And Baby Makes Three

Talkie of the Week: And Baby Makes Three

USA 1949, 84 minutes, black & white, Columbia Pictures. Director: Henry Levin, Written by Lou Breslow and Joseph Hoffman. Cast: Robert Young, Barbara Hale, Robert Hutton, Janis Carter, Billie Burke, Nicholas Joy, Lloyd Corrigan, Howland Chamberlain, Melville Cooper

Plot summary: Vern and Jackie are recently divorced and not exactly on speaking terms until Jackie wants to get married again and learns that she is pregnant with Vern’s baby.

Review: Reuniting Barbara Hale and Robert Young in yet another romantic comedy after their decent success with Lady Luck at RKO in 1947, Columbia Pictures presented And Baby Makes Three on December 2, 1949 to movie theaters across the country. Diverting and hilarious in best screwball tradition, the film told the story of Jackie and Verne, two recent divorcées who are brought back together on Jackie’s wedding day. Engaged to Herbie Fletcher, a man of considerable wealth, she is walking down the aisle as his bride when she suddenly swoons and has to lie down to get examined by her uncle, Dr. Bill Parnell. Overwhelming her with the news of being pregnant with her ex-husband’s child, Jackie is forced to deal with an excited Verne, a dumbfounded Herbie and his unamused family. As the story progresses, Jackie and Verne find it easy to fall back into their old patterns and fight, laugh and love as much as they used to before they ended their marriage.

Using well-proven twists and turns, And Baby Makes Three managed to tell a silly story in a fast-paced, amusing way. Blessed with the talents of two charming leads, the film benefited from the chemistry between Barbara Hale and Robert Young, as well as from the often witty dialog. Although predictable like most other written romances, the movie is a delightful eighty-four minutes of good-natured drama, absurdity and laughter. It may not have reached other top notch comedies of its time in quality, but And Baby Makes Three continues to be one of those films you may all too easily fall in love with and it is unfortunate that it hasn’t yet been released on DVD*. I am hopeful, however, that the film will get a second chance – after all, “Barb” Hale and “Bob” Young worked so well together as a team, in Lady Luck (1946), And Baby Makes Three (1949), on Marcus Welby M.D. (1974) or at the Emmy’s in 1959 when Robert Young presented the award for Best Actress to his dear colleague Barbara Hale.

And Baby Makes Three theatrical trailer

*Edit: The film will be released on DVD on September 4, 2012.

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Happy Birthday, Barbara Hale!

Today, the lovely Barbara Hale celebrates her 90th birthday and this post is my way of wishing her well. So please feel invited to walk down memory lane with me through her career on screen and her public life which started in the funny papers when she was modeling for a comic strip called Ramblin’ Bill and ended when she retired from acting in 1994 to fully commit herself to her beloved family.

Born on April 18th, 1922*, in DeKalb, Barbara Hale grew up as the second of two daughters of Ezra and Willa Hale in Rockford, Illinois. Interested in art early on, Barbara was encouraged by her mother to pursue her goal of becoming a commercial artist. Working after school to show her dedication to her craft, her father gave his consent for her to attend the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts after her high school graduation. Living at the YWCA where she shared a room with a friend, Barbara was soon asked to model for fellow students and finally landed a job posing for a comic strip called Ramblin’ Bill. She was a fashion model when a talent scout spotted her and offered her a chance for a trial contract with RKO in Hollywood. Young, ambitious and thrilled about acting, Barbara hopped on the train out West and landed her first job as the replacement of a sick extra in Gildersleeve’s Bad Day on her day of arrival in 1943.

Getting her education on the studio lot, Barbara immersed herself in her new profession, eagerly embracing singing, horseback riding, voice and dance lessons while continuing to work as a model for a variety of products. Prone to being sociable and charming, it didn’t take her long to meet fellow contract player Bill Williams with whom she fell in love on studio grounds. Working together on West of the Pecos in 1944, her first big part after debuting on Higher and Higher alongside Frank Sinatra, she soon knew she wanted to marry her “Ramblin’ Bill”. Although committed to founding a family while missing her own, Barbara kept working hard for her career and landed strong parts in First Yank into Tokyo and Lady Luck.

In 1946, Barbara and Bill got married and started working on A Likely Story. In 1947, a little more than a year after taking their vows, their first child was born, daughter Jody. Two more children followed in 1951 and 1953, son Billy and another daughter, Juanita. While being a dedicated mother and wife, Barbara kept working on movies such as The Boy with Green Hair, The Clay Pigeon and The Window until she left RKO when her contract ended with the studio. She started working for Columbia and secured herself a part in Jolson Sings Again, then also worked for other studios before tackling television. The Jackpot with Jimmy Stewart, Lorna Doone, A Lion is in the Streets with James Cagney and The Houston Story were some of her memorable films, as well as a number of Westerns such as The Oklahoman with Joel McCrea.

