“As my father used to say, a reporter has to do a lot of sweating before he earns the right to perspire.”
During her successful tenure in motion pictures, Hollywood’s sweetheart, Doris Day has starred alongside some of the top ranks of the film industry, and formed memorable partnerships with Rock Hudson and James Garner, but when she joined forces with Clark Gable, audiences faced the unexpected collaboration with trepidation only to discover that both stars were about to ascend to an even higher pinnacle.
The year was 1958. Clark Gable was in his twilight days of his career and would pass away two years later from an arterial blood clot, while Doris Day was hitting triumphant peaks after broadening her range and taking on dramatic roles in critically acclaimed productions. The last thing the movie going public expected to see was a sex driven rom-com titled Teacher’s Pet, starring the two stars.
The thought of an aging Gable pursuing Day’s character appalled most people, but surprisingly the initial scathing reactions were for nothing. The film was an immediate success, and fans of the two leading players were left campaigning for more Doris Day and Clark Gable vehicles.
The famous husband and wife writing duo, Michael and Fay Kanin were the instrumental force behind the fireworks that Doris Day and Clark Gable emanated. The Kanin’s who received an Academy Award nomination for their work in the Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn production, Woman of the Year ( 1942 ), provided the film with a screenplay that was phenomenal in character development and astute, witty and acidic in dialogue, while director George Seaton commendably controls the picture with the accelerator on full speed.
In the academic world of journalism, altercations brew and problems arise, but when James Gannon ( Clark Gable ), the newspaper editor for the Evening Chronicle collides with journalism professor, Erica Stone ( Doris Day ), perplexing dilemmas ensue.
The turbulence begins when James Gannon is invited to give a lecture at Erica Stone’s night class. Gannon who disagrees with journalism school being practical for learning the craft, rejects the offer and sends a letter of contempt to Stone, but when he is summoned to the office of his boss, he is forced to attend the class that night. Reluctantly he agrees, and upon his arrival a series of comical events take place when James Gannon masquerades as an artistically inclined student named Jim Gallagher in order to win the affections of Erica Stone.
Teacher’s Pet is an engaging tale that delves into the many obstacles that can occur in the journalism industry. When you get somebody likes James Gannon who preaches that hands on experience is the key to learning journalism, contempt and disrespect can easily be fueled from the educational beliefs of the professors who teach the subject. In Erica Stone’s case, she was not just a lecturer. She inherited her knowledge from her father who was a highly respected, Pulitzer Prize winning newspaperman for the Eureka Bulletin in his day. At first James does not willingly want to accept this fact, and this is part of the reason why he presents himself as Jim Gallagher and conjures up the story about him working for the wallpaper trade, but has pursued journalism after his reporter friend suggested that he change career paths. As time progresses however, James starts to realize that experience is the jockey, and education is the horse.
In Teacher’s Pet all cast members are given the opportunity to shine in their respective roles. Doris Day is perfectly cast as the headstrong Erica Stone, a worldly woman who exudes innate knowledge, and is not afraid to prove her expertise even when her powers are being challenged by the brash James Gannon posing as Jim Gallagher. At college, her journalism students consider her to be the pillar of strength and courage. She devotes her time to her students and provides them with enough skills to pursue a career in journalism.
“How could you give up a real newspaper job for teaching?”
“Well, that’s a very good question, Mr. Gallagher. Maybe for the same reason that occasionally a musician wants to be a conductor, he wants to hear a hundred people play music the way he hears it.”
Clark Gable on the other hand, is a scene stealer. James Gannon embodies all the ingredients of an obstinate hard-nosed city editor who commits all his energy to his career. He inhabits the belief that experience should take higher precedence over education, and that the only way to succeed in the industry is to work from the ground up. Many people have later stated that Rock Hudson would have been more suited to the role as James Gannon, but I personally feel that Clark Gable with his ruggedly charms was tailor made for the part.
In the middle of this onerous entanglement is Gig Young who received an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Dr. Hugo Pine, a psychologist whose knowledge and skills supposedly encompass every chapter of an encyclopedia. For most part of the movie, Dr. Pine is the object of Gannon’s jealously. He believes that Erica is Hugo’s love interest until he discovers that they are only collaborating on a book together. Eventually Gannon meets Dr. Pine at a birthday dinner, and automatically his frustration levels flare when he sees that Dr. Pine is an insufferable wise guy who claims that he has more degrees than a thermometer.
The entire night club scene is one of the memorable highlights of Teacher’s Pet. A large majority of people were enthused when actress, Mamie Van Doren made an appearance in what is known today as her most pivotal role as Peggy DeFore, the singer of the club who seems to be attracted to James Gannon. But for me, the main focal point of this particular scene is when Erica, James and Hugo are leaving the club to board a taxi when an intoxicated Dr. Pine passes out from all the alcohol his consumed.
The filming of Teacher’s Pet was a monumental occasion for Doris Day, but on the home front, Doris was left emotionally distraught after hearing the news that her brother, Paul had suddenly passed away shortly before the film commenced. In the months leading up to his death, Paul had been working on publicity for the musical aspects of Arwin productions, and had recently moved to Los Angeles with his wife and children. It has been said that Day’s husband, Martin Melcher contributed a lot to his death, though others state that his prolific work schedule coupled with a baseball incident of his youth and his constant seizures played a large part in his passing.
Exacerbating the grief and anguish that Doris was experiencing were the problems fueled from Mamie Van Doren. In her autobiography, Van Doren wrote, “I had looked forward to meeting Doris Day. A mutual friend of ours, Charlotte Hunter, a dance coach from Universal, told me what a warm, friendly person Doris was. Doris had always been one of my favorite singers, with hits like, “It’s Magic”. I had also become a fan of her movies after seeing Love Me Or Leave Me, in which she played opposite James Cagney. Nevertheless, our first meeting on the Teacher’s Pet set was far from what I expected. Doris ignored me when we were introduced and proceeded to conduct herself like a spoiled star. George Seaton and Gable had to stoically bear her tantrums and disagreeable attitude.”
According to Mamie Van Doren, Doris was the villain while Mamie played the victim, but in truth, Van Doren and her uncouth personality inflamed Day’s hostility and pretentious behavior towards her. Despite those difficulties, Doris Day’s time on the set of Teacher’s Pet was joyous and rewarding.
“Newspapers can’t compete in reporting what happened any more, but they can and should tell the public why it happened.”
Clark Gable also marked Teacher’s Pet as a significant turn in his career. He was that proud of his contributions to the film that he agreed to plug it at that years Oscar ceremony when he and Doris was asked about presenting the award for Best Scriptwriter.
After Teacher’s Pet, Clark Gable would only appear in three more movies, his last film being The Misfits ( 1961 ), where he was cast opposite Marilyn Monroe. Sadly, Gable passed away on November 16th, 1960, leaving behind his wife of six years and a long legion of friends. Doris Day later stated, “He was as masculine as any man I’ve ever known, and as much a little boy as a grown man could be – it was this combination that had such a devastating effect on women.”
For Doris Day, Teacher’s Pet opened the door to an array of endless opportunities as well as planting her in a reputable position in Hollywood. The following year she was cast in Pillow Talk, her first of three films made with her close friend Rock Hudson. Her success continued throughout the 1960’s, and in 1968 after filming With Six You Get Eggroll, Doris Day retired from motion pictures to embark on her auspicious journey as an animal welfare activist.
Cary Grant and James Stewart both turned down the role of James Gannon because they knew they were too old for the part.
The movie was deliberately filmed in black and white in an attempt to disguise Clark Gable‘s age and weight.
Doris Day and her husband Martin Melcher threw a party for the visiting press and other cast members at their recently-purchased Beverly Hills home, even though they had not yet renovated it or moved in. The original plan was to stage a garden party and barbecue in the backyard. However, half an hour before the guests were due, it began to rain, so everyone ended up in the house, on the floor because there was no furniture.
Doris Day: Born, Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff on April 3rd, 1922 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Aged 96.
Clark Gable: Born, William Clark Gable on February 1st, 1901 in Cadiz, Ohio. Died: November 16th, 1960 in West Hollywood, California. Aged 59. Cause of death: Coronary Thrombosis.
Gig Young: Born, Byron Elsworth Barr on November 4th, 1913 in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Died: October 19th, 1978 in New York. Aged: 64. Cause of death: Gunshot wound/ Murder, suicide.
Happy 96th Birthday Doris, and here’s to 96 more.
This post was written for the Second Annual Doris Day Blogathon, hosted by Love Letters To Old Hollywood. To read the other entries being exhibited during the event, please click here.