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Heartwarming slices of Americana were very popular in Hollywood in the late 1940s and early 1950s, with such films as Life with Father (1947), I Remember Mama (1948), Stars in My Crown (1950), I'd Climb the Highest Mountain (1951) and others all falling into this category. Chicken Every Sunday (1949), a sentimental comedy-drama set in early 20th-century Arizona, is no exception.
The project started as a 1943 novel by Rosemary Taylor entitled Chicken Every Sunday: My Life with Mother's Boarders, which was turned into a 1944 Broadway play by Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein. Warner Brothers bought the movie rights and had the Epstein brothers craft a screenplay. (The Epsteins, of course, were Oscar®-winning screenwriters with Casablanca  and Arsenic and Old Lace  to their credit.) In 1945, however, Warners gave up on the project and sold the rights to Fox. The new studio commissioned its own screenplay, by Valentine Davies and George Seaton, and planned it as a vehicle for Gene Tierney. She turned it down and went on suspension. John Payne was considered for the male lead, and then for a time it appeared as if Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara were set for the film, with Jeanne Crain being considered for their daughter. In the end, the cast went down a notch to the decidedly less glittery Dan Dailey, Celeste Holm and Colleen Townsend (as the daughter) with George Seaton directing.
Rosemary Taylor's original novel had been touted as a personal memoir of rural life in early 20th-century Tucson, but a note from the author in the studio file reveals her story was actually mostly a concoction. In any case, the story centers around a Tucson woman (Holm) who is exasperated with her husband's (Dailey's) endless get-rich-quick schemes, none of which ever seem to work out. To stay afloat, the practical Holm rents out their spare rooms to boarders, all of whom are eccentric in one way or another, and the marriage becomes threatened.
The movie was received respectfully but caused no great shakes. The New York Times called it "good, substantial cooking in the Hollywood style" but was bothered by the film's resemblance to the previous Life with Father and I Remember Mama, describing the new release as "familiar sentimentality" that amounted to "diggings in a pretty well dug-over vein."
Chicken Every Sunday was the seventh credited feature for young Natalie Wood, whose hair was dyed blond to match Holm's. It was a small part for Wood, but according to biographer Suzanne Finstad (Natasha: The Biography of Natalie Wood), she "received star treatment at Fox. The studio provided a limousine and driver to take her to and from Carson City, Nev., to shoot the exterior scenes." On July 20, 1948, Wood celebrated her tenth birthday on the set, and the studio brass arranged for all the other kids on the lot to come over and sing "Happy Birthday." Wood's parents gave her a microscope as a reward for completing the film, and then little Natalie immediately went on to her next picture, The Green Promise (1949), an RKO release.
As an example of how much pop cultural resonance this film had at the time (along with the novel and play), the title was spoofed in a 1951 Warner Bros. cartoon starring Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam: Rabbit Every Monday.
Producer: William Perlberg
Director: George Seaton
Screenplay: Valentine Davies, George Seaton; Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein (play); Rosemary Taylor (book)
Cinematography: Harry Jackson
Art Direction: Richard Irvine, Lyle Wheeler
Music: Alfred Newman
Film Editing: Robert L. Simpson
Cast: Dan Dailey (James C. 'Jim' Hefferan), Celeste Holm (Emily Hefferan), Colleen Townsend (Rosemary Hefferan), Alan Young (Geoffrey Lawson), Natalie Wood (Ruth Hefferan), William Frawley (George Kirby), Connie Gilchrist (Millie Moon), William Callahan (Harold Crandall), Veda Ann Borg (Rita Kirby), Porter Hall (Sam Howell), Whit Bissell (Mr. Robinson/Robby), Katherine Emery (Mrs. Mildred Lawson).
by Jeremy Arnold