It’s not a secret that I love Lucille Ball. She’s been my favorite actress since I discovered her on her now iconic sitcom, I Love Lucy, playing the titular character, Lucy Ricardo. I Love Lucy not only made Lucille Ball a household name, it also forever cemented her identity as “Lucy.” Mention “Lucy” to almost anyone (at least those worth associating with) and Lucy Ricardo comes to mind. I was roughly 10-11 years old (circa 1994-1995) when I discovered Lucy and I Love Lucy. I began to borrow books about I Love Lucy and Lucille Ball during my family’s monthly trips to the library. As an 11-year old, I was able to read the biographies in the adult section, making it very easy to learn about my new favorite actress. In 1996, Lucy’s autobiography was published–7 years after her death. Apparently her daughter found her mother’s manuscript while going through her things and went forward with having them published. I may have been the only 12-year old who desperately wanted Lucille Ball’s autobiography.
Throughout my trips to the library and reading books about Lucille Ball, I learned about the movie career she had prior to finding stardom on television. Lucy appeared in over 70 movies prior to switching gears to the small screen. Her film career began in 1933 when she came to Hollywood to appear as a slave girl in Eddie Cantor’s Roman Scandals. Not one to turn down any offer of paid work, figuring that every job offered her the chance to learn and hone her craft, Lucy appeared in at least a couple dozen uncredited roles before building up her momentum enough to score small, speaking roles. By 1937, Lucy scored a juicy part in the A-list ensemble drama, Stage Door, co-starring Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers. In 1938, Lucy was offered her first starring role in The Affairs of Annabel. Lucy plays Annabel Allison, an actress forced to carry out insane publicity schemes by her agent, played by Jack Oakie.
At the library, I managed to borrow every single Lucille Ball VHS that my library had. I was lucky in that my library seemed to have a large amount of the films in the “Lucille Ball Signature Collection.” This collection is how I saw many of Lucy’s movies, including the aforementioned The Affairs of Annabel, The Big Street, Dance Girl Dance, Too Many Girls, Seven Days Leave, and others. TCM had just come on the scene as well and I scoured the TV Guide (insert in newspaper, not the magazine) to review the upcoming week of programming. Any Lucille Ball movies were circled and set up to record on the VCR. Throughout my years of recording and watching Lucille Ball’s films, there was one film that I’d always wanted to watch and it seemed to elude me for years: A Girl, A Guy and A Gob.
Mercifully, TCM finally saved the day and aired A Girl, A Guy and A Gob at a time when I was able to see it. Then, Warner Archive went above and beyond and released the film on DVD. I have since built up a very decent sized collection of Lucille Ball’s films. Anyway, I digress.
Back to A Girl, A Guy and A Gob…
In this film, Lucy plays Dorothy ‘Dot’ Duncan, a young woman who has recently began work as a secretary to Stephen Merrick (Edmond O’Brien) a shipping magnate. Dot is obviously the “Girl” in the title. Stephen is the “Guy.” Playing the “Gob” is George Murphy. Murphy plays Claudius J. Cupp aka “Coffee Cup.” When I first watched this film, I had no idea what or who a “Gob” was. I learned that the term “Gob” refers to a sailor. Coffee Cup is a sailor in the United States Navy and it is established that he loves being in the Navy and regularly signs on for new missions after the previous one ends. It is also obvious that Dot and Coffee Cup have been together for quite some time, but I get the sense that Dot tires of waiting for Coffee Cup to settle down and somewhat resents being expected to stand idly by and wait for him to return over and over again.
The film opens with Dot and her family settling down to watch a play from inside a box seat at the theater. This is a big deal for the Duncan Family. It’s Mr. and Mrs. Duncan’s anniversary and their children have (seemingly) purchased box seats at the theater as a gift. Meanwhile, out in the lobby, Stephen and his horrible fiancee Cecilia and her equally horrible mother are impatiently waiting for Stephen to locate their tickets. Stephen’s tickets are for their box seat, the seats where he, Cecilia and her mother sit every night at the theater. Dot figures out that her brother “Pigeon,” didn’t actually buy these seats. In reality, he gambled away the ticket money (that Dot gave him) and just happened to find Stephen’s tickets. Dot and Stephen get into an argument that ends with Stephen, Cecilia and her mother having to sit in ::gasp:: the regular section of the theater. After Dot realizes how her brother happened to come away with the box seat tickets, she is embarrassed and leaves but not before accidentally dropping her purse (with a giant “D” monogram) on Stephen’s head.
The next day, Dot shows up for a secretary opening at the Herrick and Martin shipping company, unaware that the “Herrick” in the company’s name is Stephen Herrick whom she’d hit with her purse at the theater the night prior. Stephen recognizes Dot’s purse (with the very obvious “D” monogram) and identifies her as the woman from the theater. They get off to a poor start, obviously. Later that day, Coffee Cup shows up, home from another Navy “hitch” (as he calls them). Coffee Cup and Dot take a walk and Coffee Cup spots his friend Eddie, a fellow sailor who has a shtick where he bets onlookers that he can stretch himself and grow four inches. Coffee Cup and Eddie gather a crowd in front of a pet store, much to the owner’s (Franklin Pangborn) chagrin. Stephen happens to walk by, Dot spots him, and borrows five dollars from him to bet on Eddie. The contest ends in a brawl and Stephen ends up being knocked out.
When Stephen awakens, he finds himself lying on the couch in Dot’s family’s apartment. The scene is so chaotic with people dropping in, Mrs. Duncan delivers the neighbors baby and delivers the results of the bet that the family had over the weight of the new Liebowitz baby (#9). The scene is so boisterous, but full of so much love, Stephen finds himself captivated. Stephen has a date with Cecilia, but ends up dancing the night away with Coffee Cup and Dot at the Danceland Dance Hall. Cecilia ends up spending the night all dressed up, but with nowhere to go. Whoops. Cecilia is the typical fiancee of the lead–boring, snobby, a real stick in the mud.
Throughout the remainder of the film, Stephen and Dot find themselves growing closer and closer together. Dot finds herself less enthusiastic about a future with Coffee Cup, despite admirably trying to carry on with him, because he is genuinely a nice guy. However, it is easy to see that a life with him may lack the stability that Dot may need. I get the idea she isn’t crazy about Coffee Cup leaving all the time. He’s also very much about having a good time, all the time and can be irresponsible. Stephen is a nice guy, but is also professional and runs a company. Stephen also realizes that a life with Cecilia would be stodgy and miserable. It is obvious that Cecilia is with Stephen for the material goods that he can provide and presumably the boost to her social class that he provides. Stephen also finds Dot’s spontaneity exciting and makes his day-to-day routine more fun.
Henry Travers who seems to be in everything, plays Stephen’s business partner, Abel Martin. Martin, who obviously dislikes Cecilia and sees through her true intentions, plays matchmaker in this film. He casually tries to convince Stephen that Dot is the woman for him and throughout the remainder of the film, he insinuates himself into their social group to try and get Stephen and Dot together.
This is such a fun and entertaining film. I love movies with love triangles. I love seeing such a young Edmond O’Brien. This was his third film. Dare I say that I thought O’Brien was somewhat cute in this film? George Murphy is always personable and of course Lucille Ball was fabulous. Harold Lloyd produced this film and his brand of physical humor is present throughout. Lucille Ball was able to show off both her skill for acting and physical humor. It isn’t often that we get to see O’Brien in a light-hearted film as he primarily made a lot of more intense films like White Heat and The Killers. George Murphy is affable and great. It’s easy to see how his enthusiasm and zest for life would make him the ideal candidate to join the boisterous Duncan family. However, this is Ball and O’Brien’s film and they convince me of their budding romance.
If you’re looking for a fun, light-hearted romantic comedy, I wholly recommend A Girl, A Guy, and A Gob.
May 16th is upon us again. It’s National Classic Movie Day. Though honestly, I’m sure for many of us, EVERYDAY is National Classic Movie Day. For this year’s event, Classic Film and TV Cafe has asked us to list six favorite films, each from a different decade–starting with the 1920s through the 1970s. We were also given another option of the 1930s-1980s, but since my husband I have been trying to watch more silent films, I’m going to take the original challenge. To ease ourselves into silent films, we’ve started with the classic comedians–an obvious and easy jumping off point. Good comedy is universal and timeless. Since I’ve written about a lot of my favorite films over the years and have a tendency to be verbose and not wanting to bore everyone with yet another dissertation detailing my love for The Long Long Trailer, I’m going to try and change things up a bit by selecting some favorites that I don’t *think* I’ve talked about yet.
