Gregory Peck in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956)

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Sloan Wilson’s The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is based on the 1955 best-selling novel of the same name by Sloan Wilson (1920-2003). A 1942 graduate of Harvard, Wilson had served as an officer with the United States Coast Guard during World War II, commanding a tanker which transported highly flammable aviation fuel. Although at age 23 Wilson had thought of himself as too young for command, he had survived the war, as he later put it, “without having anyone on my ships killed.”

Darryl F. Zanuck produced The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, with Nunnally Johnson (Night People, Black Widow, The Three Faces of Eve) serving as both writer and director. Bernard Hermann crafted the original music score with Charles G. Clarke as cinematographer.

Gregory Peck, Jennifer Jones and Fredric March Head Cast

Gregory Peck (Tom Rath), Jennifer Jones (Betsy Rath) and Fredric March (Ralph Hopkins) head the strong cast. Other players include Marisa Pavan (Maria), Lee J. Cobb (Judge Bernstein), Ann Harding (Helen Hopkins), Keenan Wynn (Sgt. Caesar Gardella), Gene Lockhart (Bill Hawthorne), Gigi Perreau (Susan Hopkins), Portland Mason (Janey Rath), Arthur O’Connell (Gordon Walker), Henry Daniell (Bill Ogden), Connie Gilchrist (Mrs. Manter), Joseph Sweeney (Edward M. Schultz), Sandy Descher (Barbara Rath) and Mickey Maga (Pete Rath).

DeForest Kelley – Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy of Star Trek fame – has a small role as an Army medic. “This man’s dead, captain,” Kelley informs Gregory Peck during the gritty Pacific battle scenes.

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit Filmed in Connecticut

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit was filmed on location in Westport, Connecticut. In order to get a feel for his role as Tom Rath, Gregory Peck headed to New York City where he conversed with men who worked in the advertising business. Peck even went so far as to ride the commuter trains while dressed in his own gray flannel suit, the uniform for young 1950s business executives. Apparently, it rendered the Hollywood star just as anonymous as his adopted co-workers, for he was never recognized.

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit: World War II and the Business World

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit opens on a commuter train to New York City. Aboard is 32-year-old Tom Rath, who lives with his wife Betsy and three kids in Connecticut. With a family to feed and a $10,000 mortgage in Westport, Tom is looking to step up in the business world.

Tom later takes a job as a special assistant/speechwriter for Ralph Hopkins, the dynamic president of United Broadcasting. Hopkins is a brilliant, driven man who has sacrificed his personal life in order to accomplish great things.

Although World War II had ended eleven years ago, Tom is still haunted by his days in combat. Via flashbacks, Tom and another paratrooper are forced to kill a pair of German sentries for their winter coats in order to avoid freezing to death in the harsh European winter. In another operation, this time in the Pacific, Tom accidentally kills his best friend after unleashing a hand grenade during a firefight with the Japanese.

Tom and Betsy Rath face a series of crises in the present: the news of Tom’s illicit affair with a young woman in Italy during the war that produced a boy; the Raths’ battle with a crooked caretaker over Tom’s late grandmother’s estate; and Tom’s decision whether to accept a promotion at UBC that would entail more time away from his family.

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit Opens in New York City

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit opened at New York City’s Roxy Theater on April 12, 1956, as a benefit premiere for the March of Dimes.

“Out of Sloan Wilson’s popular novel…writer-director Nunnally Johnson and producer Darryl F. Zanuck have fetched a mature, fascinating and often quite tender and touching film,” reported Bosley Crowther of The New York Times (4/13/56).

“As the ‘Man in the Gray Flannel Suit,’ Gregory Peck is handsome and appealing, if not always convincing,” opined Variety (4/4/56).

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit Box Office, Notes, DVD

  • Grossed $4.350 million at the box office, good for the #16 position on the list of the top moneymaking films of 1956.
  • Sloan Wilson’s sequel: The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit II (1984).
  • Sloan Wilson died of Alzheimer’s disease at age 83 on May 25, 2003.
  • Wilson once worked at Time, Inc. The Ralph Hopkins character is a thinly-disguised version of Time’s president, Henry R. Luce.
  • On DVD: The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (Twentieth Century-Fox, 2005).
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