BABES IN TOYLAND premiered October 13, 1903, at the Majestic Theatre in New York and ran for 192 performances. It had subsequent holiday season revivals in 1905, 1929, and 1930.
The book was by Glen MacDonough and the music by the immortal
The success of the 1929 revival led RKO chief William LeBaron to secure rights to the musical play and produce a Technicolor film starring Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey.
The film was announced with great fanfare in RKO's trade book for the 1930 holiday season.
The prickly Herbert estate, however, got cold feet and exercised its
option to withdraw from the agreement and opted instead for
the 1930 stage revival.
Enter Hal Roach
By 1934, Roach's star comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy had become international favorites.
With their foray into feature-length pictures paying off big, Roach decided to film BABES IN TOYLAND with Stan and Ollie.
Co-starring would be Charlotte Henry, who had recently appeared in Paramount's ALICE IN WONDERLAND; Felix Knight, a young radio tenor who would later become a star on the Metropolitan Opera stage; and venerable stage actress Florence Roberts.
Actually, Margaret Seddon was originally cast as Mother Peep, but was replaced soon after shooting began. Seddon is seen below in a still from an early scene that was re-shot with Florence Roberts.
A young Marie Wilson played Mary Mary Quite Contrary.
And Virginia Karns made one of her very few film appearances as Mother Goose.
The casting of the villain Barnaby seemed to perplex Roach until he attended a performance of the 19th Century melodrama THE DRUNKARD at Los Angeles' Theatre Mart. In the cast was the perfect actor to play Barnaby - seen on stage as evil Lawyer Cribbs. His name was Henry Kleinbach.
Roach nearly fell over when Kleinbach walked into his office the next day - a young, clean-shaven lad of 21. He could not believe that this was the same actor he had seen the night before as an aged, bent-over shyster.
Also in the cast were William Burress as the Toymaker, Kewpie Morgan as Old King Cole (a Merry Old Soul), and Ferdinand Munier in one of his many on-and-off screen appearances as Santa Claus.
The cast was sprinkled with Hal Roach players - Johnny Downs as Little Boy Blue; Jean Darling as Curly Locks; Tiny Sandford as the Village Dunker; Gus "My back pension!" Leonard as the Village Lamp Lighter; Fred Holmes as the Baloon Salesman; Baldwin Cooke and Billy Bletcher as policemen; and Our Gang's Jerry Tucker as one of the Kids in the Shoe. Other players included Dickie "Pinocchio" Jones; Future M*A*S*H* producer-director Gene Reynolds; diminutive John George as Barnaby's minion; Angelo Rossitto as one of the Three Little Pigs; Richard Alexander and Tiny Lipson as the King's guards; Frank Austin as the Justice of the Peace; and Alice Moore as the Queen of Hearts. Pete Gordon played the Cat and the Fiddle while his nemesis, in a Mickey Mouse costume, was played by the Hal Roach studio monkey!
The script turned out to be the most problematic aspect of the production. Hal Roach and Stan Laurel fought bitterly over the scenario, which would be significantly altered from the original Glen MacDonough book. Here is the complete screenplay dated July 28, 1934.
Many changes would be made before the final screenplay was submitted the following month.
In the end, Roach threw up his hands, put Stan in charge of production and later dismissed the film as a failure. Of course, time has proven that to be anything but the case.
Shooting began under the twin helms of Gus Meins and Charley Rogers.
Gus Meins handled the musical and melodramatic scenes...
...while Charley Rogers directed the comedy sequences AND appeared in the film as Simple Simon.
Victor Herbert's musical score was adapted for the film by Harry Jackson, a music supervisor for NBC radio. While "Toyland", "Never Mind, Bo Peep", and "Castles in Spain" were sung in the picture, other songs were used as motifs in the film's underscore. These included "Jane", which was heard in the main title and during the celebration after Barnaby is tricked into marrying Stan; "I Can't Do That Sum", which was Stan and Ollie's theme; "The Spider" which was the Bogeymen's attack theme; and, of course, "The March of the Toys". Other familiar themes included "In the Toymaker's Workshop", "Country Dance", and, of course, "The Dance of the Cuckoos"!
Listen to John McGlinn's recording of the complete 1903 score to Victor Herbert's BABES IN TOYLAND:
BABES IN TOYLAND Act I
BABES IN TOYLAND Act II
BABES IN TOYLAND Act III
Also heard in the film's musical score was "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" by Frank Churchill from Walt Disney's Silly Symphony cartoon THE THREE LITTLE PIGS, released the previous year. The Pigs were portrayed in BABES IN TOYLAND by actors in costume and the song - used with permission from Disney - was their musical motif.