1920s- The Freshman (1925)
Starring: Harold Lloyd & Jobyna Ralston
Plot: Lloyd stars as “Harold Lamb,” an incoming freshman who is eager to begin his studies at Tate University. He has saved up quite a tidy sum, $485 ($7400 in 2021 dollars), to use as spending money while enrolled in college. While on the train, Harold meets Peggy (Ralston) and the two are smitten with one another. While at Tate, Harold decides that the best way to fit in is to emulate his favorite movie star, known as “The College Hero” in a series of films. Upon introducing himself to a potential friend, Harold performs The College Hero’s jig and adopting the nickname, “Speedy.” However, unbeknownst to Harold, his attempts to be cool and fit in make him the object of everyone’s jokes, especially the college bully. The students’ laughter makes Harold think that he’s fitting in and he’s unaware that he is the school laughing stock. His only true friend in the film is Peggy, his landlady’s daughter. Harold ends up trying out for the football team, but his obvious lack of athleticism does not impress the coach. The star football player, wanting to continue to make fun of Harold, convinces the coach to hire Harold as the waterboy, hereby making Harold think that he’s made the team. The star football player’s ruse may end up haunting him and the team later.
My Favorite Part: My favorite part of this film is when Harold is at the Fall Frolic in an unfinished suit. His tailor has all the pieces of the suit attached with some very loose stitches. Harold opts to wear the suit while the tailor hides behind a curtain, hoping to casually finishing sewing Harold’s suit. While Harold tries to partake in the Fall Frolic activities, his suit starts falling apart.
1930s- Alice Adams (1935)
Starring: Katharine Hepburn & Fred MacMurray
Plot: Hepburn stars as the titular Alice Adams, a young woman from the “wrong side of the tracks,” at least from Alice’s perception. In reality, there’s nothing wrong with the Adams’ home. It is a nice, clean home. It’s not fancy, but it’s functional and well-maintained. However, it is obvious that the Adamses are unhappy with their lot in life. Mr. Adams (Fred Stone) is an invalid and works as a clerk at Mr. Lamb’s (Charley Grapewin) glue factory. Mr. Lamb as been very nice and patient with Mr. Adams and his illness. However, Mrs. Adams (Ann Shoemaker) is frustrated with her husband’s lack of motivation or ambition to do anything to improve their financial situation. Alice’s brother, Walter (Frank Albertson), is a gambling addict and is unable to hold down a job. He also fraternizes with African-Americans, which at the time, was seen as unseemly (and embarrassing) behavior.
Alice is invited to a dance hosted by a wealthy peer of hers, Mildred Palmer (Evelyn Venable). Alice tries to put on airs, despite being escorted by her brother and carrying a bouquet of violets that she harvested outside. In an attempt to prove herself worthy of attending this party, she tries to impress her peers with haughty behavior and conversation, but they are not impressed and she is essentially shunned. While at the dance, she meets the wealthy Arthur Russell (MacMurray) who sees through her shtick but is nonetheless charmed. He makes it known that he wishes to see her more often and Alice, worried that he won’t be interested in her if he knew her true social standing (though he already does), tries to continue her charade.
My Favorite Part: The family dinner is hilarious and heartbreaking all at once. Alice invites Arthur to have dinner with her family. Alice hires a maid, Malena (Hattie McDaniel), to keep up the charade. Despite being blistering hot outside, the entire family dresses in formal attire. Alice plans this absurd (and very hot and heavy) meal made up of fancy delicacies, but Malena’s poor cooking skills are not up to par with the food Alice wants to serve. Malena provides the comic relief of the dinner with her unimpressed facial expressions and genuinely uncouth behavior. Poor Alice is collapsing emotionally with each and everything that goes wrong. Arthur, bless his heart, stoically carries on despite the disastrous evening.
1940s- Gilda (1946)
Starring: Rita Hayworth & Glenn Ford
Plot: Johnny Farrell (Ford) is an American gambler, newly arrived to Buenos Aires, Argentina. When the film opens, Johnny is hustling some gangsters outside during a game of craps. Johnny wins a large sum of money using loaded dice. When the gangsters discover Johnny’s ruse they are about to beat him up when Ballin Mundson (George Macready), a stranger, steps in and rescues Johnny. Ballin owns a fancy casino and brings Johnny there, but warns him not to cheat. However, once a cheater, always a cheater and Johnny is caught cheating at blackjack. After Ballin catches him cheating again, Johnny convinces him to give him a job and soon becomes the manager.
One day, Ballin comes back from a trip announcing that he’s taken a new wife, despite having only known her for a day. He takes Johnny to meet his new wife, Gilda (Hayworth), and Johnny is shocked. The smile on Gilda’s face quickly fades. It is obvious that these two know each other and have a past. What kind of past remains to be seen. Ballin assigns Johnny to be Gilda’s keeper of sorts. Gilda and Johnny have a very intense love/hate relationship. Gilda at one point says to Johnny: “I hate you so much, that I would destroy myself to take you down with me.” However, in spite of how much they say they hate each other, they’re also always about 5 minutes away from jumping into the sack with one another. To irritate Johnny and get his goat, Gilda begins cavorting with various men at all hours of the evening. Johnny has to keep intervening out of loyalty to Ballin. However, at some point, the tension between Gilda and Johnny begins to take over and they’re unable to contain themselves. Ballin observes his manager and wife’s lust for each other and takes matters into his own hands.
My Favorite Part: My absolute favorite part is Gilda’s floor-length sequin coat. But plot wise, the classic “Put the Blame on Mame” song is definitely a highlight. I also really love the scenes at Carnival. Gilda’s gaucho outfit is amazing.
1950s- His Kind of Woman (1951)
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell, Vincent Price & Raymond Burr
Plot: Robert Mitchum plays Dan Millner, a professional gambler. At the beginning of the film, he is very much down on his luck. One night, after being ambushed by a group of thugs, he is brought to one of the more senior thugs and is offered a “too good to be true” job. For $50k, Dan has to spend a year in Mexico. Figuring that there’s got to be a catch, but also figuring that he has nothing to lose, Dan accepts a $5k advance and takes a chartered flight to the isolated Morro’s Lodge in Mexico. While on his flight, Dan meets Lenore Brent (Russell). Lenore very matter-of-factly tells Dan that she has a million dollars. Dan is attracted to her but disappointed to learn that she’s involved with another guest at the resort, famous actor Mark Cardigan (Price). While milling around the resort, Dan overhears two guests: Martin Kraft and a man by the name of Thompson (Jim “Thurston Howell III” Backus) discussing a plot that Dan suspects is related to the $50k he was offered. The two men give Dan $10k hush money and tell him that someone will be arriving soon to go over the plan with him.
Around the same time, an undercover agent from the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service shows up stating that underworld boss, Nick Ferraro (Raymond Burr) is scheming to try and get back into the US. Four years prior, he’d been deported to Italy. At this point, as far as I can tell, Ferraro is planning a “Face/Off” situation where he and Dan, supposedly of similar height and build, will literally switch faces. It seems that Martin Kraft is a plastic surgeon, who is armed with some sort of anesthesia that will allow him to perform the face switching procedure. At some point, Dan is kidnapped and under duress on Ferraro’s boat and it becomes up to Mark Cardigan to head an expedition to save Dan.
My Favorite Part: The entire scene involving Mark Cardigan heading up the rescue mission. Vincent Price’s hamminess makes the scene and it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as interesting or funny without Price. Price brings some much wanted levity to the film, especially while Robert Mitchum faces the idea of having to literally have his face ripped off and switched with Raymond Burr’s. I love the scene where Mark valiantly boards a small boat, only to have it sink immediately because it’s overloaded. I love the hilarious super long (and I imagine, heavy, especially water-logged) cape that he wears while he mans the (larger) rescue boat.
1960s- Girl Happy (1965)
Starring: Elvis Presley & Shelley Fabares
Plot: Elvis plays Rusty Wells, a nightclub singer (duh) who along with the other three members of his quartet have just ended their gig at a nightclub in Chicago. They plan to travel to Fort Lauderdale, Florida for Spring Break before moving onto their next job. However, the nightclub owner, “Big Frank,” messes up their plans when he extends their contract and they have to cancel their trip.
At the same time, Big Frank’s 18-year old college-aged daughter, Valerie (Fabares), is also planning on traveling to Fort Lauderdale for spring break. Despite his daughter’s legal adult status, Big Frank is terrified at the idea of letting his daughter travel so far away with just her friends in tow. Rusty sees his boss’ worry, and still wanting to go to Florida, comes up with the brilliant idea of offering to chaperone Valerie. Big Frank likes the idea and offers to bankroll Rusty and his friends’ trip. While in Fort Lauderdale, Rusty struggles with keeping an Italian playboy from lusting after Valerie and maintaining a semblance of a relationship with a “good time girl” (i.e. loose girl) Deena (Mary Ann Mobley). Rusty has to keep bailing on Deena when duty calls and she quickly grows tired of him. But because it’s an Elvis movie and he has to find himself in some sort of love triangle, Deena continues to maintain an interest in Rusty throughout the entire film.
