Monday, December 21, 2009

The Andy Hardy Series or, Andy Dandy

There are some modern cynics who watch the Hardy marathons on Turner Classic Movies then complain that too much Andy wears on the nerves after a while. Personally, we can sit through the entire series, including Christmas Greetings from the Hardys and Andy Hardy’s Dilemma, and regret only that they didn’t make more of them - but we would remind those modern cynics that in their day, the films were never intended to be viewed all at once like this. Even at the peak of Hardy Mania (1938-1939) audiences had to wait at least three months to see the next installment of the Hardy adventures.
Released in March 1937 by Metro Goldwyn Mayer, the first Hardy family movie, A Family Affair, starred Lionel Barrymore as Judge Hardy and the eternal Spring Byington as his wife, Emily. Mickey Rooney and Cecilia Parker played Andy and Marion, the Hardy children; Sara Haden played Mrs. Hardy’s unmarried sister, Mildred (“Aunt Milly”) Forrester. The four principals had appeared together in the film version of Eugene O’Neill’s comedy Ah, Wilderness in 1935. Based on a 1928 play, Skidding, by Aurania Rouverol, A Family Affair proved a hit with Depression audiences as well as studio head Louis B. Mayer himself, who authorized a sequel. The result, You’re Only Young Once, appeared in December 1937, with Lewis Stone and Fay Holden now (permanently as it would turn out) in the roles of Mr. and Mrs. Hardy. The title song of this picture “You’re Only Young Once,” remained the theme music for the rest of the Hardy series – although its wistful lyrics by David Snell would not be heard again:

The world will whirl around forever But you won’t be there To know or to care Remember you’re only young once…

Audiences couldn’t seem to get enough of the Hardys. Judge Hardy’s Children appeared in March 1938, followed by Love Finds Andy Hardy in July 1938. Out West with the Hardys was a Thanksgiving treat for November 1938.
April 1939 saw The Hardys Ride High, and they certainly continued to do so at the box office. This was followed by Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever in July 1939 and Judge Hardy and Son in December 1939. Andy Hardy Meets Debutante, released in July 1940, was the only Hardy offering for that year. We are not certain of the reason for this, but have not seen any evidence to indicate that the public was tiring of Andy as some internet sources claim (unsubstantiated of course). In fact, quite the contrary: Edwin Schallert of the Los Angeles Times called Debutante the “sprightliest of the comedies of the series” (“Andy Hardy Hits the Romance Trail with a Vengeance,” Jun. 28, 1940). Similarly, the L.A. Times’ John L. Scott declared it “one of the best in the series,” noting that “George B. Seitz’s direction is up to the standard which has made the Hardy series so outstanding” (“Hardy Film Continues High Standard of Popular Series,” Jul. 3, 1940). Andy Hardy’s Private Secretary appeared in February 1941, and Life Begins for Andy Hardy in August 1941. Most audiences didn’t see the Hardys again until The Courtship of Andy Hardy in March 1942, but remained enthusiastic. As Philip K. Scheurer of the L.A. Times wrote of Courtship: “Mickey Rooney is in top form as Andy. It’s ‘man-to-man’ talks are as delightful as ever” (“Andy Hardy Rescues New Fair Lady,” Apr. 3, 1942).
Although Andy Hardy’s Double Life premièred in New York in January 1942, it did not appear in theaters elsewhere until December 1942 to February 1943. Again, there is no hint that interest in the series was waning. “Familiar though the pattern may be, these ‘Andy Hardy’ pictures never seem to grow tiresome” wrote John L. Scott in his review of Double Life (“Andy Hardy Gets into More Romantic Trouble," Mar. 12, 1943). Another L.A. Times reporter, Norbert Lusk, observed the public remained loyal to the series and liked the picture, noting that “hardly had it opened than it was announced for a holdover” (“Walt Disney’s ‘Amigos’ Well Received in East,” Feb. 22, 1943).
Andy Hardy’s Blonde Trouble, the next installment, was released May 1944. Of this, the once admiring Schallert said “I think the day is not far distant when he [Mickey] will have to bid Andy, as we have known him in the past, adieu. Probably with the service and all, this is the opportune moment. The sequence of pictures has been a household word but it must end some time” (“Twins Enliven Hardy Film,” May 19, 1944). Audiences might have begged to differ, but indeed, the Hardys were winding down. Mickey Rooney entered the army for a two year stint in June 1944 and, sadly, the series’ longtime director, George Seitz, died on July 8, 1944 at age 56 due to a recurrence of a circulatory ailment.
Love Laughs at Andy Hardy, the last of the series, was released in February 1947 (the last, that is, unless you count the “reunion” film, Andy Hardy Comes Home, made in 1958; we can’t). Another link to the series’ past was broken on December 31, 1948 when Kay Van Riper, who wrote the early Hardy screenplays, died of an overdose of sleeping tablets.

If life in Carvel seems very much unchanged over time (another censure of modern critics), it’s with good reason. Although stretched out over two decades, the series actually covers only a very brief period in the lives of the Hardys. You’re Only Young Once (1937) picks up right where A Family Affair leaves off: Andy is 15 and in high school. By the time of Andy Hardy Meets Debutante (1940) he is 17. In Andy Hardy’s Private Secretary (1941) Andy graduates from high school – Life Begins for Andy Hardy (1941) opens with Andy coming home from graduation night. He has a month before he has to decide whether to accept a scholarship to Wainwright College or not. At the end of Life Begins, he plans to work in the Carvel garage until September 24 – the day that Wainwright opens. The Courtship of Andy Hardy (1942) takes place during that interval; Andy Hardy’s Double Life (1942) covers approximately two days, as 18-year old Andy prepares to leave for Wainwright. Andy Hardy’s Blond Trouble (1944) begins right where Double Life left off – with Andy on the train to college, having happily encountered a pretty co-ed - although the actress playing her does change from film to film! The gap between Blonde Trouble and Love Laughs at Andy Hardy (1947) is supposed to be roughly two years – the time that Andy (like Mickey Rooney) spent in the service; he returns to Wainwright still a lowly “Frosh.”

Some of Andy's women: Ann, Judy, and Lana - from Love Finds Andy Hardy. Woo-woo!

Other “family” series films of the 1930s: The Jones Family. There were 16 of these films made by 20th Century Fox from 1936-1940. They are definitely “B” pictures; print quality is poor, but they are cute period films and were popular with audiences. Spring Byington, who played “Mother” Hardy in the first Hardy movie, played “Mother” Jones in this series. Some of the titles are: Back to Nature, Everybody’s Baby, Down on the Farm, Too Busy to Work, and Young as You Feel. The last film, On Their Own has the family, minus Father Jones, moving to California to open a bungalow court! The Murphy Family. A product of low-budget Monogram Studio about an Irish family in (of course) law enforcement, there were only something like 3 pictures made between 1938 and 1939: Tough Kid, Wanted by the Police, and Heroes in Blue. Lillian Elliot starred as the family matriarch. The Higgins Family starred the real-life Gleason family: James, his wife Lucille (Webster), and son Russell, as well as Harry Davenport as the grandpa. Made at Republic Studios, 7 or so of these B-films appeared between 1938 and 1940. Titles include My Wife’s Relatives, Should Husbands Work? and Grandpa Goes to Town. Busy Russell Gleason also played the reoccurring character of Herbert Thompson in some of the Jones Family pictures.


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