All told there were three Topper movies made in Hollywood. All three were produced by Hal Roach Studios, the same company that brought us The Little Rascals, Laurel & Hardy, and Turnabout (based on the Thorne Smith novel).
The first Topper movie was released July 16, 1937. It was based on Thorne Smith’s wildly popular novel. The movie featured Cary Grant, Constance Bennett, Roland Young and Billie Burke. This was Cary Grant’s first film as an independent actor. He’d successfully freed himself from the old Hollywood studio system which typically kept actors with a single studio and rarely granted them the opportunity to accept film roles at other studios. The success of this Topper movie skyrocketed Cary Grant’s career to new heights. It also earned Roland Young an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his portrayal of Cosmo Topper. After watching his incredibly physical performance, I’m still astounded he did not win.
The second of the Topper movies, Topper Takes A Trip, was released January 12, 1939. This one was also based on a Thorne Smith book of the same name. Most of the stars from the first film returned for this one with the notable exception of Cary Grant, whose salary had soared after the success of Topper. He does appear in flashback sequences, which was accomplished using scenes from the first Topper movie. Roy Seawright was nominated for an Academy Award in the “Best Effects, Special Effects” category. Sadly, he did not win.
The third of the Topper movies, Topper Returns, was released March 21, 1941. Despite popular belief to the contrary, this was not based on a Thorne Smith novel. However, screenwriter Jonathan Latimer did a wonderful job in keeping with the zany spirit of Thorne Smith’s characters. Roland Young and Billie Burke reprised their roles as Mr. and Mrs. Topper, while Joan Blondell took over the character of Marion Kerby. Once again, the masterful Roy Seawright was nominated for an Academy Award in the “Best Effects, Special Effects” category. Unfortunately, he did not win. I don’t know about you but the Academy sure seems biased against comedy films when it comes time to acknowledge the best in film.
I just negotiated the rights to a wonderful article about Topper Returns from film writer Ken Hanke. He’s the author of several top notch books; Charlie Chan at the Movies, Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker, and Ken Russell’s Films. As soon as I can get the contents of the article uploaded you’ll be able to enjoy Ken’s splendid article.
In the meantime, you can watch a fun preview of Topper Returns at: http://www.thornesmith.net/Topper-Returns.html