Twin Beds, by Edward Salisbury Field

February 20th, 2011

Twin Beds was a book ahead of its time. Its time being somewhere between the mid-1930s and the mid-1950s, the golden era of screwball comedies. For Twin Beds is just the sort of comedy of errors you’d expect to see in a Preston Sturges movies or an episode of “I Love Lucy.”

Blanche and her husband Henry live in a New York apartment. Looking to buy a new bed, she lets the salesman convince her to purchase that novelty, a set of twin beds, instead–they’re “stylish and everybody was using them.” Blanche and Henry are happy trend-followers, but Blanche’s ma, visiting from Centerville, finds the situation a little scandalous.

This would be the end of the matter but for the ensuing set of accidents. Henry heads out for a night of bowling and beer with the fellas–which puts Ma, already at odds with the new fangled ways of life in the big city:

Pa had never had a night out, so why should Henry! It wasn’t safe for married men to go gallivanting around alone nights; it gave them wrong ideas. What if Henry did work hard all week! Hadn’t Pa worked hard, too! Hard work was good for men; it kept them from getting too skittish. Besides, New York wasn’t like Centerville. New York was a wicked city, full of temptations. “And you needn’t tell me times has changed,” said Ma; “men are just the same as they always was.”

“Yes, Ma,” I said, “but women ain’t.”

“What did you say!”

“I said Henry has a perfect right to go out Saturday nights if I let him.”

“Well, it ain’t right,” declared Ma. “If Henry loved you the way he ought to, he wouldn’t want to leave you.”

Blanche and Ma retire for the night. Somewhere around midnight, a man staggers into the apartment, fumbles to get his clothes off, and climbs into Henry’s bed. Listening in the dark, Blanche thinks it’s Henry.

It’s not, of course. It’s one of their neighbors, who’s mistaken their place for his as he teeters home from his own night out. What are Blanche and Henry to do, particularly if they don’t want to upset Ma? Well, the whole affair ultimately involves a fire escape, an enormous clothes hamper, a policeman, an angry wife, slamming doors, thrown shoes and most of the other comic cliches short of a rolling pin.

In fact, Twin Beds was such prime material that Field made it into a play, co-written with Margaret Mayo, and Hollywood filmed it not once, not twice, but three times–in 1920 starring Carter and Flora Parker DeHaven (Pa and Ma of Gloria); in 1929 starring Jack Mulhall; and in 1942 with George Brent and Joan Bennett.

An interesting footnote to: Some years after Robert Lewis Stevenson’s death in 1894, Field went to work for his widow, Fanny. At the time, Field was 23 and Fanny was in her sixties. They grew very close, and when she died, he reported said she was “the only woman in the world worth dying for.” Which didn’t stop him from promptly marrying Stevenson’s daughter, Belle, who just 22 years older than him.

You can find digital versions of the book online at the Internet Archive: http://www.archive.org/details/twinbeds00fielgoog.

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