Thursday, January 8, 2015

Set Design - The Courtship of Eddie's Father ( 1963 )

2015 is kicking off in a nice relaxing way. Sales with our business have finally slowed down and we have been able to savor the pleasure of re-viewing favorite films, one of which is this gem from 1963 - The Courtship of Eddie's Father starring Glenn Ford and based upon the best-selling novel of the same name. Mark Toby's book was such a hit when it was published in 1961 that Vincente Minnelli snatched hold of the screen rights and plunged into making this lush and lovely adaptation the next year. 

The Courtship of Eddie's Father tells the story of a young boy, Eddie ( Ron Howard ), who tries to steer his recently widowed father's attention away from Rita, the skinny-eyed brunette ( Dina Merrill ) he is currently dating to Elizabeth, the wide-eyed blonde across the hall from their apartment ( Shirley Jones ), in the hopes that she would be his new mother. Although the poster advertisements for the film give the impression that Eddie is lining up three women for his dad, only two really come into play...the curvaceous red-headed Dolly Daly ( Stella Stevens ) and his favorite, Elizabeth. Rita just snuck in like any busty no-good villainous woman. 

Glenn Ford is marvelous as Tom Corbett, the flustered father, and he plays this part with a gentle bewilderment that is really quite appealing. Ford and Minnelli had worked well together a year prior making Four Horsemen of the Acopolyse, so it is no wonder that Minnelli lassoed him into making another film together. 

Ron Howard took a break from playing Opie on The Andy Griffith Show to make The Courtship of Eddie's Father and he was re-teamed with Shirley Jones, whom he had worked with in The Music Man ( 1960 ). 

Unlike our regular Movie/TV set series, in which we cover just one main house set, our Set Design series features all the sets in any given film ( or at least, most of them ). Taking the screenshots for The Courtship of Eddie's Father was a sheer delight so be prepared to be swamped with images for this outing. 

In total, there were over nine sets constructed : the interior of the Corbett apartment, the apartment hallway and Miss Marten's apartment ( these were all on one large set ), the outer and inner offices of Corbett's work environment, Norman's radio lair, the bowling alley ( this was probably filmed at a nearby bowling lane but we're lost as to which one ), the jazz club, the fancy restaurant, another fancy restaurant, the arcade, Eddie's camp cabin, and finally, Miss Behren's apartment.

Let's look at them in more detail one at a time, starting with the location settings : 

The Arcade :

Things are slowly getting back to normal after Eddie's mother dies. The newly-hired "sleep-out" housekeeper, Mrs. Livingston arrived to take the helm of the housework and Eddie just returned from his first day back at kindergarten. To celebrate, Pop and son took in one of those western flicks where they cheat with the horses and are now ready to enjoy some dandy Chinese food when this eye-catching window display flashes out at Mr.Corbett. 

He decides they should play a few rounds of skee-ball before supper...which they never do, for they meet Dolly Daly instead. She wants to borrow his son to have a tie painted. You never know where mashers may be hiding, so she says. This doesn't look like their kind of hide-out ( unless they are of the teenage variety ), but the art directors did a great job of capturing that noising arcade feel in these scenes. 

Corbett's Office 

Tom Corbett works as a program manager when he is not playing skeet-ball with Eddie, but while away during his mourning period, Norman - the station's star disc jockey - gets carried away with his smooth-talk on the air, much to the chagrin of Tom.

Corbett's office was designed in typical New York City corporate style and it was several years ahead of its time in terms of color combinations and that wood grained look. 

Corbett's extra large speaker system can be seen in our sloppy image pastiche of his private office. We had two of those speakers built into the wall-to-wall fireplace of our house when we were growing up. Our father never used them however, so he removed the speakers and now they are bookshelves. Never let anyone tell you that ingenuity is not the best ingredient to great design. 

After Corbett gave Norman a mild warning about using the radio to pick up dates, he introduced him to Dolly Daly hoping he'd find a task for her to help her build her self-esteem. All she really needed to do that trick was find Norman, so this happy twosome went off on a double date to the local bowling alley with Corbett and Rita, a fashion editor.

I doubt the bowling alley was a set, but judging from the great design of the other The Courtship of Eddie's Father settings, it may well be. In this scene we get a glimpse of the feminist side of Rita Behren, who wants no man walking in front of her on her path through life. Artificial plants are a requisite in dining area sets and this one blends in nicely with the textured wallpapered decor. 

