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 The books paint a hilarious picture of a business world that's thankfully out-of-date.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.

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..."