The Children's Hour (1961)

107 mins | Drama | 20 December 1961

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HISTORY

The Children’s Hour marked the second time producer-director William Wyler made a feature film adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s 1934 play of the same name. The previous picture, These Three (1936, see entry), was also released by United Artists (UA). However, production company Samuel Goldwyn, Inc. had retained rights to the play, which the Mirisch Co. acquired for an unspecified amount, according to the 1 Aug 1960 DV. Wyler addressed the differences between the two adaptations of the play in an interview published in the 20 Apr 1961 NYT, noting that These Three had converted the lesbian scandal, as written by Hellman, into a story about “two women in love with the same man.” Wyler stated, “We never did the play the first time. It could not be made as a movie in those days.” The director also joked that Samuel Goldwyn sold the film rights to Mirisch for “a great deal more” than he had initially paid.
       Audrey Hepburn’s casting in the role of “Karen Wright” was announced in the 1 Aug 1960 DV, which stated that principal photography would begin in May 1961. The 16 Aug 1960 DV cited a budget of $4 million, and an LAT item published the same day noted that The Children’s Hour was part of Mirisch Co.’s fourteen-film, $45-million production slate for the 1960—1961 season. Toward the end of filming, the 17 Aug 1961 DV claimed that the below-the-line budget would not exceed $1 million, “plus an added million for cast,” suggesting that overall production costs were in the $2-million range.
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The Children’s Hour marked the second time producer-director William Wyler made a feature film adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s 1934 play of the same name. The previous picture, These Three (1936, see entry), was also released by United Artists (UA). However, production company Samuel Goldwyn, Inc. had retained rights to the play, which the Mirisch Co. acquired for an unspecified amount, according to the 1 Aug 1960 DV. Wyler addressed the differences between the two adaptations of the play in an interview published in the 20 Apr 1961 NYT, noting that These Three had converted the lesbian scandal, as written by Hellman, into a story about “two women in love with the same man.” Wyler stated, “We never did the play the first time. It could not be made as a movie in those days.” The director also joked that Samuel Goldwyn sold the film rights to Mirisch for “a great deal more” than he had initially paid.
       Audrey Hepburn’s casting in the role of “Karen Wright” was announced in the 1 Aug 1960 DV, which stated that principal photography would begin in May 1961. The 16 Aug 1960 DV cited a budget of $4 million, and an LAT item published the same day noted that The Children’s Hour was part of Mirisch Co.’s fourteen-film, $45-million production slate for the 1960—1961 season. Toward the end of filming, the 17 Aug 1961 DV claimed that the below-the-line budget would not exceed $1 million, “plus an added million for cast,” suggesting that overall production costs were in the $2-million range.
       In late Sep 1960, William Wyler began working with Lillian Hellman on the script adaptation, according to a news brief in the 26 Sep 1960 DV. Filming was scheduled to take place in Hollywood, CA.
       Shirley MacLaine was cast as “Martha Dobie” as part of a four-picture deal with Mirisch Co., that also included Two for the Seesaw (1962, see entry), as announced in the 24 Oct 1960 LAT. An item in the 22 Feb 1961 LAT stated that James Garner had also signed four-picture deal with Mirisch, and The Children’s Hour would be his first for the production company. Garner was paid a $150,000 salary for the role of “Dr. Joe Cardin,” according to a 3 May 1962 DV item. Auditions for young actresses were held in New York City, Los Angeles, CA, and England, as stated in the 4 Nov 1960 DV.
       Although the 19 Dec 1960 LAT announced that Loring Mandel had been hired to write the script, Mandel received no onscreen credit. Screenwriter John Michael Hayes came on board in early 1961, according to an 8 Feb 1961 DV brief. One month later, the 9 Mar 1961 DV stated that Maureen Stapleton had auditioned for the role of Karen Wright’s aunt. No such role appears to have remained in the final edit, and the item was more likely referring to the part of Martha Dobie’s aunt, “Mrs. Lily Mortar,” who was ultimately played by Miriam Hopkins, the actress who had originated the screen role of Martha Dobie in These Three.
       The title was changed to Infamous, or The Infamous, as noted in various contemporary sources including the 4 May 1961 LAT and 20 May 1961 NYT, but reverted to The Children’s Hour before theatrical release.
