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If you're looking for some light and humorous reading with
happy characters and a clever plot, this is the one to read. Written in 1902, it was adapted into a play in 1906, and made into a whopping twelve films, from
1914 to 2016. That last one was in Brazil, and three were in India. The last American film was in 1985, and starred Richard Pryor as Brewster, Unlike the
novel, where Brewster must spend $1 million in a year to inherit $7 million, Pryor has to spend $30 million in 30 days to inherit $300 million. Inflation. But I'm
getting ahead of myself.
Montgomery (Monty) Brewster is a young and "clean-looking" guy in New York, whom we meet as he celebrates his twenty-fifth birthday with nine other "Little Sons of the Rich." There's Richard "Rip" Van Winkle, Oliver Harrison, "Subway" Smith, and more, and they've met at Pettingill's studio.
Brewster is one of those guys that everyone likes, for different reasons, and good ones, too. Both of his parents are deceased, so his grandfather, Edwin Peter Brewster had taken him in to support. However, there isn't much affection between the two, so after college, Monty prefers to work at a bank to make his own living. And that's a fine quality.
But just after singing "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow," the doorbell rings and it is Ellis sent from his grandfather. Monty replies he is too busy and they continue the celebration. Ellis comes again, and is told to leave. Finally, at three o'clock A,M,, Ellis shows up again, and this time will not be sent off. He has three messages. The first trip's message was to give Brewster a check for one thousand dollars. The second trip was to say his grandfather had a heart attack. This third trip is to tell him his grandfather has died.
Though Monty is independent, his grandfather has still bequeathed him one million dollars, making him now a wealthy man. He had been rooming with lifelong friends, Mrs. Gray and her daughter, Peggy, but now stays for a while at the old Brewster house on Fifth Avenue, which gives him time to think and regret. But the other side of the coin is that he is now a very popular man. Imagine that.
The directors of the bank where Brewster was president meet to assign a new leader. One of those directors is Col. Prentiss Drew, whose daughter, Barbara, is a person of interest to Monty. Prentiss warmly offers help to the new millionaire, should Monty need it.
The house where Monty lives formerly belonged to his grandfather. Mrs. Gray was born there, and was friends with Monty's mother. Monty has lived there since he was three years old, and he and Peggy grew up almost as brother and sister. Even with all his new money, Monty is still Monty, and glad to come back home. And that's another good quality of his, and he doesn't change throughout the story, though many people think he has.
So, that's a bit of background. Now comes the interesting part. It seems Monty had a rich uncle, quite a forgotten relative. In fact, Monty barely remembers his existence. Well, it seems that James T. Sedgwick was the brother of Monty's mother, and had a monster of a grudge against Edwin Brewster, who forbade the marriage of Louise Sedgwick to his son, Robert Brewster, but they did it anyways. Edwin nearly disowned his son and refused to recognize the marriage.
Uncle James went to Australia, to get away from Edwin, came back with some money, moved to Montana, and became a very wealthy man. Having never married, he bequeathed his seven million to Montgomery Brewster, the only son of his only sister. But there's a catch. In order for Monty to inherit the seven million, he must spend the entire million his grandfather left him, because James doesn't want any remnant of that side of the family mingling with his money. He has appointed an executor of the will, Mr. Swearengen Jones of Montana, to make sure that the conditions are carried out. Grant & Ripley are the New York representatives. Brewster selects some friends to manage his affairs under the pretext that he will "double his fortune within a year." Oliver "Nopper" Harrison is hired as superintendent of affairs. That's an important fact to remember, as you will discover in the end.
And the conditions? Monty must spend the money wisely. He can't just give it all to charity, and he can't buy any long-lasting items, because everything he owns that was bought with Brewster's money must be gone by his next birthday. He has to keep strict records of receipts and activities, and the worst part is that he is not allowed to tell anyone. And that's where the problem sets in because he discovers the best way to spend lots of money is to entertain his friends lavishly. But after a while, they think he has snapped, and is heading to poverty, so they try to help him save money. Well, he is heading for poverty, but for a good reason.
And the other problem is that now, no matter what Monty does, money just keeps coming in, when he's trying to send it out, and that provides the comic element. Keep in mind, he had the choice of whether or not to accept the challenge, but he had no idea how difficult it would be to get rid of a million dollars that wants to grow rather than shrink. He starts to lose sleep doing calculations of just how much must be spent per day.
So, he begins by moving into an expensive apartment and having the artist Pettingill redecorate it top to bottom. And Brewster also buys lots of stuff, setting up an agreement with the dealers that they will buy it all back at a fair price at the end of the year. Plus he needs a serving staff, and buys an expensive automobile.
Next he plans a grand dinner party for his influential friends—a $3,000-a-plate dinner, actually. He also secures the services of Mrs. Dan DeMille, a well-known "social mentor and utility chaperon." Of course, "opulent" cannot even begin to describe the affair, with its décor and ambience. But perhaps the most ostentatious feature of the room is the ceiling screen designed to modify the lighting of the dining room. Unfortunately, after the party leaves the dining area, the thing comes crashing down, also destroying most of what was on the table. Oops. The fortunate aspect of course is that a lot of money crashed with it and no one was hurt.
But not all of Brewster's investments turn out that lucky. He bets against a prize-fighter competing with a novice. The novice wins. He researches the stock market to find stocks (Lumber and Fuel) that are in trouble and sure to plummet. They gain. How frustrating.
Brewster's gambling in love isn't very lucky either. He declares his love to Barbara Drew, but she is playing hard-to-get, which he does not grasp, being an honest and straightforward sort of guy. She expects him to give her his undivided attention, and doesn't understand he is preoccupied with this money thing, which he, of course, is forbidden to share. He eventually tires of her games, and that's good, because there's someone much better awaiting him.
But the lavish parties are growing dull for Brewster, so he decides to take his friends on a five-month cruise to France, Italy, and wherever. And it is during this cruise that his friends are certain he has cracked. And his health really is beginning to show wear and tear.
But it's comedy, so as one would expect, it all turns out happy. And y'know—I like happy endings!
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