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The Women (1939) Poster

(1939)

Trivia

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At the wrap party, Rosalind Russell was dancing with George Cukor, when Ernst Lubitsch passed her and said, "If you want more close-ups in the picture, never mind dancing with your director, you'd better dance with Norma Shearer!" Without missing a beat, Russell took Shearer's hand with a wink and danced her across the floor.
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After Sylvia bites Miriam on the leg, Miriam's line, "Yeah, gotta be careful of hydrophobia!" is her veiled way of calling Sylvia a bitch (hydrophobia is a synonym for rabies, referring to a late stage of the disease, in which the victim has difficulty swallowing, even liquids, and simultaneously becomes very thirsty, while panicking at the idea of trying to drink water). Also, near the end a second allusion to the word "bitch" is used when Crystal says, "There's a name for you ladies, but it isn't used in high society . . . outside a kennel."
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In addition to its all-female cast, every animal that was used in the film (the many dogs and horses) was female as well. In addition, none of the works of art seen in the backgrounds were representative of the male form, except for the cartoon bull that appears in the picnic scene during the fashion sequence.
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George Cukor told Rosalind Russell to play the part of Sylvia very broad. "Because in this picture Sylvia's breaking up a family, and there's a child involved, and if you're a heavy," Cukor told her, "audiences will hate you. Don't play it like a heavy, just be ridiculous." Of this advice Russell said, "He was a hundred-percent right. I was frightened to death, but from then on, I did what he said, and everything that came to me from 'The Women'--namely, my reputation as a comedienne--I owe to George . . . He was marvelous to work for, he could think of a hundred bits of business for every moment."
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When Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford were called to shoot publicity stills, neither actress would enter the studio first. Instead, they remained in their limousines and circled the parking lot until director George Cukor summoned them and they instantly behaved like best friends.
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Joan Fontaine recorded her impressions of each of the actresses in her 1978 autobiography "No Bed of Roses". About Norma Shearer she said, "Hers was a dignified, delightfully warm demeanor." Joan Crawford, she said, "had the democratic touch, knowing every grip and electrician by name". Rosalind Russell, she said, "was a tomboy, hearty, frolicsome, highly popular with the cast and crew . . . But best of all was our director, George Cukor. He handled all the women in the star-studded cast with tact and gallantry, so that what might have been a highly charged assignment for any other director turned out to be a happy association all around. We adored George, as do all actresses who work with him."
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There are over 130 roles in this movie, all played by women. Phyllis Povah, Marjorie Main, Mary Cecil and Marjorie Wood originated their roles in the play, which opened September 7, 1937 and had 666 performances at New York City's Ethel Barrymore Theatre--a Broadway run which, unusually but quite proudly, is displayed in the movie's opening credits. No doubles were used in the fight sequence where Rosalind Russell bites Paulette Goddard. Despite the permanent scar resulting from the bite, the actresses remained friends.
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In the dressing room after the fashion show, Crystal Allen says to Mary Haines, describing Mary's husband Stephen: " . . .because he's the kind that lets that old-fashioned sentiment put the Indian sign on him, and that's all." "The Indian sign" was a popular phrase of the time. It meant to control or dominate. It comes from a technique used by Native Americans to train horses.
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Film debut of Butterfly McQueen.
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Even though the overall atmosphere was one of great professionalism, there were still some reports of legitimate tension on the set between Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford. One frequently repeated story told of one day when the two actresses were running lines to prepare for their big dressing room confrontation scene. As writer Gavin Lambert tells it in his 1990 book "Norma Shearer", "[George Cukor] filmed the master shot, then lined up a close-up of Norma. While he rehearsed her, Joan, who still brought her knitting to the set, clacked away at an afghan with her large, heavy needles. Then Cukor asked her to stand behind the camera during the take and speak her lines off-screen to Norma. She did so, trailing her afghan, and as Cukor held the shot for Norma's silent reaction, the needles clacked away again. Norma lost her concentration, looked up sharply, and asked Joan to stop needling during the retake. Joan pretended not to hear, repeated the treatment, and this time Norma broke off in mid-reaction. Her voice as steely as the needles, she asked Cukor to send Miss Crawford home and read the lines himself." Cukor, angry, asked Crawford to apologize. Crawford refused and walked off the set, though she did later send a telegram of apology to Shearer once she had cooled off.
