Silent Movie Bookshelf: “Oh, Doctor!” by Harry Leon Wilson

Harry Leon Wilson is not a household name nowadays but back in the ‘teens and twenties he was a popular novelist and many of his books were adapted into movies. Also, he helped popularize the term “flapper” so give the fella his due.

Wilson’s books often featured prissy, emotionally immature heroes who were saved from their plights by spunky young ladies.  Oh, Doctor! was adapted in 1925 by Universal. The film starred Reginald Denny and Mary Astor and I recommend it enthusiastically.

The Plot: Rufus Billop was raised to be a hypochondriac and he is convinced that his own death is imminent. He will inherit $750,000 in a few years but what good will that do him? He is sure to be dead long before then. A group on sharp businessmen smell an opportunity and offer to lend $100,000 to the gullible Rufus if he will sign his entire fortune over to them once he inherits.

Believing he has just weeks to live, Rufus leaps at the chance and uses the money to engage a full time nurse, the lovely and smart Dolores Hicks. Then something unexpected happens: In his eagerness to impress Dolores, Rufus begins to take risks. Cars, motorcycles, crashes, stitches, concussions… Will Rufus live to inherit? Can clever Dolores save his life and his fortune?

Favorite part: Wilson’s strongest skill as a writer is his ability to write zany interior monologues for his heroes. Some samples:

On pork chops:

Why had he said it? He was not hungry, and he was afraid of the chop. Why had he insisted? Was it because Miss Hicks stood there before him, dressed that way? But how could that matter? Naturally, he had seen other pretty girls– she was merely pretty, he now decided– but they had never made him demand food with a high percentage of toxins. Where, exactly, was he, and how had he come here?

On Miss Hicks and her love of athletic film actors:

He understood that look. She had some other portrayal of Stanley Howard in emergencies requiring a shirt open at the neck and rolled sleeves. Yet what she came back with was magazine picturing another hero of gripping escapades– the girl was inherently polyandrous!

On traffic cops:

The driver managed a sidelong glance of loathing for the creature. Could human beings sink this low? Lying in wait for people who were trying out a new car on a vacant stretch of road! He wondered if this social derelict could have friends who liked, even respected him. He might conceivably have a family from whom he would probably hide his wretched means of subsistence.

Oh, Doctor! is slightly slower moving than Merton of the Movies (Wilson’s most famous book and filmed multiple times) but is still a highly enjoyable, light read. Plus, the Universal film is a delight, so you have a good book AND a good movie adaptation too. That sounds like a bargain to me. If you’re feeling a bit low and need something spunky and suitably twenties, this is the book you want.

Availability: You can find used copies easily and even some photoplay tie-in editions that feature stills from the film. Alas, I was unable to locate a public domain e-edition online despite the books 1923 copyright, which means it entered the public domain in 2019.

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4 Replies to “Silent Movie Bookshelf: “Oh, Doctor!” by Harry Leon Wilson”

  1. I have been collecting these photoplay novelizations for decades ! The wraparound paper covers are usually no longer intact but even so I have learned so much by reading a silent film & seeing the few interspersed scene stills ! One of which I have is the unfortunately lost important Chaney “THE MIRACLE MAN” another is THE WOLF OF WALL STREET etc ! These hardcovers are swell to read enabling you to endeaver into the films of which some u can’t ever see BUT just holding these firm hardcovers makes one feel lke one is unearthing the same feeling as tho actually in the period of it’s public releations focused publication !

  2. I stumbled on the movie quite by accident on YouTube a few months ago & thoroughly enjoyed it, esp. the rousing climax. I had never heard of it or the novel before, altho’ I have long enjoyed the book “Merton of the Movies,” That one is available in at least one paperback reprint.

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