Cast & Crew
One winter's night, two French nuns, Sisters Margaret and Scolastica, come to the small New England town of Bethlehem, where they meet Amelia Potts, a painter of religious pictures. After the Sisters announce that they have come to build a hospital there, Chicago-born Sister Margaret explains that during the war she was in charge of a children's hospital in Normandy when it became a potential target during a military campaign. As many of the children could not be evacuated, Sister Margaret made a personal plea to an American general not to shell the hospital which, the Germans were using as an observation post. The hospital was spared but at the cost of American lives, and Sister Margaret made a promise to God that, in gratitude for saving the children, she would return to America to build a children's hospital there. When Miss Potts is puzzled as to why they chose Bethlehem, Sister Margaret replies that they had received a postcard with a reproduction of a nativity scene painted by Miss Potts, entitled "Come to the Stable," and information about the Bethlehem area. The Sisters then decide that a local hill depicted in another of Miss Pott's paintings would be a good site for the hospital. After composer Bob Mason, who is Miss Potts's neighbor, tells the Sisters that the hill is owned by Luigi Rossi of New York, the Sisters go to see the Bishop in a nearby city. He is unable to help them financially with their project however, but does give them a small amount of money to tide them over. When they return to Bethlehem, Bob's manservant, Anthony James offers them a ride from the railroad station in Bob's jeep. As Sister Margaret learned to drive a jeep during the war, they arrange to borrow the jeep to go to New York City to find Mr. Rossi and ask him to donate his land. Rossi runs a "bookie" operation and, with perseverance, the Sisters manage to see him. After he tells them that he intends to build his retirement home on the site, they prepare to leave, then learn that Rossi's son was killed in action near their hospital in Rouen. Suddenly, Rossi changes his mind and tells them that, if they will install a stained glass window in the hospital in memory of his son, the land is theirs. Later, in Bethlehem, Bob and his girl friend, Kitty Blaine, are listening to a recording of a new song he has composed when the Sisters come to thank him for the use of the jeep. Bob then announces that he will be going to Hollywood for a few weeks to work on a picture. Later, the Sisters acquire for $5,000, a three-month option on a former witch hazel bottling plant opposite the Rossi property, for use as a temporary shelter. However, when the Bishop looks over the papers, he discovers that the purchase price carries a $25,000 mortgage and tells the Sisters he will have to cancel the contract. At that moment, however, eleven more nuns and a chaplain arrive from France, and the Bishop relents, allowing them to stay for the period of the option with the understanding that if they cannot raise the additional money within that time, they must all leave. When Bob returns from Hollywood with Kitty and three house guests, he discovers that the nuns are having a produce-and-arts sale in Miss Potts's yard and Bob insists that she evict all the nuns. On the day before the option is to lapse, the nuns find themselves $500 short of the necessary amount. That evening, after Kitty performs Bob's new song for his guests, they hear the nuns singing a hymn which they recognize as being similar to Bob's song. Concerned about being accused of plagiarism, Bob swears that he first thought of the melody after his Army outfit landed in France four years earlier. Guest Al Newman, a music critic, identifies it as an ancient Gregorian chant. The next morning, after Sisters Margaret and Scolastica accidentally drive a stake through Bob's water line, he visits the real estate agent and arranges to buy the plant in order to keep it out of the nuns's hands. Sister Margaret, meanwhile, discovers Bob's guests playing tennis and arranges a $500 wager if Sister Scolastica can help Al beat the other couple. Although Sister Scolastica is a former tennis champion, she loses the match. Later, after Sister Margaret tells the Sisters that they must leave, Bob eavesdrops on their prayers and discovers that their Mother House is in Normandy, near where he was stationed. When the Sisters ask him to pray for them, Bob is moved to change his mind about their project, and soon he, Kitty, Miss Potts, Mr. Rossi and the Bishop attend the dedication of the temporary home of the hospital of St. Jude.
Louis Jean Heydt
Samuel G. Engel
Paul S. Fox
Earle H. Hagen
Joseph La Shelle
Clare Boothe Luce
Joseph C. Wright
Darryl F. Zanuck
Best Art Direction
Best Supporting Actress
Best Supporting Actress
Best Writing, Screenplay
Come to the Stable
Come to the Stable was based on a story by noted writer and subsequent U.S. Congresswoman Clare Boothe Luce, who penned the famously catty play The Women in 1936. Luce, a recent convert to Catholicism, was inspired by a fact-based incident in which two nuns traveled to Bethlehem, Connecticut to transform a dilapidated factory into the Abbey of Regina Laudis in 1947. Initially 20th Century Fox thought the story too religious to be appealing to mainstream audiences. However, the success of similarly-themed films such as Paramount's Going My Way (1944), which won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and RKO's The Bells of St. Mary's (1945), which was nominated for Best Picture, helped convince studio executives that Come to the Stable could also perform well at the box office.
