Gracie at Sea (revised version)
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Far at sea off the coast of Long Island, a small passenger steamer has burned to the waters edge, The only living thing saved is a baby who drifts free of the wreckage in a soap-box where she was evidently placed as the last thought of her parents.

Here we begin our story. The rich Mr. Van Grossie is determined to marry off Gracie, the eldest of his three daughters, before allowing the banns to be published for the other two. The two other sisters, a Gail Patrick type and a Mary Carlisle type, are miserable over the situation as each has a man very much in mind—and in hand. However, they have hopes of marrying off Gracie, as the yacht races are at hand and Mr. Van Grossie is entertaining the visiting challenger, Sir Reginald, at their Southampton home.

Sir Reginald, a stupid haw-haw type, has expressed himself as anxious to marry an American girl under three conditions: She must be very talented, a fine sportswoman, and extremely beautiful. Gracie, the eldest sister, is none of these. But the two sisters believe Sir Reginald is so stupid that perhaps with the help of clever exploitation they can convince him that Gracie is what he’s looking for. They get in touch with a New York publicity firm who send their representative, George (George Burns), to Southampton on the promise of a large fee if Gracie is put over.

We now pick up Gracie for the first time—in the garden of the great Van Grossie estate—feeding a pool of goldfish. She has just thrown in the last batch of food and is saying goodbye to her favorite goldfish, and as she turns away she hears a sound which is apparently the goldfish thanking her for the food. She turns back.

“What did you say, Noah?” The goldfish doesn’t answer.

“Oh, you silly thing, ” says Gracie and turns away.

But she hears the strange cry a second time, turns back again and follows the sound to a little inlet located in a patch of woods. It is a curious sound, a sound that has been a long time in Gracie’s heart, even though she doesn’t recognize it. It’s something new and fascinating and she stops in her tracks, looking up at the sky for a moment, upon the chance that it may be a bird she has never heard before. She knows in her heart it is not a bird and a minute later traces it to its source.

The source is a dark harbor in the corner of the inlet. The source is the sea. The source seems to be a small, utterly un-seaworthy appearing soap-box, in which is a small, 18-months baby. As the box drifts aground, Gracie snatches him out and cuddles him with awe and enthusiasm. Gracie, whose future is apparently being charted by her two sisters, and the publicity agent they have commandeered, has suddenly found a great interest in life all her own.

What Gracie is going to do with the baby, remains to be seen. For some reason, however, she decides that for the present she shall keep it hidden, like Pharaoh’s daughter, and immediately improvises a nursery in the little cove.

We return to the Van Grossie household. George arrives and meets the two sisters. The Gail Patrick type is secretly married to the Butterworth type, and their reason for wanting to get Gracie married is so that they can make their own marriage public. The sweet Mary Carlisle type is engaged to a naval officer, whose ship, floating off shore, is to depart for China at the conclusion of the regatta, so it is to her interest that Gracie get married with no loss of time. George is introduced to the heavy father as a friend of the girls, and immediately starts to work to satisfy Sir Reginald’s first requisite for his bride-to-be. He must make Gracie into a sportswoman overnight.

The next scene is one of cross purpose, with Gracie obediently trying to do the sort of things expected of her by Sir Reginald, but being constantly absorbed by her secret care of the baby, she must have it constantly by her side. For example, in the golf tournament, which is arranged for the next day, she is accompanied by an extra caddy carrying a particularly large bag in which is the baby—but this fact does not emerge until the end of the episode. Throughout the game, she tries to teach the baby to count her score. In any case, George soon finds out the secret. He does not give Gracie away, because Sir Reginald has announced that he does not like children, but he realizes the case is going to be harder than he had imagined. The golfing episode fails to convince Sir Reginald that Gracie is a great sportswoman, but George manages to cover up the truth, which is that she is no sportswoman at all.

His second idea is to put Gracie over as a musical genius. The gag would go somewhat as follows. Evening at the Van Grossie house. George and Gracie enter the music room, she leaning on his arm and sweeping majestically across the room to a raised dais. George is trying to dramatize her talent for the harp and has arranged a claque to applaud her mediocre playing, as well as an expert harpist concealed behind curtains who will fill in with a few finished numbers. He makes a formal speech of presentation which Gracie sweetly acknowledges. He announces the first selection and himself accompanies her on the piano. Gracie starts with a glissonde on the harp strings. Suddenly the baby pops out from behind the piano where Gracie has concealed it, crashes through the harp and becoming wedged, causes Gracie to strike numerous extraordinary notes. The musicale comes to a disastrous end, but again George manages to extricate Gracie from the situation.

George’s main coup is the engineering of a beauty contest which Gracie will unquestionably win. It is a fully publicized contest—society reporters from New York are present to make notes and there are photographers in scores. Gracie, with the help of her sisters, has been carefully instructed in her role. The competitors have been chosen from wall flowers in the vicinity, so that they present a stark picture of feminine unattractiveness—there is something wrong with every one of them and apparently Gracie should win with ease. The judges, moreover, are bribed and to make doubly sure there will be no mistake, they are told to give Number 9 the prize. The baby, however, upsets the apple-cart by changing the Number 9 on Gracie's back into a 6 by turning it upside down, and turning another girls Number 6 into a Number 9, so that the ugliest girl of the lot wins the prize.

