Posts Tagged ‘Martin Milner’

My Classic Movie Pick: Life With Father

I must have been 11 0r 12 years old the first time I saw the 1947 film Life With Father.   I remember enjoying this old movie that I stumbled upon one afternoon.  The movie was funny, it was shot in gorgeous technicolor and  the side-plot of whether or not Father would ever get baptized was amusing to me.

Life With Father


When I next rewatched the movie, as a college student, I realized that a young Elizabeth Taylor was in this film and a very young Martin Milner, pre- Route 66 and Adam-12 days.  I knew by this point that the parents were played by William Powell, who was pitch perfect as the bombastic father, Clarence Day Sr. and the lovely Irene Dunne was  excellent as the  loving, but fiscally- challenged  wife, Vinnie.  I also learned  that Life With Father actually had its beginning as a book, written by Clarence Day Jr.  From this book came a Broadway play and then the hit film.  When I learned that blogs The Rosebud Cinema and Rachel’s Theatre Reviews were hosting a blogathon devoted to stage plays that were turned into films, I decided to participate with Life With Father.  Be sure to visit the two sites in order to read about more movies that began life on the stage!


Stage to screen blogathon

Owning my late grandmother’s encyclopedia set from 1957 I was able to find a bit more info on  the real Clarence Day Jr.  Born in 1874, he grew up in  New York City, his father, Clarence Day Sr., nicknamed Clare, was a stockbroker.  Day’s grandfather, Benjamin H. Day founded the New York Sun newspaper.  Clarence Jr. grew up in an upper middle class family, graduated from Yale, and went into the same brokerage firm where his father worked.  Clarence Jr. joined the US Navy to fight in the Spanish-American War, but afterwards he became afflicted with crippling arthritis and had to live the rest of his life as a semi-invalid.  During this time, Clarence Jr. began writing and his first major literary success was a book, God and My Father.  Next came the book, Life With Father, a humorous look at life in 1890s New York City with his domineering, loud, but lovable father and the rest of the Day family.    Clarence Jr. died in 1935, and several more of his books were published posthumously.  The 1937 book, Life With Mother, was also successful and in 1939, Howard Lindsey and Russel Crouse wrote a play based upon God and My Father, Life With Father, and Life With Mother.  What was astounding is that this new play, Life With Father, was such a hit with audiences that it ran for over seven years to become the longest-running non-musical play on Broadway.

Warner Brothers brought the rights to the play in order to turn it into a film and Donald Ogden Stewart wrote the screenplay.  Michael Curtiz directed, and in addition to William Powell and Irene Dunne, as Clarence Sr. and Vinnie, they were joined by: Jimmy Lydon as Clarence Jr., Martin Milner as John, Johnny Calkins as Whitney, and Derek Scott as the youngest son, Harlan.  Zasu Pitts portrays Vinnie’s cousin, Cora, visiting from Ohio, and Elizabeth Taylor plays Mary Skinner, a  traveling companion of cousin Cora’s.  Edmund Gwenn is Reverend Dr. Lloyd, who has to carefully deal with an unbaptized Clarence Sr., and maids for the family are played by Emma Dunn, Heather Wilde, Mary Field, Queenie Leonard, and Nancy Evans.

The Day Family. front row: Whitney, Father, Harlan.  Back row: John, Clarence Jr., Mother.

The Day Family. front row: Whitney, Father, Harlan. Back row: John, Clarence Jr., Mother.

The film is fast-moving, with various plots woven throughout it, all leading to the climax: will father get baptized or not?  While this might not seem funny, and may seem downright boring, it is told with humor and wit.  William Powell’s performance is the glue that holds this story together and he was so good in the part that he was a Best Actor nominee at the Academy Awards in 1948.

Powell getting some direction advice from Curtiz.

Powell getting some direction advice from Curtiz.

