Two of Hollywood’s most talented actors go back to school
Have you ever seen a college professor as gorgeous as Erica Stone? My Lord! She looks like a movie star! When I was in college, there were no professors who came close in looks to Doris Day. Mine were more in the class of Mrs. Trumble on I Love Lucy, or Minerva Urecal, the outraged gossip in By the Light of the Silvery Moon. But when choosing a co-star for none other than Clark Gable, you must keep up with the standards for Hollywood’s King. Miss Day certainly filled the bill, not only in the looks department but also as an equal to her legendary co-star on an acting level.
Teacher’s Pet is an intellectual comedy. It concerns a dedicated college journalism assistant professor Erica Stone (Day) who, without having met him, invites a gruff city editor, Jim Gannon (Gable) as a guest lecturer in one of her classes. Opposed to schools – having come up the hard way in the newspaper business, he has declined the invitation, via a scathing letter, to the professor explaining his disdain for book-learned journalism. He is ordered by his managing editor to contribute as least one evening of his time and to apologize for his impudence. When he arrives in the news-writing class, expecting to see teacher Trumble or Urecal, he is pleasantly surprised to see the shapely and beautiful Miss Stone at the class’s helm. Erica, enraged that Jim Gannon has not only refused her invitation, but also that he insulted the teaching profession, berates him by reading his letter to the entire class and innocently mistakes Gannon as a new student.
To hide his true identity, Gannon enrolls in the class under a fake name so that he can attempt to prove his belief that ‘eggheads are teaching amateurs how to be amateurs’. Erica is so impressed with the first story he writes that she encourages him to consider becoming a journalist. A great deal of intellectual conflict exists between them about the field of journalism, but Gannon continues his deception and begins to woo her. When it appears that Erica is involved with a fellow professor, the young and handsome Dr. Pine (Gig Young), Gannon tries to break up that relationship.
Gannon is no angel. His most recent female companion is a bimbo-type nightclub entertainer played – or, rather, bumped and grinded – by Mamie Van Doren. (Day’s parody of Van Doren’s routine is one of the film’s funniest scenes.) Erica falls for Gannon, but then fiercely confronts him when she discovers his true identity. Their confrontation scene is priceless.
In this role, Doris Day makes you believe that she is actually a professor. Hers is a completely natural performance with an array of emotions, ranging from her strong dedication as a teacher to her confused feelings about Gable’s character. Both she and Gable are effective, and their performances show a true respect for acting. Gable was the consummate professional; after scores of films, his experience before the camera was evident. His scenes in the newspaper office are wonderful and realistic. Although he was always Gable, he had the ability to transform himself into so many different characters. He and Miss Day acted well together; in fact, he brought out the best in her abilities. She understood the importance of this picture and the history it would make.
Director George Seaton was fortunate to have two of Hollywood’s most talented actors to guide, and he took great care in every detail. Even the supporting players were first rate. I especially liked Gig Young, who deserved his Oscar nomination as best supporting actor. It’s always a pleasure to see Jack Albertson, Charles Lane and Sandra Gould, the latter a veteran of several early Day films. I was moved by bit players like Peter Baldwin as the young writer and former student of Erica’s, and by Vivian Nathan, who portrayed Nick Adams’s concerned mother. Too bad there wasn’t more for the talented Adams in this role, but he shone brightly the very next year with Day in Pillow Talk.
Teacher’s Pet is certainly not your run-of-the-mill comedy. Even though it’s thought provoking and delves into social issues like poverty, racism, big city life, education and changing times, the picture is funny. The clever script by Fay and Michael Kanin was tight and kept the proceedings interesting. Edith Head designed Miss Day’s wardrobe, making her a very chic professor indeed. I would have preferred that the film be in colour along with the super VistaVision in which it was shot, however. The film ended up on most year-end’s top 10 lists, including the coveted New York Times. Doris Day had a top 100 hit record with the catchy title song, written by Joe Lubin. Teacher’s Pet emerges as one of Day’s best films; she should be proud of this one.
Ralph McKnight, New York
“Once in a great while, a comedy comes along that combines satire, sophistication and farce in one satisfying whole: Teacher’s Pet is just such a comedy. Paramount has teamed bouncy Doris Day and sardonic Clark Gable in this spoof concerning a jaded, know-it-all editor (Gable) and his run-in with a very beautiful professor of journalism (Day).
