Good stuff from the book none of which is remotely in the movie:
Kitty Foyle (1940)
I finished re-reading Christopher Morley's excellent, deftly told, first-person narrative of an American "shanty" Irish girl's life story as of her 28th year in 1939 seconds before re-viewing the film Kitty Foyle (1940), for the first time since the (first?) Clinton administration. I hope I speak for every woman my darling late grandmother's age (coincidentally within one year of the heroine Kitty Foyle and her portrayer, Ginger Rogers) when I say, "What the hell with the opening montage?! Said context-setting kick in the ovaries implies that white collar girls gave up chivalry and decorous baby-making for (whaddyacallit) citizenship, which, naturally, means no more pedestal-placing by men, more rudeness on streetcars, and less pay and no recognition for the same work forever.
You asked for it, Girlie.
And the film, thereafter, cedes the humanness and agency of the book's heroine and devolves into a kind of love triangle completely dissociated from the message of the book from which it was adapted -- by no less than Dalton Trumbo and Donald Ogden Stewart. So, yeah, it's a disappointing book-to-screen translation. Ginger Rogers won an Academy Award for her performance, but I'd like to think she'd have had a better time with the original text.
The novel is the story of Katherine "Kitty" Foyle, a young woman coming of age in Philadelphia in the late 1920s. She is the youngest child in a working class family with modest expectations of social mobility through public education and American ingenuity. Kitty's mother dies when the girl is not yet a teenager and she sent to live with her aunt and uncle in a Chicago suburb. There she makes friends and develops ambitions, but must foreswear the college she is admitted to in order to care for her father who has had a stroke back in Philly. Fundamentally, it is about how a young girl navigates a life between a city and suburb in two different states, the friendships she forms, and how she comes to make her way in the world during one of the most difficult economic and social times in our history.
Let me pause to point out that this book was written nearly 80 years ago by a man approaching 50 in the credible voice of a twenty-something woman. Christopher Morley is surprisingly adept and insightful as the narrator. Like most of his books, it crackles with wonderful dialog in the first few chapters, repeats itself somewhat tediously in the middle, then picks up again at the end. In Kitty Foyle there is much observation about the difference between Men and Women, which becomes a bit of a snooze with repetition after one marvels at how nothing much has changed in that regard since the book was written. Also, Morley never has had the heart to "kill his darlings," so redundant aphorisms tend to abound. The important thing is that our heroine falls in love with a man outside her class, has a happy sexual relationship with him, gets pregnant, then terminates that pregnancy (because she has access to a safe one, as white women in certain circles have always had) rather than upset the father's comfortable life and goes on to enjoy a healthy career, a new (if less volatile) romance, and a solid group of friends and family who love her. That's the book.
The film, however, downplays both the fundamental intelligence of its heroine and the moral weakness of her love interest and inflates the influence of the men in her life. The movie would have you believe that Kitty was attracted to the wealthy Philadelphia set her whole life; whereas the book only mentions them as a touchstone for her paper doll fantasies. The fact that her lover turns out to be one of the Philadelphia Main Line is a point of intense difficulty for her in the novel, not one of aspiration as the film suggests. The men in the film are given all the "good" lines about the nature of life and work.
Which is excessively annoying to one who has, literally, just put down the book.
Wyn Strafford, the weakling socialite in question, is played admirably in the film, if not faithfully to the novel, by Dennis Morgan. In the book Wyn is the kind of guy who has had things so softened for him by circumstance than any risk he might possibly conceive to undertake is utterly circumscribed by the narrow confines of his privilege. And Kitty is fully aware that while fundamentally a sweet guy, Wyn is ill-equipped to meet her at the level of her own experience.
Let's take the magazine Wyn starts and which employs young Kitty Foyle. In the book they have already begun their love affair when Wyn tries his hand at publishing and she is already accustomed to correcting his spelling and editing his clumsy prose to make him come across more erudite than he is. Wyn started the mag to prove that he could make it on his own outside the family banking business, with just his own pluck, a couple of bored fraternity brothers, and the $10,000 nut his father gave him -- you know, boot straps.
The film would have you think that Kitty is learning from Wyn in this endeavor, which is quite wrong. In the book, she knows the venture will fail from the start, because it's a copy of the New Yorker and Philly isn't that kind of town and Kitty knows something about regular people and their tastes. Kitty also knows, that when the magazine folds (and it will) that she is the one who will be left struggling to find work to support herself and her dying father (another element left out of the movie).
But Kitty loves Wyn. A lot. So much, that she has a protracted and glorious love affair with him, even though it is 1930-ish, they are not married, and the class difference between them would be impossible for Wyn to overcome. "There never was anybody whose whole existence was so settled upon a whole lot of people doing a comfortable makebelieve" she says in the book. Wyn himself "knew nothing of life, all its small anxieties and makeshifts, problems of grocery bills and insurance and clean clothes..."
Nevertheless, Kitty goes all in knowing this about Wyn and knowing that she risks so very much more, because she is a woman and "when a woman gives up her conventions she's really handing you something." Kitty knows Wyn is clueless about his privilege as both a rich person and also as a man. So when at about the same time she discovers, via the society column, that Wyn has become engaged to a more suitable someone else, she also discovers, via the calendar, that she is pregnant, she decides never to tell him. In the book, she terminates the pregnancy, because she knew "Wyn wasn't big enough to have a bastard; or the folks he had to live with wouldn't let him be. It would be making people unhappy for the sake of somebody that didn't really exist yet."
The film has them marry before she gets pregnant and divorced before she gives birth to a dead child. Because that's so much better. Wyn knows nothing of her pregnancy or the possibility that he may have to provide for it had it lived; it didn't and he won't ever have had to.
Meanwhile, Kitty has affable Dr. Mark Eisen (James Craig) in the wings; more front-and-center and WASP-y in the film, more peripheral and Jewish in the book.
Which reminds me... as much as I love Christopher Morley (see photo below) his work contains several encrusted passe tropes of his time, including liberal use of the Black "dialect" and several words we just don't use anymore, and that can be a little rough in the reading. There are even some barnacles I hadn't realized we'd already shucked. For instance, Kitty refers several times to having to overcome her race prejudice to consider Mark as a potential husband, and each time she mentioned it, it took me a moment to realize she was talking about Jews and not Black people.
I forgot about that, even though in real life at approximately the same time my late grandfather was obliged to attend Middlesex University (now Brandeis) for medical school, because it was the only one in his neck of the woods that didn't have a Jewish quota. The girl he married was my aforementioned darling grandmother, a white collar working (Jewish) girl who may or may not have inspired Christopher Morley himself to write a poem about her, a lovely young woman on a subway in New York -- family apocryphra I prefer to think is true, if not even remotely verified, thank you very much. All of which makes me wonder, when did we Jews make the transition to white?
In sum, if you haven't seen Kitty Foyle the film, read the book instead and if you've only read the book, don't see the film: it will annoy you for not retaining the excellent dialog or telling the right story. Either way, read the book and give the picture a miss. The clothes are great and the boys are handsome, but it's got none of the friendships, family, or true feeling of the real Kitty Foyle.
I'll do just about anything a movie tells me to do. Unless it tells me wrong...
Proud Member Of