Young at Heart: Ethel Barrymore and Frank Sinatra

One of my favorite all-time movies, Young at Heart (1954, produced by Gordon Douglas), revolves around the Tuttle sisters, Fran, Laurie, and Amy, in their search for love.

The three girls do find love, but in three very different ways in this remake of an earlier movie and based off of a book by Fannie Hurst. Aunt Jessie (Ethel Barrymore) is the girls’ surrogate mother and resident cook, housekeeper, and psychologist, using her influence to subtly guide the three girls into marriages with the man most suited for each.


Ethel Barrymore gives a convincing performance as the down-to-earth aunt who seems to be the least in the household, but who actually wields the power.


Charming, happy-go-lucky Alex (Gig Young) the perfect “catch,” a successful Broadway composer who compliments this musically-talented family, pursues Laurie (Doris Day), while each of the three girls falls for him in her own way. Gig Young recognizes and states that “a lot depends on Aunt Jessie.”


Just as Alex claims Laurie as his pick, along comes his old pal Barney (Frank Sinatra), a brilliant musician who is drifting through life. Barney thinks he knows Aunt Jessie’s type, and, although not charming, Barney gains Aunt Jessie’s approval because he is honest and forthright. He wants to know what type of aunt she is, and she tells him she is the “you-can’t-hide-a-thing-from-me type.”


Barney proves to be a challenge for Laurie, for he seems to not know how or care to flirt. He tells her that his masterpiece, a song he has been writing, has no beginning and no ending and that the “fates” won’t let him have a good life. She points out his incredible talent and encourages him to finish the song.


Barney and Aunt Jessie understand each other and share a sarcastic wit and keen insight into human nature. They are the only two who notice Amy’s broken heart. As Barney (Sinatra) croons “Someone to Watch over Me,” Laurie shows the least self-awareness while she is drawn to both protecting this new drifter and sacrificing herself for her sister Amy, not realizing that she can really do neither.


Without giving away the ending, I think this movie has as much of a twist as a romance of this era can have. Laurie must choose between an easy life with Gig Young’s character, who is much like her, or a struggling marriage with Frank’s character, who is her pessimistic opposite.

Frank_Sinatra_'57According to Doris Day, Frank Sinatra insisted that the ending of the movie be changed from its original, and the producer gave the star his way (Doris Day: Her Own Story). Years later, when Old Blue Eyes sang the all-familiar words, “I did it my-y-y way,” he meant it!

It is Ethel Barrymore who is the real star of this movie, upstaging even three superstars of the era and creating a character so believable, it is clear that the actress and her character both share a deep understanding of people. Frank Sinatra as Barney profoundly states, “Sometimes when you’re on the outside looking in, you can see things that no one else notices.”


Doris Day remembers the movie in her book Doris Day:  Her Own Story. Day states that Barrymore was “fragile” and nearing the end of her life when the movie was being filmed, spending most of her time in a wheelchair. Yet, when called to a scene, she “was able to produce that special kind of grandeur that was the hallmark of the Barrymores” (149).

Ethel Barrymore was perhaps a little too elegant and a little too polished for the role of Aunt Jessie, but it could be that she wanted to show the wisdom and strength of all types of women–not just the young and beautiful, but also the matron aunts, the elderly, and the wheelchair-bound.  May we all realize that we are valuable and have something to contribute to those around us.

The major themes of this film are not hard to decipher. Love may not come into your life or develop as you expect, and the greatest love is found in a life lived for others.

For more on the Barrymores, go to:  The Third Annual Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon

Coming Soon: Third Annual Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon and Other Posts

I will be taking part in a blogathon found at:  In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood as I review Young at Heart starring the brilliant Ethel Barrymore, a young Doris Day, and Frank Sinatra. Even in movies, I am drawn to the Byronic hero, and love the way the Frank Sinatra character is portrayed. Enough of that, as I will save it for the article.

trilogy banner

In the meantime, I have acquired a nice library of old Hollywood biographies. Perhaps I will do a give-a-way soon. Hmmm…

Here is a pile of books I am currently reading. The red book is a very quirky read about traveling in Paris, with odd reviews of hotels, restaurants, and other tourist-y places.


