Cast & Crew
Fed up with New York life after one year's residence, Susan Applegate decides to use the money that she has saved for her return train ticket home but discovers at the ticket window that the fare has gone up. Unwilling to remain in New York a day longer, Susan gets an inspiration when she sees a child receive the ticket at half-price. She dashes into the women's bathroom, rubs off all her makeup and dresses as if she were a little girl. She then pays a stranger to buy her a child's ticket on the train and maintains the ruse even after she boards. When suspicious conductors catch her smoking a cigarette, Susan hides in the sleeper cabin occupied by Major Philip Kirby, a military boys' school instructor who is returning from Washington, D.C. after trying to get his military status reactivated. Philip, taken in by "Su-su's" childlike behavior, shelters her from the conductors and lets her stay the night in the lower berth. The next day, the train is detained by flooding on the tracks, and Philip's fiancée Pamela and future father-in-law, Colonel Hill, drive up to meet him. When Pamela sees Susan in Philip's room, she thinks he has been having an affair, and Philip is forced to bring Susan to the military school to prove that she is only a twelve-year-old child. After the misunderstanding is cleared up, Philip insists that Susan remain at the school for a few days until someone can escort her home, and she stays at the Hill home. Pamela's teenage sister Lucy immediately sees through Susan's get-up, but because she thinks her sister is a "stinker," she befriends Susan. Lucy reveals that although Pamela claims she is helping Philip fulfill his wish to get active duty, she actually has been using all her connections to prevent him from enlisting so that they can remain at the academy after they are married. Susan becomes popular with all the young boys at the school and has to fend off their amorous advances. After witnessing Pamela's subterfuge, Susan tricks one of Pamela's connections into getting Philip reinstated, but when Pamela hears the news, she calls off their engagement. Pamela learns of Susan's involvement and forces her to leave by threatening to expose her and Philip in a scandal. Susan, who has fallen in love with Philip but has been unable to reveal her true age to him, reluctantly returns home to her mother. Philip stops to see her on his way to California to report for duty, and Susan pretends to be her mother, allowing Philip to leave without learning the truth. However, after hearing that Pamela has married someone else, Susan changes into her own clothes and rushes to the train station to join the finally enlightened Philip on his journey, and they plan to marry en route to California.
Ed Peil Sr.
Robert Emmett Dolan
Arthur Hornblow Jr.
The Major and the Minor - The Major and the Minor
The "minor" in The Major and the Minor (1942) is Susan Applegate, a young woman in her 20's who's fed up with New York and decides to go home to Iowa. But when she tries to buy her train ticket, she finds she doesn't have enough money. Undaunted, she disguises herself as a child and buys a half-price ticket. On the train, she meets a handsome major who takes her under his wing, but can't understand his growing attraction to this "child."
To play Susan, Wilder, Brackett and Hornblow wanted everybody's favorite All-American Girl, Ginger Rogers. Then one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, she had recently won an Oscar® for Kitty Foyle (1940). Rogers was intrigued by the story, and even more so by the promise that the script would be tailored to her talent. And she and Wilder had the same agent, Leland Hayward. Rogers agreed to meet Wilder. Over dinner, Rogers decided that "he had the qualities to become a good director. He knew just how to order in the restaurant, but remembered to ask me what I liked. I felt that he would be strong, but that he would listen. He certainly understood how to pay attention to women." During production of The Major and the Minor, Wilder also endeared himself to Rogers when he offered the role of Susan's mom to Ginger's own mother, Lela Rogers. Not surprisingly, The Major and the Minor became one of Ginger's favorite films.
Another reason Rogers liked the film so much was because the plot shared some similarities to her own life. In the book, Nobody's Perfect: Billy Wilder, A Personal Biography by Charlotte Chandler, Rogers admitted, "I loved The Major and the Minor because it was my story, as if they knew my life. Mother and I often didn't have enough money when we traveled, so I carried my stuffed doll named Freakus, which made me look younger, especially when I hugged it and talked with it, and then, at night, I could just use it as a pillow. Just like Sue-Sue, I often pretended I was younger than I was, so I could travel half-fare. I was Sue-Sue!"
