Never Wave at a WAC
Cast & Crew
Norman Z. Mcleod
During one of her famous parties, Washington socialite Jo McBain, the daughter of Senator Tom Reynolds, learns that her boyfriend, Lt. Col. Schuyler "Sky" Fairchild, is being transferred to Paris to participate in SHAPE. As soon as she learns that Sky will be accompanied by the flirtatious Phyllis Turnbull, Jo announces that she is going to Paris, too. The party ends abruptly when Jo's ex-husband Andrew, who has snuck back to his former residence to retrieve his dog Angus and books he needs for his scientific Army research, gets into a loud argument with Jo. Andrew, who fell in love with Jo during a South Sea island vacation, now reviles her manic socializing, while Jo disdains his boring work and friends. Later, Jo's father, who has a soft spot for Andrew, convinces Jo join the WACs so that she can be sent to Paris and protect her interests with Sky. Assured by Tom that he will use his influence to secure a commission for her, Jo enlists and is assigned to Company B at the Fort Lee, Virginia, training camp. Jo immediately antagonizes her sergeant, Toni Wayne, with her flippant snobbishness and disregard for rules. Fellow recruit Clara Schneiderman, a former showgirl known as Danger O'Dowd, however, is impressed by Jo's sophistication and befriends her. During their initial interviews, the dimwitted Clara, who joined up to escape her wolfish admirers, declares that she wants to work in intelligence, while Jo repeatedly demands her commission. After a series of phone calls, including one to Gen. Omar N. Bradley, Jo learns that her father has pulled no strings on her behalf. Despite being a lowly private, Jo refuses to take her training seriously and makes it clear that she is just marking time. Meanwhile, at a nearby Army camp, Andrew instructs Sgt. Norbert "Noisy" Jackson to procure four women on whom to test a new cold weather fabric he has developed. Upon observing the women at the camp swimming pool, the womanizing Noisy picks buxom Clara, whom he recognizes as Danger O'Dowd. Andrew then shows up and is startled to see Jo among the recruits. After overhearing her on the phone arranging to meet Sky during her upcoming pass, Andrew insists that she be included in the study. For the experiment, Andrew has the women perform various tasks in simulated blizzard conditions and is particularly harsh on Jo. When Sky arrives for Jo, Andrew prolongs her assignment until it is too late for her to use her pass. While driving Jo back to Fort Lee, Sky tells her that she can earn a commission if she can impress her commanding officers for the next three weeks. To Andrew's surprise, the newly motivated Jo volunteers for the optional firing range instruction and impresses him with her efforts. Later, Jo is about to go out with Sky, when Clara, who has been dating Noisy, reveals that she told Noisy about Jo's plans. As feared, Andrew appears before Jo can leave and announces he is conducting another test. Andrew then forces Jo to endure hours of traipsing through rain and mud while dressed in his experimental wet-weather gear. Fed up, Jo starts to yell at Andrew and finally slaps him. Soon after, Jo's superiors conduct a hearing to determine whether she should remain in the WACS. Although Andrew defends her, Jo admits that she is no soldier and should leave. That night, during a party celebrating Company B's victory in a marching competition, Clara tricks Noisy into proposing to her. At the same time, Jo and Andrew, who has accepted a post in Korea, agree to a friendly truce, having acquired a new respect for each other. Jo makes plans to elope with Sky as soon as she is relieved of duty, but as Sky is driving her out of the camp, she starts to have second thoughts. Then, when a truck of fresh recruits passes them on the road, Jo jumps out of Sky's car and runs to catch up with the truck. After jumping aboard, Jo tells the unsuspecting women that she is planning to go to Korea.
Norman Z. Mcleod
Vince Townsend Jr.
