The classic 1950 movie Cheaper by the Dozen was based on a book that told the true story about Frank and Lillian Gilbreth and their 12 children. When the movie opens, Frank (Clifton Webb) announces that he is moving his family from Rhode Island to New Jersey. The kids protest at first, but when they see this beautiful Second Empire Victorian, they change their tune (wouldn’t you?).
If the house looks familiar to you, it may be because it appeared in another–more popular–film. Recognize it?
It’s the same one used in Meet Me in St. Louis. Here’s how it looked when Judy Garland and her movie family lived there in 1944:
It was on a backlot known as St. Louis Avenue. Here’s a photo someone snapped of the house in the 1970s, before it was razed:
You can see more photos of how it looked on the backlot in the ’70s here.
Frank Gilbreth was a famous efficiency expert who thought he could run his family with the precision of a factory. He had all sorts of time-saving routines for them that I wanted my own family to try after reading the book when I was a girl, but they weren’t as enthusiastic…
After the Gilbreth family moves in, the mother (played by Myrna Loy–love her) says the house was “too big for two servants” to handle, so they had a family meeting to tell the children they’d have to start pitching in. Times were tough!
After Frank dies of a heart attack, his wife and 12 children are left to fend on their own.
There’s a poignant scene with Myrna Loy alone and newly widowed in the dining room, pondering her future without him:
One of the reasons I got this movie out to watch it again was because I had just re-watched the Steve Martin-Bonnie Hunt remake and wondered how much it had to do with the original.
The answer: not much.
The biggest difference was in the way the children were portrayed. In the original movie, the children weren’t perfect, but they were well-mannered, respectful, and loving, even though their father is strict and demanding.
In the remake, the kids whine about everything, bully each other mercilessly, and trash their beautiful home on a daily basis. When Martin quits his job in the end to focus more on his children, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Really? You want to spend more time with them?”
Here’s the gorgeous old house the family moves into in the 2003 remake, which was systematically destroyed for “comic effect” throughout the movie:
You can see my post with the photos from the remake here.
You can see more photos of the original Cheaper by the Dozen Victorian in my post about Meet Me in St. Louis. It’s fun to watch it change through the seasons in that movie.