Bachelor Mother

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Bachelor Mother
Bachelor Mother poster.jpg
Directed by Garson Kanin
Screenplay by Norman Krasna
Story by Felix Jackson
Produced by Buddy G. DeSylva
Starring Ginger Rogers
David Niven
Charles Coburn
Cinematography Robert De Grasse
Edited byHenry Berman
Robert Wise
Music by Roy Webb
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release date
  • June 30, 1939 (1939-06-30)
Running time
82 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$509,000 [1]
Box office$1,975,000 [1]

Bachelor Mother (1939) is an American romantic comedy film directed by Garson Kanin, and starring Ginger Rogers, David Niven, and Charles Coburn. The screenplay was written by Norman Krasna from an Academy Award-nominated story [2] by Felix Jackson (a.k.a. Felix Joachimson) written for the 1935 Austrian-Hungarian film Little Mother . With a plot full of mistaken identities, Bachelor Mother is a light-hearted treatment of the otherwise serious issues of child abandonment.


It was remade in 1956 as Bundle of Joy , starring Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, and inspired the Bollywood film Kunwara Baap .


Polly Parrish (Ginger Rogers) is a salesgirl at the department store John B. Merlin and Son in New York City. Hired as temporary help for the Christmas season, she receives her dismissal notice as the season comes to a close. On her way home, she sees a stranger leaving a baby on the steps of an orphanage. Fearing exposure to the cold will harm the baby, Polly takes it inside. Polly is charmed by the baby, but shocked when the orphanage staff believe she is the mother and insist she can continue to care for her child with their help. She leaves the baby, but not before accidentally informing the staff where she works.

The orphanage director searches out David Merlin (David Niven), the playboy son of the store's owner J.B. Merlin (Charles Coburn), and explains a woman abandoned her child because his store laid her off, requesting he re-hire her. David is sympathetic to the "unwed mother" and arranges for her to get her job back, with a permanent position and a raise, while promising a wonderful Christmas present will be delivered to her home later in the evening. The gift turns out to be the baby, delivered by the orphanage attendants.

Polly had made arrangements with Freddie, a stockboy at the department store, to enter a dance competition, so she takes the baby to David's home and leaves the child with his butler. David is enraged and, after being thrown out of the dance competition with the baby, is forced to wait for Polly's return. When she does, he threatens that she has the choice to either take care of the child properly, or find herself fired, denied a recommendation, and blacklisted by every employer in the city.

Mrs. Weiss (Ferike Boros), Polly's landlady, provides baby equipment and offers to take care of the boy when Polly is at work. Unable to convince anyone that she is not the mother, and threatened by David with loss of her job if she doesn't assume that role, Polly gives up, names the baby "John", and starts raising the child.

David continues to check in on Polly and the baby, and all three find themselves very compatible. David's involvement with Polly gradually turns into fondness, and he finds himself reaching out to interact with her more and more, bringing her and the child small gifts, stopping for visits, and talking together. Freddie's misconception of the situation between David and Polly is worsened when his own seniority warrants his promotion, which he credits to Polly putting in a good word for him with David.

New Year's Eve has arrived and David has no date. To save face, David turns to Polly. He orders clothes to be sent from the store and takes her to a party, playing a prank on the other guests that Polly cannot speak English and David must act as her interpreter. David spends the party pouting and jealous that this ruse does not prevent Polly from receiving male attention. The pair leave and have a romantic whirlwind of an evening, dampened only by the recollection of baby John, whose existence makes David hesitate. Although David is falling for Polly, he is not ready to commit to a woman with a baby.

An embittered Freddie attempts to blackmail David by sending an anonymous note to David's father, J.B., informing him that David has a secret child. J.B. is delighted with this news. He has long desired for David to settle down and provide him with a grandson. J.B. stalks his son until he sees David meet up with Polly and baby John.

Polly is mirthful to realize the tables are turned and David is now in the same frustrating position she was: His father is wholly convinced John is David's baby, and will not believe any of David's protests to the contrary.

J.B. demands David marry Polly immediately, and threatens that if David doesn't, J.B. will use legal means to seize custody of his supposed grandchild. David rushes to warn Polly about the threat and insist she produce the baby's real father (whom he has long been jealous of) to prove to J.B. that David is not the father. David ends up wounding and insulting Polly when he derides his father's demand that he marry her as ridiculous, as he does not relish the idea of a "ready-made family". He immediately regrets his words, but Polly makes him leave.

