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In the charming romantic comedy Teacher's Pet (1958), Clark Gable is at his curmudgeonly best playing James Gannon, a tough-as-nails newspaperman who believes a degree from the school of hard knocks is far more valuable than one from any university. Doris Day plays Erica Stone, a journalism teacher at a local college who believes just the opposite. With the goal of proving that higher education is hooey, Gannon enrolls in Stone's class incognito. It isn't long before sparks fly between the unlikely pair, but first they must get past their seemingly fundamental differences.
The husband and wife writing team of Fay and Michael Kanin wrote the original screenplay for Teacher's Pet. They originally conceived the story as a drama. However, after several studios turned the project down, the Kanins rewrote it as a romantic comedy and finally sold it to Paramount. Both Cary Grant and James Stewart are rumored to have turned down the role of James Gannon before it was given to Gable.
Doris Day had just finished a difficult shoot on The Pajama Game (1957) when she was offered Teacher's Pet. She had been planning to take some time off, but when she heard that her leading man would be Clark Gable, she jumped at the chance. Day had grown up watching Gable's films and was a big fan. When filming began on Teacher's Pet, she liked Gable immediately and found his unpretentiousness refreshing. "When Clark came on the set in the morning," she says in her 1976 autobiography Doris Day: Her Own Story, "I could actually feel the magnetic force of his personality...There was something very affirmative about him, and a directness that suggested great inner strength."
Sultry Mamie Van Doren, who plays Gable's chippie girlfriend Peggy, was also fond of Gable. In her 1987 autobiography Playing the Field: My Story, Van Doren says that her agent told her that Clark Gable had personally requested her for the supporting role after seeing her in the Warner Bros. commissary. Though both Van Doren and Gable were married at the time, she claims that there was a strong attraction between them during the shoot that came dangerously close to an affair. According to Van Doren, Gable told her that she reminded him of his late wife Carole Lombard.
Van Doren was excited to work with Doris Day, whom she had long admired. However, according to Van Doren, Day wanted nothing to do with her. "Doris ignored me when we were introduced," she writes, "and proceeded to conduct herself like a spoiled star. [Director] George Seaton and Gable had to stoically bear her tantrums and disagreeable attitude." Day's "cold" attitude, according to Van Doren, never warmed, "...and mercifully," she says, "we saw little of each other during the film."
Mamie Van Doren had more complimentary things to say about director George Seaton, whose style she found had a "calm assurance." "No one could've been cooler and more in control than Seaton," she says in her autobiography. "The set was his set. He worked with a gentle power that commanded the respect of his entire crew...The two weeks I spent shooting Teacher's Pet at Paramount were over all too quickly. The experience was one of the high points of my career."
Teacher's Pet received Academy Award nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Gig Young, who almost steals the show in the hilarious role of Day's nerdy boyfriend, Dr. Hugo Pine.
Doris Day sings the catchy title song by Joe Lubin, which was a solid hit for her, while Mamie Van Doren belts out "The Girl Who Invented Rock and Roll" in one memorable scene. Watch for a very young Marion Ross (aka Mrs. Cunningham from Happy Days) in a small role as Day's teaching assistant.
Producers: William Perlberg and George Seaton
Director: George Seaton
Screenplay: Fay Kanin and Michael Kanin
Cinematography: Haskell B. Boggs
Art Direction: Earl Hedrick and Hal Pereira
Music: Roy Webb
Film Editing: Alma Macrorie
Cast: Clark Gable (James Gannon/James Gallagher), Doris Day (Erica Stone), Gig Young (Dr. Hugo Pine), Mamie Van Doren (Peggy DeFore), Nick Adams (Barney Kovac), Peter Baldwin (Harold Miller), Marion Ross (Katy Fuller), Charles Lane (Roy).
by Andrea Passafiume