Memo from David O. Selznick: The Corinthian, 1943

GreatImaginaryFilm-Caine_zpsfdf9dfa1Georgette Heyer created the “Regency Romance” genre. By 1940, she had published Georgian romances and a mystery and historical novels set during the Regency period. That year, she was working on a detective novel but found herself unable to concentrate on it due to her worries about the war. Instead, she dashed off a lighthearted romance set during the Regency period. The Corinthian would set the pattern for almost two dozen subsequent Heyer works and scores of books by her imitators.

While Heyer enjoyed popular success, critics ignored her work. Despite the cinematic possibilities of her novels, which combine romance, humor, intrigue, and adventure, filmmakers ignored her as well. Only two of her works have received film treatments—The Reluctant Widow became a British film called The Inheritance (1950), and Arabella was the basis for a German film in 1959.

As soon as I read about this blogathon, I knew I wanted to give Heyer life on screen. And, since I was dreaming, I decided to dream big. Few golden-age producers were as successful at adapting books for the screen as David O. Selznick. As a child he absorbed classics like David Copperfield and Anna Karenina, which he later brought to the screen. Throughout his career, he also adapted popular contemporary works, including Portrait of Jennie, Rebecca, and—of course—Gone With the Wind.

After completing the Academy-Award-winning Rebecca, Selznick liquidated his company and took a short break from filmmaking. As Irene Mayer Selznick described in her autobiography A Private View, Selznick was battling depression and amphetamine addiction during this period and found it impossible to make a sustained effort on any picture.

In my imaginary world, however, Selznick came across Heyer’s novel and found in reading it the same diverting escape she found in writing it. Believing that the movie-going public might be ready for a similar diversion, he determined to produce it. Production took place late in 1942 for an early 1943 release.

Producing an imaginary movie has many advantages; the greatest is that you don’t have to worry about studio contracts. In casting my movie, however, I have tried to stay somewhat within the realm of possibility. I nabbed my leading man before he started military service. For my leading lady, I chose a genuine Selznick discovery, although I moved up the date of her breakthrough. For the supporting cast and production staff, I sought people with whom Selznick had previously worked.

What follows are excerpts from Selznick’s imaginary memos about this film. Selznick was a legendary memo writer. In some cases, I have re-purposed his own words from the 1972 collection Memo from David O. Selznick to serve my film’s purposes.

Note: For those unfamiliar with The Corinthian, Wikipedia provides a good plot summary and detailed list of characters.

The Property

To: Miss Katharine Brown

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

I have gone over and carefully thought about The Corinthian. I do feel that it has showmanship values, though it is a very simple and slight story compared to Gone With the Wind or Rebecca. For that reason, I have hopes that it might be simpler to film and relatively inexpensive, and the public might welcome it as an escape from the world situation. Obviously, we do not want to pay a large price for a book by an obscure author, so I would only recommend purchasing it if we can get a good bargain. If your information about Miss Heyer’s finances is correct, we should be able to do so.

The Casting

To: Mr. Daniel O’Shea*

For the role of Pen Creed, I think it is essential that we use a new face. As described by the author, the character is only 17 years old, with an innocent, open demeanor and a hint of merriment. It is essential that we cast someone with a combination of exciting beauty and fresh purity. (Another advantage to a fresh actress is that she won’t object to the haircut required for a character who disguises herself as a boy throughout most of the picture.)

Rhonda Fleming Source: Wikipedia

Rhonda Fleming
Source: Wikipedia

To: Mr. Daniel O’Shea

I am seriously considering Anne Baxter for the role of Pen. She did an excellent test for Rebecca, and the main strike against her was her youth. In The Corinthian, of course, that would be an asset. I have also considered Jennifer, but I don’t think she is the right type for this role.

We have another young woman named Rhonda Fleming under contract, and we are preparing a test for her. Since the plan is to film in Technicolor, her red hair would be an advantage, especially in the scene where Cedric Brandon recognizes her from her lock of hair. Of course, we would have to engage a dialogue coach for extensive work on her accent.

To: Mr. Daniel O’Shea

With Miss Fleming in place, the choice of a leading man with box office stature becomes critical. Heyer’s hero is a world-weary man of fashion, but he has a strong masculine presence that saves him from being a “pretty boy.” The character is about 30, and I think if we cast an actor much older than that, the pairing of him with Miss Fleming will be distasteful.

Robert Taylor Source: Wikipedia

Robert Taylor
Source: Wikipedia

Of course, the great difficulty is that most men of the right age are tied up with military service. The most perfect actor I can imagine for the role is Errol Flynn, but I don’t think this is the time to cast him in a romance with a teen-aged heroine. I’ve heard that we might be able to get Robert Taylor before he starts his service.

To: Mr. Daniel O’Shea

For the supporting characters, I think things will proceed most smoothly if we choose British actors in most cases. We should look at the actors used in Rebecca and Jane Eyre as a starting point. For the character of Lydia, it is important that we choose an actress who comes across as less mature and less clever than our heroine.

The Director

To: Mr. John Hay Whitney

In a director, we need someone with a light touch for comedy and experience with Technicolor. I wish I could use George, who has a great sense of the style of a book and of a picture and who could undoubtedly draw a good performance from Rhonda. Bill Wellman has the experience with color, but I don’t think he would be right for this picture. Someone like John Cromwell might be the safest choice, if we hold Mr. Menzies responsible for the physical aspects of the production and the final word on Technicolor issues.

The Script

To: Miss Katharine Brown

The ideal script, as far as I am concerned, would be one that contained very little original dialog. Dialog is one of the novel’s strengths, so we need a writer who will adapt it as faithfully as possible. Ben Hecht is good at conveying the mood of a novel, but I question whether he’s right because of the English atmosphere. Clemence Dane is a possibility, as is Aldous Huxley.

To: Mr. Aldous Huxley

With such a short novel, I think there is very little that can be cut without hurting the story. Certainly, the opening scene with Richard and his sister and mother should be shortened so the audience can meet the heroine more quickly. I would also recommend keeping the scenes relating to the diamond heist as short as possible. Overall, the film needs to have a brisk pace. Short scenes are at the very essence of good motion-picture making, and one of the great values that we have in this medium, by comparison with the stage.

I agree that the number of characters is high, but most are essential to the story. I don’t think we need to see the father of the Brandon brothers but can imply his character through their actions. I don’t think we need to see Pen’s intended either, which spares us the difficulty of casting a man “with a face like a fish.”

To Mr. Cromwell:

I think we must be very careful in both the script and in the reading of the lines by English actors to avoid anything which might be difficult for an American to understand—as to actual phrasing and as to dialect. This issue is most acute with Jimmy Yarde and his criminal slang. I think we should commission the script girl, or some other American, to watch this point carefully throughout the making of the picture and to call to your attention anything which she thinks is dangerous from this standpoint.

The Production and Post-Production

Beau Brummel. In the novel, he is a friend of the hero.

Beau Brummel. In the novel, he is a friend of the hero.

To: Mr. Cromwell

Regarding the wardrobe, I would like to be as historically accurate in the women’s costumes as possible, avoiding the mess MGM made of Pride and Prejudice. I trust Walter Plunkett and Rene Hubert when it comes to period costumes.

It might be wise to bring in Gile Steele to give the men’s costumes extra attention. Richard’s attention to his clothing is central to his character, but we have to make sure his costumes don’t look ridiculous to modern audiences, even if it means sacrificing some historical accuracy.

To: Max Steiner

In preparing your score, spend whatever time you have free in study of the music of the period.

To: Miss Katharine Brown

I will admit that I have had some concerns about the title, as I don’t think audiences will be familiar with the term as Heyer uses it. Any synonym I can think of, such as “dandy” or “bon vivant” has effeminate connotations we want to avoid. It will probably be best to stay with Heyer’s title and make the meaning clear in the script itself. My experience has been that if a book has succeed with a title that seems a bad picture title, picture producers are foolish to worry about it.

Cast

Richard Wyndham: Robert Taylor
Penelope Creed: Rhonda Fleming
Lord George Trevor: Robert Morley
Lady Louisa Trevor: Agnes Moorehead
Lady Aurelia Wyndham: Gladys Cooper
Melissa Brandon: Valerie Hobson
Beverley Brandon: Eric Blore
Cedric Brandon: Reginald Denny
Piers Luttrell: Hugh Marlowe
Lydia Daubenay: Joan Greenwood
Jimmy Yarde: Gordon Harker
Horace Trimble: Trevor Howard

* Executive Vice President and General Manager, David O. Selznick Productions, Inc.

Advertisements

Assorted Ephemera: My Three Sons Coloring Book (1971)

This month, I am honoring the premiere anniversaries of many classic TV shows. Check back frequently for TV collectibles, fan magazine articles, special editions of Spin Again Sunday, and more. I will also be posting unique content on Facebook and Instagram.

This month, I am honoring the premiere anniversaries of many classic TV shows. Check back frequently for TV collectibles, fan magazine articles, special editions of Spin Again Sunday, and more. I will also be posting unique content on Facebook and Instagram.

My Three Sons premiered on September 29, 1960, and ran for 12 years. The latter half of the show saw many changes for widower Steve Douglas and his family–the show changed networks, switched from black and white to color, and re-located its setting from the Midwest to Southern California (a change prompted by a real-life change in production facilities).

One son married and departed, a new son joined the family through adoption, grandfather Bub left, and salty Uncle Charley took over as caretaker. In its last few years, the all-male cast got an estrogen infusion: Second son Rob married Katie and moved her into the family home; third son Chip eloped with Polly; and Steve married widow Barbara, who had a young daughter.

my three sons coloring book cover

The coloring book barely mentions Polly, though she was part of the show by 1971. I can’t blame Saalfield. The Chip-Polly marriage was an unfortunate development, mainly because the actors playing the newlyweds looked like 12-year-olds.

It’s not hard to imagine what Executive Producer Don Fedderson was thinking when he introduced Barbara’s daughter, Dodie. Family Affair‘s Buffy and her doll Mrs. Beasley were a merchandising gold mine. Collectibles like this coloring book and Dodie paper dolls–both printed by Saalfield–represented attempts to recapture the Buffy magic. Producers even gave Dodie a companion doll, Myrtle.

Abnormally short girl with unlikely name + strange-looking doll = cha-ching!

Unusually short girl with unlikely name + strange-looking doll = cha-ching!

Dodie merchandising didn’t come close to matching the success of Buffy and Mrs. Beasley, though.

This coloring book features “Dodie’s Favorite Things to Do,” a theme that enabled Saalfield to use random toy and teddy bear pictures for about half the content.

The other pages feature the Douglas family. The illustrator does a pretty good job making Steve look recognizable.

The other pages feature the Douglas family. The illustrator does a decent job with the likenesses, especially Fred MacMurray’s.

Rob and Katie’s triplets are in almost as many pictures as Dodie.

Fun fact: The episode featuring the triplets' birth aired on the day I was born.

Fun fact: The episode featuring the triplets’ birth aired on the day I was born.

The coloring book includes paper dolls of the triplets and Dodie.

It also includes this creepiness--kids are supposed to transform it into a picture of what they want to be when they grow up.

It also includes this creepiness. Kids are supposed to transform it into a picture of what they want to be when they grow up.

One of Dodie's own career aspirations is stewardess.

One of Dodie’s own career aspirations is stewardess.

Uncle Charley gets some ink in the coloring book (although it spells his name wrong).

my three sons coloring book uncle charlie

What a fascinating revelation.

The image below is the only one that comes directly from the show.

I take back what I said about the decent likenesses. I think they borrowed this face from a Planet of the Apes coloring book.

I take back what I said about the decent likenesses. I think they borrowed this face from a Planet of the Apes coloring book.

Embarrassing Treasures Field Trip: The Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention 2013

They had me at Margaret O’Brien.

I don’t remember what made me browse the web site for the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention earlier this year, but as soon as I saw Margaret O’Brien on the celebrity list, I ordered my tickets.

MANC takes place each fall in Baltimore. For three days, celebrities make themselves available for autograph signings and Q&A sessions; experts hold seminars on old-time radio, classic television, and classic movie topics; vendors sell movie posters, books, and other collectibles; and classic screen performances play in the Movie Room.

I’ve thought about attending before (and I really wish I’d attended in 2009, when Johnny Whitaker and one-time Family Affair guest star Lee Meriwether were guests). The chance to see my favorite child star in person stirred me into seizing the moment. It’s a sad reality that few golden-age stars remain with us, and we lose more every year.

This was the first nostalgia convention I’ve attended, and what follows is a brief, impressionistic review. Unfortunately, it lacks photos—I forgot to pack my camera, and my iPhone images didn’t turn out well.

Educational Sessions

Mornings at MANC are devoted to presentations on vintage entertainment topics. The presenters are people who’ve invested enormous time into learning about their subject. John C. Abbott, for instance, has produced an exhaustive three-volume work called The Who is Johnny Dollar? Matter about radio’s famous insurance investigator. He’s analyzed not only the remaining recorded episodes but those that exist only in script form. He can tell you everything from Johnny’s address to how many times he’s been shot.

Sally Stephens talked about Gracie Allen’s 1940 run for the presidency, a months-long joke that played out on several radio shows and in live appearances. Stephens effectively integrated radio clips into her presentation, which made her topic come alive.

Joanna Wilson gave a great presentation on TV adaptions of A Christmas Carol. I’d been eagerly anticipating this presentation for two reasons:

  • I love TV Christmas specials and episodes.
  • Wilson is a fellow Classic TV Blog Association member, and I hoped to meet her and to purchase her book, ‘Tis the Season TV.

Wilson’s presentation didn’t disappoint–her passion for her subject matter really came through, and the audience responded with similar enthusiasm. I have to admit that I’m not a big fan of straight A Christmas Carol adaptations. (What does it say about me that my favorite theatrical version features the Muppets?) I still enjoyed learning about all the versions TV has produced, and I was glad that Wilson touched on many of my favorite Dickens-influenced TV episodes, including ones from The Andy Griffith Show, Bewitched, The Avengers, and Family Ties.

It was fun to meet another blogger, and I’m enjoying Wilson’s book, which I highly recommend to all Christmas TV fans.

(Be sure to read her convention recap, too–it has pictures!)

Author Gene Blottner did a presentation on film noir star Audrey Totter and made good use of clips from Totter’s career.

Garyn Roberts, a noted Ray Bradbury scholar, hosted a celebration of the author and gave another talk about Dick Tracy in popular culture.

Celebrity Appearances

As Ed Asner walked into his Q&A session, his cell phone rang. Nodding to the audience, he quipped, “It’s for you.”

This was the perfect introduction for Asner, who was as gruff, unfiltered, and entertaining as you would expect. He had high praise for many of his former co-stars, especially Ted Knight from The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Nancy Marchand from Lou Grant. (He also had high praise for Marchand’s legs.) 

Johnny Crawford from The Rifleman appeared on a panel with Jeff Connors, real-life son of Rifleman star Chuck Connors. Both men recalled the elder Connors with affection. Crawford said that Connors was protective toward him on the set; no director who treated Crawford unkindly would continue working on the show.

Crawford reminisced about some of his favorite guest stars on the show, including John Anderson and Royal Dano. He especially enjoyed working with two-time guest star Sammy Davis Jr., who loved Westerns.

His favorite episodes from the show are “The Pet” and “The Sharpshooter.” (Sam Peckinpah wrote the latter’s script.)

All the talk about the show’s warm father-son dynamic inspired me to make The Rifleman a regular part of my Me-TV viewing.

Crawford also talked his experiences as a first-season Mouseketeer and joked about his crush on Karen, which Cubby thwarted.

Julie Newmar shared a Q&A session with Elizabeth Shepherd, a British actress best known for her role in 1964’s The Tomb of Ligeia, as well as her status as The Avengers‘ first Emma Peel. (Producers quickly replaced her with Diana Rigg, and the scenes that Shepherd shot for the show no longer exist.)

Newmar and Shepherd made an interesting study in contrasts. Newmar was expansive, dramatic, and occasionally random. (She sometimes interrupted Shepherd to ask her an off-the-wall question.) Shepherd was down-to-earth and good at telling stories, as when she described her perilous encounters with trained ravens during the filming of The Omen II.

Newmar said her ballet background gave her the cat-like physique that served her well in her famous Batman role. Her most challenging role was on the short-lived series My Living Doll because it was difficult to find the humanity in her robot character.

An experienced Shakespearean stage actress, Shepherd made an interesting point about theater being a burgeoning new field to the Elizabethans, as social media is to us today. She treated the MANC audience to an excellent dramatic recitation from Shakespeare.

(Note to the loud talker behind me who rarely shut his mouth throughout the Newmar and Shepherd Q&A: Not cool. Seriously. When everyone around you is glaring, it’s time to shut up.)

Margaret O’Brien exuded graciousness throughout her presentation.

She had good things to say about nearly everyone she worked with, from Charles Laughton (“He was wonderful”) to Lionel Barrymore (“He was almost like a grandfather”) to Judy Garland (“She loved children”).

She even had a good relationship with studio head Louis B. Mayer, who wanted to marry her mother, glamorous flamenco dancer Gladys Flores.

O’Brien talked again and again about the supportive, protective role her mother played in her life. Flores made sure that O’Brien got the salary she deserved for Meet Me in Saint Louis. She kept O’Brien in line during the perilous teenage years, once busting her at a nightclub after she sneaked out with Natalie Wood. She kept the child-hating Wallace Beery from stealing O’Brien’s hot lunch on the set of Bad Bascomb. (Beery seemed to be the only person in Hollywood to earn O’Brien’s ire.)

It’s apparent that her mother’s influence kept O’Brien from the pitfalls of child stardom and enabled her to simply enjoy the movie-making process.

O’Brien, who traveled to Japan in 1952 to make the movie Girls Hand in Hand, talked about the importance of travel and getting to know people from other cultures. Again, she praised the influence of her mother, who served as her role model as a strong, independent woman.

“I never feel that I can’t do something,” O’Brien said.

Autographs and Vendors

The welcoming letter in the convention program noted that some people attend only to collect autographs, while skipping all the sessions. I took the opposite approach. I’ve never been an autograph collector, and I feel awkward approaching celebrities–there’s nothing that I could say that they haven’t heard thousands of times. MANC attracts a knowledgeable crowd, so audience members covered most of the questions I would have asked during the Q&A sessions. (I did hope to ask Robert Loggia about his work with Brian Keith on Disney’s Elfego Baca, but Loggia is in frail health, and I couldn’t bring myself to bother him.)

For those who do want to collect autographs, MANC is ideal. Celebrities are available for long periods throughout the three-day conference, so lines stay short, and fans have time to chat with their favorite stars.

Vendor tables lined the main hallway leading to the seminar room. When I didn’t see anything I wanted there, I figured the spending money I brought with me was safe. On the second day, I realized that many more vendors were offering their wares on another floor. I picked up a few vintage books and magazines and a set of Dr. Doolittle paper dolls. I also bought several current books, including books about Peggy Ann Garner and 1950s live television by author Sandra Grabman, who attended the convention.

My only regret was that I didn’t find any good games for future Spin Again Sunday posts.

My overall experience at MANC was wonderful, and I would highly recommend it to all fans of vintage entertainment. The $15-a-day admission price is a small price to pay for seeing your favorite stars in person and hearing from experts on interesting topics. I hope to go again in coming years. (I definitely will if Kathy Garver appears–I’m not missing another Family Affair star!)

H.R. Pufnstuf and the Best School Library Book Ever

test pattern header

Over the next month, I will be honoring the premiere anniversaries of many classic TV shows. Check back frequently for episode recaps, fan magazine articles, special editions of Spin Again Sunday, and more. I will also be posting unique content on Facebook and Instagram.

At the school I attended in fourth grade, the “library” consisted of several shelves lining the end of a hallway between the girls’ and boys’ bathrooms. I didn’t mind the lack of atmosphere, though, because one of those shelves held the best school library book ever–Kids on TV by D.J. Arneson.

From the book’s cover, kids from The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, and other shows smiled out at the reader. The psychedelic colors that tinted their portraits made the book irresistible to the eye.

The book took a catholic approach to its subject, both in terms of the shows featured and the actors it labeled “kids.” (Lou Gossett Jr., for instance, featured as a cast member in The Young Rebels, was 35 when the book hit shelves.) It also included young actors from daytime soap operas, as well as stars from shows that had been cancelled well before its publication, such as Gentle Ben.

Cast members from 24 shows appear in the book’s pages. Because I was reading the book almost a decade after its 1971 publication–and because some of these shows didn’t exactly stand the test of time–some of its entries confounded me. Arnie? The Double Deckers? The Smith Family?

The shows I recognized, however, were shows I adored. And even the entries on the unknown shows provided a fascinating glimpse into the exotic world of child actors. (The book strives to make these young people seem down-to-earth, though. In almost every case, it tells us that they earn straight As in school and enjoy riding their bikes.)

When I would find this book on our library shelves, I’d check it out immediately and renew it to the limits of our librarian’s patience. Finding it on the shelves wasn’t easy, however–other kids loved it as much as I did.

I found my current copy on Ebay, and it also started life in a school library–Pewaukee, Wisconsin, represent! Looking at its cover, you can tell that it passed through many young Wisconsinites’ hands.

About the Author

I didn’t expect to find out much about D.J. Arneson; the authors who wrote these old books aimed at libraries and school book clubs don’t usually leave much of a trace. As it turns out, however, Arneson also edited Dell Comics for almost 10 years. Collectortimes.com published an informative Q&A with Arneson in 2010.

H.R. Pufnstuf

Over the next few weeks, I will share some entries from Kids on TV with you.

I’m starting with H.R. Pufnstuf because today is the 44th anniversary of its premiere–and because I’m sure you’ve always wondered what Jack Wild’s hobbies were. (For the record: Swimming, sculpting, and building model cars.)

 

Other posts you might enjoy:

Spin Again Sunday: H.R. Pufnstuf

Wonder Women of the 80s

Weird Words of Wisdom: Prize Pigs in the Cafeteria Edition

“Don’t show up looking like a beatnik!”–Gay Head

That Freshman Feeling by Judith Unger Scott, 1960
Hi There, High School by Gay Head, 1953 (1972 printing)

About These Books: In honor of back-to-school season, I present these two books about fitting in and standing out as a new high school freshman. Each book’s cover artwork accurately represents the tone its author takes toward readers.

that freshman feeling

These teens are approaching their new school with confidence and just a touch of awe.

hi there high school

This pair is having a nervous breakdown in the high school hallway.

Scott’s book, published for the library market, provides sensible advice about career planning, study habits, and friendship.

The Head tome, a Scholastic Book Club selection, doesn’t trust its readers to walk down the hall properly or to eat ice cream without plunging into the dish head-first.

Guess which book we’ll be concentrating on today?

(Adding to the Head book’s weirdness is its editors’ failure to update it after 20 years. I wonder what 1970s teens made of its references to jalopies, Nat King Cole, fountain pens, dance bands, and Bob Hope.)

Bad Examples

To show us what not to do in any situation, Head invents a gaggle of social misfits.

Consider, for example, the way these “traffigoons” handle something as simple as walking down the hall:

  • Breezy Jones “doesn’t mind bumping into people. He’s big and tough, and he acts as if it’s the Other Person’s fault for getting in the way.”
  • Buzz Newton “weaves in and out of traffic, whoo-whooing like a train whistle.”
  • Jessie James elbows people and bangs doors in their faces. “Bang-Bang Jessie. Still playing Wild West, when the rest have put away their pistols.”
  • Gertrude Gates “keeps everybody guessing, herself included,” by making sudden stops.

What’s in Jessie James’ messy locker? “Two library books; six textbooks containing notes, pictures, and papers; three ancient and tattered copies of the school paper; two fountain pen tops, no bottoms; one bottle of ink, no stopper; a stack of notebook paper splotched with ink; two and one half pencils; an old notebook cover; a battered violin case containing a wadded-up sweater and a worn-out gym shoe; a couple of smashed ping-pong balls; one glove; a cracked bottle of nail polish; a comb with three teeth in it; four dirty handkerchiefs; a stale sandwich and a banana peeling from yesterday’s lunch.” Except for the fountain pens, ink, and handkerchiefs, this sounds a lot like my car.

Questions that Head suggests students ask about their new school: “Must you have a school permit to park your bike or jalopy in the school parking lots? Is it all right for boys to wear jeans or dungarees? Shirts without neckties? May girls come to school with their hair in curlers?”

Fashion Tips

“A boy’s pressed suit and clean shirt, with harmonizing tie and socks, will fetch up more favorable comments than the latest craze in wild combinations.”

“One suit—plus changes of sweaters and shirts—equals many costumes. One dress with different accessories (collar, scarf, belt, or jewelry) can double for school and dates. Team up your wardrobe so that it works as smoothly as a well-trained backfield. You’re calling signals!”

More Wisdom from Hi There, High School

“The sophomore wags who try to sell you locker tickets, elevator permits, and season passes to the swimming pool are not to be trusted. But if you fall for one of their gags, take it with a grin. Your fun will come next year!”

“You’ll really be in the swing of things at Central High this year if you start by learning all you can about your school.” She recommends boning up on school history and tradition. That stuff actually interested me when I was in high school, but somehow my knowledge didn’t catapult me into popularity.

“Don’t make the cafeteria a circus ring for showing off some prize pig tricks!” Are there prize pigs in the circus? Sounds more like the county fair.

“Eat ice cream a spoonful at a time. Licking and lapping are kittenish tricks.”

On dance conversation: “If you converse, talk about the music and your favorite dance bands or vocalists, or ask your partner a leading question about his favorite sports, entertainment, or hobbies. This is neither the time nor place to display your knowledge of atomic energy, guided missiles, or supersonic speed.”

“Constipation, unless due to organic causes, can be controlled by proper diet. Don’t get the pill habit!

“Don’t wear your feelings on the outside. If they stick out like a porcupine’s needles, they’re going to bump into plenty of trouble.”

“A shrill voice grates on the ears. A squeaky voice makes everything you say sound silly. A guttural voice creates the impression of harshness. A whiny voice sounds ill-humored. A booming voice alienates listeners. A monotone puts them to sleep.” Sheesh–you can’t win here.

“Are you a Mumbler, a Word-Swallower, a Word-Mixer? You may be as wise as Einstein or as “wisecrack” as Bob Hope, but people won’t listen to your witticisms unless they can understand what you say.”

“Imagine that it’s New Year’s Eve in the year 1999! In a few minutes, the bells will ring and the year 2000 A.D. will be ushered in. That will be a big event in your lives, for most of you will be alive to celebrate the beginning of the new century. You’ll be the parents or grandparents, then, shocked (no doubt!) about the ‘wild ways’ of teen-agers. You’ll be running the factories, the stores, and the offices. Some of you will be mayors, governors, and senators. One of you may be the President!”

Wisdom from That Freshman Feeling

“If your friendliness and good manners extend only to a small, accepted social group, you’re a snob! ‘Wait a minute,’ you may say, ‘am I supposed to make friends with a collection of all the odd characters?’ No, of course not. But you shouldn’t ignore or reject them.”

“Delicious stuff to eat makes any party a howling success.”

“Every few years a new fad hits the high school. For no reason at all—it seems to come out of the atmosphere—the boys develop a passion for red sweaters or the girls wear green nail polish. Next year it may be crazy haircuts or dinky hats.” Dinky hats seem to be berets. See, for instance, this wonderful headline from 1931–“Gay berets sit atop male heads: Dinky hats in wild colors rage at Palm Beach.”

“In some families, a telephone timing system is worked out and it can be very successful for young people and grownups alike. A ten-minute timer is purchased and set at the beginning of every telephone conversation. When it goes off, the talk is terminated and the party cannot be re-called for at least a half hour.”

“Some girls whose goal is to be a wife and mother use these inherent talents in their job selection. They prepare themselves for a job that will make them more efficient in homemaking. For instance, the girl who has the money and ability to go on to college may study to be a home economist, or she may enter a hospital for nurse’s training.”

About the Authors: The semi-mythical Gay Head is an old friend of this blog. Scott was one of many writers who specialized in advice books for teenagers. Hers have especially nice titles, including Lessons in Loveliness, Pattern for Personality, The Art of Being a Girl, and The Bride Looks Ahead. According to her dust jacket bio, she also hosted a radio show for teenagers and “conducted classes in personality, beauty, and manners.” She once worked for Ladies Home Journal, a launching pad for many of our Weird Words of Wisdom authors. Scott died in 2001.

Other Weird Words of Wisdom posts you might enjoy:

Speak Softly and Carry a Hot Breakfast Edition

Where the Boys Are (You’d Better Wear a Skirt) Edition

Betty Betz and Vintage Teen Etiquette That Rhymes Edition

Weird Words of Wisdom: A Swing in Your Walk and a Gleam in Your Eye Edition

“Trouble with you thinker types is you are always so SURE people will act the way you think they should logically act. I gather you aren’t really in favor of teen-age hanky-panky, but you believe the boy must exercise as much restraint as the girl. I agree: This would be just peachy keeno, but life isn’t like that. Males are the conquerors and females, the limit setters. I doubt you moderns can ever eliminate this double standard, and if you do, Heaven help the men! When they are no longer the aggressors, they may become slaves, for many women won’t stop at ‘equality.’”

This girl NEEDS help. A creepy guy is following her around and staring at her. (I think he's trying to figure out her hairstyle.)

This girl NEEDS help. A creepy guy is following her around and staring at her. (I think he’s trying to figure out her hairstyle.)

Helen Help Us by Helen Bottel, 1970

About this Book and Its Author: If mid-century advice columnists were colas, Abby and Ann would be Coke and Pepsi. Helen Bottel? She was RC. Her syndicated column, “Helen Help Us,” ran for 25 years in about 200 papers that were apparently too cheap to spring for one of the bigger names.

Bottel entered the advice game on a dare from husband and began writing a column in her local Oregon paper in 1958. Not lacking chutzpah, Bottel sent her work to King Features Syndicate within three weeks of starting her column. Remarkably, they snapped her up.

Her column wasn’t specifically aimed at teens, but she acknowledged that they were her most frequent correspondents. In this 1970 collection, the letters are exclusively from teens and young adults, and Bottel concerns herself mainly with helping them resist the society’s growing sexual licentiousness. Judging from the letters, it’s an uphill battle; most of them seem to be from girls who “gave in” and regretted it.

Actually, the letters are weirder than most of the advice Bottel gives, and the predicaments the writers find themselves in disabuse one of the notion that they date from a more innocent time. Correspondents include a 16-year-old who’s seeking a divorce from her abusive husband; a high school girl who’s dating an alcoholic 13 years older than she; a girl whose 15-year-old friend “ran away to be with the hippies” and ended up pregnant and with a case of VD; and a 19-year-old guy who’s attracted to a 14-year-old girl (“I’m not going to tell you she is mature in looks and mind because she isn’t, but I feel she has the basic personality traits I look for in a girl.”)

Bottel’s own background was troubled, according to a 1986 People magazine article. Her father deserted the family when she was two, and her mentally ill mother died when Bottel was 15. A caring foster mother put her on the road toward success.

She sometimes used the slangy, quip-heavy style that Ann and Abby relied upon in their early years. Generally, she seemed sincere in her efforts to help, however. All those who wrote in—more than 3,500 per year–received a personal response in the mail.

She gave up her column in 1983, explaining, “I was tired of being the third person in a two-person market.” At around the same time, she attracted the attention of the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, which gave her a fresh outlet for her advice and whose readers relished her American perspective.

Bottel died in 1999.

A Note About My Edition: This 75-cent Tempo paperback wasn’t bound with great care. From page 56, it skips to page 89. Then, after page 114, it goes back to page 89 and starts from there again. I’m missing 33 pages of potentially weird wisdom!

When Weird Words of Wisdom Worlds Collide: Bottel recommends a book by Evelyn Duvall.

Extreme Weirdness Alert: Bottel’s book includes a bizarre letter from a girl who befriended a male TV star’s daughter. When the girls returned home 15 minutes past curfew due to a flat tire, the TV star was angry and got into an argument with the letter-writer, who ended up throwing a hairbrush at him. He, then, took the hairbrush and gave her “a real hard spanking.” This letter doesn’t entirely ring true, unless the TV star was Pat Boone.

Quotes from Helen Help Us

“You can’t turn a boy on and expect him not to catch on fire.”

“With immaturity, poverty, jealousy, distrust, an overdose of ‘family,’ and a slight case of mental illness against it, this marriage has as much of a chance for success as the Penguin against Batman.”

“You kids and a ‘real formal’ adult ball would go together like the Monkees and a minuet.”

“One girl’s wet blanket is another girl’s comforter.”

To an 18-year-old male whose parents won’t let him date: “Nothing will solve your problem faster than the draft. The Army may not be the easiest way to cut apron-strings, but it’s the most effective.”

“If a girl doesn’t stand on ‘Three slaps and you’re out,’ she may REALLY strike out on the fourth pitch.”

“Work on your looks and personality so that fellows will see the sparkle first and discover the sympathy as an added dividend. Change that ‘anxious-to-please’ smile to a friendly grin. Put a swing in your walk and a gleam in your eye. Let men know you’re a female-type girl. That’s all it takes.”

“…males being males, and females being forever feminine, ‘equal rights’ will always be shot full of loopholes.”

“Wild parties make you ‘in,’ all right—TROUBLE!”

“Nice girls don’t advertise—they wait to be discovered.”

“This ‘Pill for All’ bit is something like letting girls visit in men’s dormitory rooms. Much drumbeating, but where it’s allowed, who visits? Almost no one.”

“A kiss shouldn’t make promises a girl doesn’t plan to keep, and if it’s lacking in ‘technique,’ so much the better. As I’ve said before, a kiss is like a salesman’s spiel: If it’s too perfect, you suspect he’s had so much practice he couldn’t possibly be sincere.”

Other Weird Words of Wisdom Posts You Might Enjoy:

“Take It on the Chin, Gal” Edition

Swearing, Shouting, and Backslapping Edition

Twin Sister Smackdown Edition

Weird Words of Wisdom: Clean, Humorous, and Sprightly Edition

Weird Words of Wisdom is back, bringing you more sage advice from vintage teenage advice manuals!

“Have the greatest of respect for girls. Some will lose their heads and be foolish at times. Retain your poise and judgment and keep them in their place.”

Advice for Boys, 1947 (1954 printing)
By the Rev. T.C. Siekmann

About This Book and Its Author: Advice for Boys offers exactly what its title promises. The Reverend Theodore C. Siekmann was a Catholic priest, so much of the book deals with specifically Catholic topics—the Mass, the rosary, and sainthood. Fortunately for us, Siekmann includes a smattering of weird advice on more typical teenage preoccupations.

I haven’t been able to find much information about the Rev. Siekmann. He served at St. Joseph Church in Prairie Du Rocher, Illinois, from 1956 to 1968, and at St. Luke’s in Belleville, Illinois, from 1968 until retirement in 1982. He also did missionary work in Guatemala.

His book’s jacket indicates that he taught physical education and served as a sports coach as well as a religious educator. This background may explain his touching faith in athletics’ ability to keep people out of trouble. (Ask Aaron Hernandez how that’s working for him.)

Siekmann also wrote a book for girls. I haven’t been able to get my hands on it, but it sounds awesome.

Quotes from Advice for Boys

“If you are not happy, then something is wrong with you.”

“Athletics is good, very good…When you are all absorbed in a game, you think of nothing else, you want nothing else. Evil can wait.”

“Say a word of appreciation to your mother occasionally. Compliment her on her pie or cake. Praise the roast. Notice and mention the neat ironing she does for you.”

“At all times there is a supply of current slang expressions that are clean, humorous, and sprightly. A sprinkling of these innocent phrases will add zest to your conversation, without giving offense.”

“One girl among your present acquaintances may be yours till death. At any rate, she will probably be someone’s wife. Treat her even now as God’s noble gift to man, as a mother-to-be. Protect her virtue; guard her innocence. Keep her good for her future husband, whether it is you or Jack or Jim.”

“Personality may be summarized by three words: truth, cleanliness, and a smile.”

“When a room is cold, do not complain. Suffer it in a spirit of mortification. When the summer is hot and humid, smile and bear it for God. When you do not like food, do not complain.”

“Raising chickens is a fine hobby, and supplies fresh eggs for the table. If the location of your home permits, you might raise rabbits, pheasants or foxes, or other fur-bearing animals. All this will be at a considerable profit, in addition to the wholesome enjoyment which you will derive from your activity.”

On becoming a priest: “In short, almost all that you need to do is to enter a seminary and be willing to do what you are told.”

Other Weird Words of Wisdom posts you might enjoy:

Mugging, Smooching, and Flinging the Woo Edition

Embracing our Nature and Destiny Edition

Big Splendid Manhood Edition