My Moral Dilemmas at the Grocery Store

I buy a lot of lettuce, but none of it is iceberg.  Half the time I buy romaine and half the time it’s something else.

“Something else” is when I run into a problem.

Fifty percent of the time, the cashier asks me what kind of lettuce it is so he or she can ring up the proper price.  This happens one hundred percent of the time when I buy Boston lettuce.

No cashier at my grocery store has ever heard of Boston lettuce, despite the fact that the store has stocked it for years and I’m surely not the only one buying it.

I always tell them the truth about what I’ve bought, and they ring up a price that is higher than the cost of iceberg or romaine.

But the devil on my shoulder is always tempting me to tell them it’s green leaf lettuce.  I know they wouldn’t believe me if I said iceberg, but they’d ring up the cheaper green leaf lettuce without a second thought.

I don’t do it…but I think about it.

This is a singular case in the modern world.  Nearly everything I buy—including produce and bagged lettuce—has a sticker on it with a barcode.  The cashier never has to ask me what kind of oranges, apples, or pears I bought.  He just rings them up the same way he does the cereal.

And at a farmer’s market, those guys and gals tilled the soil, planted the seeds, picked the weeds, and harvested the crop.

They damn well know what kind of lettuce I’m buying from them.

But these cashiers don’t know Boston from endive from Swiss chard, from green leaf to red leaf.

Do I have a moral obligation to tell them?

I suppose I do. 

And so I do.

Then they ask me if I’d like to “round up” my bill for whatever charity they’re supporting that week.  For those of you who haven’t encountered this, to “round up” means that instead of asking you for a specific donation, they just round up your bill to the nearest dollar and give the change to the charity.

So if my bill comes to $39.10 for example, they would charge me forty dollars and give ninety cents to the charity.

This sounds like a good idea, and it is—I round up far more often then I’d just straight donate an additional dollar.  But sometimes, my bill comes to something like $19.99.

“Do you want to round up?”

Well, the truth is, I do round up, so I don’t have to deal with the penny.  Pennies have become annoying—they fill up your change purse, or if you pay online they make the math harder when adding up bills.

So by rounding up, I’m really just passing the burden of dealing with the penny onto the charity.

Do I get to feel good about that?  Like I’m helping to save the kids, or the whales, or whatever?

With one measly penny?

But not rounding up seems silly because maybe all those pennies add up.

These are my grocery store moral dilemmas.

Ultimately, I’ve solved them like this—if they ask me what kind of lettuce it is, I tell them the truth.  But if they ring up the wrong (and cheaper) lettuce without asking me, I let it slide.

I compensate for this moral failing by rounding up that transaction for charity.

But if the round up is less than a nickel, I’m not allowed to feel good about myself for it.  

You Never Knew a Neat Freak Like “Harriet Craig” (1950)

Promotional poster for "Harriet Craig" starring Joan Crawford
Harriet Craig starring Joan Crawford and Wendell Corey

Harriet Craig was the second of three films director Vincent Sherman and Joan Crawford made together while having a rather satisfying affair throughout 1949 and 1950.

Sherman wanted to keep working with Crawford, but he didn’t want to make Harriet Craig.  George Kelly’s play Craig’s Wife had won a Pulitzer Prize in 1926, and already had two film adaptations, the second in 1936 with Rosalind Russell and John Boles.

Despite its previous successes, Sherman didn’t think 1950s audiences would be interested in the tale of a manipulative and coldly demanding housewife.  Harriet’s rules are never ending and precise—the vase above the fireplace must not be even an inch too close to the edge.  Her husband is not to sit on the arm of the sofa.  The shutters are to be closed at 11:30 in the morning to prevent the sun from fading the furniture, and the maid is to use the back staircase so as not to wear out the carpet on the main one.  Harriet sucks all the life from her home and her marriage, and the film ends with her alone and without redemption—in holding so tightly to her husband, she succeeds only in driving him away.

Joan Crawford and Wendell Corey in Harriet Craig

Sherman also thought the role cut a little too close to the bone for his leading lady.  In his autobiography, Sherman writes, that  “In many ways, Joan was herself the embodiment of Harriet Craig, in her obsessive attitude toward her home; her distrust of men and her desire to control; and her power of manipulation.”

