Janet (my daughter): "What are you watching?"
Caftan Woman (mother): Design for Living. Ernst Lubitsch from Noel Coward's play. Miriam Hopkins has to choose between Fredric March and Gary Cooper. (pause) Or does she?!
Janet: Ho-ho, ha-ha!
The original Broadway production in 1933, staged by the author Mr. Coward featured the actor with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne had a run of 135 performances. The play was not produced in London until 1939 due to difficulties with the censors.
The 1984 Broadway revival directed by George C. Scott starring Raul Julia, Jill Clayburgh, and Frank Langella had a run of 245 performances.
The Paramount Pictures film released in 1933 gave us a screenplay by Ben Hecht (Barbary Coast) and Samuel Hoffenstein (Love Me Tonight) directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Victor Milner (The Furies) was the cinematographer and there is a sly soundtrack from uncredited studio stock composer John Leipold. Travis Banton's costumes are to sigh for.
When commercial artist Gilda Farrell (Miriam Hopkins) meets pretentious artist George Curtis (Gary Cooper) and unpublished playwright Thomas Chambers (Fredric March) aboard a Paris-bound train the attraction is instantaneous. The attraction between Gilda and Tommy, between Tommy and Gilda, and between Gilda and George, and George and Gilda. Circling around this interesting emotional triumvirate is Max Plunkett (Edward Everett Horton). Max is Gilda's business mentor, a friend of five years standing, and protector. In other words, those of Tommy's, he, Plunkett, never got to first base.
Both Tom and George have professed their love for Gilda and she in return has professed her fondness for the two of them. The friendship between the two artistes abroad has survived 11 years but is in danger of being blown apart by "a little bit of feminine fluff." They determine to treat Gilda with complete nonchalance and to refer to her by Miss Farrell if they refer to her at all.
Gilda has a completely different idea of how to handle their complications. "Well, boys, it's the only thing we can do. Let's forget about sex." ... "I'm going to be a mother of the arts." A gentleman's agreement exists among the three where the boys will work and Gilda will criticize and bully them into success.
The cock-eyed plan works until Tommy's play opens in London and his absence highlights the "tension" between Gilda and George. They become a couple in the romantic sense, and George becomes a successful artist in the financial sense. Tommy is out in the cold and stews about it for almost a year. Upon returning to Paris and finding George out of town, the "tension" between Gilda and Tommy is highlighted and the morning's light finds them with something to either tell George or not.
Gilda deals with the situation by running away from both fellows. Tommy puts it succintly: "The mother of the arts wants to be a nice girl." What's a girl to do? Well, there is always Max Plunkett, but then there is the issue of the flock of Egelbauers.
Design for Living has an excess of wit, a knowing wink at conventions, and the odd piece of broken furniture. It is a polished and satisfying entertainment worthy of being labeled a true comedy classic.
TCM is airing Design for Living on the evening of Thursday, January 7th following two other treats from Ernst Lubitsch, The Smiling Lieutenant with Claudette Colbert and Maurice Chevalier, and Trouble in Paradise with Herbert Marshall, Miriam Hopkins, and Kay Francis. A delightful evening's viewing.
NOTE: Possibly due to rights issues, Design for Living will not be shown in Canada. Make Me a Star, 1932 based on the play Merton of the Movies by George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly is the substitute.
"The sorrows of life are the joys of art."