Friday, November 1, 2019

CAFTAN WOMAN'S CHOICE: ONE FOR NOVEMBER ON TCM


Perhaps the movies didn't like Clifton Webb or Clifton Webb didn't like the movies, but after a few film appearances ending in 1925, Mr. Webb confined his career to the stage. He made a triumphant return to the screen at the age of 55 as Waldo Lydecker in the 20th Century Fox 1944 production of Laura based on Vera Caspary's novel. The character of the acerbic writer was a role Webb was born to play, and he basically played it again in his follow-up feature The Dark Corner. He then played the snobbish and shallow Elliot Templeton in the film version of Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge.


The question now seemed to be whether Clifton Webb's disdainful and witty delivery could be translated into a comedy. Gwen Davenport's 1947 hit novel Belvedere provided just the character test for the actor and his audience.


"Mrs. King, I happen to dislike all children intensely. But I can assure you that I can readily attend to their necessary though unpleasant wants."

Lynn Belvedere is a genius. The King family needs a genius. They simply don't realize it yet. Robert Young and Maureen O'Hara star as Harry and Tacey King. He is a fledgling lawyer and she's a busy housewife. They have three rambunctious children played by Anthony Sydes (Tony), Larry Olsen (Larry) and Raymond C. Hair Jr. (Ronny, the baby). These energetic youngsters have frightened away babysitters and their latest housekeeper is leaving in a huff.

Through correspondence only, Lynn Belvedere is engaged in the position of housekeeper/childcare provider. Mrs. King is shocked to realize her new hirer is not a woman. Of course, it is ridiculous! Whoever heard of such a thing! It can't last, but it does. Mr. Belvedere proves to be perfection in the role of "nanny". Still, questions arise. Why would a genius want to move to ---

"Hummingbird Hill which is a typical suburban community ... where everybody knows a little more than a little about everybody."

Aha, could it be that insight into the life of the typical suburbanite is necessary for Mr. Belvedere's upcoming book? In the course of completing his own goal, Mr. Belvedere becomes an essential and beloved member of the family, and Hummingbird Hill will never be the same.

Maureen O'Hara, Robert Young, Clifton Webb

Sitting Pretty is Domestic Comedy at its most delightful with just a touch of food for thought; not enough to cause indigestion. F. Hugh Herbert was awarded the Writers Guild of America prize for Best Written American Comedy in adapting Ms. Daveport's novel.

You might go into it thinking that Clifton Webb is the whole show, and he is, but don't overlook the rest of the cast. Robert Young and Maureen O'Hara handle their roles with their customary ease which belies the work.

Richard Hadyn, Maureen O'Hara

You'll get a kick out of Ed Begley as Harry's boss, and Louise Allbritton and John Russell as the King's friends. Betty Lynn is a teenager crushing hard on Harry and will be a treat for fans of her work as Thelma Lou on The Andy Griffith Show. If the rest of the cast hadn't stayed on their toes, the whole shebang would have been stolen out from under their noses by Richard Hadyn as the neighborhood snoop, Clarence Appleton.

There would be more comedies in Clifton Webb's movie future (Dreamboat, Mister Scoutmaster), including the sequels Mr. Belvedere Goes to College, 1949 and Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell, 1951. Walter Lang, the director of our movie and Mr. Webb would work together again in Cheaper by the Dozen, 1950.


Gwen Davenport's character has legs that carried him to a 1985-1990 television sitcom starring Christopher Hewett. Earlier attempts to bring the character to television featured Reginald Gardiner, Hans Conreid, and Victor Buono. Will the genius be revived in the 21st century?


TCM is screening Sitting Pretty on Thursday, November 28th at 8:00 PM on a day devoted to Family Favorites. I think you will find it a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours, and you will adore Lynn Aloysius Belvedere.


Bonus:  Lux Radio Theatre, Mr. Bevedere Goes to College, 1950












41 comments:

  1. I remember the MR. BELVEDERE TV show—didn’t watch it much—but of course I had no idea at all the character had such a history.

    I read about Clifton Webb in Jeanine Basinger’s book THE STAR MACHINE, in a chapter devoted to unlikely stars, the ones who didn’t fit the profile for what normally constituted a Hollywood Star but became one anyway. How does he compare to someone like George Sanders?

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    1. H'm. George was versatile and witty. Same with Webb.

