The evening of November 15, 1951 was, as seemed usual for a Royal Command Film Performance
, cold and rainy. The choice of film for the sixth RCFP annual event was the British film Where No Vultures Fly
, starring Anthony Steel, Dinah Sheridan, and Harold Warrender and filmed on location in Africa. It was a surprising choice but prompted from the controversy of the previous years' film, which had an American star, Irene Dunne, playing Queen Victoria.
Excerpt of a poster for the film.
Here was the leading lady's reaction when she heard the news that her film was to be screened by royalty:
King George VI was too ill to attend. A copy of the film was sent to Buckingham Palace for him to view in private.
We get to hear some of them speak in this one!!
The arrival of Jane Russell at the Odeon Cinema in Leicester Square made the biggest splash and her scarlet velvet gown was "voted one of the evening's most striking outfits."
Russell wrote about the experience in her autobiography, My Paths and My Detours:
I received an invitation to a Command Performance to be held in London for King George and the royal family. I was thrilled. It promised to be a marvelous experience, plus it would be a great chance for me to look for a baby boy [Russell was trying to adopt an older brother for her infant daughter Tracy].
I asked Mother if she'd like to come along, and she was thrilled. Robert [her husband] wouldn't come, since football season was with us once more. Michael Woulfe started designing two dresses. The first dress was to be worn when were presented to the royal family. I said, "Everyone wears white, not I." I wanted ruby red velvet a la Wuthering Heights or Rebecca with a low bodice trimmed in mink.
Here is a description of the second dress:
All the gang was thrilled I was going to do a Command Performance, now called the Royal Film Performance. As we were all sitting by the pool one Sunday afternoon, I was full of myself telling them about the gowns Michael was having whipped up for when I met their majesties. Robert quietly said, "Honey, please don't say 'sh*t' to the queen." We broke up.
When we got to London, the first thing Mother did was send a cable to my brother Tom that read, "Have arrived safely in London. God save the King!" Tom's return message to her was typical of him. It read, "God HELP the King, YOU will save him."
Rehearsals for the Royal Film Performance were starting soon... the previous day England had held her national elections and Winston Churchill had become prime minister again. On the front pages of the newspapers two large photos appeared side by side: Churchill and me. Over mine were the words "MISS RUSSELL IN LONDON TO ADOPT BABY BOY."
Finally, the big night itself:
We stood in a long line at the theater, all dressed up, to meet the king and queen... King George was ill and couldn't come. The queen was truly dear, though, sweet and unassuming. She had something to say to each one of us. She told me she had enjoyed my pictures with Bob Hope. The princesses [Princess Elizabeth was in Malta] seemed shy and were very pretty.
The show was successful and there was a grand party afterward, but my throat was sore. The next morning I awoke with strep throat.
Other stars in attendance were Peggy Cummins, Dan Duryea, Peter Lawford, Fred MacMurray, Merle Oberon, Margaret Rutherford, Scott, Zachary Scott, Orson Welles and Michael Wilding. Van Johnson wore his famous red socks and when he was presented to the royals [the book says "the future queen" meaning Princess Elizabeth, but she was in Malta with Prince Philip. I presume he meant Princess Margaret] she immediately looked down at his feet. "I just like red" he told her (Van Johnson, MGM's Golden Boy. Ronald L. Davis).
Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret were accompanied by the Duchess of Kent and the Duke of Gloucester.
The Queen and Princess with their bouquets. Source
Davis, Ronald L. Van Johnson: MGM's Golden Boy. University Press of Mississippi. 2001.
Russell, Jane. Jane Russell: An Autobiography, My Paths and My Detours. A Jove Book. 1985.