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The film's costume designer Adrian had his work cut out for him dressing some of Hollywood's most glamorous leading ladies. In addition to the regular costumes for the film, he was also asked to create multiple high-fashion gowns and outfits for a Technicolor fashion show scene that was to be inserted into the black-and-white film. Technicolor was still something of a novelty in 1939, and producer Hunt Stromberg wanted the fashion show to be an eye-popping, unexpected surprise for moviegoers. When all was said and done, Adrian had designed over 200 gowns for the cast of the film.
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At Mary Haines' luncheon, author Nancy Blake asks Sylvia Fowler, "What are you made up for, The Seeing Eye?" The Seeing Eye is America's first guide dog school. It was founded in 1929.
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When directing Paulette Goddard, George Cukor said,"'Look, kid, just forget those female tricks of yours and try to give me the best imitation you can of Spencer Tracy!'"
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The beauty salon and spa featured in the film's opening sequence was based on cosmetics mogul Elizabeth Arden's parlor in New York City. At the premiere of the film, Arden scoffed that the film's salon was an exact copy of hers.
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The enormous square-cut ring Mary wears on her wedding ring finger at the film's start was the most expensive piece of jewelry in the film. Borrowed for filming, it was worth $175,000.
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George Cukor was fired as director of Gone with the Wind (1939) only a month before The Women (1939) was scheduled to begin filming. Producer Hunt Stromberg enlisted Cukor's services immediately upon his sudden availability.
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By all accounts it was a happy, professional set, and the stars worked well together. "The ensemble was a wonderful combination of personalities," said Joan Fontaine years later. "[George Cukor] cast each woman very skillfully."
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The lines Mary reads alone in bed are from "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran: "Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love's threshing floor, Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears." MGM omitted the reference to "nakedness" to avoid offending the censors.
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Joan Fontaine found George Cukor's guidance extremely helpful. "I asked him what gestures, what tonal qualities he wanted for the young wife I was playing," she recalled. "George simply said, 'Forget all that. Think and feel and the rest will take care of itself.' Those few words are the greatest gift any director, any drama coach ever gave me."
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During filming a "Production Code emergency" sprung up, and it was up to screenwriter Anita Loos to fix it. "At that time the most innocent jokes about sex were banned," said Loos in her 1974 book "Kiss Hollywood Good-By". The censors had returned the script with many of its best jokes nixed for being too racy. Loos was instructed to "sit beside [George Cukor] on the set and ad-lib some 'clean' jokes as the cameras rolled. Seeing that there are plenty of laughs in the ordinary bitchiness of women," Loos added, "it was no hard job."
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In the play, Stephen and Mary also have a son, Little Stevie, who is younger than Little Mary. Like the other men in the play, he is never seen.
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Although uncredited, F. Scott Fitzgerald contributed to the writing of the screenplay.
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George Cukor liked to work at a brisk pace, and he kept all of the actresses on their toes. "On a Cukor picture, there's no rest," said Rosalind Russell in her 1977 memoir "Life Is a Banquet". "He keeps you so busy, you're spinning. You're rehearsing, you're running lines, you never get to go to your dressing room, or to the bathroom . . . and it's great, it's stimulating."
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According to her autobiography, Rosalind Russell called in sick because Norma Shearer refused to share top billing. She stayed "sick" until Shearer finally relented.
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Remade as a musical, The Opposite Sex (1956), with June Allyson, Dolores Gray, and Joan Collins in the roles played, respectively, by Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell, and Joan Crawford.