Getting Ray Milland to agree to play the major was even easier. Milland and Wilder knew each other casually from the Paramount lot. Driving home from the studio one day, Wilder pulled up at a stop light next to Milland. Wilder called out, "Would you like to work in a picture I'm going to direct?" Milland assumed he was joking, and replied, "sure!" When Milland got the script a few weeks later, he liked it, and that was that. Like Rogers, he had no problem with the fact that it was Wilder's directing debut. Milland would later win an Academy Award for his portrayal of an alcoholic in Wilder's The Lost Weekend (1945), which also earned Wilder two Oscars, for directing and screenplay.
As a novice director, Wilder was smart enough to know what he didn't know. He asked veteran film editor Doane Harrison to be on the set with him, to give suggestions on how to set up the shots. Wilder was attentive to the actors, and jovial with cast and crew. Rogers remembered that when he finished a scene that had gone particularly well, Wilder would shout, "champagne for everybody!" Eventually, the crew began to anticipate the remark, and would chime in. It was a happy set, and the production went remarkably smoothly. Wilder brought the film in more or less on time and on budget.
In Nobody's Perfect, Charlotte Chandler's biography of Wilder, the director shared some insights on The Major and the Minor: "Everybody was sure I was going to do some German Expressionist thing sure to fail, and that crazy Wilder would go back to his typewriter and stop bothering everybody. But I was very careful. I set out to make a commercial picture I wouldn't be ashamed of, so my first picture as a director wouldn't be my last...I wrote the part of the major for Cary Grant. I always wanted him in one of my pictures, but it never worked out...It wasn't too difficult for Ginger to imitate a girl of twelve, especially in those days. Now it seems a little foolish. To think a thirty-year-old could play a twelve-year-old girl and be believable! Well, she couldn't, but it didn't matter. The audiences were very generous in those days. They had come to have a good time and they went along with you."
The Major and the Minor was a critical and box-office hit, launching Wilder's long and successful directing career. The only problem had been with the censors, but Wilder refused to back down, and when the Production Code Administration saw the finished product, they had no objections. Ever the iconoclast, however, Wilder would later say that The Major and the Minor was "the first American movie about pedophilia."
Director: Billy Wilder
Producer: Arthur Hornblow, Jr.
Screenplay: Billy Wilder & Charles Brackett, based on the play Connie Goes Home, by Edward Childs Carpenter, & the story, Sunny Goes Home, by Fanny Kilbourne
Cinematography: Leo Tover
Editor: Doane Harrison
Costume Design: Edith Head
Art Direction: Hans Dreier, Roland Anderson
Music: Robert Emmett Dolan
Principal Cast: Ginger Rogers (Susan Applegate), Ray Milland (Major Kirby), Rita Johnson (Pamela Hill), Robert Benchley (Mr. Osborne), Diana Lynn (Lucy Hill), Edward Fielding (Col. Hill), Frankie Thomas (Cadet Osborne), Raymond Roe (Cadet Wigton).
