Friday, April 26, 2013
Polly Perry, TV Cook (A Career Book)
GP Putnam & Sons, 1959
Young Polly Perry finds herself fired from selling Grime-Gone. Luckily for her, her best friend, Lorna, informs her that a new job has come up a TV station KBCB. When Polly returns home that night her mother tells her that her aunt is sick and her mom needs to head out of town to stay with her. Knowing that her family needs help as Polly was in college until her father died three months ago, Polly is determined to go to the studio the next day and try out for the job. At the studio she meets a young man named Jake who happens to be an old classmate of hers. He wishes her luck as she goes into audition for a commercial for Garden Valley Milk. Listening to Jake's advice, she decides to go with the flow and improvises a bit instead of reading the cue cards word for word. While she comes off as sincere, she does not land the job and is told that TV is serious and expensive and that they will only hire people that will follow the rules. However, Polly's attitude has attracted Jake's friend, Roberta Roberts, who tells her manager, Vince, that she would like to hire Polly as her assistant. Roberta does a cooking show called Hearth and Home. She offers Polly the job and she readily accepts it.
On her first day Polly finds herself extremely busy. She's introduced by Roberta to everything that goes on at a busy television studio. The next day she gets to sit with Vince and see him run the show from behind-the-scenes. Polly follows the day-to-day life as Roberta’s assistant until one day she gets a chance at her big break unexpectedly. She goes into work after doing the shopping for Roberta's show that day in which she plans to make a chocolate cake to find that Roberta has called in saying that she feels like crap and is planning to take the morning off and then come in for the show in the afternoon. Polly informs Vince and he sends a doctor to Roberta, who happens to be his fiancée. It turns out the Roberta is running 103° temperature and is not allowed to come into work. Vince decides against his better judgment to let Polly run the show even though overbearing Roberta will probably kill him.
Polly goes home to practice making the cake in her own familiar kitchen. Whereas Roberta uses all the new high-tech gadgets and cooking, Polly prefers to do things the old-fashioned way by hand. She decides that she will do this on the show as well because what if there are some viewers out there who cannot afford the fancy equipment or some who prefer to do it the old-fashioned way? Polly feels like she has aced her TV appearance. As she sits down to finish some busy work after the show, she decides that if Roberta is out sick again tomorrow should create her own menu for the show and not follow Roberta's notes. Unfortunately, Polly is not prepared for Roberta to storm in and start yelling at her for ruining her show. While Roberta is very angry, she does make some good points. Roberta uses the electronic gadgets to sell ad space for the television show. Thus, Polly not showcasing those items is probably going to get Roberta in trouble. Secondly, she yells at Polly to never shut up an important guest like she did today when she interrupted one of the chefs when they ran out of time. Thirdly, she yells at Polly for flashing around some cooking products with name brands on them. They do not showcase name brands that they do not get paid to advertise and she felt that Polly should've known this considering how many times she is covered up logos for Roberta's show. Roberta demands to come to work tomorrow even though she is ill. This means that Polly has to admit that she has not yet shopped for Roberta's ingredients and she also has to admit that she called new guests to appear on the show. Roberta looks over Polly's menu and claims that her ideas are too expensive and yells at her for not looking into the background of her guests because the chefs she invited tomorrow are bitter rivals who would probably turn the studio into a battleground. Completely frustrated, Roberta fires Polly.
Later that night, Jake informs Polly that Vince told him to pass along some information about a TV position that is opening up at the new studio, KCPC. Polly heads down to the studio in the morning and Vince's name gets her an interview with the studio’s program manager, Mr. Prince. The job is for a woman's world program and a 30 minute “what's new” segment. He offers Polly the job and she accepts it. Polly is introduced to Brian Bradley, sports announcer, who pretty much shoots down her new confidence when he says that Vince practically blackmailed Mr. Prince to take her on. Polly does not like Brian. He offers to introduce her to everyone at the studio only if she goes out to dinner with him and even though she's only known him for a few minutes she's irritated that he calls other people mean names. Polly fines herself wishing she had Jake around and his “honest, encouraging smile and sensible conversation” (p. 117).
