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to the 1940 union of young contract players Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman, the studio's production end didn't feel compelled to bind the couple to an "A" project. They would make only two films together between their nuptials and Reagan's departure for his WWII service, neither reaching more than second feature status. The first of these, An Angel from Texas (1940), reunited the Reagans with Eddie Albert and Wayne Morris, their co-stars in the popular military academy comedy Brother Rat (1938). It's a pleasant enough farce, with its success being largely attributable to the agreeable star roster of Warner second-teamers.
Whatever Warners paid for the rights to the early George S. Kaufman opus The Butter and Egg Man, it was a bargain for the sheer volume of use that the studio received. Beyond a direct adaptation in 1928, its premise--that of a cash-flush patsy inveigled into backing a stage production--was also recycled for The Tenderfoot (1932), Hello, Sweetheart (1935), Dance Charlie Dance (1937), and Three Sailors and a Girl (1953). Here, the naif is Peter Coleman (Albert), an amiable Texan who has backed the ambitions for Broadway stardom of his girlfriend Lydia (Rosemary Lane).
Unfortunately, the closest that Lydia has come to the footlights has been a secretarial job with the spurious producers Mac McClure (Morris) and Marty Allen (Reagan). The impresarios are desperate to salvage their latest project, and Allen's purse-string-controlling spouse Marge (Wyman) is no help. The minute Peter shows up in NYC with his family's $20,000 life savings, McClure and Allen immediately try to rid him of his foolish plans to invest the cash in a hotel. Peter, however, isn't as green as the producers had hoped; he makes his backing contingent on Lydia's being given the lead. Worse, this turn of events makes the previously cast diva Valerie Blayne (Ruth Terry) and her mob-connected admirers very unhappy.
Dependable house "B" director and onetime Sennett apprentice Ray Enright kept the farce moving at a good clip--he should have been familiar enough with the material, having helmed the aforementioned The Tenderfoot for frequent collaborator Joe E. Brown. Still, An Angel from Texas did middling business and not a great deal to advance either of the newlyweds' careers. In Jane Wyman: The Actress and the Woman (Dembner Books), biographer Lawrence J. Quirk quoted a mid-'60s conversation with veteran screen journalist Ruth Waterbury. "In the 1940 period the Warner people were patronizing them almost contemptuously and treating them as if they were a couple of young bubblehead pretty-types long on muscles [his] and curves [hers] but short on brains or real talent. What a surprise those two turned out to be later!"
The next feature Reagan and Wyman performed in together--Tugboat Annie Sails Again (1940)-- would prove to be the last. They'd be among the many Warner luminaries making cameos in the Doris Day vehicle It's a Great Feeling (1949), released the year of their divorce. Quirk offered an oddly prescient anecdote from actress Joy Hodges in his tome concerning the waning days of the marriage. "Jane said one prophetic thing to me...a short time before the announcement of their breakup. I said I was aware that she and Dutch did not seem too happy during their last trip to New York, and she replied, 'Well, if he is going to be President, he is going to get there without me.'"
Producer: Robert Fellows
Director: Ray Enright
Screenplay: Fred Niblo, Jr., Bertram Millhauser, based on the play "The Butter and Egg Man" by George S. Kaufman
Cinematography: Arthur L. Todd
Art Direction: Esdras Hartley
Music: Howard Jackson
Film Editing: Clarence Kolster
Cast: Eddie Albert (Peter Coleman), Rosemary Lane (Lydia Weston), Wayne Morris (Mac McClure), Jane Wyman (Marge Allen), Ronald Reagan (Marty Allen), John Litel (Gordon Quigley).
BW-69m. Closed Captioning.
by Jay S. Steinberg