Jane Wyman falls for... Three Guys Named Mike (1951)

Many years ago, I was a classic film novice. It feels like a lifetime ago that I didn't know who Cary Grant was or what Citizen Kane was about, yet I can still clearly remember the small steps I took that led to my passion for old movies. One such step was Three Guys Named Mike. My oldest sister had heard that I was slowly learning about the classics and so she brought me one of those cheap collections comprised of those poor films that have been doomed to the public domain. The quality wasn't the best and the selected films were hit-and-miss, but to me, it became an education because of two films that couldn't be more different: Of Human Bondage with Bette Davis and Leslie Howard and Three Guys Named Mike.

While OHB knocked me to the floor, TGNM charmed me to pieces. Its story about a young woman leaving Indiana (!) to become a stewardess and explore the world tickled me, and watching her navigate her journey with wit and grace while juggling the attentions of three suitors was oddly inspiring. Here was Jane Wyman, doing what she wanted and having fun doing it -- she had good friendships with other women, she excelled at work after an embarrassing beginning that anyone could relate to, and she wasn't out searching for a husband. Dating three men at the same time bothers the guys more than it does her! Let's begin the review and you'll understand better.

Marcy Lewis (Wyman) is hurriedly packing her suitcases for her trip out of her hometown in Indiana to Cleveland, where she hopes to ace her interview with American Airlines for a job as a stewardess. While her mother is excited for her, Marcy's dad is clearly going to miss his daughter and wants her to stay at home. Marcy enters the room like a whirlwind, quickly giving her parents last-minute details about the stove she ordered for them, where she put her father's pipe cleaner, and so on.
Why doesn't she just forget this stewardess business and settle down with that nice man she's been seeing, her father asks. Because that was purely a business arrangment, Marcy replies. She gave that guy a product idea and it's working marvelously! You see, our gal Marcy is always abuzz with new ideas and suggestions, something her dad thinks she should tone down for her interview.

Marcy decides to follow his advice and the interview becomes a disaster. Quiet, reserved, and laconic, Marcy makes a terrible impression, leading the interviewer to believe that she wouldn't be good in this line of work. Hearing that, Marcy lets loose her warm and vivacious personality and wins the job. We cut to her arrival at the training center, where she befriends other women and starts to learn the ropes. It's a fascinating look at what flight attendants went through at the time.

They get checked out by a doctor; they're taught the order of things they're supposed to do when they get on the plane, including cleaning the pilots' headpieces; a rocking airplane set is used so they can become accustomed to the motions while serving the passengers; they even take (and fret over) a test on meteorology. I wonder how much has changed between then and now, especially because of heightened security.

The trainees soon graduate and get their first flight assignments. Marcy and her friends apprehensively say goodbye to each other as they go their separate ways. The camaderie amongst everybody is so great to watch. When Marcy reports to the airport, she's so nervous that she announces herself and stands rimrod straight, like a soldier. The male employees match her demeanor, and while they appear to be mocking her, she reveals that she caught on to their joke and everybody has a good laugh. That's another nice thing -- Marcy is treated like an equal. Sometimes she does silly things, but if you switched the gender, I think the characters would still react the same way.

The next morning, Marcy's taxi gets a flat on her way to work. The driver refuses to listen to Marcy's instructions on how to jack the car, making the situation worse. Luckily, Mike Jamison (Keel) spots the lady and offers her a ride, putting his pilot's cap and monogrammed suitcase in the backseat so the audience knows he is a pilot but Marcy doesn't. For the whole drive, she chatters away, excitably talking about how wonderful flying is and how important flight attendants are. Looking for a compliment, Mike asks what she thinks about pilots, to which she
hilariously replies "Chauffeurs." They part at the airport and Marcy starts prepping the plane. Her first task already goes wrong when she pours too much sanitizer on the pilots' headpieces and tries to cover up the smell by using her perfume. The moment is still satisfying for Marcy, though -- she's wanted this ever since she was a child. Things sour a little, however, when Marcy realizes that Mike is one of the pilots. He isn't too pleased, either, especially when he has to take the plane back to the airport
after Marcy forgot to pack the lunches. It's absolutely mortifying, but once they get to their destination, Mike overhears all of the passengers thank Marcy for the great flight. Proving he's not made of stone, Mike goes to Marcy's boss and pleads her case. She expects to be fired, but instead she is given another chance... and another flight with Mike. This time, things go much better.
We get a small montage of Marcy bringing Mike and his co-captain coffee throughout their trips together. We don't know how much time has passed, but soon Mike excitedly anticipates her arrival, grinning broadly whenever she shows up. On the tarmac after one of her flights, Marcy is told her transfer was granted, which means she will get to live with her friend Jan from stewardess training but it also means she won't get to see Mike anymore. The day she leaves, Mike is late to the airport (with flowers!) and misses saying goodbye to her.

