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The Immigrant Experience - TCM Spotlight
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Paddy O'Day

An adorable Irish lass traveling solo to America, Paddy O'Day (Jane Withers) and her beloved dog manage to charm everyone they meet, from the fellow immigrants she travels with to the immigration officers at Ellis Island in Paddy O'Day (1935). Meant to rendezvous with her mother when she arrives in America, O'Day is instead sequestered with a group of other immigrants denied admission into the country. Kept from the little girl is the truth of her circumstance: that her mother is dead and she will soon be sent back to Ireland with no relatives to take her in.

The plucky little girl decides to find her mother herself. She escapes her quarters and -- with the help of a friendly Irish policeman -- heads for the Long Island home of her mother's former employers: two dowager aunts and their ornithologist nephew Roy Ford (Pinky Tomlin). The kindly cook (Jane Darwell) and butler (Russell Simpson) at the house take pity on Paddy after they tell her about her dead mother. They hide her in the mansion, keeping her far from the reach of the immigration officials searching for her. And she finds another powerful ally in the quirky Roy, who takes a shine to the little girl.

Paddy turns out to have a wealth of new friends, including a Russian beauty who traveled on the same boat to America, Tamara Petrovitch (Rita Hayworth). Tamara enlists Paddy to perform in the Russian stage show organized by her showy, entrepreneurial restaurateur cousin Mischa (George Givot). Paddy not only finds shelter from immigration authorities in Roy, but a new family when Roy and Tamara marry and decide to adopt the little girl.

The New York Times' Bosley Crowther said of Withers, "as a little Irish immigrant who sings and dances her way into everybody's affections, except possibly those of an occasional grouch in the audience, she proves herself to be the veritable Shirley Temple of her age group (8 to 10)....The picture roars along at a good pace."

Though she was early into her career and not yet "discovered" as the screen goddess we know her as today, Paddy O'Day was Rita Hayworth's first important role. It was one of many early parts in which Hayworth was asked to put on a thick accent and play against her own ethnic type. Early in her career, before dying her hair red and using electrolysis to raise her hairline in order to appear more Anglo-Saxon, Hayworth was often seen as an ethnic type. She played an Egyptian in Charlie Chan in Egypt (1935) and an Argentinean in Under the Pampas Moon (1935) though the New York-born Hayworth's own heritage was Spanish. After a breakout role in the Howard Hawks aviation drama Only Angels Have Wings (1939) Hayworth became one of Columbia Pictures' biggest female stars, as famous for her film roles as for her status as a favorite World War II pinup girl. But the sex goddess role wasn't always a happy one for Hayworth who was oft-married and oft-divorced and had a habit of marrying emotionally and psychologically abusive men. One of the actress's most iconic roles was as Glenn Ford's seductress in Gilda (1946) a role which caused Hayworth to complain, "men fall in love with Gilda, but they wake up with me."

Starting in 1944, after starring alongside Gene Kelly in Cover Girl (1944), Hayworth was named one of the movie industry's top box office attractions. But her relationship with Columbia's controlling boss Harry Cohn was strained and she fought relentlessly to be released from his contract and to wriggle out from under his studio's thumb. "He was a monster," Hayworth said of Cohn.

Pinky Tomlin, Hayworth's romantic interest in the film, was a singer and composer who had, before working on Paddy O'Day, found great success with the song "The Object of My Affection." Tomlin and Hayworth became friends and confidantes on the Paddy O'Day set with the young and inexperienced Hayworth relying on the older, wiser Tomlin for advice about her career. According to writer John Kobal in Rita Hayworth: The Time, the Place and the Woman, Twentieth Century-Fox even arranged for a fictitious romance between the two actors to promote Paddy O' Day.

Despite its often silly musical numbers, there are many points at which Paddy O'Day offers an insightful glimpse into the American immigrant experience. The arrival of the immigrants by ship at Ellis Island, the bureaucracy of their entry into the country and Paddy's efforts, once she has escaped Ellis Island, to navigate the often mean streets of New York -- and a gang of street toughs -- convey a sense of the difficulty of life for new arrivals. The relentless efforts of the immigration authorities to return Paddy to Ireland also give the film a strong reality-based sense of us-against-them in this engaging immigrant's tale.

Producer: Sol M. Wurtzel
Director: Lewis Seiler
Screenplay: Sonya Levien (story); Lou Breslow, Edward Eliscu
Cinematography: Arthur C. Miller
Art Direction: Duncan Cramer, Lewis Creber
Music: Samuel Kaylin (uncredited)
Film Editing: Alfred DeGaetano
Cast: Jane Withers (Paddy O'Day), Pinky Tomlin (Roy Ford), Rita Cansino (Tamara Petrovitch), Jane Darwell (Dora), George Givot (Mischa), Francis Ford (Office McGuire), Vera Lewis (Aunt Flora), Louise Carter (Aunt Jane), Russell Simpson (Benton), Michael Visaroff (Popushka Petrovitch).

by Felicia Feaster



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