Kitty Foyle, subtitled The Natural History of a Woman, was a 1940 movie drama starring Ginger Rogers. It was adapted by Dalton Trumbo and Donald Ogden Stewart from Christopher Morley's 1939 bestseller of the same title, about an everyday typist who falls in love with a young socialite.
Rogers won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of the title character. The movie was released two days after Christmas 1940, but the previous March LIFE magazine had sent out a camera crew to illustrate scenes from Morley’s book. Morley himself acted as guide and the crew brought back “a sheaf of basic photographic research on the life of the US White Collar Girl”, much of which LIFE published in its March 25, 1940, edition. In particlar, LIFE focussed on “A girl named Carol Lorell, who looks like Ginger Rogers …” Carol Lorell was in fact a professional model, later an actress in her own right, who at the time of her appearance in LIFE was married to Tunisian-born cosmetics wholesaler Gaston de Havenon Taleb. Her real birth name was Carolyn Helme Leiper (1917-2010). Born in Philadelphia, Carolyn in 1954 married Daniel Baugh Brewster Jr, a Democratic senator from Maryland.
Carol Lorell typing for the March LIFE spread.In its December 9, 1940, edition, LIFE said its “pictures showed the home as the shabby Philadelphia section that Kitty might have come from. They showed the quick-eats joint, the soda counter, the hotel for girls, the apartment near the New York El [elevated railway], the squeeze-kitchenette where the ‘woman of the covered typewriter’ spends her lonesome days and nights. These [images] LIFE offered to [film production and distribution company] RKO as authentic background for its then-projected movie with Ginger Rogers. In addition, LIFE admonished RKO to show the White Collar Girl’s life as ‘neither too grubby nor too glamorous’, to include the mores of this vast section of the US wage earners, to remember their 5pm fatigue, their ‘lonesome washing’, their midnight talks about men, their yearning for romance and marriage.”
Director Sam Wood, above, studied the “sheaf of basic photographic research” in great detail, taking notes on LIFE’s photos and suggestions. In the movie, he reproduced some of the scenes captured by LIFE’s cameramen with some precision. Wood told LIFE in November, “I have just been examing once again my well-worn copy of LIFE on March 25. I wish the White Collar Girl in my office would buy some transparent tape and achor pages 81-87 back in the book. These pages have taken a terrible beating ever since I began the screen preparation for Kitty Foyle. Having just finished camera work, I’ve sorted through the stills and selected these that show LIFE’s influence. I’m sending them herewith to you by way of saying ‘Thank You’ for the help they gave me. You now have before you the evidence of how much we lifted from your graphic illustration of the habits of the White Collar Girl. It is a pleasure not to be sued for pirating the other fellow’s work. We could not use some of LIFE’s suggestions due to the requirements of a picture designed primarily for entertainment. The mores and economics of the business girl were woven as much as possible into the film narrative.”
In the story, Kitty Foyle is a saleswoman in a New York boutique. She faces a life-changing decision: marry her fiancé, a poor doctor, or run away to South America with a rich married man she has loved for many years, ever since he offered her a secretarial job at his fledgling magazine. Below, Ginger Rogers reflects of Kitty Foyle as a role model a decade after the film's release: