Career Romances for Young Moderns

Career Romances for Young Moderns were a series of books published from the 1950s-1970s about young women striking out in different career fields. But because these were career romances, the books usually ended when the women gleefully give up their career for a man. The books paint a hilarious picture of a business world that's thankfully out-of-date. They're a little hard to come by today, but can be found in used bookstores and online.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

You Can't Tell About Love

You Can't Tell About Love, by Helen Diehl Olds, 1950

Lively and typical CRFYM about the beauty biz. Fun training scenes in the school, and wonderful goofy, dated details about how women used to get their hair done.

Main character: Susan Day, not to be confused with Susan Dey from "Partridge Family" fame.

Career: After attending South Shore Beauty School, Susan goes to work at the Beauty Box, a small salon. She moves on to her dream job working on a TV show about teens and beauty -- but wait! This is 1950! As the book's interior flap says, "how she learned that marriage is just as important as a career and that a smart girl can have both is a modern romance told against the million dollar beauty business.

Gael's grade: B+

Trauma #1: Susan has a nemesis, Avis Blake, who has a facial scar and is just as scarred inside. She'll do anything, including ruin Susan's hair, to try and put our heroine down and steal her man, Larry Knight. In the end, however, our brilliant Susan finds a cover-up for Avis' scar (Sculpto Skin!) and Avis becomes her biggest fan.

Trauma #2: After graduation, Susan and widow-at-21 Miriam begin working at Mrs. Wells' small shop, the Beauty Box. But no! A fancy shop opens around the corner that can outspend them. And no again! Mrs. Wells' husband is ill and must move to Daytona Beach, Florida, so she moves with him and the girls take over the shop. But the girls work hard and make their own business, especially after they hire a bunch of teens to essentially run a child-care center at the shop. The teens care for kids whose moms are being pampered, and in exchange, Susan and Miriam teach the girls about beauty and personal care.

Trauma #3: Mrs. Wells warns the girls about a customer in a shiny station wagon. One day she shows up when Mrs. Wells is gone. Turns out she buys a lot of services and then takes off without paying. She rips Susan off for $50, but gets caught in the end.

Prince Charming: Larry Knight, who works fixing appliances at his radio shop.

What's standing in their way?: Avis, of course. But mostly the idea Larry has that he is too broke to wed.

How does he come to his senses?: He makes more money, enough that he feels comfortable proposing, even though they may have to live in "a trailer or small apartment." He then asks "And what about your career? Will it combine with being Mrs. Larry Knight?"

DUH! This is a Career ROMANCE for Young Moderns! The Mrs. degree outranks any other professional classification in these books!

Signs o' the times:
There's a whole lesson on pin curls. They sound horrible.

Mean ol' Avis calls a deaf student "Dummy," as in "deaf and dumb."

They use a "waving machine" for giving perms.

Larry drives an "Army Jeep painted aluminum." (Was aluminum considered a color in the 1950s?)

A poor woman stops by the beauty shop and randomly sings a song she wrote, "Believe and Trust," so she'll be given a quarter.

Larry freaks out when he sees the milk bill for Susan's brother, sister-in-law, and toddler daughter. "I don't see how a guy ever can afford to get married," he whistles. The milk bill?

Susan thinks "Television, a combination of movies and radio, would offer many opportunities for women. ... Wardrobe mistress, scenic designer, and programs like tonight's. Again she thrilled that she had made up her mind to enter this new beauty field."

Quote that says it all:
"Another thing." Miriam slid the broom about. "The home-permanent craze has hit this town."
"One of Coralee's friends gave herself one while she made an apple pie. Ugh!" Susan made a face at the idea.
"Home perms are no economy. They don't last long in most cases," Miriam pointed out. "You'd need one every few weeks."
"Beauty work should be done in a shop," Alice stated, and the other two agreed."


"Did you girls know that in an emergency you can use cologne instead of water or wave set?It dries fast and leaves the hair fluffy."

Yeah, but I can't think of an emergency where I have COLOGNE at hand and not WATER.


Hostess in the Sky

Hostess in the Sky, by Margaret Hill, 1955

You know that Replacements song, where Paul Westerberg sneers "you ain't nothin' but a waitress in the sky?" Yeah, well, back in 1955, that wasn't an insult, apparently. This book is lively and fun, and I would even go as far as to say it's more entertaining than a typical Silver Wings for Vicki-type book. It comes off as more interested in Beth's career than in her romances, which makes sense, considering Hill also wrote "Goal in the Sky" and "Senior Hostess."

Main character: Beth Dean

Career: Hostess, Sky Lanes Airlines

Gael's grade: A-

Trauma #1: Beth and pals are junior hostesses trying to make senior (apparently that is chronicled in Hill's next book).