       Audrey Hepburn arrived in Los Angeles to prepare for the film on 30 Mar 1961, as reported a DV item published the following day. The 2 Jun 1961 LAT announced that twelve-year-old Karen Balkin had been cast in the “coveted” role of “Mary Tilford,” which would mark her theatrical motion picture debut. Principal photography was slated to begin 5 Jun 1961. Roughly two months later, the 16 Aug 1961 DV stated that filming would conclude in two weeks. That day, Hepburn and MacLaine hosted a luncheon for cast and crew, catered by Romanoff’s Restaurant, as a “pre-pic windup” celebration, according to a 17 Aug 1961 DV brief.
       Wyler was reportedly told by Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) chief Geoffrey Shurlock that The Children’s Hour would not receive a Production Code Seal because of its underlying theme of lesbianism, as stated in the 17 Aug 1961 DV. However, DV ran a correction the following day, after receiving complaints from Wyler and Marvin Mirisch, who insisted the film had not yet been submitted for a Code Seal. Wyler had been advised, not that the film would not receive a seal, but that the Production Code must be changed in order for it to qualify. According to a 21 Aug 1961 NYT article, the Production Code forbade “sex perversion, or any inference of it.” Two other upcoming films, Advise & Consent (1962, see entry) and a Warner Bros. project titled The Devil’s Advocate, reportedly dealt with homosexuality, further challenging the “sex perversion” clause.
       Sneak previews took place at the UA and Roxie theaters in Oakland, CA, according to a 17 Nov 1961 DV brief. Hellman flew in from New York City to attend at least one of the screenings. The following week, MPPDA’s Geoffrey Shurlock was scheduled to view the final edit. Despite earlier speculation, Shurlock awarded The Children’s Hour a Production Code Seal, as announced in the 27 Nov 1961 DV, and called Wyler to congratulate him on “the way the subject matter was handled.” Advertisements for the film carried the following warning: “Because of the adult nature of its theme, this motion picture is not recommended for children.” However, an 11 Dec 1961 DV brief complained that the “adults only” advisory required a magnifying glass to read.
       The film premiered 19 Dec 1961 at the Fox Wilshire Theatre, where Wyler’s previous film, Ben-Hur (1959, see entry), had been playing before The Children Hour’s replaced it. The 13 Dec 1961 LAT noted that fifty theater students at the Pasadena Playhouse College of Theater Arts were set to attend the premiere in black-tie apparel and transported by limousines, as “guests of William Wyler and the Mirisch Co.” The film remained at the Fox Wilshire, where it opened to the public on 20 Dec 1961. The release was accompanied by a promotional campaign targeted at AMPAS members, for Academy Award consideration. An article in the 25 Jan 1962 NYT noted that AMPAS had pled with filmmakers to “show restraint” in their campaigns for Oscar votes that year, after the previous year’s “scandalous electioneering,” but several costly, Academy-Award-driven campaigns had been launched nonetheless. The Children’s Hour ultimately received five Academy Award nominations: Actress in a Supporting Role (Fay Bainter); Art Direction (Black-and-White); Cinematography (Black-and-White); Costume Design (Black-and-White); and Sound.
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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
1 Aug 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
16 Aug 1960
p. 6.
Daily Variety
26 Sep 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
24 Oct 1960
p. 1.
Daily Variety
4 Nov 1960
p. 8.
Daily Variety
8 Feb 1961
p. 8.
Daily Variety
9 Mar 1961
p. 2.
Daily Variety
31 Mar 1961
p. 2.
Daily Variety
16 Aug 1961
p. 2.
Daily Variety
17 Aug 1961
p. 1, 4.
Daily Variety
17 Aug 1961
p. 2.
Daily Variety
18 Aug 1961
p. 2.
Daily Variety
6 Oct 1961
p. 2.
Daily Variety
10 Nov 1961
p. 8.
Daily Variety
17 Nov 1961
p. 2.
Daily Variety
27 Nov 1961
p. 2.
Daily Variety
7 Dec 1961
p. 2.
Daily Variety
11 Dec 1961
p. 2.
Daily Variety
3 May 1962
p. 3.
Daily Variety
27 Aug 1962
p. 16.
Los Angeles Times
16 Aug 1960
p. 21.
Los Angeles Times
24 Oct 1960
Section C, p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
19 Dec 1960
Section C, p. 12.
Los Angeles Times
22 Feb 1961
Section C, p. 11.
Los Angeles Times
4 May 1961
Section C, p. 14.
Los Angeles Times
2 Jun 1961
Section A, p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
13 Dec 1961
Section C, p. 13.
Los Angeles Times
17 Dec 1961
Section M, p. 6.
New York Times
2 Aug 1960
p. 23.
New York Times
20 Apr 1961
p. 28.
New York Times
20 May 1961
p. 12.
New York Times
21 Aug 1961
p. 18.
New York Times
25 Jan 1962
p. 23.
New York Times
11 Mar 1962.
---
New York Times
15 Mar 1962
p. 28.
Variety
13 Dec 1961
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A William Wyler Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
ART DIRECTOR
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
MUSIC
SOUND
MAKEUP
Makeup
Makeup
Hairstyles
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Asst to the prod
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play The Children's Hour by Lillian Hellman (New York, 20 Nov 1934).
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Infamous
The Infamous
Release Date:
20 December 1961
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles premiere: 19 December 1961
Los Angeles opening: 20 December 1961
New York opening: 14 March 1962
Production Date:
5 June--late August or early September 1961
Copyright Claimant:
Mirisch-World Wide Productions
Copyright Date:
20 December 1961
Copyright Number:
LP21849
Duration(in mins):
107
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Karen Wright and Martha Dobie are the head-mistresses of a small private school for girls. Their major disciplinary problem is twelve-year-old Mary Tilford, the granddaughter of the town's most influential citizen. When the child is punished for telling a lie, she runs to her grandmother and tells another--and much more devastating--lie from which it may be inferred that the two teachers are having an "unnatural" relationship. Although Mary herself only dimly understands what she has said, the effect upon her shocked grandmother is obvious; and Mary elaborates upon her story. Horrified, Mrs. Tilford takes Mary out of the school and urges other guardians and parents to do the same. Karen and Martha, forced into taking drastic action, bring a slander suit against Mrs. Tilford but lose the much-publicized case when their chief witness, Martha's irresponsible Aunt Lily, deserts them under pressure and refuses to testify on their behalf. Not only is the school destroyed, but Karen realizes that Mary's lie has even created doubts in the mind of her fiancé, Dr. Joe Cardin. After she has released him, Karen suggests to Martha that they go away somewhere to make new lives for themselves. But the scandal has brought to Martha the terrible realization that the child's lie has uncovered a suppressed emotion, and she hysterically confesses her love for Karen. Then, sick with despair, she hangs herself. The vicious lie is eventually exposed, but for Karen it is too late: following Martha's funeral, she walks silently past Joe, Mrs. Tilford, and the other repentant ... +


Karen Wright and Martha Dobie are the head-mistresses of a small private school for girls. Their major disciplinary problem is twelve-year-old Mary Tilford, the granddaughter of the town's most influential citizen. When the child is punished for telling a lie, she runs to her grandmother and tells another--and much more devastating--lie from which it may be inferred that the two teachers are having an "unnatural" relationship. Although Mary herself only dimly understands what she has said, the effect upon her shocked grandmother is obvious; and Mary elaborates upon her story. Horrified, Mrs. Tilford takes Mary out of the school and urges other guardians and parents to do the same. Karen and Martha, forced into taking drastic action, bring a slander suit against Mrs. Tilford but lose the much-publicized case when their chief witness, Martha's irresponsible Aunt Lily, deserts them under pressure and refuses to testify on their behalf. Not only is the school destroyed, but Karen realizes that Mary's lie has even created doubts in the mind of her fiancé, Dr. Joe Cardin. After she has released him, Karen suggests to Martha that they go away somewhere to make new lives for themselves. But the scandal has brought to Martha the terrible realization that the child's lie has uncovered a suppressed emotion, and she hysterically confesses her love for Karen. Then, sick with despair, she hangs herself. The vicious lie is eventually exposed, but for Karen it is too late: following Martha's funeral, she walks silently past Joe, Mrs. Tilford, and the other repentant townspeople. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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