Even before her Mommie Dearest days, Joan Crawford was well-known as an obsessive house cleaner.  She was continually firing her staff for not living up to her exacting standards, and often preferred to do even the most laborious tasks herself.

Joan Crawford was not blind to the similarities.  In his biography Possessed, Donald Spoto notes that Crawford wrote in a letter to a friend, “The part of me that is ‘Craig’s Wife’ often comes out, and I wander around my heavenly home [looking for cleaning to do.]”

She wanted the role, and she convinced Sherman to take on the project.

Wendell Corey (most remembered for his role as the detective in Rear Window) plays Walter Craig, and amiable man who fell for Harriet’s beauty and initially brushes off her increasingly neurotic and shrewish behavior.

Harriet has her reasons—she was traumatized by her father’s affairs and abandonment, and is afraid to let her own husband out of her sight—but her need for control propels a level of manipulation so grotesque that the audience cannot sympathize with her.  Through a series of escalating lies, she ruins her cousin Clare’s romantic relationship so that Clare will not marry and quit her job as Harriet’s private secretary.

She crosses the final line when she sabotages Walter’s chances at a promotion because it will mean more travel—and thus time out from under her thumb.

In the film’s most satisfying scene, Walter—who has always tried hard to follow Harriet’s mandates—deliberately smashes her favorite vase as an act of liberating himself from his stifling marriage.

Wendell Corey lies on a couch holding a vase in Harriet Craig

He leaves Harriet, and in the final scene we see her ascending the pristine stairs, knowing that she will have full control over her sterile home, but no one to share it with.

We’re lucky that Crawford talked Sherman into making the picture, for it’s delicious fun to watch her terrorize the entire household with her exacting orders.

And knowing that she may have been exorcising personal demons only adds to its appeal.

Joan Crawford walks alone up a staircase in "Harriet Craig"
Harriet Craig (1950) Verdict:  Give It A Shot

Sources

  • Sherman, Vincent.  Studio Affairs—My Life as a Film Director.  1996.
  • Spoto, Donald.  Possessed:  The Life of Joan Crawford.  2010.
  • Bret, David.  Joan Crawford:  Hollywood Martyr.  2006.

Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in the series, as well as source notes and suggested readings.

Promotional poster for "Harriet Craig" starring Joan Crawford

My House Tried to Kill Me

Two weeks ago I was standing in my living room, minding my own business, when my house tried to kill me. 

I don’t know what prompted this sudden onslaught of malice—I’ve always thought my house and I had a loving and caring relationship.  The House kept me warm and dry and held all my stuff for me.  In return, I keep it clean, adorn its walls with pretty things, and repair its parts when they grow old or breakdown.

Didn’t I replace its old furnace before it stopped heating?  The roof before it starting leaking?  Sure, I waited until the water heater flooded the basement before replacing that, but overall I’ve done my best.

I thought my house loved me.

But then it tried to kill me.

So, as I said, I was standing in my living room.  My living room has a large patio door that leads out onto the back deck.  Instead of drapes or blinds, I have heavy wood bifold doors on the inside.  I open them up in the morning to let the light in, and close them up in the evening.

It all happened in an instant.  I was standing with my back to the door when my spidey senses started tingling.  I’m not sure if I heard a creak or felt a disturbance in the air, but I started to move away just as the door broke loose from the wall and came crashing towards me.

If I hadn’t move at all, the door would’ve fallen on my head or my back, and who knows what would’ve happened.

As it was, the top of the door caught me just behind the knee, and proceeded to slide down my calf.  I went flying and hit the floor.

Basically, the door shoestring tackled me like the Steelers’ Big Ben Roethlisberger tackled Nick Harper in 2005 and kept their Super Bowl winning season alive.

The door was equally maimed in its assassination attempt.  It hit me right at its corner, and as a result the top piece of supporting wood broke apart and all the slats fell out of the door and went flying.

Broken pieces of wood were everywhere.  My leg was red with what looked like road rash—the bruises wouldn’t show up in earnest until the next morning. 

