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Caregivers on screen

August 15, 2003|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

With her role in the comedy "Uptown Girls" as a pampered young woman who becomes the nanny for a lonely, steely little girl, Brittany Murphy joins the pantheon of such performers as Julie Andrews, Bette Davis, Robin Williams and Deborah Kerr who have played nannies, baby-sitters or governesses on the big and small screen. And nannies have come in all demeanors and temperaments -- some fun-loving like Murphy, others fretful and anxious, still others evil incarnate. A few have been men, and others were of the four-legged variety.

Here's a look at some famous screen nannies:

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Just one of the girls

"Sitting Pretty" (1948): Former musical comedy star Clifton Webb made a name for himself in the 1940s in such films as "Laura" for playing prissy, acerbic, sophisticated characters. He was at his best in this rollicking comedy as Lynn Belvedere, an eccentric genius who answers an ad to become a live-in baby-sitter for the three young sons of a harried couple (Robert Young and Maureen O'Hara) who live in a gossip-crazed suburban community. Mr. Belvedere ends up working miracles with the children, but never tells the family what he does on his evenings off. Webb received an Oscar nomination for his joyous performance and followed up this hit with two sequels.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday August 19, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 58 words Type of Material: Correction
Screen nannies -- An article in Friday's Calendar about famous screen nannies mistakenly referred to the character of Anna Leonowens in "The King and I" as a governess. She was employed as a teacher. The article also mistakenly said that the nanny in the sitcom "Nanny and the Professor" took care of two children. She cared for three.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday August 21, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
"Peter Pan" -- An article about famous screen nannies in Friday's Calendar mistakenly gave the name of the dog in "Peter Pan" as Katie Nana. The dog's name was Nana.

"Mrs. Doubtfire" (1993): When this box office hit is funny, it's very funny, but when it falls into bathos, it's deadly. But despite its flaws, the comedy is worth watching for Robin Williams' brilliantly wacky performance as an actor, who after a bitter divorce from his staid wife (Sally Field), disguises himself as a dowdy English nanny so he can spend time with his three children, of whom his wife has custody. There are many terrific set pieces, including Mrs. Doubtfire's dubious attempts to keep house and a particularly side-splitting sequence at a restaurant.

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Nanny in peril

"The Innocents" (1961): Jack Clayton's adaptation of Henry James' novella "The Turn of the Screw," is one of the scariest films ever made. Deborah Kerr gives one of her greatest performances as a rather high-strung governess, Miss Giddens, who believes that the spirits of the dead former governess and the evil groundskeeper haunt the house and the grounds and are attempting to take over the souls of her two young charges (Martin Stephens, Pamela Franklin).

"Halloween" (1978): On All Hallow's Eve, virginal teenage baby-sitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) finds herself a target of a psychotic masked murderer (actually her brother) who just escaped from the institution where he has been incarcerated since childhood in John Carpenter's modern-day classic.

"When a Stranger Calls" (1979): Wide-eyed Carol Kane plays Jill Johnson in this popular thriller -- a baby-sitter gets phone calls from someone who keeps asking "Have you checked the children lately?"

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The unrequited nanny

"All This and Heaven Too" (1940): Bette Davis gives one of her more subdued performances in this handsome but overlong historical drama as Henriette Deluzy Desportes, a young woman who becomes governess to the three children of the Duc de Praslin (Charles Boyer). But it isn't long before the Duc's insanely jealous wife (Barbara O'Neil) begins to despise Henriette, especially after the governess nurses one of her children back from near-death. Eventually, she demands that the governess be dismissed. When the duchess is murdered, the Duc is arrested for the crime and the unemployed and penniless Henriette is charged as his accomplice.

"The King and I" (1956): Kerr also plays one of the best-loved governesses, Anna Leonowens, in this lush adaptation of the Richard Rodgers-Oscar Hammerstein Broadway musical. Kerr's well-educated, prim and proper Anna, a widow with a young son, accepts a job as live-in governess to the King of Siam's (Yul Brynner) multitude of children. Of course, the two fall in love but because of station and prejudice, it remains unrequited and unspoken. Their feelings, however, do shine in the film's greatest scene, the "Shall We Dance" number in which the two waltz around the room at a frenzied pace.

Anna's story was also made as a straight drama with 1946's "Anna and the King" with Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison and in 1999's "Anna and the King" with Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat.

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The warm nanny

"The Member of the Wedding (1952): Legendary singer-actress Ethel Waters reprises her acclaimed Broadway role in this tasteful, poignant adaptation of Carson McCullers' novel and play as Bernice Sadie Brown, the world-wise and warm African American housekeeper who is practically both mother and father to 12-year-old tomboy Frankie Adams (Julie Harris).

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The comedic nanny

"Nanny and the Professor" (1970-71): In this fluffiest of sitcoms, Juliet Mills plays Nanny, a.k.a. Phoebe Figalilly, a "Mary Poppins"-type British nanny who just happens to have psychic powers. Richard Long plays the professor, the widowed Harold Everett, and Trent Lehman and Kim Richards were her two charges.

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