Lessons learned from a solid gold Cadillac
May 20, 2020 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
Ever since my intro to Judy Holliday in It Should Happen to You, I’ve been keen to check out more of her work. My next viewing was The Marrying Kind, which gave Judy a chance to showcase her dramatic range. Her performance captured my attention, but the subject matter was a bit too somber for my liking. But like any vintage aficionado, I pressed forward undaunted. I know they tell you to never judge a book by its cover, but once the cartoon intro sequence started I knew I would love The Solid Gold Cadillac! Starring alongside the lovely Judy is Paul Douglas (whom I first met opposite a charming Janet Leigh in Angels in the Outfield). The movie, made in 1956, was based on a popular play and the role Judy portrayed was originally made famous by a Broadway legend three decades her senior. Judy made the character her own and the critics cheered her performance. Maybe the New York Times summed up the magic of this movie best: “When she (Judy) gets through, she has given us a female who could take the Presidency with malapert aplomb.” Dear reader, allow me to share with you some great lessons learned from this cinematic adventure and let me know if you’re a Judy Holliday fan in the comments…
What I love most about the film’s plucky heroine, Laura Partridge, is her fearlessness. She’s quite simply not afraid of asking a question and while that may sound insignificant on the surface, it’s really an act of bravery. I think often we can feel unsure about raising our voice. Sometimes it just feels easier to go along with things, rather than rock the boat. But not Laura! Sweet, impertinent Laura has the luck of inheriting a few shares of stock from a neighbor. Being a responsible steward of this inheritance, she attends the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting and immediately unleashes a tidal wave of questions. Her mission is to understand things more clearly and she figures who better to help her than the board of directors? The board, feathers ruffled, tries to dismiss her inquiries as unimportant but Laura doesn’t stop. She takes it in stride and finds enjoyment in the exchange. As we get older it can be easy to shun the curious nature we acquired in childhood, but staying inquisitive can provide its own rewards. Experts now say it’s a principle to a better quality of life – something Laura brilliantly demonstrates!
That scene at the corporate meeting stood out to me for another reason. Laura never saw herself as the “little guy”, which is exactly the box the board tried to fit her into. Even though her number of shares were small in number, that didn’t matter to her. Laura wasn’t about to let someone else (even if they were in a position of power) define who she was or characterize her worth. In a world where it seems judgment abounds at every turn (number of likes on social media, positive comments online, etc.), it feels almost rebellious to operate outside of this system. Just ask yourself, what would Laura Partridge do and you’ll be well on your way to a healthier level of confidence.
As the plot unfolds, the board attempts to corral her criticisms by making her a part of the company. They naively assume that by giving Laura a “do nothing” kind of a job she will stay out of their way. The board’s big mistake is that they continually operate on the assumption that one small voice could never threaten their degree of influence. Laura shows them there is real value in community. One voice may seem meek, but organizing a symphony of individual voices transforms an entire playing field. Laura orchestrates this revolution via a tool the board didn’t have in their toolbox: genuine kindness. It’s something we’re appreciating even more during these current times – the importance of human connection.
Throughout all these corporate conundrums, a romance is blossoming between Laura and Paul Douglas’ character (Edward L. McKeever). Their love story is one of two people supporting each other, being honest with one another, and above all – finding time to laugh and enjoy. In the movie they face some tough breaks, but they keep soldiering on. As corny as it may sound, teamwork really does make the dream work. Their witty exchanges may not be the stuff you’d see in a Cary Grant-esque romantic epic, but it gives Laura & Edward’s love affair a dose of realism. I also love that Laura never lets the romance distract from her mission. Watch enough 1950s fare and a theme does emerge: boy meets girl, they fall in love and marry, boy oversees the family destiny. In The Solid Gold Cadillac, Laura & Edward are co-pilots at every stage of their courtship and seeing the protagonists’ personalities complement each other in this way is a real Hollywood treat. (Side note: if you love this sort of tête-à-tête, I encourage you to check out Desk Set with Hepburn and Tracy.)
I can’t help but smile when I think of Laura’s spunk and I hope to channel that quality more in my own life. As the amazing Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Life must be lived and curiosity kept alive. One must never, for whatever reason, turn his back on life.” Stay curious dear reader and may the vintage be with you…