carved fireplaces please!
.-= Josanne´s last blog ..How Was Your Monday =-.
Richard Orton says
It wasn’t that new sets cost too much, there was a shortage of materials. Studios were limited to the amount of money and material that could be used for new scenery so they re-used and re-dressed a lot of old sets. Something they had always done anyway. The Warner Brothers staircase which was the anchor of the “Auntie Mame” set started out in the film “Bright Leaf” 1950. The films in my clip are, in order…
Oceans 11: 1960
Auntie Mame: 1958
Rome Adventure: 1962
Tea for Two: 1950
The King and Four Queens: 1956
The Spirit of St. Louis: 1957
So Big: 1953
Films not included in the clips are “Strangers on a Train”, “Bright Leaf”, “A Summer Place” and “Cash McCall”, all from Warner Brothers. Find an old issue of Architectural Digest with pictures of the interior of Jack Warner’s house and you will see he had a staircase almost identical to the standing set used in all these films. Curious.
Thanks, Richard! I’ll edit that sentence to correct it. -Julia
Jen @ After The Alter says
Funny you mentioned the musical later on! As I was reading I thought to myself…I thought Lucille Ball played mame! lol I had no idea it was a movie first. I only knew of the musical 🙂
.-= Jen @ After The Alter´s last blog ..National Coffee Day! PUR Water Style Plus a Giveaway! =-.
I had to add this one to my Netflix rentals! It has been much too long! This place is just delicious!
i’m no millionaire’s widow, but i do my auntie mame routine for my nieces every summer. no alternative school with a nude teacher, but i give them a solid taste of new york and a break from house rules and regulations.
the best part of this movie is the love story. it’s definitely mame’s tale, but it revolves around the relationship between herself and patrick. if not for her brother’s death mame would never have had the experience of influencing a child. she had never met patrick before. and he would have been groomed into another stuffy, repressed man in a gray flannel suit. mame pitches the battle, repeatedly, for patrick’s spiritual freedom. it is her influence that allows patrick to “live live live!!!”
Oh my gosh! I can remember watching this movie as a kid and being so enthralled with that fishbowl light fixture. Thanks for reminding me how much I loved it… I’ll have to watch this again soon!
.-= Liz´s last blog ..Halloween Past =-.
A Vintage Girl says
This is one of my favorite movies and part of my personal collection! I too love the story, the set and Rosalind Russell. I had gone through such a Mame faze that my husband purchased an original Playbill for me with Rosalind Russell on the cover! Very cool! I love the entire message of Mame. Thanks for breaking down the set for us. It was neat to see just how many changes her “house” went through. Neat-O!
.-= A Vintage Girl´s last blog ..Gardiners East Hampton Home for Sale =-.
Now, don’t you want to go through these comments and see how many people actually WATCHED the movie, and how many lives were changed because of it?
I’m still waiting to do an Indian-themed mural on a staircase. 😉
kinda tough, as I live in a 50’s ranch, but a girl can dream. Maybe the wall up from the basement 🙂
Brooke Tucker says
Hi! I ‘kind of’ stumbled on your photographic site and absolutely loved your collection. My father, Forrest Tucker, played her husband in the movie and I only have one still of them from the movie……………in the toy dept.. Do you ever sell stills or do you have any others you can post when he comes into her life? Thanks for such a nice treat! Cheers! Brooke Tucker
Hi, Brooke! So nice to hear from you. I loved his character in “Auntie Mame!”
The photos aren’t mine to sell–I simply took snapshots of the scenes while watching the movie itself. You could do it or have someone do it for you if you got the right software to take screenshots. I use the VLC media player, but there are others out there that will do it, too.
Thanks for your comment! 🙂
This was my favorite movie of all time. I loved the way she redecorated her house with every new chapter in her life. However, the apartment decor in the scene where she invites Gloria’s family to dinner is amazing, not because of its eye appeal, in fact, it’s rather hideous. However, Mame accomplishes what she sets out to do and in grand style, as only Mame would have it!
Richard Orton says
I have now posted a new improved version of Mame’s staircase on YouTube. In addition to “Auntie Mame” this set was used in 13 other Warner Brothers films. Now every film is identified as well as major cast members. All 14 films that I know of, that used this same set are included in this new video. If you know of any other films where it was used, please let me know.
My favorite is at the end of the movie when the staircase is painted like the mountains in India. Walking up the stairs and the Buddhist chapel in the background was like walking into the Heavens.
It took two years but I finally saw Auntie Mame! The sets were amazing and I enjoyed them all.
My favorite movie; it’s feel-good and has such diverse characters and decor! If I had the means, I would pick the 4th setting (with the bookshelves and the portraits over the stairs) for my own place. I also love the 2nd look with all the blue accents.
Oh I REALLY hope you will see the Lucille Ball version – if you still haven’t. The sets are AMAZING not to mention the costumes not to mention that Lucille Ball is SO endearing – you really come to love her. Not having seen this original version I don’t know if that’s as true of the character. The Foxhunt segment is absolutely one of the grandest and sweetest in motion picture history.