I examined the door and discovered the culprit—a few days earlier, I’d had new carpeting installed (see, taking care of my house, and this is the thanks I get!) and it was taller and thicker than its predecessor.  The carpet had pushed the pin holding the door in place up and out, so the door was just teetering in place, waiting to fall.

Why it waited until I was standing in the living room to fall is an unanswered question.

As it was late and I’d been planning on going to bed, I left the mess for the morning. 

I woke up with a bruised and swollen leg, but I had the last laugh.

I took those doors down, dragged them out to the curb and watched as the trashman crushed them to bits in his truck while I laughed manically.

Then I hung drapes.

Let’s hope the house has learned its lesson.

When you come for the Queen, you best not miss.

If You Loved “Bewitched”, Try “I Married a Witch” (1942)

Veronica Lake and Fredric March in "I Married A Witch" 1942
Veronica Lake and Fredric March in "I Married A Witch" 1942

Ever since Puck spread the flower’s juice meant for Demetrius on Lysander’s closed eyes in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, audiences have been entertained by comedic tales of love potions gone wrong.  The course of true love never did run smooth, not for couples created by the Bard or Hollywood.

One you may have missed is I Married a Witch (1942), an often overlooked tale of revenge gone charmingly awry.

Cecil Kellaway and Veronica Lake star as a deliciously unrepentant father-daughter warlock and witch who exist to wreak havoc on the human world.  Their dastardly ways catch up to them in colonial New England when a group of Puritans, led by Jonathan Wooley, burn them at the stake and bury their ashes beneath a tree to imprison their spirits.

Just before their interment, Jennifer gets one last shot in by cursing the Wooley men to always marry the wrong woman.

Veronica Lake  in "I Married A Witch" 1942

Fast forward a few generations, and Daniel and Jennifer are released when lightning fells the tree that imprisoned them.  Eager for further vengeance on the Wooleys, Jennifer tracks down the most recent descendant, Wallace (Fredric March.)  To Jennifer’s delight, Wallace is on the brink of marrying his own shrew (an early role for Susan Hayward), just as all his forefathers have done, thanks to her curse.

Then Jennifer gets an even better idea—she will convince Wallace to fall in love with her, and proceed to make his life a living hell.

Despite her father’s reservations, he agrees to give Jennifer human form and soon poor Wallace is rescuing the naked witch—in the body of Veronica Lake, blonde locks as shiny and flowing as ever—from a fire on the eve of his wedding.

Wallace has a lot to lose if anyone finds out that Jennifer (with the help of a little magic) spent the night in his bed, even if he wasn’t in it.  His fiancé may be a shrew, but she’s the daughter of the man who is backing his run for governor.  He’s not immune to Jennifer’s charms, but he’ll lose his fiancé, his reputation, and the election if he succumbs to them.

To obliterate his resistance, Jennifer concocts a love potion so that Wallace will fall irrevocably in love with her, but through a series of missteps the Bard would approve of, she ends up accidentally drinking the potion herself.

Now the witch is in love with her sworn enemy—and determined to have him.

Veronica Lake and Fredric March in "I Married A Witch" 1942

Sol Saks, who wrote the pilot episode of the long-running TV series Bewitched (1964-1972), credited I Married a Witch as one of the influences for his story of a witch who decides to marry and live as a suburban housewife.  Fans of the TV show will certainly enjoy the film, which has a similar vibe, even down to Jennifer’s wacky, interfering father, a direct ancestor to Agnes Moorehead’s wonderfully meddling Endora.

Daniel and Jennifer in “I Married a Witch”; Endora and Samantha in “Bewitched

Veronica Lake is most remembered for her long blonde hair that fell seductively over one eye, and playing the temptress in film noirs with Alan Ladd.  But as she proved in both Sullivan’s Travels (1941) and I Married a Witch, she was quite capable of comedy when given the opportunity.

Veronica Lake and Fredric March in "I Married A Witch" 1942

Fredric March is a bit miscast, and the film certainly would’ve been better had Joel McCrea played Wallace, as the director and producer wanted.  McCrea and Lake had just come off their triumph in Preston Sturges’ classic Sullivan’s Travels, and their chemistry on-screen was palpable.

