FEATURE image: “Marilyn Monroe con Robert Mitchum en el rodaje de River of No Return, 1953.” by Antonio Marín Segovia is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
FEATURE image: Jennifer Jones in Good Morning, Miss Dove! (1955).
By John P. Walsh
Good Morning, Miss Dove! is Frances Gray Patton’s contemporary tale of a middle-aged spinster elementary school geography teacher in Liberty Hill who, when suddenly taken ill, sees the entire small town rally to her side.
It is a mythical period piece from the mid-1950’s. It depicts an unchanging town whose students obey their beloved teacher. Though directed by Henry Koster in a stagey way, the film boasts progressive casting. One year after the milestone 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education establishing racial segregation in public schools as unconstitutional, Good Morning, Miss Dove! presents a newly-integrated public school classroom in Cinemascope and De Luxe color.
Film-going audiences in 1955 loved the film.
Awaiting a risky operation, Miss Dove (Jennifer Jones) thinks back on her life and those of her prized grown-up former students. They included Robert Stack (a surgeon), Chuck Connors (a policeman), and Jerry Paris (a playwright). All of these students overcame difficult childhoods and found worldly achievement with the help of Miss Dove.
Based on popular Book of the Month Club novel.
Patton’s novel had enjoyed success in 1954 as a Book of the Month Club and Reader’s Digest selection. Its release as a major motion picture by 20th Century-Fox continued the novel heroine’s popularity.
Release of the film during the Thanksgiving weekend 1955 was in the same year that Jennifer Jones starred in another Deluxe color film, the American drama-romance Love is a Many-Splendored Thing.
For the Academy-Award winning actress to play an elderly spinster (many early scenes feature the naturally dark-haired Miss Jones without her older character’s make-up), she moves beyond type. In the mid-1950’s as America settled into the Eisenhower years, Good Morning, Miss Dove! showed a lead film character -– the “terrible” Miss Dove played by Jennifer Jones — as an unflinching and beloved disciplinarian. Yet in the 1950’s the American public education system was undergoing copious and difficult change. In that way, the character of Miss Dove is further complicated by becoming a popular icon in the American culture by being mostly a nostalgic figure.
The audience meets the elder Miss Dove at the movie’s start—make-up and hair-styling artists Ben Nye and Helen Turpin transformed the 35-year-old Jennifer Jones into the 55-year-old Miss Dove—and by flashbacks.
The film dramatizes her youth as she is about to marry. But she receives the unexpected news that her father has died suddenly and that he has debts. To pay them back, she steels herself to remain single and take a teaching post. Her chilly veneer is part of her honor to do the proper thing along with the sober accommodation to life’s necessary sacrifices.
While those who did not know Miss Dove mock her behind her back and say she couldn’t have had much of a life—never married, no family, no kids, never traveled anywhere—her army of students judge her differently.
Beyond any possibly wider cultural meaning, the film presents a unique person who by the logic of her experience or the experience of her logic enters into a series of social interactions that are amusing and honest. These include the film’s penultimate scene. Miss Dove is on her sick bed when she tells her pastor, Reverend Burnham (Biff Elliot): “Life, whatever others may think, has been for me…I have been happy. I have made many mistakes. Perhaps even sinned. I admit my human limitations but I do not in all honesty find the burden of my sins intolerable. Nor have I strayed like a sheep. I have never been AWOL. I have never spoken hypocrisy to my Maker and now is scarcely a propitious moment to begin.”
While these thoughts may be judged from different perspectives, they are expressive of a woman’s life completely dedicated to her profession and students at Cedar Grove Elementary School. The film’s denouement starting at around 1:39:00 is powerful. Accompanied by Leigh Harline’s memorable soundtrack, it is a sentimental tribute to Miss Dove’s life which benefited through the years many different people because of nothing less than her good character. (1:47:16).
The costume designer for Good Morning, Miss Dove! (1955) is Mary Wills (1914-1997). She worked mainly for Samuel Goldwyn productions and Twentieth Century-Fox, breaking into the movie business as a sketch artist for Gone With The Wind (1939). In her nearly 40-year career Mary Wills was nominated for an Oscar seven times and won the Academy Award in 1962 for her colorful designs for The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm.
First woman admitted to Yale Art and Drama program. “The Fabulous Miss Wills.”
Born in Prescott, Arizona, Wills moved to Los Angeles after receiving her Master’s degree from the Yale Art and Drama School. She was the first woman admitted into that program.
Wills started designing costumes in 1944 at RKO with Belle of the Yukon and soon after designed costumes for Disney’s Song of the South (1946). She started working for Samuel Goldwyn in 1948 where she designed costumes for Enchantment. For the next six years at Goldwyn Studio the costume designer was referred to as “The Fabulous Miss Wills.”
She was regularly nominated for her costume design in the 1950’s when she designed the costumes for Good Morning, Miss Dove! including Hans Christian Anderson (1952), The Virgin Queen (1954), Teenage Rebel (1956), A Certain Smile (1958), The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), The Passover Plot (1976) and the film for which she won the Academy Award in 1962. Mary Wills also designed the Rogers and Hammerstein musical film Carousel in 1956.
Ice Follies. Camelot and Funny Girl.
Mary Wills demonstrated a special talent for designing historical costumes, especially after she moved to 20th-Century Fox in 1954 to make The Virgin Queen starring Bette Davis. Later she showed great aptitude for designing dance and folk costumes. A collection of her original sketches are online at the Los Angeles County Museum for live productions including the Shipstad & Johnson Ice Follies, now known as the Ice Follies. Mary Wills worked on two major films that she did not get film credit for — namely, Camelot (1967) and Funny Girl (1968). For Funny Girl, she designed the Ziegfeld show-girl brides costumes as well as the costumes for Omar Sharif.
Green, Paul, The Life and Films of Jennifer Jones, McFarland & Co. Inc. Publishers, Jefferson, North Carolina and London, 2011.