Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek


I decided to see this one again after yet another news story about the much-loathed “Octomom.” You know, Nadya Suleman, the crazy lady who recently bore the only surviving (at this writing, and it looks like they will all make it) set of octuplets ever delivered. And everybody thought that was just amazing … for about 24 hours. Then the afterbirths hit the fan. It came out that she was unmarried, already had six kids, all through in vitro fertilization, and was on public assistance. Some doctor, yet to be identified, had agreed to implant eight more embryos, all from the father of the previous six (and he’s also yet to be identified), in violation of all ethical guidelines for such procedures.

This latest news story was about some brave soul who, under cover of darkness, had hurled an infant car seat through the window of Suleman’s van. Previously things had been thrown at the house, and the phone has never stopped ringing with people eager to tell her what a terrible person she is, many of whom threatened to kill her.

I have been increasingly disturbed by the spewing of flat-out hatred for this woman. Most people don’t throw dog turds or baby seats, or even make phone calls, of course, but everyone disapproves, as far as I can tell. Well, so do I, but it’s clear to me that the lady is emotionally disturbed, and after all, she is hardly the first person to have 14 children. I don’t relish the idea of paying for the no-doubt astronomical medical bills (either directly through taxes, or indirectly, through higher medical costs because the hospital will surely have to write it all off—which is shorthand for charging it all to paying customers), or the cost of their upbringing, which she is unlikely to be able to pay for on her own. But again, if she’d had them one at a time, even with no father and no job and no skills, nobody would be hating her. Many would disapprove (I sure would), but I doubt there would be this disturbing venom. Reading the comments on some of the news stories recently, it seems many if not most Americans would like the children taken away from her, and not one dime of public money spent on them. (Now there’s a great idea. I’m sure they’d enjoy seeing her living in cardboard boxes under a bridge, with her brood. Of course, the babies would mostly be dead soon … which is what I think most of these writers really want.)

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not defending her. I think she is a very sad case. But the kids are here, they are innocent of any wrongdoing, and they are going to be needy. It’s time to cool off and try, as a society, to provide the best upbringing possible in this difficult situation. If she is found to be lacking as a mother in some way, then so be it, take them away from her. But no one that I know has suggested that she hasn’t loved and cared for her previous non-simultaneous brood.

What’s saddest, to me, is that up until now, up until this very case, multiple births of 5 or more were celebrated. The family was showered with gifts, money, public acclaim. Consider the McCaugheys, who had septuplets in 1997, and who, like Suleman, rejected the idea of “selective reduction,” which would have given the remaining fetuses a better chance at a normal life. (Two of the seven have cerebral palsy; severe birth defects are very common among litters like this.) From Wikipedia:

The McCaugheys were the recipients of many generous donations, including a 5500ft² house, a van and diapers for the first two years, as well as nanny services, and even the State of Iowa offering full college scholarships to the babies upon their maturity and graduation from high school to any state university in Iowa. U.S. President Bill Clinton personally telephoned Mr. and Mrs. McCaughey to wish them his congratulations.

What’s the big difference? It’s more than just having one more baby. The McCaugheys weren’t on welfare, but who knows how it would have worked out if they hadn’t gotten all those donations and love? Mrs. McCaughey said only one in ten of the avalanche of letters they got was negative, and I doubt they got any death threats. (And she now has the gall to be a lecturer against abortion. She, who condemned two of her boys to cerebral palsy. You know what? Fuck her, and Sarah Palin and her decision to have a Down’s syndrome kid, too.) If you’re going to throw sticks and stones, why not heave some the McCaughey’s way, too?

No, I think, in the end, that a lot of it has to do with her being a single mother. If she had a husband, things might have been very different. There would still be baby-seat-throwing sub-humans out there, but not so many.

Well, I hadn’t meant to rant on so long about that, but it’s really starting to piss me off.

So how about this movie?

It’s by Preston Sturges, who was hands down the best writer and director of comedies in the 1940s. He didn’t make a lot of movies and his career ended sadly, but every one he did make is a little gem, a classic. In this one, Betty Hutton bears sextuplets. But that doesn’t happen until quite near the end. The fun is in the build-up. She draws a blank one night while carousing with a lot of soldiers about to be sent overseas, and wakes remembering only that she got married. (If she remembers consummating the marriage, she never mentions it.) She doesn’t have a copy of the license, but remembers everybody thought if would be funny if she used a phony name … and the new husband’s name is … she can’t remember, but it sounded like Ratsky-watsky. Then she finds out she is … ahem … significant (you might even say pregnant) pause … wink, wink … you know. In a certain condition. (You couldn’t say “pregnant” under the idiotic Hays Code of the MPAA, which lingered right into the mid-‘60s. They seldom, if ever, even showed a pregnant woman.) So we see very little of Betty when she would be showing what they call a “baby bump” these days, and nothing at all of her bump. We sort of slide past all that part. Which is even more insane, considering she is carrying six rug rats! Next thing we know, nurses are running down the hallways carrying one puppy after another …

Of course it is ludicrous that a woman in that situation would get married, rather than make out in the back seat (or possibly be raped while passed out), but an unmarried woman having sex could not be shown sympathetically in a comedy. She would have to be punished, and be seen as a bad person. So Sturges uses this ridiculous prudish restriction to his advantage, getting all sorts of laughs out of Betty’s attempts to make it all seem legitimate. These resolve around Eddie Bracken, professional Hollywood nebbish, who isn’t in the Army because of a nervous condition, and who loves her. And many other things are winked at. There is a short piece about the MPAA Code on the DVD, and everyone agrees that Sturges was the master of making the Hays Office look like fools. (And I just learned that the office was located literally two blocks from us, on the corner of Hollywood and Western!) She could not be drunk, so the ridiculous fiction that she got knocked on the head was brought in … and of course everyone in the audience knew she was drunk out of her mind. As for Ratsky-watsky? It’s doubtful there ever was a marriage. We never see him. The movie is full of stuff like that, and it’s a pleasure to see Sturges sock it to the prudes. Believe it or not, this movie was way racier than anything anyone else was doing at the time.