Off-screen, however, McCrea detested Lake and turned down the role of Wallace Wooley, later telling Robert Osborne, “Life’s too short for two films with Veronica Lake.”  (Though they did end up making a second film together, Ramrod, in 1947.  Hollywood’s players have always been good at setting aside their differences when there’s enough money on the table or careers are in free fall.  They call his professionalism.)

For her part, Lake didn’t seem to harbor any ill will toward McCrea, though in discussing Witch in her autobiography, she bluntly asserted, “I hated Fredric March.”

“Love is stronger than witchcraft,” Jennifer tells Wallace at the end of the film when she overcomes her father’s mystical attempts to keep them apart.

And the magic of movies—certainly witchcraft by another name—is stronger than any offscreen animosity when the cameras start rolling.

 "I Married A Witch" 1942 Verdict - Give It A Shot

Sources

Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in the series, as well as source notes and suggested readings.

Where Are All My Thumb Drives?

I’m a very organized person.  I can’t take credit for it—it’s in my DNA.  The exception?

I can’t find my thumb drives. 

Formally called USB flash drives, they’re slim two-inch external hard drives used to transfer files from one computer to another.  With the prevalence of cloud storage, there’s not much use for them these days, but they still have their purposes.

And I can never find mine.

When I gave my first film talk in April, the Plum Library suggested I bring my accompanying slides on a thumb drive to use with their equipment.  I know I possess a minimum of five thumb drives, but I couldn’t find a single one.

I could produce for you a copy of my tax returns from six years ago in under five minutes.  I know where every pan is stored in my kitchen, which bookshelf holds my Tess Gerritsen novels, and where I’ve filed a scanned copy of every card currently in my wallet.

But I could not find a single one of those thumb drives.

I had no choice but to drive to Target and buy a new one.

At least they’re cheap these days.

As I prepared last week’s talk on Bogart and Bacall, at least I could rest assured that I had a new thumb drive.

Wrong.

Ready to load up my slides, I looked in my desk drawer, right where I knew I had left the thumb drive in April and found…nothing.

For a second time I turned my house upside down like angry TV cops in a meth den.

Still nothing.  I now have six missing thumb drives—the five I’ve had for years, and the sixth I bought specifically to hold my slides for talks.

Has Blinker the Cat figured out how to open drawers and hold my thumb drives hostage for additional cans of Fancy Feast?

Maybe, but as of yet I’ve received no ransom demand from her.

Is someone breaking into my house and stealing nothing but my thumb drives?

That’s the only possibility that makes sense.

Either way, I had no choice but to drive back to Target.  Unlike my house, I knew right where the thumb drives were kept.

Wrong again.

Turns out they renovated my local Target and jumbled the electronics section beyond recognition.  After walking up and down every aisle, I finally had to give in and ask for help. 

I bought two this time, and all was well for last Tuesday’s talk.

I split the thumb drives up and put them in two locations where I will be certain to look for them the next time I need one.

I think.

I hope.

Lord, I hope Target doesn’t discontinue thumb drives.

I’m Here to Defend “The Two Mrs. Carrolls” (1947)

Barbara Stanwyck and Humphrey Bogart face off in the Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947)
Barbara Stanwyck and Humphrey Bogart
Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947) opening

Critics and historians are united in their hatred of The Two Mrs. Carrolls, the only film that Humphrey Bogart and Barbara Stanwyck made together.

In a nutshell, Bogart plays a painter who is most inspired when plotting to kill his wives.  Stanwyck plays the initially unwitting second Mrs. Carroll before sussing out that her husband is poisoning her nightly glass of milk and has the third Mrs. Carroll all picked out.

Every biographer of Bogart and Stanwyck dismisses the film out of hand, insisting that the miscasting, especially of Bogart, is criminal.

Think I’m exaggerating?  Let’s survey the literature:

  • Bogart biographers Sperber and Lax note, “In an instance of stunning miscasting, [Bogart] played a psychotic artist….”
  • Stanwyck biographer Axel Madsen believes that, “both were miscast.”
  • Stanwyck biographer Al DiOrio goes one step further, writing that, “Bogart was miscast as the psychopathic artist, and the film in general was very strange.”
  • Bogart biographer David Thomson judges the film as “dull, fabricated, uninspired.”
  • Harshest of all, in his survey of Stanwyck’s films, Dan Callahan proclaims the film “reaches a whole new level of miscalculation and incompetence” and suffers from, “Humphrey Bogart embarrassing himself as a lunatic painter.”  

