Marjorie Morningstar (film)

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Marjorie Morningstar
Marjorie Morningstar video cover.jpg
Directed by Irving Rapper
Produced by Milton Sperling
Screenplay by Everett Freeman
Based on Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk
Starring Natalie Wood
Gene Kelly
Claire Trevor
Music by Max Steiner
Edited by Folmar Blangsted
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • April 24, 1958 (1958-04-24)
Running time
128 min.
Language English

Marjorie Morningstar is a 1958 melodrama film based on the 1955 novel of the same name by Herman Wouk. The film, released by Warner Bros. and directed by Irving Rapper tells a fictional coming of age story about a young Jewish girl in New York City in the 1950s. The film's trajectory traces Marjorie Morgenstern's attempts to become an artist - exemplified through her relationship with the actor and playwright Noel Airman. The film's cast includes Natalie Wood, Gene Kelly, and Claire Trevor.

The central conflict in the film revolves around the traditional models of social behavior and religious behavior expected by New York Jewish families in the 1950s, and Marjorie's desire to follow an unconventional path.

The film is notable for its inclusion of Jewish religious scenes - including a Passover meal, a synagogue sequence and Jewish icons in the Morgenstern house. These depictions were one of the first times Jewish religion was portrayed overtly in film since The Jazz Singer in 1927.

The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Song (A Very Precious Love) sung by Gene Kelly. Music by Sammy Fain and Lyrics by Paul Francis Webster.


Marjorie Morgenstern is a student at Hunter College and the girlfriend of an eligible young man, Sandy Lamm, who attends her family's synagogue. Her parents are happy with her choice of mate, and her mother Rose Morgenstern (Claire Trevor) tells her father, Arnold (Everett Sloane), that she hopes the two kids marry.

Marjorie breaks up with the boy, though, and goes to the Adirondacks that summer to be a camp counselor. One night, Marjorie and friend Marsha Zelenko (Carolyn Jones) sneak to a Borscht Belt resort for adults called South Wind. There she is caught by resort owner Maxwell Greech (George Tobias), but social director Noel Airman (Gene Kelly) vouches for Marjorie as a guest and offers her a job, beginning a relationship with Airman and a friendship with aspiring playwright Wally Wronkin (Martin Milner), who writes Airman's stage act. The latter has a romantic interest in Marjorie, but she's tempted by the older, cynical Airman, who meets the disapproval of her parents. Airman, whose original name was the more Jewish Ehrman, renames Marjorie as well from Morgenstern to Morningstar.

Marjorie's sweet Uncle Samson (Ed Wynn) comes to the resort to keep an eye on her. But when he dies of a heart attack while entertaining guests, Marjorie goes back to the city. There she dates a doctor named Harris, with whom she quickly breaks up when Airman returns to find her. He declares that love has convinced him to become respectable. Marjorie tells her mother, who insists her daughter bring him to a Passover meal. "Not Passover, mother. He’s not very religious. He doesn’t believe in those things," Marjorie says. Rose answers, "He doesn’t believe in those things... you’re going to get married. How are you going to raise your children?"

In the midst of the Passover meal, he leaves and Marjorie follows him. She is concerned he's bored, but he says, "I wasn’t bored. I was disturbed, deeply. I couldn’t help thinking of all the things I’ve missed in life. Family, your kind of family. Faith, tradition. All the things I’ve been ridiculing all the time. That’s why I couldn’t take it anymore. I love you very much, Marjorie Morgenstern."

Airman gets a job at an advertising firm and seems to do well. But one week he doesn't show up to work and refuses to take Marjorie's calls. She goes to his apartment and finds him drunk with a strange woman, Imogene Norman. He has decided he cannot stand the professional lifestyle and wants to be an artist. The impetus to change careers is the success of Wally Wronkin on Broadway; the playwright has launched a series of hits and Airman is consumed with jealousy. Airman and Marjorie reconcile when girlfriend Marsha's new husband agrees to invest in his play. But it gets panned by critics. "We were crucified," someone explains to Marjorie, and their relationship is unable to survive. He runs away, again; she chases after him, even to Europe. In the end, Wally tells her Noel is back at the resort, where all first met.

Marjorie returns to South Wind, where she watches Noel rehearsing a new summer show. Everything is exactly the same as it was, her first summer there, except for herself. Greech observes that she's done some growing up. We see her board a bus. In the rearview mirror, Wronkin sits in back. He smiles, as he's been waiting for her to get over her summer fling. The suggestion is that they will embark on the relationship Wronkin had been hoping for from the beginning.



