I’m trying to take a breather from the Syrian refugees, President Obama, Presidential candidates and rampaging college students, and an ethics issue from a 1960 Doris Day comedy is as far away as I can get.
In “Don’t Eat the Daisies,” a movie loosely (very loosely) based on the humorous mommy anecdote best seller by Jean Kerr, wife of then New York Times theater critic Walter Kerr, newly appointed prime drama critic Larry McKay (David Niven), his lovely wife Kate (Doris), their four rambunctious kids, their sheep dog and their wise-cracking house-keeper (Patsy Kelly)—yes, this was essentially the “Brady Bunch” without the girls—move to the country. Doris gets roped into the annual musical (for charity, natch) of the very amateur Hooten Holler Players. They ask the Larry for a play they could use, and he isn’t very helpful, so Doris calls up Alfred North, an old friend of the couple and a successful novelist played by Richard Haydn, best known as the sneaky Max in “The Sound of Music,” who has just had his first Broadway play skewered by McKay (Integrity! Integrity!). He is secretly seething and seeking revenge. The betrayed playwright siezes his chance: he sends Doris an obscure, terrible Foriegn Legion melodrama by an unknown author, and the Hooten Holler players turn it into a musical spoof.
Days before its ready to open, after all the tickets have been sold, Doris asks David to watch a rehearsal. He immediately recognizes the plot and some particularly awful lines: he wrote the play under a pseudonym! “BWAHAHAHAH!” laughs Max, or rather Alfred. Larry’s onetime friend, now relentless foe, has set the critic up for humiliation and professional doom, for other New York critics have been tipped off that the play getting its world premiere by the Hooten Holler Players is in fact the creation of the hypercritical critic himself. Once this abysmal mess is seen and taken apart by the critic’s rivals, his judgment will never be taken seriously again.
Niven demands that the production be cancelled, and forbids the Players to perform his work. Doris, who stars in the play, begs him to reconsider: the humble theater group will be ruined, and the charity will lose much needed support. The critic explodes: why does she care more about the amateur theater group than her husband’s career? She tells him that his theatrical power and fame has made him petty and mean. Their marriage seems ready to disintegrate.
Your retro-Hollywood Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is..