Powell’s Clarence Day Sr. is in his late 40s, and he works at an efficient office.  He believes that his home should also be run in an efficient manner, and when it isn’t-which is quite often-he feels compelled to honestly let all in the house know how displeased he is with this inefficiency.  He is loud, curt, and a bit oblivious to the fact that his wife, Vinnie, is really running things at home the way she wants them run.  Powell’s Clarence adores his wife and even though she can frustrate him, especially when she doesn’t understand purchasing items on credit and keeping to the budget he has set up, he still worships the ground she walks on.  A running gag in the film is the Day family’s inability to keep housemaids.  The maids are all afraid of Mr. Day, especially when he makes a loud outburst about something that has displeased him.  One maid, a new Irish immigrant, takes it as a bad sign that the Day’s are all redheads and when Mr. Day let’s loose with a loud complaint, this new maid quits.  Vinnie scolds Clarence Sr. for scaring off yet another maid so she says he has to hire the next one.  When Clarence Sr. gets to the employment agency to hire a new maid, the employment agency representative tells him, “Sir, before I can let any girl go from this establishment, I must know the character of the home in which she will be employed.” To which Mr. Day replies, “Madam,  I am the character of my home!”

Whitney saying his catechism

Whitney saying his catechism

Cousin Cora’s visit, which Vinnie knew about but forgot to tell Clarence Sr., is an irritant to him.  He doesn’t like the fact that they are putting Cousin Cora up at their house for a week and he rails against it, as he isn’t running a hotel.  He isn’t also happy that Vinnie has told Cora that they are taking her and Mary, her traveling companion, to Delmonico’s for dinner, a meal that Clarence Sr. doesn’t want to have to pay for as he believes the restaurant is too expensive.

Tolerating Cousin Cora's visit

Tolerating Cousin Cora’s visit

Father with his sons

Father with his sons

The sons, especially the oldest two, Clarence Jr. and John, add to the swirling plots of the film.  Clarence Jr. hates wearing his father’s old suits and wants a new suit of his very own.  He is hit with the love bug when he meets Mary Skinner and feels awkward around her if he’s wearing one of father’s suits.  He gets the urge to act like father would act and this upsets poor Mary!  John, always looking for a way to earn money, hires Clarence Jr. to help him sell a new medicine door to door.  Then Clarence Jr. will earn enough money to buy himself a new suit.  Unfortunately, John decides to give his mother some of the medicine and it doesn’t help Vinnie at all, in fact she becomes very sick and the doctor has to be called.

The lovely Mary Skinner, no wonder Clarence Jr. gets a crush on her!

The lovely Mary Skinner, no wonder Clarence Jr. gets a crush on her!

"Get off my lap!"

“Get off my lap!”

Telling Father he needs a new suit

Telling Father he needs a new suit

Mother understands why he wants a suit of his own

Mother understands why he wants a suit of his own

Whitney, the third son, is practicing his catechism in order to be confirmed in the Episcopal church the family attends.  During one of his practice sessions, Clarence Sr. admits that he’s never been baptized.  This news horrifies Vinnie and she asks him to get baptized or they won’t be reunited in Heaven.  Clarence Sr. scoffs at this notion, stating that God wouldn’t be able to keep him out of Heaven!  This dilemma even leads Vinnie to wonder if their marriage is legal!

Since this film, though autobiographical in nature, is mainly a comedy, you can  rest assured, there are happy endings for all of the characters.

"This film is a delight!"

“This film is a delight!”

Life With Father is available to purchase or even watch on instant rent at Amazon.  It’s also available through TCM’s Shop and through Netflix.   Also, the entire film is available to see on Youtube!  For a funny, endearing movie the whole family can watch, and with one of William Powell’s best performances, seek out Life With Father!

LWF poster 2



Route 66, part of my weekday morning routine…

Martin Milner (right) as Tod Stiles, with Geor...

Image via Wikipedia

We have Direct TV.   We used to have cable but having moved  to a more rural area of Missouri, away from our former home in the St. Louis area, our cable carrier wasn’t available anymore.  So, we signed up  with Direct TV.   We still get most of the St. Louis tv channels we were  familiar with, including  Channel 24.  I don’t know it’s history, but Channel 24 is owned  by a minister  who has  a  ministry to the homeless and less fortunate of St. Louis.  Channel 24 must somehow provide money for his work, and being a minister, the programming is usually of a wholesome nature, and often the programs are from  yesteryear.   (Why Frasier is aired I’ll never know…nothing against Frasier, but I wonder if the minister is aware of some of it’s storylines ?)  One of the  classic tv shows that Channel 24 airs that I have grown to appreciate, and look forward to viewing, is Route 66.

