The action takes place at Idlewild Airport, New York City, and at the Southern Baptist Institute of Technology.
The plot begins to unfold when a group of immigrant passengers on Flight 223 from Vienna and Munich arrives at Gate 12 at Idlewild (now JFK) Airport in New York. “Melt Us,” they sing in an “Immigration and Naturalization Rag,” in which they happily mix expressions (“Cocktails for two,” “I drink Coca-Cola”) which they believe are typical of the American way of life. Leading them in this paean to their newly adopted country is Professor Stanislaus Fodorski (Ray Bolger), easily the most distinguished member of the group.
With his cutaway coat, striped trousers and Mittel-European elegance – emblems of the rigid decorum of Old World academic life – Fodorski has come to America to take up a new position as Professor of Engineering at the Southern Baptist Institute of Technology. In the bus that takes him there, he sees a swiftly staged panorama of New York streets followed by various roadside vistas – to us familiar absurdities of promotional gimmicks, billboard endorsements and trite, funny commercial displays (“Eat Here and Get Gas”) – that prompt him to exclaim “What a Country!”
Upon his arrival at S.B.I.T., he is greeted by Dean Elizabeth Hawkes-Bullock (Eileen Herlie). Unnerved on finding “Herr Dean” so gracious and so female, Fodorski confesses that, though a competent author of texts, he may not be a very stimulating teacher, to which the dean replies that S.B.I.T. may not be a very good school academically. What it needs, she says, are serious teachers. She proceeds to assign him his classes. “As to sleeping arrangements,” she continues, “you’ll be living with me.” (She rents out rooms in her spacious house to unmarried resident teachers.) These formalities over, the two confess that they think of their charges as “Our Children.”
Two of “their children,” it immediately appears, are in trouble. Susan Thompson (Anita Gillette) has been caught climbing the ivy to the dormitory room of Ed Bricker (Ron Husmann). The pair is dragged before the dean and Fodorski by Dr. Snopes (Bernie West), Professor of Comparative Religion and a prurient one-man Morals Squad. “I caught them in the Devil’s vineyard harvesting the grapes of evil,” he says. To which Susan and Ed reply that it was just a case of animal attraction. “I desire his body,” explains Susan. “He has such fantastic skin.” As a result, they are sentenced to three weeks confinement in their respective rooms, except for classes, and are forbidden to see each other.
After meeting the football team (first things first), Fodorski teaches his initial class. His pedantic approach to his subject is looked on with amusement; his little jokes (“A bridge connects two points of land and is very important for people who do not like to get their feet wet”) are not.
One student, however, has already been smitten with bridges: Ed Bricker, who earnestly trots out a model he has made. Fodorski and Ed rapidly find that they, at least, have “what the French call rapport” – “We Speak the Same Language.”
Fodorski is shocked out of his discouragement by his first experience with an American football game. Surprisingly, he finds it a brilliant exercise in applied engineering. “The T-formation,” he exclaims, “is nothing but Archimedes’s unbalanced line!” In a moment of clairvoyance, he sees a way to teach his football-minded students engineering by explaining theoretical principles in terms of gridiron strategy.
This concept is applied in a series of quick vignettes of classroom activities. Fodorski coaches Moose (George Lindsey), a particularly thick-noodled halfback, into solving the equation behind the “triangle play.” From the biology lab we hear the teacher ask: “Now, on the opposing team, how many microbes are left?” Even Dr. Snopes adopts the approach in describing Gideon as the greatest broken-field runner in the Old Testament.
The day comes when even the stupidest are beginning to feel the faint beginnings of ideation creeping into their skulls. (Moose: “Take Niagara Falls, with all that water running over it. You could take a bunch of turbines and I’ll bet you could get electric power that way!”) Soon the students are chanting facts, dates, formulae and the chapters of the Bible, while Fodorski dances ecstatically before them – “It’s Fun To Think.” At the end, he is carried off in triumph.
Pleased that at last the lights are on all over the campus, “even in the library,” the dean and Fodorski relax on the terrace of her house. When their admiration for each other grows a bit tender, they reminisce about the romances that, long ago, promised so much – “Once Upon a Time.”
Suffering the pangs of a more acute disappointment is Susan, alone in her blue baby-doll pajamas on the second floor of her dormitory. The night laughter of her unconfined sisters on campus bothers her considerably (“Hey, down there on the porch! Please kiss quietly!”), and she mourns her own lost “Nightlife.”
Curfew is called. While the other girls prepare for bed, Susan fantasizes herself as a Cagneyish jailbird, a jilted Camille. Having drained the last drop from her cup of woe, she is overjoyed when Ed suddenly appears, via the trellis, ostensibly to deliver some promised trig notes. She begs Ed for “a little action” and gets it. He is halfway down the trellis before it dawns on him that he has seen her for the first time without benefit of make-up and furbelows – “I’ve Just Seen Her.” And he likes it. Dr. Snopes appears as Ed climbs down, but Dean Hawkes-Bullock, arriving like the Marines, blows on his binoculars and he sees nothing.
