Posts Tagged ‘Romantic Comedy’

brewster's millions 1902 richard greaves george barr mccutcheonBrewster’s Millions by Richard P. Greaves, pseudonym of George Barr McCutcheon ~ 1903. This edition: Herbert S. Stone & Co., 1903. Hardcover. 325 pages.

My rating: 7.5/10

This was a pleasant light novel which was easily breezed through in several sittings. Nothing here to challenge one; purely diversionary.

Montgomery Brewster is one of the set of young men with expectations, “The Little Sons of the Rich”, who form an informal club for card-playing, wining and dining in turn-of-the-century New York. In Monty’s case, it is his paternal grandfather who provides the expectations; Monty is widely believed to be the millionaire’s heir. This proves to be the case, and Monty’s natural sorrow at his relative’s demise – for Monty has been a ward of the old man since his parents’ untimely deaths – is salved by the news that he has been set down in the will for one million dollars.

Now Monty is gently pleased at this, the more so because he has been a hard-working young man and is not that desperate for the money, though there is no doubt that it will make life much more pleasant. Monty has been working in banking, and is pulling down a respectable salary; he boards with a widowed lady who has been something of a foster mother to him since childhood, and he is good friends with the household’s daughter, Margaret Grey. He is also romantically involved with a vivacious young woman who herself has good prospects, banker’s daughter Barbara Drew. An engagement is expected by both of them – Monty and Barbara – in due course, and all in all life looks fair to be peaceful and prosperous, with no clouds on the horizon.

Then, mere days after the Brewster will is proved, Monty receives a surprising communication from another lawyer. Monty’s late mother’s brother, his Uncle Sedgwick, has just shuffled off into eternity, and he has appointed Montgomery Brewster, son of his beloved sister, his sole heir. With a condition.

Seems that when Monty’s parents were married, a feud of sorts was started between Brewster senior (Monty’s grandfather) and the Sedgwick clan. Unforgivable words were spoken on both sides, and James Sedgwick was left with a bitter hatred towards the Brewsters, Monty excepted. As a sort of twisted revenge, he wanted to turn Monty into his chief heir but without mingling any of his (Sedgwick’s) hard-earned money with that of his enemy’s. Monty must divest himself of the Brewster fortune in a prescribed time, to be left with only the clothes on his body, in order to inherit the Sedgwick cash. And the amount of that legacy makes Monty sit up and take notice: $6,345,000! With projected interest, something like seven times the fortune already in hand.

Will Monty take the gamble?

Well, of course he will! For that is the entire premise of this rather silly story.

The conditions set for divesting himself of the Brewster fortune are stringent. Monty is not allowed to confide in anyone as to why he is ridding himself of his grandfather’s cash, with the deadline being Monty’s twenty-sixth birthday, just under a year in the future.

There was also a clause in which he (Sedgwick) undertook to dictate the conduct of Montgomery Brewster during the year leading up to his twenty-sixth anniversary. He required that the young man should give satisfactory evidence to the executor that he was capable of managing his affairs shrewdly and wisely,—that he possessed the ability to add to the fortune through his own enterprise; that he should come to his twenty-sixth anniversary with a fair name and a record free from anything worse than mild forms of dissipation; that his habits be temperate; that he possess nothing at the end of the year which might be regarded as a “visible or invisible asset”; that he make no endowments; that he give sparingly to charity; that he neither loan nor give away money, for fear that it might be restored to him later; that he live on the principle which inspires a man to “get his money’s worth,” be the expenditure great or small.

So Monty sets out to spend Grandfather Brewster’s cash, which he will need to do, as his calculations have shown him, at an average of almost $3,000 per day. He must demonstrate that he is receiving “value for money”, and he’s not allowed to tell anyone what he’s doing. Let the farcical fun begin!

For Monty’s friends, the other “Little Sons of the Rich”, prove surprisingly unwilling to let Monty squander his cash, and they go to great lengths to limit his expenditures. Early on in the proceedings, Barbara Drew is disgusted by Monty’s profligacy, and withdraws from their informal engagement, giving him pause, but only for a moment. As the year races on, Monty finds it harder and harder to spend fast enough, even adding to his fortune completely unwillingly by several freak occurrences – a second-rate prize fighter knocking out a champion (Monty had bet on the second-rater); a foray into stock trading on a “sure loss” which was turned around due to Monty’s investment; a visit to Monte Carlo ends with a bizarre winning streak – the fellow just can’t lose! Or, as the true case would be, win.

Luckily a financially disastrous yacht trip helps with the final disposal of Monty’s funds, as well as showing him that he has started to develop romantic feelings towards the young woman whom he had previously thought of as a platonic foster-sister, his old chum Margaret Grey. But Monty’s birthday is fast approaching, and suddenly Sedgwick’s executor disappears, and the Sedgwick millions with him. Could Monty have gambled and won, only to have ultimately lost everything through a cruel twist of fate?

Well, what do you think will happen?

I enjoyed this humorous period piece, and I was quite amused as well to learn some of the history behind its writing. I will pass you over to this excellent article by Nathaniel Rich, American Dreams: Brewster’s Millions, from which I’ve excerpted this back story of the author’s own gamble. (And please click over and read the full article; it is excellent.)

Brewster’s Millions, a novel about a bet, was written on a bet. George Barr McCutcheon was visiting his publisher when the subject of bestselling novels came up in conversation.

“The name of the author is what sells the book,” remarked the publisher.

McCutcheon, who the previous year had written his first bestseller—the initial volume in the Graustark series of romantic adventure novels—disagreed.

“I will bet you $100 that it does,” said the publisher.

“I will take that bet,” replied McCutcheon, “and I will write you a story to show you that I am right.”

Six weeks later McCutcheon submitted a manuscript. It was the story of a young man named Monty Brewster who, in order to inherit $7 million, must spend $1 million in a single year. There are, however, strings attached. At the end of the year Monty cannot possess any assets; he is forbidden from telling anybody why he’s spending all his money; and he may only donate a piddling amount to charity. Monty is free to reject the challenge and keep the $1 million, but he accepts the bet without hesitation. He begins his year of spending dangerously by renting the most expensive apartment in Manhattan and leasing four Monets, three cars, two horses, and a chef from Paris.

McCutcheon, needless to say, won his publisher’s bet—in fact he made off nearly as well as Monty Brewster. Brewster’s Millions sold 150,000 copies in its first three months of publication, despite the fact that the author was listed as “Richard Greaves.” (A clerk at the publishing house posed for the press photo.) The novel remains in print 110 years later, and has been adapted for film at least 10 times.

*****

Note: I originally purchased a copy of the book in order to fill in the 1902 spot in my Century of Books reading project, but it appears to me that the book was actually published in 1903. My copy is a first edition, showing the author’s name as Richard P. Greaves on the front cover (later editions replaced the pseudonym with George Barr McCutcheon), and the publication date on the copyright pages states: Issued April 20, 1903. Not a big deal, but it did leave me feeling a bit uneasy about using it for 1902, so I filled that space with Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories instead. So if you’re looking for inspiration for this time frame for your own Century project, just an alert that the copyright date of 1902 which appears in almost every reference to Brewster’s Millions that I’ve seen may be slightly incorrect.

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