BW-101m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri
The Major and the Minor - The Major and the Minor
The Major and the Minor - Ray Milland & Ginger Rogers in THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR on DVD
Synopsis: Tired of trying to make a living in Manhattan while dodging amorous creeps like Albert Osborne (Robert Benchley), Susan Applegate decides to go home to Iowa using money she's set aside for just such a rainy day. But the fare has gone up $5, stranding Susan in Grand Central Station -- until she disguises herself as Su-Su Applegate, a tall-for-her-age eleven year-old. The ruse works until some suspicious conductors spot Su-Su smoking a cigarette on the observation car, so she ducks into the first open compartment. There she finds Major Philip Kirby (Ray Milland), the commandant of the Wallace military school. Kirby is returning from a failed attempt to secure a transfer to active duty (this is America's first year in WW2). He swallows Su-Su's adolescent act, while Susan is convinced she's met the man of her dreams under the worst possible circumstances. Several complications later, Su-Su is spending a weekend at the military school, fending off the advances of a number of aggressive cadets. Philip's fiancée Pamela Hill (Rita Johnson) also accepts Susan as Su-Su, but her little sister Lucy (Diana Lynn) isn't fooled. Lucy doesn't want Susan arrested: she needs an ally to show Philip that Pamela is a two-faced rat. Pamela has been pulling strings to wrongly convince Washington that the academy cannot do without Kirby. Armed only with her kiddie-koo cutes, Su-Su holds off the cadet wolves and goes to war against her female competition.
Starting with the word play of their title, Wilder and Brackett made sure that The Major and the Minor had everything wartime audiences needed. Their source was a 1921 Saturday Evening Post story called Sunny Goes Home, completely reworked for 1942. Ginger Rogers' imitation of an adolescent works not because it's believable but because the actress has so much fun with it. 'Su-Su' hikes up her skirt, puts on a big hat and walks slightly pigeon-toed, a routine that fools most of the people most of the time. Susan was sick of being pawed by obnoxious jerks (Benchley's Osborne even uses the line, 'Why don't you slip out of your wet coat into a dry martini?') but her ruse backfires when she meets the charming Major Kirby. She's encouraged when 'Uncle' Philip begins to see her as attractive, a development that Wilder and Brackett exploit for all it's worth. Major Kirby is clearly being turned on by what he thinks is an adolescent child, but since we're perfectly aware that Susan is a mature 25, the naughtiness is censor-proof. Wilder must have wracked his brain reverse-engineering the Production Code. Imagine, a 1942 movie with a (sublimated) theme of pedophilia!
This theme comes to a head when Kirby tries to lecture Su-Su on the birds and the bees, comparing girls to light bulbs and boys to curious moths -- which sounds like a lyric to the Falling in Love Again song from The Blue Angel. Su-Su at first tells Philip that her family uses screen doors to keep the moths away, but when she sees that he's having difficulty with the analogy, she lets him off the hook: "I'll try and be a better light bulb Uncle Phillip."
More hilarity ensues when America's young military cadets prove to be budding Casanovas, trying out corny strategies to steal a kiss or otherwise score points on Su-Su's weekend relay date. The irony is that Susan ditched the Big Apple to be free of unwanted advances, only to be mauled and chased by a bunch of girl crazy shave-tails.
Wilder's first studio feature holds nothing back; his personal brand of comedy emerges confident and fully formed. Punch lines pay off because of Ginger Rogers' expert delivery: "I spit." "You bet I am." Running gags are a core constituent of the Wilder style. He uses the idea of throwing coins into the hat of a bronze statue to help his comedy change gears, from funny-ha-ha to funny-bittersweet: "You know, General Wallace owes me 51 cents." On the other hand, the picture smartly avoids obvious farce plotting: Mr. Osborne shows up at the military school with his wife ((Norma Varden), but never quite realizes the connection between Su-Su and the girl he chased around his apartment back in New York.
Wilder loves topical jokes, some of which may have to be explained to movie fans sixty years removed from their context. A joke about a girls' school obsessed with Veronica Lake's hairstyle always gets a big laugh, and Wilder pays off another gag with a funny reference to Greta Garbo. We're supposed to get those references but Wilder indulges some in-jokes as well. The main reason he claimed he wanted to direct was to protect the integrity of his scripts. Star Charles Boyer once refused to play a scene he didn't like, which made Wilder furious. So The Major and the Minor has a moment where a precocious girl pulls a movie magazine from a sales rack and quotes the title of one of its articles: "Why I hit women, by Charles Boyer." Touché.
