Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


Letitia "Tish" Carberry was one of Mary Roberts Rinehart's most popular characters.  The rawboned spinster appeared in enough short stories to fill six books, from 1911's The Amazing Adventures of Letitia Carberry to 1937's Tish Marches On.   

She made it to the big screen in 1942 in the form of popular actress Marjorie Main (Ma Kettle in ten "Ma and Pa Kettle" movies; Mrs. O'Malley -- a renamed Hildegarde Withers -- in Mrs. O'Malley and Mister Malone; the title role in Gentile Annie)

Tish lives in Sunville with her nephew Charlie (Lee Bowman).  She is noted for putting her nose where it doesn't belong, often with disastrous results.  In this she is abetted by her friends Aggie Pilkington (Zasu Pitts) and Lizzie Wilkins (Aline MacMahon), both of whom live nearby in a boarding house.  Charlie loves Kit Bowser (Virginia Gray), the daughter of Judge Horace Bowser (the always watchable Guy Kibbee).  Cora (Susan Peters) is a girl from the boarding house who thinks she is in love with Charlie.  Tish, Aggie, and Lizzie decide to try to get Cora and charlie together.  The plot goes astray when Cora decides she really loves Kit's brother Ted (Richard Quine) and the two secretly marry just before Ted is sent to flight training in Canada.  Cora, anxious to join her new husband, steals money from the church organ fund and vanishes.  Tish takes the blame for the missing funds.  Cora meanwhile, is pregnant.  She has managed to raise money to replace that she has stolen when she gets a wire that Ted has been killed in a training accident.  This proves to be too much for Cora, who collapses, is brought to a hospital, gives birth, and then conveniently dies.  Tish thinks the baby is Charlie's and brings him home to raise by herself, saying that she is the child's grandmother.  Charlie thinks Tish has gone off the rails and has her committed to a mental hospital and plans to take the baby to an orphanage.

Fun, huh?

Well, this soap opera is a comedy, and a pretty good one at that. 

Tish was directed by S. Sylvan Simon (The Fuller Brush Man, Whistling in the Dark); and adapted from Rinehart's Tish stories by Annalee Whitmore and Tom Seller, who had collaborated on two earlier films), with a screenplay by Harry Ruskin (writer of twelve Dr. Kildare/Dr. Gillespie films and three Andy Hardy movies).  Two-time Oscar winner Frances Marion and voice actor and script doctor Carey Wilson were both uncredited writers.  Add in the talented cast and you have a movie I like.

Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876-1958) was one the most popular writers in the first half of the 20th century.  She is perhaps best known for her mystery stories and was known as "America's Agatha Christie" -- this despite the fact that her first mystery appeared fourteen years before Mrs. Christie's.  Although the phrase "The butler did it" never appeared in her books, she is credited with that phrase because of her 1930 novel The Door.  Rinehart is also credited with inventing the "had I but known" school of mystery writing.  Rinehart had an interesting life.  She served as a war correspondent during World War I.  She once had a chef who had worked for her for twenty-five years before firing a pistol at her and trying to attack her with knives; the chef committed suicide the next day.  In the 1940s Rinehart underwent a radical mastectomy; she went public about it in a 1947 interview, urging women to have breast examinations -- something that was not really done at the time (back in the days when the word "cancer" seldom appeared in print).  For that act of bravery alone, she should be lauded.

Enjoy the poking and prying Miss Carberry.

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