January 16, 2016

Remembering Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon - So Big! (1932)

Thanks to Crystal for hosting the blogathon and inviting me to participate. I love Barbara Stanwyck's work. Please visit Crystal's fine blog, In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.

I'll be focusing on Edna Ferber and the 1932 film version of Ferber's novel So Big. The film starred Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent, Bette Davis and Hardie Albright. I'm also adding a treat for those who love to listen to Missy's radio work: her performances on Lux Radio Theatre, Screen Directors Playhouse and The Screen Guild Theater. :)


Edna Ferber was a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, playwright and short story writer. She was quite popular in her day and many of her novels and plays were made into films.

She made the Publishers Weekly Top 10 list of bestselling novels in the United States by year seven times.
  • 1924 - So Big was the #1 novel of the year.
  • 1926 - Show Boat was the #8 novel of the year.
  • 1930 - Cimarron was the #1 novel of the year.
  • 1935 - Come and Get It was the #9 novel of the year.
  • 1941 - Saratoga Trunk was the #9 novel of the year.
  • 1952 - Giant was the #6 novel of the year.
  • 1958 - Ice Palace was the #7 novel of the year.
Edna Ferber was born on August 15, 1885, in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Her father, Jacob, was a Hungarian immigrant and shopkeeper, and her mother, Julia (Neumann) Ferber, was a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Both were of Jewish descent. Edna's early childhood was spent in Kalamazoo, but successive failures of the family business forced a series of moves to other cities, including Ottumwa, Iowa, where the anti-Semitism they endured was so strong that after several years they left for a fresh start in Appleton, Wisconsin.

In Appleton, Ferber developed an interest in acting, appearing in several high school productions. However, after graduating, Edna was forced to set aside her dreams of becoming a professional actor when her father became ill. Her mother took charge of the family business, and 17-year-old Edna found work as a reporter for the local paper, the Appleton Daily Crescent. After a year, Edna landed her next job at the larger Milwaukee Journal, where over the next four years she worked so hard that she suffered an exhaustive breakdown.

Written during her subsequent convalescence, Ferber’s 1910 short story, “The Homely Heroine,” was published in Everybody’s Magazine. In 1911 she published her first novel, Dawn O’Hara, as well as the initial installment in a long series of stories featuring a traveling saleswoman named Emma McChesney. The stories became quite popular and won Ferber national attention, ultimately convincing her to move to New York in 1912 and fully embrace her career.

Ferber would become one of the most influential women writers of the era. Her novels generally featured strong female protagonists, along with a rich and diverse collection of supporting characters. She usually highlighted at least one strong secondary character who faced discrimination ethnically or for other reasons; through this technique, Ferber demonstrated her belief that people are people and that the not-so-pretty people have the best character. Her writing also exhibited Ferber’s strong love of and belief in America. Though her work has been criticized both then and now as sentimental and shallow, it remains popular into the next century.

Ferber was a member of the legendary Algonquin Round Table, a celebrated group of New York City writers, critics, actors and wits. Charter members of the Round Table included:
  • Franklin Pierce Adams, columnist
  • Robert Benchley, humorist and actor
  • Heywood Broun, columnist and sportswriter (married to Ruth Hale)
  • Marc Connelly, playwright
  • Ruth Hale, freelance writer who worked for women's rights
  • George S. Kaufman, playwright and director
  • Dorothy Parker, critic, poet, short-story writer, and screenwriter
  • Brock Pemberton, Broadway producer
  • Harold Ross, The New Yorker editor
  • Robert E. Sherwood, author and playwright
  • John Peter Toohey, Broadway publicist
  • Alexander Woollcott, critic and journalist
Membership was not official or fixed for so many others who moved in and out of the Circle. Some of these included:
  • Tallulah Bankhead, actress
  • Edna Ferber, author and playwright
  • Margalo Gillmore, actress
  • Jane Grant, journalist and feminist (married to Ross)
  • Beatrice Kaufman, editor and playwright (married to George S. Kaufman)
  • Margaret Leech, writer and historian
  • Neysa McMein, magazine illustrator
  • Harpo Marx, comedian and film star
  • Alice Duer Miller, writer
  • Donald Ogden Stewart, playwright and screenwriter
  • Frank Sullivan, journalist and humorist
  • Deems Taylor, composer
  • Peggy Wood, actress
Edna Ferber died of stomach cancer on April 16, 1968, in New York City. She was 82 years old.

In 2002 the United States Postal Service issued a Distinguished Americans postage stamp of Ferber to honor her achievements.

So Big is a 1924 novel written by Edna Ferber. The book was inspired by the life of Antje Paarlberg in the Dutch community of South Holland, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. It won the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel in 1925.

The 1932 film adaptation, titled So Big! (note the exclamation point), was directed by William A. Wellman, produced by Jack L. Warner and distributed by Warner Brothers. It featured an ensemble cast led by Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent and Bette Davis. It is often shown on TCM.

Bette Davis considered her casting in a prestigious Barbara Stanwyck project a sign Jack L. Warner was acknowledging her value to the studio. In her 1962 autobiography A Lonely Life, she recalled, "It was a source of tremendous satisfaction, and encouraged me to unheard-of dreams of glory."