Capt. Barbara Jane Smith
Lt. Helen Foster
Lt. Norma Busse
Gen. Omar N. Bradley
The Unger Twins
Capt. James Altieri
William E. Flannery
Camilla Mays Frank
Maj. L. H. Lockhart
Bruce W. Odlum
Capt. Barbara Jane Smith
Never Wave at a WAC (1953) - Never Wave at a WAC
Rosalind, unlike other stars of the time, hadn't yet made her television debut, and Brisson wanted to see if "The Private Wore Skirts" had any comedic crossover potential for TV and film. He arranged for Russell to star in an hour-long version of the re-named Never Wave at a WAC on Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, the newest big-name showcase for movie stars dipping their toes into TV (it had only debuted two weeks before). The show was broadcast live on Friday, October 19, 1951, with Russell starring, and Brisson liked what he saw enough to decide to put it into production as a full-length motion picture, and the first independent comedy from the husband-and-wife team.
Brisson engaged actor/writers Frederick Kohner and Fred Brady as screenwriters (along with Ken Englund to finish the screenplay) -- both Freds had appeared as actors in the Never Wave at a WAC television broadcast along with Russell -- to fully flesh out the story of the big-time Washington D.C. hostess, daughter of a Senator, who decides to join the Women's Army Corps with the romantic notion of following her Army boyfriend to Paris. Russell had already perfected playing strong-willed females throughout her entire career, and this project also promised lots of opportunities for broad physical comedy which, though not her only specialty, was certainly within her range of talents which audiences had come to expect and love.
Certainly there was nothing new in the notion of a service comedy, but there was still something a little novel about women in the Army, even after their brave service during World War II. The Women's Army Auxiliary Corps First was created in 1942 but without official military status; in 1943 the name was changed to the Women's Army Corp -- WAC -- and during the War nearly one hundred thousand women served. After the war the numbers went down to about 6,500 in 1948, but as America entered the Korean conflict and needed their services again, many reservists and former officers returned to duty. The primary training center was at Camp Lee -- later Fort Lee -- Virginia, which opened in July of 1948. Frederick Brisson and the cast and crew of Never Wave at a WAC were given permission by the Department of Defense, Department of the Army, and the WAC contingent at Camp Lee to do location filming at the actual training base.
Key to the plot of Never Wave at a WAC were the rigors of basic training which Russell's character Jo McBain assumed she'd skip over due to her Senator father's influence, but the fix wasn't in and she was just another recruit. Played to the hilt by Russell, whose character almost prefigured her immortal portrayal of Auntie Mame (1958) a few years later as a hostess extraordinaire at home in her Washington digs, the actress was in her comedic element enduring the by-the-book procedures and less-than-glamorous environs of the WAC center.
Co-starring with Russell was the blonde bombshell Marie Wilson, who'd shot to stardom several years before as the title character in My Friend Irma (1949) in movies and later on a TV series. Able to play both sweet and sensuous, Wilson would always be pegged as the beautiful but dumb blonde, a typecasting which dismayed her and kept her from tackling more ambitious roles. Nevertheless, she was always a delight onscreen and never more so than in Never Wave at a WAC, where she plays former exotic dancer Danger O'Dowd -- real name Clara -- who's tired of being pursued by a long line of male admirers. She pals up with Jo as they make their way through basic. Imagine Jo's shock when the recruiting process hits a snag as her demands to be given her commission are met with silence, and she learns her father decided to make her work this one out on her own. The diva dies hard, though, and Jo is in constant conflict with her superiors and Army life in general.
Playing Jo's ex-husband, who is working with the Army in some equipment trials, is Paul Douglas, the source of much of the wild slapstick comedy in Never Wave at a WAC. The actor had recently enjoyed a huge success on Broadway playing the crude businessman in Born Yesterday. He'd also had a solid movie career, becoming an audience favorite for two baseball-themed comedies, It Happens Every Spring (1949) and Angels in the Outfield (1951). As comfortable in drama -- A Letter to Three Wives (1949) -- as comedy, he was a formidable leading man and a tremendous match to Rosalind Russell's onscreen strength.
On the distaff side, the comely Hillary Brooke was set to play a rival for Sky's affections. Brooke was a statuesque beauty who had put in a lot of time in comedy with Abbott and Costello, but was equally adept in dramatic roles, and of course roles which required her to do nothing but look her naturally gorgeous self.
To direct Never Wave at a WAC, producer Brisson brought in Norman Z. McLeod, a veteran comedy specialist who honed his craft as an animator in silent film cartoons but soon graduated to live-action comedy in Horse Feathers (1932) for the Marx Brothers, It's a Gift (1934) with W. C. Fields, and many other major comic successes.