And because this is an Elvis movie and because it’s a tried and true plot with one party being hired to chaperone or hang out with (or what have you) the other. You know that they’ll fall in love and you know that the person being chaperoned will find out. Despite the formulaic Elvis movies and plotlines, I still love it. His movies are fluffy, but they’re fun. And sometimes a fun movie is all that is needed.
My Favorite Part: I love the part when Elvis dresses up in Nina Talbot’s dress to escape from Officer Jackie Coogan’s jail. Elvis had dug a large hole and burrowed himself into the jail cell so that he could save Valerie and the other women.
1970s- The Muppet Movie (1979)
Starring: Kermit the Frog & Fozzie Bear
Plot: The film opens with all of the Muppets sitting together in an auditorium, waiting to watch their film. This film shows how all the Muppets met. We meet Kermit the Frog sitting in a boat in a pond, singing “Rainbow Connection” while strumming his banjo. A talent agent (Dom Deluise) who just happens to be at the same pond, hears Kermit’s song and says that he could be a Hollywood star. I mean obviously, it’s a singing frog playing the banjo! What more could anyone want? Kermit loves the idea of making millions of people happy and sets off for Hollywood. Along the way, he meets a terrible (but awesome) stand-up comedian, Fozzie Bear. Kermit invites Fozzie to Hollywood and the two set off in Fozzie’s Studebaker. This brings about my favorite quote from the film, “A frog and a bear, seeing America.”
Along the way, Kermit and Fozzie meet Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem (which includes Animal), the band’s manager, Scooter, Gonzo and his girlfriend (Camilla the Chicken), Sweetums, Miss Piggy, Rowlf, Bunsen Honeydew, and Beaker. There are a million of celebrity cameos: James Coburn, Madeline Kahn, Telly Savalas, Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, Cloris Leachman, and perhaps the greatest cameo of them all… ORSON WELLES.
My Favorite Part: This entire film is hilarious. But I really love the part where Kermit the Frog and Miss Peggy go out for a romantic dinner. They are greeted by a snarky and rude waiter (Steve Martin) who wears shorty shorts, offers them a straw for their bottle-capped Idaho champagne (after offering to let them smell the bottlecap, of course).
This is super late. I’m not even going to pretend that it’s even vaguely on-time. I ended up being busy this weekend and didn’t have time to write the post. But I wanted to write about this film regardless of whether or not it was part of an event. As a native Oregonian, I’m always interested in seeing films that were filmed in Oregon, especially classic films in Oregon. Oregon doesn’t seem to be a filming hot spot. It’s especially fun to see things that were around at the time of the film’s production that are still around today.
Buster Keaton’s The General was one of Keaton’s pet projects as he was a big fan of trains and had read the William Pittenger’s (former Union Army soldier) 1863 memoir, The Great Locomotive Chase. In his book, Pittenger describes the events of the 1862 “Great Locomotive Chase” which was a military raid that occurred in Georgia during the Civil War. Keaton wanted to bring the story of the Great Locomotive Chase to the silver screen, but of course wanted to tell the story using his patented brand of comedy. He wanted to rent the actual General locomotive that was used in the real chase, but the owners denied his request upon hearing that his envisioned film was a comedy. In the story, Keaton also changed the perspective of the story by presenting the Confederates in a positive light. Obviously, these days that decision would probably be quite controversial.
The next step was to find a suitable filming location. Keaton’s location manager ended up discovering Cottage Grove, OR a small town about 30 minutes south of Eugene, 2.5 hours south of Portland. Near Cottage Grove, there was an old-fashioned railroad already intact which was perfect for The General. The crew also discovered that the local railway–Oregon, Pacific and Eastern Railway owned two Civil War-era vintage trains. They purchased a third locomotive to serve as the “Texas,” solely to use in a planned trainwreck scene. With the location and needed trains in place, production was underway.
The General is simply a story about Johnnie Gray (Keaton), the Western & Atlantic train engineer. He operates the locomotive, “The General.” He is visiting his fiancee, Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack) in Marietta, GA when the Civil War breaks out. To impress his fiancee’s father, he tries to enlist in the Confederate Army but is denied because his occupation as a train engineer is too valuable to risk his death in the war. He accepts this reasoning and tries to walk away but in the process, he is spotted by Annabelle’s father and brother who assume that he is uninterested in joining the war. Upset about her husband-to-be’s supposed lack of patriotism, Annabelle tells Johnnie that she will not marry him unless he joins the Confederacy.
A year passes and Johnnie continues his work as the engineer of The General. One day, Annabelle boards the train with Johnnie’s General guiding the way. Annabelle’s father is ill and she is traveling to see him. Shortly after boarding, the train is hijacked by the Union Army spies and they end up stealing not only the train, but The General too. After giving chase, Johnnie ends up manning another locomotive, the Texas. Much of the remainder of the film involves Johnnie trying to not only save Annabel, but also The General as well.
There are many very impressive scenes, including the famous scene of The Texas driving onto a burning bridge and collapsing into the water below. There’s another very dangerous stunt that Keaton pulls off which involves him dislodging a railroad tie while a train quickly approaches. There’s another amazing (but dangerous) stunt where Keaton sits on the coupling rod on the wheel of the train while it is moving. Keaton had a lot of fearlessness and nerve when performing his stunts and they’re fascinating to watch. He was in a league of his own when it came to physical stunts.
The General, while maybe not my favorite Keaton film, is very funny and had a lot of amazing scenes. And while there aren’t really any scenes of Cottage Grove or neighboring Oregon locales that I recognize, I love knowing that Buster Keaton was here in 1926 filming one of his classic films–a classic film that Orson “Citizen Kane” Welles declared “perhaps the greatest film ever made.” The town of Cottage Grove very much embraces their place in Buster Keaton history and in 2002, painted a mural of Keaton in The General, on the side of the former Cottage Grove Hotel in the historic downtown district. The mural is due to be refurbished this year. There’s also a cafe called “Buster’s Main Street Cafe” that (I believe) is housed in the building that the mural is painted on.
As a native Oregonian, I am proud to have had The General filmed in my state.
Doris Day would have celebrated her 99th birthday on April 3, 2021. Miss Day passed away almost two years ago on May 13, 2019 at the age of 97. Up until the day she passed away, Doris had devoted the last half of her life to animal welfare–forming multiple non-profit organizations whose intent was to support both animals and other like-minded organizations. Through Doris’ non-profits, she also protected animals’ well-being through her Spay and Neuter program, and support at other legislation aimed to give animals the respect and dignity they deserve when facing illnesses and injuries that could potentially prolong their suffering and pain. With all that I’ve read about Doris and from what I’ve seen of her in interviews, I’m sure that she’s most proud of her animal welfare work and is what she’d like to be her legacy.
For major classic film fans like myself and others, Doris Day will forever be known for her pretty, perky girl next door persona, which later evolved into the persona of a sophisticated career woman. She ended her career playing mother roles. However, in all of these roles, no matter the setting, Doris Day was always a cute, personable woman with a gorgeous singing voice and effortless charm. She, much like the younger Sandra Dee, ended up being saddled with a reputation for being virginal–which really doesn’t make sense considering that she often played a mother toward the end of her career. This “virgin” label is often used as some sort of an insult, as if to discount Day’s work as being trivial or fluff. To this I say, what’s wrong with fluff?
I like fluff.
In a pair of my favorite fluffy films, On Moonlight Bay (1951) and its sequel, By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953), Day plays eighteen-year old, Marjorie Winfield. We’ll look past the fact that Doris was 29 and 31 in the two films. Day’s youthfulness and effervescent personality more than makes her believable as an eighteen-year old. She was also paired up with frequent co-star, Gordon MacRae, who is adorable in both films. On Moonlight Bay starts the Winfield Family’s story in the mid-1910s. The Winfields have just moved into a larger home in a more affluent neighborhood in their small Indiana town. Marjorie has recently graduated high school and since she’s not getting any younger, her father, George (Leon Ames), is eager to have her meet a suitor and marry. Much to his chagrin however, Marjorie is a tomboy and would rather play baseball than wear dresses and look for a suitable husband.
Lucky for Marjorie however, she soon meets neighbor Bill Sherman (MacRae), an Indiana University student. He is at home while on a break from school. Marjorie is smitten with him and soon is all about being a proper young woman, wearing dresses and the like. At first George is overjoyed, but soon is dismayed when Bill shares his unconventional thoughts regarding marriage and finances. Bill’s thoughts on finances is especially upsetting since George makes his living as a banker. Marjorie’s mother, Alice (Rosemary DeCamp), likes Bill as does Marjorie’s precocious younger brother, Wesley (Billy Gray). The Winfield’s maid, Stella (Mary Wickes), is too busy dealing with Wesley’s hijinks to be concerned about Marjorie and Bill’s relationship.
