The Doctor Wears Three Faces by Mary Bard

Who is Mary Bard and why should readers today care about her? Well, chances are most people have no clue who she is and won’t care to find out. This entry is largely for people who’ve got “what was that book”itis, vaguely remembering books written in the 1940s and 1950s, or perhaps those of us who just enjoy the writing style of the time.

For those who are interested, Mary is the sister of Betty MacDonald, who wrote the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books in addition to her own autobiographies: The Egg and I, The Plague and I, Anybody Can Do Anything and Onions in the Stew. While I’m not sure her books have stood the test of time as well as her sister’s, Mary was popular enough in the post-World War II period to have written three books of her own. They’re out of print now, however.

The Doctor Wears Three Faces is about the early years of Mary Bard’s marriage to physician Clyde Jensen (referred to in the book as Jim Jay). Marriage to a doctor isn’t quite as sophisticated as Bard had expected, between the long and erratic hours a doctor practicing internal medicine often has–patients can’t time illness for office hours–and the fellow physicians talking shop at parties, among other issues. Overall, the book reads as if she were trying to present her life in a humorous way, rather than a complete and accurate (as she perceived both) description of life as a doctor’s wife; while there are problems, to be sure, I can’t feel terribly sorry for her, which is, I suspect, rather her point.

While I haven’t read her other two books, I’d guess that Mary Bard’s works bear about the same relationship to Betty MacDonald’s works as Frank Gilbreth’s later books do to the first two he wrote with his sister, Ernestine Carey, Cheaper By the Dozen and Belles On Their Toes. That is, if you like Cheaper By the Dozen and Belles On Their Toes and wondered what happened to the other family members, you’ll probably be interested in Gilbreth’s later books about his life and family. Or if you wanted more information on family members MacDonald mentioned more or less peripherally, you’ll like Bard’s books. If you’ve never read MacDonald’s autobiographies and haven’t the interest in or patience for the autobiographical style of the time, these won’t be appealing. As with sister Betty’s biographies, the description of non-Americans (Japanese in this case) or non-Anglo Caucasians may stop some readers cold–neither sister’s opinion would be acceptable to sensitive readers today–but if you’re able to glide over such issues (and you like Betty MacDonald’s work), Mary Bard’s books might be worth a try.

Mary Bard wrote three non-fiction books, approximately autobiographical in nature, and the “Best Friends” trilogy, fiction about an American girl who befriends a French girl, just arrived at her very cliquish school. If you liked these, you might want to try Jean Kerr’s collections of articles about her life, children, house hunting and so on: Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, The Snake Has All the Lines, or Penny Candy. The writing style is similar: they both might be described as “mordant wit”, but with the sense that this may not reflect their own personal opinions or life. There’s something they’re holding back.

HistoryLink Slide Show about Mary and Betty


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