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The pleasing Warner Bros. comedy Pretty Baby (1950) is the story of hapless mimeographer Patsy Douglas (Betsy Drake), who manages to work her way up and snag her dream man. When the film opens Douglas is suddenly promoted from her lowly job as an advertising agency mimeographer to a glamorous new position as secretary to ad executive Sam Morley (Dennis Morgan). When Douglas flubs both dictation and typing, the essentials of her new job, her dreams of climbing the career ladder to copy writer seem even more elusive. Booted back down to the grind of mimeography, the luckless heroine finds her luck changed through a chance encounter with the chief executive of the Baxter Baby Food company, Cyrus Baxter (Edmund Gwenn).
When Douglas discovers that mothers with babies are more apt to get seats on the subway, she borrows the baby doll from the Baxter Baby Food campaign in the ad agency's lobby, toting it in a blanket to and from work each day. One day she happens to sit next to Baxter on the subway. He takes an immediate shine to her and to her "baby" which she tells him she has named Cyrus in his honor. Morley and his ad agency partner Barry Holmes (Zachary Scott) are indebted to Baxter, an important agency client who fired them when their last campaign flopped. When Morley and Holmes find out that Baxter is enamored with Douglas, the men conspire to do everything they can to win back the Baxter Baby Food account for the company. At the strong insistence of Baxter, Douglas is promoted to copy writer--despite a definite lack of skill in that realm--thus placing her in even closer proximity to Morley, for whom she has been harboring a longtime crush.
There was also some behind-the-scenes promotion at work in making sure Betsy Drake had the starring role in Pretty Baby. Married to Cary Grant from 1949-1962, third wife Drake (Every Girl Should Be Married, , Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, ) was aggressively promoted by Grant to Jack Warner for the lead in Pretty Baby. Grant biographer Marc Eliot described the film as "a nondescript comedy co-starring Dennis Morgan and Zachary Scott, two leftovers from the war years, when actors in Hollywood were scarce and anything that moved in pants, stood over five foot five, and had a military deferment qualified as leading-man material." Despite Eliot's estimation, both actors had notable, memorable roles to their credit. Zachary Scott, the son of a wealthy Texas surgeon, was memorably smarmy as the spoiled rich lothario Monte Beragon in the 1945 film noir/women's picture Mildred Pierce. And Dennis Morgan's engaging performance as a sweet-natured sailor in Christmas in Connecticut (1945) opposite Barbara Stanwyck helped make that film a Christmas classic.
Later remade into a TV movie with Natalie Wood entitled Girl on a Subway (1958), Pretty Baby is a classic Hollywood Cinderella story of a girl whose pluck and personality attracts notice and propels her from the working girl depths to that particularly American fantasy, of finding love with her boss.
Look for a cameo in Pretty Baby from Barbara Billingsley (mom June Cleaver from the TV series Leave It to Beaver) as an ad agency receptionist. William Frawley, future I Love Lucy regular Fred Mertz, also appears in a small role.
Director: Bretaigne Windust
Producer: Harry Kurnitz
Screenplay: Everett Freeman and Harry Kurnitz from the story "Gay Deception" by Jules Furthman and John D. Klorer
Cinematography: Peverell Marley
Production Design: Charles H. Clarke
Music: David Buttolph
Cast: Dennis Morgan (Sam Morley), Betsy Drake (Patsy Douglas), Zachary Scott (Barry Holmes), Edmund Gwenn (Cyrus Baxter), William Frawley (Corcoran), Raymond Roe (Sidney), Ransom Sherman (Powers), Sheila Stephens (Peggy), Eleanor Audley (Miss Brindel), George Chandler (Henderson), Barbara Billingsley (Receptionist).
by Felicia Feaster