The special effects were supervised by Roach technician Roy Seawright, including the animated wooden soldiers that appeared at the film's climax.
Here are two surviving members of that original troop of wooden soldiers:
Here's part of the amazing set for BABES IN TOYLAND, populated by some young visitors. And if you look who's sitting ON the shoe, you'll see not only Spanky McFarland, Wally Albright, Scotty Becket, Stymie Beard, Jackie White and Jackie Taylor. And to the left is Charlie Gemora in his "Ethel the Chimp" costume!(and he's armed to do battle with the bogeymen!) Click on the photo for a larger look!
With production completed, MGM's promotion department went into hyperdrive. In addition to a massive campaign book sent to all theater managers, magazine ads, contests and movie tie-ins took place all across the country.
Poster art was created by resident MGM caricaturist Al Hirschfeld.
And, of course, a deluxe trailer gave movie audiences a lavish preview of BABES IN TOYLAND.
BABES IN TOYLAND was released on December 14, 1934. Here are the original main and end titles that audiences saw in 1934.
The reviews were very favorable.
The New York Times wrote:
Hal Roach, lord high master of the slapstick, ventures among the gorgoyles
of never-never land in his delightful "Babes in Toyland," which seems destined
to cause a vast whooping and stamping of feet among the youngsters during the
approaching holiday season. The film is an authentic children's entertainment and
quite the merriest of its kind that Hollywood has turned loose on the nation's screens
in a long time.
Borrowing Victor Herbert's title and his music, as well as Walt Disney's dream-world secrets, the custodian of the royal custard has enriched the Christmas holidays with an original flesh-and-blood fantasy. Since the comic team of Laurel and Hardy has wandered into it, the elders, as well as their young charges, are advised to check their dignity at the door.In this amusing grab-bag of quips and whimsies Mr. Roach tells of many remarkable persons, of Bo-Beep and the Widow Peep, who lived in a side-button shoe; of the wicked Silas Barnaby, who held the mortgage; of Tom-Tom and Mickey Mouse and the Three Little Pigs and of the bogyman who lived in the gloomy caves of Bogyland. But mostly of Stanley Dum and Oliver Dee, who boarded with Mother Peep and had a little room upstairs in the shoe and were apprentices to the toy-maker. They are a marvelous pair of varlets, and in the course of "Babes in Toyland" they succeed in doing many things the wrong way.
For example, when Santa Claus places an order with the toymaker for 600 soldiers, one foot high poor Stanley Dum becomes confused and makes 100 soldiers, six feet high. Both partners are thereupon booted into the street, where they pursue their strange ways with such energy as to earn the ducking stool and other painful punishments. But, when the bogeymen storm the ramparts of Toyland and send the inhabitants scurrying in fright into their curious little houses, it is Stanley Dum's toy soldiers who save the empire.
If Mr. Roach had provided more room for Messrs. Dum and Dee his fantasy would prove as continuously hilarious for the adults as it is sure to be for the youngsters. But this is a juvenile picnic and Mr. Roach has preserved the faith with his audience. Still the two clowns, in their tattered doublet and hose, are remarkably funny in their limited repertoire. This midnight correspondent is most grateful for the episode in which the obese and prissy Mr. Hardy is dunked in the ducking stool. Also the scene in which Mr. Laurel smuggles his partner in a trunk into Barnaby's house to steal the mortgage. For assistants they have Charlotte Henry as the timorous Bo-Peep, Henry Kleinbach as the terrible old Barnaby, Florence Roberts as the Widow Peep, Felix Knight as the lovable Tom-Tom, and Virginia Karns as Mother Goose.
Every youngster in New York ought to find a ticket for "Babes in Toyland" in his Christmas stocking. If he is a good boy he should be permitted to see it twice. The photoplay will be shown on a continuous performance basis beginning today.
Babes in Toyland is far away from the Victor Herbert original operetta. The arithmetic song and "March of the Toys" are the only outstanding survivors of Herbert's score, and these are merely background. Two other lesser numbers are used. Of the original book there is no trace at all.
This is not a musical brought to the screen. It is a fairy story in technique and treatment, but a gorgeous fairy tale which gives everything to Laurel and Hardy and to which, in return, they give their happiest best.
