This fairly unknown Cole Porter tuner that opened November 9th 1938 featured a book by Sam and Bella Spewack (with whom Porter later collaborated on Kiss Me Kate), Sam Spewack also served as the show’s directors. You may not know the show, but you will recognize standards such as “My Heart Belongs to Daddy”, and “Get Out Of Town” that came from its score; as well as mega-stars Gene Kelly (in the ensemble) and Mary Martin (Dolly Winslow) that made their Broadway debuts.
The plot of Leave It To Me! centers around aging businessman Alonzo “Stinky” Goodhue (played by Victor Moore) who has become the American ambassador to the Soviet Union. The job was secured for him by his social-climbing wife, Leora (played by Sophie Tucker), who helped to fund Franklin Roosevelt’s re-election campaign. However, “Stinky” has no desire to live in Stalinist Russia. He longs for the pleasures of his home in Topeka, Kansas (especially the banana splits). Meanwhile, an ambitious newspaper reporter, Buckley J. “Buck” Thomas, is employed to discredit Goodhue by his publisher who actually wants to be the Ambassador himself. When Thomas and Goodhue realize that they both have the same aims, they decide to work together. Goodhue plans to make major diplomatic gaffes, which will be publicized by the reporter. He delivers an inflammatory speech, but is instead hailed for his courage! He then kicks the Ambassador of Nazi Germany, and later attempts to shoot a Soviet official, but instead hits a counter-revolutionary aristocrat. After each debacle he ends up being hailed as a national hero. In a subplot, Buck Thomas is involved with his boss’s “protégée”, the free-spirited Dolly Winslow (played by Martin). He falls in love with Colette, one of Goodhue’s daughters. He has to extract himself from Dolly to win Colette. Dolly eventually finds herself stranded at a railroad station in (of course) Siberia. She seductively strips off her furs to on looking admirers as she insists that “My Heart Belongs to Daddy”, referring to her sugar-daddy. “Stinky” finally resolves to give up his tricks and tries to promote good relations between the United States and the Soviet Union; however his sincere attempts to improve matters now go disastrously wrong. He finally gets his wish, and is sent back to Topeka.
Music scholar David Ewen wrote that Mary Martin “stole the limelight…in her Broadway debut.” Appearing in a scene at a railway station, she did “a mock strip tease while removing her ermine wraps, and all the while chanting in a baby voice, ‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy.’ The house went into an uproar, thereby proclaiming a new queen of musical comedy.” And so it was. Martin would go on to star in 11 Broadway shows (including The Sound of Music, Peter Pan, South Pacific, and I Do! I Do!), winning 5 Tony Awards in total.
This charming, “unsung” show was a hit for the time, running 291 performances at the Imperial Theater. But, (due mainly to the dated subject matter) a Broadway revival has never occurred. The Equity Library Theater in New York City presented the first revival of the show in the United States in 1988. Musicals Tonight! in NYC presented a staged concert in March 2001; and 42nd Street Moon in San Francisco presented Leave It To Me! in November 2001, staged by artistic director Greg MacKellan. That company was the first (and only) to immortalize the score in its entirety (along with a few other unrecorded Cole Porter gems), releasing a cast recording in 2002.
Click below to watch Mary Martin sing the first screened version of “My Heart Belongs To Daddy” in Love Thy Neighbor (1940) originally from Leave It To Me!: