Watching 1939: These Glamour Girls

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film:  These Glamour Girls (1939)

Release date:  August 18, 1939

Cast:  Lew Ayres, Lana Turner, Tom Brown, Richard Carlson, Ann Rutherford, Jane Bryan, Marsha Hunt, Anita Louise, Mary Beth Hughes, Owen Davis Jr., Sumner Getchell, Ernest Truex, Peter Lind Hayes, Tom Collins, Gladys Blake (uncredited), Nella Walker (uncredited), Robert Walker (uncredited), Henry Kolker (uncredited)

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:  S. Sylvan Simon

Plot:
During a night in New York City, drunk, rich college boy Philip S. Griswold (Ayres) and his friends head to a taxi dance hall (where people pay 10 cents a dance to dance with girls who work at the hall). Philip dances with Jane Thomas (Turner) and asks her to the Kingsford College House Parties, an exclusive party where New York debutantes are invited by the college “glamour boys.” When Jane arrives at Kingsford, she isn’t welcomed with open arms.

The female Kingsford House Parties attendees include:
Ann (Hughes): Invited to the House Parties by Greg Smith. Her mother doesn’t think it’s proper that he may not be in the social registry.

Daphne (Louise): Uppity debutante who receives three invites to Kingsford and calls up all the other debutantes to humble brag. Throughout the course of the weekend, she is snobbish to everyone but especially Jane.

Carol (Bryan): Carol is sweet, understanding and comes from a wealthy family whose father has recently lost his money and without servants. To keep up appearances, she pretends to be servants when she answers the phone. Carol was invited by Philip (Ayres) and they are childhood sweethearts, but she is really in love with Joe (Carlson).

Mary Rose (Rutherford): High strung debutante who says she’s a social outcast when she isn’t invited to Kingsford like all the other debutantes. Her mother has to call her usual date Homer (Brown) to invite her.

Betty (Hunt): Betty is older than the other girls at the old age of 23. They called her the prom queen of 1936. She is over the top to get attention.

1939 Notes:
• Lana Turner’s first film where she was the main focus of the story.
• Lana Turner and Ann Rutherford co-starred in two films together in 1939. The second was “Dancing Co-Ed”
• Mary Beth Hughes was in 9 films released in 1939
• Jane Bryan was in six films in 1939. She acted in her last film in 1940.

Other trivia: 
• Based on the short story “These Glamour Girls,” by Jane Hall in Cosmopolitan magazine
• All of the female stars were to share a dressing room. Lana Turner complained to L. B. Mayer and succeeded in getting her own dressing room, according to her autobiography “Lana: The Lady, the Legend, the Truth” by Lana Turner.
• Lana Turner’s 11th movie since starting in films in 1937.
• Jane Bryan was on loan from Warner Brothers to be in this film.

The cast of “These Glamour Girls” (1939): Tom Brown and Ann Rutherford, Richard Carlson and Jane Bryan, Lew Ayres and Lana Turner, Sumner Getchell and Anita Louise, Peter Lind Hayes and Marsha Hunt, Owen Davis Jr. and Mary Beth Hughes

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
1939 was an important year for Lana Turner. Turner stared in films in 1937. She had a small role (and is murdered at the beginning of the film) of “They Won’t Forget” (1937). After being cast in supporting roles in films like “Love Finds Andy Hardy” (1938) or Dramatic School (1938), “These Glamour Girls” (1939) cast her as the star with top and billed co-starring with Lew Ayres.

“These Glamour Girls” is the first film where Turner’s character is the focal point of the story, however, this film has an ensemble cast that exhibits the young talent of MGM.

The movie is a social comedy, showing the snobbish cruelty of New York City debutantes. At the beginning of the film, all the debutantes are receiving their invitations in the mail to Kingsford House Parties. Exhibiting the importance of wealth the best is when Ann’s mother shouts to her maid “Hand me the social register!” to check up on her daughter’s date. Meanwhile, other girls are having hissy fits because they weren’t invited or others are bragging about how many invitations they got.

The debutantes put down each other, though they are supposedly friends, and make cruel jokes towards Turner, who is a dime-a-dance girl picked up by Ayres during his drunken night of partying. However, the tables are turned on the debutantes. When they try to bring Turner down by outing her to the college boys as a taxi dancer, Turner only becomes more popular and is the belle of the House Parties.

After “These Glamour Girls,” Lana Turner got top billing in her next picture, Dancing Co-Ed (1939). Only a few years after this film was released, Lana Turner’s characters were usually swathed in glamour. But here, she plays a sweet, unaffected young woman from the wrong side of the tracks. She moved from Kansas to New York City to make it big as a star but is working as a dime-a-dance girl at a taxi dance hall. Lana Turner in her early films is different than the woman we see in films like “Peyton Place.” Not yet one of MGM’s top stars, her voice is light and sweet and her energy just bubbles over. We also get to see Lana Turner’s dance skills in this film, in a fun scene with her and Peter Lind Hayes.

But while this movie is important for Lana Turner’s career, the rest of the ensemble cast is excellent and a delight to watch.

Anita Louise, who could play any character and had acted since 1922, plays the mean girl to the hilt. Ann Rutherford is a squealing spoiled brat who’s desperation to be loved by her date, played by Tom Brown, drives him away. Jane Bryan is a rich girl, but her family is struggling with money. She is nicer than most of the other debutantes, and while her feelings may be hurt that her date, Lew Ayres, invited Lana Turner, she is okay with it because she’s in love with Richard Carlson, who is working his way through college.

Betty, played by Marsha Hunt, asks Jane and Phi (Turner and Ayres) if they have seen her date Tommy, played by Tom Collins, who has ditched her.

But of the debutantes, the top performance goes to Marsha Hunt. Her character is heartbreaking and Hunt plays the part so well. The college boys and debutantes make her sound like she’s an old woman, but she’s 23 and still trying to fit in with the college crowd. She talks loudly and extravagantly to get attention, but everyone usually roles their eyes. One girl mentions that Marsha Hunt’s character should get married before she misses her chance. (Funnily enough, Anita Louise was actually older than Marsha Hunt when this was filmed). You realize everything Hunt says is an act to get attention or be popular, because as soon as someone turns their back, her face falls. She knows that she is no longer the popular collegiate girl she once was. It just makes you want to cry. Hunt is my favorite character in the film and is my favorite story to follow of the girls.

While the film takes place at a boy’s college, the “Glamour Girls” are really the focus of this story. The boys are mainly window dressing, though a few characters stand out. Lew Ayres is the richest of the students and eventually owns up to his mistake of inviting Lana and treats her to a good time. Ayres’s friend Homer, is played by Tom Brown. Brown can sometimes be a sweet and fun character in this film, but this role is a real slime. His character wanted to go stag but gets forced into taking Ann Rutherford to the dance. He is rude to her and after Ann heads to bed, goes back to the party and connects with Marsha Hunt. Hunt’s character is happy for male attention and Brown takes advantage of her vulnerability. It’s alluded that the two have sex in his dorm room when Lew Ayres finds Hunt’s purse in their room and calls Tom Brown a heel. Richard Carlson is the most likable of the college boys. He is waiting tables at the college to pay his way and he is in love with Jane Bryan. Carlson and Bryan’s romance was the main one I was interested in.

While “These Glamour Girls” isn’t an Academy Award-winning film or wasn’t an A-list movie for MGM in 1939, I love this movie. I’m sure the producers didn’t think it would be an important film of 1939, but it did help further launch the career of Lana Turner, one of MGM’s future top stars. My only beef is I still had a question at the end of the film: Do Jane Bryan and Richard Carlson end up together?

But other than it’s importance, “These Glamour Girls” is plain fun to watch. I love this movie. There are several funny scenes that are matched with others that are very tragic.

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