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Money: How Far Does a Buck Go in Classic Film?

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Money: How Far Does a Buck Go in Classic Film?

Postby pktrekgirl » May 7th, 2007, 9:16 am

As an accountant IRL, I am always fascinated by wages and prices in classic film. And I'm gonna start keeping track of some of them here, just to amuse myself and get an idea of how much stuff really cost at various times.

Feel free to contribute if you are interested (or not)....but make sure to include the year of the film or the info will be even more meaningless than it already is. :D

In THERE'S ALWAYS A WOMAN (1938), William Reardon (Melvyn Douglas) is an investigator. He once worked for the D.A.'s office for $3,500 per year.

He went back to work for the D.A.'s office at $75 per week.

In this film Fillet Mignon in a nice restaurant cost 90 cents.

jdb1

Postby jdb1 » May 7th, 2007, 12:43 pm

Desk Set (1957) was broadcast (on the Fox Network?) this weekend.

Katharine Hepburn and her three assistants in the research department of a major TV network gave the mailroom clerk a collective grand total of $5 for Christmas. And he even happily exclaimed "Five bucks!"

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Postby Sue Sue Applegate » May 7th, 2007, 5:49 pm

Dear Judith and pktrkgirl,
This is an interesting thread idea. My mom is always reminding me what things cost back in the day because sometimes we watch TCM together and discuss how much it cost to ride the trolley or what a loaf of bread cost.
But here is something I actually remember. In 1962-1963, we lived in New Orleans, and I was a girl scout. One Saturday our troop went to the French Quarter to see Madame Tussaud's and the John James Audubon exhibit.
Then we went to Cafe Du Monde : a cup of coffee and three beignets
cost 15 cents. (The coffee had free refills.) Yummmmm....
They use a machine now, so the beignets don't taste the same....
Last edited by Sue Sue Applegate on May 8th, 2007, 12:43 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Postby SSO Admins » May 7th, 2007, 6:03 pm

What kills me more than the prices is the relative wealth. I know Hollywood has always had a somewhat distorted view of reality, but the movies where a cop or a laborer can live in a two story single family home in a decent neighborhood while mom stays home with the kids just floors me. Was that ever possible?

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Postby Sue Sue Applegate » May 7th, 2007, 6:24 pm

In Texas, if the mom stayed home with the kids, it was usually a one-story, two bedroom home with one bath if the dad was a day laborer.
( My mom was a secretary for Southern Builders back in the forties
here in Houston, and she talked about the loans, the square footage,
and the lots. )
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Postby jdb1 » May 8th, 2007, 9:14 am

jondaris wrote:What kills me more than the prices is the relative wealth. I know Hollywood has always had a somewhat distorted view of reality, but the movies where a cop or a laborer can live in a two story single family home in a decent neighborhood while mom stays home with the kids just floors me. Was that ever possible?


Yes, it must have been. I recall hearing it said when I was a young teen, in the early 60s, that my stepfather earned $10,000 a year. He worked for the City of New York. I think this was considered a pretty high salary for the time. We were a family of five, had an apartment with two and a half bedrooms (the "half" being a room that could be used as an extra bedroom, or a den or dining area), had a car, went on out of town vacations several times a year, and ate in restaurants every weekend. We had all the modern appliances popular at the time, had closets full of clothes (not expensive clothes, to be sure, but "nice" clothes), and led, what I understand in retrospect, to be a very comfortable life. One of the things that helped was that we lived in a 'rent-controlled' apartment building, and our rent was well below what others may have been paying. However, that building was de-controlled after a few years, the rent was raised to market rate, and we moved into the upstairs of a two-family house. But that apartment, although a bit smaller, was quite nice as well.

I remember milk costing about 21 cents a quart, about the same for a loaf of bread, and gasoline was 26 cents a gallon. A "good" dress rarely cost more than 10 or 12 dollars - the same for shoes. I remember my uncle buying himself a really expensive suit when he graduated from college, for which he was scolded by his family. It cost about $65.

On "I Love Lucy," it was mentioned once that the Ricardos paid $125 a month in rent. I think that was considered very extravagant by the standards of the early 50s. Imagine an apartment, even a studio, on the East Side of Manhattan these days for less than $1250 a month! $3250 would be more like it.

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Postby pktrekgirl » May 8th, 2007, 11:24 am

jondaris wrote:What kills me more than the prices is the relative wealth. I know Hollywood has always had a somewhat distorted view of reality, but the movies where a cop or a laborer can live in a two story single family home in a decent neighborhood while mom stays home with the kids just floors me. Was that ever possible?