The story is simple. Tom-Tom loves Bo-Peep, who is one of the numerous progeny of the Old Woman who lived in a shoe. Barnaby, a miser, holds the mortgage. Bo-Peep must marry him or else. Hardy promises to redeem the mortgage, but he and Laurel get fired from the toy shop when they make 100 soldiers six feet tall instead of 600 each a foot high. For this they are punished, but Bo-Peep begs them off, promising Barnaby she will marry him. Barnaby really is married to Laurel in bride's dress. He frames Tom, who is exiled to Bogeyland, whither Bo-Peep follows him. The comedians follow and help them to effect their escape. This brings a smashing climax with the soldiers marching to the strains of "March of the Toys".
All Mother Goose characters are woven into the plot, not to mention the Three Little Pigs, but it's Laurel and Hardy's picture. While they are on the story zips along, but the mistake has not been made of asking them to fill the stage continuously.
BABES IN TOYLAND was a hit at the box office, played well into 1935 and was brought back again at the end of 1935 for holiday engagements.
In 1948, William LeBaron (who had wanted to film TOYLAND in 1930) and his partner Boris Morros purchased BABES IN TOYLAND from Hal Roach with the intention of their company Federal Films doing a remake in Technicolor.
However, the script submitted by Federal Films to the Breen Office was rejected by the censors for "multiple instances of implied incest and bestiality".
In 1948, Federal licensed the film to Erko Inc., a 16mm company that sold films to schools. However, the Victor Herbert estate stipulated that any distribution of the film would have to carry an alternate title. The film would now be known as MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS.
The Erko version was complete except that all the close-ups of the Bogeymen were removed as they were deemed too scary for youngsters.
Federal then licensed the film to Robert Lippert for a theatrical reissue.
But again the censors stepped in. The scene where Tom Tom sings "Go to Sleep Slumber Deep" to Bo Peep ends with the Piper's son's arm around the shepherdess with both of them lying next to each other on the floor of the cave. Such close proximity was, in 1951, impermissable and so the entire sequence was deleted.
The Victor Herbert estate intervened again, stating that not only could Lippert not use the title BABES IN TOYLAND (According to Auerbach's original announcement of acquisition in a 1948 Motion Picture Herald, the reissue title would be REVENGE IS SWEET. However, that title was discarded until a brief theatrical reissue in the early 1960's.) but they could also not show the book with that title out of which Mother Goose enters to sing "Toyland".
Thus, the US reissue prints (whose new credits misspelled one of the directors' name) began with the entrance to Toyland and eliminated the "Slumber Deep" number.
When Joseph Auerbach released the film to television, he maintained the title change and elimination of the book footage, but he left the song "Toyland" in the film and also left the cave sequence intact. This was the version that was first shown on television in 1952.
The End Title was altered to remove the 1935 NRA logo.
The United Kingdom prints had an alternate title - TOYLAND.
When Prime TV acquired rights to the film in 1968, they distributed the 70 minute heavily edited Lippert version to stations. And that is how the film was seen by audiences for the next 20-plus years, including on the film's first release by IUD Home Video on VHS and Betamax cassettes.
In 1991, CBS Fox Home Video asked this writer to suggest a "headliner" that could be licensed to accompany the VHS releases of Laurel & Hardy's six 20th Century-Fox features. The suggestion was that the uncut version of BABES IN TOYLAND be located, licensed and released. After first checking with Tribune/WPIX, who now owned the rights to the film but who only had multiple prints of the Lippert reissue, inquiries were made at all archives in the US and abroad. Finally, a nitrate fine grain of the original MGM release was located at Eastman House in Rochester. A license agreement was drawn up but, at the last minute WPIX insisted that CBS pay for colorization. CBS balked and the film was instead licensed to Samuel Goldwyn Home Entertainment. Goldwyn colorized the film and it was syndicated via SFM Holiday Network and released on VHS by Goodtimes Home Video. However, the film's title was again changed to MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS - not due to legalities but because it had come to be better known by that title.
Finally, however, upon MGM's purchase of the Goldwyn Library, they had rights once again to BABES IN TOYLAND and, despite the reissue title on the packaging, released a complete B&W edition of BABES IN TOYLAND on DVD.
Today, BABES IN TOYLAND is shown in both color and B&W versions on local stations and on Turner Classic Movies.
The film continues to attract new fans and its popularity and reputation continues to grow. BABES IN TOYLAND is now regarded as one of Laurel and Hardy's best feature films and one of the most beloved holiday classics of American Cinema.
A Gallery of Publicity Photos and Posters from BABES IN TOYLAND. Click to Enlarge.
Watch a mini-documentary about THE WOODEN SOLDIER OF WAWARSING!
Don Mazzella Interviews Ray Faiola
about BABES IN TOYLAND