The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956)
April 24, 2020 | by Shannon
Jane Russell Becomes a Redhead, Richard Egan Goes Platinum Blonde, Howard Hughes Leaves the Movie Business, and Jane Starts Her Own Production Company. It’s 1956’s The Revolt of Mamie Stover!
The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956) may not be a film that’s reached classic status, but it’s definitely entertaining! Based on William Bradford Huie’s 1951 book about a World War II lady of the night, the film is gripping, dramatic, and lusciously photographed. It’s Jane Russell at her sultry, sensual best.
This is a film I tried to find for years—I still remember scouring every video rental shop within a 25-mile radius of our home with my dad in search of this movie! Thanks to TCM, I finally saw The Revolt of Mamie Stover a few years ago. And it was well worth the wait! When I discovered that Twilight Time issued a limited Blu-ray release of the film, I quickly bought a copy.
Definitely head on over to Twilight Time to purchase a copy of Mamie Stover, and other high quality Blu-rays of your favorite classic films. You can also currently watch The Revolt of Mamie Stover on tcm.com, or find a DVD of much inferior quality on Amazon [aff. link].
Now let’s get to the plot!
It’s 1941, and Mamie Stover is a beautiful lady of the night who’s just been banned from San Francisco for reasons we can only imagine. With a police escort, Mamie boards a freighter for Honolulu, where she hopes to make her dreams of great wealth and fortune come true.
The only other passenger on the freighter is Jim Blair (Richard Egan), a writer who is immediately drawn to Mamie as inspiration for his current book.
And because she is drop dead gorgeous.
We learn that Mamie is a small town girl from the wrong side of the tracks in Mississippi who never had much, besides her great beauty. Mamie is a likeable girl with a heart of gold, but her impoverished upbringing in a judgmental town led to an obsession with money: Mamie plans to become the wealthiest woman in Honolulu, and she’s going to do it on her own.
Mamie and Jim begin a shipboard romance, and Mamie is disappointed when Jim says their relationship must end in Honolulu, for he’s engaged to Annalee Johnson (Joan Leslie), a woman from the social circles Jim is supposed to associate with.
Once they arrive in Honolulu, Mamie almost immediately begins working at The Bungalow, a dance hall (or is it more than that??!) on the wrong side of town run by the ruthless Bertha Parchman (Agnes Moorehead). All of Bertha’s…hostesses earn a 30% commission on dances, drinks sold, and…private conversations they have with patrons, so it’s a pretty good set up for Mamie, who quickly becomes The Bungalow’s main attraction. It’s not long before Mamie has saved up a nice bit of money.
The drawbacks of working at The Bungalow include Bertha’s stifling rules: hostesses must live at The Bungalow, they can’t have bank accounts (for tax purposes), they can’t have boyfriends, and they can’t be seen on the ritzy side of town or Waikiki Beach. If Bertha’s girls do any of these things, her right hand man Harry will come beat them up…
The Revolt of Mamie Stover
Well, Mamie starts feeling pretty confident as The Bungalow’s biggest star.
And she breaks all the rules:
- She contacts Jim, and they become an item.
- She leaves the Bungalow and goes on dates with Jim to Waikiki Beach and the ritzy hotels in Honolulu.
- She has Jim open a bank account for her.
You know what that means.
Yep, Harry corners Mamie one day, and beats her up.
But Mamie is such a draw at The Bungalow, when Bertha learns of the beating, she surprises everyone by firing Harry and giving Mamie a raise!
The raise from Bertha really complicates things, for after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Jim enlists, and proposes to Mamie just before he leaves for duty. Mamie accepts the proposal, and promises Jim she’ll stop working at The Bungalow.
But what Jim doesn’t know can’t hurt him, right?
Mamie can’t refuse Bertha’s offer, and continues her job at The Bungalow, despite her promise to Jim.
Mamie further rakes in the dough because she’s smart enough—or cold hearted enough, depending on how you look at it—to buy prime Hawaiian real estate at deeply discounted prices from business owners eager to sell their land after the bombing of Pear Harbor.
Mamie quickly buys up a good chunk of Waikiki, and promptly rents the space out to the government. Mamie’s monthly income from the rentals alone makes her beyond wealthy.
And then she’s got her new 70 percent commission from The Bungalow on top of it!