While George is working so desperately, the two sisters have been continuing their love affairs—our interest centering upon the affair of Mary Carlisle with the navy officer. We are rather hostile to the Gail Patrick-Butterworth love affair and it is not surprising that this pair discover the baby and decide that its presence is a menace to the whole plan. They kidnap the child with the idea of placing it in an orphanage so that Gracie can concentrate upon the winning of Sir Reginald. But Gracie and George rescue the child in time.

Finally it is the day of the yacht race—the festivities to be opened by the christening of the American Defender by Gracie. From far and near people have gathered upon the dock to watch and applaud. This scene seems to George a sure-fire stunt for pleasing Sir Reginald, but Gracie’s talent for going wrong reasserts itself and at the moment when she is about to smash the bottle on the bow, she stops in her swing and holds the bottle aloft to wave at the crowd. The boat begins to move. The swing misses fire, turning Gracie around in acrobatic circles. Not defeated by this, she murmurs “Where am I?” and sets off in a mad run in pursuit of the boat—and overtakes it only by a daring leap through mid-air in an aesthetic pose—and attains her aim at the sacrifice of sinking into the bay. Unfortunately, this great sportswoman can’t swim, but Sir Reginald saves her and he is so pleased with himself that things look up.

Meanwhile, the young lovers are apparently going to be tragically parted. Mary Carlisle has gone aboard the battleship to say goodbye to her lover. Gracie has gone out in a launch to watch the yacht race with the baby and coming aboard the battleship manages to postpone its departure because the baby gets lost in a big gun, and the captain cannot fire the salute which is to open the race. Gracie stands with a torch over the powder magazine threatening to blow up the ship unless the baby is found. She succeeds in postponing the ship's departure for China and therefore keeps Mary Carlisle from losing her lover.

The yacht race begins. Gracie misses the official launch and is taken on board a small out-board launch by the faithful George. Gracie sits in the stern, holding the baby with one arm and steering with the other. George sits in the bow, his typewriter resting on an air cushion as he undertakes the double duty of reporting the race and trying to make Gracie look as though she is the heroine of the whole affair. Unfortunately, the launch breaks in half and sinks. Georges half sinks very slowly, the typewriter floating off on the air cushion. Gracie’s half of the boat contains the motor and the propeller and Gracie and the baby speed in crazy circles round and round George. George; however, picks up a drifting dory and manages to rescue both baby and typewriter. He and Gracie attach their dory to the end of a racing yacht, just as the starting gun is fired and lo and behold, they are an unwilling part of the race. But in the ensuing confusion, as they get from the dory to the yacht, the baby is left behind in the trailing dory.

The yachts are going strong. The American boat is in the lead but Gracie and George are more concerned with effecting the rescue of the baby who sits laughing and clapping his hands as the dory rocks and swerves in the yachts wake. Gracie wants to pull the dory up to the boat but instead pulls the wrong rope and brings down the mainsail. Sir Reginald sweeps by to victory.

By this time Gracie and George have discovered they are in love and the picture ends with all three couples—and the baby—united and happy. Sir Reginald starts off across the ocean on his yacht with the beauty contest winner.


This is the mere skeleton of the story, first outlined to George Bums by the author in Baltimore in 1935 [1934]. The author is at present under contract to Metro and will be unable to develop the story any further.

The main situations, Gracie as the eldest of three sisters who must be the first one to marry, and Gracie in the position of Pharaohs daughter hiding Moses in the bulrushes, seem to offer more sympathetic material than she has had of late. It is important to build up some sort of character for Gracie beyond that of a mere nitwit. In this she can be dramatized as a lovable eccentric and the audience will sympathize with her suppressed maternal instinct—as in Chaplin's “The Kid”—and with her ability, in spite of her mistakes, to somehow do well by the baby.

Fitzgerald’s revision

Sometime after the summer of 1937, when he was under contract to Metro- Goldwyn-Mayer, Fitzgerald returned to this scenario and revised it as follows. He retains much from the original, including the most significant moment for a writer: a typewriter, pillowed upon an air cushion, floating out to sea. However, he makes some creative changes, including the introduction of an English upper-class twit, and shifts the setting to Long Island, New York.

Fitzgeralds cast for the film

The actors Fitzgerald names for this new version of “Gracie at Sea” were Gail Patrick, Mary Carlisle, and Charles Butterworth. Patrick (1911-1980) was an Alabama belle who was at law school at the University of Alabama when she won a trip to Hollywood in 1932. She appeared in Rumba with George Raft and Carole Lombard (1935), and notably as Lombards spoiled big sister in My Man Godfrey (1936) and as an opportunistic actress in Stage Door (1937). She typically played haughty “bad girls.” During the 1950s, Patrick went into television production and used her law-school training to develop a show of which she was executive producer and which was immensely successful for a decade and in reruns, Perry Mason.

Carlisle was born in 1914 and raised in Los Angeles, and her blue-eyed, blonde, baby-faced looks made her a rising star by 1930. She was in the racy romp College Humor (1933) with Bing Crosby, George Burns, and Gracie

Allen, and retired from movies in 1943 after marrying English actor James Edward Blakeley. Carlisle still lives, as of 2016, in the Rodeo Drive home she shared with Blakeley for sixty-four years.

Butterworth (1896—1946) was a Broadway actor best known in Hollywood for his ad libs during filming, like his line to Charles Winninger in the Mae West vehicle Every Day's a Holiday (1937): “You oughta get out of those wet clothes and into a dry martini.”

Original version: Gracie at Sea, by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Robert Spafford.

Published in I'd Die For You collection (2017).