Trauma #2: Living in a house with a bunch of other hostesses tries their patience, especially when someone takes Beth's last pair of stockings. She resorts to WW II methods and fakes having nylons on by drawing a seam up the back of her leg with eyebrow pencil. "Ingenious, that's what an airline hostess was supposed to be," she thinks proudly. She's mortified later when she puts on real seamed stockings and forgets to rub off the first seam, and a passenger notices. Horrors!

Trauma #3: Beth is assigned to go to a mental hospital and take a patient on a flight. But she takes the wrong woman. "All right, so I'm the Idiot of the Airlines," gulps Beth.

Trauma #4: Argument with a passenger about why Sky Lanes is still flying DC-3s, which he calls "worn-out old crates." Beth gets super-defensive and lectures him on the history of flying and how much more it would suck to be flying 30 years ago. "You wouldn't get deviled crab and French green beans with chives if this were back in 1925," she scolds. Um, yuck?

Trauma #5: Once, Beth and chums forget to load silverware on the plane! Luckily, a troop of Boy Scouts are on, and they share their knives. And a woman helpfully notes "we can eat the bacon with our hands." Bacon?? With your HANDS?? What is this world coming to?

Prince Charming: Beth finds a kid stowaway, Jimmy (ah, for those pre-TSA days when anyone could sneak on to a plane...). He's escaped from Boys Town, and it turns out the young man who comes to get him, Peter Harcourt, is a heartbreaker.

What's standing in their way?: Beth simply doesn't see much of Peter for most of the book, but then he shows up again at an air show where a plane has crashed into the crowd, praises her medical skills, and they end up getting together. In a very clean-cut, career-oriented, 1950s way, that is.

Signs o' the times: While attending a small-town rodeo (where all men grow beards), the girls are thrown into Kangaroo Court. Which pretty much consists of nothing, except explaining that their uniforms are royal blue, not powder blue. Got it? Good.

When's the last time you quizzed your stewardess about events in Iraq? Apparently Sky Lanes hostesses "were expected to keep well-informed on world affairs, scientific developments, the latest movies and books."

Beth goes on a radio show for teens and talks about her career. You thought "American Idol" had tough requirements? Hostesses must be unmarried, 21-28 years old, 5'2"-5'7", and weigh between 105 and 125. (According to current standards, a 5'7" woman should weigh 135, so underweight hostesses were apparently highly prized. Also, you're weighed every six months to make sure you're not gaining.)

Kids from an "experimental" (read: proto-hippie) school are on one flight. Of couse, they break a passenger's alarm clock and make a dog look rabid, and Beth sneers at their "progressive" education. She later finds out they actually know quite a bit about flight. Possibly more than Beth.

There's quite a to-do when the airline sells one, yes ONE extra ticket on a certain flight, completely by accident. What would Beth do if she knew about our modern "bumping" procedures and how normal it is?

When a flight is grounded, the hostesses are responsible for entertaining the passengers, even "taking them at company expense to the best restaurants and hotels in town." Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha...and how hard is it nowadays to even get a Motel 6 voucher when you're grounded? Yes, I have slept on the floor of the Detroit airport, why do you ask? When Beth's plane is grounded, she gets uber-creative and gets the passengers square-dancing at a local theater. Swing your partner, allemande left and do-si-do!

Quote that says it all: (Remember, this is all on an AIRPLANE.) "The lower deck was divided into two rooms: the long lounge where passengers would gather for games, card-playing and other social activities, and the library equipped with desks, tables, typewriters, maps, shelves built into three of the walls and filled with books. The fourth was Plexiglas to furnish an unrestricted view of whatever happened to be flashing past the window."


"The movies, apparently, had been going on for some time. Beth got in on the features about crop dusting and smoke jumping. She would impress Louise with the scientific names of the latest insecticides and the ideal altitudes for dusting certain crops."

Well, how could Louise NOT be impressed?


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Mirror, Mirror

"Mirror, Mirror," by Marjory Hall, 1956

Well-written, again, as all Marjory Hall books are, but Kim is not the world's most likable heroine, and the china business is kind of skated over.

Main character: Kimberly Mason
Career: Some sort of administrative assistant at Lakeland China
Gael's grade: B+

Trauma #1: Kim is unattractive. Not real-life unattractive, but Career Romance for Young Moderns unattractive, which is to say she's not fat, but she has a "too-short, too broad nose," "sallow" skin, and is "moon-faced," with "full and bushy" eyebrows. (Kim thinks plucking her eyebrows is "cheating," but eventually gives in.)

