Mother Carey's Chickens

Mother Carey's Chickens is based on the novel of the same name by Kate Smith Wiggin.  It has not proved as enduring as her other book, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.  It was also made into a Disney movie starring Hayley Mills called Summer Magic.

This is the story of a mother of four who was widowed during the Spanish-American war.  The Careys have never had a permanent home of their own but manage, with charm and hard work but not much money, to adopt a beautiful house in Rhode Island.  When circumstances almost cause them to lose the house, the community rallies around them so that they can stay.

"Mother Carey's Chickens" is a nickname for a seabird (storm-petrel) that lives on the open ocean.  The family referred to themselves as Mother Carey's Chickens because their last name was Carey and they never had a true home, but had always traveled with their father from Naval port to Naval port.  I can only assume that the book title was well known because it seems like a terrible name for a movie.

This was a pleasant enough movie with Anne Shirley and Ruby Keeler, but the interesting history of this movie is really about who wasn't in it.  Katharine Hepburn had just been labeled as "box office poison" in a poll of theater exhibitors and she blamed it on the low budget films she was being given.  This was apparently one of those movies and she refused it, instead buying her contract back from RKO.  This movie was also being touted as Ginger Rogers's solo debut, but RKO was having such success with her Fred Astaire pictures that it got bumped from her schedule.

I ran across this quote in a 1936 Hollywood column from the Milwaukee Journal:
Ginger Rogers has been faced with a difficult problem in "Mother Carey's Chickens," her first dramatic role on the screen. The period around which Kate Douglas Wiggins weaves her tale is the early 1900s, and the redheads of the Hollywood type were conspicuous by their absence.  In order accurately to interpret her role, Ginger will dye her locks to ash blond, and, for the first time in her acting career, belie her nickname.  
I get a kick out of this because this movie (like all of Ginger's movies to date) was in black and white.

The father (before he dies) is played by Ralph Morgan, who reminds me very much if his brother, Frank Morgan (the Wizard of Oz).  Margaret Hamilton is also in this movie, playing a character much meaner than Almira Gulch.  Other familiar faces are Walter Brennan, Frank Albertson (Sam Wainwright from IAWL) and Virginia Weidler, who sang "Lydia the Tattooed Lady" in The Philadelphia Story.

Wicked Margaret Hamilton


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