Route 66 airs at different hours on Channel 24.  One episode usually airs at 4:30 p.m., Mondays-Fridays, and then again, two more episodes air at 11:00 p.m. and then again at 4:00 a.m.  Thanks to our dvr machine(God bless the inventors of this gadget that lets me skip commercials and watch tv when I want to watch it!), I record the episodes and then watch one each morning, lingering over my breakfast as husband and the three oldest kids have exited the house for work and school, and before the youngest three, whom I homeschool, are awake.

The plot of the show is fairly simple.  Two young men, in their twenties, have decided to travel the USA,  in a Chevrolet Corvette Convertible, working odd jobs when they need to in order to  refund their wallets.  Whenever they stop off in one of America’s tiny towns or large cities, they inevitably meet someone, or a group of folks, who are having a problem and our twenty-something traveling duo finds a way to solve the problem.

Originally, Route 66 aired on CBS, from 1960-64.  The show was created by Herbert B. Leonard and Stirling Siliphant; Siliphant wrote most of the shows episodes.  Nelson Riddle created the theme music for the show, which became popular, and the sales of Chevrolet’s Corvette increased due to the popularity of the show.  The two travelers were played by Martin Milner and George Maharis.  Milner played Todd Stiles, a college student(Yale or Harvard, can’t recall at the moment), who’s father owned a tugboat company in New York Harbor.  Maharis played Buz Murdock, an orphan who grew up in NYC, and as an adult, worked for the elder Stiles’s company.  The elder Stile’s died suddenly, and as the will is gone over by the lawyer, it is discovered that the deceased didn’t know, or chose to ignore the fact, that his company was almost bankrupt.  It is left to Todd (Milner) to settle up accounts, close up the business, and there isn’t much of an inheritance left, so Todd drops out of college,  buys the snazzy Corvette, comes up with his plan to travel the open road, and invites Buz to join him.

Siliphant was a gifted writer and the episodes he wrote were interesting, the dialogue was great, a bit cryptic at times whenever Todd or Buz decide to speak cool, as in late beatnik or early hippie, but the message gets across, and the acting couldn’t have been better.  Many famous stars of today were in this tv show and it is fun to watch an episode and suddenly realize that that is a young Robert Redford who accidentally caused a young woman to fall down an embankment to her death!  Other stars I’ve noticed on the show: Gene Hackman, Cloris Leachman,Leslie Nielsen,Nehemiah Persoff, Jack Warden, Julie Newmar, Barbara Eden, Martin Sheen, Lee Marvin, Robert Duvall, Alan Alda, to name a few.  I also have noticed that the show was a vehicle for once former famous actors and actresses as their time in the limelight was waning, and now in their 50s and older, they could still turn to tv for acting jobs.  Some of these stars were Chester Morris, Glenda Farrell, Nina Foch, Chill Wills, Betty Field, Sylvia Sydney, Joan Crawford, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and Lon Chaney Jr.  The episode that starred the latter 3 gentlemen I just listed, was a fun one to watch and I imagine it was a fun one to rehearse and film.

As Route 66 grew in popularity, George Maharis became seriously ill with Hepatitis and had to be hospitalized for a number of weeks.   Since he couldn’t be on the show, Milner’s character did some episodes solo, having his character Todd call in at various stops along his travels to check in with Buz, who was convalescing from Pneumonia at a hospital in California.  Maharis did recover enough to finish out Season 3, but prior to Season 4, he decided to end his run on the show and pursue a movie career.  CBS didn’t want to cancel the show, so a search was on to select a new traveling companion for Milner’s character.  Actor Glenn Corbett was hired to do so, playing Lincoln Case, a native Texan, recently retired Army Ranger who had seen action in Vietnam.  The show followed it’s same format, but to me, the episodes just didn’t have the same snap and pizzaz to them that the earlier ones did with Maharis as co-pilot.  Corbett did a decent job, but Milner, seemed crankier to me, as if he was merely tolerating Lincoln Case;  doesn’t seem to really get to know him.   Despite my observation about Season 4, I would recommend this classic tv show highly, and I do know it is on dvd, in case there isn’t a tv channel in your area, run by a local minister, airing classic tv shows that are a lot more wholesome than what is aired on today’s Primetime line up.