Teacher’s Pet is memorable for the first and only teaming of Clark Gable and Doris Day.
It is also memorable for a script which has the newspaper business well to the front of the plot, not the backdrop you might expect in a romantic comedy.
This is a clever and literate screenplay by Fay and Michael Kanin (for which they received an Oscar nomination.)
I like one of the ads for the film: “To a guy like Gable,what a difference a Day makes!”
With a catchy title song sung by Doris Day over the titles, we are introduced to the world of the New York newspaper, The Evening Chronicle. A guide (Jack Albertson) is showing a group round the city room which is full of reporters at their desks. The guide is droning on about the Chronicle staff, “…..men and women who uphold the highest tradition of American journalism.” As he speaks,someone slaps a pile of newspapers (the latest edition) on the table near him. The lurid headline on the front page is ‘Hatchet murderer slain in love nest.’
The city editor of the Chronicle,Jim Gannon (Clark Gable) has received a letter from Erica Stone (Doris Day) asking him to be guest lecturer at her night school journalism class. Jim’s opinion of teaching journalism is very clear – “I don’t like eggheads.I don’t like colleges.”
Jim never went to high school and is proud of getting where he is by learning on the job.
He writes a withering letter to Erica but his boss tells him to go to the college and apologise.
So he reluctantly goes that evening and is pleasantly surprised by the attractive Erica. Before he can say anything, Erica reads his letter out to the class – he has made it clear how useless he thinks her class is - ‘….the only way to learn about the 4th estate is through first hand experience’. Erica has the class laughing at the old fashioned style of Mr Gannon and Jim sneaks out of the class without talking to her. Next day, in the city room, he is bawling everyone out and muttering to himself, ‘……Amateurs teaching amateurs how to be amateurs.’
But Jim is intrigued by the lovely Erica and goes back. He calls himself Jim Gallagher and she asks him to try writing a piece – 250 words on a current murder story. He does it in 5 minutes,saying, “You know what they say,news writing is literature in a hurry.”
Erica is very impressed and asks him what his business is – “Paper – wallpaper.” They discuss reporting and she says the basic fundamentals can be taught. Jim wants to get personal – “How could you give up a real newspaper job for teaching.?” Erica replies, “Maybe for the same reason a musician wants to be a conductor – he wants to hear 100 people playing music the way he hears it. If I can influence a few students who might some day become reporters and eventually editors….”
on the subject and his assistant Roy (Charles Lane) asks why he wants it. He replies, “I’m going to school. I need it for my homework!” Roy says, “Ask a silly question…..”
Jim finds out Erica is seeing Dr Hugo Pine who is a psychologist and writer. Jim becomes resigned to nothing happening between Erica and him. In her office, he throws caution to the wind and takes her in his arms and kisses her before he leaves .
Erica is taken aback – her legs nearly give way under her after the steamy kiss – (after all, it is the King!)
By an amazing coincidence,Erica and Hugo (Gig Young) visit a nightclub called the Bongo Club.Jim’s girlfriend,Peggy De Fore (Mamie Van Doren) sings there. When he sees them,Jim starts muttering again,this time to Peggy, “So he’s got more degrees than a thermometer , so he speaks 7 languages, so he’s read every book – so what. The important thing is he’s had no experience. You have to start at the bottom.It’s the only way you can learn.”
Peggy leaves him to get ready for her number and Jim joins Erica and Hugo. They talk and the two men drink a lot. Hugo always tops him,whether it’s doing the mambo with Erica,or playing the bongo drums,or downing drinks.
There’s further embarrassment for Jim when Peggy does her number, ‘The Girl who invented Rock and Roll’ with lots of bumps and grinds!
Finally they leave and Hugo (who has said alcohol doesn’t affect him) takes a deep breath and promptly faints! Jim and Erica take Hugo home ,then Jim goes back to Erica’s apartment. There’s a funny scene when Erica imitates Peggy’s song and girations to Jim’s amusement. He says,”She’s off on Mondays. Maybe you could fill in for her.”
Jim finds out Erica’s father was Joel Barlow Stone, a Pulitzer Prize winning editor of a small newspaper,the Eureka Bulletin.He still cant bring himself to tell Erica who he is.
But his deception is soon uncovered as Erica visits the Chronicle’ s publisher and meets Jim. She’s shocked of course but says,”I’m not angry.I just feel a little bruised as if I’ve been kicked .” After she leaves, Jim is very despondent and quiet and Roy, his assistant says, “Yell at me.Swear at me, but please don’t be quiet and polite,Jim.”
In the end, he does get his confidence back after reading some issues of the Eureka Bulletin. He says to her,”I’m sure what good journalism should be, because this is one of the lousiest papers I’ve ever seen….I’m interested in these kids you’re teaching,but tell ‘em the truth – this is a business – we stay alive by advertising. You’re giving this paper a sentimental reverence it doesn’t deserve.”
Eventually, Erica turns up again at the Chronicle and asks Jim again to talk to the students. As they leave the city room together,one of the reporters says, “What have they got in common?” and Roy smiles, “If I know Jim,He’ll find something!”
Gig Young provides excellent support to the two stars. His attempt to deal with a hangover is hilarious.
Doris Day is perfect as Erica.
Only distraction – I wish Gable had been about 10 years younger. The writers have Erica saying to Jim (when he is Gallagher), “I want you to make me a promise – that you’ll give up the wallpaper business and really make a stab at reporting.”
This post is part of the Journalism in Classic Film Blogathon. There are some wonderful articles on many other journalism themed movies here