Princess O'Rourke

Princess O'Rourke is a 1943 American romantic comedy film[2][3]directed and written by Norman Krasna (in Krasna's directorial debut), and starring Olivia de Havilland, Robert Cummings and Charles Coburn. Krasna won the 1944 Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.[4]

Princess O'Rourke
Directed byNorman Krasna
Produced byHal B. Wallis
Written byNorman Krasna
Music byFriedrich Hollaender
CinematographyErnest Haller
Edited byWarren Low
Warner Bros. Pictures
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • October 23, 1943 (1943-10-23)
Running time
93 or 94 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$3,099,000[1]

Although conceived as a vehicle for de Havilland, Princess O'Rourke turned out to be a troubled project that led to the de Havilland Law, that changed the status of contracts in the U.S. film industry. Filmed in 1942, the release was held up for one year due to legal issues that resulted from the production.[5]


During World War II, Princess Maria and her uncle Holman, exiles from their (unnamed) conquered European country, live in New York City. Holman hopes that his niece will marry and produce a male heir as soon as possible, but she is not interested in his preferred choice, Count Peter de Chandome, or the other candidates that he has suggested.

While flying to California incognito as "Mary Williams", the princess—fearful of flying—is accidentally given too many sleeping pills. When the Douglas DST airliner returns to New York because of bad weather, the crew cannot wake her. The pilot, Eddie O'Rourke, takes care of her, still unaware who she is. She wakes up the next morning in his apartment wearing his pajamas.

To explain her absence, Maria tells her uncle that she slept at the airport. She spends the day with Eddie, his friend and co-pilot, Dave Campbell, and Dave's wife Jean (who had put Maria to bed). "Mary" tells them she is a war refugee and was traveling to California to work as an upstairs maid. She and Eddie quickly fall in love. With both Eddie and Dave about to join the United States Army Air Forces, Eddie impulsively proposes to Mary. She accepts, but sadly believes that, as a princess, she cannot marry him.

A Secret Service agent assigned to protect Maria tells her uncle of the relationship. Holman is not opposed to Maria marrying a commoner, and is pleased to learn that Eddie is one of nine brothers and his father one of 11. Holman also knows that his niece marrying an American would strengthen his country's vital relationship with the United States. To Maria's surprise and joy, he permits the marriage, and Eddie is stunned to learn that his poor European refugee is actually royalty.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt invites Maria and Eddie to stay at the White House. Given a crash course in royal protocol by a representative of the State Department, Eddie becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the conditions attached to the role of prince consort and being financially supported by his wife, with no career other than fathering an heir. While discussing the prenuptial agreement, he finally rebels when he is informed he must surrender his American citizenship. After making an impassioned speech about how lucky he is to be an American, Eddie asks "Mary" to choose between him and her family. Maria obeys her uncle and leaves the room; a disappointed Eddie calls her a "slave". Holman locks her in the Lincoln Bedroom.

After much crying, Maria writes a note and slips it under the door for Roosevelt's dog, Fala, to deliver to his master. In the middle of the night, the President summons a Supreme Court judge to marry Eddie and Maria. Afterward, the newlyweds sneak out of the White House. On the way out, Eddie bumps into a man standing behind the door; he mistakes the man for a guard. Outside, Maria tells him that the "guard" was actually the President. Astonished, Eddie exclaims, “I tipped him a buck! And he took it!”[Note 1]




In the early 1940s Norman Krasna had established himself as a leading screenwriter. He wanted to move into directing and in February 1942 signed a contract with Warner Bros to write and direct. His first assignment was to be Princess O'Rourke.[6]


In April 1942 Warner Bros announced Loretta Young would play the lead.[7] In May Warner Bros arranged to borrow Fred MacMurray from Paramount to play the male lead in exchange for Anne Sheridan who Paramount wanted to play Texas Guinan.[8] Also that month Hal Wallis announced he would produce.[9]

