Before the end of this article, you will see the young lady in this photograph getting spanked.
The play we have to thank for this is Janie, a wartime domestic comedy by Josephine Bentham and Herschel Williams, which originally opened on Broadway in September 1942, in a production that ran until January 1944, with Gwen Anderson in the title role of Janie Colburn, a sixteen-year-old with ‘all the crazy charm of youth’.
But that fact is sadly not as relevant as we might hope, because Janie is a play without a spanking scene.
And it seems such a promising scenario, too. At the center of the comedy is an unauthorized teen party, thrown by Janie for the soldier boys from a nearby army camp, while her parents are out for the evening. Things get out of hand and the house is in chaos, so for a significant stretch of the third act it looks as though Janie is headed for a spanking from her father. The prospect is never directly mentioned, but it’s made so obvious that it doesn’t need to be mentioned: Janie talks about her impending ‘martyrdom’ and tells her father, ‘I’m ready to take it,’ to which he replies, ‘Well, it’s a good thing you’re ready to take it. Because you’re going to get it, young woman.’ Moreover, Janie’s girlfriends are all worried that their mothers will find out, so evidently they’re at serious risk of getting ‘it’ too.
And if you still need clarifying what ‘it’ is, here is ‘it’ happening in a different play of the same era:
The reason this is such a big deal is that it goes beyond some overturned furniture, a few angry neighbors and the mysterious disappearance of Mr Colburn’s Bourbon. He’s the proprietor of a local newspaper, which has recently published an editorial in favor of supporting the war effort by being nice to the troops. It wasn’t entirely a matter of simple patriotism: the paper needs a new printing press, and Colburn is hoping to persuade the government to pay for it. But his daughter’s wild party and its consequences (the police were called) means that his reputation will be trashed along with his house: no chance of a federal grant, and his business in ruins.
And there’s one more reason for Janie to end the play with a sore bottom. She got rid of her nosy, mischievous kid sister, Elsbeth, by sending one of the soldiers to escort the child to her grandmother’s – but the grandmother was out and the unfortunate rookie had to take the brat to the pictures, then returned to the party without her, having persuaded a friend to take over the responsibility. It’s after midnight when Elsbeth finally returns home, accompanied by ‘Uncle Poodgie’, an old man who has evidently been spoiling her with gifts and candy.
It has to be said that this is an element of the play that seems even more alarming now than it did in the 1940s. But as it turns out, ‘Uncle Poodgie’ is harmless, and he affably and effortlessly defuses Colburn’s rage at the situation. In fact, he’s not just harmless but positively benign. ‘Uncle Poodgie’ is only the pet-name Elsbeth has given him. He’s really Matthew Q. Reardon, a Yale professor of economics and a member of the government’s Priorities Committee which distributes funds. And he’s really impressed with Colburn’s concern for the welfare of the local troops, and his hospitable willingness to let his own home be used for their entertainment. So impressed that he promises that his committee will hand over the money for the new press. So the party was a good thing after all, and that means a happy ending for the comedy, and no unhappy rear end for Janie.
But since ‘Uncle Poodgie’ has been instrumental in averting a spanking scene, maybe he can offer us a little compensation. That’s where we turn to St Petersburg High School, Florida, where Janie was produced as the senior play of 1946, two years after it closed in New York. And the character we turn to, with much more interest than she ever had for us on Broadway, is young Elsbeth.
It was a production by high school seniors, remember: all the characters, irrespective of age or extreme youth, were played by actors in their late teens. And the girl chosen to braid her hair and shorten her skirt for the role of Elsbeth was Georgianna Neel:
If they played the script as written, Georgianna would have shown off the seat of her ruffled white panties in her first scene and received a friendly swat on the bottom in the next. But even so, she was in no danger of an onstage spanking. But when the cast headed outdoors to shoot some photos for the yearbook in costume, they evidently decided that Elsbeth would try the patience even of a benevolent Yale professor of economics, as played by Frank Porter. According to the photo’s caption, ‘Uncle Poodgie can stand Elsbeth no longer, so here is the result’:
Not part of the play itself, just some in-character horseplay at a photoshoot – but none the less welcome for that!
Note: The first spanking picture in this article is from the 1955 production of All American Family (1940) at Barry High School, Illinois, with Lloyd Williams as Roger spanking Imogene Garner as Caroline.