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Jeanne Crain - 8/26
Remind Me

Take Care of My Little Girl

Set in a time when college boys wore suits to class and coeds felt naked if their ensemble didn't include a pair of white gloves, this 1951 drama now seems like a relic of the distant past. Yet its criticism of sorority snobbery, abetted by some biting dialog by Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein, still has relevance in this world of one-percenters and those demanding a fair share out of life. It also provides a showcase for star Jeanne Crain at the height of her popularity as a young girl so caught up in the thrill of the pledge she forgets what college life is supposed to be about.

Peggy Goodin's 1950 novel started life as a master's thesis on the sorority system. After she received the degree, she turned it into a novel that sold well as an exposé of racial and religious prejudice within fraternal organizations. When 20th Century-Fox bought the screen rights, screenwriting twins Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein dropped most of the social commentary to focus on the story's possibility as a showcase for their younger contract players. Variety's review mentioned scenes about the snubbing of a Jewish student, but they did not make it into the general release print. The film still packed a punch. In fact, studio head Darryl F. Zanuck had to tell them to give Crain's character more convincing arguments in favor of the sorority system because, as originally written, she seemed so shallow he felt no audience would sympathize with her.

Susan Hayward was originally set for the leading role, with Anatole Litvak directing. At the time, however, Crain was a bigger box-office star, particularly after the success of Pinky (1949), in which she won an Oscar® nomination for playing a light-skinned black woman, and Cheaper by the Dozen (1950), in which she played Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy's daughter. She also was considered more adept at light fare than the more dramatic Hayward, who would beat out Crain for the role of singer Jane Froman in 1952's With a Song in My Heart. Litvak, too, was considered more of a dramatic director, particularly after the success of The Snake Pit (1948). He wound up making the post-World War II drama Decision Before Dawn (1951), with directing chores for Take Care of My Little Girl going to Jean Negulesco.

With its college-set story, Take Care of My Little Girl provided the perfect showcase for the studio's roster of young contract players. The role of the senior who helps set Crain straight about college life would provide Oklahoma-born Dale Robertson with his first leading role. He would provide reliable romantic support for most of Fox's contract stars through his time there. Crain's high-spirited roommate, who has no use for fraternity life, was played by Mitzi Gaynor in only her second feature. It would also be her last supporting role. She was promoted to stardom to play 19th-century stage star Lotta Crabtree in her next film, Golden Girl (1951). Jean Peters, who had debuted at the studio opposite Tyrone Power in Captain from Castile (1947), took on the role of the most snobbish sorority sister. And Jeffrey Hunter, still in his first year at the studio, was cast as the big man on campus who dates Crain before she realizes he's a louse.

Zanuck was so happy with the film, he authorized a budget increase so Negulesco could shoot additional scenes in December 1950, a month after principal photography had been completed. But one group wasn't pleased with Take Care of My Little Girl. When news of the anti-sorority production spread, Fox began receiving letters from the Pan-Hellenic Society pressuring them to drop the film and later to withhold it from release. Even with suggestions of anti-Semitism cut, the depiction of snobbery and cheating offended the organization of fraternities and sororities. Only when the studio's PR department starting using the campaign to generate positive publicity did the pressure stop.

The film opened to mostly positive reviews, though Newsweek's critic complained that some of the novel's most stinging social criticism had been cut. Bosley Crowther's New York Times review was mostly positive. Although he admitted that the romantic plot was pretty much by the book, he found the picture overall "brightly entertaining and frankly provocative." He also praised Crain for her "considerable expressiveness and charm." With her continuing popularity at the box office, the film did solid business and continues to delight her fans.

Producer: Julian Blaustein
Director: Jean Negulesco
Screenplay: Julius J. & Philip G. Epstein
Based on the novel by Peggy Goodin
Cinematography: Harry Jackson
Music: Alfred Newman
Cast: Jeanne Crain (Liz Erickson), Dale Robertson (Joe Blake), Mitzi Gaynor (Adelaide Swanson), Jean Peters (Dallas Prewitt), Jeffrey Hunter (Chad Carnes), Betty Lynn (Marge Colby), Helen Westcott (Merry Coombs), Lenka Peterson (Ruth Gates), Natalie Schafer (Mother Cookie Clark), Gail Davis (Thelma), King Donovan (Cab Driver), John Litel (John Erickson), George Nader (Jack Gruber), Clinton Sundberg (Fraternity Dance Guest).

By Frank Miller



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