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MGM created a milestone in family films with the 1937 dramatic comedy, You're Only Young Once, the first to assemble all the pieces that would make up the studio's popular Andy Hardy series. Although technically a B film -- shot on a relatively low budget in a mere two-and-a-half weeks for exhibition as the second half of a double bill -- You're Only Young Once was more lavish than the A pictures of most studios. Its simple tale of a small-town family trying to get through their summer vacation in one piece perfectly melded the elements of high-spirited youth and parental wisdom that would make the Hardy films so successful.
It all started with Eugene O'Neill. Not that he had anything to do with the film's script, but his sole comedy, Ah, Wilderness!, had provided MGM with a popular hit in 1935. Looking for a similar combination of all-American values and family comedy, studio executives seized on Aurania Rouverol's play Skidding, a courtroom drama in which tough Judge Hardy tries to help his daughter's boyfriend deal with a gambling problem. Then they cast the leading players from Ah, Wilderness!
-- Lionel Barrymore, Spring Byington, Eric Linden, Cecilia Parker and Mickey Rooney -- in similar roles. But where Rooney had played a colorful supporting role in the earlier film, studio head Louis B. Mayer now wanted to push him into leading roles, so he ordered a subplot about the judge's family expanded to showcase the younger actor. They even changed the title to A Family Affair (1937). The result was a hit that had exhibitors calling for more films about the Hardy family.
Since sequels were not looked on as a good investment at the time, Mayer decided to follow up A Family Affair with a series of lower budget pictures and You're Only Young Once would launch the series. That meant replacing Barrymore and Byington, who were too expensive for the sequel's modest budget. In their place, they cast Lewis Stone, a star of silent films who had established himself as a solid character actor since the coming of sound, and Fay Holden, a stage actress who had recently attracted attention with mother roles at other studios. With Rooney's role expanding, Linden's character - the boyfriend of Hardy daughter Marian - was eliminated (though his picture would adorn the family piano in this film). They also brought in Ann Rutherford to take over the role of Andy Hardy's girlfriend, Polly Benedict. Only Rooney, Parker and Sara Haden, as Aunt Milly, remained from the original cast.
The script developed by writer Kay Van Riper was originally titled A Family Vacation and Second Family Affair before the studio settled on You're Only Young Once. All of the series' ingredients hadn't gelled yet. Sister Marian carried a large portion of the story as she fell in love with a lifeguard who turned out to be married, a situation exposed by her older and wiser parents. But such beloved series elements as Andy Hardy's foolishness and the Judge's wise counsel and ability to get his children out of sticky situations were already established. So was the tendency to showcase the younger actresses cast opposite Rooney. This time out, his love interest was Eleanor Lynn as a spoiled rich girl who tries to lead Andy into the fast life. Unlike such later leading ladies Judy Garland, Lana Turner and Esther Williams, however, Lynn did not move on to stardom.
Even before the film opened, MGM was committed to turning out more pictures in the series. Van Riper started on the next film, Judge Hardy's Children (1938), as soon as location shooting started on Catalina Island, and You're Only Young Once ended with a spoken epilogue in which Stone promised audiences more Hardy films in the future. The studio's faith was well founded. The first true Hardy film grossed well over $2 million and most of it was pure profit. For the next two years, MGM would turn out a new Hardy film roughly every three months. The production team -- including producer J.J. Cohn, director George B. Seitz and Van Riper -- would remain mostly intact through the remaining 13 films in the series, most of them more popular than the big-budget pictures they had been designed to support. Mayer loved the films and Stone's portrayal of the perfect American father so much that he guaranteed the actor a position at the studio for the rest of his life. In 1941, MGM even landed a special Oscar® in recognition of the series' "achievement in representing the American way of life." It was the only film series of Hollywood's golden age to be honored like that.
Producer: J.J. Cohn
Director: George B. Seitz
Screenplay: Kay Van Riper, based on characters created by Aurania Rouverol
Cinematography: Lester White
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: David Snell
Cast: Lewis Stone (Judge Hardy), Mickey Rooney (Andy Hardy), Cecilia Parker (Marian Hardy), Fay Holden (Mrs. Harvey), Frank Craven (Frank Redmond), Ann Rutherford (Polly Benedict), Eleanor Lynn (Jerry Lane), Sara Haden (Aunt Milly).
BW-78m. Closed captioning.
by Frank Miller