I Remember Mama: Wikis


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This article is about the 1944 play and subsequent 1948 feature film. For the musical adaptation, see I Remember Mama.

I Remember Mama is a play by John Van Druten. Based on the fictionalized memoir Mama's Bank Account by Kathryn Forbes, it focuses on the Hanson family, a loving family of Norwegian immigrants living on Steiner Street (identified as Larkin Street in the 1948 film) in San Francisco in the 1910s.

Produced by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, the Broadway production opened on October 19, 1944 at the Music Box Theatre and ran for 713 performances.

The cast included Mady Christians, Oscar Homolka, Joan Tetzel, and Marlon Brando, making his Broadway debut.


Screen adaptation

I Remember Mama

original film poster
Directed by George Stevens
Produced by Harriet Parsons
George Stevens
Written by John Van Druten (play)
Kathryn Forbes (novel Mama's Bank Account)
DeWitt Bodeen (screenplay)
Starring Irene Dunne
Barbara Bel Geddes
Oskar Homolka
Ellen Corby
Philip Dorn
Music by Roy Webb
Cinematography Nicholas Musuraca
Editing by Robert Swink
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures (theatre)
Warner Home Video (DVD)
Release date(s) March 9, 1948
Running time 134 mins
Country United States
Language English

The play was adapted for a 1948 feature film written by DeWitt Bodeen and directed by George Stevens.


The film begins with eldest daughter Katrin completing the last lines of her autobiographical novel. As she reminisces about her family life, we flashback to 1910, where the first of a series of vignettes finds Marta Hanson preparing the weekly budget with assistance from her husband Lars, daughters Katrin, Christine and Dagmar, and son Nels, who announces his desire to attend high school. Each family member offers to make a financial sacrifice to contribute to the boy's education.

Soon after, Marta's sister Trina arrives, announces she is marrying undertaker Peter Thorkelson, and implores Marta to break the news to their sisters Sigrid and Jenny. As Trina feared, the two laugh upon hearing the news, but when Marta threatens to reveal embarrassing anecdotes about them, the women agree to accept their sister's decision.

When Jonathan Hyde, the Hansons' educated but impoverished lodger, reads A Tale of Two Cities aloud for the family, all of them, especially aspiring writer Katrin, are deeply moved by the story. Later, the family is visited by Marta's gruff and domineering but soft-hearted Uncle Chris and his common law wife Jessie Brown. When Chris discovers youngest daughter Dagmar is severely ill with mastoiditis, he insists on taking her to the hospital. Because they disapprove of Jessie, Sigrid and Jenny attempt to stop him, but he bullies his way past them with Dagmar and her mother following behind.

Dagmar's operation is a success, but her mother Marta is prohibited from seeing her by the hospital staff. At home, she becomes increasingly distressed about the separation from her child, whom she promised she would see as soon as she awakened, and she returns to the hospital where, disguised as a member of the housekeeping staff, she sneaks into Dagmar's ward and sings a Norwegian lullaby to her.

When a recovered Dagmar returns home, she learns her cat, Uncle Elizabeth, is very ill. Despite Dagmar's belief in her mother's powers, Marta feels helpless to save the wounded cat and sends Nels to buy some chloroform so she can put it to sleep. The following morning she is astonished when Dagmar walks in with a sleepy but very alive and apparently cured cat.

Mr. Hyde moves out, leaving a check for his long overdue rent and his entire collection of classic books. The family's joy at their financial windfall vanishes when they discover their lodger had no bank account and the check has no value. Sigrid and Jenny are furious about the man's deceit, but Marta declares his valuable gift of literature is payment enough.

Katrin brags to Christine that their mother is going to buy her the dresser set she has long admired as a graduation present. Her sister tells her Marta is planning to give her their grandmother's brooch as a gift, so Katrin is surprised when she receives the desired dresser set instead. As she is about to leave to perform in the school's production of The Merchant of Venice, Katrin is informed that her mother traded with the storekeeper her beloved heirloom for the gift Katrin wanted. Distraught by the news, the girl performs badly in the play, and later presents her mother with the brooch after trading back the dresser set. Katrin's father presents her with her first cup of coffee, which she had been told she could drink once she was grown. Before giving it to her, mother adds a healthy amount of cream.

Marta learns Uncle Chris is near death, and she takes Katrin to say goodbye to him at his ranch. He reveals he has no money to leave his niece because he had long been donating most of his income to help poor lame children, and confesses he and Jessie married years ago but kept their union a secret because of Sigrid and Jenny's attitude towards her. After enjoying a final drink with his niece and his wife, Uncle Chris dies.

Katrin is dejected when she receives her tenth literary rejection letter. Determined to bolster her confidence, Marta takes some of her stories to famed author and gourmand Florence Dana Moorhead and convinces her to read them in exchange for her prized meatball recipe. Marta returns home and advises her daughter that Moorhead feels the girl has talent and should write about what she knows best. Marta urges Katrin to write a story about Papa. When the girl's story is accepted for publication, she is overjoyed to be paid $500. After announcing some of the money will go towards the purchase of the winter coat Marta always has wanted, Katrin confesses her story is not about her father but is titled Mama and the Hospital. She begins to read it to her family, and its introduction concludes with the line, "But first and foremost, I remember Mama."

Production notes

George Stevens originally offered the role of Mama to Greta Garbo, who balked at playing a motherly type. He then cast Irene Dunne, whom he had directed in Penny Serenade in 1941. Although she was 50 years old, the actress had a youthful appearance and had to be aged with makeup to portray the family matriarch convincingly [1]. Oscar Homolka was the only member of the original Broadway cast to reprise his role for the film. Some scenes filmed on Rhode Island Street, on San Francisco's Potrero Hill. The film premiered as the Easter attraction at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

Principal cast

Critical reception

In his review in the New York Times, Bosley Crowther said the film "should prove irresistible" and added, "Irene Dunne does a beautiful job . . . handling with equal facility an accent and a troubled look, [she] has the strength and vitality, yet the softness, that the role requires." [2]

TV Guide calls it "a delicate charmer, sometimes precious, but nonetheless fine" and "meticulously directed." [3]

Time Out London describes it as "a charmer . . . directed and acted with real delicacy." [4]

Channel 4 calls it a "warm-hearted film" and adds, "Stevens directs without fuss or undue sentimentality and keeps the inevitable talkativeness at bay." [5]

The film was named one of the year's Ten Best by Film Daily.

Awards and nominations

The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Dunne), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Homolka), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Bel Geddes and Corby), and Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (Nicholas Musuraca).

Corby won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress.

DeWitt Bodeen was nominated for three Writers Guild of America Awards, for Best Written American Comedy, Best Written American Drama, and the Robert Meltzer Award for the Screenplay Dealing Most Ably with Problems of the American Scene.

Additional adaptations

Mama, a CBS television series starring Peggy Wood, ran from 1949 until 1957. The popularity and high ratings of Mama prompted a national re-release of I Remember Mama in 1956. In some theaters, this was accompanied by a stage presentation of "dish night," a recreation of the dinnerware giveaways theaters held during the 1930s to attract ticket-buyers.

After the success of the screen adaptation, Dunne, Homolka, and Bel Geddes reprised their roles in a Lux Radio Theater adaptation of the film.

A musical stage adaptation starring Liv Ullmann had a brief run on Broadway in 1979.


External links

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