Norman and Dolly sneak off to a jazz club to have some chit-chat and Norman asks the musicians to let Dolly have a whirl at the help her with her self-esteem issue. The popular Italian character actor, Vito Scotti, makes an appearance as a clarinet player in the John LaSalle jazz combo. This set, as well as the restaurant below, are reused in a later scene when Corbett takes Rita on the town. 

When Eddie meets Rita for the first time it is at this very formal restaurant, which puts Eddie in a defensive mood. He doesn't like Rita. But I like the set. 

This lovely restaurant - or dancing pavilion - only appears for a few seconds near the end of the film, when Corbett is wooing Rita. Those lovely glass windows remind me of the set in The Happiest Millionaire ( 1967 ) during the "Are We Dancing?" number. 

Rita's Apartment 

Corbett doesn't spend much time at Rita's apartment and it is just as well, the rooms are decorated in a eclectic mix of modern New York, french traditional and ancient Japanese. Odd as the combinations seem ( along with the wild purple walls! ) it actually works. At least, for Rita. 

Here are some more potted artificial plants. Rubber trees always look good in apartments, even those that have purple walls. 

Elizabeth's Apartment 

The cameras do not get to linger around too much at Elizabeth's apartment either - Tom Corbett doesn't even step foot in her domain - but you can see what a great contrast the art directors set up between her and Rita's rooms. 

While Elizabeth's room is still very feminine, it is much more warm and Shirley Jones' character. Speaking of the maestros - the art direction for The Courtship of Eddie's Father was handled by George W. Davis and Urie McCleary, two exceptional designers who did a slew of great films throughout the 1940s -1970s. 

Davis did the marvelous designs for the San Diego lake-view house in A Ticklish Affair, which was released the same year as Courtship. Shirley Jones had two minor hits in '63 with these films.  The kitchen/bathroom is never shown in Elizabeth's apartment but I think we can assume that it is off to the left of that plush white sofa. Being a single girl, she lives in a one bedroom suite. 

Corbett's Apartment

Now for the creme de la creme, the main set of the film - Corbett's apartment. This two bedroom pad was situated at the end of a short hallway on the sixth floor of a building right smack in the heart of New York. Corbett had a good job so this place probably cost him a pretty penny. It, too, is not very masculine, probably owing to the fact that Eddie's mother stayed at home most of the time and so that was her realm. 

Let's start off with the kitchen : 

The film begins with a harried Corbett making a last-minute breakfast for his little boy before whisking Eddie off to kindergarten. Take a look at the Oatmeal packaging on the table. It hasn't changed in 40 years. 

While he is doing this he is listening to Norman cooing on the radio and decides to make note of an action that needs to be done - STOP NORM. These rolling telephone notepads were very common in the 1960s. Our dad told us that making this was a common woodshop project in high school. This one, of course, is made with plastic. 

Mrs. Livingstone ( Roberta Sherwood ) is seen here whipping up some goodies for the children during Eddie's birthday party. This was Sherwood's first and only film appearance, although she made a handful of TV guest spots. She was a country singer by trade but did a swell job acting as Mrs. Livingston. 

When she first arrives she marvels over Corbett's modern kitchen layout.."A dishwashing machine and a garbage disposal! You better watch out for the floozies. Why, there's women who would marry you this very minute for the equipment you have in this apartment"

All the finishing touches and little items in the kitchen, as well as throughout the apartment, are courtesy of the talents of the set decorators, Keogh Gleason and Henry Grace. Both fellows were favorites of George W Davis. 

Henry Grace worked with Davis on the sets for Designing Woman ( 1959 ), Bells are Ringing ( 1960 ), The Time Machine ( 1960 ), Bachelor in Paradise ( 1961 ) and How the West Was Won ( 1962 ) among many many others. 

There aren't many hallways in Corbett's apartment, owing to it being only two bedrooms to begin with, but this is one of the hallways and it is just off to the right of the sofa. Eddie's room is the first door, across is a bathroom or closet, and at the end of the hall - Tom's room, which is connected with Eddie's. 

The Corbett's were avid TV lovers, or else that television-on-a-stand got moved from room to room. It's first seen in Tom's bedroom, then in Eddie's and finally in the living room when Tom watches Mogambo one lonely night. 

This is the only glimpse we get to see of the bathroom and it looks like it is the only masculine decorated room in the apartment. The double sink and window view is great. Tom is more concerned with getting the painted wristwatch off of Eddie's arm. 

Eddie's room is very neatly cluttered with toys that any 6 year-old boy would have screamed for back in 1963. If the kid wasn't happy with what he had here, he certainly was after his birthday....

