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Make Way for a Lady

Make Way for a Lady(1936)

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teaser Make Way for a Lady (1936)

Herbert Marshall's move from romantic lead to character roles was underway when he made this 1936 comedy. Although he was still popular enough to merit top billing, the real star of the show is Anne Shirley, as the meddlesome daughter out to land her widowed father a new wife. There were still some films to come in which Marshall would end the picture in a clinch with his leading lady, but more and more he would be relegated to roles as fathers, the other men and philosophical on-lookers.

Shirley was still riding high on the success of her first starring role, in Anne of Green Gables (1934). She had even traded in her earlier screen name, Dawn O'Day, for the name of the character that had made her a star. Though the young actress was talented in her own right, as demonstrated in films like Chatterbox (1936) and Stella Dallas (1937), RKO used this film to try to recast her in the mold of younger child actresses like Shirley Temple, Deanna Durbin and Jane Withers.

This adaptation of suffragette Elizabeth Jordan's novel Daddy and I is Shirley's stab at playing "Little Miss Fix It," with the thing in need of fixing her father's life. As June Drew, Shirley decides single father Marshall is devoting so much time to her upbringing he has no life of his own. So, she sets out to find him the perfect wife. Her efforts to match dad with romantic novelist Margot Grahame, however, stand in the way of the woman he truly loves, Shirley's teacher, Gertrude Michael.

This was a big year for Shirley, who had just signed a new contract with RKO including generous pay raises for each year they kept her under contract and an out clause for the studio should she get married. That could have been an issue in 1936, when the 18-year-old actress graduated from studio high school. It was hardly a concern of hers. She told the press she didn't want to consider marriage until her current contract expired, choosing instead to focus on her acting and taking care of her mother. That resolve would not last long. A year later she would marry actor John Payne, though the studio did not exercise its option to drop the still popular young actress.

For Marshall, the film traded on his staid, British image, requiring him to look on in consternation as his daughter tried to take over his life. Although he had proven quite adept at playing a romantic scoundrel in Trouble in Paradise (1932), in which he tried to seduce female tycoon Kay Francis to steal her jewels, he was increasingly finding himself cast as understanding husbands looking on in consternation as their wives flirted with indiscretion or the reliable man the leading lady dumps to be with some more exciting male star. He had taken back an almost cheating Greta Garbo in The Painted Veil (1934), nobly lost Merle Oberon to Fredric March in The Dark Angel (1935) and waited patiently as Katharine Hepburn worked out an illicit relationship with Van Heflin in his previous RKO film that year, A Woman Rebels (1936). He would eventually get to play beleaguered father of the original Little Miss Fix It, Temple, in Kathleen (1941), MGM's attempt to resuscitate the child star's fading career.

His love interests in Make Way for a Lady were two memorable blondes, British actress Grahame and Paramount contract player Michael. Grahame had become a star in her native England, where she was seen as their answer to Jean Harlow. She was even nicknamed "The Aluminum Blonde." She was that country's highest paid star, which brought her to Hollywood, where she never achieved the same level of popularity. She only had one great role there, as Victor McLaglen's love interest in The Informer (1935). Michael was Paramount's specialist in the kind of tough blonde roles played by Gladys George at MGM and Joan Blondell and Glenda Farrell at Warner Bros. Most of those were supporting characters, like the tough singer who warbles "Sweet Marijuana" then becomes the victim of Murder at the Vanities (1934), but she could class it up for leading roles in lower-budget films, as when she played society jewel thief Sophie Lang in a trio of B movies. Make Way for a Lady was the last of three films teaming her with Marshall, all in 1936. They were lovers reunited when they spy for enemy countries during World War I in Till We Meet Again and dueling spouses on the wrong side of the law in Forgotten Faces, both made for Paramount. That they never worked together again is probably a result of her career's decline as changing tastes and her own drinking led to less prestigious projects while Marshall continued in top films, albeit in character roles.

Producer: Zion Myers
Director: David Burton
Screenplay: Gertrude Purcell
Based on the novel Daddy and I by Elizabeth Jordan
Cinematography: David Abel
Score: Roy Webb
Cast: Herbert Marshall (Christopher "Chris" Drew), Anne Shirley (June Drew), Gertrude Michael (Miss Eleanor Emerson), Margot Grahame (Valerie Broughton), Taylor Holmes (George Terry), Clara Blandick (Mrs. Dell), Willie Best (William Townley)

By Frank Miller

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