Child-actress Patty McCormack became a household name after the enormous success of The Bad Seed (1956) where she portrayed Rhoda Penmark, a little girl with an evil bent. She had a difficult time following up this film with another dramatic picture and never did find a role to equal The Bad Seed in popularity. Instead, McCormack did a number of television guest appearances and made two Christmas-themed movies – All Mine to Give (1957) and the delightful Kathy O’ (1958).
This hard-to-find little gem features McCormick as Kathy O’Rourke, a popular child actress who is beloved by millions of children onscreen but is loathsome to the adults who have to work with her on the set. She’s a Shirley Temple when the cameras are rolling and a Rhoda Penmark when the scene cuts. Dan Duryea stars as Harry Johnson, a publicity agent who works at the studio that employs the bratty star.
Ms. Celeste Saunders (Jan Sterling), a writer for a major New York magazine, is coming to Hollywood to do a feature on O’Rourke and personally requests Harry to help her with the interview. Celeste is Harry’s ex-wife and she is shrewd when it comes to discerning human nature, so – in fear of losing his job – Harry tries his darndest to keep her from discovering the “truth” about Kathy. But, to his surprise, the two become endeared to one another. It turns out little Kathy just wants to be a normal child and longs for the love she is not receiving from her Aunt Harriet (Mary Jane Croft). However, Harry finds himself in a scrape when Kathy decides to run away to be with Celeste, and he is accused on a kidnapping charge!
Dan Duryea, a legend of film noir, tries his hand at comedy for the part of Harry and… surprise, surprise….he is wonderful! I never particularly enjoyed his work before but he is marvelous in Kathy O and displays a true knack for humor. It certainly helps that the film features a witty script from Sy Gomberg (Summer Stock) and Jack Sher (My Favorite Spy, Four Girls in Town, Move Over Darling), who also directed the picture.
Kathy O’ takes place during Christmastime and is set in the suburbs of North Hollywood, California where Harry lives with his second wife and two children in a mid-century modern ranch. The picture moves along briskly and is never tiresome. Quite the contrary. It’s a truly entertaining family film. Jan Sterling never looked prettier and Mary Fickett (All My Children), who plays Harry’s current wife, is lovely.
Patty McCormack was an extremely talented little girl and she pulls off the duel-nature of this part with ease, making the audience’s compassion for her character grow with each subsequent scene.
Kathy O’ has not yet been released on DVD but if you happen to catch it playing on television some night, it’s well worth watching.
Constance Metzinger runs the website Silver Scenes, “a blog for classic film lovers.”