I love old black and white movies. Especially romantic comedies. And if there’s a little Christmas thrown into the storyline, all the better! One of my favorites to watch at this time of year is Christmas in Connecticut with Barbara Stanwyck.
I’ve been in love with the stone farmhouse that it takes place in ever since I saw it as a girl. I love the vaulted ceilings, the walls of windows, the built-in bookshelves, and the big stone fireplace in the living room.
Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) writes a popular column in Smart Housekeeping, describing her daily life as a wife and mother, an accomplished cook and home decorator, on a farm in Connecticut. But the truth is, Elizabeth is a single woman living in NYC who needs a recipe to boil water.
Her “Uncle Felix” (played by Hungarian-born S.Z. Sakall, who fled Europe because of the Nazis) runs a successful restaurant in the city, and she uses his recipes for the magazine column. The Connecticut farmhouse she writes about is actually her architect boyfriend’s.
When her boss, Alexander Yardley, invites himself to Christmas dinner and wants to bring along war hero Jefferson Jones as a sort of publicity stunt, Elizabeth and her boyfriend–now fiance–have to pretend to be married.
The curving stone fireplace is almost larger than life with the opening stretching above their heads and niches built-in for books and things.
I tried to get a good shot of the fireplace, but it was difficult. The camera was always panning past it, or people were standing in front of it…
In this shot you can see the built-in bookshelves on the other side of the fireplace, too:
She brings “Uncle Felix” along to the farmhouse to cook, and they borrow a neighbor’s baby to play the part of baby Roberta. But then Elizabeth meets Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) sparks fly, and complications ensue. Maybe she won’t marry John Sloan after all. . .
John’s den with bar:
Sydney Greenstreet, a well-known character actor, played Alexandra Yardley, Elizabeth’s publisher. I love when he says, “What a Christmas!” at the end of the movie and can’t stop laughing.
Jefferson helps Elizabeth bathe the baby in the bathroom. “Are you sure the baby’s name is Robert?” Oops. “I mean, Roberta!”
This looks like the perfect place to spend Christmas to me…
Jefferson wins Elizabeth over by singing Christmas carols while she trims the tree:
Her fiance John starts to feel a little left out, though…
According to the IMDB website, the set was the same one used in the Cary Grant-Katharine Hepburn rom-com “Bringing Up Baby” in 1938. I found that interesting because I loved that house, too. I’ve got to rent it again so I can compare the two! The exteriors were similar, as I recall, but I clearly remember the entry and staircase in “Bringing Up Baby,” and it was completely different from the one in this film. They must have changed a lot around.
Jefferson and Elizabeth in the upstairs hallway. (These are the kinds of outfits I like to hang out in when I’m in my Connecticut farmhouse, too.)
Felix teaches Elizabeth how to flip flapjacks:
Love the Dutch door in the kitchen. So does this cow, which has wandered to the house from the barn:
Sitting around the kitchen table:
Housekeeper Norah proclaims this “The best kitchen in Connecticut!”
A shot of the pretty guest bedroom:
I like the fireplace in the bedroom with the slanted wall above it. Gotta love all the dormers in this house!
The war hero’s fiancee shows up to complicate things further:
But everything gets straightened out in the end and Elizabeth and Jefferson fall in love. Unfortunately, when Elizabeth chooses Jefferson, she must leave John’s farmhouse behind, so the ending isn’t a totally happy one (in my opinion!).
Elizabeth’s character was supposedly based on popular Family Circle magazine columnist Gladys Taber, who lived on Stillmeadow Farm in Connecticut. But unlike Elizabeth, Gladys was the real deal who wrote something like 50 books about cooking and homemaking.
4/10 UPDATE: Susan Turnley says that Taber was not really the inspiration for the movie:
Apparently this rumor came about many years ago when the IMDb.com website began annotating movies for readers. There were paid-by-the-hour workers who had to come up with newsy notes about the movies. One of them cooked up the line: “…Gladys Taber, whose column ‘Butternut Wisdom’ ran in Family Circle Magazine from before World War II until the 1970?s…” Fans of Gladys know that the Butternut Wisdom column didn’t start until 1959, 14 years after the movie.
From late 1937 to the end of 1957, Gladys had a column entitled “Diary of Domesticity” that ran in Ladies Home Journal. BTW, Gladys always said that the title of that column was forced on her and “it was a bad title but a pretty good column.” The family says they are sure the character of Elizabeth Lane was not based on Gladys, but the rumor has gone viral on the internet. I do feel that it doesn’t hurt getting her name out to more people: our goal is to get more people reading her books.
8/10 UPDATE: I just got this note from Anne Colby about the Gladys Taber connection to the movie:
Taber was my grandmother, and my family still owns Stillmeadow Farm. But I have to correct Susan Turnley’s post a bit, since my family actually has always believed- and hoped- that the movie was indeed loosely based on my grandmother’s Ladies Home Journal column “Diary of Domesticity”(I know, what a title). We’ve never tried to pin this down, however, so we’d welcome any confirmation/thoughts.
Taber’s column was one of the Journal’s most popular columns ever, and in 1945, the monthly essay was nationally well-known and at the height of its success. Apparently during the war, copies of Ladies Home Journal were sometimes included in care packages sent to troops overseas, and my family has a wonderful fan letter sent to my grandmother from a WWII soldier who had read her columns while in the service, and wrote that the soldiers had found comfort in her portrait of hometown America.
Beyond the basic plot point, however, the similarity ends– since Gram really lived on her (very simple) CT farm, and her cookbooks, while delicious, were not exactly low-fat– so she would have envied Barbara Stanwyck’s glamorous look!