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Review of Leonard Wibberley’s McGillicuddy Gotham and the unfinished Little Mac collaboration with Rosalind Russell

If you didn’t believe in leprechauns before this, you will after reading Leonard Wibberley’s McGillicuddy McGotham. The 60th anniversary edition is due to be released on March 10, 2016 (today!) Although this charming tale about a little Irish man hardly bigger than a dime who makes quite a rumble in Washington, D.C. was written in 1956, I found it to be timeless. This is a story that would be perfect for middle school-aged children and young adults, so if anything, it is something for children to read just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. As a child with no real Irish background, the only memories of hearing about leprechauns occurred at school. As we all know the tradition goes, if you don’t wear green on St. Patrick’s Day (every March 17), you get pinched. I imagine this is related to leprechauns in some way, since legend has it that leprechauns are mischievous and little troublemakers. I have a clear memory of entering my classroom when I was fairly young, only to discover my desk had a sparkling green streak straight across it. The teacher told us, “Oh, no, I think it was the leprechaun!” and so we were made to believe that a little green man had secretly been sneaking in our classroom when we weren’t there and what he left behind were his green marks. We live in a time where children are exposed to the truth about a lot of things that we were not exposed to as children. This magical story brings back the innocence of childhood—the wonder, the curiosity, the “what if?” questions.

mcgillicuddy mcgotham 60th anniversary edition cover

McGillicuddy McGotham is full of comedy, mischief and inspirational changes. The title character—the leprechaun in question—is a tiny man with enormous pride and a delusional interpretation of economic value. In other words, a piece of the most dazzling silver paper is worth a lot more to Mr. McGillicuddy than all the real pots of gold in the world. I was wrong to think that leprechauns had the most precious gold and jewels in their tiny pot of treasure that they keep hidden from the world. This book reveals the truth—every one of us has a distinctive perception of which people and things are worth the most. Are the most valuable things in our lives worth so much of that green paper that accumulates in your bank account? Or are they things that expect no monetary compensation from us and yet produce an even more satisfying outcome? It varies for everyone, but I believe it’s a message to keep in the back of all our minds.

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Timothy Patrick Fergus Kevin Sean Desmond McGillicuddy (cutting out most of his names to save on time) can only be seen by Irish people, and even then, only one at a time. I suppose this explains why leprechauns do all their funny tricks when nobody is looking. The whimsical actions of the miniscule McGillicuddy obviously caught the eye of our favorite star, Rosalind Russell. In 1956 when this book was published, she was making her famous comeback as the wonderful Auntie Mame on Broadway. As there would be no part for Roz in a play version, she must have been itching to collaborate on a writing project. She and Mr. Wibberley had exchanges back and forth, mulling over ideas for a musical comedy version retitled Little Mac. This collaboration might have been a stroke of genius, or it might have been a total flop. Unfortunately, we will never know as there is little evidence of it going past the preliminary brainstorming stage. It is possible that Rosalind became caught up in the fame, publicity and work that her indomitable Auntie Mame brought her.

leonard wibberley rosalind russell jack hawkins
Leonard Wibberley, Rosalind Russell and Jack Hawkins on the set of Five Finger Exercise (1961), which depicts a friendship that lasted beyond the Little Mac collaboration.

 

I think Rosalind and Leonard had a good thing going for them, as it is hinted in the letters that they had a charming and fun relationship. They made the man who is head of construction of the airport being built on Irish soil a principal part of the play. Being in construction, he thinks the police as the enemy, so it was coming to fruition that maybe they would make Little Mac a policeman, hinting that leprechauns were a bit like “The Irish Mafia.” They were just pounding out an outline and I think it had promise, which is why it’s unfortunate it was never finished. There are not very many new facts for Rosalind Russell fans in this 60th anniversary edition besides the letters. But the leprechaun story itself is worth a read.

