Bertram Potts from Ball of Fire

23 Jun

“You’re big and cute and pretty…to me you’re a regular yum-yum type.”

An English professor who looks like Gary Cooper? It’s almost too good to be true, but it is true in Howard Hawk’s 1941 Ball of Fire and not even Barbara Stanwyck’s stripper Sugarpuss O’Shea can resist him.

There are many things to admire about Bertram Potts. Besides the fact that he looks like Gary Cooper. He’s a professor of English, and he’s not a stuffy professor of English. When the film opens, he is working on slang for an encyclopedia and he reveals a lively curiosity and interest in new knowledge, especially what he calls “a living language” filled with the slang of ordinary Americans and spoken by characters like Sugarpuss and the garbage man.

In fact, his interest is right in line with real-life authors (like the actual author of the film’s script, Billy Wilder). Raymond Chandler was greatly interested in what he called American English and thought that for a while (namely in the 1930s and ’40s) it was filled with the kind of variety, color, and flexibility often associated with Shakespeare.

It is very appropriate, then, that Bertram Potts should also quote Shakespeare to Sugarpuss. He gives her a ring that is inscribed with the location of the quote from Richard III (she asks who Richard ill is), “See how my ring encircles your finger? That’s how your heart embraces my poor heart. Wear both the ring and my heart, because both are yours.” 

But not only is Bertram Potts erudite, he is also sweet and adorable. He’s completely bowled over by Sugarpuss (“a little sun on my hair and you had to water your neck”), way out of his depth, but it is the sincerity and sweetness of his response that wins her over. Without guile, he assumes her declaration of love is exactly as it appears. He takes her at her word, takes her seriously and treats her as a person of value.

He is also about as nonjudgmental as a person can be. He is, admittedly, angry when he discovers that she used him, but that is not judgmental. But does he mind that she is a stripper? Or the girlfriend of a gangster? He always sees her as a person and never as an example of a certain type of woman…though Mrs. Bragg, the housekeeper for the professors, certainly does. Sugarpuss is simply the woman he loves…and who knows some “mouthwatering” slang.

Bertram Potts (or Pottsie, as Sugarpuss calls him) even gets to be heroic. But not by the traditional beat-the-bad-guy-up method – though he does get to eventually beat the bad guy up – but via intellectual knowledge. He and his fellow professors are able to outwit the villains using their knowledge of history, literature and science.

And he looks like Gary Cooper. The only wonder to me is that Sugarpuss does not fall for him sooner, though she does comment that he doesn’t know how to kiss (“the jerk!”) and looks like a “giraffe.” But he had me at “skidoo” (which he traced from the word skedaddle).

This has been my post for the “Reel Infatuation Blogathon,” hosted by Silverscreenings  and Font and Frock. Be sure to check back for more screen crush posts in the recaps for days 1, 2, and 3 of the blogathon.


Posted by on June 23, 2017 in Movies


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

20 responses to “Bertram Potts from Ball of Fire

  1. Silver Screenings

    June 23, 2017 at 11:15 am

    Christina, this is perfect. The handsome and brainy Bertram Potts is an ideal choice for you because you’re the brainy type yourself.

    I liked what you said re: Potts treating Stanwyck’s character like a person of value. He respects her intelligence, doesn’t act like a Know It All and is keen to learn the “new language” from her. You also pointed out that he is non-judgmental, and he doesn’t take advantage of her situation.

    Thanks so much for joining the blogathon, and for bringing the lovely Professor Potts to the party. You’ve made me want to watch this again!

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      June 23, 2017 at 12:00 pm

      Thanks! It was lovely to be able to spend time considering Professor Potts. It seems like often professors are unfairly portrayed as being stuffed-shirts in films and it was so nice to see a character portrayed as being intellectually alive and respectful of others.

      That’s a great point about his not acting like a Know It All. And I love how she appreciates him, too, even spending time reading one of his books on language!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Patricia Nolan-Hall (@CaftanWoman)

    June 23, 2017 at 11:45 am

    Pottsie? Of course, Pottsie. Why not Pottsie? I’ve been so enamoured of Professor Peagram all these years, that I never really took a good look at Pottsie. H’m, and a ha-ha.

    A perfect choice and a perfect article explaining the perfection of your choice. If I had harboured deep feelings for Pottsie, I would step aside after reading of your devotion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      June 23, 2017 at 12:03 pm

      You are very kind! 🙂 Professor Peagram is a lovely person. And I always harbored affection for Professor Gurkakoff, too, though my heart does belong to Pottsie.


  3. Michaela

    June 23, 2017 at 12:25 pm

    A most excellent choice, Christina. I would follow Gary Cooper anywhere, especially with characters like Pottsie and Longfellow Deeds (who was very nearly my choice for this blogathon). Everything you said about Pottsie is so true — he’s just absolutely, positively adorable. And that proposal scene with Stanwyck! So lovely.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      June 23, 2017 at 1:09 pm

      Yes, so true!! They have such great chemistry, don’t they?

      I think it was his role as Longfellow Deeds that first made me fall a little in love with Gary Cooper. I had not seen him in many films, I think just High Noon, and I couldn’t get over how beautiful he was. And adorable. 🙂


  4. Brittaney B

    June 23, 2017 at 1:03 pm

    I’m hard pressed to find anything not to love about this movie. What a great choice and review!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Randall Green

    June 23, 2017 at 7:34 pm

    Ha, ha! Great post. And may I add: And she looks like Barbara Stanwyck!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. maddylovesherclassicfilms

    June 24, 2017 at 11:45 am

    Good choice! Gary is so adorable and sexy in this. I love the scene where she has to stand on the books to reach his mouth when they kiss.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      June 24, 2017 at 10:19 pm

      Yes, that is one of my favorite scenes! It’s a good thing he’s such a book worm so that she’ll always have books on hand so she can reach him for a kiss! 🙂


  7. The Flapper Dame

    June 25, 2017 at 3:12 pm

    OK It’s True- Educated Men who resemble famous actors are H-O-T- (Paul Verrall in Born Yesterday- he looks like Bill Holden!) If only we could all snag teacher doppelgangers! Professor Pottsie is adorable- and I wish I had him for a teacher!

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      June 25, 2017 at 3:56 pm

      That would be so lovely!! Either one for a teacher. Doppelgangers are definitely needed in life. 🙂


  8. Leticia Magalhães

    June 28, 2017 at 11:28 am

    Ball of Fire is one of my favorite screwball comedies of all time. Gary Cooper is beyond charming in this film. I still wonder why Sugarpuss didn’t fall for him sooner – I certainly fell in the first few minutes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      June 28, 2017 at 11:45 am

      Yes, me too!! At least when she falls for him, she really falls for him in a big way. 🙂


  9. maedez

    June 28, 2017 at 12:28 pm

    What a wonderful choice of character crush! Its definitely one we have in common. Thanks so much for writing about him. And thanks for making the blogathon a bit brighter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      June 28, 2017 at 1:56 pm

      And thank you for hosting! It was wonderful to share my crush and find it shared by others. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • maedez

        June 28, 2017 at 1:58 pm

        You’re welcome! And I agree.



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