The generous participation of the Army and military staff added a welcome touch of realism to Never Wave at a WAC. The celebrated 14th Army Band, the all-female marching band created in 1942, made an appearance in the movie. Brisson was even able to persuade the then General of the Army Omar Bradley, the celebrated war hero from WW II, to make a cameo. It was quite a coup; post-WW II Bradley continued to serve in the military as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and as the first head of NATO, and later distinguished himself in civilian life as well.
Never Wave at a WAC received generally favorable reviews. The NY Times allowed that it supplied "a generous consignment of laughs" and ultimately concluded that although the movie "...is never hilarious it does put a comic slant on the regimented ladies." Time Magazine noted its "wacky comedy" -- who could avoid using the pun -- and all agreed that Rosalind Russell sure knew how to get a laugh.
Though Never Wave at a WAC is undoubtedly a product of its time -- and no doubt might have re-opened a few women's minds to the idea of a career in the Army (which badly needed them) -- it's hard to quibble when you've got the tremendous energy and charisma of Rosalind Russell up on the screen. Audiences would follow her anywhere, and that's the real charm of the movie. When Rosalind Russell recruited laughs from you, she got them.
Producers: Frederick Brisson, Gordon S. Griffith
Director: Norman Z. McLeod
Screenplay: Ken Englund; Frederick Kohner, Fred Brady (story)
Cinematography: William H. Daniels
Art Direction: William Flannery
Music: Elmer Bernstein
Film Editing: Stanley Johnson
Cast: Rosalind Russell (Jo McBain), Paul Douglas (Andrew McBain), Marie Wilson (Clara Schneiderman/Danger O'Dowd), William Ching (Lt. Col. Schuyler 'Sky' Fairchild), Arleen Whelan (Sgt. Toni Wayne), Leif Erickson (Sgt. Norbert 'Noisy' Jackson), Hillary Brooke (First Lt. Phyllis Turnbull), Charles Dingle (Sen. Tom Reynolds).
by Lisa Mateas
Never Wave at a WAC (1953) - Never Wave at a WAC
The film's opening credits include the following written statement: "We gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of the Department of Defense, the Department of the Army and particularly the Woman's Army Corps at Fort Lee, Virginia, for their assistance in the making of this picture. Our thanks, also, to General of the Army, Omar N. Bradley, for his participation in the picture." The character of "Jo McBain" is introduced by a voice-over narrator, describing Washington, D.C. and its influential women. SHAPE, the organization referred to in the film, is the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Powers in Europe. Founded in April 1951, SHAPE was created to establish an integrated and effective NATO military force. Its first headquarters was Rocquencourt, France, and in 1967, it moved to Belgium.
According to a March 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item, the title of Fred Brady and Fred Kohner's screen story was "The Newest Profession." Independent Artists Pictures was controlled by producer Frederick Brisson and his wife, Rosalind Russell. On October 19, 1951, the CBS television network broadcast an early version of Brady and Kohner's story, starring Russell, in her television debut, and directed by William H. Brown, Jr. According to the Daily Variety review of the television program, which also was titled Never Wave at a WAC, Russell mounted the broadcast in order to "determine audience reaction, before sinking a hefty budget into its filmization." In the television version, Russell's character had a daughter, played by Betty Lynn.
As noted above, much of the film was shot at Fort Lee, VA, a WAC training camp. According to an April 1952 Variety item and the Variety review, interiors were to be shot at the Walt Disney Studios, marking the first time that an outside production was to be filmed there. Hollywood Reporter news items add Rudy Martin, Joan Croyden, Louis Larabee, Ellen Leslie, Raymond Rambly, Nolan Leary, Lawrence Montaign, Dick Bartell, Margot Carin and Sushila Janadus to the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. The picture had its world premiere in Washington, D.C., a gala event attended by many dignitaries, including Gen. Bradley. According to an undated Louella Parsons column, included in the file of the film at the AMPAS Library, First Lady Mamie Eisenhower declined an invitation to the premiere because the theater that was hosting the event had segregated seating. The picture was reportedly the first to be screened at the Eisenhower White House, however.