...when he was given Astro Base (!), a fighter jet, and the Robby the Robot toy ( from Forbidden Planet ). In this scene Eddie is complimenting this dad on being "swell..All the kids thought so.". Hefty praise from a little one. 

During Eddie's birthday party Ronnie Howard's little brother Clint makes an appearance as an Indian chief. We also get to see the balcony as it looked in the daylight. 

The Courtship of Eddie's Father was the first time Minnelli teamed up with producer Joe Pasternak. They made a great team and this is one of those films where all the little details just fall into place beautifully. 

The film has a lot of heart and there isn't one scene I would change. No matter how many times I watch it, I laugh and cry and smile during all the same spots. These are a few of those spots : Elizabeth bringing her fudge ( "riddled with nuts" ), and Eddie finishing off the cha-cha-cha ( "You missed it! ). Just darling. 

On second look, that is a different television set. It's also unusual that this apartment would have two sliding doors leading out to the same small balcony. 

Summer Camp 

The camp that Eddie attends is not nearly as nice as the one the twins go to in The Parent Trap ( 1961 ), but it sure is a lot more idyllic than any today. Eddie shares his cabin with Mike, a blonde haired kid who likes axes obviously. 

The cabin looks like it is just a small hut, but in a later scene - when Eddie runs away - we get a glimpse of Tom being ushered into the bathroom by the camp leader ( Ron Howard's father ) to answer a phone call and it appears that it may be connected to a larger building. I like thinking it is just a small cabin however. 

Well, that wraps up another Set Design post. We hope you enjoyed this look at The Courtship of Eddie's Father sets and if you haven't seen the film yet, then take a gander as this little known gem. 


  1. The bowling sequences were a real location - it was the old Paradise Bowl on So. Sepulveda in the Westchester district of Los Angeles (right by LAX) - the building is still there today called the Paradise Building but the interiors were all gutted long ago. It was a hop-skip and a jump from both Desilu Studios and MGM.

    1. Thanks for the tip-off're a mine of information! I have to add my apartment floorplan sketch later today so I'll change the text then. Hope you enjoyed the post!

    2. A question....wasn't there a bowling alley ( possibly the same Paradise Bowl ) featured in another early 1960s color comedy similar to Courtship?

    3. Not sure what film you might be referring to - My mind can be chock full of trivia at times, but I usually need a name or two or title to jar my memory!

    4. It dawned on me just this evening! The film I was thinking of was "Bachelor in Paradise" ( 1961 ). Bob Hope and Lana Turner go bowling and it looks like the same bowling alley. There's a website about the Bachelor in Paradise filming locations, but this author thinks it was a place called Woodlake Lanes. Maybe you can correct him. ;-)

  2. Great article as usual!! With Cinemascope you can sure show some good and neat backgrounds and locations!! I truly agree, Glenn Ford gives an incredible performance here!!! He is really great! Minnelli recalled in his autobiography that Ford delivered "a true performance, and a touching one. He was on-key throughout the filming." Ford's role was to react, and that was one of his strengths as an actor. In the harrowing scene where Eddie has hysterics when he finds his goldfish dead, Minnelli wrote, "Ford reacted beautifully, with all the conflicting emotions of the character. He's concerned, but irritated, so his impatience shows." This I read it somewhere when I saw the movie for the first time, not very long ago. Of course, Ronnie is sooooo great too, isn't he? Oh boy, I'm glad there is this movie, even just for these performances!
    I guess you noticed I'm new here. I got here some days ago, after a long time, and I left you some comments in your older posts (the one about Garson-Pidgeon, Family Affair, about dads... and others I think). I know this site through Connie, that is a former CFU member like me.
    I'm glad your work permits you now to watch movies again! Looking forward for the next article! Bye!

    1. Thanks for visiting our blog Robin! I'm glad you liked this article. Courtship of Eddie's Father sure is an entertaining film, one I never tire of. Thank you for sharing Minnelli's recollections with us. He was spot on... Ford really caught the distracted look of a recent widower ( not that I've known any recent widowers ).

      If there is any TV/Movie set that you would like to see us write about ( or any other topic ), just let me know. We're watching Herbie Rides Again this evening so we'll probably do the set to Helen Hayes firehouse for our next series, but after that we're open to suggestions!

    2. Okay!!! =) Enjoy your movie!! =)

  3. I'm not a big fan of the movie, but you've reminded me that it boasts some fine sets. Interestingly, I was just recently writing about Bill Bixby and, of course, he starred the TV series of COURTSHIP OF EDDIE'S FATHER. Great minds think alike...well, one mind (yours)--but not the other (mine).

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