While working with Jan one day, Marcy asks her friend if she knows anything about a passenger named Mike Lawrence (Johnson); Marcy thinks he might be a VIP and she grows curious. Her attempts to chat him up fail because he is too busy studying a book and taking notes, causing him to only supply her with the occasional "yes, thank you" and "no, thank you." At night, while the rest of the passengers sleep, Mike is awoken by a little girl. Marcy comes to his rescue and talks to the girl, pointing
out the Big Dipper and the Milky Way outside the window. While she crafts imaginative ideas about the stars, Mike gets all scientific and corrects her, but his facts about the moon quickly charm her. When a passenger complains that their talking is disturbing his slumber, Marcy tries to get the little girl to sleep, but she claims she can't without her dog, so Marcy sweetly gets the puppy for her, despite it being against the rules. It would've been fine, except the dog jumps on another passenger, whose screams wake up the whole plane. Oops.

After landing in Los Angeles, Jan and Marcy go to the apartment their friend Kathy found for them to rent, only to be disappointed when it "looks like something left over from Halloween." The next morning, Marcy gets a call from her superior -- she's been suspended for a week. Things start to look up, though, when Kathy and another woman named Alice stop by, apologizing for the apartment and explaining that they live in a nightmare too. As always, Marcy gets an idea: they should pool their money and rent a nice house! They all go out to
lunch and while Marcy is telling them about the handsome scientist she met last night, she happens to spot him bartending at the restaurant. "Well, looks like your scientist also communes with spirits," one of the ladies cracks. Marcy goes over to him and learns he is a graduate student who bartends to pay the bills; he was flying back from a conference that the university sent him to. With that mystery solved, Marcy abruptly says they'll meet again and goes back to her friends, leaving Mike a little confused.

That afternoon, Marcy and Jan drive around looking for a house when they get lost. Meanwhile, advertising executive Mike Tracy (Sullivan) is gardening when their car dies in front of his house. He helps them and they're on their way. Some time later, Marcy bumps into Mike at the airport and he asks her to be his date at a business dinner he has that night. Mike proposes his ad idea to Mr. Bellamy, the owner of a soap company, and is quickly rejected, giving Marcy her own idea. Mike interrupts her, though, for a dance, where they charmingly pretend that they're married and they have six kids.

The next time we see Marcy, she's moving into her new house. Her friends all have to work so it's just her doing the big job, but it isn't that way for long. Mike L. (Van) drops in and starts to help her, and pretty soon Mike T. (Sullivan) appears too. As they carry things inside, Mike J. (Keel) drives up, having just transferred to a city near her. All of the men meet each other, and when Marcy calls for "Mike" and they all respond, she realizes they share a name. It's super awkward. None of the guys are able to
have the alone-time with Marcy that they want and they're barely friendly to one another. When Marcy gets called away by the airport, Mike T. and Mike J. figure they might as well leave, too. Being the sweetheart he is, Mike L. stays behind and finishes unpacking for Marcy, who unexpectedly returns when her flight was cancelled. They go out for dinner and Mike takes her to the lab at the university. It's one of my favorite scenes. He turns out the lights and shows her a beaker of glowing
bioluminescence; when Marcy asks him to explain how it can glow, he replies that she wouldn't understand it. "Now, don't be a smug male. Tell me," she retorts. They're soon joined by Mike's mentor, Dr. Hardy, who mentions that Mike is up for an important fellowship that would allow him to become a teacher at the school and complete his research. Marcy remarks how happy she can tell Mike is at the school, leading them to connect on how important teachers are, Marcy's mother being one herself. It's a sweet moment, so sweet that
Dr. Hardy quietly leaves them alone.

