Cast & Crew
Mary Jane Saunders
Susan Manning Middlecott, the Dean of Benton College, who has always placed her career above romance, lives quietly with her father Mark and her adopted daughter Louisa. When astronomy professor Alec Stevenson informs Teddy Evans, a publicist for the Pomeroy Lecture Bureau, which employs him, that he intends to deliver a locket belonging to Susan, Teddy concocts a romance between them and releases the story to the afternoon papers. Susan is outraged, believing that the story undermines her authority, and leaves for Boston, where Alec is to lecture, determined to put a stop to the story. Meanwhile, Alec has arrived in Benton to look for Susan, who is at the train station. Alec and Susan travel to Boston on the same train without discovering each other's identity, and when they leave the train together, Teddy snaps their picture. A furious Susan hits Alec with her purse and immediately catches the return train, followed by Alec, who wants to explain. When he finally catches up with her, Alec presents Susan with the locket, which was given to him in a concentration camp by Benoit, a dying soldier. When Susan responds that she barely knew the man, Alec accuses her of being cold-hearted. The next day, the newspaper runs a picture of Susan attacking Alec. Mark, an amateur astronomer, then sends for Alec, hoping to matchmake. To avoid Alec, Susan decides to take Louisa to the family country lodge. Unknown to Susan, Mark invites Alec to the lodge to see his observatory, and, in this more relaxed setting, Susan and Alec get along better. When Susan tells Alec that she adopted Louisa in France during the war, Alec assumes that she was married to Benoit and, believing that he deserted her when he was actually in the concentration camp, has grown indifferent to men. The following night, Susan and Alec attend the Senior Prom at the college. Susan tries her best to avoid Alec, but he begs her for just one dance. When a photographer takes their pictures, however, Susan is convinced that Alec set her up and asks one of the students to take her home. On the way, they are challenged to a drag race and are arrested. Then Teddy learns about Louisa and calls in a story claiming that Alec is the girl's father. The scandal threatens Susan's job, and determined to clear her name, Susan shows Mark Louisa's adoption papers which she intends to present to the school board. Mark, however, is delighted that Susan's career is in trouble and exhorts her to grab her chance to be a woman and go after the man she loves. He adds that he never intended her to pursue a career but educated her so that she would meet a good husband. To help save Susan's reputation, Alec claims to have been secretly married to her, as does professor Paul Simone, who has been in love with her for years. Thoroughly confused, the board asks Susan to resign unless she can prove that the rumors are false. Angry that her spotless record means nothing to the board, Susan refuses and hurries after Alec. After she leaves, Mark shows the board Louisa's adoption papers, certain that Susan has finally gotten her man.
Mary Jane Saunders
William E. Green
Harry Harvey Jr.
Mary Ellen Kay
Werner R. Heymann
Ian Mclellan Hunter
A Woman of Distinction
Soon all of the newspapers are abuzz with tales of the love struck academics, a notion that Susan fights all the way. A slapstick push and pull begins between the couple, with circumstances conspiring to throw them together on train trips and in remote mountain hideaways. Stevenson at one point asserts "you are the coldest woman I've ever met in my life!" But as a New York Times review of the film noted "The aim is to show that the lady has room in her career for romance a definitely foregone conclusion."
Susan's father Mark Middlecott (Edmund Gwenn) tends to agree with Alec's assessment, goading his daughter that marriage and not a career has always been his real life's ambition for her. Mark is soon in on the fun, pushing his spinster daughter into the arms of the confused professor, determined to rescue her from her fruitless career trap. More scandal ensues when doubts begin to emerge about the paternity of Susan's adopted daughter Louisa.
The script for A Woman of Distinction was purchased by Columbia Pictures from Frank Capra at Paramount. Jean Arthur and Cary Grant were initially meant to star in the film. Later possibilities for the Rosalind Russell role included Loretta Young and Joan Fontaine.
Known for her feisty comedic onscreen persona, Russell was nevertheless saddled in the late '40s and '50s with a string of hardly fun-loving roles centered on career and marriage in which her characters were often chided for choosing work over romance. As Bernard F. Dick's Forever Mame: The Life of Rosalind Russell notes "The main point is not Rosalind's eventual thawing out, which is a given; but rather how often she can be humiliated for being so unfeeling."
Russell herself was apparently not too far off from that onscreen ideal of the woman who sacrifices career for husband. According to Dick in Forever Mame, Russell's husband Frederick Brisson ironically wrote upon his wife's death, "Rosalind's ability to play a career woman who eventually succumbed to true love was consistent with her own life. She was a successful actress and an exemplary wife and mother."
Variety called A Woman of Distinction, "a loosely-tied grabbag of screwball and nonsensical doings about two warring-but-loving pedagogues. Sans much logic, the Rosalind Russell-Ray Milland teamwork is good."
The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther called it a "custard-pie farce," with Russell "behaving like Mabel Normand in a Keystone comedy. She is letting herself be sprayed with water, smeared with mud, tumbled backwards out of chairs and generally booted and battered. Anything for a laugh."
Director: Edward Buzzell
Producer: Buddy Adler
Screenplay: Charles Hoffman, Frank Tashlin based on the story by Hugo Butler and Ian McLellan Hunter
Cinematography: Joseph Walker
Production Design: Robert Peterson
Music: Werner R. Heymann
Cast: Ray Milland (Alec Stevenson), Rosalind Russell (Susan Middlecott), Edmund Gwenn (Mark Middlecott), Janis Carter (Teddy Evans), Mary Jane Saunders (Louisa), Francis Lederer (Paul Simone).
by Felicia Feaster
A Woman of Distinction
You are the coldest woman I've ever met in my life! Miss Middlecott, I made a sad mistake when I brought you that locket. What I should have brought you is a suit of long woolen underwear.- Prof. Alec Stevenson
What sort of razor do you plan to use?- Susan Middlecott
Oh. Are you... are you A.C. or... D.C.?- Susan Middlecott
Columbia purchased the Ian McLellan Hunter-Hugo Butler script from Frank Capra at Paramount, where, according to a December 9, 1948 Daily Variety news item, Jean Arthur and Cary Grant were supposed to star in the film. According to a December 9, 1948 Los Angeles Times news item, Alex Gottlieb was to produce the film for Columbia. A February 21, 1949 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that Loretta Young and Joan Fontaine were also considered for the lead. Rosalind Russell reprised her role in a October 23, 1950 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast, co-starring Cary Grant.