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Room for One More: catching a stray

I don’t go the movies for representation.

Room for One More: a teachable moment between George "Foghorn" Winslow and Cary Grant.
Room for One More: a teachable moment between George "Foghorn" Winslow and Cary Grant.

Personal identification was never the turnkey that unlatched my door to cinematic understanding, but this one was unusual.

Room for One More (1952)

It was sunny in the Valley, but not hot enough to require shoes. I was working the day watch out of Video Dub, a tape duplication house on Sunset and Western. Babe, who was in SoCal visiting from Chicago, noted how good the warm ground felt beneath her feet that March afternoon. She was bunking down at cousin Ruthie’s in Van Nuys and the three of us were seated poolside, sucking back a smoke. Adoption could well be the first polysyllabic word I learned; my parents broke the news when I was four. Before tucking me in, mom and dad positioned themselves on my bed for what I thought was going to be a night-night story. The 10-watt nursery lamp cast long shadows on the bedroom wall as my parents confided that they were not my real mommy and daddy, and that I was even more special because I was chosen. Note to prospective adoptive parents: when you tell your little ones that they were snatched from another family’s cabbage patch, do so in a park against a cloudless blue sky rather than in a space akin to Caligari’s closet. I didn’t get much sleep that night. As the years passed, it became my firm belief that my parents wore masks that they removed only after I went to sleep. My shrink had a field day with that one.

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Ruthie’s husband was in his twenties when he found out he was adopted, after a family friend accidentally let it slip. It wasn’t uncommon back then for adoptive parents to fib. Such was the case for neighbor kid Jeffrey Goldman that night the gang was playing pinners in the alley. With the game called on account of darkness, the subject turned to adoption, and the next thing you know Eppenstein is asking, “You were adopted, Jeff, just like Scott. Didn’t you know?” He didn’t. Even after the big reveal, his parents laughed off any questions of progenitorship. My parents were at least up-front. No shocks attached, right?

I left the hospital when I was four days old. Babe endowed me with a sentimental side that I’ve spent years trying to suppress, while Larry taught me the value of laughter. And they both accompanied me to the movies, at least two a month. Friends asked why I never set out to find my “real” parents. Find them? Babe and Larry began putting up with my shit the first night they changed my diaper. As far as I was concerned, I had won the parental lottery. The subject of adoption seldom came up in the Marks household. It was a given. That’s why it was so odd for the topic to resurface 2000 miles from home and 30 years after the fact.

As positioned in the circular ashtray, our three cigarettes formed a peace symbol. I remember my cousin saying “the other one,” followed by that epic moment when Babe’s gaze connected with Ruthie’s like two carbon arcs igniting to outshine the flames of hell. “What other one?” I asked. Ruthie wished herself invisible, while Babe smoldered in disbelief, her jaw hitting the ground like a sack of flour. She was a girl, named Elizabeth after my maternal grandmother, but she came with a string attached. Elizabeth lived with Babe and Larry for six months, just long enough for them to get attached and for the girl’s birth mother to change her mind. Dad and I never had a chance to talk about it. He died two months later. Ruthie said she never saw a man break down as hard as Larry did the day the reps from the adoption board came to reclaim Elizabeth.

As I said, I don’t go the movies for representation. If anything, I questioned why people would want to spend two hours in the dark staring at themselves, when it’s far more rewarding to eavesdrop on the lives of others. By the time I was old enough to attend kindergarten, I had already discovered that I had more in common with an animated wabbit than Tommy Kirk, Hayley Mills, Kevin Corcoran or any kid actor in Disney’s live-action stable. Still, no other adoptive children traveled in my circle, so you can maybe imagine this seven-year-old’s inner delight when Room for One More turned up on one of the few over the air channels then available.

Betsy Drake and Cary Grant were married when they co-starred as Anna and George “Poppy” Rose, the big-hearted parents of three who, as the title indicates, are easy touches, always willing to take in a stray. I don’t mean to be facetious by comparing orphaned children to household pets, but the script forced my hand. Those who have given rescue animals a home will remember the looks on the faces of the caged critters pining for your attention. It’s the same anxious look of anticipation that overtakes the children the moment Anna and a group of PTA mothers, on a tour of the facility led by Miss Kenyon (Lurene Tuttle), enter the orphanage playground. Used car salespeople have nothing on Kenyon’s hard sell approach; she bullies the women into adopting one, maybe two of the dozens of foster children on hand. Anna is the only one who bites, and in no time, Kenyon is slathering on the guilt, comparing the children to the stray animals who follow Anna home. Anna’s agreement to talk it over with Poppy isn’t enough for Kenyon, who shows up on their doorstep the next day with what she deems a perfect fit: 13-year-old Jane (Iris Mann), a disturbed adolescent whose life, by the directress’ own admission, has so far amounted to “years and years of hell.” Not happy with four Roses, Anna tries for five with Jimmy-John, a bitter child with braces on his legs and a Gibraltar-sized chip on his shoulder.

Norman Taurog was an old hand when it came to sentimentalizing children in distress. He took home an Oscar® for Skippy and later went on to helm Boys Town and it’s schmaltzy sequel, Men of Boys Town. This fell somewhere between Strangers on a Train and I Confess in cinematographer Robert Burks’ filmography, so expect hard-edged black-and-white cinematography even in the nursery. The problem lies in both the mawkish script and, forgive me, Cary’s performance. Screenwriters Jack Rose and Mel Shavelson, two of the best gag-writers on Bob Hope’s payroll, hit many a maudlin flag while slaloming through Anna Perrott Rose’s memoir of the same name.

Drake co-starred in a handful of films, most notably as the “plain Jane” vying for Tony Randall’s affection opposite Jayne Mansfield in Frank Tashlin’s landmark Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? So virtuous is she that the wardrobe department swaths her in a Peter Pan ensemble complete with a clerical collar. But push her too far, and a bent knee followed by a potch on the tuchas awaits. Cary Grant can do no wrong, but in this case, he comes close. Never once did I buy into the actor Pauline Kael dubbed the “man from dream city” as an architect with five hungry mouths, one dog, several cats, and a rabbit to feed. Grant prided himself on an ability to sit in just the right position so as not to crease the wardrobe. Poppy could have withstood a few more wrinkles, and even more time spent indoors. A running gag finds Anna and Poppy unable to find an intimate moment together, yet the guy appears to have spent his days soaking up the rays at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

The three Roses take a back seat to their adopted siblings with the final third of the film, which is consumed by Jane finding a date for the dance and Jimmy-John’s triumphant run for the gold at the Boy Scout Jamboree. One of the children could have used a little more room: Grant heard George “Foghorn” Winslow on Art Linkletter’s radio show and was so impressed with the seven-year-old’s raspy-throated delivery and ability to think on his feet that he gave the lad his big screen break. A scene involving an inflatable raft going off in Poppy’s work space should have been excised in favor of more screen time between Grant and Winslow.

Remember this film come Mother’s Day. Betsy’s matriarch is one to remember — nurturing to the point she makes June Cleaver look like Mama June.

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Room for One More: a teachable moment between George "Foghorn" Winslow and Cary Grant.
Room for One More: a teachable moment between George "Foghorn" Winslow and Cary Grant.

Personal identification was never the turnkey that unlatched my door to cinematic understanding, but this one was unusual.

Room for One More (1952)

It was sunny in the Valley, but not hot enough to require shoes. I was working the day watch out of Video Dub, a tape duplication house on Sunset and Western. Babe, who was in SoCal visiting from Chicago, noted how good the warm ground felt beneath her feet that March afternoon. She was bunking down at cousin Ruthie’s in Van Nuys and the three of us were seated poolside, sucking back a smoke. Adoption could well be the first polysyllabic word I learned; my parents broke the news when I was four. Before tucking me in, mom and dad positioned themselves on my bed for what I thought was going to be a night-night story. The 10-watt nursery lamp cast long shadows on the bedroom wall as my parents confided that they were not my real mommy and daddy, and that I was even more special because I was chosen. Note to prospective adoptive parents: when you tell your little ones that they were snatched from another family’s cabbage patch, do so in a park against a cloudless blue sky rather than in a space akin to Caligari’s closet. I didn’t get much sleep that night. As the years passed, it became my firm belief that my parents wore masks that they removed only after I went to sleep. My shrink had a field day with that one.

Sponsored
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Ruthie’s husband was in his twenties when he found out he was adopted, after a family friend accidentally let it slip. It wasn’t uncommon back then for adoptive parents to fib. Such was the case for neighbor kid Jeffrey Goldman that night the gang was playing pinners in the alley. With the game called on account of darkness, the subject turned to adoption, and the next thing you know Eppenstein is asking, “You were adopted, Jeff, just like Scott. Didn’t you know?” He didn’t. Even after the big reveal, his parents laughed off any questions of progenitorship. My parents were at least up-front. No shocks attached, right?

I left the hospital when I was four days old. Babe endowed me with a sentimental side that I’ve spent years trying to suppress, while Larry taught me the value of laughter. And they both accompanied me to the movies, at least two a month. Friends asked why I never set out to find my “real” parents. Find them? Babe and Larry began putting up with my shit the first night they changed my diaper. As far as I was concerned, I had won the parental lottery. The subject of adoption seldom came up in the Marks household. It was a given. That’s why it was so odd for the topic to resurface 2000 miles from home and 30 years after the fact.