Gable thinks that Miss Day’s schoolroom type of journalism is for the dogs, while Miss Day believes the same about his rough and tough type. How they come around to each other’s opinion is the basis for this fast talking movie. With a stellar cast, which includes Mamie Van Doren, Gig Young and handsome newcomer Peter Baldwin and the talents of Perlberg-Seaton as producer directors, this is a must.” – Movie Magazine Review
“A delightful comedy, with Clark Gable as a crusty, hard-bitten newspaper editor who, instead of lecturing to Doris Day’s journalism class, decides to enrol as a pupil. His initial disdain of reporters who learn from books is swayed by his attraction to the teacher. Kanin’s screenplay becomes thin by the end, but Gable and Day fill it out with boisterous enthusiasm, possibly realising what upstaging opposition they’ve got from the great Gig Young, who was Oscar-nominated for his performance as Doris’ other beau.” – BBC Radio Times
Teacher’s Pet: Behind the Scenes
Striving for authenticity in the newspaper city room scenes, producer William Perlberg and director George Seaton cast 67 members of the nation’s press in the film. Fifty-three of them were flown to Hollywood from thirty-one states and Canada; the rest were from the Hollywood press corps.
Norton Mockride, city editor of the New York World Telegram and Sun, was present for the entire shooting to coach the city room scenes. The city room, even to certain smudge marks, is an exact replica of the New York World Telegram and Sun.
Doris Day won the Golden Flame Award from the California Association of Press Women while the picture was being filmed. The Award was for being cooperative with the press, and in honor of her role as a college journalism teacher.
Gig Young’s fingers became so sore while practicing his bongo drum routine; he had to have special sponge padding taped to each finger.
Clark Gable was obliged to learn to type with two fingers, newspaperman style, and to accomplish a Latin American dance called the Meringue. Gable’s wife, Kay, a frequent set visitor, kept the company supplied with sweets. She brought homemade popcorn, a half-dozen boxes of chocolates, and even a huge box of fresh pretzels.
Doris and her hubby Marty Melcher tossed a party for the visiting press and other cast members at their new Beverly Hills house, although they had not yet renovated it or moved in. The original plan was to stage a garden party and barbecue in the back yard. But thirty minutes before the guests were due; it began to rain so everyone ended up in the furnitureless house, on the floor.
As for Clark Gable, Doris says; I could actually feel the magnetic force of his personality. He dressed in marvelous tweeds. There was something very affirmative about him, and a directness that suggested great inner strength. He projected utter simplicity. A man who lived on the simple, down-to-earth scale. Very much like James Cagney.” – Derald Hendry
The Mamie Van Doren/Doris Day issue..
Mamie Van Doren famously complained that Doris was cold and had ignored her during the filming of Teacher’s Pet. Doris was still touchy about it years later in the ’80s during filming of the BBC documentary I Don’t Even Like Apple Pie, when the interviewer was told not to mention Mamie Van Doren in a pre-filming briefing
Van Doren says in her book, Playing The Field: Sex, Stardom, Love, and Life in Hollywood: “I had looked forward to meeting Doris Day. A mutual friend of ours, Charlotte Hunter, a dance coach from Universal, told me what a warm, friendly person Doris was. Doris had always been one of my favorite singers, with hits like “It’s Magic”. I also became a fan of her movies after seeing Love Me Or Leave Me, in which she played opposite James Cagney. Nonetheless, our first meeting on the Teacher’s Pet set was far from what I expected. Doris ignored me when we were introduced and proceeded to conduct herself like a spoiled star. George Seaton and Gable had to stoically bear her tantrums and disagreeable attitude.”
The Girl Who Invented Rock and Roll (Mamie Van Doren):
“Her dislike of me became most apparent when it was time to shoot reaction shots of Doris, Gable, and Gig Young watching a dance number I did while singing The Girl Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll. Doris failed in take after take to smile radiantly while watching me dance. Finally Seaton called for my double to be positioned off-camera so that Doris could watch someone who could produce the desired reaction. Doris’ cold attitude toward me never improved, and mercifully we saw little of each other during the film.”
Comments from The Doris Day Forum:
“In my opinion, the set of a movie is a workplace and not everyone gets along with or likes everyone they work with, I think most people can relate to this! Perhaps Ms. Van Doren just rubbed Doris the wrong way and rather than be a phony Doris just chose not to deal with her. This is one person’s side of the story anyway. I have never read anyone else say Doris was spoiled or disagreeable. Anyway, she’s not perfect and I’m sure she’s had her bad days (as we all do) – especially being married to Martin Melcher! Doris has avoided this subject in subsequent interviews and refuses to comment on Ms. Van Doren.”
– Steven, Doris Day Forum
“Director George Seaton observed that Doris “treated everyone on the set with dignity and respect.” That would seem to contradict Van Doren and is consistent with things said by many others about Doris’s relationship with cast and crew on previous and subsequent films. Shooting for this movie began the week after her brother, Paul Kappelhoff, died – so if Doris really was distant, it is perhaps understandable.” – Judy Rigdon, Doris Day Forum
Doris Day sings Teacher’s Pet:
Teacher’s Pet was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor: Gig Young. It was also chosen as one of the Ten Best Pictures of 1958 by the New York Times.