Ouch.

It’s time for me to don my Ruth Bader Ginsberg lace collar because Reader, I dissent.

I’m not elevating it to the heights of Casablanca (1942) or Double Indemnity (1944), but The Two Mrs. Carrolls is an entertaining film and undeserving of universal panning.

Let’s flesh out the plot a bit.  Sally (Stanwyck) and Geoffrey (Bogart) meet and begin a whirlwind romance.  Sally is in love and ready to marry the sensitive painter when she finds a letter from his wife. 

When Geoffrey explains that while he is married with a young daughter, his wife has been an invalid for many years and the marriage is now in name only.  Sally is sympathetic, but she hardens her heart and sends Geoffrey packing.

Flash forward a few years, and Geoffrey has married Sally after the passing of his first wife.  Sally is the perfect wife—good-natured and a caring stepmother to his daughter Bea.

She doesn’t bat an eye at the haunting Angel of Death style portrait Geoffrey painted of his first wife at the end of her life.  She doesn’t even mind when Geoffrey hangs it in a prominent place in their home.

At first, Geoffrey finds the quiet of his remote new home and the support of his loving wife peaceful and conducive to his work.  One often suspects that there’s a tender side behind Bogart’s tough guy roles—can’t you see Rick Blaine as a sensitive painter if llsa had stayed and the Germans had never marched down the center of the streets of Paris?

Humphrey Bogart in the Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947)

When he becomes blocked in his work, Geoffrey’s mind descends into madness and paranoia.  Instead of miscasting, I see Bogart’s work here as his first crack at a characterization he would later perfect in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) and The Caine Mutiny (1954).

The audience sees the threat Geoffrey poses Sally before she does—if there’s any miscasting in the film, it’s that Stanwyck should never play anybody’s fool.  Her best work comes when she’s playing someone overly cynical.

Onscreen or off, Barbara Stanwyck was never naïve.  

Barbara Stanwyck in the Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947)

The film begins to quicken and breathe as Sally uncovers damning evidence that her husband is trying to kill her.  When Sally makes a comment about Bea’s mother being an invalid, Bea is surprised at the notion and assures Sally her mother was fit and healthy until her final illness—an illness that sounds eerily similar to the one Sally is currently experiencing.

An illness that began right around the time her husband began making eyes at the younger Cecily Latham (Alexis Smith) while painting her portrait.

Horrified but unwilling to believe the truth, Sally rushes into Geoffrey’s off-limits studio.  A chill ran up my arm when she discovered his work-in-progress—a horrifying portrait of Sally as the Angel of Death.

Barbara Stanwyck  in the Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947)

Geoffrey will presumably complete the portrait after he finishes offing her.

The film ends with a psychological stand-off:  Sally knows that Geoffrey is trying to kill her but is trying to conceal her fear until help arrives.  Geoffrey knows that she knows but is trying to reassure her so he can kill her.  When she locks him out of the bedroom and he comes through the window like his own Angel of Death, we scream right along with Stanwyck.

If there’s one thing to nitpick, it’s that the film pulls its punches in that final confrontation.  You’ve got Humphrey Bogart trying to kill Barbara Stanwyck.  Two of the toughest actors to ever grace the screen are locked in a fight for survival, and I wish the director had let those thoroughbred horses run just a little more.

What wouldn’t you give to watch Sam Spade and Phyllis Dietrichson go toe to toe?

It’s not so much miscasting as a missed opportunity in an otherwise engaging film.

The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947) Verdict:  Give It A Shot

Sources

  • Sperber, A.M. and Eric Lax.  Bogart.  1997.
  • Madsen, Axel.  Stanwyck.  1994.
  • DiOrio, Al.  Barbara Stanwyck:  A Biography.  1983.
  • Callahan, Dan.  Barbara Stanwyck:  The Miracle Woman.  2012.
  • Thomson, David.  Humphrey Bogart.  2010.

Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in the series, as well as source notes and suggested readings.