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Sydney's, the beauty salon where the initial action takes place, was named after Sydney Guilaroff, the chief hairstylist at MGM from 1934 to the late 1970s. He was brought to MGM from New York at the request of Joan Crawford. In the play, the salon is called Michael's.
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Though many people view Joan Crawford as the "bad girl" of the movie, Clare Boothe Luce, who wrote (as Clare Boothe) the play that the film was based on, sympathized most with Crystal Allen, Crawford's character.
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Dorothy Lamour was originally sought to play the role of Crystal, but she turned the role down, citing the character as being "less than desirable".
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Myrna Loy and Greta Garbo were the only top-tier female stars at MGM who did not star in this film, although Loy was considered for the role of Crystal Allen.
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In the play "The Women" Joan Crawford's name is mentioned in the dialogue by one of the characters.
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During production, MGM's publicity department couldn't peddle its usual stories about romance on the set to the press with an all-female cast, so they played up the angle of dueling divas and feuds on the set instead. Even though George Cukor publicly defended his cast against rumors of turmoil, audiences still relished the concocted drama and were eager to see if any claws would be visible in the finished film. "When one deals with stars," Cukor said according to Emanuel Levy's 1994 book "George Cukor: Master of Elegance", "he is dealing with intelligent people. If they weren't intelligent, they wouldn't have arrived at the star pinnacle. Stars understand the business. They have learned that a show of temper gets them nothing, save perhaps a salary suspension or at least a headache."
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In the last scene, in the Women's Lounge, a blonde woman enters, compliments the women, and asks if there is "any dirt for the column". The character's name is Dolly Dupuyster, and she is played by one of the two reigning society gossips in Hollywood for decades, Miss Hedda Hopper (1885-1966). (The other was Miss Louella Parsons (1881-1972)). Miss Hopper had been married and had one son, William, who later played Private Investigator Paul Drake on the long-running TV show, "Perry Mason".
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Anita Loos, who wrote this film's screenplay, started her writing career in 1912 with her first feature screenplay The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912) starring Lillian Gish and directed by D.W. Griffith for the American Mutoscope & Biograph Co., which is still in existence. After writing many scripts for Biograph, Loos went on to write such other films such as Saratoga (1937), Another Thin Man (1939), San Francisco (1936), A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953).
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MGM superstar Marion Davies was offered the role of Sylvia Fowler and would have joined her former MGM alumnae Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford in a starring role, but William Randolph Hearst didn't want her to play such a catty woman. Davies' last film was in 1937.
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Judith Allen, who plays the corset model, had previously worked as a model in New York (under the name Mari Colman) before her acting career began.
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The stage actress who originated the role of Sylvia Fowler (Rosalind Russell's role in the film) was Ilka Chase. She is probably best recognized by today's audiences as the Stepmother in the original Julie Andrews live TV musical production of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's Cinderella (1957), the kinescope of which was recently rediscovered and released on DVD.
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Two actresses who appear in "The Women" in uncredited speaking roles later became famous for their work in television sitcoms. The first actress appears after the dressing room fight between Crystal Allen and Mary Haines, playing a saleswoman who says "Now she's in the soup!" Her name is Marie Blake and she is best known for playing Grandmama in "The Addams Family" from 1964 to 1966 under the name Blossom Rock. The other actress appears near the end of the film; she crosses through the ladies' lounge saying "What do they expect you to do? Lay an egg?" This beautiful young actress is Barbara Pepper, and she is best known for playing Doris Ziffel in "Green Acres" from 1965 to 1968.