Trauma #2: Kim's jealous of movie-star-beautiful Lisa Enright, daughter of Lakeland China's president. Lisa is "beautiful, slim, and green-eyed, with coppery, curling hair, and was dressed in a faultlessly tailored copper-colored linen dress." Of course they become friends, Kim regrets judging Lisa by her cover, and Lisa helps Kim improve her looks with diet and exercise.

There's a great quote that makes it apparent how much dress sizes have enlarged since this book was written. "You wear what -- a sixteen?" Kim says to Lisa. "I think a fourteen would be just right for you." And Lisa replies, bitterly, that she supposes Kim wears twelves. Kim admits she does, but notes that she used to wear an eighteen. (I would guess you knock each of these sizes down about four notches or so in modern-day sizing to get them right. Kim probably wears a modern ten, is my guess, at her chubbiest.)

Trauma #3: Kim's also jealous of ice-princess Christine, another gorgeous Lakeland employee, but soon learns that Christine is uncomfortably aware of how icy she is and is just dying to come out of her snobby shell somehow. She helps Lisa and Kim with their Refine Kim project, but still shocks Kim with her coldness. Then one day, Christine asks Kim to be her roommate. Turns out Christine is secretly married and separated. Scandal!

Trauma #4: Kim is recruited to do a really stupid project and given only a few days to do it. She is told to go to 100 local homes and quiz the women on their china, all while she was hoping to go up to a college for a date weekend...with who, you ask? Why, with "junior class president GEORGE BUSH." Well, that's his name, but he's too nice and smart to be our chief exec, or even his dad. Or even a third cousin thrice removed.

Prince Charming: Kim thinks she likes Roy Severance, a smart-alec Lakeland worker, but it becomes clear that her prince is really tall, broad-shouldered Howie Adams. As Kim's look improve, Roy starts asking her out. When Kim chooses to stay at Lakeland instead of go to college, Howie disapproves.

What's standing in their way?: Turns out Howie is runnin how own Catch Kim campaign, but because he was the sole support of his family, he thought he couldn't date seriously.

How does he come to his senses?: His mother gets started in the dress business and "without my family to support, I can start thinking like a normal guy." And Kim decides to give college a try for a year, since Howie needs that year to make sure Mom's dress shop gets off the ground, so he drives her off to college. As he does so, he tells her he's been given sales territory in San Francisco, "the glamorous Golden Gate city." He pre-asks Kim to marry him, couching it with talk about her getting through college and him making sure his mother's business works. She realizes she has grown more confident when she sees herself making friends with a shy frosh who one year ago, could have been her.

Signs o' the times:
Lisa makes chains of paper dolls when she is looking forward to an event, and rips one of the chain to mark the days passing.

Lisa thinks plucking her eyebrows is "cheating."

Quote that says it all: "You see, Kim, we always think of selling women complete sets of china. ... We think of a bride, hope to start her on a pattern, hope she'll tell her friends what it is and get a lot of it as wedding gifts, and hope she'll add to it as she goes along until she gets a complete set. Then we forget all about her. The production and control people spend all their time making the china harder and more durable every year if possble, so that her chances of breaking pieces get more and more remote. We're like our own worst enemies in a way. What we'd really like, of course, is for her to throw every plate she has in the ashcan once every two or three years and start over, but fine china represents a resonably large investment and naturally we can't really expect our poor bride to do anything so helpful to the business."

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Monday, January 01, 2007

White Collar Girl

"White Collar Girl," by Marjory Hall, 1959

Main character: Alix Whitney
Career: Secretary
Gael's grade: B+. Extrememely well-written for a CRFYM, as all Marjory Hall books are, but light on the atmosphere of the actual classroom and heavy on three personality-less Ken doll-like men. We don't care about them, and it's hard to believe Alix does.

Trauma #1: Alix and best friend Debby Brent leave their tiny town of Millbrook to commute to Pauline Michaels Secretarial School, a.k.a. "Polly Mike," which the book makes sound as world-famous as Julliard. Alix is a shy worrywart, Debby is a happy-go-lucky, sloppy sort. Alix struggles with her shyness and her desire to shine like her more outgoing friend. But Debby's chatty goofiness leads her to miss class too much, and Alix must plead her case to the dean. See! Being shy and obedient is good for a secretary!
Trauma #2: So many men, so many heels. Although Alix and Debby both agree that Lanny Rhodes is "a heel," he's Alix's high school standby. But he was possessive of her all the while flirting around after another girl. Finally Alix and Lanny fight, he tells her "you're not the only cake in the cakebox," and they break up. She also dates the hunky twin of a classmate, called, in true 1950s fashion, Duke. But her true love, Glenn, is concerned about getting to make the big bucks as an engineer "in this engineering age," and is more serious and possibly more boring than any of the other men, so of course we know he's The One.
Trauma #3: Alix longs to live in the Polly Mike dorm though her parents can't afford it. Luckily, she gets elected dorm liaison officer, and gets to move in for two weeks. When she moves in, she learns that, to her shock, the dormies have long been jealous of those who live nearby, with parents and families at the ready and home-cooked food.
Trauma #4: A very real trauma for a CRFYM book: Alix's school mentor and perhaps girl crush, a girl named Ann, goes to South America to work and is killed in a plane crash in the Andes. But it's not dwelt upon, except that Ann had been working on a program to add a second year of studies to Polly Mike, and Alix is to be the guinea pig and try it out. Not a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth for poor old Ann, though. She dies, the dean tells the school, they move on. Eh.