Macy’s Can Blame Victoria’s Secret For Not Getting My Email Address

Dutch oven on counter

In last Sunday’s blog, I resisted the urge to rant about library fines (or the lack thereof), so this week I feel that I’ve earned the right to whine just a bit.

Indulge me, won’t you? 

Last week I went to Macy’s to buy a small two-quart Dutch oven.  I have a huge 8 quart version for when I want to cook in big batches, but sometimes I just need a pot for one.  I’d been keeping an eye on the price, and when Macy’s put them on sale, I snatched one up.

I was in a bit of a hurry, but the clerk was not about to let me go without getting some information.

Am I paying with my Macy’s charge card?  (I was not.)

Did I have a Macy’s charge card? (I do not.)

Did I want a Macy’s charge card?  (Long sigh.  I did not.)

Did I understand that I could save 10% if I opened up a Macy’s charge card?  (Yes, I did.)

And I still didn’t want to sign up?  I just wanted to leave money on the table?

At this point, I’m fully annoyed.  The woman was not pushy, and I know she was just doing her job.  But an inconvenient part of modern life is that you can no longer just go into a store, take something to a sales clerk, slap some cash on the counter and get out of there.

First you have to play twenty questions.  You can’t even go to a drug store or gas station without being asked if you have their loyalty card, if you want their loyalty card, and do you want to give them your e-mail address for coupons?

The Macy’s woman went for the e-mail question next.

“Do you want to give me your e-email?”

I did not.

“But you will get coupons.”

“Look,” I finally snapped.  “Five years ago I bought a bra from Victoria’s Secret and they’ve been e-mailing me ten times a day ever since.  Ten times a day!”

I could see that I had finally found a way to put us on equal footing – we now both wanted this conversation to end.

“But you see—” she began.

“I’m not saying Macy’s is going to send me ten e-mails a day.  I know you’re doing your job.  But I just cannot take all these e-mails from Victoria’s Secret anymore.  And I can’t get rid of them.  Even when I unsubscribe, they just keep coming.”

Finally, she cracked.

“I know!” she exclaimed.  “I can’t get rid of those Victoria’s Secret emails either!”

“No matter what we do,” I told her.  “We’ll be getting them until we die.  Until long after!”

“Yes!” she agreed, then seemed to remember herself.  “But Macy’s will not e-mail you more than twice a week and you can opt out…”

Surely she had to know that I wasn’t https://melanienovak.com/2022/07/24/macys-can-blame-victorias-secret-for-not-getting-my-email-address/giving her my e-mail.

In fact, I may never give out my e-mail, phone number, or address again.  I don’t need you to swipe my loyalty card so I can get a free cup of coffee after spending one million dollars.

Just take my money and let me go.

I’ve got cooking to do.

In my new Dutch oven.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947): The Most Beautiful Woman in the World Falls in Love With a Ghost

Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison embrace in the Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)
Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) opening

In the golden age of Hollywood, film casting was often a game of musical chairs. 

The makers of Daisy Kenyon (1947) originally thought to cash in on the success of Laura (1944) by reuniting director Otto Preminger with Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney.

Twentieth Century Fox Studio head Darryl F. Zanuck was impressed with Joan Crawford’s career revival in Mildred Pierce (1945), and thought he could engineer a similar comeback for Norma Shearer in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

Though she hadn’t worked since 1942, Zanuck wrote in a memo that “Norma Shearer has one great picture left in her yet.”

But when the music stopped, Crawford had been cast as Daisy, Gene Tierney had shuffled over to play Mrs. Muir, and Norma Shearer was left without a chair.

I think Zanuck was right about Shearer, but if she had one last great film in her, we never got to see it.  She never worked in Hollywood again.

Instead of playing opposite the 45-year-old Shearer, 39-year-old Rex Harrison was paired with the 27-year-old Gene Tierney.  Zanuck was not overly disappointed to cast Tierney, whom he called “the most beautiful woman in the world.”

And he certainly couldn’t have objected to the result.  The film was nominated for an Oscar for black and white cinematography and currently sits at number 73 on the American Film Institute’s List of 100 Greatest Love Stories.

