Theatre Database
Home | Ancient Theatre | Medieval Theatre | 16th Century | 17th Century | 18th Century | 19th Century | 20th Century


LIFE WITH FATHER

A plot synopsis of the play by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse

Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse's Life With Father opened at the Empire Theatre on November 8, 1939, and ran for almost EIGHT YEARS, compiling a then mind-boggling 3,224 performances. During the course of the run, it moved to the Bijou Theatre (9/10/1945 - 6/15/1947) and finally to the Alvin Theatre (6/17/1947 - 7/12/1947).

It is a morning calling for even more than her usual diplomacy as Vinnie Day, wife of the forthright and somewhat irascible Mr. Clarence Day, marshals her family to breakfast in their substantial home on Madison Avenue, New York City, in the 1880's.

First, there is Annie, the new maid (one of a long procession of "new maids" in the Day household), to be introduced to Mr. Day. Annie is upset at the prospect, although Mrs. Day hopefully reassures her, "Don't be nervous. You'll get used to him." Then, visitors are arriving that day, and Father is always difficult to reconcile to such disturbances of the domestic routine. In addition, Father will not be pleased to hear that Clarence, Jr. needs a new suit. And there are a number of other sundry items which must be brought to his attention.

Mr. Day, an attractive man in his forties who fairly exudes vitality, soon appears, and his sons stand respectfully at attention as he comes down the stairway. Beside Clarence, Jr., the oldest, there are John, about fifteen; Whitney, thirteen; and Harlan, six. All the Days have red hair.

Father crisply and decisively disposes of the initial problems as his wife presents them: Clarence, Jr. shall have no new suit until he enters Yale; until then, he will wear Father's black suit, cut down. (Why can't they have a maid who knows how to serve? ANd now why is Annie sniffling? He hasn't said a word to her, was talking to Vinnie.) At his home there will be no musicale for the missionary fund at which, so Vinnie has planned, a lovely girl is to whistle sixteen different musical selections, all for the price of twenty-five dollars. Mr. Day will most certainly not pay twenty-five dollars for any human "peanut stand."

There are a few more matters to be adjudged. Father, whose conscientious auditing of Vinnie's accounts is a monthly ordeal, authorizes trial charge accounts at Lewis & Conger's and McCreery's, hoping that this will somehow simplify his task; rebukes the cook for the coffee; loudly harangues Tammany Hall as he reads the morning paper to himself. Breakfast finished, he dons his square derby, gathers up his stick and gloves, and, with dignity, marches off to his office. His departure is accompanied by the sound of crashing dishes--Annie has fallen downstairs. On being questioned, she explains that Father has threatened to put her in jail.

The visitors--Cora, an attractive cousin, about thirty, and Mary Skinner, a pretty girl of sixteen--arrive. Clarence and Mary immediately become infatuated with each other. Later in the afternoon, Father returns and greets the guests cordially; but after they have gone upstairs he sternly rebukes Vinnie for having invited them to stay with the Days. "Damn gypsies!" he scolds. "...I bought this home for my own comfort.... Send 'em to a hotel."

Father is restored to at least temporary amiableness when he himself precipitates a real commotion. He happens to mention casually to Mary that he has never been baptized--his parents were free-thinkers. On hearing this, Vinnie is really shocked. Something must be done at once! Father must be baptized! But Father scornfully declares that he is a damn good Christian anyway, and that he certainly will not have any such folderol as a baptism performed at this late date. He goes to dress for dinner, leaving Vinnie to ponder his remarks. She realizes, all at once, that the unbaptized Father has no name in the sight of the church--they may not even be married! She gasps as her eyes fall on her children. She resolves that Father shall be baptized.

The following Sunday, Cora and Mary have finished their visit and are about to leave. Clarence, still unhappily clad in his father's made-over suit, suffers acute embarrassment when Mary comes to bid him a fond farewell. Things would be different if only he had a suit of his own! Father Day, observing their unusually agitated parting, says to Clarence, "There are things about women I think you ought to know!"