Prince Charming: Glenn Hudson, whom she meets in an art museum. His aunt was a "white collar girl," and he respects secretaries.
What's standing in their way?: Unclear. He doesn't seem to care that much about Alix, and goes for weeks at a time without calling her. He claims that he knew she was the one for him right away but also knew that a girl would mess up his carefully planned life, so he fought the attraction. She buys it, of course.
How does he come to his senses?: He confesses that even though he has five years of engineering school ahead of him, he needs her in his life, if she can wait around. Can she? Of course she can! She's a woman in the '50s! She can do anything for her man! But she secretly hopes they can get married while he's still in school, of course.

Signs o' the times:
1) Pre-Polly Mike, Alix thinks she will stay in her hometown and take a "post-graduate year" at high school for a nominal fee. Apparently she "wouldn't be a senior ... but she would be even better than a senior. She could take Latin, or whatever they wanted her to take, and algebra, in which she was a little on the shaky side, and perhaps some literature courses." An extra year in HIGH SCHOOL? I've heard of super seniors in college, but in high school? Did people really do this? But apparently Marjory Hall books are big on it, see mention of Cilla as a post-graduate in "Bread and Butter."

2) Three second-year students help the new students adjust to life at Polly Mike. The trio is dubbed "The Pollyannas," and one of them is nicknamed "Carrots" for her red hair. Why the Pollyannas? Obviously a play off the Polly in Polly Mike, and remember storybook Pollyanna and her "glad game"? These Pollyannas are supposed to be the "glad girls," gladly helping the newbies along, apparently. The Polly puns at Polly Mike will polly-ute your brain. In addition to the Pollyannas, the snack bar is the Poll Parrot, the school store the Polly Wog.

3) Classes include shorthand, business English, current events, banking, accounting, filing, business personality and office procedure. Alix thinks of shorthand as "the fine art of making pothooks," for the squiggly symbols it consists of.

4) Restaurants include The Jack and Jill, a soda fountain and the Pom-Pom, a fancier French place. At the Jack and Jill, Alix orders liverwurst (!) on rye and coffee for 45 cents; Debby splurges on egg salad on white and a chocolate float for a whopping 65 cents. Somehow I get the feeling the Jack and Jill was one of those segregated lunch counters where sit-ins for racial integration were later held in the 1960s. The girls fuss because their families are giving them $5 a day and they're worried about eating on 70 cents a day, but they admit that their dads will lecture them since when the dads were kids, they dined for 15 cents, and their grandpas did it for five cents.

5) In addition to redheaded "Carrots," one girl is nicknamed "Jiggers." The wuh? They also call Alix "Lix" for short, which I kind of like.

Quotes that say it all:
"She was relieved to see that sweaters and skirts were accepted at Polly Mike as reasonable office wear, although Laura was spoken to sharply about a beaded sweater that was denounced as far too dressy for either school or office."

Oh, horrors! A beaded sweater! Alert the Fug Girls! Seriously, if a beaded sweater was inappropriate office attire, the 1950s should see the socks in sandals, ripped shorts, and computer punning T-shirts that pass for work clothes at Microsoft today.


"A secretary is on the inside of big business, and she has an inside track to all the creamy jobs."

"Creamy" as a synonym for "good"? Man, there's about a zillion reasons that word usage will never come back in style.

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Bread and Butter

"Bread and Butter," by Marjory Hall, 1942

Main character: Laura Lou Nott (no, really)
Career: Bake shop owner
Gael's grade: B, for somewhat of a stiffness and dryness, which perhaps comes from the book being of the 1940s as opposed to later CRFYMs from the 1950s.

