The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956)

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The novel The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson was made into a movie in 1956, starring Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones as Tom and Betsy Rath, with Fredric March, Lee J. Cobb, Keenan Wynn and Marisa Pavan in supporting roles. (March plays Tom Rath's boss, a character based on Roy Larsen, Wilson's boss at Time, Inc.) It was entered at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival.

Both movie and book became hugely popular. The novel continues to appear in the references of sociologists to America's discontented businessman. Columnist Bob Greene wrote, "The title of Sloan Wilson's best-selling novel became part of the American vernacular-the book was a ground-breaking fictional look at conformity in the executive suite, and it was a piece of writing that helped the nation's business community start to examine the effects of its perceived stodginess and sameness." Historian Robert Schultz argues that the film and the novel are cultural representations of what two-time presidential candidate (1952 and 1956) Adlai Stevenson described in a 1955 commencement address to Smith College women as a "crisis" in the western world, one Stevenson defined as "collectivism colliding with individualism," the collective corporate organization of postwar social and economic life. That increased corporate organization of society, Schultz notes, reduced white-collar workers' (represented by Tom Rath and the other gray-suited "yes men") control over what they did and how they did it as they adapted to the "organized system" described and critiqued by contemporary social critics such as Paul Goodman, C. Wright Mills and William H. Whyte, Jr.

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