He solemnly closes the doors to the room, sits beside his son, hesitates, and then advises him that women aren't the angels he might think them; men have to run the world, a woman doesn't think at all--she gets stirred up. He adds that if a man knows how to handle women he will be all right, and that Clarence now knows all about women. Clarence, however, eagerly questions further, and Father realizes, with something of a jolt, that he is expected to be more specific. He closes the conversation abruptly: "There are some things gentlemen don't discuss! I've told you all you need to know. The thing to remember is--be firm!" He then proceeds to audit the household accounts with Vinnie. Soon she is weeping mildly, and he signs the checks in resignation. Clarence, too, has decided to be firm and not write to Mary until she has written to him. But as she leaves the house he grabs a piece of note paper and begins: "Dear Mary----"

Two days later, Vinnie is feeling a bit ill, but the boys are in a state of elation. John has come home with jobs for Clarence and himself. They are to have the sales agency for "Bartlett's Beneficent Balm--A Boon to Mankind," and are to be paid a commission of twenty-five cents on every bottle sold. Feeling that it might add greatly to the value of their sales talk if they are able to say that the Balm is used in their own home, the boys put some--quite a lot, in fact--in Mother's tea.

Three hours later, the doctor has come, the minister has been sent for, and Father arrives home in a cab. The doctor is worried--it seems almost as if Vinnie has been poisoned. But Father knows what the matter is. He tells the minister, the Reverend Dr. Lloyd that it is something on Vinnie's mind which is making her ill, and he urges Dr. Lloyd to tell her that for him to be baptized would be just a lot of damn nonsense. The latter suggests a prayer, and begins an appeal for "this miserable sinner," Vinnie. Then Father takes over in direct address to the Deity: "Oh, God! You know Vinnie's not a miserable sinner. She's a damn fine woman! She shouldn't be made to suffer. It's got to stop, I tell You, it's got to stop! Have mercy, I say, have mercy, damn it!"

Vinnie has heard her husband's voice, and, from long and faithful habit, comes to the stairway in her nightgown to see if he needs her. Father, deeply touched, blurts: "Vinnie--I know how much I need you. Get well, Vinnie, I'll be baptized. I promise ... I'll do anything! We'll go to Europe ... you won't have to worry about the accounts----" Vinnie faints. Father lifts her in his arms, and Dr. Lloyd, beaming with satisfaction, reminds him that he has promised to be baptized. Father, aghast, cries, "Did I? Oh, God!"

A month later, John gleefully reports earnings of sixteen dollars apiece for himself and Clarence from sales of "Bartlett's Beneficent Balm." But the boys have been paid off in bottles of the Balm, an unhappy fact which almost stuns Clarence. It seems that, on going to McCreery's to pick up a china dog his mother had ordered, he arranged for the purchase of a fifteen-dollar suit. Father refuses to be interested either in the suit or in Vinnie's new plan for having him baptized in a quiet ceremony out of town, but he definitely is interested in the china dog which he commands to be taken out of the house immediately, adding, as an afterthought, that he never will be baptized while this eyesore remains on his property. His remarks inspire Clarence with an idea: if the fifteen-dollar dog is returned to McCreery's, the Days will be credited with the exact amount to pay for his suit. Vinnie agrees that the suit won't cost Father a cent. She tells young Clarence to be sure to engage a cab to take them to the baptism next day.

In the morning at breakfast, Father suffers several aggravations: he is baffled by the china dog-and-suit transaction, irritated when Cora and Mary arrive in an extravagant cab, and incensed by the news that a neighbor's dog has died from the effects of the "Beneficent Balm." He commands the boys to return the purchase price of the Balm to every buyer--at a total cost (including the dog) of one hundred and thirty-eight dollars. This sum, Father makes clear, is to come out of John's allowance, beggaring him until he reaches the age of twenty-one!

In the midst of all this, Vinnie announces the arrival of the cab to take them to the baptism. After a final struggle--in which the true facts connected to the poisoning of Vinnie with the "Beneficent Balm" are revealed--Father weakens in recollection of his wife's narrow escape from death. He stalks out to the cab with a valedictory: "Damn! Damnation! Amen!" Clarence, in his own suit at last, is able to kneel at Mary's feet.

Back to 20th Century Theatre