Trauma #1: Laura Lou's friends are all away at school or jobs, and she's left behind, unable to afford college. Her mother is busy running an inn, and Laura Lou has been given the opportunity to run a small bake shop that adjoins it. But for two months she kicks around and does nothing, expecting her parents to push her into it, or something. "Guess I've just been waiting for Mamma to tell me what to do and why." she says at one point. She's also lost touch with her friend, Roz, but in true happy-ending fashion, they come back together by the end of the book.
Trauma #2: Laura Lou looks in the mirror one day and decides she's a mess -- she wears glasses, has messy hair, and has gained a whopping EIGHT POUNDS (over what time period is never quite clear). She enlists Cilla, a P.G. (not "pregnant," here it stands for "post-graduate") who's writing her thesis on weight control. Her brilliant advice? "Easy on calories, and a few exercises. And the best exercise, in case no one's told you, is shaking your head slowly from side to side when hot fudge sundaes are offered." (One can only imagine that her thesis will be filled with such outstanding tidbits of wisdom.)
Trauma #3: A competitor, Hugo Hatch, opens another bake shop in Laura Lou's town of Porthaven. Her food is better -- he buys his bread rather than baking it -- but people still flock there. Laura Lou tries to compete by making non-baked goods ("why can't we have chicken pies, or creamed chicken, or vegetable soup, or fish chowder?") and offering deals. (None of this really matters when it turns out poor Hugo doesn't really want to run the shop, and he agrees to close down and sell Laura Lou his equipment.) Also, someone is prowling around her shop when it's closed. Alert Nancy Drew! (It turns out to be Hugo's senile old uncle, who means no harm.)

Signs o' the times:
1) "I cried like a pooh-baby," Laura Lou says at one point. Like a what? Is she four?

2) At one point, a guy named "Bozo" (not the clown), announces "I don't think Laura Lou is equipped to run an establishment of this type. She hasn't enough crust." Ha ha...ha?

3) "Imagine me forgetting ashtrays for all the rooms!" exclaims Laura Lou's mother about her inn. Yeah, just wait 50 years and no one will smoke any more.

4) Laura Lou hunts for a Christmas gift, and someone suggests "There's a trick pencil here, for a quarter, that's really awfully good. I think a man might like that." A trick pencil?'s rubber and doesn't really write? does tricks like a dog? What man wouldn't want that?

Quote that says it all: "Just before they reached the cashier's desk they came to a pedestal with a small splashing fountain on it. Laura Lou went automatically to the right, Trudie to the left. When they came back together again, they said, in chorus, as they had since they were small girls, 'Bread and butter!' and burst out laughing."

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Greetings from Glenna

"Greetings from Glenna," by Marjory Hall, 1953

Main character: Glenna Holbrook
Career: Greeting-card company employee
Gael's grade: B+

This is the first CRFYM by Marjory Hall that I'm reviewing. Marjory Hall is perhaps one of the most well-known career-romance authors, not just writing career-romances, but writing all kinds of young-adult literature. Her books are always a step above most of those written by no-name authors -- in character, in plot, in flow, all around.

Trauma #1: Due to a mysterious scandal in which a dishonest employee somehow bankrupted her family business, Glenna can't go off to nearby Camden College with her three friends as they'd planned. Instead she must stay home, work, and jealously watch them dive into college life. Aw, Glenna, don't sweat it. They're all in it for their MRS degree, anyway. (And I find it tres ironic that "Camden College" is the name Bret Easton Ellis later used when he fictionalized Bennington in "Rules of Attraction" and other books. Maybe BEE was a fan.)
Trauma #2: She gets her job at Warwick Publishing Company via Miss Brick, a woman her family must take in as a boarder to raise money, and must struggle with their new relationship as executive and underling while living in the same house. Miss Brick's kind of a prick, when it comes down to it, as unmarried career women of A Certain Age generally are in this genre.

Prince Charming: Peter Graham
What's standing in their way?: Not that much, really. This is much more a story about Glenna and greeting cards than about the romance, although she is unsure about whether he's the right guy for her for a while. I kind of skipped over the parts about Peter, actually, looking for more bad greeting-card verses.

Signs o' the times:
1) My copy of this book has handwritten notes in it, including "If this book should ever roam; box its ears and send it home" and "Given by my mother on the Saturday of Nov. 20, 1954, Patricia Anderson, 13 years old." Patricia Anderson, where are you today? You'd be 65, if I figure correctly. Did Glenna inspire you to seek out work with Hallmark, or did you find your own Peter Graham somewhere near Haight-Ashbury? I guess you might have been a bit old for that by 1968.

2) The greeting cards themselves are so unlike the mass-produced Hallmark cards of today. They have hand-glued pussy willows on them, women (called "girls," of course) hand-apply satin, glitter, lace, and more. The cards sell for a whopping 10-15 cents, by the way, not the $2.99 plus of today. At one point, Glenna stages a "greeting card shower" for two little old ladies, reminding their friends to all send them cards for their birthdays.