At some point, George tries to fix Marjorie up with his idea of a suitable suitor, Hubert, but Hubert is lame and dull. Nobody except George likes him. Marjorie reluctantly follows along, but Wesley has no qualms about making his opinions on Hubert known. By the end of the film, the US has entered WWI and Bill leaves to fight in the war. In the sequel, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, it is 1918. WWI is over and Bill returns to his small Indiana town to pick things up with Marjorie. Thankfully, Marjorie has been waiting for Bill and the two resume their relationship.
Marjorie and Bill’s relationship really hits its stride. Except, the now nineteen/twenty-year old Marjorie is ready to marry Bill. However, Bill is reluctant to commit to Marjorie, because he has yet to find a good job. He does not want to marry Marjorie if he is not gainfully employed. Of course, because every movie needs to find a reason for the romantic couple to break up so that they can triumphantly reunite towards the end, Marjorie and Bill breakup over his not wanting to marry Marjorie. They are reunited thanks to one of Wesley’s schemes, which involves Bill disguising himself (with a fake mustache, of course) as a horse and carriage driver. There’s also an odd subplot involving the family thinking that father George is having an affair. Wesley also has a fantasy sequence where he’s a detective. Those sequences are fine, but honestly this film is all about Doris Day and Gordon MacRae.
On Moonlight Bay and By the Light of the Silvery Moon never seem to be mentioned among Day’s more well known titles like Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back, Send Me No Flowers, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Calamity Jane, Love Me or Leave Me, etc. This pair of films deserve to be mentioned along Doris’ other wonderful films. Both films capture Doris’ wonderful girl next door persona, she’s cute as a button and it’s easy to see why Gordon would be so enamored by her. She is so cheery and charming. As is Gordon. Why that guy wasn’t a bigger star is beyond me. These films are very much in the same vein as Meet Me in St. Louis (even with the same dad), but they are different enough to not be considered a knock-off. I don’t even usually like child actors, but Billy Gray is able to imbue his character Wesley, with enough charm and personality that he comes off as funny, rather than obnoxious. At no point is Wesley cloying, or trying to manipulate the audience into feeling affection toward him. He is legitimately funny and sweet towards his sister in the film.
I know that I’m a couple weeks late with this one and missed the event. I also missed the Buster Keaton event. This was a very busy week/weekend for me and unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find the time to write this article. I had to prioritize some writing for my job (I write work procedures and other technical documentation) over my hobby writing. But I wanted to get caught up on this and my other blogathons–including finishing my Doris Day article on-time. I also have an article I want to write about an event going on amongst the Classic Film community on Twitter–PreCode April.
For the Favorite TV Show episode blogathon, I wanted to pay tribute to the late Dawn Wells. Wells passed away on December 30, 2020 from complications from COVID-19 (curse you COVID!) at the age of 82. Wells is best known as Mary Ann Summers, the young, perky Kansas farm girl castaway on Gilligan’s Island. Mary Ann was also my favorite castaway. At the beginning of the series, Mary Ann (along with The Professor) was relegated to the “And the Rest” part of the credits. Fortunately, at the behest of star, Bob Denver (Gilligan), Mary Ann and The Professor were added to the credits sequence in season two, where they remained until the end of the series. AUTHOR SIDENOTE: Seriously Gilligan’s Island theme song writers? You named 5/7 castaways by name, what’s two more castaways?
Anyway, as everyone recalls, almost every episode of Gilligan’s Island involved the castaways tying to get off the island. They often got their hopes up when a random celebrity/lookalike/character would show up on the allegedly uncharted island. Seriously, for an uncharted island, EVERYONE seemed to know where it was. I would imagine that the news of the SS Minnow’s passengers failing to return from their three-hour tour would have been Hawaiian news, if not national United States news. The passenger list includes a movie star, two multi-millionaires, and a prominent college professor. And if anything, the Skipper and Gilligan’s employer would be looking for them. And presumably, Mary Ann’s family and boyfriend, Horace Higgenbotham, would be looking for her. With all these random people coming across the uncharted island, why didn’t word get back to Hawaii?
But I digress. It’s Gilligan’s Island. It’s not supposed to make any sense. And don’t even get me started on that radio!
One such random visitor to find the uncharted island, were the Beatles-esque rock band, The Mosquitos. Apparently The Mosquitos traveled to the uncharted island to escape their fans and get some peace and quiet. Unfortunately, the island isn’t deserted like they’d hoped and they find more fans in the form of Gilligan and Mary Ann. The castaways then learn that The Mosquitos aren’t planning on leaving the island for a month. To try and force the band to leave sooner, the castaways work to make life stressful for the band, so that they’ll want to leave. The Mosquitos do leave… but merely move to the other side of the island. They’re quickly discovered by the castaways. The band then informs the gang that they’re not planning on leaving for two months.
In order to make sure that The Mosquitos don’t depart without them, the male castaways form their own band, The Gnats. They are terrible. Then, the women make their own band, The Honeybees. As is to be expected, a band featuring Ginger is much better, and Mary Ann and even Mrs. Howell (!) are adorable. The Mosquitos are charmed by the ladies. However, this plan backfires as The Mosquitos leave in a hurry and without the castaways, because they don’t want competition from The Honeybees.
Does this plot make sense? No not really. But it doesn’t matter. The Honeybees’ song, “You Need Us” is completely charming, from beginning to end. The girls look great. Ginger looks gorgeous and shows off her dancing ability. Mary Ann is adorable. Mrs. Howell is a great sport and is much better than Mr. Howell at dancing and singing.
We just won’t think about how the record player is powered, why the castaways have a record player, and why do they have so many records to play? Why do they have three matching Honeybees’ costumes? Or Mrs. Howell’s wig?
Ah Errol Flynn. My boyfriend, Errol Flynn. While proved himself an adept actor in dramas, comedies, sports films, adventure… He’s best known today for his swashbucklers. Many of Flynn’s swashbuckler films involved him wielding a sword, such as in Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk, The Adventures of Don Juan, Against All Flags, and his best-known film, The Adventures of Robin Hood. In Flynn’s films, he always played the rogue hero. A man who displayed massive amounts of bravado and heroism, but could also make women weak in the knees with one flash of his megawatt smile. Flynn could swagger into the room and cut the villain down to size with one cutting remark. He always played a charismatic leader, one whom others looked up to and wanted to support. In this article, I’m going to focus on Flynn’s pirate films, it is Pirate Week, after all.
Captain Blood (1935). This film was Errol Flynn’s big break. While he’d appeared in two films prior to Captain Blood, in one film, he played a corpse (The Case of the Curious Bride) and in another (Don’t Bet on Blondes), he had the small role as a boyfriend–nothing that was going to catapult him into stardom. For ‘Blood,’ Warner Brothers had wanted to cast Robert Donat, but he turned the film down, fearing that it’d be too strenuous for his asthma. Finally, the studio settled on the unknown Australian, Errol Flynn, and cast him alongside the equally unknown, 19-year old Olivia de Havilland. This would prove to be a monumental film for both actors.
In this film, Flynn plays the titular, Captain Peter Blood, a 17th century British doctor who is arrested and accused of treason against King James II after treating Lord Gilroy. The judge sentences him to death, but the King sees an opportunity for profit, and opts to transfer Peter and other rebellious men to the West Indies to be sold into slavery. After landing in Port Royal, the men are put up on the block to be sold to the wealthy landowners. When it’s Peter’s turn, he is purchased for 10 pounds by Arabella Bishop (Olivia de Havilland), the wealthy niece of the local military commander, Colonel Bishop. Arabella is charmed by Peter’s rebellious nature and let’s face it, he was the most attractive of all the slaves. Peter resents having been purchased like he was a piece of meat. To improve his situation, Arabella recommends Peter for the job of her uncle’s personal physician. It seems that Colonel Bishop suffers from the gout. The conflict of the film occurs when Peter puts together a plan for himself and his fellow slave men to escape. They do and thus begin their life of piracy.
The Sea Hawk (1941) In this pirate film, Flynn plays Captain Geoffrey Thorpe, a British subject of Queen Elizabeth I (Flora Robson). He and his crew capture a Spanish ship, helmed by the Spanish Ambassador, Don Alvarez (Claude Rains), who along with his daughter, Dona Maria (Brenda Marshall), were sent to Britain by King Phillip II of Spain, to quell Elizabeth I’s suspicions that he’s trying to put together an Armada Fleet. However, after Thorpe captures their ship, he takes Don and Dona to Britain with him. And because he’s ladykiller Errol Flynn, Thorpe wins the affections of Dona Maria by returning her jewelry that he and his crew had stolen. While Queen Elizabeth I doesn’t approve of Thorpe’s crew’s activities as it endangers Britain and Spain’s peace treaty, she hesitantly allows Thorpe to go forward with his plan to seize a Spanish Treasure Fleet.