Jim Finds Out
It’s inevitable that Jim will find out that Mamie is still working at The Bungalow, and he eventually does when one of his buddies brags about his newest pin-up photo, which of course is Mamie in her latest Bungalow publicity shot.
When Jim gets a week-long furlough for an injury, he returns to Honolulu, and completely surprises Mamie by showing up at The Bungalow. Mamie tries to explain herself, and she has some valid points—she did remain faithful to Jim, she just didn’t follow through with her promise to quit The Bungalow. Jim listens, but concludes that though he and Mamie are in love, they are just too dissimilar at the core to be together.
And they break up.
The film rather abruptly ends with a heart broken Mamie on the freighter once more, returning home after giving her fortune away. She’s lost her love and her material wealth, but maybe she’s gained something greater? It’s a melancholy, but somehow hopeful ending, although I can’t help but think that if Mamie’s not going to get the guy, she might as well keep her money…
Howard Hughes Leaves the Picture Business
In 1955, Howard Hughes sold his studio, RKO, to the General Tire and Rubber Company for $25 million. Hughes was getting out of the movie business. But there was one thing Howard didn’t include in the package when he sold the studio.
And that was Jane Russell’s contract.
If you remember from my introduction post on Jane, Howard Hughes signed her to a seven year contract with him personally—not RKO—when he discovered Jane in 1941, and cast her in The Outlaw (1943).
The ever-loyal Jane, despite offers from other agencies and studios, signed a second seven-year contract with Hughes in 1948. When this contract came to a close at about the same time Howard sold RKO in 1955, once again, Jane was courted by other studios and agencies.
A Contract She Couldn't Refuse
But then Howard Hughes made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. In Jane’s words, Howard proposed
“…a contract so unique I didn’t even understand it.”
The unique contract Hughes designed for Jane was the first of its kind: Jane would make six films for Howard over a five-year period on loan out to other studios, and payment would be distributed to her over a twenty-year period. Jane would also have the freedom to do any additional work she wanted—club or stage performances, records, television, she could even form her own production company if she desired.
The deal was so good, as Jane says,
“I was speechless!…It [the contract] was for $1 million; the year was 1955. Afterward, MCA helped Jimmy Stewart and many stars set up the same format, but mine was the first of its kind. I felt very proud of Howard for out-thinking everyone again. He lived up to my ideal picture of our relationship, even though he wasn’t in the picture business anymore.”
That’s a pretty awesome deal!! Jane got immense freedom in her career without having to go completely freelance, and she had that safety net of income for the next twenty years.
With her increased freedom under Howard Hughes’ generous contract, Jane and her husband, Robert Waterfield, started their own production company, Russ-Field. Robert was executive producer, Jane was vice-president, and they got to work producing films. For tax purposes, Jane could only star in half of the films Russ-Field made, so she truly would be, for the first time, completely involved in the behind the scenes decision making.
Though The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956) was one of Jane’s six loan out films for Howard Hughes, not a Russ-Field production, the experiences and the relationships Jane formed during filming would greatly influence her desire to have more of a say in what went on behind the camera.
The Revolt of Mamie Stover: From Book to Film
William Bradford Huie, who would make a name for himself as the Civil Rights Movement journalist who successfully gained confessions from the acquitted killers of Emmett Till, wrote The Revolt of Mamie Stover in 1951.
Surprisingly, Mamie Stover is not an explicit novel: it’s the book’s subject material—the life and times of a lady of the night—that was so risqué for the 1950s.
To add even more intrigue to Huie’s book, The Revolt of Mamie Stover was reportedly based off of the real life of Jean O’Hara, a Chicago girl-turned prostitute, who, banned from San Francisco for her work, gained fame and fortune after leaving the mainland to become the grand madam of Honolulu.
During her time in Honolulu, O’Hara bought prime island real estate after the attack on Pearl Harbor, just like Huie’s Mamie Stover. O’Hara would gain further notoriety for inventing the “bull pen system,” and for attempting to murder a friend’s husband and later, her own husband, a few things that definitely were not part of Huie’s heroine in the film!
A Problematic Script
In her autobiography [aff. link], Jane Russell said that The Revolt of Mamie Stover was one film she
“…was delighted the Hays office was in control [of]—I wouldn’t have done it if it had been today.”