The next morning, Marcy is having breakfast with her housemates when Mike T. calls and tells her to come to his office immediately. It seems that Marcy wrote to Mr. Bellamy about an advertising idea that would have airline stewardesses selling his soap around the world. Bellamy is crazy about it, and Marcy becomes their first model.

On a flight with Mike J., the plane has to stop before its destination due to weather. With the local hotel booked up by the passengers, Marcy, Mike, and the co-pilot are forced to try an inn that's closed for the season. The groundskeeper is kind enough to let them stay, especially when Marcy cooks them a delicious dinner. When she and Mike are left alone, they instantly bond over their passion of flying and travel. Both of them love to meet other people and see foreign places, and Mike is thrilled that Marcy
understands him so thoroughly. When they return to L.A., Marcy is told by the airline that they are delighted with her soap advertisements, remarking that it's great publicity for them as well as Bellamy's company. That night at dinner, Mike T. finally gets his private time with Marcy, but it's not nearly as adorable as her scenes with the other guys, to be honest. Barry Sullivan is great, but Mike T. isn't very romantic. Plus, I never feel like he respects Marcy's ideas or what she wants.

At her housewarming party, Marcy is torn between her suitors. She tries to spend time with each of them, but she's constantly pulled in all different directions. When she gets a call from Mack, the advertisement photographer, that she needs to come right away for a last-minute shoot, Mike L. and J. become suspicious. They ask Mike T. about it, but he claims ignorance, so all three of them go running to see what the deal is. At Mack's apartment, we can tell he's up to no good. He's playing romantic music and mixing drinks while Marcy changes into
a skimpy swimsuit. It isn't long before she realizes what the creep is up to, but before she can leave, the Mikes show up and all hell breaks loose. They punch Mack out and then start beating up each other, a disaster that makes its way to front-page news. While Marcy's friends can joke about it, she feels awful. Mike L. is disqualified from his fellowship; Mike J. is grounded; Mike T. lost the Bellamy account; and Marcy has been suspended.
Never one to sit back and watch, Marcy appeals to Dr. Hardy, Mr. Bellamy, and the airline on behalf of the boys. The hilarious part comes when the men start arguing who Marcy should pick, each of them advocating for their employee. [Warning: if you don't want to know who Marcy ends up with, you might want to bookmark this page and come back after you've watched the film! You can see it here on YouTube.]

 
Marcy is over it, though. She decides to transfer out of L.A., but as she's boarding her plane, the three Mikes rush up to her. Each one pulls her aside to propose to her, appealing to their common interests and ideas. Except for Mike L. "There's not much more I can say. All of this sounds pretty wonderful," he admits. "Then why are you here, Mike?" Marcy asks. "Because I love you." That's enough for her. She chooses him and they board her flight together.

TGNM was directed by Charles Walters, one of my favorite directors and one of the most underrated. His first outing in the director's chair came in 1947 with Good News, which came after many years of dancing on Broadway and choreographing dances for MGM. Walters was often assigned musicals and he always did a marvelous job with them. Regarding TGNM, he said "The story was episodic. Each scene could be like a dance number, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. If one [sequence] was quite agitated, the next could be calm -- like in a musical revue, only with drama instead." It was his first non-musical, but definitely not his last. For more on Chuck's career, check out my post about him (and his work with Esther Williams) here.

TGNM has its moments of cuteness and sweetness, but it's also pretty funny. My favorite example of this is when Marcy and a fellow stewardess are filling out some paperwork during a flight. They're repeatedly bothered by two creepy, old men who call the gals to their seats to ask them on dates. Marcy solves the problem when one of them gives her his hotel key and tells her to be there at 7 o'clock. "Oh boy," Marcy says in a deadpan. She then goes to the other jerk and gives him the key, pretending that it's
for her hotel room. Both of the men look at each other and laugh, thinking they've gotten the upper hand when really they have a date with each other. Later that night while she is out with Mike T., Marcy sees one of the old men... with a bandaged eye. He may not be thrilled, but we sure are.

