The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit
The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

1956 Movie Poster
Directed by Nunnally Johnson
Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck
Written by Nunnally Johnson (screenplay)
Sloan Wilson (novel)
Starring Gregory Peck
Jennifer Jones
Fredric March
Music by Bernard Herrmann
Cinematography Charles G. Clarke
Editing by Dorothy Spencer
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s) May 8, 1956
Running time 153 min.
Country United States
Language English

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, by Sloan Wilson, is a 1955 novel about the American search for purpose in a world dominated by business. Tom and Betsy Rath share a struggle to find contentment in their hectic and material culture while several other characters fight essentially the same battle, but struggle in it for different reasons. In the end, it is a story of taking responsibility for one's own life. The book was largely autobiographical, drawing on Wilson's experiences as assistant director of the US National Citizen Commission for Public Schools.

The novel was made into a movie in 1956, starring Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones as Tom and Betsy Rath, with Fredric March, Lee J. Cobb, Keenan Wynn and Marisa Pavan in supporting roles. (March plays Tom Rath's boss, a character based on Roy Larsen, Wilson's boss at Time, Inc.) It was entered at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival.[1]

Both movie and book became hugely popular. The novel continues to appear in the references of sociologists to America's discontented businessman. Columnist Bob Greene wrote, "The title of Sloan Wilson's best-selling novel became part of the American vernacular—the book was a ground-breaking fictional look at conformity in the executive suite, and it was a piece of writing that helped the nation's business community start to examine the effects of its perceived stodginess and sameness."[2]

The book was re-issued in 2002, with a foreword by author Jonathan Franzen.


Plot summary

DVD Cover

Tom and Betsy Rath live in a rundown house in Southport, Connecticut around 1953 (1955 in the movie). They have three television-addicted kids (two girls and boy) and have money problems. Tom is 33 years old, a Harvard graduate. He barely survived as an Army paratroop officer during World War II, having fought in both the European and Pacific combat theaters (an unlikely scenario, but it sets the stage for his wartime love affair).

Tom has haunting flashbacks of the affair as well as his combat experiences—these would almost certainly be diagnosed as PTSD today. He killed 17 men in combat. His stay-at-home wife knows only that Tom is somehow "changed" since the war. She feels his job with a Manhattan charitable organization pays too little, so she and a fellow train commuter urge him to interview for a job at a New York-based television network.

Tom lands a public relations job, working for Ralph Hopkins, the top man at the network, an empire-builder surrounded by politicking yes-men. Hopkins is to propose the establishment of national mental health services to a group of physicians and offer his own prestige and network toward that end. Tom must solve how his boss can best present the proposal so that the learned doctors will rise in unison and appoint Hopkins to spearhead the campaign.

Hired on a six-month probationary basis, Tom reports to a humorless game-player who rejects five different drafts of the speech and ends up substituting one of his own. Hopkins is satisfied, but Tom persuades him that the approach is all wrong, that it misrepresents Hopkins' qualifications to head the campaign. Tom's approach is more sensible; Hopkins is impressed. Tom reminds Hopkins of his own son, who was killed in combat.

There are a number of subplots: (1) The caretaker of Tom's late grandmother tries to fraudulently inherit her home; (2) Hopkins' estrangement from his wife and daughter (who quits school to elope with an undesirable man); and (3) Tom's adulterous behavior during the war and an out-of-wedlock son conceived in Italy, whose mother suddenly contacts him to seek monetary support at a most inconvenient time. Betsy goes berserk on hearing of this secret, but eventually calms down and understands mutual emotional support—not just mutual ambition—binding wife and husband.

In the end, seeing the example of how his boss's marriage and family life have been ruined by overwork, Tom turns down a high-pressure position in order to work normal hours and spend more time at home.

Movie cast

DeForest Kelley, who would later play Dr. McCoy on Star Trek, has a bit part in the film as an army medic in a flashback sequence. Anticipating one of McCoy's recurring lines, he tells Rath: "This man's dead, Captain."

