MGM’s Hardy Family Series #4 – Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938)

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Love Finds Andy Hardy is the fourth entry in the Hardy Family series. It is the best known and most popular of MGM’s Hardy series and features Judy Garland’s first of three appearances as Betsy Booth. 17-year-old Lana Turner also plays a major role.

Love Finds Andy Hardy credits

Love Finds Andy Hardy credits

For the first time since series opener A Family Affair (1937) the action in Love Finds Andy Hardy takes place in the Hardy’s hometown of Carvel.

This entry is set throughout December with the film coming to its conclusion on Christmas morning. It was released to theaters in July but was a huge hit nonetheless, even cracking Film Daily’s annual poll of Top 10 films that year at number nine.

As for Hardy family regulars, Betty Ross Clarke plays Aunt Milly (formerly Millie) for the second consecutive and final time. Sara Haden returns as Aunt Milly for the remainder of the series beginning with the next film, Out West with the Hardys (1938). Clarke’s Milly is barely a presence in this entry, disappearing with Fay Holden’s Emily Hardy when word comes of their mother suffering a stroke.

Lewis Stone and Fay Holden

Lewis Stone consoles Fay Holden with Betty Ross Clarke standing between them.

With the elder generation of Hardy women pushed out of the action at least there is something for Cecilia Parker to do as daughter Marian. Unfortunately that something is to wear an apron and fill in for Mother Hardy. There is some fun joking over the quality of Marian’s coffee and she gets to be a bit more imperious than usual towards kid brother Andy, but Parker is the background more than ever before for this one.

Marian’s boyfriend from previous entries, Wayne Trent/Trenton, is finally sent packing though his disappearance is not as mysterious as other Hardy series characters (Just what did happen to you, Joan Hardy Martin?). In Parker’s first scene Marian is distraught after finding out that Wayne has taken out another girl and tells her father that she’s through with him for good this time. By the end of Love Finds Andy Hardy Marian will have a new romantic prospect which will carry over into the next film in the series.

Lewis Stone Cecilia Parker and Mickey Rooney

Lewis Stone and Mickey Rooney do their best to handle Cecilia Parker's coffee

Love Finds Andy Hardy is the first Hardy series entry to name Andy in the title. Nine of the twelve remaining features will do so. And while Love Finds certainly puts the focus on the Mickey Rooney character above all other Hardys, he shares a good deal of his spotlight with Judy Garland, MGM’s up and coming 16-year-old actress here playing 12-year-old Betsy Booth.

“Is Andy Hardy your son?” Betsy asks Judge Hardy (Lewis Stone) in a tone reserved for near encounters with the latest national heartthrob. Betsy has come to spend Christmas with her grandmother, the Hardys' next door neighbor, while her mother, a musical comedy star, is away on tour. Her grandmother had filled her in on Andy and so when the Judge affirms that, yes, Andy belongs to him, Betsy is all the more excited: “Christmas with Andy Hardy next door!”

Judy Garland as Betsy Booth

Judy Garland as Betsy Booth

Andy has his share of teenage problems in this entry and Rooney is his typical ball of energy in setting out to conquer them.

Andy has $12 down on a car at Peter Dugan’s (Raymond Hatton), but he needs to come up with another $8 to be paid in full and allowed to drive the car off of Dugan’s used lot. With Carvel High’s Christmas Eve dance looming, Andy is worried that he’ll find himself “a social outcast” if he’s unable to pay in time. The Judge, who has already helped rescue a housewife (Mary Howard) behind on a radio payment plan in his opening scene in chambers, refuses to finance any credit scheme of Andy’s, and so prospects for the dance look bleak.

Ann Rutherford and Mickey Rooney

Ann Rutherford and Mickey Rooney

As for girls it turns out that Andy’s steady, Polly Benedict (Ann Rutherford), is headed out of town to visit her grandmother for the holidays. She won’t be able to attend the Christmas Eve dance with Andy anyway. After stealing a kiss from Polly while walking the long way home--through the trees--Andy vows to go stag to the Country Club Dance.

At this time Andy really has every intention of doing so but an interesting opportunity soon arises when George P. Breakston makes his Hardy series debut as Andy’s best pal, Francis Bacon Anderson. Better known as Beezy.

Mickey Rooney with George P Breakston

Mickey Rooney with George P. Breakston as Beezy

Breakston, who will make the move from actor to director-producer in about a decade, plays Beezy in six subsequent Hardy films before giving way to another actor in 1958’s Hardy reunion, Andy Hardy Comes Home.

Beezy is also going to be spending Christmas out of town and he’s worried that his absence is going to lose him his girl. He’s probably right because Cynthia Potter is portrayed by none other than Lana Turner! Beezy wants pal Andy to date Cynthia just to keep her busy and keep other fellows away. Smelling blood Andy gets Beezy to agree to pay him the $8 he needs for his car, plus expenses for entertaining Cynthia. Beezy agrees with a catch: He doesn’t have the $8 but will mail it to Andy after his mother gives him his Christmas money.

Lana Turner in Love Finds Andy Hardy

Lana Turner as Cynthia

“I understand the little girl next door sings,” Judge Hardy tells Andy in the understatement of the series.

When Andy runs some preserves over to Betsy’s grandmother he’s about as full of himself as can be. Saucer eyed Betsy is eager to sing for him, but Andy makes a quick exit because he has to wash his father’s car. “Music isn’t the most important thing in the world to me,” he adds, pouring a little salt over the youngster’s wounded heart.

Even though he acted like a bit of a jerk Betsy remains enamored with Andy and quickly earns points by him when she has her mother’s chauffeur wash Judge Hardy’s car for him. Andy treats her to an ice cream soda and the privilege of listening to all of his current car and girl troubles.

Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney

Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney

Mickey Rooney gets to put his charm on better display than usual here. In addition to playing Andy as his now usual girl-crazy adolescent, he quickly steps off his high horse with Betsy and begins treating her like a pal. Andy will eventually give Betsy a night where she gets to act grown-up, to see “how wonderful life’s gonna be when I’m 18” and make her feel “just like Cinderella” ... even if that final sentiment feels a bit heavy handed when spoken out loud.

MGM had originally intended to breathe new life into the Hardy series by injecting top child star Freddie Bartholomew into this entry fresh off his success in Captains Courageous (1937), which had also featured Rooney. But MGM B-unit supervisor Benny Thau decided that the Hardys could do more for Judy Garland than Freddie Bartholomew could do for the Hardys and so the tandem from the previous years’ Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry was reunited.

Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland

Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland

While the Hardy family characters continued to be based upon Aurania Rouverol’s play Skidding, MGM also purchased and adapted Vivien R. Bretherton's short story “Oh, What a Tangled Web” for the Betsy Booth's story and the character herself. For those seeking out the original Bretherton story you’ll find it in the September 1936 edition of Cosmopolitan magazine.

Besides Bretherton's Betsy, Love Finds Andy Hardy also benefited from the strong chemistry between Rooney and Garland and offered Judy a chance to all but steal the film with three songs: She sings “In Between” all alone at her grandmother’s house midway through the movie, then, in Betsy’s big moment, Garland sings “It Never Rains But What it Pours” and “Meet the Beat of My Heart” back to back at the big Christmas Eve dance towards the end of Love Finds Andy Hardy.

Judy Garland in Love Finds Andy Hardy

Judy Garland at the Christmas Eve Dance

As if that wasn’t enough Love Finds Andy Hardy then puts the focus on Garland as Betsy in the final shot of the film. She’d next be teamed with Bartholomew in the underwhelming Listen, Darling (1938) before becoming a legend in the following year’s The Wizard of Oz (1939). She’d be back as Betsy twice more and team with Rooney away from Hardy series in memorable musicals such as Babes in Arms (1939) and Strike Up the Band (1940) among others.

Lana Turner, who had wowed audiences and earned her “Sweater Girl” nickname in her debut film, They Won’t Forget (1937), makes her strongest impression yet in Love Finds Andy Hardy, though Cynthia doesn’t impress Andy as much more than “an installment on a car.” Andy does delight when he discovers the one thing that the “red headed vampire” likes to do is kiss, but that’s far more sport than passion and Andy practically chokes when during their latest man-to-man the Judge asks if it’s “Object matrimony?”

Mickey Rooney and Lana Turner publicity photo

Mickey Rooney and Lana Turner LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY publicity photo

While his wife and sister-in-law are off tending to their ill mother Judge Hardy does manage to retain a good deal of his usual spotlight.

Love Finds Andy Hardy opens with the Judge sentencing 12-year-old joyrider James MacMahon, Jr. (Gene Reynolds) to 90 days labor for the farmer whose tractor he damaged. Later he seeks the same boy’s aid when he wants to get in touch with wife Emily via ham radio.

Lewis Stone Mickey Rooney and Gene Reynolds

Lewis Stone, Mickey Rooney and Gene Reynolds as Jimmy tries to get the Judge's message through to Emily Hardy

The Judge, who is given the opportunity to reflect on the coming of automobiles and planes in conversation with Andy and later scolds his wife that the “Telegram is here to stay,” has opportunity to be amazed by modern technology himself when Jimmy MacMahon makes contact with another boy in Canada via his ham set.

“12 years old. I wouldn’t believe it,” Judge Hardy says before somewhat ominously adding: “Heaven only knows what this generation has coming.”

Not to worry, Judge, it isn’t coming in this series!

Love Finds Andy Hardy 1938 newspaper ad

A typical LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY ad from the 1938 newspapers, this one from the Appleton Post Crescent of August 11, 1938, page 21

Directed by series regular George B. Seitz Love Finds Andy Hardy presents a tight story with barely a wasted moment moving at a brisk pace despite being the longest entry in the series to date at 91 minutes. While regular characters such as those played by Cecilia Parker, Fay Holden and Betty Ross Clarke have even less to do than usual the added attraction of Judy Garland will keep you distracted from ever noticing their lack of screen time.

With all that it has going for it Love Finds Andy Hardy sprinkles in one more element in its Christmas finish. While Christmas may be mostly in the background, a future date on the calendar we watch Andy mark days off of through most of the movie, Love Finds Andy Hardy would still likely be remembered as a Christmas classic if its holiday theme wasn’t usurped by Judy Garland’s inclusion as Betsy Booth and the important pre-Wizard place this film holds in Garland’s career.

Love Finds Andy Hardy DVD at AmazonLove Finds Andy Hardy was a hit in its own day as well. Scott Eyman writes that “The film exploded … The gross was $2.2 million worldwide, $1.6 million of that domestic, with a net profit of $1.3 million” (325). Mickey Rooney notes that those numbers made it “one fourth of MGM’s total profit for the 1937 season” and parenthetically adds that MGM wound up profiting “$111 million—in 1937-1946 dollars” on the 15 of the Hardy family titles that fell into that time frame (86).

Love Finds Andy Hardy was released on DVD as part of the now out-of-print (and thus quite pricey) Judy Garland Signature Collection. Many third party sellers on Amazon have split that set thus making the individual Love Finds Andy Hardy DVD available at a more reasonable price. The title also airs on Turner Classic Movies with it’s next showing coming this Christmas night at 8 pm EST.

Coming next: MGM's Hardy Family Series #5 - Out West with the Hardys (1938)

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