The first time I saw RKO’s The Enchanted Cottage (1945) was on one of those pewter-gray autumn afternoons so indigenous to the Northwest. It was probably a lazy Saturday in front of the fire—one in which Michael and I cuddled on the sofa and took in a black and white film.
I knew nothing about Enchanted’s history at the time, but after I saw it again the other day, a little research uncovered the fact that the production began as a play commissioned by the British government to bolster men who returned home from WWI with scarred faces and missing limbs. RKO’s 1945 film was made for the same reason, but this time to help soldiers coming back from the second world war with disabilities.
The plot involves the intertwined lives of Laura Pennington, a plain servant girl gently underplayed by the marvelous Dorothy McGuire, and Robert Young as the debonair Oliver Bradford. Young is a flyer who comes home from the war with his once-handsome face disfigured when his plane crashes after it is shot down.
The two meet for the first time when Oliver brings his fiancee to the cottage and again when he returns, jilted and alone but determined to use it as a place to hide from the world. These two lonely people form a friendship that leads to a marriage of convenience.
The cottage works its magic, and the couple begin to see themselves and each other as beautiful even though their appearance hasn’t changed. They believe living within its walls has transformed them but learn the truth when Oliver’s self-centered mother makes a surprise visit and opens their eyes to reality.
In a stroke of movie magic, a pianist friend who happens to be blind helps Oliver and Laura understand that their transformation didn’t come from the outside but from within, and they changed in each other’s eyes because of the power of love.
Having grown up with Cerebral Palsy, I can tell you that disability is isolating for those of us without a robust support system and a belief in the intrinsic value of every human being. We’ve all been sold a bill of goods where youth and beauty is concerned. And since we still live in a world where any difference, including the shade of a person’s skin or a physical attribute that strays from the norm, is often seen not only as “bad” but something to be afraid of, the message of The Enchanted Cottage is still relevant today.
The same was true for Marty and me. While both of us were honest with each other about our disabilities from the beginning, there’s a difference between knowing that someone has a disability and seeing how it affects them on a day-to-day basis. So, when I got up from that wheelchair in the Omaha airport and Marty rushed toward me using his cane on the day we met, we both began to see the truth. This didn’t make any difference in what we felt for each other, but there was a period of adjustment, and disability was a part of that.
Despite all this, or perhaps because of it, we’ve spent our days building an enchanted new life together—a life in which love helps us deal with our differences—physical and otherwise. Like Laura and Oliver, Marty and I see each other through the eyes of love, and that love allows us to see the truth—that we’re perfect for each other just the way we are.