Cast & Crew
The city council of Cape Flattery, Washington holds a meeting to consider condemning the home of Ma and Pa Kettle, who live in ram-shackled poverty with their fifteen children. Before they can act, however, Mayor Dwiggins learns that Pa has won a brand-new, model house in the King Henry Tobacco Company slogan contest. When the city council attempts to give the Kettles the good news, however, they are attacked by the Kettle children. While Ma is thrilled, Pa is disappointed, as he had hoped to merely win a new tobacco pouch. Returning home from college, Tom Kettle, Ma and Pa's oldest son, meets magazine reporter Kim Parker, who is traveling to Cape Flattery to do a series of articles on the Kettles. The Kettles are quickly overwhelmed by all the electronic gadgets in their new "home of the future," including automatic doors, Murphy beds, console entertainment centers and infra-red stoves. Undaunted, the Kettles soon hold a house-warming party for the town, during which Pa is elected to the honorary chairmanship of the county fair. Upset at losing her chairperson title, Mrs. Birdie Hicks leaves the party and runs into Billy Reed, a traveling salesman. Billy gives her one of his calendars, and Birdie immediately recognizes the similarity between Billy's slogan and the one that won the Kettles their new home. With the help of her mother, Birdie telegraphs the tobacco company and accuses Pa of plagiarism. Meanwhile, Tom's courtship of Kim is interrupted when he is called to Seattle to present his new egg incubator to the Farmers' Bank. Later, after Pa gets sunburned while shaving under sun lamps, Ma lets him think he has scarlet fever in order to keep him from selling the new house. Responding to Birdie's telegrams, the tobacco company gives the Kettles a forty-eight hour eviction notice. Ma decides to fight the notice, but Pa goes home when he learns that he is merely suffering from sunburn. When the sheriff arrives to evict them, Ma and the children decide to stand and fight. An explosion then happens at the old Kettle place, and everyone thinks that Pa has been killed by dynamite. Later, at his memorial service, Pa arrives with a wagon-load of Indians, whom he has gathered to fight the authorities. It is of little matter, however, as Billy admits that he had borrowed the slogan from Pa. The Kettles then get to keep their new home, and Tom and Kim are married. During the wedding, Pa learns that he has won another slogan contest, with a trip to New York City as grand prize.
O. Z. Whitehead
Eddy C. Waller
Leslie I. Carey
Russell A. Gausman
Ma and Pa Kettle
Leonard Goldstein, an executive producer at Universal Studios, was the person who originally got the idea to give the Ma and Pa Kettle characters their own film series. When The Egg and I opened in 1947, Goldstein noticed that even though Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray were the stars, audiences were responding more to the comic relief of Ma and Pa Kettle. According to the 2006 book Marjorie Main: The Life and Films of Hollywood's "Ma Kettle" by Michelle Vogel, Goldstein visited several theaters where The Egg and I was playing in order to observe how people were reacting to it. In a 1949 interview Goldstein explained, "I noticed something intriguing at the previews of The Egg and I. Every time the Kettles appeared on the screen, the audiences would perk up and lean forward in their seats. Main and Kilbride were stealing this picture and it suddenly occurred to me. Why not a low budget series based on the Kettles?"
Universal struck a deal with author Betty MacDonald, who wrote the book The Egg and I on which the film was based, for exclusive rights to use the characters of Ma and Pa Kettle in a film series. In exchange, MacDonald would be paid $10,000 per film. The deal turned out to be one of the studio's shrewdest moves as the success of the series over the next decade ultimately helped save Universal from bankruptcy.
Marjorie Main had been nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting actress for her performance as Ma Kettle in The Egg and I, but she declined at first to make a Ma and Pa Kettle spinoff film. Main, who was a contract player at MGM at the time and had to be loaned out to Universal for the Kettle series, felt that she deserved to be paid more than her standard contract salary to do Ma and Pa Kettle. She believed that she (along with co-star Percy Kilbride) was crucial to the success and popularity of the characters. In a 1969 newspaper interview Main recalled, "When they sent me the script for the first Ma and Pa Kettle movie, I turned it down. But, I was under contract with MGM at the time and they told me I had to go to Universal and do it. After the success of that one, the scripts just kept on comin' and I kept on doin' 'em." Eventually Main happily embraced the character of Ma Kettle with which she would become most identified throughout her career. "I would rather make people laugh than anything else," she said.
During the filming of Ma and Pa Kettle Marjorie Main suffered from a serious sinus condition that made her very ill. Her doctors advised her to take some time off to recuperate, but Main refused to miss a day of work. Instead she took a steady dose of penicillin and frequent rest breaks to get through the shoot, which she did without incident.
Audiences loved seeing the Kettles as the stars of their own film and flocked to see Ma and Pa Kettle when it opened in April 1949. Its success spawned the follow-up Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town (1950) and seven more films after that. Percy Kilbride and Marjorie Main were asked in 1956 why they thought the Ma and Pa Kettle films had been so popular. "I think it's because anybody, even the lowliest bum," said Kilbride, "can feel superior to the Kettles." Marjorie Main answered, "I'll be hanged if I can understand why so many people like the Kettle comedies. Critics don't like 'em. Nobody seems to like Kettle comedies but the people."
Producer: Leonard Goldstein
Director: Charles Lamont
Screenplay: Al Lewis, Herbert Margolis, Louis Morheim; Betty MacDonald (characters)
Cinematography: Maury Gertsman
Art Direction: Bernard Herzbrun, Emrich Nicholson
Film Editing: Russell Schoengarth
Cast: Marjorie Main (Ma Kettle), Percy Kilbride (Pa Kettle), Richard Long (Tom Kettle), Meg Randall (Kim Parker), Patricia Alphin (Secretary), Esther Dale (Mrs. Birdie Hicks), Barry Kelley (Mr. Victor Tomkins), Harry Antrim (Mayor Dwiggins), Isabel O'Madigan (Mrs. Hicks' Mother), Ida Moore (Emily), Emory Parnell (Bill Reed), Boyd Davis (Mr. Simpson), O.Z. Whitehead (Mr. Billings), Ray Bennett (Sam Rogers), Alvin Hammer (Alvin), Lester Allen (Geoduck), Chief Yowlachie (Crowbar), Rex Lease (Sheriff).
by Andrea Passafiume
Ma and Pa Kettle
The working title of this film was Ma and Pa. Betty McDonald's onscreen credit reads: "Based on the characters from The Egg and I by Betty McDonald." According to Hollywood Reporter news items, Helena Carter was originally cast in the role of "Kim Parker," which was played in the film by Meg Randall. Hollywood Reporter news items include Dorothy Vernon in the cast, but her appearance in the released film has not been confirmed.
Although Ma and Pa Kettle was the first film made starring Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride as "Ma and Pa Kettle," the actors and their respective characters first appeared in supporting roles in the 1947 film The Egg and I (see entry above). Main appeared in all eight of the films in the "Ma and Pa Kettle" series. Kilbride appeared as Pa in six of the pictures, his last being the 1955 Universal release Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki. Several of the "Ma and Pa Kettle" films, the last of which was the 1957 release The Kettles on Old MacDonald's Farm, were produced by Leonard Goldstein and directed by Charles Lamont. For additional information on the series, please consult the Series Index.