3) When Glenna finally writes verses for cards, they are unbelievably awful to our modern ears, but one of them still gets bought by the company. They include: "Love me, love my dog," "Even worm will turn -- when coaxed!," "Dial ME 2 YOU for a Merry Christmas," and "I'm not the kind who'd kiss and tell, I'd kiss and yell -- for more." Oh fer trite. Makes Maxine of Shoebox Greetings look like Faulkner.

Quote that says it all: "Nancy nudged Glenna once and they stood silently watching one card have a perfumed wafer, a wedding ring, a piece of white satin ribbon and a swatch of lace that looked like a wedding veil, all attached to a single sheet. The bow-tiers seemed to interest Nancy the most, and she made Miss Prentiss repeat twice her statement that two or three dozen bow-tiers had been known to tie more than two hundred thousand bow ties in one week." Well, that's her perogative, but I'm more fascinated with the "perfumed wafer." Was this, say, a hidden wafer, just to make the card scented, or was it supposed to be a communion wafer, or what? Because either way, weird.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Highest Dream

"The Highest Dream" by Phyllis A. Whitney, 1956 (see another cover here)

Main character: Lisa Somers
Career: United Nations tour guide
Gael's grade: A, for fun characters and a lively career from a real author. One of the few CRFYM that I've actually read multiple times.

"The Highest Dream" is an exceptional career romance in many ways. Author Phyllis A. Whitney, still alive at 103, is an award-winning writer of some renown. The book is less about the romance and much more about the career, offering a behind-the-scenes view of the UN that is simplistic (the book was meant for young people, after all) but positively glows with hope that this still-new-at-the-time organization can help bring about world peace. As such, Lisa has fewer traumas than most CRFYM heroines, and the plots and characters are as lively as in the best young-adult novel.

Trauma #1: Lisa's dad, Reid Somers, is an acclaimed radio commentator heard worldwide who's writing a book about the UN. Lisa fears that she can never measure up to him and says "I don't want to spend my whole life apologizing because I'm not as good as he is." See, even the traumas are more realistic in this book.
Trauma #2: Lisa rooms with Margie, a high-school dropout who's defensive about her lack of education because previous roommates have lorded their degrees over her. Lisa's kind to her, however, and treats her well, and it doesn't take long for Margie to come out of her shell.
Trauma #3: There really aren't many traumas in this lively book, which focuses a lot on the workings of the UN, the tours Lisa leads, and her earnest attempt to do some good in our big wide world.

Prince Charming: Norman Bond, who works in the UN radio department
What's standing in their way? Lisa thinks Norman prefers Reland Munro, a Scotch-Irish fellow tour guide but Reland finally tells her that Norman prefers Lisa.
How does he come to his senses? He doesn't, Lisa does, with some help from Reland. Again in a real departure from most CRFYMs, Lisa tells Norman "I suspect I want terribly to do some sort of work outside a home." And he pretty much tells her that is OK, saying "It's only lately that I've been coming to the conviction that safety isn't everything in life. Not for nations or for men. Besides, I want a flesh and blood girl, not an image on a pedestal." They're so perfectly reasoned you want to take their words and hit every other CRFYM on the shelf over its head with them.

Signs o' the times:
1) Lisa and Margie are good friends with the family across the hall, and their children convince them to help them with the early days of collecting money for UNICEF as part of their Halloween fun. They carry milk cartons with yellow bands around them, not the official UNICEF containers we had in my day, and they also wear yellow UNICEF ID tags. Awesome. Weirdly though, at least in NYC, they have to be accompanied by a grownup and be sponsored by a church, civic or youth group in order to collect money. Man, that rule went out the window quick.
2) Lisa's other guide friends are from nations all over the world, and they sometimes gently debate and discuss issues in their country. Jeanie Soong's father was killed in events in China, and she fears she can never go home to her beloved country. Asha Dyal, from India, is Hindu, and they discuss spirituality and the caste system. There's a French girl, and an African-American girl (called "Negro" in the book) who is perhaps just as novel to Lisa as those from other countries.
3) Like today, not everyone is sold on the concept of the UN. People on Lisa's tours, and others as well, sometimes argue with her and complain about the amount of money the US spends on the organization.
4) Margie confesses that she got into the habit of eating popcorn because one of her snooty roommates once ranted about"ignorant people who eat popcorn in movie theaters." Wuh?

Quote that says it all:
"Both the European and Asiatic girls at the UN sometimes spoke with a tinge of scorn about American women as wives. American women were spoiled, they said. American men no longer knew how to be men. Lisa had listened uncomfortably to more than one such discussion. An American marriage -- a good one -- was more of a partnership, she felt, with the woman helping to earn and develop herself as an individual, not just as a shadow born to serve her husband. ...It had seemed to Lisa sometimes that even as they criticized, the girls from abroad looked with a certain envy at the freedom and independence of the American woman."

