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Come to the Stable

Come to the Stable(1949)

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According to documents in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department and the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, this film originated as a fact-based story submitted to the studio by writer Clare Boothe Luce, a convert to Catholicism. The real "Sisters Margaret and Scolastica" were the Reverend Mother Benedict Duss and Sister Mary-Aline, who settled in Bethlehem, CT, at the invitation of a painter of biblical subjects, Mrs. Lauren Ford. Robert S. Leather, a Protestant, donated the land on which the nuns eventually constructed the Regina Laudis Priory out of an old factory. Fox went through protracted negotiations with the nuns and the Catholic Church hierarchy to secure permission to present the story.
       In August 1948, Greta Palmer, who was a member of the Executive Board of the Priory and had been working on the project as a researcher for Mrs. Luce, wrote to Luce's agent, Kay Brown: "Now Fox has evidently got a script that [Catholic authorities] think is fine for the Church. That does not mean it is fine in Mother Benedict's eyes for her to be involved in. The Benedictines are terrific spiritual snobs...especially those from France....This one is probably a picture many Catholics will like, including members of the hierarchy; I doubt very much whether it will come within miles of being anything the Benedictines will like....Only a documentary, and a very fine one, could satisfy them....That's why they passed up the $25,000, when they didn't have $200 in the world." The $25,000 referred to was the sum the studio offered the nuns for the rights to their story.
       A September 2, 1948 memo from producer Sam Engel to the studio's legal department stated that, in order to negate the need for rights clearance, the character names and locale had been changed and the nuns's objective would not be to build an abbey, but a maternity hospital for wives of G.I.'s. Negotiations continued with the principals and, early in January 1949, when the film was already shooting, Engel visited Mother Benedict, Sister Mary-Aline, Mrs. Ford and Mr. Leather. Engel explained in detail what the studio was doing with the story, read key scenes directly from the script, showed them about thirty stills and finally secured their signatures. In his report to the legal department, Engel stated that, "Mother Benedict was highly pleased with what we were doing, and gave me and us her blessings." The studio ended up making a $25,000 donation to the Priory, although certain records suggest that MCA, Luce's agency, took 10% for their efforts.
       Although there May have been an agreement that there would be no publicity linking the film with the Priory, a September 3, 1948 article in The Bridgeport Post, found in the AMPAS Library production file on the film, detailing the solemn ceremony of separating eight cloistered nuns from the outside world, describes Luce as having been "inspired by the experiences of the nuns to write the script for a motion picture, Come to the Stable, soon to be produced in Hollywood featuring Loretta Young and Celeste Holm as the two founding nuns." Shortly after the film opened in New York, Life magazine, a Luce publication, ran a story about the nuns and the film.
       According to studio records, several writers worked on drafts of the story. In the spring of 1948, Oscar Millard sought to have it established that he and Mrs. Luce developed the story together. After turning in a Revised First Draft Continuity, dated June 16, 1948, Millard left the project. Dorothy Parker and Ross Evans then wrote another screenplay. John Lee Mahin also contributed a version and the final script was written by Sally Benson. The extent of the contribution of the non-credited writers to the released film has not been determined. However, it is clear from a December 14, 1948 memo to producer Engel, who May also have contributed to the writing, that it was executive producer Darryl F. Zanuck who provided the rationale for the nuns's desire to build a children's hospital.
       In a July 6, 1948 memo, Zanuck wrote, "I keep seeing Loretta Young in this role [Sister Margaret] more than anyone else. As you know, she is a great Catholic, she was in a big hit picture last year and won the Academy Award. Irene Dunne wants to do it but I am afraid that she is not at all right for it. If the Church does not object, Annabella would be sensational as Sister Scolastica...Josephine Hull would be wonderful as Miss Potts." In order to have "Bob's" song appear to be based on a chant sung by the nuns, composer Alfred Newman also wrote the "chant" and prominent choral director Roger Wagner supplied the Latin words. (The name of the music critic character in the film who notices the similarity between the melodies is "Al Newman.") Variety, the CBCS and other contemporary sources list the characters portrayed by Tim Huntley and Virginia Keiley as "Mr. and Mrs. Thompson," names used in early versions of the screenplay. In the released film, however, they are identified as "Mr. and Mrs. Townsend-Cooper." A studio press release, found in the AMPAS Library file on the film, includes Wyatt Haupt in the cast, but his appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. According to the same press release, the Henry Fonda home in Brentwood CA, was used for certain exteriors of Bob's home. The principal exterior sets of the stable and surrounding countryside were built on sound stages.
       Come to the Stable received Academy Award nominations for Best Black and White Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Black and White Cinematography, Best Motion Picture Story and Best Song. Loretta Young was nominated for Best Actress and both Celeste Holm and Elsa Lanchester were nominated for Best Supporting Actress. A radio adaptation of the film, featuring Loretta Young and Hugh Marlowe, was broadcast on Lux Radio Theatre on April 3, 1950 and March 24, 1952. A version was also broadcast on Screen Guild Players on December 21, 1950 and an eight-minute extract was featured on Hedda Hopper's program on January 21, 1951. A November 20, 1950 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that negotiations had been completed between the studio and Luce to make a sequel to Come to the Stable, again teaming Young, Holm and producer Engel. In the proposed sequel, A Spark in the Night, the nuns travel to Japan to work among the bomb victims at Hiroshima. This sequel was never made.