In 1956, Barbara was approached by Gail Patrick Jackson who urged her to join the cast of a new show called Perry Mason. Skeptical at first due to the young age of her three children, Barbara finally accepted the promising offer and became TV’s most famous secretary when the show went on the air in 1957. Rewarded with a congenial atmosphere on set, lasting friendships, two Emmy nominations and one win, Barbara soon had a reputation of being everyone’s favorite cast member. Adored by fans and press alike, coverage on the Perry Mason family and “Della Street” in her private life returned to an old-time high. Although strenuous at times, being on set six days a week (even when she didn’t have any lines) and leading a rich family life, Barbara embraced her part with full abandon and was grateful for the steady work.

In 1966, after nine years of television fame, Perry Mason was discontinued and Barbara took a well-deserved break from acting to unwind and enjoy more time with her family – her husband and their three children, then nineteen, fifteen and thirteen. In 1967, Barbara made her big screen comeback in a Western called Buckskin, continuing the family tradition of working with her husband on the same film. More common projects followed, including guest stints on Insight and Adam-12, as well as movies such as The Giant Spider Invasion and The Flight of the Grey Wolf.

After numerous guest stints on popular shows like Ironside, The Doris Day Show and Marcus Welby M.D. and supporting parts on movies such as Airport in 1970, Barbara also returned to making a living with commercials when she became the Amana spokesperson for Radar Range microwave ovens in the 70s. She also starred in two of her son Billy Katt’s projects, Big Wednesday and The Greatest American Hero before he joined her on the reprise of her career’s biggest success. In 1985, Barbara was asked to reunite with her longtime co-star and friend Raymond Burr for Perry Mason Returns, a TV movie that launched another ten years of steady work. After the death of her husband of forty-six years in 1992 and the passing of Raymond Burr only one year later, Barbara Hale continued her performance as Della Street in another four Perry Mason Mysteries before she retired from acting in 1994 for personal reasons. She has led a private life with her family in the Los Angeles area  since but given occasional interviews. Some of her latest interviews are available on the 50th Anniversary of Perry Mason DVD which was released in 2008.

After this sketchy introduction to a very rich life and a darling lady what else is left to say but this: Bless your heart, dear Barbara Hale, for being such an inspiration, and best of wishes on your special day.

* Author’s note: There’s some confusion about Barbara Hale’s actual birthday. While most sources list April 18, 1922 as her day of birth, others say she was already born in 1921. I decided to stick with the most commonly used date. Should that be wrong, I’ll gladly make the necessary changes here on Talking Classics.

Marcus Welby M.D.

TV classics: Marcus Welby M.D.

USA 1969-76, 7 seasons, 169 episodes, 48 minutes each, ABC. Cast: Robert Young, James Broslin, Elena Verdugo, Recurring cast: Anne Baxter, Christine Belford, Anne Schedeen, Sharon Gless, Gavin Brendan, Pamela Hensley

Plot summary: After living through a heart attack, Marcus Welby shares his practice a young doctor called Steven Kiley. As a general practitioner, Dr. Welby has a lot to teach to his young associate whose medical skills are as formidable as his methods are modern.

Review: Marcus Welby M.D. premiered on ABC with a two hour movie of the week in September 1969. It introduced the lead character Dr. Welby and his young associate Dr. Steven Kiley, as well as some supporting regulars such as Elena Verdugo as Consuelo Lopez, the doctors faithful nurse and secretary. Serving as a pilot episode to the following TV show, the plot focused on the characters’ background, as well as on the essentials of medical drama: emergency patients and the duality of professional opinions.

Throughout its seven years on the air, Marcus Welby M.D. stuck to its successful ingredients of featuring two generations of doctors who did their best to cure their patients. Robert Young played Dr. Welby, a general practitioner who cared for his patients as more than just customers who paid their bills. James Brolin was Dr. Kiley, his young and ambitious associate who brought a whole set of modern ideas to the Welby practice as well as an eagerness to learn his mentor’s well-tried techniques. They were supported by a hands-on secretary and a variety of regular guest stars such as Anne Baxter, Christine Belford, Sharon Gless or Anne Schedeen.

Introducing new cases every week, Marcus Welby M.D. touched a lot of medical issues otherwise not commonly addressed on television. The show also reunited Robert Young with his longtime Father Knows Best co-star Jane Wyatt, and his two time RKO co-star Barbara Hale who guest starred for an episode each.

After hitting a respectable high in ratings in its second season and a nod at the Emmys, the show declined in the mid 70s and was ultimately taken off the air in 1976 after a total run of 169 episodes. Today, the show is slowly being released on DVD to be savored by its many fans who loved the show back in the days or grew up with it in reruns. What was entertaining then is blissfully diverting now – Marcus Welby M.D. with its high quality scripts and top notch actors is a true gem.

Seasons one and two available on DVD.

Marcus Welby M.D. pilot episode, “A Matter of Humanities”