One of the film's two technical advisors was Ethel "Pug" Wells, a flight attendant who actually has a bit part essentially playing herself. She remembered when she arrived on the set for her scene, she found out that she had been given a dressing room. "There were flowers in it, with a card from Chuck Walters," she recalled. "The card read: 'All stars get flowers on opening day. Happy new star to you!' Well, I burst into tears." American Airlines, Wells's employer, helped TGNM immensely by providing advertising and letting the filmmakers use their aircraft free of charge, which saved the production a good deal of money. The scenes that show Marcy's training were also a replication of American Airlines' school for stewardesses.

My great aunt was a flight attendant about the same time as this movie takes place, so it's really fascinating for me to see what she might have went through. One of the coolest things I've ever heard in my life comes from my Aunt Kay's old job. She was working on one of Eddie Fisher's flights and got to meet the singer! It gets better. She and another stewardess needed a ride from the airport so Fisher had Debbie Reynolds pick them up! But wait, there's more -- Debbie was pregnant with Carrie Fisher at the time. Aunt Kay also got a photo with Eddie and an autograph on the back of a postcard that says "Kay, I love you madly!" She's the woman on the left in the picture above.

TGNM was Howard Keel's third film in Hollywood and his fourth overall having made a drama called The Small Voice (1948) in the UK while touring London with Oklahoma!. It only took his second film, Annie Get Your Gun, to make him a movie star -- pretty impressive if you ask me. Audiences were taken with Keel, so much so that they were a little disappointed when Wyman chose Johnson in the end. Johnson was the bigger star, though, so for the studio it was a no-brainer. Keel would marry his own airline stewardess in real life, actually. In 1970, he went on a blind date with flight attendant Judy Magamoll and they were married later that year; they stayed together until Keel's death in 2004, making it the longest (and happiest) of his three marriages.

As I said, I knew next-to-nothing when I first saw this film, so the names Jane Wyman, Barry Sullivan, Van Johnson, and Howard Keel were just names to me. Months later, in 2009, I remember watching the Academy Awards and during their "In Memoriam" segment, I was shocked to see the face of Mike Lawrence projected on the screen. He died?! I thought. I began researching Van Johnson, bringing me even closer to Old Hollywood. A few years after that, I let TGNM slip off my radar -- I actually forgot who else was in it except for Wyman and Johnson! Once I fell in love with Howard Keel and became familiar with Barry Sullivan, though, the film delighted me even more. Then, as I started learning about Charles Walters this past year, my adoration for TGNM deepened. It might be a simple, average romantic comedy, but it'll always hold a special place in my heart.

Thanks to its entry in the public domain, you can catch the full film on YouTube here. Beware the terrible prints out there! As far as I can tell, there hasn't been a proper DVD release for it. I bought this copy and hated the quality, as well as the fact that the description on the back credits Sheldon Leonard with the screenplay instead of Sidney Sheldon! I did a little more research and got this copy instead. The quality still isn't great, and the DVD intro is definitely amateur, but at least the packaging got everything right.

























With love,
Michaela

_______________

This is my entry to the Darlin' Dallasers Blogathon, which looks at the stars and characters of the TV show, Dallas, which included Howard Keel as oil baron Clayton Farlow from 1981 to the show's end in 1991. You can check out the other contributions here.

Comments

  1. Thanks for joining my blogathon with such a lovely review and lovely story about Carrier Fisher too xx What a great claim to fame!

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    1. I know, right? I really need to ask my great aunt for more stories. I've heard that she met Dean Martin and Van Johnson too, but I never got all the info.

      Thanks for having me!

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    2. No problem xx Was lovely to have you - sounds like an interview with your great aunt would make a post on it's own!

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    3. No problem xx Was lovely to have you - sounds like an interview with your great aunt would make a post on it's own!