Writer Oscar Millard was the first writer brought in to adapt Luce's story into a screenplay. It became necessary to make a few key changes to the plot in order to circumvent the need for rights clearance with the real-life Benedictine nuns on which the film was based. According to studio documents, the Benedictines, with whom Fox had been trying to negotiate a deal, at first objected to any sort of Hollywood film being made of their story. "Only a documentary, and a very fine one, could satisfy them," wrote a Priory Executive Board member to Clare Boothe Luce's agent Kay Brown in 1948. "...That's why they passed up the $25,000, when they didn't have $200 in the world." After months of trying, however, the film's producer Sam Engel was eventually able to secure the blessings (and signatures) of the sisters, sealed with a $25,000 donation made on behalf of the studio to the Abbey.
Actress Irene Dunne had a strong interest in playing Sister Margaret when Come to the Stable was in its early stages. However, Fox studio chief Darryl Zanuck could only picture gorgeous leading lady Loretta Young in the role. In an internal studio memo, Zanuck called Young "a great Catholic" and pointed out her recent Academy Award win for Best Actress in The Farmer's Daughter (1947). For her part, Loretta Young was pleased with the idea of starring in a religious-themed picture with a positive message.
Loretta Young was one of Hollywood's most vocal Catholics at the time, and her star power allowed her final script approval on Come to the Stable. When she found out that Sam Engel had asked acerbic humorist Dorothy Parker to do a re-write, Young balked. "Sam," she told him according to her authorized 2000 biography by Joan Wester Anderson Forever Young, "I love Dorothy Parker's work...but I don't think she knows much about nuns." The movie star got her way, and a new writer, Sally Benson, was brought on to do a final draft of the screenplay. This time, Young approved.
While no one denied Young's talent, beauty or box office appeal, she quickly began to annoy much of her fellow cast and crew by unofficially appointing herself as a consultant on the film, watching over the representation of all things Catholic with a pious eagle eye. She had people fined for taking the lord's name in vain on the set, which she called "intrinsically evil," and pointed out any error that she perceived regarding the representation of Catholic practices during the shoot and insisted they be corrected. "These were all minor points," she told her biographer, "but everything had to be credible. Because if you didn't believe they were real nuns, you wouldn't have believed anything else about the picture, especially their faith in God that Clare had written about so beautifully."
Come to the Stable was a solid hit for 20th Century Fox. Its success boosted the careers of everyone involved when the film earned seven Academy Award nominations including Best Actress (Young), Best Supporting Actress (Holm and Lanchester were both nominated), Best Writing - Motion Picture Story (Clare Boothe Luce), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography and Best Original Song for "Through a Long and Sleepless Night."
According to a 1950 news item in the Hollywood Reporter, Fox was planning to make a sequel to Come to the Stable that would team Loretta Young, Celeste Holm and producer Sam Engel again called A Spark in the Night. The proposed plot had the sisters traveling to Japan to work with bomb victims at Hiroshima, but the sequel was never produced.
Producer: Samuel G. Engel
Director: Henry Koster
Screenplay: Oscar Millard, Sally Benson; Clare Boothe Luce (story)
Cinematography: Joseph La Shelle
Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler, Joseph C. Wright
Music: Cyril Mockridge
Film Editing: William Reynolds
Cast: Loretta Young (Sister Margaret), Celeste Holm (Sister Scholastica), Hugh Marlowe (Robert Masen), Elsa Lanchester (Amelia Potts), Thomas Gomez (Luigi Rossi), Dorothy Patrick (Kitty), Basil Ruysdael (The Bishop), Dooley Wilson (Anthony James), Regis Toomey (Monsignor Talbot), Mike Mazurki (Sam).
by Andrea Passafiume
Come to the Stable
According to documents in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department and the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, this film originated as a fact-based story submitted to the studio by writer Clare Boothe Luce, a convert to Catholicism. The real "Sisters Margaret and Scolastica" were the Reverend Mother Benedict Duss and Sister Mary-Aline, who settled in Bethlehem, CT, at the invitation of a painter of biblical subjects, Mrs. Lauren Ford. Robert S. Leather, a Protestant, donated the land on which the nuns eventually constructed the Regina Laudis Priory out of an old factory. Fox went through protracted negotiations with the nuns and the Catholic Church hierarchy to secure permission to present the story.