In Wibberley’s book, McGillicuddy often tells Brian, his chosen Irish-American human, about the pride that should swell in all who are Irish. For a man of such diminutive stature, he spouts as much wisdom as possible in impressionable 10-year-old Brian’s ear. One philosophy spoken by the leprechaun that is the true heart of the story is the loss of childlike innocence as we become adults. Using a man’s spectacles as a metaphor, he explains that all people are born without glasses and we see others are human beings, which is indeed what they are. We as children do not see others for the color of their skin, their beliefs, their religion, their flaws, their eccentricities, and above all, the things that make them different from us. As McGillicuddy relates, when we get older, we acquire glasses, which makes us gradually see others as different from ourselves. We see the intricacies of other humans, the negative standing out more than anything. “He finds that they are wrong and that he alone is right,” McGillicuddy adds to his eye-opening philosophy.

Even the tiny well-dressed man in green sees others differently, but he also thinks he needs to stand up to these others who think they can walk all over those who are smaller. He eventually winds up in Washington, D.C. to protest (Brian talking for him) an airplane runway being constructed on leprechaun land. He has made believers of skeptics and has tenaciously made it to the President’s oval office. At the St. Patrick’s Day parade, Mac informs Brian that on this day of marvelous green and Irish pride, “Everybody’s an Irishman…today.”

And may we all feel the pride and mischief of the Irish leprechaun every once in a while—to lift us up when we are down on ourselves and to let go of inhibitions when we are feeling our most vulnerable. If a man only an inch high can accomplish all he did, so can we.

I invite you to purchase the eBook here of McGillicuddy McGotham: 60th Anniversary Edition. Link below:

Live, Love and Learn (1937)

rosalind russell helen vinson live love and learn
Rosalind Russell and Helen Vinson in Live, Love and Learn (1937)

 

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Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell in Live, Love and Learn (1937)

After Night Must Fall finished production, Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell were put right into another film together—a film with a completely opposite atmosphere. Unlike Night Must Fall, which is an intense, dark drama, Live, Love and Learn is a rather silly comedy, although it has its sad moments. The way Rosalind makes her first appearance in the film lets the viewer know this will be a funny movie. Montgomery plays Bob Graham and he is a struggling painter. One day, he is sitting in a beautiful countryside, contemplating how to finish his painting. All of a sudden, horses start bounding over the hill behind him and he has to duck to avoid them. There is a fox hunt going on right in the middle of the meadow and he is irate! Finally, the last horse comes jumping over the hill behind the rest, but it throws its rider. The young woman crashes right through Bob’s canvas and she is appalled when Bob seems more interested in how his painting is faring than her, who took a nasty fall.

robert montgomery rosalind russell live love and learn
Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell in Live, Love and Learn (1937)

Her name is Julie and she and Bob are from completely different walks of life. He’s poor, she’s rich; he doesn’t always know where his next meal is coming from, she never has to worry about that; he lives in a tiny apartment, she lives in a big house. He insults her skills as a fox hunt participant and shoos her away. A few seconds later, he finds her unconscious on the grass and wonders what to do with her. Before they know it, differences aside, they are getting married. And even so, Bob is trying to talk her out of it because he knows she’s in for a bit of culture shock living with him.

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Rosalind Russell is doing a radio stint here in 1937, but appears to be wearing the same outfit from a scene in Live, Love and Learn!

However, all doubts are forgotten when the justice of the peace tells him to “kiss the bride” and he stares at her, dumbstruck by love. It is in this comedy that besides the sexual tension you see in Night Must Fall, Montgomery and Russell have great romantic chemistry when they get a chance to have romantic scenes. You want them to be together; they are just that cute. They start walking with all of their things to a bus to take them to Bob’s apartment.

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Rosalind Russell retouching her makeup while her hair gets done while filming Live, Love and Learn (1937)

Julie is actually quite fascinated with Bob’s lifestyle and is excited to live like this. She feels his lifestyle is more real and not full of fake people like in her more high-class community. To show her loyalty to Bob, she throws her wallet out the window and smiles at him. They soon start walking up to his apartment building and she is wearing this hat and the fabric on the top looks like bunny ears. It’s a hat I always remember from her film wardrobe because it is both so funny and cute. “Look, bunny ears!” Bob carries his new bride over the threshold and she takes a look around the tiny apartment, which isn’t even big enough for a full kitchen or bathroom.