Jane is of course referring to the tricky subject matter, and the difficult task of presenting Mamie’s story with depth, but without getting explicit.
The task was so tricky in fact, that the Mamie Stover script went through six months of revisions before filming began in November 1955.
William Bradford Huie himself worked on the first draft, and softened the screenplay to make it unclear just how far Mamie went with her customers. Though Jane was grateful the Hays Office kept the morality of the film in check, she worried that scriptwriter Sydney Boehm took too much of the actual storyline out in his final treatment, making Mamie a one-dimensional character by glamorizing the hard life she led:
“Fox watered down the story so much that it was slush. The scriptwriter thought that being a whore was a lovely occupation and gave my character no stress at all.”
Darryl Zanuck, the outgoing head of 20thCentury Fox, thought the script would make “an interesting, offbeat picture,” but echoed Jane’s sentiments that the characters in Boehm’s screenplay were too “surface.”
Both Jane and director Raoul Walsh wanted to put, as Jane says, “some guts” into the picture:
“Raoul was very unhappy. He wanted at least, to show some of the rough times that a lady of the night had.”
But incoming studio head Buddy Adler wouldn’t budge from the Boehm script, completed in November 1955.
Jane Makes It Work
It’s true that Mamie’s life as a woman living on the edge of respectability is glamorized in the film: Mamie’s career brings her gorgeous clothes, immense wealth, dates at fancy hotels, and the man of her dreams. Other than the beating she gets from Harry—which still results in a net positive for Mamie because she earns a huge raise—we really don’t get to see the underbelly and hard times of “a lady of the night” in the film.
Jane said in her book [aff. link] that Adler’s refusal to change the script gave her a bit of ambivalence towards the film. But Jane herself admits that she was able to take the lackluster script and make Mamie a believable character:
“I did manage to make Mamie someone believable who was from the wrong side of the tracks.”
This is completely true, but Jane still sells herself short: despite the “surface” script, Mamie Stover comes across as a nuanced, three-dimensional character, thanks to Jane Russell. It’s a real testament to Jane’s skill in the role that, despite the script limitations, she subtly shows us Mamie’s heartache and soul. The vulnerability Jane brings to Mamie’s eyes and voice in her scenes with Jim/Richard Egan, in contrast to Jane’s shift to cold hardness when her Mamie discusses money with Bertha/Agnes Moorehead, or bargains with the Honolulu business owners she buys discounted land from, all bring nuanced layers to the Mamie Stover character.
Jane Rocks the Red
Jane and Buddy Adler had one more tiff during filming, one that would really make Jane grateful for the say she would have when producing her own films.
And it was all about hair.
In Huie’s book, Mamie Stover is a platinum blonde. And Jane, as we know, was famous for her raven-haired beauty. Jane actually didn’t have a problem with going platinum: always one with a flare for fashion, Jane knew what looked good and her, and that “very dark or very white hair” best complemented her skin. But Buddy Adler didn’t want Jane to have dark or platinum hair in the film.
He wanted her to be a flaming redhead.
Jane felt strongly that red hair would not suit her, and was further surprised at Adler’s hair demand when she found out that he wanted the redheaded Agnes Moorehead, who would play Bertha in the film, to go platinum.
It just didn’t make a whole lot of sense to have both actresses change their hair to colors that were not even true to Huie’s book. But when Jane called Adler and suggested that Agnes remain a redhead and Jane go platinum,
“He sounded annoyed that I’d gotten him so early in the morning and told me to forget it. ‘Just do as you’re told,’ he said.”
Adler’s refusal to even discuss the situation with Jane made her want to be “on the decision-making side” of filmmaking, something she would have the chance to do with Russ-Field productions.
Jane’s frustrations with Adler aside, the filming of The Revolt of Mamie Stover was a happy experience. You can’t complain too much about a film with location shooting in Hawaii, and costumes by the great Billy Travilla! And to top it off, Jane had a ball working with two of her favorite friends from the Hollywood crowd, director Raoul Walsh, and Richard Egan.