Sequel (novel)

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit II appeared in 1984—by the time of the sequel a decade has passed in the story-line. Like the original novel, it too reflects the general social attitudes of the time.

In popular culture

In the 1957 film 12 Angry Men, Lee J. Cobb's character insults Juror #12 by calling him "The Boy in the Gray Flannel Suit". One year before the release of 12 Angry Men Cobb had starred in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, which had also featured Joseph Sweeney (Juror #9).

In 1968 the The Walt Disney Company released a movie for children, a parody titled The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit.

In a season-two episode of Mad Men ("Six Months' Leave"), comedian Jimmy Barrett (Patrick Fischler) refers to ad man Don Draper (Jon Hamm) as "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit"—a reference to Draper's outward professional smoothness and tumultuous homelife.

In an episode of the documentary series Wings of the Red Star, narrator Peter Ustinov refers to Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev as "The Red in the Gray Flannel Suit".

In an episode of The Honeymooners, Ralph Kramden is startled when Ed Norton emerges from a manhole in full sewer worker gear. Norton replies, "Who did you expect, the man in the gray flannel suit?"

In the Monk episode "Mr. Monk Buys a House", 89-year-old Joseph Moody (Jack Carter) rambles about Gregory Peck's role in the film adaptation of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit just before his nurse murders him.

The band Echolyn have a song on their album Cowboy Poems Free titled "Gray Flannel Suits" which namechecks Sloan Wilson.


  1. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit". Retrieved 2009-02-04. 
  2. ^ Bob Greene (1992-07-05). "Another view of the man in the gray flannel suit". Chicago Tribune. 

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit II — Sloan Wilson intended the sequel to the original novel, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit , to explain what happened to those young stars of his novel as they approached middle age. However it was not a commercial success. Unlike the original… …   Wikipedia

  • The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit —    Voir L Homme au complet gris …   Dictionnaire mondial des Films

  • gray-flan|nel — «GRAY FLAN uhl», adjective. U.S. Informal. of or having to do with the world of company executives; belonging to or characteristic of organization men: »He is impatient with the…orthodoxy and gray flannel conformity that stifle so much… …   Useful english dictionary

  • The Man in the Suit — There are a number of men in suits. Among the best known are:*The Man in the White Suit, a movie starring Alec Guinness *The Man in the Black Suit, a short story by Stephen King *The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, a novel and its film adaptation… …   Wikipedia

  • List of former child actors from the United States — This is a list of former child actors from the United States. These actors were aged 17 or less at the time they started acting but are currently 18 or over. The list also includes deceased child actors.Movies and/or TV series they appeared in… …   Wikipedia

  • Publishers Weekly list of bestselling novels in the United States in the 1950s — This is a list of bestselling novels in the United States in the 1950s, as determined by Publishers Weekly . The list features the most popular novels of each year from 1950 through 1959.The standards set for inclusion in the lists which, for… …   Wikipedia

  • 1956 Cannes Film Festival — The 9th Cannes Film Festival was held from April 23 to May 10, 1956.Jury*Maurice Lehmann (France) (president) *Arletty (France) *Louise de Vilmorin (France) *Jacques Pierre Frogerais (France) *Henri Jeanson (France) *Domenico Meccoli (Italy)… …   Wikipedia

  • 1955 in literature — The year 1955 in literature involved some significant events and new books. Events*First issue of the Guinness Book of Records published. * Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is published in Paris. However, it took until 1958 to be published in United… …   Wikipedia

  • 1956 in film — The year 1956 in film involved some significant events.Events* August 4 The last film serial, Blazing the Overland Trail from Columbia Pictures, is released. * November 15 Elvis Presley s first film, Love Me Tender , opens.Top grossing films (U.S …   Wikipedia

  • L'Homme au complet gris — The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit    Comédie dramatique de Nunnally Johnson, d après le roman de Sloan Wilson, avec Gregory Peck, Jennifer Jones, Fredric March, Marisa Pavan.   Pays: États Unis   Date de sortie: 1956   Technique: couleurs   Durée …   Dictionnaire mondial des Films