The Gorgeous Hussy (1936)




Director:     Clarence Brown. 

Starring:     Joan Crawford (Peggy Eaton),  Robert Taylor ('Bow' Timberlake),  Lionel Barrymore (Andrew Jackson),  Franchot Tone (John Eaton),  Melvyn Douglas (John Randolph),  James Stewart ('Rowdy' Dow),  Alison Skipworth (Mrs. Beall),  Beulah Bondi (Rachel Jackson),  Louis Calhern (Sunderland),  Melville Cooper (Cuthbert),  Sidney Toler (Daniel Webster),  Gene Lockhart (Major William O'Neal),  Clara Blandick (Louisa Abbott),  Frank Conroy (John C. Calhoun),  Nydia Westman (Maybelle).

a relationship between John Eaton and the innkeeper's daughter results in trouble for both of them and Andrew Jackson


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"This story of Peggy Eaton and her times is not presented as a precise account of either  --  rather, as fiction founded upon historical fact.  Except for historically prominent personages, the characters are fictional.  The city of Washington in 1823  --  heart of a country not yet a century old, not yet beyond an occasional growing-pain."

In the Senate Daniel Webster of Massachusetts has the floor.  He complains about the use of the doctrine of "states' rights" by the Senator from Virginia. "Will Virginia abide by the Constitution or not?"  Senator John Randolph of Virginia gets up to say that the Constitution is not holy-writ.  "Virginia will not submit to any violation of her sovereign rights."  Webster asks if Virginia will use force in it's insistence on states' rights.   He adds that the problem is that Randolph is first a Virginian and only secondly an American.  Webster and John talk together at a bar.  Webster says that Randolph and Calhoun are behind this treasonable business.

Professor Sunderland gets off the stagecoach at the Inn.  Also on the stage coach is Bow Timberlake of the US Navy.  The guys go have a drink.  In comes Peggy O'Neill, the daughter the proprietor of the Inn.  The Navy man and the Professor both start to flirt with Peggy.  Webster and Randolph are once again talking politics.  Peggy listens to Randolph's thinking and she comes over to say that this is treason.  She tells him off and then leaves. 

Rowdy Dow asks Peggy to marry him, but she ignores him.  Randolph passes by out the door and Peggy looks at him intently.  Rowdy says that she has had eyes for the man since she was a girl.  Peggy denies that, but Rowdy says he knows it's true.  Peggy tells Rowdy to go home. 

Senator Andrew Jackson of Tennessee and Rachel, his wife, travel together on the stagecoach.  Rachel complains to her husband that Mandy is vicious toward her because she looks down upon her.  Andrew tells her to let them hate.  They arrive at the Inn and Peggy is delighted to see them.  She refers to them as Uncle and Aunt.   

Timberlake continues to woo Peggy.  He even gives her a a kiss or two.  At night Peggy goes to see John Randolph.  She asks him:  "Does it mean anything to you that I love you?"  He says she can't possibly love him and that she is too young for him.  She won't be discouraged, so he tells her he doesn't love her.  She calls him a liar.  Peggy leaves the room.

The next day she goes out on a hay ride with Timberlake.  The wagon stops at an Inn.  It starts lightening and thundering so bad that the wagon can't return before nightfall.  The Inn keeper puts everyone up for the night.  During the night Peggy and Timberlake kiss. Randolph and Timberlake talk in the morning.  Timberlake says he wants to marry Peggy.  He adds that he knows Peggy loves him.  This disturbs John Randolph. 

Randolph goes outside to sit.  Peggy comes to see him.  She asks him if she should marry Timberlake.  He is in no mood to talk about that.  John says she better marry him before someone else takes her fancy.  Peggy is upset at his attitude.  She runs off. 

Peggy marries Timberlake becoming Mrs. Peggy Timberlake.  Bow takes the marriage certificate, goes to put it in his pocket, but misses the pocket and it falls to the ground without Bow realizing it.  They walk away leaving the certificate behind.  They spend the night in the Inn. Mrs. Jackson hears a lot of commotion in Peggy's room and she wakes her husband.  She tells him that a lot of gallivanting is going on in Peggy's room.  Andrew gets his two pistols and with his wife knocks on Peggy's door.  When Peggy answers the door the Senator wants to know why Bow is with her in her room.  Bow answers that's because he's her husband now.  He looks for the marriage certificate to prove it, but can't find it.  He picks up another letter that says to report on board ship on May 7, 1823 and be prepared for immediate service.  Bow pretends the letter is the marriage certificate.  The Jacksons can't tell what it is since neither of them have their glasses with them.  They listen as Bow pretends to read them a marriage statement from his memory.  But Peggy doesn't need glasses.  She reads the letter sending her husband on a three month tour of the West Indies.  That means they only have one night together. 