By June, however, the arrangement to exchange MacMurray for Sheridan was cancelled. (The Texas Guinan movie went on to be made with Betty Hutton and MacMurray would not finish No Time for Love in time.) The male lead went to Robert Cummings who was borrowed from Universal, and who had worked for Warners on Kings Row. The female lead went to Olivia de Havilland.[10][11] Charles Coburn joined the cast in late June.[12]

De Havilland initially refused to take the part and subsequently being suspended by Warner Bros.[13][Note 2]

Feeling that being cast in a lightweight role was limiting her future in Hollywood features, de Havilland also began to have medical problems that compounded her anxiety. During her suspension, Alexis Smith was tested as a replacement for the role of Princess Maria.Claude Rains campaigned to be in the film, but the casting of Charles Coburn solidified the main cast choices.[15]


Filming started 9 July 1942.[16] It ended September 1942.[17]

According to Ben Mankiewicz’s introduction to the Nov. 24, 2019, airing of the picture on TCM, the production was given limited access to film at the White House, courtesy of President Roosevelt. In addition, FDR’s beloved Scottie dog Fala—already a well-known film personality in his own right—played himself, because, Mankiewicz says, “No dog body-doubles for Fala.” Even so, Whiskers is also credited in some places (including the current cast list on, presumably for scenes filmed outside the actual White House.

The airport scenes were shot at Burbank Airport.[Note 3] [18]

Cummings often was unavailable, as he was simultaneously at work on Between Us Girls at Universal Studios, forcing de Havilland to deliver lines to a stand-in. Aged actor Coburn also frequently forgot his lines, leading to many retakes which sapped her energy further.[19]

Cummings also fell ill with ptomaine poisoning during the shoot and missed several days.[20]

De Havilland fought openly with Warner Bros.[21] Tired and suffering from low blood pressure, the formerly steady and hard-working actress began reporting late for work, leaving the set abruptly and going home when her frustrations became too much. This was very atypical behavior from the actor.[22]

She would eventually file a lawsuit against the studio in a landmark case that resulted in passage of legislation known as the de Havilland Law (California Labor Code Section 2855), that set a seven-calendar-year limit on studio-player contracts.[23]

The film was completed ten days behind schedule on September 9, and due to the legal issues, was eventually released a year after the production wrapped. Princess O'Rourke became the penultimate film that de Havilland completed while on contract to Warner Bros.[5][Note 4][Note 5]

De Havilland and Cummings both sued their studios over their long term contracts.[26]


The composer Arthur Schwartz and lyricists Edward "Yip" Harburg and Ira Gershwin who had earlier written the featured song, "Honorable Moon" (1941), donated the money they received from Warner Bros. to the United China Relief organization.[27] Nan Wynn sings the song during a Chinese restaurant scene.[15]


While in post-production, the wartime Bureau of Motion Pictures (BMP) screened a copy of Princess O'Rourke and strenuously objected to the film. Unlike other feature productions, a script had not been pre-approved by the BMP. Nelson Poynter, the director of the liaison office in Hollywood, stated that the film was an example of studios "... recklessly using the war for background incidents in an opportunistic attempt to capitalize on the war rather than interpret it."[28] Poynter was particularly upset about the "ridiculous" caricatures of Red Cross workers, European nobility, the Secret Service, and even the President (described as a "busybody"). With the film already finished, however, no attempt was made to censor or restrict its release.[29]



Although largely forgotten today, Princess O'Rourke was a success at the time.[24] It received generally favorable contemporary reviews.

