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As the '50s dawned, independent producer Sam Goldwyn was trying to cope with changing times, as was Hollywood itself. GIs returned from World War II had settled in with their growing families and growing numbers of television sets, making fewer and fewer trips to movie theatres. Instead, the film audience was becoming dominated by younger fans eager for an excuse to get out of the house. Goldwyn's solution to declining box office was Our Very Own, a 1950 drama about a family turned upside down when their eldest daughter (Ann Blyth) discovers she's adopted. The producer hoped the story of a family in turmoil would draw family audiences while its youthful cast would appeal to younger audiences. Unlike the poverty row studios that were trying to exploit teen audiences, Goldwyn did it with all the quality he could muster, even scoring an Oscar® nomination for the film's score.
The idea had come from playwright F. Hugh Herbert, who had scored on Broadway, radio and screen with Kiss and Tell (1945), the adventures of irrepressible teen Corliss Archer (played on screen by Shirley Temple), caught up in keeping her GI brother's marriage to her best friend secret. This time Herbert wanted to deal with a more serious topic, an adopted girl's search for her birth parents, and Goldwyn thought he could make it work.
Goldwyn had two younger actors, Farley Granger and Joan Evans, already under contract. They had teamed romantically in Evans' debut film, Roseanna McCoy (1949), but this time they would merely be co-stars, with Evans as the leading lady's younger sister. For the film's lead, Goldwyn borrowed MGM contract player Ann Blyth, who, though mostly cast in sympathetic teen roles, was best known as Joan Crawford's despicable daughter in Mildred Pierce (1945).
For contemporary fans, however, the real names in the cast fall among the supporting ranks. As Blyth's youngest sister, a precocious busybody, Goldwyn cast Natalie Wood, then under contract at 20th Century-Fox. Off-screen, Wood was quiet and withdrawn, and instructed to speak to no one but the director by her mother. On-screen, though, she surprised her co-stars with the vehemence with which she tackled her role. They were also surprised to learn that she was actually older than her mother let on. Although already eleven, she was small enough to pass for nine, an illusion her mother was happy to perpetuate if it got her more roles. The ploy didn't work, however. As Hollywood's studios cut back on production in the '50s, Wood's Fox contract would be canceled after her next film, leaving her a free agent until she finally achieved stardom as a teenager.
Also borrowed from Fox was Jane Wyatt, cast as Blyth's adoptive mother. Wyatt was disappointed at not getting more of the famed "Goldwyn Touch" in Our Very Own. She was used to more sophisticated roles, usually as romantic interests for stars like Gary Cooper and Cary Grant. Even in smaller parts, she had done some quality film's like Fox's Best Picture Oscar®-winner Gentleman's Agreement (1947). But though Goldwyn hired top talent like cameraman Lee Garmes and composer Victor Young, Wyatt spent her on-screen time offering motherly advice in a succession of housedresses. She didn't think much of the role until years later a visitor to the set who had been impressed by her maternal appearance offered her the lead in a new television series, Father Knows Best. The role would make her a major television star and bring her three Emmys.
One cast member actually gave up what might have been a shot at the big time. Phyllis Kirk was making her screen debut, at 19, in a flashy supporting role as one of Blyth's friends. She had come to Hollywood expecting old-time glamour. Instead, she found herself working on an almost deserted back lot. With little social life, she struck up a friendship with a disheveled older man she saw on the lot every morning, and before long they were sharing breakfast on a regular basis. Although she was signed to make two films for Goldwyn, her agent sent her to a meeting at RKO to discuss possible projects there. When she arrived, she discovered that her breakfast buddy was the studio's owner, Howard Hughes, who now wanted to put her under contract. She had been in town long enough to know that he was running the studio into the ground, however, and turned down the offer, convinced she would do nothing but collect a pay check. Her second film for Goldwyn never materialized.
Goldwyn's gamble on the family audience paid off only modestly. Our Very Own didn't lose any money, but it didn't set any records either. Still, its success was enough to convince him that Granger had arrived as a teen heartthrob (he conveniently forgot Granger's success at other studios in films like Rope and They Live by Night, both 1948). He would rush Granger and Evans into another teaming, a melodrama called Edge of Doom (1950), before losing interest in them. He would drop Evans' contract altogether, while continuing to turn a profit by loaning Granger to other studios.
Producer: Samuel Goldwyn
Director: David Miller
Screenplay: F. Hugh Herbert
Cinematography: Lee Garmes
Art Direction: Richard Day
Music: Victor Young
Cast: Ann Blyth (Gail Macaulay), Farley Granger (Chuck), Joan Evans (Joan Macaulay), Jane Wyatt (Mrs. Fred Macaulay), Ann Dvorak (Mrs. Gert Lynch), Donald Cook (Fred Macaulay), Natalie Wood (Penny Macaulay), Phyllis Kirk (Zaza), Martin Milner (Bert), Ray Teal (Mr. Jim Lynch).
by Frank Miller