If you walk down Main Street U.S.A. towards Sleeping Beauty Castle, on the left hand side you’ll pass the Fortuosity Shop. It sells primarily timepieces. But where does the name come from? It comes from a song, and you just might be hearing it played on the Main Street music loop as you pass.
“Fortuosity” is actually the opening number for the last live-action movie Walt Disney ever produced — the musical The Happiest Millionaire. It was written by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman and sung in the film by Tommy Steele, who starred in the lavish production with Fred MacMurray, Greer Garson, and two newcomers: Lesley Ann Warren and Jon Davison. Personally overseen by Walt Disney (although he never lived to see the final film), it premiered 50 years ago in June of 1967. It is also one of the lesser-known of the major releases from Disney.
Based on the 1955 book My Philadelphia Father, The Happiest Millionaire tells the story of butler John Lawless (Steele) who goes to work for an eccentric millionaire (MacMurray) and his family in 1916. With songs by The Sherman Brothers and choreography by Marc Breaux and Dee Dee Wood, all participants in Mary Poppins, the movie was poised to capture the same live-action musical magic. It was even lengthened to be a roadshow presentation, with reserved seats, an overture, and intermission. The film was produced by Disney veteran Bill Anderson and directed by Norman Tokar, who also directed several films for the studio before and after.
Before filming began, Walt took Tommy Steele to Disneyland. They arrived one night and Steele was surprised to learn that Walt insisted they wait in line for attractions like everyone else. Walt took him in to the empty Enchanted Tiki Room, where suddenly one of the birds came to life and said to Steele, “Heeello, Tommy!” Enchanted indeed!
Walt supervised filming through 1966, and did see an assembled rough cut and made suggestions, but sadly never saw the finished filmed before passing away in December of 1966. The movie had its gala premiere at The Pantages Theater in Hollywood, followed by a party at the Hollywood Palladium. Sadly, The Happiest Millionaire did not meet Walt’s/the studio’s expectations at the box office. Starting in June of 1967 it played exclusively at the Pantages for several weeks, but it failed to draw large crowds. It was immediately cut for time before opening at Radio City Music Hall in New York in November, where it still failed to generate large audiences, and was further cut for time before its general release in neighborhood theaters. It has been completely restored to its original roadshow length on the Walt Disney Home Video DVD release, the only release featuring the original cut of the film with reinserted overture, intermission and exit music.
Time has been kind to The Happiest Millionaire. It is a real curio for any Disney fan, and features some wonderful songs by The Sherman Brothers. (Another number, “Let’s Have A Drink On It Now”, can also be heard on the music loop on Main Street.) While perhaps one of the lesser-known Disney movies, it is better than many, and has a charm and fun that is Disney through and through. Every now and then you will see someone walking down Main Street and singing the words to “Fortuosity” as it plays. They know and would agree.