The famously rigorous Bosley Crowther of The New York Times, was captivated by the film,[30] by a story that he thought could only be possible in America, and that "... it happens with such spirit and humor that you'll be bound to concede it might be."[31]

The review in Variety was even more effusive. "Princess O'Rourke is a spritely, effervescing and laugh-explosive comedy-romance. Credit for general sparkle and excellence of the picture must be tossed to Norman Krasna, who handled the writing and directing responsibilities. It's Krasna's initial directing assignment."[32] The film marked a turning point in Jane Wyman's career, as she displayed her comedic talents, sparring capably with her foil, Jack Carson.[33][Note 6]

More recent reviews, however, have been far more critical, with Leonard Maltin, noting In a one-paragraph review on, "[The] very dated comedy starts charmingly with pilot Cummings falling in love with Princess de Havilland, bogs down in no longer timely situations, unbearably coy finale involving (supposedly) F.D.R. himself."[35]

Film historian Thomas G. Aylesworth stated, "[the] supporting cast of real professionals probably saved the movie."[36]

Film historians such as Roger Fristoe, retired film critic for the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky, have noted similarities to the later, more highly regarded romantic comedy Roman Holiday (1953), directed and produced by William Wyler, starring Gregory Peck as a reporter and Audrey Hepburn as a royal princess out to see Rome on her own.[5] Biographer Daniel Bubbeo characterized Princess O'Rourke as a "fluffier" antecedent of Roman Holiday.[37]

Box Office

According to Variety the film earned $2.3 million in rentals in North America in 1943.[38]

According to Warner Bros records the film earned $2,257,000 domestically and $842,000 foreign.[1]


Norman Krasna later said "everybody thought Olivia de Havilland was a great comedienne in Princess O'Rourke; it's not true. She was just darling, an ingenue. And everybody else is in on the joke - Jane Wyman, Bob Cummings, Charles Coburn; they were great comedians all around. So it comes out as a comedy and they go and put her in Government Girl for Dudley Nichols and she falls on her ass. Don't let her be the comedy!"[39]

Jane Wyman's performance was admired by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett and led to her being cast in The Lost Weekend.[40] De Havilland regarded the film as trivial but she later worked with Krasna again in The Ambassador's Daughter (1956).[41]

Despite the film's success, Krasna only directed two more films. "I'm not a good director, not at all," he said later. "I know how to direct what I write; but then I write knowing that I'm able to direct it."[42] Krasna said the film was among his favorite of his works, the others being The Devil and Miss Jones, Mr and Mrs Smith, Bachelor Mother and My Geisha.[43]


In 1944 Helen Grace Carlise sued the filmmakers alleging plagiarism.[44]


Norman Krasna won the 1944 Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay) for Princess O'Rourke.[45]


  1. Although mostly obscured behind a door in his sole appearance onscreen, Roosevelt is depicted standing up rather than in his wheelchair. His disability was usually hidden from the public during his lifetime.
  2. The casting of de Havilland was due to producer Hal B. Wallis wanting to showcase his "protege".[14]
  3. Besides the DST, a Douglas DC-3 in Eastern Air Lines livery is featured in a later scene. The stock footage of the airliner taking off silhouetted against the sky, however, is of a Boeing 247.
  4. Following the protracted legal tussles, Jack Warner "assigned" de Havilland to RKO to star in Government Girl (1943), another project that she detested.[24]
  5. Devotion (1946), completed in 1943 and released in 1946, was de Havilland's last Warner Bros. film.[25]
  6. Despite the turmoil on the set, in later years, de Havilland considered the role of Princess Maria, one of the few truly satisfying characters she played for Warner Bros.[34]


