Du Barry Was a Lady
Du Barry Was A Lady poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRoy Del Ruth
Screenplay byIrving Brecher
Adaptation byNancy Hamilton
Additional dialogue byWilkie Mahoney
Based onDu Barry Was a Lady
1939 play
by Herbert Fields
Buddy G. DeSylva
Produced byArthur Freed
Edited byBlanche Sewell
Music byCole Porter
Distributed byLoew's, Inc.
Release dates
  • August 19, 1943 (1943-08-19) (New York City)
  • 1943 (1943) (United States)
Running time
96 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.3 million[2]
Box office$3.5 million[2]

Du Barry Was a Lady is a 1943 American musical comedy film directed by Roy Del Ruth, starring Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Gene Kelly, and Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra. It is based on the 1939 stage musical of the same name. Shot in Technicolor, the film was produced and distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.


Entertainer May Daly's nightclub act includes her portrayal of Madame Du Barry of days of yore. Equally smitten with her are coatroom attendant Louis Blore and master of ceremonies Alec Howe, but unfortunately for both, May persists in holding out for a wealthy husband, her current interest being rich, haughty Willie.

A telegram arrives notifying Louis that in the Irish Sweepstakes he is the winner of a prize of $150,000. Louis immediately and publicly declares his love for May, who is teased by Alec that she now has no reason to stay with Willie and avoid Louis, who is a sweeter fellow. After accidentally swallowing a drugged drink, Louis falls into a deep sleep and dreams that he is King Louis XV at Versailles, holding court with Madame Du Barry (May) and holding off her colorful suitor, the Black Arrow (Alec), a Robin Hood-like character. Tommy Dorsey's orchestra, dressed in formal 18th-century suits, entertains the palace occupants. Louis then escapes Du Barry's palace and slips into a local tavern, in peasant dress, to confront the Black Arrow, who is inciting the tavern-goers to march angrily to the palace to overthrow the greedy king. Louis, confused, unwittingly marches with them.

After swordplay and the sentencing of the Black Arrow to the guillotine, Louis awakens from his dream. He realizes that May is in love with Alec and generously offers them a wedding gift of $10,000. May declines, saying she has changed her mind about money's importance. Everybody ends up happy until a tax collector arrives to demand that Louis pay him $80,000.



Hair stylist Sydney Guilaroff tinted Lucille Ball's hair flame red for this film. She was so pleased, she kept it that way for the rest of her life.[3]
Hair stylist Sydney Guilaroff tinted Lucille Ball's hair flame red for this film. She was so pleased, she kept it that way for the rest of her life.[3]
Singing "Friendship", back row L–R: Gene Kelly, Lucille Ball, Red Skelton, Virginia O'Brien and Tommy Dorsey; front: Rags Ragland, Zero Mostel
Singing "Friendship", back row L–R: Gene Kelly, Lucille Ball, Red Skelton, Virginia O'Brien and Tommy Dorsey; front: Rags Ragland, Zero Mostel

Musical numbers featured Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra[4][5] (featuring Buddy Rich and Ziggy Elman), Dick Haymes, Jo Stafford, The Pied Pipers, Six Hits and a Miss, and the Music Maids. Lucille Ball's singing voice was dubbed by Martha Mears in most of the picture,[4][6] but her real voice is heard in "Friendship".

Music and lyrics are by Cole Porter, except where noted.


MGM originally purchased the rights to Du Barry Was a Lady for $80,000 as a vehicle for Ann Sothern. Publicity posters (as seen above right) and the doll behind screen credits clearly bear Sothern's likeness.[7] When Sothern turned down the revised role, MGM decided to cast Lucille Ball.[8] Sothern reportedly turned down the role because she was pregnant with her daughter, Tisha Sterling.[9]

The film used very little of the original Cole Porter score. According to Time Out, "this adaptation of the Cole Porter musical ditches most of the songs – and the lusty bawdiness that went with them – to fashion a vehicle for Skelton and Ball, in the process interpolating more 'suitable' numbers."[10]

According to TCM: "MGM bought the rights to a popular stage property... then proceeded to make so many changes that it’s hardly the same show. Much of the Cole Porter score was scrapped for the film version...it retained only a few of the original songs and substituted new material by studio songwriters. The movie also cut out the racier overtones in the musical’s story."[4] New characters were added, and many of the original characters' names were changed. The basic outline remained the same, although the relationships of some of the characters were different. In the film, Ginny (another singer) pines away for Louis, who is too infatuated with May Daly to notice, and it is only at the end that he realizes that Ginny loves him.

The dream sequence purposely was delayed by 58 minutes, with vaudeville-type acts performed as a floor show before the sequence got underway. The Louis XV/Mme. DuBarry scenes, unlike the play, featured very little singing.

Lucille Ball later hired Karl Freund to be the director of photography on her television series I Love Lucy.


Critical response

Bosley Crowther, in his review for The New York Times, wrote, "they have caught most of the humor of the original, with a lot of Red Skelton's own thrown in. And they have added Rags Ragland and Zero Mostel to be funny when Mr. Skelton is not... particularly they have given the whole show a Technicolor sheen, an eye-filling opulence and splendor, which is fabulous in these rationed times."[5]

Box office

According to MGM records, the film earned $2,572,000 in the US and Canada and $924,000 elsewhere, resulting in a profit of $857,000.[2][11]


  1. ^ a b Du Barry Was a Lady at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  3. ^ Du Barry Was a Lady (1943) Trivia at IMDb
  4. ^ a b c Fristoe, Roger. "Du Barry Was a Lady" (article) TCM.com. Accessed: October 30, 2015
  5. ^ a b "Review. 'Du Barry Was a Lady' (1943)" New York Times, August 20, 1943
  6. ^ Fordin, Hugh. "'DuBarry Was a Lady'", M-G-M's Greatest Musicals: The Arthur Freed Unit, Da Capo Press, 1975, ISBN 0306807300, p. 70
  7. ^ "Straight From New York". The Milwaukee Sentinel. March 11, 1941. p. 14. Retrieved January 7, 2013.
  8. ^ Films in Review , Volume 39. Vol. 39. National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. 1988. p. 135.
  9. ^ Karol, Michael. Lucy A to Z: The Lucille Ball Encyclopedia, iUniverse, 2004, ISBN 0595752136, p. 128
  10. ^ "Review. 'Du Barry Was a Lady'" Time Out. Retrieved November 19, 2021.
  11. ^ "Top Grossers of the Season". Variety. January 5, 1944. p. 54.