I will also be posting the second part of my article on the draw of the seashore in the 1800’s.

School is starting for my facility this week. Each day will find me teaching and prepping for Language Arts 800, English I, English II, English III, English IV, and some elective courses. Whew! I could use another visit to the seashore myself. I am looking forward to introducing The Shepherd of the Hills to my 8th grade students and will reveal how it is connected to the Ozarks and why boys love this book so much in another article.

In the meantime, I need to sit back and re-watch one of my very favorite old movies: Young at Heart  (also starring Gig Young, who was pretty hot back in the day)!

At the Seashore: Part I

Vacationing on the Florida Gulf Coast, the spray of waves and foam at my feet, the salt and sand coating everything, the little sand pipers scurrying away from the water, and the slower way of life, brings to mind stories and memoirs of the seashore (which seemed to be the general term for it in the 1800’s) in classic literature.

A visit to the ocean must have required much more effort in a time when carriages, wagons, steamships, and trains were the main modes of travel.


Yet, “to the seashore” many did go in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, and from what I have read, primarily for the following reasons: 1) To have a “holiday” 2) to treat tuberculosis or other lung diseases 3) to be inspired (to write or paint or express themselves artistically) and 4) to live permanently in another country

As these things often go, I planned to write this as a single article, but after researching and thinking, I quickly realized this would need to be at least a two-, if not a three-part article. Here, I will look at the first reason proper English citizens flocked to the seashore:

To Have a Holiday

A “holiday” in classic literature often points to a one- to three-month stay at a seaside resort or a country house. This likely helped to make the longer and arduous trip more worthwhile.

The ultimate book, for me, about having a holiday is The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim. It all begins with a little classifieds ad in a newspaper offering a castle “for rent” in the Italian riviera. Four women agree to share the costs of renting the place for the summer.

Thomas Pollock Anshutz [circa 1900]
Mrs. Wilkins, most of all,  is transformed by the new environment. This meek wife (and mother), with seemingly mild depression, now blossoms:

“Her face was bathed in light. Lovely scents came up to the window and caressed her. A tiny breeze gently lifted her hair… It was as though she could hardly stay inside herself, it was as though she were too small to hold so much of joy…”

Von Arnim has a way of expressing what we introverts need and how a place such as the seashore can inspire us. She understands that we crave and need space to think and roam, nature to inspire and give color, creative outlets to give us purpose, and time to make all of the above happen.

Nicolae Grigorescu [circa 1880]
Lady Caroline seems to represent best the introvert’s need for space and time alone. She thinks to herself:

“The garden on the top of the wall was a delicious garden, but its situation made it insecure and exposed to interruptions. At any moment the others might come and want to use it…It was essential to her comfort that she should be able to be apart, left alone, not talked to.”

I turn next to a short story, A Drama on the Seashore, by Honore de Balzac, not necessarily for its iconic place in literature, but because it gives us the male point of view in taking a holiday, one often missing, as the husbands and sons and uncles typically stay in the cities to continue conducting business and making money. Sometimes, in stories, they appear on weekends, or sometimes they are old enough or rich enough that they go along, but rarely are they the protagonist in these scenarios.

In de Balzac’s story, the narrator stares at the sea:

“Standing on a rock, some hundred fathoms above the ocean, the waves of which were breaking on the reef below, I surveyed my future, filling it with books, as an engineer or builder traces on vacant ground a palace or a fort…ah! Who would not have floated on the future as I did!”

Honoré de Balzac, A Drama on the Seashore. Philadelphia: George Barrie & Son, 1897

De Balzac uses masculine imagery to show us how the sea inspires his main character to look optimistically to the future and causes him to feel as if nothing is unattainable.

English travelers sometimes stayed closer to home, with plenty of coastline from which to choose.

According to Richard Jeffries, Brighton (located on the southern shores) was a common destination in England for “sea bathers” to play on the shore, wade, and swim. He describes a mid-day scene in his book The Open Air, published in 1885. Girls wore “bathing dresses,” in hues of pinks, lavenders, and creams (only their ankles were bared to the sun), while older men loitered and younger men goggled:

“Humming and strumming, and singing and smoking, splashing, and sparkling; a buzz of voices and booming of sea! If they could only be happy like this always!”

