Cast & Crew
When Rudolph La Maze, representing Hollywood Screen Test Service, Inc., comes to town to induce the local residents who have latent acting ambitions to make a screen test, for the "nominal" fee of seventy-five dollars, beautician Peggy Burns calls her boyfriend Jimmy Brown and asks to borrow the money. After he refuses and she hangs up on him, his father Thomas, the president of Brown's Breakfast Sausages, commends him and relates that Jimmy's mother Paula had the acting bug when they met, but that he was able to get her to marry him instead and become a housewife. When Thomas returns from a convention, he learns, to his dismay, that both Peggy and Paula are rehearsing for the upcoming local play. Peggy won't speak to Jimmy, and Thomas' arguments against the endeavor fail to dissuade Paula, who is encouraged by the praise of the director, the pompous Mrs. Pampinelli, who blames her own failure as an actress on her marriage. After seeing Peggy dance in the screen test, which La Maze gives for free because he says he is impressed with her talent, Thomas gets an idea to resolve the situation and tells Jimmy that he plans to see La Maze the next day. At the opening night party for the play, Thomas tells a gossipy woman a rumor that the famous Hollywood director Von Blitzen is stopping in town to see the tests, and soon the news is spread throughout the party. During the play, the actors overact, cues are missed, props are missing, a mustache falls off repeatedly, backstage arguments interrupt the acting, lines are forgotten, an actor faints, the set almost falls over, and Paula trips upon entering and exiting the stage. Afterwards, Thomas severely criticizes Paula. In tears, she tells Thomas, whom she denounces as having no culture, that she now wants to pursue an acting career in New York. At the screening of the tests, Von Blitzen castigates all of the hopefuls as having no talent for acting, and he advises them to stick to their own businesses. As Jimmy comforts Peggy outside and they kiss, Von Blitzen views a test of Thomas, made up as a crooner, singing a love song in the style of some of the popular crooners, including Bing Crosby. Greatly excited, Von Blitzen says that Thomas could be a new personality and pleads with him to sign a contract and leave with him in an hour on the train to Hollywood. Outside, Thomas pays off Von Blitzen, really an actor from a nearby show who agreed to help him out. As Thomas packs to leave, he reminds Paula, who is greatly upset, of her view that an acting career is of greater importance than business or family. Meanwhile, Jimmy, to cheer Peggy up, tells her about the ruse. Outraged, she tells Paula, but Paula realizes that Thomas must love her a great deal to have devised the scheme. She gives up her ambitions to have an acting career and says that it takes a good actress to be a successful wife. She also tells Peggy that her opinion of Thomas changed when she saw the screen test because, she says, he was good. Thomas and Paula reconcile, but he says that although he'll remain in a career linked with sausages, he still is going to croon from time to time.
T. Roy Barnes
B. G. De Sylva
Moving forward, Fox released Rogers from the burden of having to read or sign contracts and a gentleman's agreement remained in place until Roger's untimely death in 1935. In January of that year, Rogers had agreed to a ten-picture deal with the cash-strapped studio (soon to merge with Twentieth Century Pictures to form 20th Century-Fox), brokering for himself a then-estimable $1.1 million in the bargain. (In 1933, Rogers enjoyed the distinction of being Hollywood's highest-paid movie star and earned more per picture than the President of the United States made in a year.) He completed four films through the summer before a combination of restlessness, cabin fever and the calling of his innate pioneer spirit inspired him to join aviator Wiley Post on an Alaskan junket to chart a potential mail and passenger route between the western United States and Russia. On August 15th, the hybrid plane bearing Post and Rogers to Alaska's Point Barrow nosedived into a lagoon, killing both men instantly. Five weeks earlier, Fox had premiered Rogers' comedy Doubting Thomas (1935), the last of his films released in his lifetime. The storyline features a husband who makes fun of his wife's theatrical aspirations when she agrees to appear in a local production. When she begins to spend less time at home than on the stage, he decides to retaliate by becoming an actor himself.
Doubting Thomas was adapted from George Kelly's Broadway smash The Torch Bearers, which ran for 130 performances at New York's 48th Street Theater in 1922. Monastic in his habits and aloof in his society, Kelly shied away from publicity but used the theatre as a bulwark against the worldly sins of loose morality and bourgeois pretention. (In many of his theatre pieces, Kelly upheld the sanctity of marriage but remained throughout his long life a confirmed bachelor.) The playwright had honed his craft in Vaudeville; his 1919 sketch Mrs. Ritter Appears planted the seed for The Torch Bearers, a caustic spoof of the Little Theatre Movement (which flourished between the world wars) and an indirect dig at the Women's Rights Movement (which had secured for American women the right to vote two years earlier). Featured in the Broadway production, which Kelly directed himself, was Alison Skipworth, who would reprise her role as the grandly deluded theatrical doyenne Mrs. Pampinelli in Fox's Doubting Thomas twelve years later.
There is no public record of George Kelly's reaction to the casting of Will Rogers in Doubting Thomas but the two men could not have been more dissimilar in their temperaments or politics. Unlike Rogers, who used his syndicated newspaper column and frequent radio appearances to speak his mind on all manner of subjects, from politics to the books he was reading, Kelly was an intensely private man who permitted no interviews and discouraged biographers. While Rogers had supported the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the ultra-conservative Kelly despised The New Deal and branded FDR as "the Great Knave." Despite winning the 1926 Pulitzer Prize for drama (Craig's Wife was adapted for the cinema three times, most recently in 1950 as Harriet Craig, starring Joan Crawford), Kelly fell from favor with the critics and abandoned the theatre to write for film and television. He is best remembered nearly forty years after his death for being the uncle of actress Grace Kelly, who made her own stage debut in a production of The Torch Bearers at Pennsylvania's Bucks County Playhouse in 1949.
Producer: Buddy G. DeSylva
Director: David Butler
Screenplay: William M. Conselman, Bartlett Cormack, based on the play The Torch Bearers by George Kelly
Cinematography: Joseph A. Valentine
Art Direction: Jack Otterson
Music: Arthur Lange
Costume Design: René Hubert
Cast: Will Rogers (Thomas Brown), Billie Burke (Paula Brown), Alison Skipworth (Mrs. Pampinelli), Sterling Holloway (Mr. Spindler), Andrew Tombes (Hossefrosse), Gail Patrick (Florence McCrickett), Frances Grant (Peggy Burns).
by Richard Harland Smith
American Original: A Life of Will Rogers by Ray Robinson (Oxford University Press, 1996)
Will Rogers: A Biography by Ben Yagoda (University of Oklahoma Press, 2000)
Will Rogers by Betty Rogers (University of Oklahoma Press, 1941) "George Kelly, the Man" by William B. Lynch, Three Plays by George Kelly (Limelight Editions, 2004)
The working title of this film was The Torch Bearers. Twentieth Century-Fox produced a film in 1939 entitled Too Busy to Work which was partially based on the same source (see below). According to a modern source, Dave O'Brien played a member of the audience.