Model and the Marriage Broker: Cukor Directs Jeanne Crain, Thelma Ritter and Zero Mostel

In l951, Charles Brackett, a Fox writer-producer, wrote a mildly amusing comedy-drama about a woman who runs a Lonely Hearts racket, called The Model and the Marriage Broker. His slight script details the affairs of a marriage broker (Thelma Ritter), who plays Cupid for a model (Jeanne Crain) and an X-Ray technician (Scott Brady). Ritter got third billing, but it was really her picture, for which she received an Oscar nomination.

Cukor had reservations about Brackett’s cynical, somehow heartless approach to human frailty. But there was enough in it to engage his imagination–he was attracted to the collision of fact and fantasy among lonely hearts, a motif that recurred in his work. The reviews, however, were bad, and The Model and the Marriage Broker became one of Cukor’s biggest flops.

The Model was made as part of Cukor’s contract for Fox, though he didn’t think it would be another Birth of a Nation. This was a typical Cukor’s expression for assignments that were beneath his talent. When he finished A Life of Her own, Cukor mused that Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief had nothing to worry about its laurels.

At first, it was not easy for Fox’s top brass to persuade Cukor to cast Jeanne Crain in the lead role. Zanuck was willing to wait for the results of the test with Joanna Dru, Cukor’s first choice. Cukor held that Dru was young, attractive, and possessed sex appeal, but under pressure he relented to use Crain.

The mogul wished to have at least one “name,” to keep the film from being labeled as one about character people. The picture was in danger of receiving a secondary status and becoming a little item–which it finally did. Substantial changes were made in the script-Zanuck felt it was on the “talky side.” He was also concerned that the picture would be branded a middle-aged affair. The NY front office wanted a more youthful title, fearing that, because of Thelma Ritter’s prominent role, audiences might think it was a middle-aged film, with the result of doing “middle-aged business.”

Shooting began in June and was scheduled to be completed in thirty days. Things proceeded so smoothly that Cukor was done in 29 days–”Count ‘em,” he told Zanuck.

After working together, Brackett said that he never believed Cukor until he said something four times. “He would look at a page of dialogue,” Brackett recalled, “and tell us it was phony, phony, phony, phony. When Cukor got to the fourth one, we knew he meant business.”

Zanuck congratulated Cukor on a sensational preview of The Model, and suggested several slow spots to be tightened. For his part, Cukor thanked Zanuck for his encouragement, “the shot in the arm” that every director needs. Never beneath flattery, Cukor pretended to have appreciated the mogul’s criticism. With all his criticism of the moguls–Louis B., Harry Cohn, Zanuck–Cukor seldom had the guts to confront them directly, the way Katharine Hepburn did. He would moan and groan to himself, write letters of protest without mailing them–but avoid confrontations at all cost.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Costume Design (b/w): Charles LeMaire and Renie

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner was Edith Head for A Place in the Sun

 

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