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In 1960, MGM toyed with the idea of doing an all-male remake of The Women which would have been entitled, Gentlemen's Club. Like the female version, this would have involved an all masculine cast and the plot would have involved a man (Jeffrey Hunter) who recently discovers among his comrades that his wife is having an affair with another man (Earl Holliman) and after going to Reno to file for divorce and begin a new life, he later finds himself doing what he can to rectify matters later on when he discovers that the other man is only interested in money and position and he decides to win his true love back again. Although nothing ever came of this, it would have consisted of the following ensemble had it did: Jeffrey Hunter (Martin Heal), Earl Holliman (Christopher Allen), Tab Hunter (Simon Fowler), Lew Ayres (Count Vancott), Robert Wagner (Mitchell Aarons), James Garner (Peter Day), Jerry Mathers (Little Martin), James Stewart (Mr. Heal), Ronald Reagan (Larry), Troy Donahue (Norman Blake), and Stuart Whitman (Oliver, the bartender who spills the beans about the illicit affair).
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It is frequently said that in addition to having an all-female cast that only female animals were featured and that you wouldn't find any representations of the male form anywhere. In reality, this is not the case. There are male horses, and dogs, a photo of a man on the back of a magazine someone is reading, male porcelain figurines on someone's shelves, an oil painting of a man in the background in Edith's home, a black male figure doing a handstand with a vase balanced on his feet in Mary's bedroom, a male porcelain figure made into a bedside lamp and probably a few other minor instances.
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A couple of times women refer to another women disparagingly as a "beezle." This wasn't 1930s slang, it is a word invented for this movie because the censors wouldn't permit the use of the word "bitch" or any actual synonym.
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Almost exactly like her character,--a young, divorced, Broadway "Vanities" dancer with the evocative Jewish name Miriam Aarons--Paulette Goddard was also Jewish (on her father's side) and likewise had been a Ziegfeld Follies phenom at age 13, divorced by age 20. In contrast, the second of Goddard's four husbands was none other than Charles Chaplin, to whom she was married during this film's production--barely, since they also got divorced the next year.
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One of Freddie Mercury's favorite films.
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Included among the American Film Institute's 2000 list of the 500 movies nominated for the Top 100 Funniest American Movies.
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In 1925 Joan Crawford had the task of serving as the unaccredited body double to Norma Shearer in "Lady of the Night". Shearer played a duel role in the flick of mother and daughter. This was Joan's first film appearance even though she was made to look like Norma's Molly character.
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When Sylvia Fowler (Rosalind Russell) claims "I'd die before I hurt Edith," fellow lunch guest Nancy responds with an offer of "Nuts?" Eighteen years later, in the iconic Auntie Mame (1958), it's Russell's turn as Mame to proffer precisely the same subtle, one-word insult to her uptight, upper-class nemesis, Mr. Babcock.
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Re-released in France in May 1974.
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The bathtub Joan Crawford uses in the scene with Rosalind Russell was used again 14 years later in "The Band Wagon" Girl Hunt number.
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In addition to those cast members already listed, Beatrice Cole and Beryl Wallace also appeared in the stage play.
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Ernst Lubitsch was the first choice for director.
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Two dresses worn during the fashion show's picnic sequence (the white dress with violet petals and full sleeves and the white dress with cape, bodice, and sleeves trimmed in red) were also worn by two characters in "Judge Hardy and Son", also from 1939.
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Remade as The Women (2008).
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The $225 for the negligee is worth about $4400 in 2021.
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As someone posted earlier, the actress (uncredited) who says "Now she's in the soup" after Crystal and Mary Haines meet in the dressing room, is Marie Blake and she played Grandmama in "The Addams Family" on TV in the 60s. Her real name is Edith Marie Blossom MacDonald and she is the older sister of Jeanette MacDonald. And even in 1939, that voice is unmistakable.
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Debut of actresses Mary Anderson, Butterfly McQueen, Isabel Randolph and Lucia Carroll.
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Phyllis Povah's debut.
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The nail color Jungle Red has been offered by various cosmetic companies over the decades, most recently by NARS.