MermaidsAtBrighton (1)
“Mermaids at Brighton” by William Heath

Shown above are sea bathing “machines,” used to transport ladies into the ocean and give them privacy. See this article at janeaustensworld to learn more about this English convention used by early sea-goers.

Another popular destination for sea lovers, Margate (a suburb of Dover) drew vacationers as far back as the late 1700’s. In a children’s book At the Seaside, by Mrs. Warner-Sleigh, a boy and girl pack up for a month-long stay at Margate as a reward for good grades at the end of the school year.


Sand-castle-building, shelling, wading, and riding in a goat-pulled cart are activities enjoyed by the children at Margate.

Northern cities in England were thronged by working-class visitors, despite the poor weather and great waves of the region’s beaches.

In his book Afoot in England, W. H. Hudson describes a visit to the area of Norfolk in August. It must have been a particularly cold August:

“The wind blew with a fury from the sea; it was hard to walk against it. The people in hundreds waited in their dull apartments for a lull, and when it came, and when it came they poured out like hungry sheep from the fold, or like children from a school…then in a little while, a new menacing blackness would come up out of the sea, and by and by a fresh storm of wind would send people scuttling back into shelter” (Afoot in England 59).

Sands East Mundsley-On-Sea England
Norfolk, England [circa 1900]
Hudson describes how this goes on “day after day,” as the throngs go back and forth from their rented rooms to the beach. He seems to have some insight as to the penchant we have for the sea, even if it is a violent, dark sea:

“In such weather, especially on the naked desolate coast, exposed to the fury of the winds, one marvels at our modern craze for the sea; not merely to come and gaze upon and listen to it, to renew our youth in its salt, exhilarating waters and to lie in delicious idleness…but to be always…close to it” (60).

Norfolk Sea

Hudson suggests that this need for the sea is a result of living in “dirty, overcrowded cities.”

Near to the public resort is a sea village patronized by the affluent, and Hudson notes that they are “without their lords,” with a ratio of 3 to 1 of women to men (not counting children), something I have noticed over and over in extant texts from classic literature.

Just like today, the coasts up and down England, north and south, filled with sea towns, resorts, spas, and sleepy villages awoke as visitors came to “have a holiday.”

Expressing Sorrow

We just returned from the funeral of my 17-year-old nephew. As I cannot express it all adequately, I turn to greater writers, two of the most honest and raw:

Pain has an element of blank;
It cannot recollect
When it began, or if there were
A day when it was not

–Emily Dickenson

King David knew the pain of losing a child:

Psalm 102

3 For my days vanish like smoke; my bones burn like glowing embers.
My heart is blighted and withered like grass; I forget to eat my food.
In my distress I groan aloud and am reduced to skin and bones.
I am like a desert owl, like an owl among the ruins.
I lie awake; I have become like a bird alone on a roof.

(Psalm 102, Bible NIV)

Yet, in the midst of it, my sister-in-law and brother-in-law have hope.

Psalm 102 ends with this:  “The children of your servants will live in Your Presence…” (Psalm 102:28 NIV).

To this, we all cling.

Popular Baby Names in Classic Literature

According to the most recent data from the Social Security Administration, new parents are choosing names once prominent from the 18th through the early 20th centuries. Here are some well-known female characters and writers from literature and their name rankings from the current decade (2010-2019 so far):

Emma (ranked #2) -This name is popular in the fictional world, as well as the real one. Think Emma Swan (Once Upon a Time) and Emma Frost (X-Men).  Now over 200 years old, matchmaker Emma Woodhouse shows us that it’s attractive to be confident. In a time when it was unusual to do so, Jane Austen’s famous protagonist insists she will never marry, and, though she does in fact accept a proposal, she stays true to herself by holding out for true love.


Emma-ch34_(II,16) (1)
Emma, 1896 edition, ill. Hugh Thomson

Isabella (ranked #3) – Jane Austen assigned this name more than once (including to Emma’s older married sister). Yet, it is Isabella Thorpe from Northanger Abbey who leaves the stronger impression. Flirtatious and beautiful, Isabella is the friend no other girl wants too close to her man. If alive today, she might go by Isabel or Bella.