Set during the last gasp of the Victorian era, Tierney plays a widow with a young daughter.  She wishes to live on her own terms, out from under the stifling thumbs of her deceased husband’s mother and sister.  She has a small pension which allows her to leave London and rent a surprisingly large and beautiful seaside house in Dorset.

She soon discovers why the rent is within her price range—the house is haunted by the former owner Captain Daniel Gregg, a rough and tumble sea captain who committed suicide and chases away anyone who wishes to live in his house.

Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison in the Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)
Tierney, Harrison

But Lucy Muir and her daughter (played by nine-year-old Natalie Wood in her third credited role, filmed just before she would forever charm the world in Miracle on 34th Street) were made of sterner stuff than their predecessors and refused to be put off by howling winds and flickering candles.

Natalie Wood and Gene Tierney in the Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)
Natalie Wood, Gene Tierney

Soon Captain Daniel shows himself to Lucy, and is eventually won over when she is not put off by his surly exterior.  They begin a tentative friendship, and when Lucy’s money runs out, Daniel comes up with a crazy idea to prevent her from having to leave the house.

He will dictate the story of his life, which Lucy will write and sell as a sensational adventure novel.  Making a lifelong living off the sale of a single novel is more unlikely than falling in love with a ghost, but Lucy does both over the course of the film.

But loving a ghost you can never touch is not easy, and Lucy attracts an ardent—and all too human—suitor she meets in London while selling the book.  George Saunders is delicious as Miles Fairley, a cad with all the charm of a used car salesman who nonetheless capture’s Lucy’s attention.

He is flesh and blood, after all.

Gene Tierney and George Saunders in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)
Gene Tierney and George Saunders

With a twist ending that surely inspired The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009), the film finds a satisfying conclusion to the world’s most impossible romance.

In 1968, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was rebooted as a television show that ran for two seasons, though it was more comedic and less romantic than the film.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir goes down like a cup of hot tea on a cold night, a charming love story that asks only that its audience suspend disbelief and allow itself to fall under the spell of fantastical ghosts and romance.

Settle in and enjoy.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) Verdict:  Give It A Shot

Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in the series, as well as source notes and suggested readings.

I’m Fine Without Library Fines

Sign from the Pittsburgh Carnegie Library explaining the new policy of no fines.

One of the best parts of living in Pittsburgh is access to the Carnegie Library System, a fine collection of over seventy libraries big and small in the city and surrounding suburbs.  There are very few books of interest to the general reader that you can’t borrow from one of these libraries.

During the worst days of covid, the library rolled out a new policy that they’ve made permanent—no more due dates, no more library fines.

They’ve also wiped clean the slate of borrowers with previous fines.

So here’s the thing—I started writing this post from a curmudgeonly point of view.  The original title was “I’m Fine With Library Fines.”

I was going to write that libraries are one of the best ideas mankind ever came up with.  Modern libraries would’ve thrilled history’s great autodidacts.  I’m willing to bet that Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson would’ve traded a few years of their lives in return for the scope and access to libraries that all Pittsburghers (and most Americans) enjoy today.

I was going to calculate the number of books I’d checked out over the past year and estimate the amount of money the library has saved me.

Then would come my big finish….with all these wonderful benefits, the least people could do is pay a quarter if they failed to return their books on time.

KIDS THESE DAYS, AM I RIGHT?

But then I did a little research on the library’s decision—turns out that fines aren’t a significant source of revenue, and that people are still returning the books in roughly the same amount of time as they did when they had assigned due dates.  Patrons will still have to pay for lost or damaged books.

If someone requests the book you’ve got, then you’ll be given a suggested due date to return it, so you can’t hoard something that’s in high demand.  Otherwise, it can stay in your home instead of unread on a shelf until you’re finished with it.

So basically the library eliminated a bureaucratic process of collecting fines that wasn’t making them any money and made things more convenient for patrons.

To complain about that just seems like the first step in a long slow slide into becoming one of those bitter old people who kvetch about how today’s soft kids never had to walk to school uphill both ways.

Even Lincoln would’ve told me to lighten up.

Vive la fine free library!

And I think I’ll keep those three biographies on Olivia de Havilland I checked out six months ago just a little bit longer…..