  1. Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1-31 p 24 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
  2. Film review: Princess O'Rourke." Variety, September 22, 1943, p. 12.
  3. Harrison 1997, (Film review: September 25, 1943), p. 154.
  4. Erickson, Glenn. "Princess O'Rourke." DVD Savant, February 20, 2011. Retrieved: August 27, 2013.
  5. Fristoe, Roger. "Articles: Princess O'Rourke (1943)." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: January 27, 2013.
  6. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: New York Times 5 Feb 1942: 25.
  7. Ilona Massey, Jon Hall Get Lead Roles in 'The Invisible Spy' at Universal New York Times 14 Apr 1942: 17.
  8. Looking at Hollywood Chapman, John. Chicago Daily Tribune 23 May 1942: 16.
  9. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD New York Times 2 May 1942: 10.
  10. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD New York Times 06 June 1942: 9
  11. DRAMA: Olivia, Bob Cummings 'Princess O'Rourke' Los Angeles Times 5 June 1942: 17.
  12. Of Local Origin New York Times 25 June 1942: 26.
  13. Freedland 1983, p. 172.
  14. Wallis and Higham 1990, p. 86.
  15. "Notes: Princess O'Rourke (1943)." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: August 24, 2013.
  16. Of Local Origin New York Times 8 July 1942: 27.
  17. "United States Court of Appeals For the Ninth Circuit Cummings v Universal - 1944". Internet archive. p. 569.
  18. "Original Print Information: Princess O'Rourke (1943)." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: August 26, 2013.
  19. Higham p 136
  20. DRAMA: Hepburn Stage Play Commands High Price Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times ]17 Aug 1942: 22.
  21. Sperling et al. 1998, pp. 194–195.
  22. Higham p 136-137
  23. Maltin 1994, p. 214.
  24. DeWelles, Orson. "Princess O’Rourke (1943)." Classic Film Freak, October 4, 2012. Retrieved: January 27, 2013.
  25. Thomas 1983, p. 35.
  26. TOWN CALLED HOLLYWOOD Two More Warner Bros. Stars Go Out a-Feudin' Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 7 Nov 1943: E1.
  27. "Music: Honorable Moon." Time, July 21, 1941.
  28. Koppes and Black 1987, p. 93.
  29. Koppes and Black 1987, pp. 93–94.
  30. Crowther, Bosley (1943-11-06). "' PrincessO'Rourke,' 100 PerCent American Comedy, With Olivia deHavilland, Robt. Cummings, Chas. Coburn at the Strand". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-11-25.
  31. Crowther, Bosley. "Princess O Rourke (1943); 100 PerCent American Comedy, With Olivia de Havilland, Robt. Cummings, Chas. Coburn at the Strand." The New York Times, November 6, 1943.
  32. "Princess O'Rourke."Variety, December 31, 1942.
  33. Morella and Epstein 1985, p. 61.
  34. Thomas 1983, p. 34.
  35. Maltin, Leonard. "Leonard Maltin Movie Review: Princess O'Rourke." Turner Classic Movies: Leonard Maltin Ratings & Reviews. Retrieved: January 27, 2013.
  36. Aylesworth 1986, p. 80.
  37. Bubbeo 2001, p. 63.
  38. "Top Grossers of the Season". Variety. 5 January 1944. p. 54.
  39. McGilligan, Patrick (1986). Backstory: Interviews with Screenwriters of Hollywood's Golden Age. University of California Press. p. 223.
  40. Morella, Joe; Epstein, Edward Z (1986). Jane Wyman : a biography. G.K. Hall. p. 97.
  41. Higham p 144
  42. McGilligan p 227
  43. McGilligan p 232
  44. CHARGES FILM PLAGIARISM New York Times 15 Apr 1944: 13.
  45. Paul Lukas and Jennifer Jones Academy Winners: Casablanca Voted Best 1943 Film Annual 'Oscar' Event Thrills All Hollywood Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 3 Mar 1944: A1.


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  • Bubbeo, Daniel. The Women of Warner Brothers: The Lives and Careers of 15 Leading Ladies. Jefferson, North Carolina: Mcfarland & Co. Inc. Publishers, 2001. ISBN 978-0-78641-137-5.
  • Freedland, Michael. The Warner Brothers. Edinburgh: Chambers, 1983. ISBN 978-0-24553-827-8.
  • Harrison, P. S. Harrison's Reports and Film Reviews, 1919-1962. Hollywood, California: Hollywood Film Archive, 1997. ISBN 978-0-91361-610-9.
  • Higham, , Charles (1984). Sisters : the story of Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine. Coward-McCann.
  • Koppes, Clayton R. and Gregory D. Black. Hollywood Goes to War: How Politics, Profits and Propaganda Shaped World War II Movies. New York: The Free Press, 1987. ISBN 0-02-903550-3.
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