Wednesday, November 1, 2017


Did your copy of Cheaper by the Dozen/Belles on Their Toes by Frank Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey come through the Scholastic Book Club at school? I was so excited when mine arrived because I was already a fan of the 1950 film. The funny and heartwarming movie was perfect in my young eyes, and I find its charms have not diminished with time.

Frank Bunker Gilbreth (1868-1924) was a pioneer in the field of time and motion management, implementing many concepts accepted in management and the construction industry to this day. Lillian Moller Gilbreth (1878-1972), a noted psychologist and industrial engineer, continued revolutionizing the field after his death. The biographical books by two of the Gilbreth's children recount anecdotes related to their parents use of their professional knowledge and theories in raising their twelve children.

Clifton Webb

The episodic film directed by Walter Lang (The Little Princess, Moon Over Miami, State Fair) features two of Hollywood's most popular stars as Frank and Lillian Gilbreth. Stage star Clifton Webb became an unlikely box office success at the age of 55 after appearing as Waldo Lydecker in 1944s Laura. Audiences couldn't get enough of the patrician and sarcastic Webb in winning comedies such as Dreamboat and the Mr. Belvedere series, and dramas like Titanic.

Myrna Loy

Myrna Loy took a break from Hollywood during the 1940s to devote her time and energy to the war effort for the Red Cross, but came back with a vengeance in The Best Years of Our Lives, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, The Red Pony, and the final two installments in The Thin Man series with William Powell.

The Gilbreths at home.

Cheaper by the Dozen hops, skips and jumps through life with the Gilbreths in the 1920s narrated by oldest daughter Ann played by Jeanne Crain, at 25, back to playing a teenager as in 1946s Margie. We are witness to Mr. and Mrs. Gilbreth's professional accomplishments, along with their experiments in parenting. Throughout these theories and practices in child rearing, the love among the Gilbreths is paramount. Each individual strives to find their voice among the crowd while the family pulls together.

Don't worry about Mr. Gilbreth. He'll be fine.

Amusing anecdotes recount Mr. Gilbreth's interest in medical procedures, particularly as relates to tonsillectomies for his offspring. The Gilbreths encounter with a representative of a Planned Parenthood organization played by Mildred Natwick is a notorious family legend. The children's scheme to use their parents democratic notions against them when it comes to getting a dog into the family over Frank's vehement objections is, amusingly, a success.

Ann rebels by bobbing her hair!

The younger generation has its difficulties. Appalled by the current trend of "flaming youth", Frank persisitently threatens Ann with a convent in New Jersey with 12 foot high walls. Nonetheless, persistence, patience, and affection save the day.

Cheaper by the Dozen was beautifully photographed in Technicolor by 18 time Oscar nominee Leon Shamroy, winner for The Black Swan, Wilson, Leave Her to Heaven, and Cleopatra. Cyril Mockridge and Alfred Newman worked on the score which is filled with delightful hits from an earlier era. Edward Stevenson (Born to Kill) designed the costumes which are a treat to the eye. 

Frank's good-bye.

Cheaper by the Dozen is leading off an evening of family comedies on TCM on Thursday, November 23rd. The delightful sequel, 1950s Belles on Their Toes, based on Frank Jr. and Ernestine's book about their mother's lauded career is not among the other movies featured this evening, but keep your fingers crossed. Maybe someday.

Bonus movie treat:

Betty Lynn, Clifton Webb

Fans of The Andy Griffith Show will be delighted with a charming appearance from 24-year-old Betty Lynn, Barney Fife's girlfriend Thelma Lou, as a friend of Ann's who is charmed by her father. Ms. Lynn turned 91 this past August, and resides in Mount Airy, North Carolina.

Sadly, for Betty Lynn's family and many fans, the actress who was born on August 29, 1926, passed away on October 16, 2021.


  1. I first read the book as a teen (I usually skip the tonsils chapter lol) and discovered the movie in college (the library had a pretty good selection of classic films). I had a little trouble swallowing Clifton Webb as Mr. Gilbreth, as I'd only seen him in Laura at the time. I've been wanting to rewatch it and the sequel for some time now, as well as read the second book!

    1. It is a story that stays with you, isn't it?

      With Laura and The Dark Corner, you would think Webb would be forever typecast as a villain. It is surprising how many family men and comedic roles he played as well.

    2. Excellent write up. I love the movie too and liked the book a lot. Fortunately, I first saw the movie before I really knew who Myrna Loy or Clifton Webb were. So, I never had to overcome the roadblock of "Waldo Lydecker" as a beloved family man. Sometimes seeing a movie as a "blank slate" helps.

    3. When a movie comes to us can determine a lifetime of fondness. I adore Webb in many different roles. His droll humour informed so much of his work, dramatic and comedic.

  2. This film was sucha treat. I was particularly surprised by Myrna Loy - when she rceives "that" phone call, her eyes tell us everything she is feeling - amazing acting!

    1. True. Myrna just broke my heart. She is so remarkable.

  3. I read about Webb in Jeanine Basinger's THE STAR MACHINE. I guess I'd need to see LAURA to fully appreciate how he became a star.

    Your other portrait was funnier but this one is better.

    1. Oh, you must see Laura. It is a dandy!

      Thanks. I went to the movies with family photographer Maureen, and I was having a good hair day. PS: Maureen is now the official photographer for the Toronto Silent Film Festival.

  4. We just watched this recently on TCM! I tend to forget the ending, which is always a bit of a surprise. I always enjoy Clifton Webb (he was SO good in LAURA)!

    1. I know what you mean about the ending. The time we spend with the family throughout the movie is such fun, and then...



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