At one point in the film Flynn and his crew are captured by the Spanish and made to work as slaves in the Galley. They are chained to each other and to the boat and forced to provide the ship’s power. Let me just get this out of the way: I am here for scantily-clad slave Errol Flynn. Of course, the men need to figure out a way to escape. Later, Flynn charms Queen Elizabeth I with his monkey (no, that’s not a euphemism. He really does have a monkey) and continues to woo Dona Maria. This is a really great film, probably Flynn’s best pirate film, in my opinion. I wish they’d cast a leading lady with a little more personality, as Brenda Marshall is a little bland, but over all, she is fine. Flora Robson is also much more effective as Queen Elizabeth I, than my personal Queen, Bette Davis. Yes, I said it.
Against All Flags (1952). This film features an older Errol Flynn. No he’s not has lithe as he was previously. He’s a little more haggard. He isn’t quite the same vivacious Errol Flynn of the past as his demons were quickly catching up with him; but because it’s Errol Flynn, he is still attractive and still has panache. In this film, Flynn plays Lieutenant Brian Hawke, who works aboard the British ship, The Monsoon. He volunteers for a dangerous mission to infiltrate the pirate’s base on the coast of Madagascar. He plans to pose as a deserter. When Hawke arrives at the pirates’ base, he immediately arouses suspicion in Captain Roc Brasillano (Anthony Quinn). Brasillano says that he will bring Hawke in front of a pirates’ council to decide his fate. If they don’t like him, he’ll be executed.
At the same time, because it’s Errol Flynn, he’s attracted the attention of Spitfire Stevens (Maureen O’Hara), the only female pirate aboard ship. She is one of the Captains of the ship and inherited the position from her father. At the council, Hawke ends up dueling one of the pirates and winning. He’s invited to join the pirates on a tentative basis, as he still needs to prove his worth. At some point, after taking over another ship, another woman is taken on board. She becomes immediately smitten with Hawke, much to the chagrin of Spitfire, even though she pretends not to like Hawke. Eventually, because it’s Errol Flynn, he ends up in a love triangle with himself, Brasillano and Spitfire, with an offshoot of a small triangle between himself, the other woman, and Spitfire. Hawke himself has no interest in the other woman, he only has eyes for Spitfire.
This is a beautiful looking film. One cannot go wrong with Maureen O’Hara. She was also known for her pirate films. It is definitely a treat to have two major figures of Pirate Cinema: Flynn and O’Hara, in the same film.
February is the month of Valentine’s Day. A month to celebrate romance. A month to celebrate love. Typically, in lieu of the regular romance movie routine, I personally like to watch movies about obsessive love, like Leave Her to Heaven, where the antagonist, Ellen Berent’s only problem is that “she loves too much.” That’s putting it mildly. For this blogathon however, I’m going to go the more traditional route with a salute to my favorite movie couples. No, it’s not the most unique idea, but I hope that my selections are unique. These are the couples you hope will end up together. Even if they don’t, if the relationship ends on a satisfying note, it can still be a relationship worth coveting.
#1 Rick Blaine and Ilsa Lund- Casablanca (1942). This isn’t a unique choice. Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) are often held up as one of Classic Hollywood’s greatest romances; but for good reason. Rick and Ilsa’s goodbye scene at the airport is iconic. Who can forget Rick lifting Ilsa’s chin as she sobs, then delivering the iconic line: “Here’s looking at you, kid.” Yes he’s repeating a line that he says to Ilsa in Paris, but it’s this moment where the line is the most poignant. It’s the final callback to the passionate romance they shared before World War II changed their lives permanently. Yes, Ilsa was married to Lazlo (Paul Henried) while they were in Paris and she’s married to him throughout the film. But who cares about Lazlo? This is Rick and Ilsa’s romance. They fell in love in Paris. They were torn apart by the war when Ilsa discovers that her “dead” husband, Lazlo, is actually alive. They’re brought back together in Casablanca when Lazlo’s work with the French Resistance takes him to Morocco. Rick and Ilsa’s feelings for one another come back and it’s such a passionate romance, it’s almost a shame that they don’t end up together. But the ending allows Rick to be the bigger man and to find his place in the world, with Louis Renault (Claude Rains) by his side. It’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship, indeed.
#2 Harry Morgan & Marie ‘Slim’ Browning- To Have and Have Not (1944). I’d be remiss to forget about Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall’s iconic first film together. For not being known as a matinee idol, Bogart found himself part of many classic on-screen romances. In this instance, it was his appearance as Harry Morgan (Bogart), a fisherman working in the French colony of Martinique, a Caribbean nation. Because this takes place right after the Fall of France to the Germans during World War II, the island of Martinique is a mish-mash of Germans (due to the control possessed by the Pro-German Vichy France), sympathetic French, and other people trying to escape their lives. One of these people that Harry meets, is “Slim” (Bacall), a young American woman who is a bit of a wanderer and has found her way to Martinique. The sparks between Harry and Slim are obvious, especially after Slim teaches him how to whistle. Bogie and Bacall’s on-screen chemistry leapt off the screen and into real life as Bogie and Bacall fell in love and became one of Classic Hollywood’s most iconic couples.
#3 Frances “Gidget” Lawrence & Jeffrey “Moondoggie” Matthews-Gidget (1959). If there’s one type of movie I love, it’s the teen beach movie and Gidget is the all-time best teen beach movie, in my opinion. Part of the reason I love this movie so much is for Gidget (Sandra Dee) and Moondoggie (James Darren). In this film, Gidget (nicknamed bestowed upon Frances by the surfer boys, it’s an amalgamation of “girl” and “midget”) is a 17-year old incoming high school senior who feels inadequate next to her more physically developed, boy crazy girlfriends. At the beginning of the film, we see Gidget and her friends try to attract the surfer boys at the beach, with Gidget failing miserably due to her awkwardness. But there’s something endearing about Gidget. She’s genuine. She can’t muster up the ability to try and attract the boys, because it seems fake. She just wants to swim. She doesn’t want to play stupid games trying to get their attention. She ends up catching the attention of one of the surfer boys, Moondoggie. At first Moondoggie is standoffish, but it’s obvious that he’s doing so because he’s trying to keep up his “cred” with the other boys. But through being protective of Gidget and later having a chance to spend time with her one-on-one, he realizes that he really does like her. Gidget’s liked him the whole time. When they have a chance to be together, they are smitten. Frankly, they are adorable and I love them. In the end, Gidget’s friends are still single and Gidget’s hooked herself a hot college guy by staying true to herself. Get it, girl!
#4 Connie Milligan & Joe Carter- The More the Merrier (1943). Connie (Jean Arthur) and Joe (Joel McCrea) are adorable. They’re brought together by the meddling, Benjamin Dingle (Charles Coburn), a retired millionaire who sublets half of Connie’s apartment during the World War II housing crisis. When Sergeant Joe Carter shows up to answer Connie’s ad, Mr. Dingle sees an opportunity to fix the uptight Connie up with a nice young man. Mr. Dingle sublets half of his half of the apartment to Joe. After learning about Mr. Dingle’s arrangement, Connie is upset. Especially when the men start razzing her about her fiance, Mr. Charles J. Pendergast. Despite trying to impress the two men with Mr. Pendergast’s good points (he makes $8600/year and has no hair), it becomes even obvious that she’s matched up with the wrong man. By this point, Joe has a crush on Connie and wants to spend time with her. Later one evening, Joe and Connie find themselves alone together on the front stoop of their apartment building. What unfolds on the front stoop is one of the sexiest, romantic scenes in Classic Hollywood, and nobody had to lose any of their clothes. I love them together and hope that they lived happily ever after… without Mr. Pendergast.
#5 Nick and Nora Charles, The Thin Man Series (1934-1947). Nick (William Powell) and Nora (Myrna Loy) Charles are the power couple that everyone wishes they were. They are part of society. They have a beautiful home. They have an amazing dog, Asta. And, they solve mysteries together, thanks to Nick’s background as a detective. Nick loves the thrill of the mystery and Nora desperately wishes to be a part of the thrill. Nick tries to keep her at home and safe from the danger, but Nora always manages to horn her way in, by finding a vital clue or having an alluring thought about a potential suspect. At the start of the film series, Nick had retired from his detective career when he marries socialite Nora. Nick and Nora have such an amazing rapport and chemistry with one another, that the mystery almost takes a back seat to their relationship. William Powell and Myrna Loy are so amazing together, that one wishes they’d been married in real life.