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Costume designer Adrian outdid himself with his fashion show outfits. They perfectly embraced and illustrated the late 30's era of bold and sleek new design in all things. The world was coming out of a depression and demanded a new look across the board. Although the clothes now might seem a tad risque or avant-garde for that decade, it was a time when all things futuristic were embraced, from fashion to architecture to transportation and more. Sadly, this short lived brave new world disappeared with the start of WW2.
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Until divorce laws became less restrictive, the hospitality industry of greater Reno catered to those who were awaiting divorce decrees. There were many guest ranches and motels that specifically offered long term accomodations for this purpose. The concept was shown in a more modern setting in the 1964 film "When the Boys Meet the Girls."
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Beatrice Cole's debut.
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Mary's mother speaks about a swastika towards the end of the movie. This film premiered on September 1, 1939, the date of the German invasion of Poland---the start of WW2 in Europe. The symbol of the National Socialist Party, the swastika, was already know all over the world.
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On the train to Reno, the Countess mentions her ex husband referred to her as a schlemiel. She thinks it's an endearment, but it's actually a Yiddish word for a clumsy idiot type of person.
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Final film of actress Virginia Howell .
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Although the salon shown in the opening scenes may have seemed over the top to audiences of the time, many of the treatments offered are still around in 2021. These include mud baths, electro stimulation of muscles, indoor suntanning, stationary bikes, exercise routines, sauna and steam rooms, and various types of facials.
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The Los Angeles County Arboretum doubled for parts of the Bermuda scenes. It also served as the location setting for the TV series "Fantasy Island."
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The night scene of the train shows Joshua Trees, indicating it is passing through the Mojave desert on its way to Reno, with mountains appearing next. Reno at the time of this film was the place where married people went to become...unmarried. The train itself seems to be a divorcee special of sorts and was likely based on actual journeys.
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The perfume counter at Black's Fifth Avenue is a nod to the famous upscale New York City department store, Saks Fifth Avenue.
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Although the Jungle Red nail polish color is mentioned a few times in the film, one of the most popular shades at the time was Windsor Rose, which was reputed to be the Duchess of Windsor's signature hue.
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The zoo monkey in the fashion show wears a version of the previous outfit, the daring cream bathing suit and cape ensemble. The cape with the off center visored cowl is perhaps a nod to the French Foreign Legion, though the film "Casablanca" was three years away from its premiere.
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The prize "that they're always giving out in Sweden" that the cook mentions is, of course, the Nobel Prize.
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An old fashioned slot machine is seen in the common area of the guest ranch, obviously for the use of the guests. At the time of this film, legalized gambling in Nevada had begun just eight years before.
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This film is touted for having no men it. However, there is a picture of a man in the magazine that Peggy is looking at that contains Mary and little Mary.
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Max Gordon announced in the 1937 edition of the Film Daily Year Book that The Women would be the first film made by his Max Gordon Plays & Pictures.
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Spoilers 

The trivia items below may give away important plot points.

Uncredited as Crystal's counter girl Lulu, Butterfly McQueen shared only one humorous scene with star Joan Crawford, but they would share much more screen time together six years later in Warner Borthers' Oscar-nominated Mildred Pierce (1945). And McQueen would enjoy even more screen prominence as Prissy in the legendary Gone with the Wind (1939), released the very same year as "The Women," also directed, in part, by George Cukor.
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"George Cukor told Rosalind Russell to play the part of Sylvia very broad. 'Because in this picture Sylvia's breaking up a family and there's a child involved....' " The character who is "breaking up a family" is Crystal, the shop clerk, played by Joan Crawford. The text about Cukor and Russell may refer to Sylvia arranging for Mary to hear about her husband's infidelity from the manicurist.
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Based references made by Flora and Sylvia, Buck Winston's signature song appears to be "The Old Chisholm Trail." The song's chorus features the refrain "Come a ki yi yippee yippee yay," and has been a popular cowboy standard since at least the 1870's (the first lyrics were formally published by John Lomax in 1910).
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