- Are Parents People? (1925) movie review: Briefly popular in the mid-1920s, pert, pretty Betty Bronson – a non-singing (and non-talking) Deanna Durbin precursor and cinema’s unofficial “first teenage star” – is one good reason to check out this largely forgotten The Parent Trap-like family comedy. Florence Vidor, the 1920s’ embodiment of feminine gentility, is another.
1920s star Betty Bronson lightens up inconsequential (dysfunctional) family comedy Are Parents People?
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 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? come across as 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.
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 Singing Fool.
Eight decades have passed since the release of Are Parents People?, but Bronson – a non-talking, non-singing Deanna Durbin precursor – 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 – provides able support as Bronson’s would-be divorcée mother. It’s just difficult to accept the lovely actress as the wife of perennial bore Adolphe Menjou.
Update: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.
Are Parents People? (1925)
Director: Malcolm St. Clair.
Screenplay: Frances Agnew.
From Alice Duer Miller’s 1924 short story.
Cast: Betty Bronson. Florence Vidor. Adolphe Menjou. Lawrence Gray. George Beranger. Mary Beth Milford. Emily Fitzroy. William Courtright.
Cinematography: Bert Glennon. Producer: No producer credit; studio bosses Adolph Zukor & Jesse L. Lasky are listed as “presenters.”
“Are Parents People? movie” notes
Alice Duer Miller & Frances Agnew
 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.
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
 Eleven years after Are Parents People?, Henry Koster’s 1936 dysfunctional-family comedy 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
 Besides Are Parents People?, Florence Vidor 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.
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Are Parents People? movie cast and crew information via the AFI Catalog website and other sources.
Betty Bronson, Florence Vidor, and Adolphe Menjou Are Parents People? images: Paramount Pictures.
“Are Parents People?: Cinema’s First Teenage Star in The Parent Trap Precursor” last updated in December 2020.