The New Yorker considered Barbara Stanwyck's performance "the best work she has yet shown us," while the New York Daily Mirror called her "exquisite" and added, "Her great talent as an actress never has been demonstrated more brilliantly. A sparkling performance. She is magnificent."

The 1932 film was the second full-scale screen adaptation of the Ferber novel. The first was a 1924 silent film of the same name directed by Charles Brabin and starred Colleen Moore. A 1953 remake was directed by Robert Wise and starring Jane Wyman. (The story was also made as a short in 1930, with Helen Jerome Eddy.)

So Big! (1932)

Directed by William A. Wellman
Produced by Jack L. Warner
Written by J. Grubb Alexander and Robert Lord - Based on So Big (1924 novel) by Edna Ferber
Music by W. Franke Harling and Leo F. Forbstein (Vitaphone Orchestra conductor)
Cinematography by Sidney Hickox
Art Direction by Jack Okey
Costumes:  Earl Luick (gowns)
Sound: Robert Lee
Edited by William Holmes
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Production dates: Mid-January to mid-February 1932
Release date: April 30, 1932 (U.S.)
Running time: 81 minutes


Barbara Stanwyck as Selina Peake De Jong
George Brent as Roelf Pool
Dickie Moore as Dirk De Jong as a boy ("So Big")
Hardie Albright as Dirk De Jong as a man
Bette Davis as Dallas O'Mara
Robert Warwick as Simeon Peake
Mae Madison as Julie Hemple
Guy Kibbee as August Hemple
Earle Fox as Pervus De Jong
Alan Hale as Klaus Pool
Dorothy Peterson as Maartje Pool

Row 1: Barbara Stanwyck as Selina Peake De Jong
Row 2: George Brent as Roelf Pool, Stanwyck and Dickie Moore as young Dirk De Jong
Row 3: Hardie Albright as Dirk De Jong and Bette Davis as Dallas O'Mara
Row 1: Robert Warwick as Simeon Peake, Stanwyck and Earle Fox as Pervus De Jong
Row 2: Guy Kibbee as August Hemple, Stanwyck and Mae Madison as Julie Hemple
Row 3: Alan Hale, Sr. as Klaus Pool and Dorothy Peterson as Maartje Pool

Plot Summary (Spoilers)

After her mother dies, Selina Peake's father takes her to Chicago, where she attends a finishing school. When her father is killed, leaving her penniless, Selina's friends learn that he was a gambler and drop her. Only Julie Hemple helps her, persuading her father, August Hemple, to get Selina a job as a schoolteacher in a small Dutch community near Chicago. There, Selina lives with a farm family, helping their adoring son Roelf with his lessons. Eventually, she marries farmer Pervus De Jong and gives birth to a son, Dirk, who becomes the center of all her hopes and dreams. As he grows, she measures him daily and nicknames him "So Big." Pervus dies, leaving Selina the struggling farm. Determined, she makes the farm pay, which enables Dirk to go away to school and eventually establish himself as an architect. Over the years, everyone comes to love the hardworking, idealistic Selina. Dirk, however, does not have his mother's strength. He falls in love with a married woman who persuades her husband to give him a job as a bond salesman in his office. He is embarrassed by his mother's farm, even though her excellent asparagus paid for his education. When he falls in love with Dallas O'Mara, a talented artist, she refuses to marry him because he is unwilling to work at something worthwhile. Meanwhile, Roelf has become a great sculptor. He meets Dirk, and learning that he is Selina's son, asks to see her again. At the meeting, Selina compares Roelf and Dirk, acknowledging her son's faults, while at the same time, rejoicing in Roelf's talent and good character.

So Big on the Radio

So Big was adapted as an hour-long radio play on Lux Radio Theatre's March 13, 1939 broadcast with Barbara Stanwyck, Preston Foster, Faye Wray and Otto Kruger.

So Big was also adapted as an hour-long radio play on Studio One's December 29, 1947 broadcast with Joan Blondell and Everett Sloane.

So Big was again adapted as an hour-long radio play on Lux Radio Theatre's September 21, 1954 broadcast with Ida Lupino and Robert Stack.

Barbara Stanwyck on the Radio

Lux Radio Theatre

Screen Directors Playhouse and The Screen Guild Theater


Caftan Woman said...

Have you ever noticed that on "Jeopardy!" the contestants never seem to get any of the Edna Ferber questions? As a fan since my teen years, this bothers me greatly. I think you did a lovely job looking at Ferber's Pulitzer novel and the charming film made from it.

Leah Williams said...

So interesting to learn about Ferber and her role in Stanwyck's career. I've never seen this film. It's now on my list:)

Judy said...

Wow, I didn't know about all the radio versions of this. Also very interesting to learn more about Edna Ferber. When I watched this I focused more on it as a Wellman film, but definitely need to read some of Ferber's books now. So glad you chose this for the blogathon, a great performance by Stanwyck.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the late reply. I have only just returned to blogging after a long hiatus, and am only just getting around to reading all the entries now. Thanks so much for participating with such a great entry. I loved the detail of this post about "So Big" on the radio.

Oh by the way, I've just announced another blogathon for April, and would love to invite you to participate. The link is below with more details.