Brackett and Wilder extend their premise to allow Susan Applegate to impersonate her own mother, thereby letting Ginger Rogers play Susan as a charming woman at three distinct ages. Susan's mother is played by Rogers' real mother Lela. Rita Johnson does well as the selfish fiancée who wants to Major Kirby for herself and away from the service of his country. Wilder clearly cast Robert Benchley for comedy insurance, but strikes pay dirt with Ray Milland. Then a rising star at Paramount, Milland projects the right blend of decency and farce-approved cluelessness required for the film's pretzel plot -- and its risky jail bait romance concept. Wilder reportedly first talked to Milland about doing the movie by chasing him down Melrose Blvd and yelling car-to-car: "Would you work in a picture I'm going to direct?"
The film's secret weapon is Diana Lynn as the delightfully direct and intelligent Lucy. Many farces lose their grip because we grow weary when nobody sees through impossible impersonations. Wilder and Brackett short-cut that by having Lucy, the only really rational person in the story, spot the phony Su-Su right off the dime. Diana Lynn is even more adorably straightforward in Preston Sturges' comedy The Miracle of Morgan's Creek.
Universal's DVD of The Major and the Minor is a good B&W encoding of a transfer element in fine condition. The film is part of the Paramount library sold to MCA in the late 1940s, which accounts for its distribution by Universal. Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies provides an optional introduction, and an original trailer is included.
The list of Billy Wilder films still not on DVD is growing shorter; we're eager and ready for restored editions of unheralded classics like Five Graves to Cairo and A Foreign Affair.
Research source: Billy Wilder in Hollywood, Maurice Zolotow, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1977
For more information about The Major and the Minor, visit Universal Home Video. To order The Major and the Minor, go to TCM Shopping
by Glenn Erickson
The Major and the Minor - Ray Milland & Ginger Rogers in THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR on DVD
TCM Remembers - Billy Wilder
Billy Wilder had the most deliciously dirty mind in Hollywood. The director dug into racy, controversial subjects with cynical wit and rare candor; he set new standards for film noir, sex comedies and the buddy film and his movies continue to inspire new generations of filmmakers.
Cameron Crowe, screenwriter and director of contemporary hit films such as Jerry Maguire(1996), was one of those moved by Wilder's film sense. The struggling filmmaker struck up a friendship with the 93-year old veteran and found a friend and a mentor. Their conversations were recently chronicled in a book by Cameron Crowe entitled Conversations with Wilder(published by Knoft).
Billy Wilder might have been born in Vienna, but American culture influenced him from the earliest days. Given the name Samuel, Wilder's mother called her son 'Billy' in honor of Buffalo Bill Cody. The name stuck.
Billy was as restless as his namesake and left law school to become a journalist. While grinding out articles for a Berlin newspaper, Wilder joined with future film directors Fred Zinnemann, Robert Sidomak and Edgar G. Ulmer to make a short film, Menschen Am Sonntag (1929). By the mid-1930s, he had written seven scenarios and even tried his hand at directing. After Hitler's rise to power in 1934, Wilder fled his homeland. Once in Hollywood, Wilder and roommate Peter Lorre had to learn English quickly if they wanted to join the American film industry. Together the German expatriates learned the language and began staking their territory in the Dream Factory.
As a writer, Wilder could craft realistic relationships with sharp dialogue; he proved this in his scripts for Ninotchka (1939) with Greta Garbo and Howard Hawks' Ball of Fire(1941). As a filmmaker, Wilder was well acquainted with the shadowy, brooding style of German Expressionism. He brought these two gifts together to create a landmark film noir - DOUBLE INDEMNITY(1944). He followed this cinematic triumph with a risky project, the story of an alcoholic on a three-day binge. Not the usual subject matter for a Hollywood studio, THE LOST WEEKEND (1945) nevertheless claimed the Academy Award for Best Picture. By the end of the decade, Wilder dared even to paint a portrait of Hollywood stardom gone awry in Sunset Boulevard (1950).
Each of these films is an undisputed classic today, but even at the time, his films were lauded. Six of his screenplays were nominated for Oscars between 1941-1950. Three of his eight Best Director nominations also came during this period. Billy Wilder claimed the American Dream; he was successfully playing by his own rules.
By the end of the '50s, as censorship guidelines were easing, Wilder's projects became even more daring. Sex was central to Wilder's world and Hollywood celebrated his candor. He directed Marilyn Monroe in two of her most sensuous roles, The Seven Year Itch (1955) and SOME LIKE IT HOT(1959). More often than not, Wilder liked pointing his finger at the hyprocrisy of people's sexual mores. In THE APARTMENT(1960), Wilder took an incisive look at corrupt businessmen exploiting their employees for sexual favors. In IRMA LA DOUCE (1963), the world of a Parisian prostitute was lovingly painted in Technicolor tones. In Kiss Me, Stupid (1964), Wilder finally stepped over the line with the story of a struggling composer willing to offer his wife to sell a song.The film, which seems so innocent today, was scandalous in its own day. Critics called Kiss Me, Stupid pornographic smut and buried the picture. Audiences ignored it. Today, the film is a risque farce with great performances by Dean Martin and Kim Novak. The critical lambast deeply affected Wilder; this would be his last sex comedy.
In 1966 Wilder brought together the dynamic combination of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau with THE FORTUNE COOKIE. Director and stars teamed again for The Front Page (1974), a remake of the newspaper classic; and Buddy, Buddy (1981), the story of an assassin and a sad sack ready to commit suicide.
Wilder's many years in Hollywood produced an amazing string of hits. From sarcastic and cynical social commentary to outrageous sex farce, Wilder pushed his audiences to look at their own values and morals. He was an outsider who wasn't afraid to point out the follies of his fellow man or the worst aspects of American culture. He will be sorely missed.
By Jeremy Geltzer
TCM Remembers - Billy Wilder
You should be very glad I'm not 12. I was a very straightforward child. I used to spit.- Susan Applegate
Why don't you get out of that wet coat and into a dry martini?- Mr. Osborne
You know what I told the mayor? That my only regret is that I have but one wife to give to my country.- Mr. Osborne
If you're Swedish, suppose you say something in Swedish.- First Conductor
I vant to be alone.- Susan Applegate
It was decided to include scenes of Susan's (Ginger Rogers's) mother. Spring Byington was the first choice but was appearing in another film. Rogers suggested her real mother Lela Rogers, who got the role.
This film marked Billy Wilder's solo American directorial debut, and was actress Ginger Rogers' first picture for Paramount in nine years. Actress Diana Lynn, a former child prodigy, previously appeared as a pianist in films under the name Dolly Loehr. "Lucy Hill" was her first acting role. Lela Rogers, Ginger Rogers' mother and manager, who appears onscreen for the first time in this film, portrays Ginger Rogers' screen mother. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, Dorothy Comingore was initially borrowed from RKO for this film, Hillary Brooke tested for a role, and Dickie Jones and Billy Cook were cast in the same role, but both deferred due to illness.
One scene in the film features a girls' school dance at which all the female students sport the "peek-a-boo" hairstyle made famous by Paramount contract player Veronica Lake. In 1955, Paramount released You're Never Too Young, a remake of this film, directed by Norman Taurog and starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Diana Lynn also appeared in that film in the Milland role. Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland reprised their roles in a May 31, 1943 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast.
Released in United States 1942
Released in United States May 1991
American feature directorial debut for Billy Wilder
Lela Rogers, who plays the mother of Ginger Rogers's character, was in real life the mother of Ginger Rogers.
Remade as "You're Never Too Young " (1955) directed by Norman Taurog.
Released in United States 1942
Released in United States May 1991 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) in the series "Billy Wilder: 85 Years an Enfant Terrible" May 14-15, 1991.)