After World War II, the idea of the “nuclear family” was advertised to married couples as the “American Dream” and the way things are supposed to be to achieve a happy life. Women who’d found employment outside the home while the men were fighting in World War II, were expected to give up their jobs and return to “domestic bliss.” If couples weren’t already married, they married upon the man’s return from the war. Married couples had a million children. They bought a tract home in some newly-built subdivision in the suburbs somewhere. Women who during the war, had found personal enrichment in being a military pilot or working in manufacturing factory work were expected to find the same personal enrichment in the newest vacuum, fancy stoves, and being a shill for Tupperware. If a woman did not find happiness in these things, she was branded as “unfeminine” or a “bad wife” or any other negative labels. As one can imagine, secret pill and alcohol abuse was rampant among housewives in the 1950s and 1960s.
Despite what was really happening in America, the new burgeoning medium of television was continuing to perpetuate the image of the perfect nuclear family. Women like June Cleaver (Leave it to Beaver) were seen as content and happy, while vacuuming the home, perfectly coiffed, dressed in high heels and pearls. She watched after her children, Wally and The Beaver, but hesitated to dole out discipline. Husband Ward was expected to make the disciplinary decisions for the children. Other shows like Father Knows Best, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and The Donna Reed Show all presented the husband and wives as asexual beings whose only concern involved their children, their home, and everything else needed to uphold the image of the perfect nuclear family.
Meanwhile in the movie world, the collapsing studio system and Production Code allowed filmmakers room to explore more controversial themes and ideas. Dysfunctional families found more and more screen-time. Rebel Without a Cause presented a family with a browbeaten husband and a domineering wife. Their inability to come together as a parental unit is tearing their juvenile delinquent son apart. All That Heaven Allows depicts a mother (and widow) trying to find love again with a younger man, an arborist, much to the chagrin of her college-age children. Her children don’t approve of her relationship and don’t even like that she’s trying to find another husband, as if she would be cheating on their father.
Aside from ‘Rebel’ and ‘Heaven,’ there are countless other films depicting a complicated family dynamic: Written on the Wind, There’s Always Tomorrow, Peyton Place, Imitation of Life, the list goes on and on. Despite differences in theme, the one commonality that all these films have is that they demonstrate how intense and volatile these familial relationships can be when other factors are involved: class differences and expectations, alcohol, infidelity, out of wedlock pregnancies, sexuality, divorce, sexual needs, race, etc. These are all issues that if they exist, tend to remain hidden within the family lore. Family members cover for each other’s mistakes. If a member of the family is known for being racist, family members learn how to tolerate it, but don’t let it be known outside of the confines of the family unit. It is only when the skeletons in the collective family closet become known, that drama erupts, or someone suffers consequences, or both. One of the best examples of this idea is depicted in one of my favorite melodramas–A Summer Place.
::Cue Percy Faith’s “Theme to A Summer Place” ::
A Summer Place starts with Sylvia (Dorothy McGuire) and Bart (Arthur Kennedy) Hunter receiving a telegram from Ken Jorgenson (Richard Egan). Jorgenson writes the Hunters to request accommodations for himself, his wife and their daughter at their Inn in the resort town of Pine Island, off the coast of Maine. About twenty years prior as a youth, Ken had worked as a lifeguard on Pine Island. He is now a successful chemist and millionaire. The Inn used to be Bart Hunter’s family’s mansion, but has since been converted into an Inn due to Bart’s squandering of the family fortune. Sylvia also has a history at Pine Island and had known Ken during his lifeguarding days. It is obvious that Bart and Sylvia have marital problems. Bart is an alcoholic and Sylvia has been forced to keep the Inn running so that she and their 17-year old son, Johnny (Troy Donahue), have a place to live and food on the table.
Bart, assuming that Ken wants to flaunt his wealth and hold it over Bart (who has lost all of his wealth) wants to deny the reservation request. Sylvia tells Bart that they have no choice but to accept Ken’s reservation. They need the money desperately. Bart reluctantly agrees. To give the Jorgensons the best accommodations possible, the Hunter family move into their guest house so that the Jorgensons can have Bart and Sylvia’s master bedroom suite.
Meanwhile, Ken and his shrew of a wife Helen (Constance Ford) and their 17-year old daughter, Molly (Sandra Dee), are sailing to Pine Island. We get a sneak peek at Helen’s awfulness when she and Molly get into an argument over what Molly should wear when she disembarks the boat. Helen wants Molly to put on constrictive support garments and juvenile clothing that obscures her developing figure. Helen finds Molly’s figure and interest in boys to be vulgar. Honestly, Helen finds almost everything vulgar. Ken is much more permissive and finds nothing wrong with Molly’s figure, her choice in clothing, or her interest in the opposite sex. It should not come as a surprise that Ken and Helen do not sleep in the same bed, they don’t even share a bedroom. Honestly, it’s surprising that Molly even exists.
When Ken, Helen, and Molly step off the boat, Johnny and Molly immediately spot one another and are smitten. They spend time together and Helen instantly assumes the worst–there’s a horrible scene where Helen forces Molly to submit to a physical examination from a random doctor she hires to check and make sure she’s still a virgin. At another point, Helen slaps Molly so hard, she takes a very dramatic tumble into the Christmas tree. Yes. This is the type of woman we’re dealing with. In spite of Helen, Molly and Johnny fall deeper and deeper into love with one another.
While Johnny and Molly are falling in love, Ken and Sylvia are reigniting their’s. It becomes obvious that Ken and Sylvia were lovers during their youth when Ken was lifeguarding on Pine Island–that is the real reason why Bart didn’t want Ken and his family on the island. Ken and Sylvia were deeply in love, but didn’t marry because Ken was a poor college student and couldn’t support Sylvia. They broke up and she married Bart, whom she didn’t love, but he was from a rich family with status. How Ken ended up with Helen, I have no idea. She could not have been a better option than being single. Regardless, Ken and Sylvia have stayed in their loveless, unhappy, sexless (except for at least one rendezvous) marriages for the sake of their children.
Ken and Sylvia begin an affair which comes to light after the island’s night watchman rats them out to Helen and tells her about their nighttime trysts in the boathouse. Helen first decides to play the silent, suffering wife (based on the advice of her horrible mother who tells her to catch Ken and Sylvia together so she can get a bigger divorce settlement). However, after she forces Molly to go through the embarrassing physical virginity exam (after Molly and Johnny spend the night together on another island after their boat capsizes), Johnny threatens to kill her. Through a fit of anger, Helen reveals Ken and Sylvia’s affair to everyone. It’s game over and the Jorgensons and Hunters divorce. Ken and Sylvia are free to marry.
However neither Helen nor Bart will relinquish custody of their respective children. Apparently, despite being horrible people, the courts don’t look kindly on Ken and Sylvia (aka the better parents) because of their adultery. Custody is granted to Helen and Bart. Ken and Sylvia are given visitation rights. Helen and Bart choose to send Johnny and Molly away to separate non-coed boarding schools. Johnny goes to Virginia and Molly goes to another school a few states away. Despite their distance however, they stay in touch via letters (which are of course read by Helen) and secret visits. It is during one of these visits where Molly learns that she’s pregnant and tells Johnny. Helen learns of Molly’s pregnancy and informs Ken.
A Summer Place is such an amazing melodrama. I love the over-wrought melodramas of the 1950s. I love them even more when they center on teenage melodrama. A Summer Place has two nuclear families: The Jorgensons and The Hunters. Neither family is happy. The Jorgensons are torn apart by Helen’s prudishness, hate, and intolerance. Ken has a spectacular monologue where he berates Helen for displaying yet another prejudice:
(After Helen alludes to Molly’s “Swedish blood” as the reason why she lets Johnny kiss her the first night they meet)
KEN: So now you hate the Swedes. How many outlets for your hate do you have, Helen? We haven’t been able to find a new house because of your multiplicity of them. We can’t buy near a school because you hate kids. They make noise. And there can’t be any Jews or Catholics on the block, either. And, oh, yes, it can’t be anywhere near the Polish or Italian sections. And, of course, Negroes have to be avoided at all costs. Now let’s see: No Jews, no Catholics, no Italians, no Poles, no children, no Negroes. Do I have the list right, so far? And now you’ve added Swedes. And, oh yes, you won’t use a Chinese laundry because you distrust Orientals. And you think the British are snobbish, the Russians fearful, the French immoral, the Germans brutal, and all Latin Americans lazy. What’s your plan? To cut humanity out? Are you anti-people and anti-life? Must you suffocate every natural instinct in our daughter too? Must you label young love-making as cheap and wanton and indecent? Must you persist in making sex, itself, a filthy word?