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A Career for Lynn, a.k.a. Lynn, Cover Girl

"A Career for Lynn," a.k.a. "Lynn, Cover Girl," 1950, by Nina Wilcox Putnam

Main character: Lynn Hopewell
Career: Model
Gael's grade: C for awkward language, boring plot, indistinct heroine

Trauma #1: Lynn leaves her hometown of New Falls for NYC to become a model. She lives with her great-aunt way out in the burbs, and Auntie has no telephone, so the only way she can be offered a job is if the client calls the local drugstore and she just happens to check in in time. Needless to say, she misses a big job because JoeBob the soda jerk doesn't hike to her aunt's house and tell her she got a call.
Trauma #2: Lynn's kind of an ass. I mean, she goes to her first agency and gets instantly impatient and mouths off to an older guy who, of course, turns out to be the head of the agency, mingling with the nobodies just on the hopes that some witchy model will show her true colors in exactly the way Lynn just did. Busted!
Trauma #3: Lynn can't get a job (hey, realism) so she signs up for the Fashion World Modeling School. It totally sounds like a big scam, but apparently isn't. Yet Lynn eventually has to take a filing job at "famous fiction magazine" the Lilac Book, where she accidentally leaves her photo on the editor's desk and he decides to put her on the cover of the magazine. Which is hokey and stupid and only-in-the-movies, but is not unsimilar to the plot in the pilot of "Ugly Betty" where her idea saves the day at her Vogue-like magazine. Anyway, the Lilac Book cover lands her the coveted position of Miss Silkasheen (not making this up, people), representing "the largest artificial-silk company in the country." No one can hold her back, now!

Prince Charming: Newspaper columnist Dixon "Lanky" Wells. No, really, that's his name.
What's standing in their way? Beautiful and haughty Serena Ashley, who's gunning for Lanky and against Lynn.
How does he come to his senses? Lynn beats out Serena for the Miss Silkasheen title, and only then discovers that Serena's father was a big-shot magazine publisher and Lanky was only helping her in her career to "cultivate his source." Ooh, ethical.

Signs o' the times:
1) How about starting with her aunt not having a telephone in 1950s New York? I kind of figured the last time people used a drugstore as their answering service was maybe in the rural South during the Depression.
2) Lynn meets another aspiring model on the train, Millie Daws, who tells her she is going to use a stage name: Feathers Frawley. Now that's class.
3) The models' favorite class is panochromatic modeling, where they're made up with muddy makeup colors so they show up well in black-and-white photos. (I guess--it's kind of confusingly described.)
4) Awesomely, a friend of Lynn's is shunned from the modeling world because she worked as an "Art Annie," someone who does "photographic poses that are used by fine artists." Again, really weirdly described, but I think this means she poses nude...although maybe not. Apparently "regular models ... think art Annies blacken the name of all models."

Quote that says it all: "Marriage is the step towards the final step--which is retirement, with a good husband and a good home."


Sunday, October 29, 2006

Introducing Patti Lewis, Home Economist

"Introducing Patti Lewis, Home Economist," 1956, by Helen Wells

Main character: Patti Lewis
Career: Home economist, first for the National Electric appliance company, then for Mid-West Flour
Gael's grade: B+, for lively language and more biscuit talk than you can shake a frying pan at.

Trauma #1: While giving recipe presentations ("have you ever tasted waffles with creamed chicken?"), Patti is constantly needled by Jim Wheeler, heir to the Mid-West Flour empire, who dares to mock her chi-chi French rolling pin. No one is surprised but Patti when she finds herself employed by his company and -- duh -- falling for him.
Trauma #2: Patti must improve the sales of Mid-West's biscuit mix or risk the company's future. She does so in part by holding a picnic for the entire town. Because, apparently, if one town likes it, then they'll tell two friends, and so on, and so on. One of the questionable dishes served at the event? Chicken shortcake.
Trauma #3: Patti is jealous of Grace Guthrie, heiress to Mid-West's rival, Guthrie Mills, who wants to take over Mid-West Flour and seems to also want to take over Jim. In the end, Patti revamps the biscuit mix with a heavy proportion of soy flour to compete with Guthrie's lower pricing. The Bureau of Human Nutrition (!) likes her new formula so much they sign up for thousands of pounds of it to feed underfed populations and the poor folks on military bases, saying it "meets the high nutrition standards of the U.S. government." And we all know how high those are.