Northanger Abbey, 1907 edition, ill. C. E. Brock


Emily (ranked #5) – Fiercely independent Emily Bronte, author of Wuthering Heights, gave us one of the most haunting, but strangest, love affairs in history. Baffling to researchers and readers alike, this talented writer never married and in all probability never even had a love affair. She could have fooled us!

Emily Bronte

Lily (ranked #22) – Trapped between a high social standing and financial destitution, Edith Wharton’s Lily Bart (The House of Mirth) seems to always be one step behind the security she seeks. Still, she lives up to the class and dignity of her name by choosing honor over reputation. Edith Wharton well understood the world of high-society New York as shown here around 1880:

Edith Wharton


Grace (ranked #20) – Even a secondary character, especially when she is mentally-disturbed Grace Poole from Jane Eyre, intrigues me enough to place her on this list. However, author Grace Livingston Hill deserves first place for creating an entirely new genre of writing known as the Christian romance and for writing well over 100 novels in the early- to mid-1900’s. She understood well the meaning of grace.

Barbour Publishing, 2000

Elizabeth (ranked #10) – “Elizabeth, Elspeth, Betsy, and Bess…” This children’s rhyme displays the versatility of this classic name. Memorable Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice lives on as a model of the strong, sassy female protagonist. In contrast, Elizabeth (Beth) March (Little Women) lives on as the girl whose sweet nature influences all those around her. [Note the illustration drawn by the real Amy (May Alcott).]

Little Women, 1896 edition, ill. May Alcott

I like to think that at least some of the many names that remain popular decades and even centuries later can be attributed to the writers and characters of our favorite books. Perhaps Anne Shirley said it best:  “I don’t believe a rose WOULD be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage” (L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables).



Kitchen-Klatter, Scones, and Vintage Recipes

Vintage recipes and recipe books create some nostalgia thing within me. I envision myself in my Grandma McKinney’s kitchen, with her milk glass mixing bowls and wooden spoons (used on occasion for spanking a certain mischievous granddaughter), creating a meal from scratch in those days before internet searches, round-the-clock TV cooking shows, and magazines devoted to food. Of course, I wear a floral apron and use fresh ingredients (from the farms down the road).

Trying these recipes in real life is sometimes another story. Since scones are one our favorites around here, I scoured my old recipe books for vintage recipes.

My favorite recipe book is an old Kitchen Klatter three-ring volume of thousands of recipes. This brand is well-known to many from Iowa, and many of the recipes encourage the use of their bottled flavorings. In this book alone, I once counted over 160 recipes containing Jell-O! In real life, I can’t remember the last time I made Jell-O. But, it was apparently an important staple in the 1950s and 60s.

This cookbook had only one recipe for scones, as did several others. I decided to combine a recipe for wartime scones (using oatmeal) with the regular recipe I had already found.

IMG_20150703_1157007_rewind IMG_20150703_1157109_rewind

We buy our dry goods at a Mennonite bulk food store. (I am new to the photography thing, and I notice shadows in the pictures, but it is too late to go back now!)

Even as I was mixing, I suspected these scones might be bland and heavy, but I wanted to experience the taste of the old recipes, as well as the methods. Here is the final result:



I was right about the taste, as they were missing the whole grains and spices we tend to use more of today. Did they even think of counting carbs or even really know what a carb was?? However, I LOVE this cookbook and rely on it for everyday recipes, from main dishes to desserts.

When I purchased the cookbook, it had its cover already missing, so I’m not sure the year it was published, but with over 460 pages, and a purchase price of a couple of dollars, I feel like I won the jackpot. I searched online, and found it has had many re-printings (mine seems like it may have come from the 1970s with its clipart of housewives in little black dresses with white aprons).

Kitchen-Klatter Cookbook

Here is a link for purchasing the above item at Amazon (new or used): Kitchen-Klatter cookbook.

I highly recommend the many baking recipes, even the scone recipe was just a bit before its time!