Natalie Wood, who would later go on to her greatest hit, West Side Story, had until Marjorie Morningstar played mostly childish roles, including that of Judy in Rebel Without a Cause. A NY Times reviewer wrote of her performance, "Natalie Wood, who only yesterday was playing with dolls in films, has blossomed into a vivacious pretty brunette who very likely is as close to a personification of Marjorie as one could wish. But the character is hardly complex, and while Miss Wood is competent in the role, it is rarely a glowing performance."

Gene Kelly was near the end of his film career when he appeared in Marjorie Morningstar. His 15-year association with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had ended the previous year. Born in 1912, he was 46 when he took the role of Noel Airman. By contrast, his love interest Wood was only 20 years old. The Times noted: "Although Mr. Kelly appears a mite uncomfortable in his assignment, he plays it with understanding. And, as a professional song-and-dance man, he both hoofs with polish and pleasingly warbles 'A Very Precious Love,' the film's theme number."

Times critiques of the other performances: "Carolyn Jones, as Miss Wood's best friend, makes it an outspoken performance marked by one truly poignant scene in which she reveals her essential loneliness. Ed Wynn, in the comparatively short role of an impecunious but understanding relative, adds some glint of humor and compassion. Claire Trevor, as Marjorie's over-protective mother and Martin Milner, as the playwright, who is one of Marjorie's retinue of devoted suitors, are well-turned, if not inspired, characterizations."

Differences between the film and novel[edit]

The most significant difference between the 1955 novel and the 1958 film is the ending. At the end of the novel, the free-spirited Marjorie Morningstar settles down with a man agreeable to her parents. In a criticism of Herman Wouk's ending, Alana Newhouse writes in Slate Magazine that "In the final nine pages, the formerly vibrant Marjorie gives up on her career, gets married to a man named Sidney — er, Milton — Schwartz, and moves to Westchester... Most female readers cry when they reach the end of this book, and for good reason. Marjorie Morningstar, as they came to know her, has become another woman entirely: 'You couldn't write a play about her that would run a week, or a novel that would sell a thousand copies. … The only remarkable thing about Mrs. Schwartz is that she ever hoped to be remarkable, that she ever dreamed of being Marjorie Morningstar.'"

The film's ending suggests a possible relationship between Marjorie and Wally Wronkin, the playwright. Although he is successful, he is far more artistic than the Milton Schwartz Marjorie settles for at the end of the novel. This ending suggests a different conceit in the film than Wouk's novel. The novel suggests that people grow up to realize they have no real choice but to follow their family and upbringing. The film's ending suggests that maturity implies assuming responsibility for one's choices and finishing what was started. Wally had been waiting for Marjorie to learn that Noel will never mature in this sense. In the novel the moral seems to be that her only solution is to settle, as her Mother warns her, for someone to take care of her. In the movie, she begins a new journey.

The film is also contemporary, set in the late 1950s; whereas, the novel is set in the 1930s. The differences may, in part, represent the different eras.


For Dirty Dancing, another film with a coming of age story set at a Catskills resort, Kenny Ortega, who was trained by Gene Kelly, was selected to direct.

In his autobiography, 700 Sundays, actor/comedian Billy Crystal wrote, "Another of my mom's cousins was married to a woman whom I knew as Cousin Marjorie. She was a quiet, very lovely woman. Only a few years ago I found out she was actually the 'Marjorie' that 'Marjorie Morningstar' was written about."

See also[edit]


  • Popkin, Henry. The Vanishing Jew of Our Popular Culture: The Little Man Is No Longer There.
  • Prell, Riv-Ellen. Fighting to Become Americans: Jews, Gender, and the Anxiety of Assimilation. Beacon Press, Boston.
  • Dundes, Alex. The J. A. P. and the J. A. M. in American Jokelore. The Journal of American Folklore > Vol. 98, No. 390 (Oct., 1985), pp. 456–475
  • Weiler, A.H. Version of Wouk Novel Opens at Music Hall. NY Times, page 32, April 25, 1959.
  • Tanabe, Kunio Francis. The Washington Post Book Club - Marjorie Morningstar' by Herman Wouk/ The Washington Post, page BW13, July 4, 2004.
  • Newhouse, Alana. Why Do Women Love Marjorie Morningstar? Slate Magazine, Sept. 14, 2005.
  • Heifetz, Laurie. Scarlett's Falling Morningstar The Forward, May 11, 2007.

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