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Promoted as a female Goodbye Mr. Chips (1939), Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941), based on a 1932 novel by Bess Streeter Aldrich, is the story of a dedicated teacher at a midwest university. Disappointed in love, Ella Bishop (Martha Scott) becomes a teacher at her alma mater, raises her cousin's child, and believes life and love have passed her by, until she realizes the difference she's made in the lives of her students. Like Mr. Chips, the film provides a tour de force role spanning fifty years in the life of its protagonist, and actress Martha Scott rises to the challenge.
A graduate of a midwestern university (Michigan), Scott worked in stock, and became a star in her first Broadway play, Thornton Wilder's Our Town (1938). She repeated the role of Emily Webb in the film version of that play, and was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance. Cheers for Miss Bishop was Scott's third film. Scott's film career included playing Charlton Heston's mother twice, first in The Ten Commandments (1956) and later in Ben-Hur (1959). She also worked extensively in theater and television, and was one of the founding members, with Robert Ryan and Henry Fonda, of the Plumstead Playhouse theater company. Scott was one of the producers of the film version of a Plumstead play, First Monday in October (1981), and played an uncredited cameo in that film.
According to Cheers for Miss Bishop director Tay Garnett, it was Scott who recommended stage and radio actress Rosemary DeCamp for the key role of a Scandinavian immigrant student inspired by Miss Bishop. It would be DeCamp's film debut. The following year, she appeared in her best known film, Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), as George M. Cohan's mother.
The role of Ella Bishop's lifelong suitor, the grocer Sam Peters, was an uncharacteristically gentle character for William Gargan. He usually played cops, soldiers, or gangsters, tough guys on both sides of the law. Gargan played sleuth Ellery Queen in a b-movie series in the 1940s, and detective Martin Kane in a television series in the 1950s.
Director Tay Garnett had gotten his start as a gag writer for Mack Sennett and Hal Roach, and had begun directing in the late silent era. He was equally at home in a variety of genres, from action-adventures like China Seas (1935), to romances like One Way Passage (1932), and Americana like Cheers for Miss Bishop. His best known film is the seminal film noir The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946).
Garnett sent a second-unit crew to Lincoln, Nebraska to shoot background footage of The University of Nebraska, which would stand in for Cheers for Miss Bishop's "Midwestern University." His second-unit director was a fellow silent-film veteran Marshall "Mickey" Neilan, who had been one of the silent era's top directors. A former actor, Neilan directed some of Mary Pickford's best films, including Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1917) and Daddy-Long-Legs (1919). Once married to actress Blanche Sweet and a former lover of Gloria Swanson, Neilan had become an undisciplined alcoholic, and had not adapted well to talking pictures. He'd been a hero of Garnett's, so even though it had been years since Neilan had directed, Garnett gave him a chance. The results were disastrous, and Neilan was replaced. Garnett would fight his own battles with alcohol before getting sober but Neilan never did.
Cheers for Miss Bishop earned Edward Ward an Academy Award nomination for Best Scoring of a Dramatic Film. It was a big year for Ward - he was also nominated for scoring two other 1941 films, Tanks a Million and All American Co-ed. (There were 20 nominees that year in the category. The winner was Bernard Herrmann, who won not for Citizen Kane, although he was nominated for that film, but for All That Money Can Buy AKA The Devil and Daniel Webster.) Ward earned seven Oscar® nominations between 1939 and 1944, including one for the score of Phantom of the Opera (1943).
Director: Tay Garnett
Producer: Richard A. Rowland
Screenplay: Stephen Vincent Benet, Adelaide Heilbron, Sheridan Gibney
Based on the novel by Bess Streeter AldrichCinematography: Hal Mohr
Editor: William F. Claxton
Costume Design: Irene Saltern
Art Direction: John DuCasse Schulze
Music: Edward Ward
Principal Cast: Martha Scott (Ella Bishop), William Gargan (Sam Peters), Edmund Gwenn (President Corcoran), Sterling Holloway (Chris Jensen), Sidney Blackmer (John Stevens), Mary Anderson (Amy Saunders), Dorothy Peterson (Mrs. Bishop), Donald Douglas (Delbert Thompson).
by Margarita Landazuri