Prince Charming: Jim Wheeler, scion of Mid-West Flour
What's standing in their way? Patti must prove herself by saving his company; she thinks he's in love with a competing flour heiress, apparently the Paris Hilton of her day.
How does he come to his senses? She undercuts the biscuit mix with soy flour to make it cheap, cheap, cheap. His dad shows up and approves of her machinations, and Jim announces "You're going to be my home economist forever, as well as my wife?"

Signs o' the times:
1) A fat girl takes Patti aside at the picnic for diet tips. Among the misinformation Patti imparts: "No water, or very little, with meals. ... Milk [four cups a day] and potatoes were not fattening. ... Eat all of the basic seven foods [butter fats being one of the seven]." And if you think I'm being mean by calling the girl fat, note that the book says "several other fatties consulted Patti this afternoon."
2) For school lunches, Patti recommends sandwiches on raisin or date bread (ham on date bread? mmm...), tomatoes as the equivalent of oranges for snacking, and dates rolled in sugar.
3) The end of the book includes Patti's favorite recipes for such treats as stuffed celery appetizers, tomato cream cocktails, the infamous chicken shortcake, something called shrimp wiggle, and more. These are not exactly gourmet offerings. One, called "frozen peanut balls," is simply ice cream shaped into balls and rolled in nuts. It's obvious that only someone with Patti's years of training could have come up with this.

Quote that says it all:
Patti takes an airplane trip and marvels at the wonder of airline food, circa 1950:
"The tray was placed on a pillow on her lap ... Patti lifted covers and found a cup of crisp salad, piping-hot fried chicken and sweet potatoes, muffins with butter and jelly, melon, coffee, sugar, cream, gleaming silverware, a linen napkin, and a pair of tiny salt and pepper shakers which the stewardess smilingly said she might keep."

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Business in Pets

"A Business in Pets," 1956, by Nell M. Dean

Main character: Jan Blair
Career: Pet-shop owner, Monterey, CA
Gael's grade: B-, for lame main character and not enough pet-shoppiness

Trauma #1: No one will shop at her store because the previous owner sold spoiled horse meat (!), and people's dogs died! Apparently no one thought to sue back in those less-litigious days. Also, no one thought to feed their dogs non-equine-based meals, either.
Trauma #2: She must pay back the gigantic loan she owes her devoted parents when she bought the store. How much did it cost to buy a pet store in a tourist town back in those days? A whopping $2500, which these days would barely buy you a doghouse.
Trauma #3: Jan lives with her parents in a beach cottage 10 miles away, and they freak out about her driving the whopping 10 miles home. Their worries are proven right when Jan is robbed on the way home from a festival. She's robbed of the ton of cash she made selling live turtles with the town's logo stenciled on their shells. Because why pick up a postcard or a T-shirt when you can turn a poor live animal into your souvenir. No wonder PETA needed to be formed.

Prince Charming: Peter Hall, a wannabe doctor who comes to Jan's shop daily to buy horse meat (!!) for the coyotes and minks in the university lab where he works.
What's standing in their way? His 1956 male ego, which believes he doesn't make enough money to support her, even though she runs her own business.
How does he come to his senses? He sees another man kissing her (against her will) and finally informs her she's going to marry him, hardships be damned. She's going to sweep out his dust-blown shack in the middle of nowhere, and reheat his dinner at 4 a.m., and wait years for a new dress. When he puts it that way, how can she possibly refuse? And to top it off, with no money for an engagement ring, he gives her his cheap, clumsy high-school class ring. "You will learn to be a doctor's wife -- my wife," he orders. And she gratefully replies "I will love it, all of it."

Signs o' the times:
1) Jan changes her shop name from Uptown Pet Shop to Pup N Puss. Umm...
2) Peter is an Okie, and believes people care. "I grew up with the stigma of 'Okie' and it hurt, and the scars haven't healed too well even though the feeling against my kind of people is dying out," he explains. He can't wait to move back and help out "his people."
3) An Italian family befriends Jan, and the dad says things like "Why for me not touch the leetle pup?" and "I tell him you go to Frisco for the gay time." Yeah, even in 1956, Frisco was the place to go for the gay time.
4) Jan's expressions include "Golly!" and, my favorite, "Galloping giraffes!"
5) Pretty much everything about the pet shop. Horse meat. Turtles with logos. Jan breeds a stray Persian cat so she can put its kittens in the window to attract customers. She sells things like Blum's Mange Soap. The horse meat problem is solved when she makes it clear that her horse meat is Grade A government-inspected horse meat. Hold up there, Seabiscuit.

Quote that says it all:
"She wasn't conceited about her looks, but maybe it did help to have pale gold hair that curled naturally, widely spaced violet eyes, a lithe, slender figure. Boys back at Berkeley said she looked like Janet Leigh, but of course they flattered like mad, and her eyes weren't like Janet's at all..."