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Maisie Was a Lady

Maisie Was a Lady(1941)

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teaser Maisie Was a Lady (1941)

Maisie Was a Lady (1941) was the fourth in MGM's "B" film series about the adventures of Maisie Ravier (Ann Sothern), a brassy Brooklyn-born showgirl with a heart of gold. This time, a drunken scion of a rich society family (Lew Ayres) gets Maisie fired from her carnival job, and hires her to work as a maid at his family's mansion. There, she proceeds to straighten out the messy, unhappy lives of all the members of the family, including his sister (Maureen O'Sullivan), who's involved with a fortune hunter, and their distant father.

Sothern had appeared in a few films at the dawn of the sound era, before going to New York and becoming a success on Broadway. She returned to Hollywood in 1933, and carved out a minor niche for herself as a star of "B" films, first at Columbia, then at RKO. Frustrated by the quality of her films, she left RKO in 1938, holding out for better roles. Her break came when she was cast in the second lead as a wisecracking blonde in Walter Wanger's production, Trade Winds (1938). Sothern received excellent reviews, and attracted the attention of MGM producer J. Walter Ruben, who was casting Maisie (1939). The film had originally been intended for Jean Harlow, and had been shelved after Harlow died in 1937. When Ruben saw Trade Winds, he knew he had found his Maisie. The public agreed, and the modestly budgeted film grossed more than three times its cost.

"At 30, [Sothern] finds herself a find," according to Time Magazine. "As Maisie, she is a healthier Harlow, an untarnished Mae West." There would be ten Maisie movies between 1939 and 1947. Unlike other b-series, however, the Maisie films had no continuing characters other than Maisie. And unlike other series, this one did not serve as a launching pad for promising starlets. Most of the Maisie series co-stars were drawn from MGM's roster of established contract players. In Maisie Was a Lady, they included Lew Ayres, Maureen O'Sullivan, and C. Aubrey Smith. On the next film in the series, Ringside Maisie (1941), Sothern would meet her second husband, co-star Robert Sterling.

Maureen O'Sullivan had put her career on hold in 1940, after war broke out in Europe. Her husband, director John Farrow, had enlisted in the Royal Canadian Navy, and O'Sullivan and the couple's infant son went with him to Canada. She returned to Hollywood after four months to appear in Maisie Was a Lady, then rushed back to her husband's side. She worked on another Tarzan movie after Farrow went to sea, but asked to be released from her contract in 1942 when he became ill with typhoid. O'Sullivan resumed her career after the war, but with her family growing (the couple had seven children), her film and television appearances were sporadic.

Maisie Was a Lady was one of Lew Ayres' rare excursions away from his own hugely successful MGM "B" series, the Dr. Kildare films. But war would soon bring a change in his professional fortunes. Ayres alienated moviegoers when he declared himself a conscientious objector and refused to fight. Although he served quietly as a medic and a chaplain under fire with troops in the South Pacific, Ayres found film roles scarce after the war. His best post-war part was as the sympathetic doctor in Johnny Belinda (1948), which earned him an Academy Award nomination.

Sothern's career was booming in the 1940s, thanks to the Maisie films. She had signed an MGM contract after the first one, which required her to appear in at least one Maisie picture per year. "I felt she was a millstone around my neck at times," Sothern later recalled. But it was a millstone she used to her advantage, to get MGM head Louis B. Mayer to cast her other films. "I'd tell Mr. Mayer to give me a musical, and I'd do another Maisie. We'd bargain in that way." That's how she got to do such "A" films as the musicals Lady Be Good (1941) and Panama Hattie (1942), and the drama Cry Havoc (1943). When her film career faded in the early 1950s, Sothern turned to television, and starred in two successful comedy series, Private Secretary (1953-57) and The Ann Sothern Show (1958-61). She was also featured in the TV sitcom, My Mother the Car (1965-66), as the voice of the talking car.

Director: Edwin L. Marin
Producer: J. Walter Ruben
Screenplay: Elizabeth Reinhardt, Mary C. McCall Jr., based on a story by Betty Reinhardt, Myles Connolly from a character created by Wilson Collison
Cinematography: Charles Lawton Jr.
Editor: Fredrick Y. Smith
Cast: Ann Sothern (Maisie Ravier), Lew Ayres (Bob Rawlston), Maureen O'Sullivan (Abigail Rawlston), C. Aubrey Smith (Walpole), Edward Ashley (Link Phillips), Joan Perry (Diana Webley), Paul Cavanagh (Cap Rawlston).
BW-79m. Closed captioning.

by Margarita Landazuri

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