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?).
The Classic “Cheaper by the Dozen” Victorian
The movie was filmed on a backlot known as St. Louis Avenue. Above is 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.
It’s the same one used in Meet Me in St. Louis in 1944:
Inside the “Cheaper by the Dozen” House:
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…ha.
After the Gilbreth family moves in, the mother (Myrna Loy) 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?”
*UPDATE: The gorgeous old house the family moves into in the 2003 remake is on the market!
You can get the book the movie was based on here and get the DVD of the classic here (affiliate links). You can see more photos of the Second Empire Victorian in my post about Meet Me in St. Louis, and the list of all the other movie houses I’ve featured on my Houses Onscreen page!