Three months later.  Mrs. Timberlake comes aboard the USS Constitution.  The captain tells her that her husband died and was buried at sea. 

"In the five years that followed, Andrew Jackson rose to prominence as a 'man of the people' -- adored by the rank and file of America, feared by the blue-bloods and reactionaries of Washington.  Wit John Randolph in Russia as Minister from the United States, Peggy grew closer than ever before to Rachel and her 'Andy'. "

"1828.  Following a presidential campaign unequalled before or since for bloodiness and bitterness . . . Adams and Rush vs. Jackson and Calhoun." 

A group of pro-Adams women are gossipping about Rachel and her husband.  They make fun of Rachel, the "Backwards Belle", smoking a pipe.  The gossips say Rachel married Andy before her divorce from her first husband was even legal. 

Peggy paces the floor waiting for Rowdy to arrive with the latest election news.  Senator John Eaton is there telling her she looks like a gazelle.  He also tells her that he is in love with her.  John Randolph shows up.  Peggy introduces Randolph to John Eaton.  Jackson and Rachel and other important politicians, like Calhoun, are all waiting for the election results.  There is a big crowd outside yelling to see Andrew Jackson.  Jackson goes out to see the crowd.  He is stunned when he realizes they are a group of his opponents.  And they carry a lot of signs with personal insults, like "Backwoods Rawchel (sic) the clay pipe First Lady?"  "Down with Jackson the border ruffian, military hangman and murderer."  "Run Jackson back to Tennessee."  One sign has a drawing of Rachel smoking her clay pipe.  A man hurls an insult at Jackson about his wife.  Jackson climbs down a lattice, goes over to the man and beats him severely.  The election news is that Andrew Jackson is now the seventh President of the United States.

Jackson goes to see his wife.  He tells her:  "They'll lick your boots before I'm through with them:  the scum!"  Rachel tells her husband they have been making fun of her in order to make him look ridiculous.  They've been using her just to drag him down.  She suggests that he should have left her back in Tennessee.  Jackson says that he couldn't go on without her. 

Rachel speaks with Peggy.   She says she will never set foot in the White House.  She says she wouldn't know how to act anyway.  Rachel then warns Peggy about the hatefulness of the enemies of Andrew Jackson.  She tells Peggy to watch out for them.  The closer Peggy gets to the President, the worse it will be, and she wants Peggy to stay close by her husband.  Rachel thinks she is near death and she asks Peggy to watch over her husband. 

Rachel dies.  Jackson and Peggy ride in a buggy together to the funeral.  Jackson's niece Sarah comments viciously that Rachel isn't even cold in her grave and Peggy is moving in on the President. Peggy cheers the President up by delivering to him the verbal message that Rachel had left with Peggy for her husband.  Jackson looks out the window and sees the women gossipping away.  He remarks:  "Their gossip killed my Rachel, Peg."  He says he will never let this happen again to anyone he loves. 

Jackson calls a group of politicians to complain about South Carolina deciding to disregard and violate a national tariff bill.  He has ordered two war ships sent to Charleston.  If they don't relent he will send federal troops to South Carolina to straighten out the people there.  A Virginia politician gets very upset with Jackson and says he's prejudiced against the southern region of the United States.  There may be secession and nullification coming.  Jackson adds:  "Or civil war!" 

In front of the Congress Jackson gives a speech about the importance of unity in the USA.  There is a lot of applause for the speech, but the southerners boo him.  Peggy is proud of her President. 

The gossip heats up about Peg.  One elderly woman refers to her as "Pothouse Peg".  And Peg is said to have forced the President to send Jackson's poor niece Sarah back to Tennessee.  At a party the widow Peggy dances with John Eaton.   Rowdy is there and he takes exception to what Calhoun says about Peggy as a slander of a "defenseless woman" and demands that the remark be retracted.  Calhoun refuses and Rowdy winds up to hit the older man.  He is stopped by some men and Peggy.  Peggy tells Rowdy that it's their dance now and he gladly goes with her to the dance floor.  The problem is that it's the last dance before supper and Peggy had promised it to John Randolph.  John sees Peggy dancing with Rowdy and is very displeased.  He leaves the party.  This upsets Peggy a great deal. 

Peggy has a coachman drive her to see John Randolph.  On the porch she can hear him ranting a speech about secession.  Peggy starts whistling the tune "Yankee Doodle Dandy".  John comes out to see who would be so bold.  Peggy reveals herself.  She asks him about his five years in Russia.  He says they were the five worst years of his life.  Each day seemed an eternity without Peggy.  He feels bad about the time he told her to marry Timberlake.  Peggy says she has come again to him for a second time.  They kiss.  Peggy says that they have lost so many years.  They hug and kiss. 

Peggy tells the President she is marrying John Randolph.  Jackson is upset.  He feels the marriage would alienate her from him because once she marries her husband's wishes and desires will become Peggy's wishes and desires and there is no compromise possible between Jackson's support for the United States and Randolph's primary support for Virginia and the south.  He says he needs Peggy just like he needed Rachel.  But Peggy says he can't expect her to give up the man she has loved since childhood.  She begs the President to try to understand her position.  He says she's probably right and he wishes her the best of luck. 

Peggy and John talk together.  She says marriage means turning her back on everything she ever believed in.  Peggy says she can't abandon Jackson.  She suggests that maybe John could change some of his political views.  This outrages John Randolph of Virginia.  He suggests that maybe Peggy doesn't love him.  John recognizes they are at an impasse again.  Neither of them will give up their principles and beliefs.  Peggy leaves. 

Peg has organized a trip on the Potomac for the President.  All the cabinet members were invited, but only Van Buren and John Eaton came on the trip.  Peggy is upset because she knows that it was the women who stopped their husbands from coming on the trip.  She knows the wives don't like her and say terrible things about her.  Jackson tells her that the wives don't know anything about her really.  Peg says she has endured lies, insults and gossip and has even been willing to humble herself at times.  She tells Jackson that maybe he should get another unofficial first lady, but Jackson says there's nobody he likes as much as her.  Jackson suggests that she become Mrs. Eaton.  Things might go better for her if she was married to the Secretary of War.  Peggy goes to speak to John Eaton. 

June 15, 1829.  An article in the paper says that John Eaton married Mrs. Margaret Timberlake.  John Randolph puts his house up for sale.  A man who supports secession of the south through methods of bloodshed visits Randolph.  Randolph throws him out saying he won't support the use of violence to dissolve the union.  The man leaves.  A little while later a shot goes through the window and hits Randolph in the back. 

Rowdy comes to see Peggy.  He tells her that John Randolph has been shot and is in Warrenton.  Rowdy and she go to Warrenton.  She goes in to see Randolph.  He smiles when he knows it's Peggy.  He tells her that he has always loved her.  She leaves. 

The killer of Randolph jumps into the coach with Peggy and Rowdy.  He wants them to give him a ride to Washington.  He will leave them there and they will say nothing about him and he will say nothing about them.  But Rowdy pushes the man out of the coach. 

Jackson speaks to his cabinet and their wives.  He says Mrs. Biel has been saying the most against Peggy, so she should speak first.  She says they had to take the stand they did to save the morals of their families.  In their opinion, Mrs. Eaton is a national menace.  Furthermore, they demand that she be expelled from their community.  Secretary Ingram speaks next.  He objects to the presence of Mr. Eaton.  Jackson says that none of them have proof of their allegations against Mrs. Eaton, because none of them actually saw what happened. 

John gets really mad at Ingram and pops him one.  Jackson tells Eaton to let him handle this his way.  The President rings for Mrs. Eaton to come in.  John escorts her in.  Jackson now tells off his audience.  He says they have been members of a campaign of malicious slander against a defenseless woman.  He tells the cabinet that he asks of them and accepts their resignations.  Then he throws the whole lot of them out of his office, saying:  "Git!" 

Peggy tells Jackson that she has been thinking about herself and her situation.  Jackson says she talks about her life as if it was over.  She says she is going to "git".  Peg says it's the best for peace and union.  She wants to go to Spain with John H. Eaton as the US envoy to Spain.  

At the dock Jackson says goodbye to John and Peggy, who are headed to Spain.  He kisses Peg's hand.  On the ship Peg says:  "Goodbye John Randolph." 


Good movie.  At lest the main events in the movie are somewhat close to what really happened in history.  Jackson was very angry at the press because he felt that all the virulent criticism of him and his wife Rachel contributed to the death of his wife.  So when Mrs. Eaton was subjected to a vicious campaign of slander, he came to the defense of a "defenseless woman".  Joan Crawford was very good as Mrs. Timberlake/Mrs. Eaton.  Lionel Barrymore was also good, but Jackson was a tall man (6 feet, 1 inch), while Barrymore was more of an average height. The movie is also good because it's the only one dealing with the presidency of Andrew Jackson that I have been able to get my hands on. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


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