Polly is anxious over J.B.'s threat to bring in lawyers and investigate, since she has grown to love baby John and this will expose that she is not his mother. She decides to flee, but the landlady proposes an alternative solution. Polly visits J.B. with her landlady's adult son posing as her husband. A crushed J.B. is about to accept he misunderstood the situation, when David rushes in, dragging Freddie, whom David has bribed into saying is the father of the baby.

In the chaotic results of this interaction, with Freddie breaking and declaring David the father, David attacking the landlady's son in jealousy, and J.B. now wholly convinced David is the father, Polly disappears and tries to flee with the baby.

Distraught and terrified he has lost Polly and baby John forever, David goes after her desperately. When he finds her, David confesses his love and declares to his father that he is baby John's father, and he intends to marry Polly that very night. A touched Polly asks if he still believes she's the mother of that baby. He replies "of course" and she responds "ha-ha", to his confusion. [3]


Ginger Rogers, Garson Kanin (director) & Pandro S. Berman (executive producer) on the set Rogers-Kanin-Berman in Bachelor Mother.jpg
Ginger Rogers, Garson Kanin (director) & Pandro S. Berman (executive producer) on the set


The film was a remake of the 1935 Hungarian film Little Mother from Joe Pasternak and Henry Koster which was never screened in the US. [4]

In November 1938 RKO announced Little Mother would star Ginger Rogers. It would be the first film produced at the studio by Buddy de Sylva. The film replaced Perfect Honeymoon and She Married for Money in Rogers' schedule at RKO. [5]

Louis Hayward was originally announced as the male lead. [6] Then RKO announced Cary Grant would play the role. [7] A few days later RKO announced Grant was replaced by James Ellison. [8] In January 1939 RKO announced Garson Kanin, who had impressed with A Man to Remember, would direct and Norman Krasna was writing the script. [9] A few days later the studio said the male lead was played by Douglas Fairbanks Jr. [10] In March RKO said Fairbanks Jr would make The Sun Never Sets at Universal instead and his role would be played by David Niven who had been borrowed from Sam Goldwyn. [11]

The film had a number of titles. RKO disliked Little Mother and the Hays Office had objections to alternatives they proposed, Bachelor Mother and Baby Trouble. Garson Kanin wanted to call it Baby Makes Three but producer Buddy De Sylva overruled him. [4]


Box office

The film was a big hit and earned RKO a profit of $827,000. [1]

Adaptations to other media

Bachelor Mother was adapted as a radio play on several occasions, including five broadcasts of The Screen Guild Theater : the first starred Laraine Day, Henry Fonda and Charles Coburn (February 1, 1942); the second starred Ann Sothern and Fred MacMurray (November 23, 1942); the third starred Ginger Rogers, Francis X. Bushman and David Niven (May 6, 1946); the fourth starred Lucille Ball, Joseph Cotten and Charles Coburn (April 28, 1949); the fifth starred Ann Sothern and Robert Stack (April 20, 1952). It was also adapted as an hour-long play on Lux Radio Theater with Ginger Rogers and Fredric March (January 22, 1940) and on Screen Director's Playhouse with Lucille Ball and Robert Cummings (March 8, 1951).

See also

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  1. 1 2 3 Richard Jewel, 'RKO Film Grosses: 1931–1951', Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol 14 No 1, 1994, p. 55.
  2. "Classic Film Guide". Archived from the original on 2011-05-16. Retrieved 2011-03-28.
  3. "Bachelor Mother 1939: Movie and film review from". Archived from the original on 2008-12-10. Retrieved 2009-05-10.
  4. 1 2 TRANSFORMATIONS IN HOLLYWOOD New York Times 26 Mar 1939: 137.
  5. NEWS OF THE SCREEN: Ginger Rogers Will Star in 'Little Mother' at RKO. New York Times 3 Nov 1938: 28.
  6. American Will Play Opposite Anna Neagle: Williams Wins Lead Metro Seeks Musical Air Series Scheduled Build-up for Hayward Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times November 22, 1938, p. A10.
  7. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD New York Times 25 Nov 1938: 18.
  8. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD New York Times 29 Nov 1938: 27.
  9. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD New York Times 21 Jan 1939: 19.
  10. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD New York Times 27 Jan 1939: 17.
  11. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD New York Times 2 Mar 1939: 19.