Jane and Raoul Walsh: The Perfect Film Partnership
The friendship between Jane and Raoul Walsh started with the previous year’s The Tall Men (1955). Despite Walsh’s reputation for toughness, he and Jane hit it off right away:
“I’d heard what a tough director he was to work with and found him instead to be a marshmallow with my kind of humor. Raoul had had an accident years before and wore a patch over his right eye. He rolled his own cigarettes, and would snap, ‘Take it before they forget it,’ after a single rehearsal. Who wouldn’t love him?”
Walsh and Clark Gable, Jane’s co-star in The Tall Men, took to calling Jane “Grandma” on set. The nickname stuck, and Walsh continued to refer to Jane as “Grandma” on Mamie Stover. Grandma Russell and Walsh, both dissatisfied with the Mamie Stover script, grew even closer during filming as they worked extra hours together to make the movie work.
Walsh’s friendship with Jane was such that he promised her at the start of Mamie Stover filming that she would be home in time for Christmas, and not have to spend the holiday in Hawaii away from her family. Walsh stayed true to his promise, even when a huge storm hit the island and delayed filming and limited flights. Walsh moved himself, his wife, Jane, and Richard Egan to a hotel close to the airport, and got them all on one of the few flights to the mainland so Jane would get her promised family Christmas.
Now that’s a true friend!
Jane would also ask Walsh to direct The King and Four Queens (1956), a Russ-Field production that didn’t star Jane. What a great compliment to Walsh and their friendship that Jane put her faith and trust behind him to make the film a success.
Jane & Richard Egan: Honorary Siblings
Jane met Richard Egan while making 1955’s Underwater! Thanks to Jane’s recommendation, Egan was cast in the film, and it was one of his first leading roles.
Jane and Richard enjoyed a friendship very much like that of a teasing brother and sister, and it all started during production of Underwater! when Jane suggested that Richard have sun kissed streaks put in his hair—light on the tips but dark at the roots—to make his role as a scuba diver in the film more believable. Well, despite Jane’s instructions to hairdresser Larry Germaine, Richard ended up with a completely platinum head of hair:
“Larry proceeded to bleach [Richard] ego blonde to the roots. Richard howled. When they put the toner on he screamed, and I mean screamed! His eyes were bulging out of his head and he flew out of that chair and lunged at me. I ran like hell…The madder he got, the more I had to laugh. It was dynamite!”
From the hair debacle on, Richard and Jane were like brother and sister.
Jane & Richard Confuse the Clergy
Richard’s and Jane’s sibling taunts filled the set of The Revolt of Mamie Stover with lots of laughs and pranks. But some observers just didn’t understand the nature of their zaney relationship.
On the flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles that Raoul Walsh managed to get his stars on, Richard teased Jane that she was crazy to risk her life flying in record-breaking stormy weather just to be home with her family on Christmas. Jane teased right back that Richard wouldn’t understand the pull to spend holidays at home until he was also married with kids.
This went on for a few minutes, with Jane dropping some choice expletives here and there. And then, as Jane recounts in her autobiography [aff. link], a clergyman on the plane, thinking her and Richard were an arguing married couple,
“…tapped me and handed me a card. It…said, ‘If there’s anything I can do to help, please feel free to ask.’ I thought, ‘Oh Lord, they think we’re serious. How could they ever understand?’”
What an awesome anecdote!
Though The Revolt of Mamie Stover is a drama with very little in the script to show the light, humorous side of the real life relationship between Jane and Richard, the ease of their friendship off screen undoubtedly contributed to the naturalness of their scenes together in the film.
A Cult Classic?
Despite the critics, who were generally unkind to the film, The Revolt of Mamie Stover did well at the box office, earning $2 million after its May 11, 1956 premiere. The film continues to enjoy a large international fan base, and I personally hope this more obscure title will continue to grow in popularity. The Revolt of Mamie Stover truly is, in Darryl Zanuck’s words, “an interesting, offbeat picture.”
And That's It!
And that’s it for The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956)! This is also my goodbye post to our lovely Star of the Month, Jane Russell. It’s been a blast spotlighting Jane this month, and I can’t help but feel the time went by much too quickly.
But I’m also incredibly excited to usher in our new Star of the Month, one of my favorite character actors from Hollywood’s Golden Age who always delivered phenomenal performances.
Next month, it’s all about the admirable, cultured, talented, embodiment of the American Dream, Edward G. Robinson.