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 The books paint a hilarious picture of a business world that's thankfully out-of-date.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

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.

and

"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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8 Comments:

  • At 7:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    We had a few super seniors at my high school and I know of a few others elsewhere... Some of them were taking a 5th year to get into a better college (i.e. transferring to a prep school and re-applying), but most of them were male athletes who thought an extra year to bulk up might score them a college sports scholarship. Slightly more practical than Alix... or maybe not.

     
  • At 8:47 AM, Blogger OolooKitty said…

    Marjory Hall was definitely big on the post-grad high school thing. In "Paper Moon", the protagonist (whose name escapes me at the moment) is thinking of going back for a post-grad senior year in order to postpone having to look for a job. Aside from these books, I had never heard of such a thing.

     
  • At 10:04 AM, Blogger Dimestore Lipstick said…

    Polly Mike? Perhaps it's meant to be a thinly veiled fictionalization of the legendary Katharine Gibbs secretarial school, known as "Katie Gibbs".

     
  • At 7:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    THESE BOOKS TOTALLY FASCINATE ME BECAUSE OF ALL THE 1950-ISMS AND TIME WARP CLICHES...IT'S LIKE LIVING IN PLEASENTVILLE. TOO BAD THE CHARACTERS ARE SO SUPERIFICAL, BUT CHARACTER DEVELOPEMENT WAS NOT PART OF THE EQUASION. I NEVER READ ANY OF THESE BOOKS, NEVER EVEN KNEW ABOUT THEM, BUT I'M HOOKED!

     
  • At 8:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Ernestine Gilbreth does a post-graduate year in high school in Belles On Their Toes after the father dies... presumably so the family can get back on their financial/emotional feet?

     
  • At 8:23 PM, Anonymous Amy Sisson said…

    Very much enjoying your commentary on these books. So far, the Phyllis Whitney is the only one I haven't read myself. I own every Majory Hall book (including the ones "by" Carol Morse), except the impossible-to-find "Model Child" -- but I did manage to get that via Interlibrary Loan and read it. Hall was definitely a cut above the rest.

    I also have the majority of the Messner books, and a fair number of the Dodd Meads and the British Bodley Heads. The library I work at allowed me to do a display, which was great fun because of the gorgeous cover art on many of them. (Oh, and when I was in library school taking "history of children's lit", I actually did a paper on Marjory Hall's early books!)

    -- Amy

    Looking forward to more of your reviews!

     
  • At 5:00 PM, Anonymous Amy Sisson said…

    Oh, I had one other thought. The intro to this blog says "But because these were career romances, the books usually ended when the women gleefully give up their career for a man." In most of the career romances I've read, by the time the young woman gets engaged, both she and her fiance are ready to embrace the idea of working wife -- at least until kids come along, anyway. I have seen a few where the woman gives up the career completely; that has tended to be in the earlier career romances (1930s and 1940s), and in ones involving nursing or stewardessing in particular, in part I think because those professions had actual rules against being married.

    Anyhow, just interested in your thoughts/comments on this.

     
  • At 8:09 PM, Anonymous Mimi said…

    I always thought these books were ahead of their time in encouraging women to work. While the girls are looking for the right man they are often trying to find someone who is compatible with their interest in work too. Often they plan to work after they get married. Sometimes the man even says he wants his wife to work. I love the Marjory Hall books. The Messner "Career Romance for Young Moderns" series is so much more pendantic. They sometimes readlike an information handbook, whereas Marjory Hall writes about girls, who may be working.

     

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