The next day, her new director, Robert Slewart, takes one look at her and decides that she's too young to draw the audience needed for the show. He says, “That’s the trouble with the new station—they put all the wrong people in the wrong jobs” (p. 118). Polly feels depressed at the thought of how hard this job is going to be but hopes that she will learn from her experienced coworkers. Unfortunately for her that is not what happens and her first show is a failure. Her pie ended up melting under the hot lights of the studio, a can of whipped cream she was supposed to be promoting wouldn’t squirt properly, she attempted to fill dead air by spewing out all of the advertising materials she had read about her product and then was told that they had gone off air for 2 minutes due to technical difficulties. When asked to repeat her whole spiel again she couldn't muster the strength and instead decided to show off some party favors she made which ended up being too small to telecast properly. She then had invited a Chinese cook and a Chinese interior decorator as her guests who ended up being political enemies and she couldn't get them to shut up. Eventually, Brian had to step in and save the mess. Jake and Polly go out later that night and get into a fight when he tells her that she needs to simplify her show or she will get fired again.
The station decides to hold an open house and it is Polly's responsibility to entertain her to sponsors. One of them, Mr. Saxon, of the whipped cream, is a drunk and is constantly trying to touch Polly. When she finally reprimands him he says that maybe he will take his product somewhere else. At this point Polly decides to quit before she gets fired but Prince tells her to suck it up because he will never be able to face Vince if he fires her. Realizing that she got the job because of her connections and not her talent, she quits anyway and as she is trying to leave the building gets a flat tire. She calls Jake who comes to her rescue but doesn't say anything about reconciling.
Three weeks later she still hasn't heard from Jake and now has a sales job at Wilson's Department Store. At the encouragement from her best friend she is also enrolled in the Paris School of TV and Dramatic Arts. Polly loves everything that she learning at her new school and performs in a play as part of her graduation. She is shocked when Jake calls her one night and invites her and Lorna to a surprise party celebrating Vince and Roberta who are coming back from their honeymoon. At the party Jake confesses that he is moving to San Francisco for a new job. At the party, Polly comes to the realization that Roberta and Vince are not going to ask her back to the station and that while she and Jake seem to have made up he will be moving away. When she gets home that night she finds a message requesting an interview for food show hostess with television station KDXE, which happens to be in San Francisco. Everyone wishes her luck except for Roberta who is mad that Vince did not tell her about the job opening. Polly knows that if she happens to be lucky enough to get the job Roberta will always dislike her and even more so.
Six months later Polly has a show of her own—Foods and Fancy Frills with Polly Perry, Rangerider—in San Francisco. She is allowed total creative control over her show and only has two rules—that each show must have a guest star and that she must make her commercials interesting and forceful for her one sponsor, a shortening company. She finds these rules easy to follow, especially since she believes in her sponsor's product. In the end, Polly gets her dream career and Jake proposes to her.
Thoughts and Nuggets of Wisdom for Research
This is part of a series of loosely connected career books for girls. I love the career books because they are different stories and feature a wide range of careers. Of course, there is the expectation of gender stereotypes to be found and that is what gems this book mainly serves up. I do admit that I purchased this one because I have a love of reality TV cooking shows so I was in a long Hell’s Kitchen marathon and saw “TV Cook” and was like, “I need that book!” I desperately want a copy of a Dodd Mead career book about a girl librarian!
We quickly learn that Polly had two years training in home economics during her time at college and has taken a lot of public speaking courses too (p. 10), which are acceptable girl courses. Polly’s mom has a freelance type job herself in which she writes jingles for greeting cards. It is funny how, despite the fact that she now needs the job since her husband died, she still refers to it like it is a fluke that she’s even working or has a talent when she tells Polly, “I'm certainly glad I bought a portable typewriter when I went into this greeting card business full-time. It's funny, really, when you think a little knack you've played with for years could be useful when you need it to make a living—writing jingles, I mean” (p. 15). When Polly gets fired from her Grime-Gone gig her mother’s first reaction is suggesting a typical (and acceptable) job for girls but at least acknowledges the fact that girls can do more. The job is for a girl in a real estate office and Polly’s mom says, “They said shorthand in the ad. So many put that in. Honestly, you'd think the only thing women could do besides type is clean houses for people and there's plenty of that kind of work offered” (p. 16). Jake, of course, is the sports announcer (and later Brian is also a sports announcer too—clearly one of the few jobs a guy can do) and his description of it makes it sound like it is so complicated and hard: “I have the sports announcer’s job here. Busy. Crazy. I have to be familiar with every sport—all its fine points, it's special vocabulary, all that. Gosh, last week I covered a golf tourney and if I didn't know a hook from a slice I'd be out looking for another job” (p. 24). In regards to Polly’s new job as Roberta’s assistant she’s told straight up, “I know we're asking at great deal from you, Polly, but if you've got what it takes, you'll cope with all that and ask for more. Now get hold of yourself, girl. You’ll get the swing of it all before you know it” (p. 55-56).
Polly’s relationship with Roberta is interesting in that it is an early look at female rivalry in careers. It never seems that girls can work together or support each other. Instead it is always about competition. Polly is warned to “take it easy with Roberta. Don't crowd her—ever. She's very jealous of her show and I've seen her really turn mean if she thought somebody was trying to take her place” (p. 52). Roberta, while a pretty selfish and mean-spirited woman is a good representative of a career minded woman, a character that is a good role model. Polly learns that Roberta and Vince are actually engaged but haven’t gotten married yet because Roberta doesn’t want to take time off from her job to go on a honeymoon (for fear that if she is gone even one day she’ll loose her show). Overhearing conversations between them Polly realizes that Vince is “probably trying very hard to get Roberta to forget her career and take care of his home” (p. 64). As Jake later confirms: “Roberta and Vince are made for each other and should get married. Vincent is in love with her and I guess Roberta is pretty fond of him, but do you think she'll go off on a honeymoon and leave her pans and pots in somebody else’s hands? She will not. Vince wants a honeymoon, soooo . . . They just don't even get married. Nope—if talent does allow a person to take their place in front of that old camera for more than a day you can bet that person is so awkward or so ugly that the viewers will write in demand their old pet back again. Just don't count on Roberta ever allowing you to take her place on camera, Polly, she won't. Uncle Jake knows. I'm talent and you can bet nobody gets my show” (p. 70).
When Polly gets the job at the second TV studio, her new boss doesn’t look fondly at her “career” much either when he tells her that “he did not want any cooking presented on either show except desserts made with one of the sponsors products, canned whipped cream” and that her women’s world news segment will be her “special baby. That and the sewing machine company. In your portion of the show, you'll present different silly ideas that will sell our sponsors product” (p. 112-113).
The other big gender aspect that is covered in this story is how rude and condescending the males are to Polly. Jake is a condescending asshole. Throughout the book he constantly calls Polly by many pet names, such as kiddo, his little fireball, and angelpuss. He is also was constantly kissing her romantically though he shows no actual interest in her. When she accuses him of being jealous of Brian he replies, “No, I'm not jealous of that creep. Why should I be? You are only one of my girlfriends, Polly my pretty. I make it a rule not to be jealous of anybody. I'll admit I don't like the way he slipped his arm around you on camera, he cheapened the show somehow” (p. 124). However, the biggest creep factor was when Polly was to entertain Mr. Saxon, one of her sponsors. He proves to be a drunk who wants to be all touchy feely with Polly and when she tells him to basically keep his hands to himself he threatens to take her sponsorship. When she goes to her boss to report Saxon’s behavior he just laughs it off like it’s no big deal: “Aww, forget it. Go back and give Saxon a good time, honey. Smile pretty at him. He doesn't mean any harm. He's just a little fuzzy. Be smart, girl. This is show business. Be smart” (p. 138). He is implying the horrible idea that if a girl gets harassed on the job it is just part of her job and she has to put up with it. When Polly insists on quitting than waiting to get fired her boss replies with, “You really mean this, don't you? You're a fool, Polly. If you hadn't had Vince Montgomery to push you, you'd never have had such a chance. Now you're going to throw it all away because you can't brush off an old man who's had too much to drink. O.K. So be it. Margie has been dying to try for your job. So, now it's her turn. Well, see 'round, girl. No hard feelings” (p. 139).
In the end it is good to see Polly preserve—she went to a film school and she even moved to San Francisco for a job she loves at a TV station. However, since this is the 1950s and she is a girl the end of the book ends on a lovely-dovey note: “She had Jake, and she loved him so much. She had her mother. And she had a career. Of course, Jake knew she intended to go on with her work in TV for no one realized better than he how hard she had struggled for the successes she now knew. Indeed, together they both looked forward to the years of professional life in this strange TV world” (p. 180).