Sorority House (film)

Sorority House is a 1939 American drama film starring Anne Shirley and James Ellison. The film was directed by John Farrow and based upon the Mary Coyle Chase play named Chi House.[1]

Sorority House
Directed byJohn Farrow
Produced byRobert Sisk
Screenplay byDalton Trumbo
Based onthe story "Chi House"
by Mary Coyle Chase
StarringAnne Shirley
James Ellison
Music byRoy Webb
CinematographyNick Musuraca, A.S.C.
Edited byHarry Marker
Release date
May 5, 1939 (1939-05-05)
Running time
64 minutes
CountryUnited States


Alice Fisher is the daughter of Lew Fisher, a grocery store owner. She is surprised when he reveals he has college money for her. Alice goes to a boarding house and becomes friends with roommates Dotty Spencer and Merle Scott. Dotty suggests Alice join a sorority if she spikes up her looks and earns a few more bucks.

Meanwhile, Alice falls in love with Bill Loomis, who is dating Neva Simpson. He asks Alice out for a date and recommends her for a sorority, stating she is actually rich but pretends not to be. When Alice writes her father a letter that she doesn't have the money for a sorority, he sells his store to a chain and receives the money.

Bill and Alice soon fall in love resulting in conflicts, since Bill is still in a relationship with Neva.[2]



Mary Coyle Chase wrote a play Chi House. It had not been produced when RKO bought the screen rights in April 1938 as a vehicle for Anne Shirley.[3]

The film was originally going to star Shirley, Lucille Ball and Frances Mercer. By August, the title was changed to Sorority House and Dalton Trumbo was writing the script.[4] Ball and Mercer do not appear in the final film.

Tim Holt was originally announced as male lead, intending to be reunited with Anne Shirley from Stella Dallas but this did not eventuate.[5] The male lead was eventually played by James Ellison.

John Farrow was assigned to direct and filming began 7 February 1939.[6]

Veronica Lake was cast in a small role, her first screen part. This was removed in the edit, but the experience encouraged Lake to pursue acting.[7]

Sorority House was a loose reworking of RKO's earlier Finishing School (1934). Scripted by Dalton Trumbo, who'd later get into hot water with the House Un-American Activities Committee for another screenplay about a group of ladies living together, Tender Comrade (1943). This film was later used by the same House committee as evidence of Dalton Trumbo spreading communist propaganda. Trumbo was subsequently blacklisted.[8]

Proposed sequel

The film was described as a "surprise hit" and RKO announced plans to make a sequel with Shirley, Read and Ellison, mostly likely to be directed by Farrow, called Final Exams.[9] (This sequel was announced as early as April.[10] However, no film resulted.


  1. Richard Jewell & Vernon Harbin, The RKO Story. New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, 1982. p. 130.
  2. Movie Mirror Plot outline
  3. "Screen News Here and in Hollywood – Bobby Breen Will Be Seen in 'Hans Brinker' – Bette Davis and Warners End Feud – Two Films Open Today – Dolores Costello Has Role in 'Beloved Brat' at Strand – Jack Holt at Globe". New York Times. April 30, 1938. p. 18. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
  4. Scheuer, P.K. (August 5, 1938). "Binnie Barnes given contract and lead". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 164880882.
  5. Schallert, Edwin (12 December 1938). "Selznick Quests New Serious Lombard Idea". Los Angeles Times. p. 28.
  6. Schallert, Edwin (February 1, 1939). "Second sports story lined up for O'Brien". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 164944138.
  7. Strauss, Theodore (November 8, 1942). "Veronica Lake, Full Face". New York Times. p. X3. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
  8. "Sorority House (1939) - John Farrow - Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related - AllMovie". AllMovie.
  9. Schallert, Edwin (July 7, 1939). "Drama". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 165002710.
  10. Churchill, Douglas (April 22, 1939). "Screen News Here and in Hollywood – 'Busman's Honeymoon' and 'Earl of Chicago' Listed for London Studios by Metro – 'Grapes of Wrath' Sold – Bought by Twentieth Century Fox — 'Heroes of the Maine' Has Its Premiere Today". New York Times. p. 15. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
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