RICHARD EGAN as KEN in A Summer Place (1959)
Helen has nothing to say. She just stomps out of the room. Helen sucks. She is a horrible, vile person. She has absolutely no redeeming qualities. She’s awful at the beginning of the film and she’s awful at the end. At least with Bart, I feel like deep-down, without the booze, he might be a semi-decent person. At least he isn’t full of so much hate. I think he mostly hates himself and how he’s squandered his family’s fortune and status. If this movie had been made pre-1950, Helen and Bart would have made some sort of turnaround to save their marriages and win back their spouses. However, in 1959, we are rooting for Ken and Sylvia’s adultery. These people deserve happiness. They should leave their spouses. Who cares that they’re cheating on their partners? Their partners aren’t worth keeping. Molly and Johnny’s love should be encouraged so they can save themselves from a fate like Ken and Sylvia’s. Being teen parents might not be the best thing in the world, but it’s not the end of the world either.
At the end of this film, two nuclear families have crumbled but two more are rising from the ashes. Johnny and Molly are starting their own family. Ken and Sylvia have found happiness with each other. Bart and Helen are left on the outside as they should be. True love prevails. Hate can kick rocks.
Here’s the story of a lovely lady. Who was bringing up three very lovely girls. All of them had hair of gold, like their mother. The youngest one in curls.
It’s the story of a man named Brady, who was busy with three boys of his own. They were four men, living all together. Yet they were all alone.
Till the one day, when the lady met this fellow and they knew it was much more than a hunch. That this group must somehow form a family.
And that’s the way [they] became:
So goes the iconic opening theme song and credits sequence that not only introduces the characters, but also provides the audience with all the information they need to enjoy the show. I love The Brady Bunch. Yes, it can be corny at times and overly sappy, but for me, it treads the fine line between being charmingly sappy and obnoxiously saccharine (looking at you Full House) that purposely manipulates its audience. Yes, episodes of the Brady Bunch can have lessons, but more often than not, there are repeating motifs that “kids” of all ages (yes, adults too) can identify with. Some common motifs are: boys/men against girls/women, younger versus older, big-head syndrome, and puppy love. Despite what setbacks and challenges the characters may face, the audience knows that all will be resolved by the end of the episode.
Much of the action of the series unfolds inside the Brady residence at 4222 Clinton Way in an unnamed city. However, based on references made throughout the series, we can safely assume that the Bradys live somewhere in the sprawling Los Angeles area. It is also established that the oldest son, Greg Brady, is the “Casanova of Clinton Avenue.” The Brady Bunch’s house is a character in and of itself. Their house, both the exterior and interior is iconic. Even the layman Brady Bunch fan, even someone only remotely aware of the Brady Bunch’s existence, knows what the house looks like.
Mike Brady, the patriarch of the Brady clan, and an architect, designed the Brady’s home. Despite popular belief, they have more than one bathroom in the house. Aside from the kids’ famous Jack-and-Jill bathroom, Mike and Carol also have a bathroom in their master bedroom. Where else would Carol hang her purple shower curtain that Greg and “Raquel,” Coolidge High School’s goat mascot, rip down? Finally, I think it is safe to assume that Alice has her own bathroom attached to her bedroom. Based on the amount of Brady Bunch that I’ve watched (and it’s a lot), I believe that Alice’s room is behind the kitchen nearby the service porch.
The Brady house is well-designed and decorated. The multi-level home has a small foyer that brings guests into the Brady’s living room and dining room. The living room seems to be a more formal space as this is frequently where Mike entertains his clients, like Senor and Senorita Calderon, who later see Peter aka “Phil Packer” and Greg entertaining some girlfriends in a supposed X-rated manner at Marioni’s Pizza. This room is where Marcia entertains Davy Jones who stops by to bring Marcia a copy of his new album after he overhears her lamenting to his manager that she promised to get Davy to appear at her prom. The living room is also where Marcia meets her “dream of dreams,” Desi Arnaz Jr. The living room is not without its drama however, this is also the room where Peter accidentally breaks “mom’s favorite vase” with a basketball, despite mom having said: “don’t play ball in the house.” The living room is also where Marcia holds slumber parties until they’re disrupted by itching powder, and where kids hold their parties. It is at one of these parties when Peter learns that he does have a personality after all, and that personality is “lady killer.” This room is not without heartbreak however, aside from the sad demise of “mom’s favorite vase,” this is the room where Marcia starts bawling after the boys completely ignore her speech when she runs for Class President (against Greg).
Later, in the dining room, mom’s favorite vase endures yet another humiliation when it starts leaking all over the table after having been filled with water for some flowers. It seems that the kids’ glue job wasn’t up to snuff. The dining room also serves as the location for the kids’ house of cards contest that would determine whether the boys or the girls would receive Alice’s bounty of trading stamps. The boys wanted to use their stamps to buy a rowboat, and the girls wanted a sewing machine. In the end, Tiger runs into Greg, causing him to fall into the house of cards. The girls make good though and use the stamps to get a color television set. Presumably, this is the set that goes into the family room. Poor Alice, despite doting on the family day in and day out, never gets to eat dinner with the family. She finally gets to eat dinner with them when Mike announces that he will be making a gourmet dinner for the family. The dining room also features an entrance to the Brady’s backyard with the famous, low-maintenance (though we see Marcia cutting it with scissors in an episode) Astro-Turf lawn.
The dining room is adjacent to the Brady’s kitchen. The Brady kitchen is iconic with its orange formica countertops and avocado green appliances. There is also an awesome double oven built into a brick column. There’s also a stovetop built into the counter. Over the years, much cooking goes on in the Brady kitchen, including, but not limited to: meatloaf, the girls’ horrible breakfast, pork chops and applesauce, strawberry preserves, Mike’s gourmet dinner, Marcia’s merit badge meal, spaghetti that tastes like metal when eaten with Marcia’s one-episode braces, Brady Kid lunch assembly line, Peter’s “Straw Split Fudge Short,” and countless other meals. This room is where Alice has the last apple, the last peach, and the last banana hidden. The tulip table and chairs (that I love, by the way) is where Marcia and Greg fight over Marcia’s date with Warren Mulaney and where Jan pretends to be an only child. This is where Mike, Carol and Alice sit over coffee at the table and discuss issues regarding the children. The kitchen also features an entrance to the backyard.
Through the saloon doors and passthrough of the kitchen is the Brady den. The den is where the family watch the latest sports game, movie, or family member(s) on television. This is where the kids “Can make the World A Whole Lot Brighter” with their Brady Six act. This is the room where Alice irons and listens to her soap opera. This is also the room where the kids, seated on the plaid couches, sometimes receive lectures. One such lecture they received involved the high phone bills they were racking up. To remedy the situation (or so he thought), Mike installed a payphone in the family room. This somewhat worked until Mike found himself without a phone and without a dime needing to take a call from an important client. In the den, Marcia practices her yoga for one of the dozen clubs she joins when she starts at Westdale High. The den has the most-used entrance to the Brady’s backyard.
The backyard is where Bobby and Cindy try to break the record for longest time teeter-tottering. This is where the kids, sans Jan, practice for the potato sack race. This is where Mike and the kids refurbish and paint the “S.S. Brady” a row-boat too small for the whole family to enjoy. The backyard provides room for all the kids’ school pursuits, such as a working full-size dunking booth (you can’t say Mike and Carol don’t go all-in for their kids and their kids’ educations. Money and time are no object, apparently) Greg’s re-creation of the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock, and where the family puts on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” as a benefit to pay for a gift for Mrs. Whitfield, a beloved teacher who is retiring. Later, in The Brady Bunch Movie, we will again see Mrs. Whitfield who has returned to teaching, but has apparently fallen on hard times in the 1990s and is busted for stealing school supplies. The backyard is where Bobby receives his first kiss, courtesy of the potentially mumps-infested Millicent. The backyard is not completely full of mirth and whimsy however, It is also the where Jan, not wearing her glasses (they make her look “positively goofy” she says), crashes into Mike’s anniversary gift for Carol, Peter risks potential murder (via Alice) for getting mud all over the patio, Greg brings home his lemon of a car, Peter is nearly killed by a falling ladder, but pushed out of the way by Bobby (who is covered in green paint in the process), Greg loses the pull-up contest to Bobby and has to become his slave, Greg announces to his parents that he will not attend college and will instead focus on becoming “Johnny Bravo,” and finally, poor Tiger’s vacant dog-house still stands as a reminder that Tiger hasn’t been seen since Season 2.
