Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pearl Harbor

December 7, 1941

“We interrupt this broadcast to bring you this important bulletin from the United Press. Flash. Washington. The White House announces Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor …”

Pearl Harbor: The War Against Mrs. Hadley

Mrs. Stella Livingstone Hadley, a well-to-do Washington widow, was celebrating her birthday on Sunday, December 7, 1941. An unwelcome singing telegram started the festivities, her birthday cake told us the date; the radio brought her birthday gathering news of the attack. And her children, household staff, social circle and world were never again the same.

The War intruded on Mrs. Hadley’s life. It started with a broken teacup and culminated with a son in battle. She resisted and resented, but she ultimately repented. Without benefit of nocturnal ghostly visits, this somewhat softened stylish harridan has her moment of truth, sees the light and joins the war effort.

She is finally drawn to the cause by her unselfish children, her patriotic household staff and the firm patient goodness of Elliott Fulton, a long time ex-suitor played by Edward Arnold. Spring Byington, Connie Gilchrist and Sara Allgood ably support the conversion. Fay Bainter is Stella Hadley.

Pearl Harbor: Fay Okell Bainter Venable

Andrew Sarris has reflected on parallels between actors and the roles they play. Consider Fay Bainter in 1943, playing Stella Hadley living in 1941. Consider Fay Bainter playing the birthday scene when the radio brings news of war. If ever an actress lived a flashback, such a stage was set. Remembrance would have been inevitable. Less than two years had passed since Pearl Harbor, and she was of a generation which carried memories of that day to their graves.

Remember the day. Fay Bainter was likely in California. It was her birthday as well as Mrs. Hadley's, so there was probably a cake in the wings. Was there a calendar on the wall? There was certainly a radio: and then the broadcast. Her husband was Navy, so the family would know a bit about our Naval Station in Hawaii. Pearl Harbor. December 7, 1941. Nothing would be quite the same thereafter: for Fay Bainter Venable, for Mrs. Stella Hadley or for the better part of one hundred and thirty three million Americans.

An afterword

Fay Bainter’s career lasted into 1961 with her role in The Children’s Hour, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award. Fay Bainter Venable died in April 1968. She rests at Arlington National Cemetery with her husband.


The calendar is reproduced from the C.E. Daniel Collection

The broadcast text is that heard in New York on WOR at approximately 2:26 p.m., interrupting a football game. It is not the broadcast used in The War Against Mrs. Hadley.

An earlier version of this posting appeared on this site in January 2010 as Once Young 1.

Laura reviewed this film at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings on January 21, 2008.

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