Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid

Photo of William Powell and Andrea King in "Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid." Universal, 1948.

William Powell and Andrea King in “Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid.” Universal, 1948.

“Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid” (Universal-International, 1948) offered Andrea King the opportunity to work with one of her favorite screen stars of all time and a true movie legend — William Powell. Unfortunately, Mr. Powell was very ill during production, but as Andrea points out, “you would never have known it.” He was a consummate actor and professional at all times. Filming was to start the summer of 1947, but ended up being delayed until February of ’48. The cast and crew endured rainy weather, unusually cold temperatures and even pneumonia from some of its principal cast while they managed to “pretend” to be happily secluded on a South Sea island.

The plot revolves around Mr. Peabody (Powell), a “mature” gentleman on the eve of his fiftieth birthday. When he and his beautiful wife (Irene Hervey) escape to a Caribbean seaside retreat for the occasion, the magical “fish story” begins. Powell encounters a mermaid named Lenore (Ann Blyth), and everyone including his wife believes her to be nothing more than a figment of his imagination — a fantasy manifested out of anxiety over his lost youth. Enter Cathy Livingston (Andrea), a vixen who fancies Mr. Peabody and even tries to seduce him on the beach while singing a melodic Robert Emmett Dolan/Johnny Mercer tune, entitled “The Caribees.” Once again, Andrea’s singing voice was dubbed. This time with a deep, sultry tone to fit the character … even though it didn’t quite fit her own speaking voice.

Several of Andrea’s scenes had to be filmed inside a giant heated water tank, still located on the Universal back lot today. Andrea and Ann Blyth were both accomplished swimmers, so they rose to the challenge of doing their own underwater stunts, including a complicated sequence where Andrea cat-fights with the jealous mermaid. She recalls that particular day with a laugh. They attempted to film without heat in the middle of winter.

“The tank’s water heater was malfunctioning, they told us. So we tried anyway for about half an hour, but Annie [Blyth] and I just went numb! I think she got terribly sick after that.”

Despite setbacks during filming, “Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid” remains a charmer to this day and an inspiration for such similar future romantic comedies as “Splash.”