“Physical Fitness” is the keynote of the locker-room scene before the Saturday game. The stripped-down athletes may be wretched football players, but they have glorious muscles and prove it acrobatically.
Fodorski shows up in Alpine hat and knee-britches. He exhorts the players to think of their legs as giant levers, the better to kick with. Bricker, a non-footballer, admits that a trauma from childhood has kept him off the team. He is a frustrated sister-kicker. Fodorski encourages him to “kick that block” and, with it, the football. He does both, spectacularly. Ed joins the team and spirits are high on the day of the big game with the Texas Mohammedans – “The Fight Song.” S.B.I.T., however, is giving its usual miserable field performance until the head coach “Hulk” Stockworth (Mort Marshall) gets in the way of a Mohammedan charge and is creamed. Fodorski takes over. Ed kicks a 98-yard field goal and there is great joy at Southern Baptist. End of Act I.
The rise to fame of Stanislaus Fodorski has not gone unnoticed, and “an evil intelligence” is already at work to try to use the professor for less recommendable ends. This evil intelligence, perhaps responsible for many of the more repulsively imaginative advertising and promotional gimmicks that the professor noted on his way to S.B.I.T., is Henderson (Fritz Weaver), a man so callous that he has no first name. Owner and operator of Exploiters Unlimited, Henderson sees in Fodorski the kind of man (“sweet and good and slightly inept”) he could use to sell anything to anybody. With a cunning born of dedicated rottenness, he and his seven identical yes-men launch “Operation Fodorski.” Step one: invent a game called Fodorski, about immigration – “If you lose, you get deported.” Step two: open health gyms, Fodorskilands. Step three: get Fodorski!
But back at S.B.I.T., it is Bricker-the-Kicker who is now the center of attention, at the Homecoming Ball. Named “Football Find of the Year,” he accepts his plaque with the kind of it-took-lots-of-people-to-make-me-a-star speech usually only given by recipients of Academy Awards® – “I Couldn’t Have Done It Alone.” He doesn’t mention his sister, though.
Outside on the terrace, the older generation is looking elegant and feeling mellow. Fodorski, resplendent in silver vest and tails, proposes to Dean Elizabeth, who accepts in a cream-colored scoop-neck ball gown and crystal earrings – “If I Were You.” Her “yes” sets Fodorski off into a fine, freewheeling dance turn.
A moment later, when Fodorski would probably have agreed to almost anything, Henderson appears. He, too, proposes the formation of a Fodorski Foundation. It sounds good. Fodorski demurs. Henderson seduces. They dance. “Have a Dream,” pleads Henderson. Fodorski gains an empire and loses his soul. In no time, Fodorski’s face is on all the best-known magazine covers. His name endorses a hundred dubious products (Nice Guy Soap). His office in the Foundation has leopard-skin upholstery. Women find him fascinating. So, why fight it? – “I’m Fascinating.”
Meanwhile, Bricker is also on a self-infatuation-joyride. His love for Susan is forgotten, and he has eyes only for his big toe (“You’re a winner, baby”). Dean Elizabeth and Susan plot to get Bricker disqualified and burst his bubble. As the only woman permitted into the men’s dormitory, the dean is elected to carry the ball. She shows up in Bricker’s room with a thermos of gin-and-vodka martinis, a black, sequined dress slit to here, and a will to “make that boy incredibly ineligible” by showing him “The Real Me.” But when Dr. Snopes, snooping as usual, discovers the pair, he foils the plot and the president fires Elizabeth retroactively. Bricker stays eligible.
This demonstration, however, serves to awaken Fodorski’s slumbering conscience. After wondering “Which Way?” he should go, he understands that it’s up to him to put matters right. Simply by keeping Bricker on the bench, he sees to it that S.B.I.T. loses the Cotton Bowl game. Bricker’s half-baked plans to throw over engineering for professional football are thwarted. Henderson is ruined. Even Dr. Snopes is happy: “It’s a judgment. We have sinned!”
There remains only to pick up the pieces. Bricker and Susan and Fodorski and Elizabeth are reunited, and all regain good standing. With the football season over, the student body slowly regains its tentative conviction that “It’s Fun To Think.” Appropriately enough, word comes to Fodorski that Congress has passed a bill granting him citizenship just as he realizes that there is more to freedom than opportunity – Finale. He is, in other words, “melted” at last.
(in order of appearance)
Fleisser: Mort Marshall
Shindler: David Thomas
Feinschveiger: Bernie West
Katrinka: Betty Oakes
Professor Stanislaus Fodorski: Ray Bolger
Elizabeth Hawkes-Bullock: Eileen Herlie
Edwin Bricker: Ron Husmann*
Moose: George Lindsey
Susan: Anita Gillette
Henderson: Fritz Weaver
Will B. Able, Bill Starr, Barney Martin, Joseph Gentry, Michael Gentry, Fred Randall, Jerry Howard, Joseph McWherter
*Ron Husmann appears through the courtesy of Capitol Records, Inc.