As positioned in the circular ashtray, our three cigarettes formed a peace symbol. I remember my cousin saying “the other one,” followed by that epic moment when Babe’s gaze connected with Ruthie’s like two carbon arcs igniting to outshine the flames of hell. “What other one?” I asked. Ruthie wished herself invisible, while Babe smoldered in disbelief, her jaw hitting the ground like a sack of flour. She was a girl, named Elizabeth after my maternal grandmother, but she came with a string attached. Elizabeth lived with Babe and Larry for six months, just long enough for them to get attached and for the girl’s birth mother to change her mind. Dad and I never had a chance to talk about it. He died two months later. Ruthie said she never saw a man break down as hard as Larry did the day the reps from the adoption board came to reclaim Elizabeth.

As I said, I don’t go the movies for representation. If anything, I questioned why people would want to spend two hours in the dark staring at themselves, when it’s far more rewarding to eavesdrop on the lives of others. By the time I was old enough to attend kindergarten, I had already discovered that I had more in common with an animated wabbit than Tommy Kirk, Hayley Mills, Kevin Corcoran or any kid actor in Disney’s live-action stable. Still, no other adoptive children traveled in my circle, so you can maybe imagine this seven-year-old’s inner delight when Room for One More turned up on one of the few over the air channels then available.

Betsy Drake and Cary Grant were married when they co-starred as Anna and George “Poppy” Rose, the big-hearted parents of three who, as the title indicates, are easy touches, always willing to take in a stray. I don’t mean to be facetious by comparing orphaned children to household pets, but the script forced my hand. Those who have given rescue animals a home will remember the looks on the faces of the caged critters pining for your attention. It’s the same anxious look of anticipation that overtakes the children the moment Anna and a group of PTA mothers, on a tour of the facility led by Miss Kenyon (Lurene Tuttle), enter the orphanage playground. Used car salespeople have nothing on Kenyon’s hard sell approach; she bullies the women into adopting one, maybe two of the dozens of foster children on hand. Anna is the only one who bites, and in no time, Kenyon is slathering on the guilt, comparing the children to the stray animals who follow Anna home. Anna’s agreement to talk it over with Poppy isn’t enough for Kenyon, who shows up on their doorstep the next day with what she deems a perfect fit: 13-year-old Jane (Iris Mann), a disturbed adolescent whose life, by the directress’ own admission, has so far amounted to “years and years of hell.” Not happy with four Roses, Anna tries for five with Jimmy-John, a bitter child with braces on his legs and a Gibraltar-sized chip on his shoulder.

Norman Taurog was an old hand when it came to sentimentalizing children in distress. He took home an Oscar® for Skippy and later went on to helm Boys Town and it’s schmaltzy sequel, Men of Boys Town. This fell somewhere between Strangers on a Train and I Confess in cinematographer Robert Burks’ filmography, so expect hard-edged black-and-white cinematography even in the nursery. The problem lies in both the mawkish script and, forgive me, Cary’s performance. Screenwriters Jack Rose and Mel Shavelson, two of the best gag-writers on Bob Hope’s payroll, hit many a maudlin flag while slaloming through Anna Perrott Rose’s memoir of the same name.

Drake co-starred in a handful of films, most notably as the “plain Jane” vying for Tony Randall’s affection opposite Jayne Mansfield in Frank Tashlin’s landmark Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? So virtuous is she that the wardrobe department swaths her in a Peter Pan ensemble complete with a clerical collar. But push her too far, and a bent knee followed by a potch on the tuchas awaits. Cary Grant can do no wrong, but in this case, he comes close. Never once did I buy into the actor Pauline Kael dubbed the “man from dream city” as an architect with five hungry mouths, one dog, several cats, and a rabbit to feed. Grant prided himself on an ability to sit in just the right position so as not to crease the wardrobe. Poppy could have withstood a few more wrinkles, and even more time spent indoors. A running gag finds Anna and Poppy unable to find an intimate moment together, yet the guy appears to have spent his days soaking up the rays at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

The three Roses take a back seat to their adopted siblings with the final third of the film, which is consumed by Jane finding a date for the dance and Jimmy-John’s triumphant run for the gold at the Boy Scout Jamboree. One of the children could have used a little more room: Grant heard George “Foghorn” Winslow on Art Linkletter’s radio show and was so impressed with the seven-year-old’s raspy-throated delivery and ability to think on his feet that he gave the lad his big screen break. A scene involving an inflatable raft going off in Poppy’s work space should have been excised in favor of more screen time between Grant and Winslow.

Remember this film come Mother’s Day. Betsy’s matriarch is one to remember — nurturing to the point she makes June Cleaver look like Mama June.

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Comments

The most amazing thing I ever learned about Cary Grant [Archibald Alexander Leach] by reading a bio was that he was a spy for British Intelligence during WWII. He was apparently very effective, , as he was considered an airhead, unpolitical, Hollywood movie star with no brains. He was quite the opposite of his created image.

Feb. 24, 2022

He was a real-life Roger Devlin, working for the British government to root out Nazi sympathizers in Hollywood.

Feb. 24, 2022

Besides that, I read that Grant was able to get information on Mussolini's military from Spanish royalty.

Feb. 25, 2022
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