Latter-day Saint Video Vault celebrates decades of uplifting, funny, weird, and sometimes cringe-worthy Mormon-related videos, most of which are now found on YouTube. Join Jared Jones every other Friday as he breaks down one of these classics.
Well we are well into summer. You know what else summer is peak time for? That’s right. Weddings. So over the next 3 columns we will be looking at some of the amusing and troubling films made about marriage and weddings. We will start off with 1962’s Worth Waiting For.
Worth Waiting For was directed by Wetzel Whitaker with a story by Orma Wallengren. Before we even get into the film on we get a disclaimer: “The following film was produced by Brigham Young University during the 1960s for general distribution to both Church and non-Church groups. Although the general principles are valid, the presentation does not represent all Church areas of emphasis.”
I’ve reviewed several films from the 60s and earlier but this is the first disclaimer I’ve seen. Because the disclaimer references the 1960s and not the actual year of release we can only assume it was added later—perhaps when it was distributed to video. Color me intrigued! I wouldn’t expect any film to cover “all areas of church emphasis,” but here we go!
We open on a handsome young student, Joe, at his locker. As he switches books his girlfriend, Julie arrives and tries to sneak a kiss. He cautions against “fooling around” now that they are engaged. At first the shots of school and kids in nice clothes made me think that these kids are in college, but no. They are in HIGH SCHOOL and Joe, a senior has proposed to Julie, a junior. As they chat back and forth we learn the news of the proposal was not well received by family members.
Before they can talk more there is a class change and girls absolutely swoon over Julie’s engagement ring. Well most of the girls. Gloria wasn’t having it. “These days the trick is remaining single.” Gloria then laid out her plan to get married and have children after she has graduated high school, completed college and done some teaching for a few years. She cheerfully said that by the time she’s ready to get married Julie will be a “tired old hag with six kids.” Gloria says she is “happy” for Julie but waiting will only give her more options.
Later at football practice we meet Joe’s younger brother Gordy—who is Joe’s biggest sports fan. He is not happy with this proposal at all and thinks it unwise Joe spent all his summer lumber yard money on Julie’s ring. Julie finds Joe and asks for a ride home but Joe has to go to interview for a part-time job at a bank. Julie is thrilled thinking that he will be able to work up to be president of the bank. That sounds soooo likely! We then cut to the bank and see Joe mopping floors. Yes. He will be leading mergers and acquisitions in no time.
At the next day’s football practice Joe isn’t in his uniform. He tells the coach he has to quit the team so he can get this job to support his future marriage. The Coach encourages him to think about college. His good grades and athletic prowess make him a good scholarship candidate but Joe demurs and said he could get a job making $60 per week RIGHT NOW. That equals $512.72 per week in today’s dollars or about $27,000 per year. The coach insists that he may not want to make that every week for the rest of his life. Joe sticks to his plan and asks the coach to break the news to the team. Gordy is not pleased “Is it because of her?” he yells. “Why, Joe, why? You quitter, you quitter!”
We cut to Joe and Julie at ye olde malt shoppe. Joe is bummed about his football choice. Julie fails to see the sacrifice in Joe giving up the last 5 games of his senior year season. Why in that time he could make enough money to put a down payment on a hi fi or something! Every newly married couple needs a hi fi! Joe seems surprised that they are past that stage of football games and youthful fun and notes they should probably focus on something to cook with or sit on before a hi fi. The team comes into the restaurant and they give Joe a frosty reception.
The next day Julie is helping with décor for an upcoming reunion weekend at the school. Mrs. Stanaway the Home Economics teacher offers to take Julie around to deliver posters. At the teacher’s apartment Julie is impressed with the fine décor and photo of her boyfriend. Julie says she is going to tell the girls to stop feeling sorry for her. You know because she isn’t married. Mrs. Stanaway says being an “old maid” at 26 can be very exciting. She mentions her fabulous flight attendant roommate and her plans to ski in the Andes. She encourages Julie to wait. If it’s worth having it’s worth waiting for. Julie wants to marry Joe now. They’ve been dating 2 whole years after all!
