Small-Time Girl (1936): Wellman’s Romantic Comedy, Starring Janet Gaynor, Robert Taylor, and Jimmy Stewart

Prolific filmmaker William Wellman directed Small Time Girl, a romantic comedy starring established star and Oscar winner, Janet Gaynor, the handsome Robert Taylor, and newcomer Jimmy Stewart.

The ever-changing script (during production) is credited to John Lee Mahin, Edith Fitzgerald, the husband-and-wife team Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, based on Ben Ames Williams’ novel.

Gaynor plays Kay Brannan, a woman bored with her life, family and suitor Elmer, played by James Stewart before he became a star.

A traffic diversion brings Yale-Harvard football players through town, including Robert Dakin (Robert Taylor), a Boston prominent surgeon, who asks her for directions to a popular roadhouse.

Later on, drunk, Bob proposes marriage, and Kay agrees, eager to escape her tedium. The next morning, Bob’s parents (Lewis Stone, Nella Walker) like Kay, but are shocked that Bob, who was to marry socialite Priscilla Hyde (Binnie Barnes), would be so foolhardy.

To avoid scandal, Bob suggests to Kay that they pretend to be happily married for six months and then get a divorce, which hurts Kay. After a fake “honeymoon” aboard Dakin family’s yacht, they return to Boston. However, gradually, they fall in love.

Priscilla returns from a European holiday, and she and Bob resume dating secretly. One night, Kay gets a telephone call from Bob’s clinic urgently summoning him to perform emergency brain surgery on young patient Jimmy. Priscilla refuses to let her speak to Bob, and Kay goes to Priscilla’s apartment to get him. Bob begins the surgery, but to be on the safe side, he asks his colleague Dr. Underwood complete it.

Priscilla tells Bob’s parents that she is returning home. The local newspaper mentions that Bob is leaving for Reno for a divorce. Kay then meets Elmer, who proposes, but Bob suddenly reappears. He tells Kay he has lost his way to–and interest in–Reno, and they happily drive off together.

Made on a modest budget, Small Time Girl was commercially successful, earning $1.6 million at the box-office.

William Wellman later directed Gaynor in the first version of A Star in Born, opposite Fredric March, which was a smash hit.



Produced by Hunt Stromberg

Release date: April 11, 1936

Running time: 90 Minutes