The Best of Everything–the Sex and The City of the 1950’s

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It’s got camp! It’s got sex! (albeit it’s the 1950’s “we-don’t-actually-see-it” kind of sex) . It even has Joan Crawford in her first non-starring role!  It’s The Best of Everything, directed by Jean Negulesco . For this classic New York City lover it also has numerous scenes filmed in late 1950’s NYC. It’s also the movie that heavily influenced Mad Men and was a sort of precursor to Sex and the City (SATC). Actually, if SATC took place in the 1950’s this is probably the movie we’d wind up with.

Plot (Spoilers Ahead!)

Based on the novel of the same name by Rona Jaffee, the movie follows four women as they navigate the trials and tribulations of life in NYC in the fictional Fabian Publishing Company.

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Newly arrived to NYC, Radcliffe-educated Caroline Bender (Hope Lange)  just like Carrie Bradshaw (same initials…coincidence much? Maybe not!), dreams of a successful marriage AND a successful career.

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Thanks however, to her unofficial fiance Eddie Harris, it looks like Caroline is going to have the successful career WITHOUT the successful marriage. Eddie, aka, the louse, calls Caroline long distance from England to announce that he’s just gotten engaged to an heiress and is now officially no longer her unofficial fiance. Devastated, Caroline decides to put all her attention on her career, determined to move from mere typist to reader to full fledged editor. Romance may or may not still be in the cards when she catches the attention of fellow worker bee (but possible alcoholic), Mike Rice (Stephen Boyd).

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Next, there’s April Morrison (Diane Baker), a wide-eyed hopelessly in love with love, romantic, (and the perfect Charlotte York prototype!)

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At a company picnic, April meets and immediately falls in love/lust with the caddish Dexter Key (Robert Evans…yes, THAT Robert Evans!)

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Sadly for April however, her romance is short-lived as she becomes pregnant after a scandalous for the 1950’s romp in the sheets (which OF COURSE, we don’t actually see!). Sexy Dexy virtually ends the relationship when he convinces April to a last minute elopement and while on the way to their “wedding” coldly informs her that he’s actually taking her for an abortion. Horrified, April jumps out of the moving car, somehow escaping death but sadly miscarrying.

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Being the wide-eyed hopeless romantic that she is however, April doesn’t stay down for the count for very long. Just like in any good, dishy, 1950’s movie, our April finds possible romance with the kind-hearted Dr. Ronnie Wood (Ted Otis). Who needs a cad when you can have a doctor instead, right ladies?

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With her sex kittenish looks and portrayed by Suzy Parker (who was quite a fixture of the 1950’s), Gregg Adams is the Samantha Jones of the group.

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Lacking Samantha’s extraordinary self confidence however, Gregg ultimately suffers the cruelest of fates. Secretary by day and wanna be actress at night, Gregg eventually quits her job and falls in obsessive love with the director who gives her a bit part in his new play. As portrayed by Louis Jourdan, David Savage (OMG, gotta love the name!), is all European, smooth operator which for Gregg is very easy to fall in love with.

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Eventually, the duo take the show to Boston where for Gregg, it unfortunately turns out to be the end of the road. Being the fickle, skirt-chasing scallawag that he is, David becomes entranced by a younger, more talented actress and decides that Gregg’s acting services are no longer needed (and um, that goes for her “services” between the sheets as well). Gregg becomes mildly, well okay, more like completely obsessed with him– following him everywhere, scoping out his apartment from the fire escape, appearing unannounced at his apartment, looking through his garbage, you know, scary stalker stuff like that.

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When on one of her stalking, but not really stalking ventures outside David’s apartment, Gregg is startled by a neighbor and backs out to an open window, falling tragically to her death.

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Lastly, there’s Amanda Farrow, the Miranda Hobbes of the group portrayed by Joan Crawford. Given the nickname “the witch” by her underlings for her demanding, bordering on abusive ways, Amanda’s life mainly revolves around her work as senior editor.

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She is not all Dragon Lady however, as her heart is beholden to two yes, TWO unseen suitors: one, is a married executive who never seems to have enough time for her; the other is a widower from Illinois who seems to have TOO much time for her!

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Eventually Amanda’s heart does win out as she decides to kick her married lover to the curb and try domestic life with her “living-in-the-‘burbs-of- Illinois ” lover. Also helping in her decision is Caroline’s successful climb up the Fabian Publishing Company ladder and heading straight towards her position.

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Fast forward about ten minutes later however, and Amanda is back behind the desk faster than you can say “give me a scotch, neat” announcing that domestic life is not really for her. Better luck next time, Amanda! (Well, most likely not.)

 

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Similar to SATC, there are several scenes with dialogue that always make me wince (“Here’s to men. Bless their clean-cut faces and dirty little minds!”  “I’m so ashamed. Now I’m just somebody who’s had an affair!”)…did women REALLY talk like that back then??!!..Anyway, I just love this movie for its delicious campy-ness, its soap opera story, and of course, the clothes…

 

The Clothes!

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If SATC was the handbook of 21st century style, then The Best of Everything is the bible of how fashionable women dressed in the 1950’s. Created by fashion designer Adele Palmer (who received an Oscar nomination), the fashions here are pure NYC chic.

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Also quite notable for this classic NYC lover, is how entrancing NYC looked in the late 1950’s…

The City!

 

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As any die-hard SATC viewer knows, the show was a love letter to the Big Apple. And while the majority of The Best of Everything was filmed in Hollywood, there were several NYC exterior scenes that captured the the city in all its mid-century glory (and for me, NYC at its all-time best!).

A fine example of this is the opening credits when Caroline arrives for her first day of work at Fabian Publishing Company:

 

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Besides Hope Lange, the other “star” of this scene is the newly opened Seagram Building (375 Park Avenue, between 53rd and 54th streets).

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Here’s a wide shot of Gregg leaving the Seagram building:

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The building hasn’t changed that much since its opening in 1958.

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Down the street from the Seagram building is the historical St. Barthlomews church (325 Park Avenue, between 50th and 51st Street).

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St. Barts is on the left (photo courtesy Stephen Boyd blog)

 

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Same area, present day. (photo courtesy Stephen Boyd blog)

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St. Barts present day. (photo courtesy Stephen Boyd Blog)

When Gregg goes on one of her Broadway auditions, we catch a glimpse of The John Golden Theater, located at 252 West 45th Street.

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As you can see from this still, notable Broadway greats, Adolph Green and Betty Comden were performing in their play, A Party.

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Here’s the theater today:

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As they attend a fellow employee’s wedding reception, Caroline and Mike stop for a chat and directly behind them are the Jacob Riis Houses located at 454 E 10th Street. The Riis Houses were completed on January 17, 1949.

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Here are the same buildings today:

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Another great NYC location scene has Caroline and April walking through Greenwich Village, passing through Sheridan Square and Christopher Street. This area is notable as it’s the location of The Stonewall Inn where the gay liberation movement was born in 1969.

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Here are current views of the same area:

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Okay, we covered the plot, the clothes and the city. But as we all know, sometimes the best stories come from what happened behind the scenes (and of course, with the imitable Joan Crawford in the mix, there’s gonna be a lot of “dirt”…

The Dirt!

Short on cash and recently widowed after the death of her husband Pepsi executive Alfred Steele, Joan was lured into doing the film by Jean Negulesco and producer Jerry Wald. The duo promised Joan a showy drunk scene depicting her character’s sad personal life (sounds like it might have been based on reality, hmmm). Joan trusted the two (especially Wald who helped her get the role in Mildred Pierce). Unfortunately due to time constraints, the scene wound up on the cutting room floor.

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A behind the scenes picture of Joan holding her co-stars hostage…I mean, holding court with her co-stars.

 

Unhappy with the dialogue from one of her scenes, Joan took it upon herself to write her own dialogue. To her delight, Wald and the screenwriter Edith Sommer, were happy with her changes.

Keeping Joan company throughout filming was her bottle of 140 proof vodka.

Among  Joan’s other charming quirks was arriving daily in a limousine filled with an entourage, informing the cast and crew that no one could speak to her unless she spoke first and insisting on the set being very cold (it was believed this was to help preserve her pounds of makeup!).

Upon the movie’s release, Joan was to be the onscreen hostess for the film’s coming attractions trailer. She was scrapped however, when Fox refused to comply with her request that the trailer should feature a prominently placed Pepsi bottle.

 

The Best of Everything opened in the United States on October 9, 1959.  It was nominated for two Oscars–Best Costume Design, Color, Adele Palmer and Best Music, Original Song, Alfred Newman (music), Sammy Cahn (lyrics) for the title song. It lost in both categories.

 

 

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