‘Griselda Pemberton, a Senator’s daughter, is a teenage girl who tries to look and act beyond her years.’ Can you guess what’s going to happen to her?
(South Whitley High School, Indiana, 1959)
Yes, that’s right!
Mona Graham and John Ware specifically wrote their 1950 comedy Spring Journey for productions in high schools. Both authors used pen-names. Mona, who had previously worked as an actress, shouldn’t be confused with the Mona Graham who married Karl Malden; her real name was Joanna Boos. And John Ware was really Edward Howe Mabley (1906-84), a writer for stage, screen and radio and pioneer in the use of marionettes in advertising. Immediately after Spring Journey, they collaborated again, this time on a play for television, Borderline of Fear, and this time using their real names.
The plot concerns a group of high school students on their spring journey to Washington DC, accompanied by their teacher and chaperone, the young and attractive Miss Lucy Clark. There they unexpectedly meet up with their former classmate Griselda, known to them all, to her irritation, as ‘Grizzly’. She is now being educated privately in New York, but has come to spend the vacation with her father. On his first appearance, Senator Pemberton confides in Lucy: ‘Bringing up a young girl is no job for a widower like me. She’s a real problem. A Senator’s daughter in Washington has to be on her very best behavior, and sometimes –’ Lucy stops him before he can say it, by agreeing to admit Griselda into the school party and accept responsibility for her. So Lucy is now in loco parentis – the first step towards…
(Pam Clothier turns Lois Clark over her knee in the 1961 senior play at Valley Community High School, Elgin, Iowa)
It is a delicate political moment in Washington. One party is trying to get an important education bill passed, that will secure the future for students from poorer families. Students like Larry Bennett, a shopkeeper’s son who has some oratorical promise and who harbors naïve ambitions of becoming a statesman. Lucy’s fiancé, a Congressman, invites him to speak to a group of colleagues about his problems, but Griselda encourages him to overestimate his importance, and he makes a fool of himself by lecturing his hosts non-stop for hours.
The embarrassment caused when the press gets hold of the story is as nothing to what happens next. Using her privileges as a Senator’s daughter, Griselda takes Larry into the Senate viewing gallery to hear the debate on the bill, but, becoming overexcited, he breaks the rules by haranguing the opposition: ‘a private filibuster going on up there in the gallery’. So it’s getting serious, and both the Secret Service and the FBI are after him.
Griselda and Larry try to hide in the students’ hotel room, but are pursued there by a Secret Service investigator. Larry gives himself up in an effort to shield Griselda, but they won’t be put off and, once he hears she is involved, Senator Pemberton agrees to handle the matter himself and take responsibility for the boy. Then he summons Griselda out from her hiding place:
GRISELDA: It wasn’t my fault! Not any of it!
PEMBERTON: You go to your room. I’ll deal with you later.
GRISELDA: You’ll be sorry, Larry Bennett! (As she goes out.) It wasn’t my fault! It was all his fault – every single thing that happened! It was Larry’s fault. (And we can hear her protesting all the way down the hall.)
Pemberton consoles himself with the knowledge that at least the newspapers haven’t got hold of the story. So there’s a time bomb ticking: Larry has already been interviewed by reporters after his talk with the Congressmen, and one thing they are certainly going to report is his association with the Senator’s daughter. What’s more, one of the other students, Russell, took a photo of Griselda sliding down the Senate banisters to escape the police – and sold it to the newspapers!
‘Daddy and I are always so very happy to meet the press,’ Griselda had told the reporters.
(Carol Hutton, playing Griselda, is very happy to meet the press in the 1963 senior play at Hammond High School, Indiana)
‘She was happier to meet the press than she will be to meet me,’ says her father when he sees the evening paper. He now fears he won’t be re-elected, and neither will Lucy’s fiancé – meaning they won’t be able to get married. At least Larry has learnt a lesson in maturity, which he accepts with dignity. Unlike Griselda…
Things work themselves out for the best in almost all respects. In particular, the newspaper editor has been persuaded to spin the Senate story in terms of the admirable public engagement of young people, complete with a comment that the Senator should be proud of his daughter. But from there on it’s downhill all the way for Griselda. She is rebuked for her attitude to Washington by a refugee boy, who knows not to take the Land of the Free for granted because he came from a dictatorship. Her judgement of character is proven hopelessly wrong. She jealously gets into an undignified brawl over Larry with one of the other girls. And finally, the ultimate humiliation: a public spanking!
(Carol Hutton, still playing Griselda, is somewhat less than happy to be spanked by Karen Ahlvin, playing Lucy)
It happens after Lucy intervenes to stop the fight.
LUCY (at the end of her patience): Griselda, you’ve caused enough trouble for one day!
PEMBERTON: Young lady, I’m ashamed of you! Miss Clark, you’ve had experience with youngsters. What do you do with a girl like this?
LUCY: In extreme cases, Senator, I do this!
She takes Griselda, and sitting on the sofa, turns her over her knee and spanks her. Griselda shrieks, as the others laugh with delight and Russell snaps a picture.
(Lorraine Siberski spanks Dorothy Tomkiewicz at Davenport High School, Plymouth, Pennsylvania, on March 6, 1953)
GRISELDA (scrambling to her feet, to her father, indignantly): The papers said you ought to be proud of me!
She flounces out.
PEMBERTON (to Lucy, who rises): Miss Clark, I’ve been wanting to do that for years!
They shake hands.
So, a happy ending for almost everyone, and a sore rear end for Griselda!
The play lasted for nearly a decade and a half before it started to go out of date. It’s true that Americans have never entirely lost their romantic reverence for the presidency, even after Watergate in the 1970s, White House senility in the 1980s and the stolen election of 2000; but public life was moving on from the play’s New Deal politics as the 1960s went on, and in practice I haven’t found any productions of Spring Journey post-Kennedy. Times change… and theater spanking changes with them!