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Robert Montgomery, Maude Eburne, and Rosalind Russell in Live, Love and Learn (1937)

She is really taken with it and is ready to start living hand-to-mouth, as long as she is by Bob’s side. Bob’s best friend, Oscar (Robert Benchley) suddenly stumbles into the room, drunk (as Benchley often was in films) and tries to kiss Julie’s hand, but falls right on his face instead. In disbelief, Julie questions Bob and he tells her that he’ll be living here with him.

robert montgomery rosalind russell live love and learn
Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell in Live, Love and Learn (1937)

After putting Oscar out in the hall, Jerry Crump (played by a young Mickey Rooney) comes yoo-hooing into the room, silly and hyper, and takes a good look at Bob’s new bride. Jerry is the landlady’s son and Bob tries to show him a certain technique in throwing a baseball, but ends up breaking a window. Bob wants so much to be a successful painter for Julie’s sake, and hopes to keep his word on that. The next morning, they all—Bob, Julie, and Oscar—go to the market to buy some groceries because they don’t have food. They have not paid their bill at the market and Felipe (Charles Judels), the owner, refuses to let them purchase anything.

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Rosalind Russell, Helen Vinson, and Robert Benchley in Live, Love and Learn (1937) – pardon the watermarks from here on out!

However, trouble abounds when Julie figures out that Felipe has been overcharging Bob and Oscar for some time because they were too naïve to know any better. They immediately start protesting in front of his store, even telling passersby to tar and feather Felipe. Soon, they are bringing loads of groceries home for free. Julie’s uncle has sent her a letter and a substantial check because he doesn’t want his niece living in squalor.

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Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell in the middle of the riot in Live, Love and Learn (1937)

Although Oscar eagerly wants to spend the money, Bob takes the check and glues it to the wall, never intending to cash it. Absolutely thrilled with her husband’s decision, Julie embraces him giddily. One day, an old pal from Julie’s old crowd comes calling on her. Her name is Lily (Helen Vinson) and she wants to get a good look at Julie’s new husband—a man so special that he got her to leave her comfortable life when she “could have married anyone.”

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Rosalind Russell, Robert Benchley, and Helen Vinson in Live, Love and Learn (1937)

After mistaking Oscar for her new husband, Bob comes home with a monkey named Misery in tow—only one of the several odd things to happen in this movie. He is having a bad day because his work was put down by some art dealers. He goes to the park with his wife to paint. This peaceful scene gets out of hand when a few Marines (Leathernecks) and then a few Navy sailors (Tars) start gathering around Bob’s canvas, giving differing opinions on what they think of it.

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Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell in Live, Love and Learn (1937)

The Leathernecks stick together and the Tars stick to their opposing opinion until they start fighting. All of a sudden, Bob and Julie are in the middle of a riot in the park and are blamed for starting it! They spend a night in jail and when they come home, they notice a large crowd of reporters on the stairs and sneak into their apartment.

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Rosalind Russell and Robert Montgomery in Live, Love and Learn (1937)

Refusing to talk to reporters, one reporter decides to pose as an art dealer in order to get a story on them. Naturally, Bob is excited about this, but Julie notices the man’s press pass in his hat. The man is immediately thrown out (literally). Soon, the three of them have developed a new hobby. Since the reporters keep coming in droves posing as art dealers to talk to the poor, struggling painter, they devise new and unique ways of depositing them into the hall.

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Robert Montgomery, Rosalind Russell, Robert Benchley, and Charles Judels in Live, Love and Learn (1937)

An important art dealer named Bawltitude (Monty Woolley in his usual grumpy, cantankerous, but hilarious role) becomes interested in Bob and visits his apartment to take a look at his work. Of course, Bob, Julie, and Oscar assume he is another reporter, so they proceed to anger him. They have stacked a large pile of books and put a pitcher of water on top of them and tell him to take a few steps backwards until the pitcher of water has poured all over his head.