Well actually, that is sorta part of the reason why I'm doing this. The ultimate goal is to sort of get an idea of the standard of living in general.

When Melvyn Douglas' character said with pride, "Well, I used to make $3,500 a year with the D.A.'s office!"....I was actually expecting the word 'month' instead of 'year'.

It just floored me for some reason, even though I know everything was cheaper back then. I mean jeez - I make more every two weeks than his character made in an entire year....and that got me thinking about if my standard of living as a whole would stack up to his.

That's sorta why I decided to amuse myself by keeping track of these sorts of comments made in films and sort of extrapolate info about the general standard of living.

Not really scientific or anything as it's only from films...but I figure that if they threw out numbers in films, they would probably be numbers that made sense to viewers of the time. So they are probably pretty close.

And viewers of the time would probably have expected consistency of facts. So if Melvyn said he made $3,500 a year and lived in a mansion....if that didn't make sense to viewers, it would have no doubt been troublesome to them, just as if someone said in a film today "Well, I make $27,000 a year"...and their character lived on Park Avenue.

That particular film was chock full of financial information being thrown around. I need to go back and gather more of the information as I can still remember where it is in the film.

I also need to go back and watch the beginning of DOUBLE HARNESS as well. That scene in the dress shop was chock full of numbers too.

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When in Rome...

Postby benwhowell » May 9th, 2007, 5:47 pm

What about "Roman Holiday?" Audrey got her hair cut, bought sandals and a gelato-all for under $1.50!

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Re: When in Rome...

Postby jdb1 » May 10th, 2007, 10:01 am

benwhowell wrote:What about "Roman Holiday?" Audrey got her hair cut, bought sandals and a gelato-all for under $1.50!


Slight difference there - it was Europe. I'm constantly reminding my daughter, when we watch such classic films together, that most of Europe was still something of a depressed area until the 1980s. In the 1950s, Italy, like Spain, was where one went for a cheap vacation. France was more expensive, at least for tourists, (the British pound was always strong against the dollar). But one dollar bought hundreds of thousands of lire at the time Roman Holiday was made. Hard to do that in these European Union days.[/i]

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Education budget

Postby cmvgor » June 10th, 2007, 6:54 pm

Peyton Place, a movie that came out in 1957, depicts life during WWII. In a scene about the hiring of a new school principal (Lee Philips),
he is offered $3000 a year. He retorts that "Guranteed poverty is not
security," demands $4000 a year and gets it.
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Postby Lzcutter » June 10th, 2007, 7:07 pm

My folks bought their first house in 1964 for $16,500.

It was a Sproul Home with three bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. It seems small by today's standards but it seemed big back then. Of course, I was seven when we moved into that house so I was smaller back then to.

My dad was a keno writer at the Golden Gate on Fremont Street and my mom was a showroom waitress.

My dad made .50 an hour. My mom was a member of the Culniary Union so she made slightly more an hour ($15 dollars for an eight hour shift) and had the benefits. She also made good money in tips, especially on the weekends.
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Postby Sue Sue Applegate » June 10th, 2007, 10:46 pm

My Mom was a secretary for several companies in Houston, and my Dad cleaned petroleum tanks. They purchased their first two-bedroom home in 1950 for $8,000. (I didn't show up until 5 1/2 years later.)
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Are we talking about ourselves, or about people in movies?

Postby cmvgor » June 11th, 2007, 2:10 am

My folks bought their final house in 1964 for $8,500. I have since inheirited that same house, and it is now rated for property tax purposes
at $74,500.....But back to what started this thread: Didn't Robert Redford
pay 45 cents for the Blue Plate Special in The Sting? That's my impression, but is anyone in a position to check on it?
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money values in classic films

Postby cmvgor » August 25th, 2007, 10:41 am

Kings Row, viewed last night in a Ronald Reagan fest. It sort of got by me, and I would appreciate being corrected if I'm wrong. When
the crooked bank employee absconded with the bank's funds, the Reagan
character considered himself in financial ruin. This was turn of the (20th)
century, and I think the figure he lost was $400.00 Am I correct in
this?
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Postby mrsl » August 25th, 2007, 11:48 am

Hi cmvgor:

No, you're not correct. The $400.00 figure was what he sold his house for - The enormous place where Parris stayed with him. Every quarter an unspecified amount was deposited in his bank account from a trust fund which apparently gained interest and continued to grow, which is why he never had to work. The scene seemed to be a summery scene and he expected a $1,000.00 deposit had been made in April, so considering that selling a house like that fot $400.00.was a good deal, the cost of living must have been pretty low. My question is when did the FDIC come into being? Why wasn't someone responsible for replacing his money?

Anne
Anne


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