Gilbreth, Frank B., Jr. Essay - Critical Essays

Gilbreth, Frank B., Jr.


Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. 1911– Ernestine Gilbreth Carey 1908–

(Carey has also written under the name Ernestine Gilbreth.) American authors of autobiographies, nonfiction, and novels.

Gilbreth and Carey are perhaps best known for their first collaboration, Cheaper by the Dozen, a chronicle of the mostly comic misadventures of their 14-member family. Their parents, Frank B. Gilbreth, Sr. and Lillian Moller Gilbreth, were motion-study experts who wrote pioneering studies on time management. Their hypotheses were sometimes tested in the raising of their family. From an early age the children participated in the running of the household and often became reluctant subjects for their father's experiments.

The professional association of Gilbreth and Carey seemed to develop naturally out of their maturation in a family which encouraged cooperation and valued the written word. In Cheaper by the Dozen and its sequel, Belles on Their Toes, Gilbreth and Carey portrayed their close-knit yet intensely ambitious and successful family with warmth, and for many the Gilbreths came to represent the ideal American family. The family also became quite well known when both books were filmed, adapted for the stage, and translated into many languages.

Gilbreth and Carey have each pursued an independent writing career since the publication of Belles on Their Toes. Carey's first novel, Jumping Jupiter, dealt with the troubles of a toy buyer at a New York department store, inspired by her own experiences buying for Macy's. Though the book received warm critical reception, her subsequent output has included only one other novel and a memoir of her married life. Gilbreth, on the other hand, has proved far more prolific. His books range from How to Be a Father, a tongue-in-cheek guide based on his own knowledge of fatherhood, to Loblolly, a gentle satire of Southern gothics. He returned to his initial subject in 1971 to tell of his parents' early years in Time Out for Happiness. All his works share the good-natured wit and engaging honesty that helped make Cheaper by the Dozen so popular. In general Gilbreth's works have been more kindly received by critics than Carey's; however, neither writer alone has written anything that has come close to matching the appeal of their collaborations. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed., and Something about the Author, Vol. 2 for Gilbreth; see also Something about the Author, Vol. 2 for Carey.)

Lisle Bell

["Cheaper by the Dozen"] is a gay and affectionate tribute to Frank B. Gilbreth, a latter-day [Clarence] Day….

One hilarious chapter follows another—mass instruction in the touch system of typing, wholesale removal of tonsils, family picnics that were something between an army encampment and a chautauqua.

"Cheaper by the Dozen" is such an entertaining account of the growing Gilbreths that you wish it could have been written before [Frank B. Gilbreth's death in] 1924. The father of the Dozen would have enjoyed it.

Lisle Bell, "Efficiency Expert at Home," in New York Herald Tribune Book Review (© I.H.T. Corporation; reprinted by permission), Vol. 25, No. 20, January 2, 1949, p. 4.

John T. Winterich

["Cheaper by the Dozen" is not] merely a remembrance of things past in a household geared to scientific management…. There is an abundance of data on the basic economy of operating a household of fourteen people. The big family is on the way out, if it isn't out already—a fact which makes "Cheaper by the Dozen," among other things, the case history of an anachronism. Which, of course, is no fault of the brother-sister authors.

As story—as true story—"Cheaper by the Dozen" is always entertaining, occasionally hilarious, occasionally touching…. It is sound Americana. It has a hero and a heroine. The heroine is worth knowing more about….

John T. Winterich, "Case History of an Anachronism," in The Saturday Review of Literature (copyright © 1949 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXXII, No. 2, January 8, 1949, p. 19.

Ruth Baker

The high standard of hilarity [in "Cheaper by the Dozen"] is kept up well, and great praise should be given the authors for their choice of anecdotes—of which, the reader feels sure, there must have been a large reservoir. There emerges, in a quietly accumulative way through the pages, a very lovable and loving mother…. And when Mr. Gilbreth's ideas embarrassed his children, which they did frequently, to the real misery of the sensitive adolescents, it was Mrs. Gilbreth's tactful oiling of the waters which saved the day and the family cohesion….

The book is the greatest possible tribute by children to parents, and a living proof that the Gilbreths, at any rate, had so many children they knew just what to do—to the immense enjoyment and pleasure of all their readers.

Ruth Baker, "Fun with a Family," in The Christian Science Monitor (reprinted by permission from The Christian Science Monitor; © 1949 The Christian Science Publishing Society; all rights reserved), January 10, 1949, p. 18.

Edward Weeks

[Cheaper by the Dozen] is a boisterous, breezy family chronicle, the true story—the more incredible for being true—of how an inventive and immensely capacious American engineer, Frank Bunker Gilbreth by name, and his game and surprisingly durable wife, Lillian Moller Gilbreth, raised their twelve children and kept unceasingly on the go….

I don't question the veracity of [the events in the book]; I just wish it sounded more like life. The story would be better were there more landmarks in it of time and place by which the reader could steer. Of them all, Mother alone has the identifying touch, and when Mother goes swimming at Nantucket, we see her and for a time are back in the land of the plausible.

Edward Weeks, "The Atlantic Bookshelf: 'Cheaper by the Dozen'," in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1949, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), Vol. 183, No. 2, February, 1949, p. 84.

[Cheaper by the Dozen is] bland and amiable …, a sometimes hilarious, sometimes tiresome story of life in the first quarter of the century….

Perhaps because the co-authors collaborated by mail …, their product lacks unity and presents the reader with only the haziest notion about the chronology of the Gilbreth tribe's doings. Though father Gilbreth often sounds (and sounds off) like father Day [in Clarence Day's Life With Father], Cheaper by the Dozen lacks the literary merits of its wise, well-honed predecessor. Mother Gilbreth's firm character is made clear…. But the personalities of the twelve Gilbreth children are never created; they remain a vague, boisterous chorus. (p. 110)

"Let's have Twelve," in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; copyright Time Inc. 1949), Vol. LIII, No. 24, June 13, 1949, pp. 108, 110.

The domestic complications that arise [in "Belles on Their Toes"] aren't entirely unexpected, in view of such factors, now familiar to the public, as the size of the brood and the unorthodox nature of Mr. Gilbreth's educational theories, nor are they quite as funny as the previous ones, since the authors are apparently under the impression that humor, like bedmaking, is improved by the repetitive techniques advocated by efficiency experts, and that it can be both streamlined and mass-produced. (p. 135)

"Briefly Noted: 'Belles on Their Toes'," in The New Yorker (© 1950 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. XXVI, No. 32, October 7, 1950, pp. 134-35.

Constance Buil Burnett

["Belles On Their Toes" is] replete with laughs. At least one memorable chapter compelled this reviewer to take time off to mop streaming eyes and ease an aching diaphragm.

Genial, rollicking humor is a tonic to be welcomed at any time. In a period of general tension and insecurity, "Belles On Their Toes" offers special refreshment. For underlying all its high comedy lies the moving story of one family's brave, united stand against adversity.

Lillian Gilbreth's game determination to support eleven children single-handed, and to fulfill her husband's vow to send every last one to college, transcends what might otherwise be no more than an entertaining collection of farcical...

(The entire section is 168 words.)

Harry Gilroy

One Gilbreth is no funnier than one normally bright person of any parentage, it may be presumed, but when the eleven Gilbreth youngsters and their mother were assembled under one roof they were good for a comic chapter at every turn of family life. The proof is in the reading of ["Belles on Their Toes." This sequel to "Cheaper by the Dozen"] … also proves what a pair of deft story-tellers the two writing members of the Gilbreth eleven are….

This is good light stuff, but there is a hint of something more in the book. When old Tom dies, the authors say:

It could be said that Tom was a man who never amounted to much. By some standards, perhaps, he wasn't even a...

(The entire section is 280 words.)

T. Morris Longstreth

["I'm a Lucky Guy"] is fully as entertaining as "Cheaper by the Dozen" and "Belles on Their Toes"…. Also the tale is rather more lighthearted. Dad and Mother, in their uniqueness, took a deal of explaining, but here the ballast is lighter.

The title is a misnomer, a concession to our ideas of modesty. Luck hadn't a toehold in the grueling childhood of the Gilbreth dozen….

My favorite of all Mr. Gilbreth's experiences is his tour of duty as admiral's aide. I doubt if anything funnier can be hoped for from naval literature. The situations resulting from his early assignments as reporter are also hilarious, while the plain facts of that truthful chapter, "Love on a Scavenger Hunt,"...

(The entire section is 249 words.)

John T. Winterich

Writing on his own [in "I'm a Lucky Guy"], Mr. Gilbreth is rather more restrained and less exuberant than the collaboration….

Mr. Gilbreth's solo flight opens with his departure for the University of Michigan, and though he is at pains to explain that his narrative "is not primarily a chronicle of my college days," some 38 per cent of his text is just that….

His Navy experiences cover only fifty-odd pages, but they are the best part of the story….

In the course of these eighteen years the author woos and wins a wife, and some of the attendant confusion suggests the hilarity of "Cheaper by the Dozen." But in the main the narrative is straightforward...

(The entire section is 263 words.)

Jane Cobb

[In] "Jumping Jupiter," Mrs. Carey has turned her attention away from her fabulous family and brought it to bear on retail merchandising, a field which she regards with absolutely no good nature whatsoever. O. Henry's half-starved little shop girls were living the life of Riley, compared with Kay Linsey, buyer for the toy department at Joyce's….

Ultimately things turn out well for Kay. The roseate ending may be a little improbable, but the reader is glad of it anyway.

Jane Cobb, "Everybody Got Her Goat," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1952 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), January 27, 1952, p. 4.


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C. V. Terry

"Held's Angels" is far more than an extended blurb to a grab-bag of nostalgic drawings by [John Held, Jr.]…. [The] words could stand alone as an accurate (if gently satiric) picture of life as it was lived in the Era of Wonderful Nonsense—at Midwestern University and elsewhere. In creating a full-dress portrait of the collegiate Twenties, Mr. Gilbreth has lost none of the gusto he exhibited in the accounts of his own maturing…. Once again, the fun is strictly off the cuff. But the emotion behind the patter is genuine….

All the museum props are here, from a time that often seems only a trifle less remote than gaslight. Yet Mr. Gilbreth makes them seem oddly (even poignantly) alive….


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Jane Cobb

In "Rings Around Us" Ernestine Gilbreth Carey … tells us something of her own family life. It has been considerably less complicated than that of her parents….

The Careys' married life followed a fairly normal pattern, but the normal pattern can be very amusing and Mrs. Carey makes the most of it….

"Rings Around Us" is not a memorable book, but it is warm and light-hearted. The proper adjective for it probably is pleasant.

Jane Cobb, "Family Fun and Games," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1956 by The New York Times Company: reprinted by permission), February 26, 1956, p. 20.

(The entire section is 97 words.)

Josephine Ripley

"Rings Around Us" is a rollicking story from the moment Ernie's tight-fitting red dress brought an admiring "whee" from Chick Carey at a Greenwich Village party, until that same red dress on their teen-age daughter in a school play evoked his disapproval….

Sound familiar? It will to many parents, along with the entire book. The Carey family goes happily from crisis to crisis in the manner of most couples, only more so….

The book is in staccato dialogue, giving it pace, color, and the rhythm of a tuneful merry-go-round. Its characters are swiftly but never finely drawn and time is telescoped in a way that sometimes leaves the reader slightly startled by its lapse, but who cares...

(The entire section is 153 words.)

Helen Beal Woodward

About the most exciting thing that happens to the Careys [in Rings Around Us] is that their son is born with a rudimentary tail and that their housekeeper, a follower of Father Divine, leaves the house in horror with the cry that the family is marked by sin. But to bear down heavily on a book as fluffy and as harmless and as easy-to-take as is "Rings Around Us" would be like using a shillelagh to spank a baby. Perhaps its failure lies in the fact that Mrs. Carey has only two children to her parents' twelve, or perhaps it is because a couple of generations have diluted the vinegary eccentricities of the elder Gilbreth into something as bland as Pablum.

Helen Beal Woodward,...

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Herbert L. Leet

Non-fathers (and most mothers) who chance on ["How to Be a Father"] will enjoy a hearty laugh at the expense of those with experience in this sort of thing, while others, in turn, will wince at Gilbreth's recollections which so amazingly parallel their own.

Herbert L. Leet, "New Books Appraised: 'How to Be a Father'," in Library Journal (reprinted from Library Journal, April 1, 1958; published by R. R. Bowker Co. (a Xerox company); copyright © 1958 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 83, No. 7, April 1, 1958, p. 1080.

(The entire section is 80 words.)

Silence Buck Bellows

Children born of the "lost generation" and growing up in the depression years might have been used by some novelists as pegs to hang a dreary psychological commentary upon: Mr. Gilbreth's ["Loblolly"] is anything but dreary. From the moment old "February" brings the quaking but game youngsters to the rundown old mansion in Cutting Scrape Alley, to the restoration of Loblolly plantation and Julien's invitation to the St. Cecilia ball, the book is an affirmation of courage and integrity.

It's funny, too. If it weren't it would hardly be Gilbreth…. Mr. Gilbreth succeeds in making his unbelievable characters quite believable.

Silence Buck Bellows, "About...

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George Adelman

["He's My Boy"] is a homey little group of anecdotes about the author's four-year-old son Teddy. The stories, more gently amusing than wildly funny, reflect the author's nostalgia as memories of his own boyhood in Providence as one of "The Dozen" are brought back by his son's reactions to some of the milestones of his growing up—haircuts, a plane trip from home in Charleston to Nantucket, a birthday party, kindergarten, a new baby sister. Gilbreth's style is comfortable and easy going and his comments on various aspects of family living, its foibles as well as features, are critical without being cutting.

George Adelman, "New Books Appraised: 'He's My Boy'," in Library...

(The entire section is 135 words.)

Pauline J. Earl

["Time Out for Happiness"] is a book written with love by the son of a remarkable mother…. [It resembles the other Gilbreth family chronicles], except that this book concentrates on Lillian Moller Gilbreth, the mother of this extensive brood….

The author tells amusing anecdotes about his mother in all phases of her life and it all points up what a wonderfully unique person she is.

This book is written with a tender touch and great affection about a woman who surely deserves no less. I recommend it for the pure joy and honest entertainment of it all.

Pauline J. Earl, "Non-Fiction: 'Time Out for Happiness'," in Best Sellers (copyright...

(The entire section is 118 words.)