      Delete
    4. I've been wanting to do that interview for two years now. Unfortunately, I haven't seen my great aunt as much as I used to due to certain circumstances, but I really need to make it happen soon.

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  2. This sounds completely charming! I don't know why, but I was rooting for Mike L while reading your review. :)

    Wow, it was great to hear your aunt's story of meeting Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. And how Howard Keel later married a flight attendant. And how special this film is for you. A lovely story!

    I'm going to have to check this one out.

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    1. It's a cute little film, and one that always relaxes me. That's funny about you rooting for Mike L. -- I remember during my first viewing I was all for him, and that was without my love for Van Johnson clouding my judgment. He's a sweet character and Van makes him so gosh darn adorable.

      Thanks for reading!

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  3. This does sound charming, and I'm so glad it's available on YouTube. As I was reading your review, I could just imagine how fabulous Jane W. is in this role.

    I love that story about your aunt + Eddie Fisher & Debbie Reynolds. How great is that!

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    1. If this script wasn't tailor-made for Jane Wyman, I don't know who else they thought could have played it. She's so perfect. As for Aunt Kay, I'm super jealous. I don't much care for Eddie Fisher, but Debbie! Debbie is a queen.

      Thanks for reading!

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  4. Michaela, I watched this yesterday and it's every bit as funny and charming as you said. Jane Wyman is absolutely adorable here. I loved it! Thanks so much for recommending.

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    1. That makes me so happy! Thanks for letting me know!

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  5. I'm so glad you wrote about this movie! I love it so much and first watched it a couple of months ago. Thanks for the background and the DVD info too. There is a copy on Amazon prime as well.

    Hope you don't mind if I go into detail about my love, haha!

    I've been flirting with the idea of becoming a flight attendant (I love airplanes and want to get my pilot's license) and I think this movie cinched it for me. I love that scene between Marcy and Mike J where they talk about their love of flying, because I could relate to it so much. When he says that flying is a way to see new things and not run away, that's so great and so true. At first I wish she had ended up with him over Mike L. That's when I thought I preferred Howard Keel over Van Johnson, but not anymore, LOL. Still...a hard choice even though I'd go with Van.

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    1. I never mind hearing from you, Simoa! That's wonderful that you have a personal connection to this movie. I appreciate that the script gives the audience (and Jane) a one-on-one with each of her suitors. It makes it more clear why she would be so conflicted, as well as why she even feels the desire to marry one of them.

      Honestly, I never feel like Barry Sullivan's character is an option; he is just a little undercooked. Van and Howard, though, are tough to choose from, but Van is just so stinking cute. I may or may not let out a few sighs when watching this...

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  6. Dear Michaela, I was just googling my mom's name and came across your sweet blog entry! My mom is Pug Wells and she is now 93 years old. She was the inspiration for the story as well as credited with being technical adviser. An MGM exec was on her flight one day and she began telling him about the funny things that had happened to her. He sent out a writer to follow her around and write them down! For mom, a small-town girl from Mississippi (though it was changed to Indiana), it was the thrill of a lifetime complete with a tour (including chaperone!) and lots of special treatment. I will have to show her your blog! By the way, did you know that Jane Wyman was married to the future president (Reagan) at the time? Also, June Allyson was originally cast to play the part of my mom, but she became pregnant and had to give up the role!

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    1. This has absolutely made my day! Thank you so much for leaving this comment. How wonderful that your mother is still with us! I had a hard time finding information on how MGM came up with Three Guys Named Mike, so I'm grateful that you were able to share. I didn't know that about June Allyson, either. Like Jane Wyman in the film, I'm from a small town in Indiana too, so I'm sure the attention from MGM was an incredible experience for your mother. I'm very jealous she was able to meet Charles Walters!

      I would be honored if you showed her my blog. It's really a labor of love for me and to have this kind of connection made is extremely rewarding. Thank you.

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    2. Oh Michaela! Just had a long talk with Mom who said she can't wait for me to show her your blog post. She was thrilled that you liked the film.

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    3. That's lovely to hear! I hope she enjoys it!

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