Seven decades after the premiere of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, fans still sometimes make pilgrimages to the Connecticut home that inspired the classic film comedy.
It isn’t the same house as the one in the 1948 movie. That’s in Malibu Creek State Park in California, also a location for the television series M*A*S*H.
There are also four Blandings houses in Connecticut — in Hartford, Bridgeport, Trumbull and Wethersfield. There’s one in Rhode Island in Warwick. Massachusetts also has four: in Worcester, Natick, Newton and Springfield.
The studio, in fact, built 73 Blandings houses throughout the country and raffled some of them off to promote the film.
It worked like a charm.
The Real Mr. Blandings
It all started when Eric Hodgins, a vice president for Time, Inc., decided to move his family from Manhattan to the countryside. In 1939, he bought a house on 33 acres in New Milford, Conn. He then began to build a classic colonial farmhouse on the property. To the detriment of his finances, he refused to compromise on quality.
The house had two bars, a flower room, a wine cellar and a 54-foot swimming pool. Hodgins had the house undergirded with a copper pan to protect against termites. And it had the latest features: recessed lighting, central air conditioning and one of the first dishwashers ever. (Since donated to the Smithsonian Institute after more than 40 years of service.)
Hodgins had a construction budget of $11,000. But as is often the case, things began to go wrong and the cost began to mount. He spent nearly $60,000, came close to bankruptcy and ended up selling the house after two years.
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House
Hodgins ended up writing a book about the experience, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. It went straight to the bestseller list, and Hodgins sold the movie rights. His finances restored, he tried to buy back his dream house. The new owners refused to sell.
Hodgins’ New Milford neighbor Dore Schary produced the film, which starred Cary Grant and Myrna Loy.
Grant played Jim Blandings, an advertising executive with a penchant for getting locked in closets.
Myrna Loy played Muriel Blandings, Jim Blandings’ picky wife. In one famous scene, she directed the contractor to buy yellow paint for the dining room:
“Not just yellow; a very gay yellow,” she said. “Something bright and sunshiny. If you’ll send one of your workmen to the A&P for a pound of their best butter and match that exactly, you can’t go wrong.”
Benjamin Moore later adapted the gag for a series of advertisements.
In an ambitious promotional stunt, the studio had 73 Blandings houses built around the country and raffled some of them off. Many opened for house tours, with ticket proceeds going to charity.
A local department store furnished the Ottawa Hills, Ohio, house, and advertised house tours. Thousands came to look at it after the movie premiered in June 1948.
General Electric furnished 60 of the kitchens, including the one in Spokane, Wash., with ‘atomic age’ amenities like a garbage disposal. Visitors were especially impressed by the electric garage door opener.
Similarly, Jordan Marsh furnished the Blandings house in Natick, Mass., with a General Electric television, furnace and kitchen. The kitchen offered ‘the latest in modern efficiency with a livability designed to make the housewife’s working hours in the kitchen shorter and more pleasant.’ For 25 cents, you could see it. Myrna Loy came to visit it, presumably for free.
The promotion helped make Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House a box-office smash. It’s now considered a classic, ranking 72 on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Years … 100 Laughs.
Tom Hanks and Shelly Long starred in the 1986 remake, The Money Pit. Ice Cube starred in another loose remake in 2007, Are We Done Yet?
The original Blandings house? It sold in 2004 for $1.2 million.
This story about the Blandings houses was updated in 2019.