Learn the ABCs of love with Teacher’s Pet this Valentine’s Day
If you don’t feel like going out for Valentine’s Day this year, enjoy a classic romantic comedy such as ‘Teacher’s Pet’ (1958) instead in this week’s Throwback Thursday installment. Starring Clark Gable and Doris Day, sometimes it’s fun to be schooled in the schematics of love and journalism.
Valentine’s Day is once more upon us, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than with a classic romantic comedy starring the legendary Clark Gable and Doris Day as this week’s Throwback Thursday. Courtesy of the Warner Archive Collection, Teacher’s Pet (1958) is an enjoyable rom-com about Erica Stone (Day), who is an effervescent journalism professor, and James Gannon (Gable), a hardboiled city newspaper editor who doesn’t believe a good journalist needs to be educated in the classroom.
In the grand tradition of all rom-coms that have come before and since, there is a meet-cute (boy and girl meet in a memorable way), followed by boy deceives girl and girl finds out and resents him for it, and then in the end, the two are able to forget about their misunderstanding because they realize they’re crazy about one another. In the case of Teacher’s Pet, the meet-cute occurs when Stone sends a letter to Gannon asking him if he would be a guest speaker in her classroom to inspire her students. Gannon scoffs at the letter and sends a rather scathing reply saying that he doesn’t subscribe to the concept of teaching journalism when individuals who want to be reporters should be knocking about as hangers-on in the newsroom, learning from seasoned veterans such as himself as they go.
However, not all newspapermen seem to agree. When the managing editor gets wind of the letter, he encourages Gannon to go and help Stone, but when Gannon arrives to the classroom, Stone mistakes him for a new student. I guess it’s his instant attraction to her/his desire to prove her wrong that causes him not to correct her and one can hardly blame him for not wanting to after she reads aloud his letter mocking him in front of the class. If this film had taken place in modern times, she probably would’ve recognized him as Gannon thanks to his social media profile photos, but back in the ‘50s, I guess it’s plausible she didn’t recognize a city editor she’d never met in person before.
The rest of the film pans out about as you’d expect it would. He of course continues to pose as a student and she sees “promise” in him as a budding journalist despite his age (which brings me to another key point). When the film first came out, critics didn’t like the 20-year age gap between Day and Gable, saying he was miscast in the role due to his age. Why would she be attracted to him as a student protege when he was obviously closer to retirement age? I read some fascinating trivia via IMDb that said both Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart turned down the role because they felt they were too old for it, and the film was shot in black-and-white to try to make Gable appear younger. While the gap is definitely noticeable, he seemed so spry in the role that it’s actually hard for me to believe that he died a few years later in 1960.
Teacher’s Pet also features some other familiar faces among its supporting cast, including fan favorite Gig Young as Dr. Hugo Pine (Gable’s adversary in pursuit of Day); Mamie Van Doren as a singer/casual love interest for Gable; Jack Albertson (Grandpa Joe from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory) as a newspaper plant tour guide; Charles Lane (What isn’t that man in? He guest-starred in numerous television programs and films over his long-spanning career but I recognized him mostly as Potter’s right-hand man in It’s a Wonderful Life); and Marion Ross from Happy Days fame.
Being a former journalism student myself, this film interested me for more reasons than one. I semi-agree with Gable’s character’s belief system that the only way one can learn to become a good reporter is to be thrown into a fast-paced newsroom environment. I know I, for one, learned so much more being active in multiple publications than I did in the majority of my journalism classes during my four years of college. The semester I served as editor-in-chief of our weekly campus newspaper opened my eyes to the world around me more than half of my lectures did. You can spend a lifetime in the classroom discussing technique, writing tips, ethics and the like, but until you’re actually hands-on in that field, I’m not sure how much that education means. There’s a great one-liner in Teacher’s Pet stating, “To me, journalism is, ah, like a hangover. You can read about it for years, but until you’ve actually experienced it, you have no conception of what it’s really like.”
I also believe a reporter’s basic instincts as a captivating storyteller are something an individual is born with and not something that can be successfully taught. You can learn the techniques all you want, but if you’re not good at connecting with a reader, all those fancy techniques are in vain. Crafting an article is so much more than the “who, what, where, when and why.” It’s hard to believe that the wise gem “Newspapers can’t compete in reporting what happened any more, but they can and should tell the public why it happened.” comes courtesy of a film all the way from 1958 because that seems so relevant in today’s world!
I found Teacher’s Pet to be a hidden gem that I’d never heard of, let alone seen before. Poor Gig Young just never seems to get Doris Day. Another of my favorite classic rom-coms also pairs the two stars as a couple that’s never meant to be (Young at Heart) because another leading man (Frank Sinatra) sweeps in and takes her away from him. I guess his role is to be the affable, intelligent, handsome but nonetheless forever second-best man in Doris’ life – a role that does suit him to an admirable tee. While Gig shines in his supporting role, I guess if a girl can land a man like Clark Gable – whether he’s aging or not – she’s gotta go for it! Despite what the critics said, Gable still oozes charm from every pore in this film and proves he still had what it took to be a handsome leading man.