At the reunion Julie sees a friend, Elaine, who is just looking fabulous. She is wearing a fur wrap and shows a picture of her daughter in front of a lovely home and talks about her husband in the oil business. Elaine also married young so Julie views this as game, set and match in her case to marry Joe. After the reunion she tries to share this excitement with her parents but it doesn’t go well. Her parents remind her it takes maturity to have a happy marriage, and just like Joe is banking money for their future family, they should also bank time. The marriage is forbidden, and Julie runs off in tears.
Julie and Joe decide to elope and go to visit Elaine and Tom in a neighboring town. Elaine’s picture-perfect life begins to unravel. They stop to ask for directions at a service station and meet Tom. His job in the “oil business” is as a gas station attendant. Julie drives on to Elaine’s and learns it isn’t her home, it’s her mother-in-law’s. The baby is constantly crying and Elaine breaks down when Julie tells her they plan to elope and they want Elaine’s help (as a witness I’m assuming). Although Elaine tries to rationalize living with her mother-in-law (“She’s a WIDOW! We can’t leave her alone) it’s clear that dear old Mom would be quite content left to her own devices. While Julie sees life at home Joe sees what life is like for Tom. He never went to college as Elaine got pregnant right away. His night class plan is curtailed as Elaine keeps telling him to take fewer classes so he can be at home to help with the baby or take her out to give her a break. He decides that overtime at the gas station is the best he can get.
The drive to elope ends up at Julie’s house. They decide that waiting isn’t a bad thing after all. Maybe they will both end up at the same college? Julie gives Joe back the ring and asks him to save it for her graduation present the following year, and they go in to “break” the news to Julie’s parents. Sad.
This is one case of a film that heavily relies of contemporary context. Why did BYU make THIS movie about marriage in THIS way? Was there a big problem with teen marriage at this time? From a demography journal I was able to learn that the median marriage age for women fell almost 2 years from 1900 to reach a new low of 20.1 years in 1956. That is young, but this film is pushing even that trend. The time period in the journal article that roughly corresponds with the time the film was made noted 3.5% of women reported marrying before 16 with about 11% marrying at 16-17. Not a small number. Finding out the Latter-day Saint subset is difficult. I guess it was the same as the average or possibly higher given our faith’s proclivity to preach the gospel of Family. I can only think that it was enough of a concern to warrant making this film. If the principle of postponing a choice to have something better (a doomed-to-fail teen marriage vs. a mature long-lasting one) was to be taught any number of life lessons could have been used to teach it other than teen marriage.
The film also doesn’t age well. At one point the Coach tells Joe his generation can do anything it wants—they have so many choices. This message was delivered to a white male by another white male. There were not a lot of choices at this time for women or men of color with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 still 2 years away. Some films of this era have a message that is more wide spread and universal (ministering to the one, for example). This niche focus of teen marriage makes it hard to generalize to a wider principle.
On some level I guess the acting works. Every interaction has you hoping that Joe and Julie see the light. Julie comes across as a spoiled child out of touch with the coming realities and Joe seems willing but reluctant to do his duty. You want to shout at them. You are in high school! What do you know about love! Now before you write in or comment, I am sure there are readers who have a story about high school sweethearts who married early and had a wonderful life together. Hooray. The realities of teen marriage are usually not that. The Home Economics teacher and friend Gloria provide a reality check of the benefits of a reasoned approach to life as do Julie’s parents.
The concept of getting married while in high school was just so foreign to me I had a hard time relating to this film. I was 27 when I was married and my wife was 25. We were “old maids” by many church cultural standards but still “young” by standards of our non-member contemporaries where we were living on the east coast. I applaud the sentiment of waiting for the right person and the right time. But this movie is not worth waiting for.