Monday, December 12, 2016

Merry Christmas, KATHY O' (1958)

Jack Sher's 1948 magazine story Memo on Kathy O'Rourke is the basis for the 1958 Universal-International release Kathy O' written and directed by Jack Sher.  Sher was nominated for a Writers Guild of America award shared with A.B. Guthrie for the Shane screenplay. You may be familiar with some of Sher's other screenplays such as The Kid from Left Field, Walk the Proud Land, The Wild and the Innocent, Paris Blues and Critics Choice.

Memo on Kathy O'Rourke reads as a memo from Harry Johnson, publicity man based in Hollywood to his counterpart Irv in New York City. Harry has special instructions on the upcoming visit by the studio's child star and her guardian. Harry describes how he came to befriend the lonely kid and the truth behind her well-publicized "kidnapping". The same details survived to Sher's screenplay, plus.

Kathy O'Rourke (Patty McCormack) is the studio's most valuable property and she is treated as such by the brass and by her maternal aunt (Mary Jane Croft). Kathy's late mother had been a successful stage actress and when her parents were killed her aunt took over management of Kathy's life and career. Kathy is lonely and frustrated. Her only release is through a display of temper. Grown men quake at her outbursts. Smart men keep out of her way. Harry Johnson is a smart man, but a cog in the publicity machine must obey orders. He'd like to stay out of her way or give that kid a wallop. Fellow wage slave Ben Melnick (Sam Levene) reminds Harry that a wallop would be illegal as actresses are considered women.

The top writer on a New York magazine Celeste Saunders (Jan Sterling) is going to do a piece on Kathy and the studio is desperate that there be nothing untoward in the article.  Celeste has asked for Harry to be her assistant while in Hollywood. She related that they are good friends. Harry assures his boss that he and Celeste are indeed good friends, that is at least after their divorce 12 years ago.

Harry's wife Helen (Mary Fickett) was Celeste's roommate in New York. She probably knows more about Harry and Celeste's relationship than Harry does. Harry's kids Tommy (Terry Kelman) and "Bobo" (Ricky Kelman) are mildly surprised that their father seems to have a plethora of wives coming out of the woodwork.


The film is set at Christmas allowing for a background of decorations, gifts and carolers. Christmas is also a time when the lonely keenly feel their situation. Kathy lets her guard down with Celeste and finds a friend. Celeste, despite her success, pines for a touch of what her old friend Helen has, namely children. She finds that touch of a kindred spirit in the child who is loved by millions and by no one.

The annual Christmas parade creates a source of conflict for Kathy who thought she had a deal with Harry and her aunt that in return for good behavior with Celeste, she would not have to participate in the parade. When good old Aunt Harriet reneges on her side of the bargain, Kathy runs away.

Aunt Harriet and the studio jump to the conclusion that their golden egg has been kidnapped. Harry did not realize the story that was getting around when he took Kathy home to meet the family and now he's finding it awfully difficult to return the child without losing his job or landing in jail. How does Kathy adapt to living with a regular family? Will Harry keep his job or accept Celeste's enticing offer to return to New York?

You will love seeing Dan Duryea, the clown prince of noir, in the role of a harried family man. There is not a single trace of a psychotically motivated action. If you only know Mary Fickett from her Emmy winning years as Ruth Martin on All My Children you will gain a greater appreciation of the actress (also check out Man on Fire) for her combination of sophistication and warmth. Jan Sterling has a role that plays to all her strengths and vulnerabilities as a career woman who can't have it all.

Patty McCormack, the dynamo child actress who has been working since the age of eight right to this day, must have had a blast playing a temperamental star. Kathy O' was made two years after she recreated her Broadway role of Rhoda in The Bad Seed to a supporting actress nomination. Pair Kathy O' with the 1957 release All Mine to Give for a Patty Christmas double bill. If you are not tired, throw in the Wagon Train episode The Mary Ellen Thomas Story for good measure.

Kathy O' is a charming story about adults with problems, and children with adult problems. It is told with a winning sense of humor and understanding.  It would be enjoyable any time of year, but particularly during the season of Good Will.


  1. I like Dan Duryea a lot, Pat. Thanks for sending me this link. I'll check out the film.

    1. Dan as a family man is completely endearing. Even more so than those psychos he portrays so well, but we still like. What a guy!

  2. A Patty Christmas double-bill! Ha! Oh dear, every time I read one of your posts I end up with a longer "to watch" list, CW. "Man on Fire" and "The Mary Ellen Thomas Story" just got added to that list. What I liked best about Kathy O was the script, which was very well-written, and that late-1950s suburban setting. Had this script sat on a shelf for a few years more it probably would have been made into a Bob Hope film the vein of Bachelor in Paradise or A Global Affair. But I like it just the way it is - sweet and entertaining.

    1. I agree with your assessment of the timing of this movie. The comedy and its playing is so touchingly real.

  3. I've never even heard of it. Sounds lovely and I'll put it on my to watch list. :)
    Margot (having big trouble signing in)



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