Theodora Goes Wild

Theodora Goes Wild is a 1936 American romantic comedy film that tells the story of the residents in a small town who are incensed by a risqué novel, unaware that the book was written under a pseudonym by a member of the town's leading family. It stars Irene Dunne and Melvyn Douglas and was directed by Richard Boleslawski. The film was written by Mary McCarthy and Sidney Buchman. It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Irene Dunne and Best Film Editing. It's often mentioned as a screwball comedy.

Theodora Goes Wild
theatrical poster
Directed byRichard Boleslawski
Produced byEverett Riskin
Written byMary McCarthy
Sidney Buchman
StarringIrene Dunne
Melvyn Douglas
Music byArthur Morton
William Grant Still
(both uncredited)
CinematographyJoseph Walker
Edited byOtto Meyer
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • November 12, 1936 (1936-11-12)
Running time
94 minutes
CountryUnited States

Prior to this film, Dunne had been cast in dramatic films. Theodora Goes Wild was her first comedy, and while it was reported in a biography of Cary Grant that she was unsure of herself in comedies, this extremely popular film proved to be the beginning of a new phase in her film career as a screen comedian.


Theodora Lynn (Irene Dunne) is a Sunday school teacher and former church organist in Lynnfield, Connecticut, raised by two spinster aunts, Mary (Elisabeth Risdon) and Elsie Lynn (Margaret McWade). She also happens to be, under the pen name Caroline Adams, the secret author of a bestselling book that has the straight-laced Lynnfield Literary Circle in an uproar. The book is serialized in the local newspaper, and the Literary Circle, led by outraged busybody Rebecca Perry (Spring Byington), forces the newspaper's owner Jed Waterbury (Thomas Mitchell) to stop printing the salacious installments.

Theodora travels to New York City on the pretext of visiting her black sheep Uncle John (Robert Greig), but actually goes to see her publisher Arthur Stevenson (Thurston Hall). Though Stevenson reassures an anxious Theodora that only he and his secretary know her identity, his wife Ethel (Nana Bryant) pressures him into an introduction, which the book's illustrator Michael Grant (Melvyn Douglas) overhears. Intrigued, Michael invites himself to dinner with the Stevensons and Theodora. Theodora becomes annoyed when Michael smugly assumes that she is a teetotaler, so she orders a whiskey. As the night goes on, she becomes drunk. So does Ethel, forcing Arthur to take his wife home and leaving Theodora alone with Michael. When he makes a pass at her, she panics and flees, much to his amusement.

Michael tracks her to her hometown, and his whistling is immediately noticed outside her house. Because she technically is not supposed to know anyone outside of Lynnfield, he coerces her into hiring him as a gardener, thus scandalizing her aunts and providing Rebecca Perry with ample information for gossip. Michael declares that he is going to break Theodora out of her confining routine, ignoring her protests that she likes her life just the way it is. Despite herself, she enjoys herself when Michael makes her go berrypicking and fishing with him. Finally, she finds the nerve to tell the disapproving women of the Literary Circle that she loves him. When she tells Michael what she has done, he is less than thrilled.

The next day, Theodora finds that he has gone back to New York and left her. She tracks him to his Park Avenue apartment. He admits he loves her, but then his father (Henry Kolker), the lieutenant governor, shows up, followed by Michael's wife Agnes (Leona Maricle). The estranged couple only have remained married to avoid causing a political scandal for Michael's father.

Theodora determines to free Michael just as he had done for her. He wants her to hold off until his father's term ends in two years, but she is unwilling to wait that long. She courts publicity by revealing herself as the true Caroline Adams. She is staying in Michael's apartment even though he has moved out to get away from her, and she tells the press of her intention to publish a new book that details finding romance in her small town and searching for someone who will call her "baby" a story that mimics her relationship with Michael. Meanwhile, Michael denies to the press that he has even met Theodora. She finally crashes the governor's ball and arranges for reporters to photograph her embracing Michael. Agnes seeks a divorce to avoid looking like a fool.

Theodora returns to Lynnfield and is warmly welcomed as a celebrity, even by her now-supportive aunts. She causes further talk when she brings a newborn baby with her. When Michael, now divorced, sees the child, he tries to flee, but then Theodora reveals that the baby belongs to Rebecca Perry's own secretly married daughter.


Radio adaptations

Orson Welles adapted the story for his Mercury Theatre players for a January 14, 1940 episode of The Campbell Playhouse, with Loretta Young starring as Theodora.[1][2]


  1. "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. 39 (1): 32-41. Winter 2013.
  2. "The Campbell Playhouse: Theodora Goes Wild". Orson Welles on the Air, 1938–1946. Indiana University Bloomington. January 14, 1940. Retrieved 2018-07-29.
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