Ruth McKenney’s My Sister Eileen from 1942 thru 1960 (whew!)

August 9, 2018 | By


I admit I went a little overboard on what was supposed to be two straightforward film reviews based on Ruth McKenney’s short stories and the play by Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov, so the reviews for Columbia’s 1942 screwball comedy My Sister Eileen starring Rosalind Russell and the same-titled 1955 musical with Betty Garrett, Janet Leigh, and Bob Fosse are rather long.

Call it a case where research yielded the 1953 musical Wonderful Town with Russell based on the same source materials, the 1946 radio show also starring Russell, and an episode of the short-lived TV series starting Elaine Stritch and Shirley Bonner.

Who knew?

Even stranger is how the partially complete 1958 teleplay of the 1953 musical was up on YouTube until this weekend, so it’s sometimes worthwhile for a writer to dive into a singular subject and watch what’s still floating in the internet’s ether in case it suddenly goes Poof!

Sony released the ’42 screwball version as part of its 2009 Icons of Screwball Comedy, Vol. 1 collection, and Twilight Time recently released the ’55 version on Blu-ray, sporting another gorgeous transfer. I get into the basics of the story & characters, and then do some comparing between straight and musical adaptations, plus small segments on the half-hour radio show and the lone episode from the series that’s (still) on YouTube.



For the record, I’ve never read the stories nor the original play, so the core template to which I refer is the ’42 film which authors Fields & Chodorov expanded. As TT’s resident film historian Julie Kirgo points out in her liner notes, the Eileen legacy is unusually convoluted, but that makes the ’55 musical all the more fascinating because while it’s great fun, it seems to have fulfilled a series of other purposes for Columbia, and having survived multiple genre incarnations & hybrids over a roughly 22 year period, it could very well be adapted today into something new, be it screwball, musical, absurd black comedy, or a sci-fi epic with giant spaceships shooting potent ripe bananas.




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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