      What the actors have in common is that they could switch from villain to hero yet still retain the core of their personality that made them so popular.

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  2. As soon as I read the title SITTING PRETTY I thought of the scene with the bowl of oatmeal on that kids head! I really like the three BELVEDERE movies. I saw the first one on a local PBS station and the other two on AMERICAN MOVIE CLASSICS. I also really like CLIFTON WEBB and DOROTHY MCGUIRE in THE REMARKABLE MR. PENNYPACKER. (He and Dorothy also did THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN.) PLUS my favorite WEBB movie is probably CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN with MYRNA LOY. BETTY LYNN, who you mentioned, is also in DOZEN as a girl who dances with the character of CLIFTON WEBB-much to his oldest daughters surprise! The daughter is played by the lovely JEANNE CRAIN. MISS BETTY LYNN was a cute-and pretty-actress.

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    1. I am also a fan of Cheaper by the Dozen. I've enjoyed it many times since childhood. There is a cute picture of Betty Lynn and Clifton Webb at the end of this piece: https://www.caftanwoman.com/2017/11/caftan-womans-choice-one-for-november.html

      I showed my daughter Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell when she was a kid and she thought it was great. I was very pleased.

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  3. This is an absolutely delightful movie. Webb was such a great actor, I also love him in Cheaper By the Dozen.

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    1. The Cheaper by the Dozen fans are here! Have you seen Dreamboat? It is a classic movie fans delight.
      https://www.caftanwoman.com/2016/06/a-clifton-webb-and-claude-binyon-double.html

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    2. That sounds great. I'll track it down.

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  4. I had no idea about Clifton Webb being Mr. Belvedere. I only know him from Laura. Thanks for highlighting this movie, and I look forward to seeing Sitting Pretty on the 28th!

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    1. I know you will get a great kick out of it, and then the sequels, and then Clifton Webb's other comedies, and then Titanic where he will break your heart!

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  5. As I was reading your review, I could just imagine Clifton Webb as Mr Belvedere, and it sounded like a perfect casting choice. I know I'll love this one when I finally get the chance to see it.

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    1. Indeed. I know you'll get a great kick out of it.

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  6. I always loved Clifton Webb - good as the good guy, the bad guy or the funny guy. I first saw him in "Mister Scoutmaster" and then in "Cheaper by the Dozen" then his John Phillip Sousa movie, and then "Titanic". Accordingly, I was shocked out of my socks when i saw him "Laura". I wonder how many people back in the 40s/50s thought he was gay? It never occurred to me, when i saw him on TV movies in the 70s and 80s. I guess that's what they call good acting.

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    1. He was perfectly at home as leading man to Myrna Loy and to Barbara Stanwyck. The bigamist with 17 kids in The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker had to be the most brilliant casting coup.

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  7. Speaking of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW today ANETA CORSAUT would have been 86. She played HELEN CRUMP, the girlfriend of ANDY TAYLOR. They got married on the first episode of MAYBERRY RFD and the second season they came for a visit with their baby ANDREW, JR. Aneta died on Nov. 6, 1995 three days after she turned 62. She also guest-starred on GUNSMOKE and BONANZA(in a story with ADAM).

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  8. KEN BERRY also would have been 86 today. He did the last four eps of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW and then took over the lead for ANDY on MAYBERRY RFD. Ken played SAM JONES, a farmer and councilman. His girlfriend was MILLIE SWANSON(the delightful ARLENE GOLONKA) and his son was MIKE(BUDDY FOSTER, the older brother of JODIE FOSTER). Ken had earlier done F TROOP. I know Ken best from MAMAS FAMILY with VICKI LAWRENCE. I like him on that show best and then Mayberry RFD. JACKIE JOSEPH, a good friend of DORIS DAY, is the ex-wife of Ken. (Jackie worked on THE DORIS DAY SHOW the final two seasons.) Ken died last year on Dec. 1 at the age of 85. P.S. Do you know MAYBERRY RFD or the JIM NABORS show GOMER PYLE, USMC?

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    1. I'm a big fan of Jim Nabors and remember watching Gomer when I was a kid. I watched F Troop, but not Mayberry RFD although I do remember when it aired.

      I enjoyed Ken's versatility on The Carol Burnett Show. I always have a soft spot for a song and dance man.

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  9. PEGGY MCCAY would have been 92 today. She did one episode of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW where her character SHARON DESPAIN came back for the high school reunion. She had been Andys girlfriend back then. They started getting interested in each other again. (This was before he met Helen.) Peggy, of course, is best known for DAYS OF OUR LIVES as CAROLINE BRADY, as you know. I first knew Peggy from some eps of LOU GRANT, the newspaper drama with ED ASNER. She played MARIAN HUME, the wife of CHARLIE HUME(MASON ADAMS). She died last year in Oct. at the age of 90. She, like ANETA CORSAUT, also guest-starred on GUNSMOKE and BONANZA.

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    1. Peggy had quite a distinguished career. She is, to date, the only actress to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy (for an episode of Cagney and Lacey), which was won by John Lithgow for a guest appearance on Amazing Stories, and for a Datyime Emmy (for Days of Our Lives), which was won by Erika Slezak. The year was 1986.

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  10. I remember that you said that your husband shares a birthday-Nov. 4 (TODAY) with ART CARNEY(1918-2003). Some other ones are MARTIN BALSAM(1919-1996). Martin would have been 100 today. CAMERON MITCHELL(1918-1994). Martin and Cameron were both in HOMBRE, a western with PAUL NEWMAN and RICHARD BOONE. BARBARA RUSH and FREDRIC MARCH were also in it. Did you watch HOMBE? Also there is GIG YOUNG(1913-1978) who was delightful in light comedy including DESK SET, THAT TOUCH OF MINK, and TUNNEL OF LOVE.

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    1. I've only seen Hombre once, and it was quite a while back. I recall it being quite intense.

      I really enjoy Gig Young's comedic performances and can't imagine those movies you mentioned without his presence. Certainly, he can handle the dramatics as well. His Twilight Zone is classic.

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  11. Another one with a Nov. 4 birthday is NOAM PITLIK(1932-1999). I remember him best from an ep of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW where he played a friend of GOOBERS who wasn't very nice. The ep was titled GOOBER GOES TO A CAR SHOW. It was a color one after DON KNOTTS wasn't on the show anymore. I also remember NOAM very well from a BEWITCHED ep where a bedwarmer was following SAMANTHA and Noam played the man who had been turned into the bedwarmer! He also did an ep of THE DORIS DAY SHOW. He was also a prolific director including directing 44 eps of the sitcom MR. BELVEDERE. You have a picture of that on this page, it goes back to MR. BELVEDERE!

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    1. You can't be a fan of classic television and not know Noam Pitlik by face as well as his directing credits. When it comes to behind the camera, the first that comes to mind is Barney Miller. Thanks for tying it back to Belvedere.

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    2. The other night, Decades reran a Mod Squad wherein Noam Pitlik and Marvin Kaplan played way more seriously than usual.
      Kaplan played a slum resident who discovered that his cousin - Pitlik - was the secret slumlord.
      Would it surprise you to learn that the two comic actors aced the show?
      It was pretty potent for 1969 …

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    3. Mike, I would not be surprised at all to hear that Messrs. Pitlik and Kaplan excelled at their roles. It certainly sounds like an outstanding episode. I didn't watch the show much back then. When the opportunity arises, I'm going to check it out.

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  12. HAPPY BIRTHDAY to GARRY HALL, the husband of PADDY LEE also known as CAFTAN WOMAN! (Is his first name spelled GARRY or GARY?) By the way, the name CAFTAN WOMAN has the same initials as CLIFTON WEBB!

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    1. Ha! CW rules! You made me laugh.

      My guy is a Garry with two r's. He's my sarcastic sweetheart. Thanks for the birthday wishes which I shall pass along.

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  13. I have always loved Sitting Pretty. I think Clifton Webb was born to play Lynn Belvedere! And the film has quite a cast. In addition to Young, O'Hara, and Webb, there's also Ed Begley and Richard Haydn (my birthday twin)!

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    1. Aha, a Pisces just like my dad. Enigmatic sorts.

      Haydn is such a joy in everything. Such an assured performer, and a fun director as well.

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  14. JACKIE JOSEPH is 86 today. (Her ex-husband KEN BERRY was four days older than her.) She guest-starred on THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW in a story with ERNEST T. BASS (HOWARD MORRIS). DORIS PACKER played MRS. WILEY who was having a party and Ernest T. crashes it and acts wild. Later Andy teaches him manners and gets him a suit and they go to another party that she is having. What do you recall Jackie from the most?

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    1. Jackie is in one of my favourite movies, Who's Minding the Mint?

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  15. BARRY NEWMAN is 81 today. He is probably best known for playing the title role in PETROCELLI(the NBC series that ran for two seasons, 1974-76). Tony Petrocelli was a lawyer married to Maggie(SUSAN HOWARD). They lived in Arizona and they were living in a trailer while he was building a brick house. He never got much of their house done because he would get a phone call where somebody needed a lawyer. Petrocelli loved rootbeer. It was a really good show. I watched it back then when I was still in grade school. Then later the USA channel reran it in the mid-late 80s and I saw some of them again. Also Barry did three MURDER, SHE WROTE episodes. I only saw the first one that he did. I really like that one. It was titled SNOW WHITE, BLOOD RED. Some of the other guest stars were RONNIE CLAIRE EDWARDS(as his wife), JAMIE ROSE and EMMA SAMMS.

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    1. I watched Petrocelli back in the day. I thought it deserved a longer run.

      The Murder, She Wrote episode called Class Act had the earmarks of a pilot for Barry Newman. It worked for me, but I'm not a TV exec.

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  16. Reading this makes me want to rewatch Sitting Pretty tonight. I love Clifton Webb's performance and I don't think anyone can take his place as Mr. Belvedere ( although Hans Conreid was great casting ). Usually, follow-up films aren't as good as the first one but, in this case, I thought Mr. Belvedere Rings a Bell was even more entertaining than Sitting Pretty or the college entry.

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    1. I agree with you. I'm so glad that Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell was my daughter's introduction to the character.

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  17. I wonder why CLIFTON WEBB never did any guest-star roles. There were a lot of parts on ALFRED HITCHCOCK and THE TWILIGHT ZONE. Im sure that he would have been a good fit on those shows. For example, can you see him in the role that JOHN HOYT played in the TZ ep THE LATENESS OF THE HOUR that also guest-starred IRENE TEDROW and INGER STEVENS? What kind of shows would have been a good fit for CLIFTON WEBBS unique persona? By the way, I like JOHN HOYT because of his acting on the comedy GIMME A BREAK starring NELL CARTER. He played the dad of CARL(DOLPH SWEET) and the grandpa of the three girls whose names were KATIE, JULIE and SAMANTHA who they called SAM. Have you ever seen that show or any of the work done by NELL CARTER?

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    1. I hadn't thought about Cifton and television. Perhaps it was as simple as no one asked, or maybe he thought the work was too rushed. I should think Rod Serling could have come up with a fine role or two for Webb. I would have loved to have seen him guesting on one of "my" westerns like Wagon Train, Bonanza or The Big Valley with his Titanic co-star Barbara Stanwyck.

      I like Nell Carter, but I guess Gimme a Break was on during a period when I was very busy. I caught a couple of episodes late at night in the last few years and was surprised to see John Hoyt (and his toupee!). He is an actor I enjoy and didn't realize his career went all the way to sitcoms.

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  18. Does your family also like CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN? I like the costumes in this movie and also the costumes in the DISNEY movie POLLYANNA. That reminds me CLIFTON WEBB was in a movie with one of the stars of POLLYANNA-JANE WYMAN. It was HOLIDAY FOR LOVERS and they played a married couple with two daughters(played by JILL ST. JOHN and CAROL LYNLEY). Jill also played his daughter in THE REMARKABLE MR. PENNYPACKER. Jills husband ROBERT WAGNER worked with CLIFTON in TITANIC and also at least one more movie. JILL & ROBERT have been married 29 years now. She is 79 and he is 89.

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    1. I'm very fond of Cheaper by the Dozen. I first read the book and saw the movie (and Belles on Their Toes) when I was around ten, and have lost count of the many viewings since. It has such a comforting, nostalgic feeling for me.

      The other Wagner/Webb movie is Stars and Stripes Forever about John Philip Sousa. The movie makers of the 1950s sure had a thing for looking backward and I'm thankful for it.

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  19. David L. Smiths’ book “Sitting Pretty: The Life and Times of Clifton Webb” is a delight. David got hold of Webb’s incomplete autobiography some years ago and finished it.

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