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Are Parents People? (Movie 1925): First Teen Star

Dysfunctional family movie comedy Are Parents People? Betty BronsonAre Parents People? with Betty Bronson: This inconsequential one-daughter precursor to Walt Disney’s two-daughter 1961 hit The Parent Trap is worth a look largely thanks to Betty Bronson, cinema’s first teenage star.
  • Are Parents People? (movie 1925) review: Pert, pretty Betty Bronson – a non-singing (and non-talking) Deanna Durbin precursor and filmdom’s unofficial “first teenage star” – is one good reason to check out this largely forgotten The Parent Trap-like bit of cinematic frivolousness.

Are Parents People? (movie 1925) review: Cinema’s first de facto teen star Betty Bronson lightens up fluffy dysfunctional family movie comedy

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

As sweet and as artificial as cotton candy, 28-year-old filmmaker Malcolm St. Clair’s Are Parents People? is a mildly amusing (and largely forgotten) dysfunctional family movie comedy that, even at a mere 65 minutes or so, overstays its welcome by a good quarter of an hour.

St. Clair, who handled several late silent era comedies (e.g., A Woman of the World, Breakfast at Sunrise, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), does his best to make Are Parents People? seem lively and sophisticated, but he’s invariably let down by the vapid, all but humorless screenplay credited to newcomer Frances Agnew, adapting a 1924 novel by suffragist writer and poet Alice Duer Miller.[1]

The film’s saving grace: Pert, pretty, porcelain-doll-like Betty Bronson, whose breezy presence as a cute – but not cloying – teen enlivens the otherwise humdrum proceedings.

The Parent Trap precursor

In Are Parents People?, mutual incompatibility – and perhaps a bit of a roving eye on the part of the husband – lead the well-to-do Hazlitt couple (Florence Vidor and Adolphe Menjou) to the brink of divorce.

Their teenage daughter, Lita (Betty Bronson), is left inconsolable, especially since each parent uses her as an emotional weapon against the other.

Tired of being forced to take sides in a war that is not of her making, Lita – in similar fashion to Hayley Mills (as twins) in David Swift’s 1961 Disney comedy The Parent Trap – concocts a plan to bring back together the two childish adults.

In Lita’s case, said plan involves a fan letter to an egotistical movie “sheik” (George Beranger), expulsion from school, and a vanishing act.

The happy ending for the Hazlitt household is as inevitable as the movie’s reaffirmation of the paramount importance of traditional social values and institutions. Even – or rather, especially – for the modern, 20th-century American family.

The Deanna Durbin of the 1920s

At the center of Are Parents People? is 18-year-old Betty Bronson, the adolescent star of Peter Pan and A Kiss for Cinderella, the Virgin Mary in Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, and one of Al Jolson’s leading ladies in the blockbuster The Singing Fool.

Eight decades have passed since the release of Are Parents People?, but Bronson – a non-talking, non-singing Deanna Durbin precursor[2] – has lost none of her unassuming appeal.

As a plus, genteel Florence Vidor – who joined forces with director Malcolm St. Clair on three other mid-1920s efforts[3] – provides able support as the teenager’s would-be divorcée mother. It’s just difficult to accept the lovely actress as the other half of perennial bore Adolphe Menjou.

Are Parents People? (movie 1925) cast & crew

Director: Malcolm St. Clair.

Screenplay: Frances Agnew.
From Alice Duer Miller’s 1924 novel.

Cast: Betty Bronson. Florence Vidor. Adolphe Menjou. Lawrence Gray. George Beranger. Mary Beth Milford. Emily Fitzroy. William Courtright.

Are Parents People? Betty Bronson Florence Vidor Adolphe MenjouAre Parents People? with Florence Vidor, Betty Bronson, and Adolphe Menjou: Besides its bubbly teen star, the other plus in this dysfunctional family movie comedy is Florence Vidor, the 1920s’ embodiment of feminine gentility.

Are Parents People? (Movie 1925)” notes

Alice Duer Miller & Frances Agnew

[1] One noteworthy work by Alice Duer Miller (1874–1942) is Are Women People? A Book of Rhymes for Suffrage Times, a collection of satirical poems published in 1915 – five years before women gained the right to vote in the United States.

Other movie adaptations of her stories/novels include Manslaughter, Roberta / Lovely to Look At, And One Was Beautiful, and The White Cliffs of Dover.

Two of her screenplays were Wife vs. Secretary (1936), starring Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, and Jean Harlow; and Irene (1940), starring Anna Neagle and Ray Milland.

All but forgotten, Frances Agnew (1891–1967) was credited on about a dozen films in the second half of the 1920s, most notably James Cruze’s romantic drama Mannequin (1926), starring Alice Joyce, Warner Baxter, and Dolores Costello.

Three Smart Girls

[2] Eleven years after Are Parents People?, Henry Koster’s Three Smart Girls – which turned newcomer Deanna Durbin into Universal’s top star – revolves around three sisters (Durbin, Nan Grey, Barbara Read) and their assorted attempts to reunite their divorced parents (Charles Winninger, Nella Walker).

The Three Smart Girls story and screenplay were credited to Adele Comandini, who was shortlisted for the 1936 Academy Awards in the Best Original Story category.

Florence Vidor & Malcolm St. Clair collaborations

[3] In addition to Are Parents People?, Florence Vidor – the then-wife of director King Vidor (The Big Parade, The Crowd) – and Malcolm St. Clair joined forces on The Trouble with Wives (1925), The Popular Sin (1926), and, also costarring Adolphe Menjou, The Grand Duchess and the Waiter (1926).

Having retired from the screen at the dawn of the talkie era, Florence Vidor died at age 82 in November 1977 in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles County.

Malcolm St. Clair’s directorial career went downhill in the early 1930s, though he continued to work in mostly B movies until the late 1940s. He died at age 55 in 1952 in Pasadena, just northeast of downtown Los Angeles.

Are Parents People? is available on DVD via Grapevine Video, with a score by Lou McMahon. The 1925 Monty Banks comedy short Wedding Bells is included on the disc.

Betty Bronson, Florence Vidor, and Adolphe Menjou Are Parents People? movie images: Paramount Pictures.

Are Parents People? (Movie 1925): First Teen Star” last updated in April 2023.

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