In August 1948, Greta Palmer, who was a member of the Executive Board of the Priory and had been working on the project as a researcher for Mrs. Luce, wrote to Luce's agent, Kay Brown: "Now Fox has evidently got a script that [Catholic authorities] think is fine for the Church. That does not mean it is fine in Mother Benedict's eyes for her to be involved in. The Benedictines are terrific spiritual snobs...especially those from France....This one is probably a picture many Catholics will like, including members of the hierarchy; I doubt very much whether it will come within miles of being anything the Benedictines will like....Only a documentary, and a very fine one, could satisfy them....That's why they passed up the $25,000, when they didn't have $200 in the world." The $25,000 referred to was the sum the studio offered the nuns for the rights to their story.
A September 2, 1948 memo from producer Sam Engel to the studio's legal department stated that, in order to negate the need for rights clearance, the character names and locale had been changed and the nuns's objective would not be to build an abbey, but a maternity hospital for wives of G.I.'s. Negotiations continued with the principals and, early in January 1949, when the film was already shooting, Engel visited Mother Benedict, Sister Mary-Aline, Mrs. Ford and Mr. Leather. Engel explained in detail what the studio was doing with the story, read key scenes directly from the script, showed them about thirty stills and finally secured their signatures. In his report to the legal department, Engel stated that, "Mother Benedict was highly pleased with what we were doing, and gave me and us her blessings." The studio ended up making a $25,000 donation to the Priory, although certain records suggest that MCA, Luce's agency, took 10% for their efforts.
Although there May have been an agreement that there would be no publicity linking the film with the Priory, a September 3, 1948 article in The Bridgeport Post, found in the AMPAS Library production file on the film, detailing the solemn ceremony of separating eight cloistered nuns from the outside world, describes Luce as having been "inspired by the experiences of the nuns to write the script for a motion picture, Come to the Stable, soon to be produced in Hollywood featuring Loretta Young and Celeste Holm as the two founding nuns." Shortly after the film opened in New York, Life magazine, a Luce publication, ran a story about the nuns and the film.
According to studio records, several writers worked on drafts of the story. In the spring of 1948, Oscar Millard sought to have it established that he and Mrs. Luce developed the story together. After turning in a Revised First Draft Continuity, dated June 16, 1948, Millard left the project. Dorothy Parker and Ross Evans then wrote another screenplay. John Lee Mahin also contributed a version and the final script was written by Sally Benson. The extent of the contribution of the non-credited writers to the released film has not been determined. However, it is clear from a December 14, 1948 memo to producer Engel, who May also have contributed to the writing, that it was executive producer Darryl F. Zanuck who provided the rationale for the nuns's desire to build a children's hospital.
In a July 6, 1948 memo, Zanuck wrote, "I keep seeing Loretta Young in this role [Sister Margaret] more than anyone else. As you know, she is a great Catholic, she was in a big hit picture last year and won the Academy Award. Irene Dunne wants to do it but I am afraid that she is not at all right for it. If the Church does not object, Annabella would be sensational as Sister Scolastica...Josephine Hull would be wonderful as Miss Potts." In order to have "Bob's" song appear to be based on a chant sung by the nuns, composer Alfred Newman also wrote the "chant" and prominent choral director Roger Wagner supplied the Latin words. (The name of the music critic character in the film who notices the similarity between the melodies is "Al Newman.") Variety, the CBCS and other contemporary sources list the characters portrayed by Tim Huntley and Virginia Keiley as "Mr. and Mrs. Thompson," names used in early versions of the screenplay. In the released film, however, they are identified as "Mr. and Mrs. Townsend-Cooper." A studio press release, found in the AMPAS Library file on the film, includes Wyatt Haupt in the cast, but his appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. According to the same press release, the Henry Fonda home in Brentwood CA, was used for certain exteriors of Bob's home. The principal exterior sets of the stable and surrounding countryside were built on sound stages.
Come to the Stable received Academy Award nominations for Best Black and White Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Black and White Cinematography, Best Motion Picture Story and Best Song. Loretta Young was nominated for Best Actress and both Celeste Holm and Elsa Lanchester were nominated for Best Supporting Actress. A radio adaptation of the film, featuring Loretta Young and Hugh Marlowe, was broadcast on Lux Radio Theatre on April 3, 1950 and March 24, 1952. A version was also broadcast on Screen Guild Players on December 21, 1950 and an eight-minute extract was featured on Hedda Hopper's program on January 21, 1951. A November 20, 1950 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that negotiations had been completed between the studio and Luce to make a sequel to Come to the Stable, again teaming Young, Holm and producer Engel. In the proposed sequel, A Spark in the Night, the nuns travel to Japan to work among the bomb victims at Hiroshima. This sequel was never made.