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Rosalind Russell and Robert Montgomery in Live, Love and Learn (1937)

They then do the silliest thing—they cut his buttons, suspenders, and tie in half. As Oscar and Bob try to pull on his beard, which they assume is fake, Julie finds out that he is the real Bawltitude. Bob stares at Bawltitude in disbelief and Bawltitude yells at him, “Get your hands off me, you homicidal maniac!” Hard feelings are obviously put aside when before they know it, Bob’s work is being presented in a gallery by Bawltitude.

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Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell in Live, Love and Learn (1937)

It is at this time that Bob starts acting differently. He starts becoming more well-known and respected by the rich art buying community and Julie feels she is losing the old Bob that she fell in love with. When he buys a big, beautiful place for them to live in, Julie thinks it’s a joke and after bewildering him by yodeling in the place, then swinging her arm wondering if she could swing a cat in the place, she starts “skating” across the polished floors. (Let’s just say this is a very strange group of people!) She is saddened when she finds Bob is serious about it and is very unhappy when her old pal Lily starts attaching herself to Bob in order to build him up. Now again living the lifestyle she voluntarily left, Julie is very unhappy and only talks to Oscar, who has not changed a bit. They play games and Julie explains that when someone comes to the door, the third butler answers the door, who tells the second butler, who tells the first butler, who then informs her about it later.

robert montgomery rosalind russell robert benchley live love and learn
Robert Montgomery, Rosalind Russell, and Robert Benchley in Live, Love and Learn (1937)

They start pretending to be high-class snobs, Julie describing herself as “so, so alive, so eccentric—I mean electric!” Meanwhile, Bob has had many jobs painting boring, stuffy dowagers. Lily brings over a new client named Mr. Palmiston. He is played by E. E. Clive, who played a large part in getting Rosalind Russell’s acting career started when she pretended to be English in order to get into his acting troupe. It was acting in this troupe that got her discovered by a Hollywood scout. He also plays small parts in two other Montgomery-Russell films, Trouble for Two (1936) and Night Must Fall (1937). He is most memorable in this film, however, because of the way he says everything in threes. When he meets people, he says, “How do you do? How do you do? How do you do?” and thanks people like this: Thank you very much, thank you very much, thank you very much. Julie doesn’t like this atmosphere very much and goes off riding: “I feel like digging my spurs into something.” She comes back with a very kind old gentleman who is an art teacher and a very promising young pupil of his.

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Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell in Live, Love and Learn (1937)

They want to give a “Robert Graham Day” soon and have him speak. However, he decides that painting for Mr. Palmiston is more important and Julie is gravely disappointed in him and where his priorities lie. After Bob snubs the two people, Julie gets very angry with him and tells him he’s become a big fake and she can’t stand it anymore. Lily tries to get her opinion in, but Julie walks very slowly up to her and says, “Lily, darling, has anyone before told you, in an awfully ladylike manner, to keep your pretty little schnozzola out of other peoples family fights?” She paints a mustache on Bob’s portrait of one of the old matrons he is working on. Bob yells at her and ends with calling Oscar a drunken clown and orders him out of the house. Having lost the man she remembered, Julie asks for a divorce and leaves with Oscar. It is this part of the film I don’t enjoy very much. It’s all fun and games until Bob becomes someone he’s not and causes terrible marital discord.

robert montgomery rosalind russell robert benchley live love and learn poster
the poster for Live, Love and Learn

However, when Bob tires of this dull lifestyle, he goes to speak for the art teacher’s class like Julie wanted him to. She is there to listen to him and happy to have him back. She reunites with him and they decide to have some fun for the road. She and her two partners in crime go to Bawltitude’s place and bring in a portrait Bob did of Palmiston’s horse. Palmiston comes running in, his pants falling down (because they had cut his suspenders like they always do), and pleading with Bawltitude. Julie pulls her cape up over her head and growls at him like a tiger.

robert montgomery rosalind russell on the set live love and learn
Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell on the set of Live, Love and Learn (1937)

They proceed to tell him to back up, back up… until they yell “Ah, boo!” and he falls backwards right through his own painting. The three of them bellow, “And may we say we love you very much, Mr. Palmiston?” to which he replies from the ground, “Not at all, not at all, not at all!”

IMDB page for Live, Love and Learn

TCM overview of the film

A clip from the film for you all to enjoy: