A Career Romance For Young Moderns: A Flair For People

1955’s A Flair For People, by CarRom fave Helen Wells, takes us into the wild and woolly world of personnel wars, where Ann has to learn to balance her heart with her head…or does she?

The Heroine: Ann Roberts, idealistic college graduate. “Attractive, with an appealing voice,” Ann is a “natural leader,” although she has a fear of public speaking.

The Job: Personnel! Both Ann and the author are earnest about the challenge of helping people. “Ann knew that the ways people earn their living, the human problems they face at work, are anything but dull.” In the course of her work at a factory, Ann helps a boy named Johnny who wants to go to night school (she persuades him to work for a promotion instead), a worker with man problems (switch to the engaging doll clothes department for distraction) and a high-strung, artistic neurotic who’s ruining factory morale (Ann gets her her own line of “character dolls.”)

Love Interests: Ann initially falls for a blond smoothie named Blake Walton who’s doing some engineering work at her factory, despite the fact that he’s obviously a self-absorbed jerk who sees employees as cogs in a machine. In contrast to the suave Blake, there’s self-made Chips Simon – “a tall, lean, quick young man with dark hair and dark eyes full of laughter” – who can’t take Ann fancy places but shares her passion for good works.

The Villain: The beautiful, callous store buyer, Carole Crane, who, “whatever Nature had given her, had made herself into a work of art.”

The Plot: Ann is recruited to do personnel work in Gray’s doll factory in New York (a “union shop”) where “the employees are almost all women. That’s why a girl rather than a man is wanted for their personnel.” Ann moves into one of the “residential hotels” where everyone lives in these books. Says Mr. Gray, who is characteristic of the novel’s unusually progressive universe,

We try to treat the employees the way we’d want to be treated ourselves, if we were working here…if there’s any sign of prejudice, we clamp down hard and fast. We don’t permit that.

Ann makes her bones as a sympathetic personnel director, but finds her idealistic and ambitious plans are thwarted by the conservative management, so she moves on.

Her next job is at shmancy Hamilton’s department store, where Ann encounters her boss, Mrs. DeLacey (who “was probably sixty but looked forty, with white hair as satiny as her pearls, a trim, slim, commanding woman”), Chips, and her roommate, the wholesome Dorcas. They move into what, the super explains “apologetically,” used to be a loft(!) and so is really cheap (!) Ann and Chips come up with a “plan” for employee morale that involves a more human touch and a Junior Board of store employees (which is always capitalized like that.) Unfortunately, the suave Blake shows up with some warring plan that involves firing everyone and treating them like robots. Ann sees his true colors and is shocked at his lack of compassion. Who will prevail?!

At just this crucial juncture, disaster strikes: Ann hires a sullen, insolent girl with a disfigured face and a missing tooth. The girl, Minnie, has a great desire to be around beautiful things, so she goes to work for the nasty Carole Crane, who is cruel to her. Then money and clothes start being stolen – and it turns out it’s someone in the store! Minnie confesses defiantly that it’s her – that she was hurt in a car accident and never received plastic surgery, that she was mocked and considered an ugly duckling in her family, and so needs money for some charlatan plastic surgeon. Oh, and she won’t stop stealing. Ann is so moved by this story that, not only does she not fire Minnie, sullen and insolent though she is, but decides to give her an Extreme Makeover, as well as a second chance. In addition to raising money for a dentist and plastic surgeon, Ann enlists a team of store friends.

Mr. Don cut and waved her hair so that her face no longer looked bony, but slender and clear cut. The make-up expert performed some artfulness that brought Minnie’s features into harmony, gave light to her eyes. The buyers of junior misses’ clothes put Minnie into tawny colors which lent her warmth. Lily, the model, stayed after hours in order to teach Minnie how to stand, walk and sit with grace. The actress Alicia Weir-Bennett invited Minnie to her apartment on Sunday afternoon and taught her the elements of good diction and a pleasant speaking voice. On orders from the store physician she was eating to gain weight.

Blake and Carole consider this behavior “coddling” and Ann and the forces of good prepare for a showdown in front of the store’s president, Miss Parker. Blake and Carole are all for soulless mechanization and have a dazzling array of facts and numbers at their disposal. Will Ann and Chips be outclassed? No! Conquering her fear of public speaking, Ann launches into an eloquent description of Minnie’s case and the need for the personal touch. What do you know? Miss Parker used to be poor and love pretty things, too! She approves of Ann’s approach of giving makeovers to sullen new employees who’ve stolen hundreds of dollars in merch! Blake and Carole are routed and left fuming; Ann and Chips, triumphant, get engaged. In Ann’s words,

It’s so simple. People, employees, are the core of any business. No number of machines or methods or merchandise are of any use unless you have efficient, willing employees. They’re human beings. You have to treat them humanely.

Earlier: A Career Romance For Young Moderns: A Campaign For Pam
A Career Romance For Young Moderns: Designed By Stacey
A Career Romance For Young Moderns: Dreams To Shatter
A Career Romance For Young Moderns: A Special Kind of Love
Career Romance For Young Moderns: Patti Lewis, Home Economist
A Career Romance For Young Moderns: Lee Devins, Copywriter

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