Above the backyard are the bedrooms. The girls’ room is the room that had the shutter Greg was painting before he dangerously climbs through the window from the ladder (that comes crashing down towards Peter’s head, before Bobby pushes him out of the way and is doused with green paint) to answer the phone. The girls’ room is where a lot of tears were shed: Marcia when she was removed as Juliet from her school’s rendition of “Romeo and Juliet,” Marcia when she has to get braces, Jan when she thinks she’s ugly, and poor Cindy when she endures frequent bullying by Buddy Hinton who mocks her for having a lisp. Buddy Hinton was such a loser, aside from being a bully, he’s obviously at least a 5th-6th grader picking on a 1st grader. But looking at his parents, especially his doormat of a mother, it’s no wonder. However, the girls’ room is also one of much happiness, this is where Marcia displays all her awards, where Jan finds her lost locket after looking for “The Little Bear” and where Cindy keeps her life savings (inside her doll’s head of course) that she happily contributes when the kids decide to form a singing group.
Adjacent to the girls’ bedroom, is the famous blue Jack-and-Jill bathroom. This room causes a lot of tension between the children, definitely fueling the misconception that it is the only bathroom in the house. The girls scatter their hair ribbons all over the place, much to the boys’ chagrin. Jan locks herself in the bathroom to scrub her freckles off with a lemon. Marcia tries to impress Cindy with her beauty routine only to have Cindy inquire about brushing her teeth with braces. Jan locks herself in the bathroom to try out the wig she purchased when she decides to change her whole look–“The New Jan Brady.” The drama over the bathroom reaches a boiling point in one episode, when Mike and Carol actually consider moving to a larger house with additional bathrooms. Thankfully, they reconsider after the kids proclaim their love for the house (and haunt it for good measure) when a potential buyer comes to look at the home.
On the other side of the bathroom is the boys’ room. Peter and Bobby share a bunk bed with Greg in a single bed on the other side of the room. Unlike the girls’ room which was re-decorated at least three times, the boys’ room stayed pretty much the same (can’t lose those scary clown paintings), except when Greg moves into the attic. The boys’ room is pretty basic however. This is where Peter locks Bobby in the closet after he tires of being his slave. Greg croons “Clowns never laughed before, beanstalks never grew,” lyrics from a song he’d written during happier times before he was busted for smoking. Greg has a reality-check when he realizes that he may never be as great a pitcher as baseball great, Don Dysdale, whom he’d met earlier in the backyard. This is also where Bobby meets Joe Namath, who comes to visit the “ailing” Bobby after Cindy writes him a letter talking about her brother’s illness. This is the room where Greg wants to talk to Mike “man-to-man, not kid-to-man man-to-man but man-to-man man-to man.” This is where both Greg and Peter start shaving their one whisker.
The hallway isn’t that exciting except that it features Carol’s favorite feature: a walk-in linen closet, that she shows off briefly when giving an impromptu tour of her home to her fellow Westdale High PTA members. This closet is also located directly below Greg’s attic bedroom and the kids can hear all his secrets: such as him stashing “Raquel” in his bedroom. The hallway also has two random chairs that I don’t understand. Who is going to just sit in the hallway randomly? Get these out of here, Carol! These are taking up precious walking room.
At another end of the hall, we have Mike and Carol’s master bedroom. This room was supposedly redecorated, when a decision was being made between striped or floral wallpaper. In the end though, they painted the room teal and it seemingly looked the same as it did before? I loved the floral architectural piece behind Mike and Carol’s bed. I also loved that this show actually featured parents who seemingly had a life and some romance outside of their six children. The more “romantic” side of their relationship is hinted to when the kids make Mike and Carol a “Do Not Disturb” sign for their bedroom. Mike and Carol’s closet, supposedly divided 50/50, but probably more 70/30 in Carol’s favor, is full of Carol’s frilly nightgowns, bags to match her shoes, and the different outfits she buys (skiing outfit for the mountains, bikini for the beach, cowboy outfit for the dude ranch, red flapper dress for the Charleston contest, country dress for the square dance). Nobody can accuse this woman for not dressing appropriately for the occasion.
Upstairs, in the attic (that Mike must have somehow retrofitted from its 2′ height clearance in season 2 to being at least 7′ if not 9′ at the end of season 4), is Greg’s bedroom. Greg’s moving into the room was a contentious affair, with Marcia wanting the room as well, but ultimately Greg won out. His “bachelor pad” so to speak, is pretty sweet. Greg has a patchwork carpet, a larger bed, an old-time radio, a coat rack, a dartboard, a beaded curtain that separated a sink from his bedroom, and a globe! Greg’s room looks like what a kid might decorate his own room with if he had unlimited access to random stuff in his parents’ attic. I only wish Greg had incorporated some of the things from his previous bachelor’s pad in Mike’s den, such as the plastic flowers, the lava lamps and the mattress on the floor. The most exciting thing to happen in Greg’s attic room is when he stole Raquel the goat mascot from his rival, Coolidge High. Greg then tried to keep Raquel a secret, but everyone quickly found out.
The famous Brady stairs were the focal point for many scenes. There are many moments with kids rushing excitedly up or down the stairs. Kids hid at the top of the stairs to spy, such as the kids spying on Marcia when she meets both Davy Jones and Desi Arnaz Jr. The Kids used the stairs to scare Alice when they send a “ghost” down a zipline to scare her when she walks in the door. Bobby slides down the stair railing in an episode. The Brady cast members regularly posed on the stairs, the kids in order by age, then the adults at the end. Then, of course, lest we forget, the stairs served as the vehicle in which Peter’s basketball traveled to take out mom’s favorite vase.
At the base of the stairwell is Mike’s den. For the most part, this room remained quiet and professional (except when Greg redecorated it) as this is where Mike often worked when a deadline was looming, or when he had to re-create plans, such as when delivery boy, Greg, lost Mike’s plans after setting them down to peruse a car magazine. This room was strictly forboden to the kids, as Marcia learned when she spilled correction fluid all over the plans, during some horseplay with Jan and Cindy. Marcia was in the office writing her article for “Father of the Year.” Carol was really the only other person Mike allowed to be in the den while he was working. Alice came into the den to clean and talk to Mike and Carol. The kids only seemed to come into the den to seek some advice, like Jan did when she was stressed out about Marcia, Marcia, Marcia. Mike’s den is very classic in its decoration and lacks some of the more dated decor of the 1970s.
Behind the stairwell, I believe is Alice’s room. Her room isn’t seen often in the series, but she is seen emerging from somewhere behind the kitchen. As a live-in maid, and someone whom the Brady’s value enough to take to the Grand Canyon, Hawaii, Cincinnati, and camping at Mount Claymore, it seems reasonable that she would have her own bedroom and bathroom. In the episode where Alice sprains her ankle tripping on Bobby’s Chinese Checkers (lying on the floor of the dining room), we see her in bed reading a book, All My Loves. Alice’s bedroom seems to be off-limits to the kids, except when they see her packing up her bedroom. After Mike and Carol’s marriage, Alice feels that her job is redundant, because Mike won’t need her after marrying Carol. The family puts on an elaborate ruse to show Alice how much she is needed.
Just off of Alice’s bedroom is the laundry room, or service porch. No doubt Alice’s room suffered water damage when Bobby decided to wash his suit (dirty after rescuing “Pandora,” a cat owned by the world’s worst child actress) with an entire box of Safe detergent. Speaking of Safe, the service porch must be where Carol is storing the 2000 boxes of Safe they received as payment for the commercial they filmed. The service porch isn’t seen much, but it does serve as the opulent entrance to Alice’s bedroom!
The Brady home is iconic. For fans like me, every room of the house featured some memorable moment. We experience these moments as if we also lived in the home with the family. As an oldest child (though definitely not of six), I always identified with Marcia and Greg. They were my favorite of the kids. I also could identify with the third oldest, Peter, to an extent. I loved that the kids weren’t overly goody goody like Wally and Beaver in Leave it to Beaver, and I liked that the parents were portrayed as intelligent people with lives independent of their children. Carol, while she didn’t work outside the home (though she’s a relator in A Very Brady Christmas made-for-TV movie), was shown as being part of different clubs and charities. She also had hobbies like embroidery and sculpture. I felt like the kids were well-rounded and realistic. They didn’t have annoying catchphrases like kids on 90s sitcoms had. Even if their problems were solved in 30 minutes, so what? Who wants to watch Marcia’s over-inflated ego over playing Juliet play out over multiple episodes? I would welcome an extension of the Family Night Frolics. Or any of the episodes where the kids sing. “Good Time Music,” indeed.
The Brady Bunch has always been one of my absolute favorite shows. It’s right up there with I Love Lucy and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I have seen every episode, multiple times. I own the entire series on DVD and I have the two satire films: The Brady Bunch Movie and A Very Brady Sequel. It’s quotable, I can recognize the episodes within seconds, I love their clothes (well most of them), and I really love their house. I would live in that house today, orange formica and all. Long live The Brady Bunch!
And remember: “Mom always said, don’t play ball in the house!”