Financial Lessons from the Movies – The Unsinkable Molly Brown

I’m a sucker for musicals. I grew up in the 1950’s and 60’s when many of the classics were made. I’m also a sucker for rags to riches stories (as are a lot of us).

The musical – The Unsinkable Molly Brown – satisfies both of my cravings. It played on Broadway in the early 1960’s and in 1964 a movie was made starring Debbie Reynolds as Molly. My copy arrived yesterday and I eagerly watched the DVD right away.

What lessons could a person learn from this movie?

Have a dream and set goals.

Molly, as a baby, was caught in a flood and orphaned. The opening scene shows her as a toddler, floating down a raging river in a wooden cradle then falling out, floating to shore and crawling up next to a rock. She was adopted by a single man in Colorado and raised in a mountain cabin he shared with another guy and the guy’s three boys.

One of the first songs Reynolds sings is “I ain’t down yet” which loudly and emphatically expresses her dream of being rich and the goals she has to get there.

Shes going to learn how to read and write and see what there is to see. She doesn’t want to be stuck in the mountain cabin, just being born, living and then dying. She’s going somewhere. She is going to meet famous people and live in a house with a golden staircase and a big brass bed.

If Molly didn’t have a dream, she probably would have stayed in the hills in poverty her entire life.

Think about what you want your life to be, dream big, then go after that dream.

Use your dreams and goals to guide your actions.

Throughout the movie, she repeats her dream and her goals and uses them to guide her actions so that she can get rich and do the things she wants to do.

She figures her best shot of getting rich is to find a rich man and marry him (hey- it was the early sixties – remember). So she takes off for Leadville to find a rich man so she can go live on the richest street in Denver.

Before she makes it to Leadville, JJ Brown (a lackadaisical silver miner) finds her washing up in the creek and persuades her to take a meal in his mountain cabin. As they sit down to eat, she asks if he can read. When he says yes, she pulls out some postcards she received and asks him to read them to her. As they grow acquainted, she starts to think he is trying to take advantage of her and storms out without her bag of belongings when she realizes he could divert her from her goals.

If you lose sight of your goal, you can easily get derailed and never get where you intended to go. Proclaim your dream to those around you, keep it in sight and stay focused.

Be open to opportunity and keep learning.

Arriving in Leadville with nothing, she overhears the owner of the Christmas Saloon saying he is going to have to hire a new guy and persuades him to give her a chance at the job – with pay being food and a place to stay.

She grabs every opportunity to learn that presents itself. When asked if she can play the piano, she says YES (and then stays up all night to figure it out). When the experienced saloon girls come in and try to grab her customers, she watches and learns.

JJ Brown comes to the saloon with the bag Molly left at his cabin. They have a discussion, at the end of which Molly persuades JJ to teach her to read and write.

The more you know and the more you can do, the more valuable you become financially.

Stay focused on your goal.

When she falls for JJ Brown and agrees to marry him – because he made a cabin with all the things she wanted (including the brass bed) – and because she ‘had a feelin for him’, she shortly bemoans the loss of her bigger dream. Her distress causes JJ to go out and sell his silver mine so he can provide the money she thinks she needs to lead that rich life. He strides out right after the wedding reception and comes back three days latter with a wad of bills for her.

Don’t let others knock you off track.  Be persistent in focusing on your long term goals.

Keep your money safe.

Once JJ hands the paper money he got from selling the mine over to Molly, she gets worried about someone stealing it. While he is out getting cleaned up in the cold creek, she looks around the two room cabin trying to find an appropriate place to keep the money safe. She settles on the heating stove! She stuffs in the money, then wraps a plain brown paper around it and goes back in the bedroom.

Of course, when JJ comes back in, he is freezing and immediately lights a fire in the heating stove, burning up the $300,000.

Accumulated savings and income streams have to be protected.

Not everyone is motivated by money.

Molly sees money as the road to a better life. JJ is very content living simply in the beautiful Colorado wilderness. When the money from the silver mine sale burns, Molly runs around the cabin, trying to stay away from JJ – she thinks he will beat her because she put the money in the stove. JJ doesn’t care about the money, he just got it because he loves Molly and wants her to be happy. JJ’s recurring theme throughout the movie is that he is going along with Molly’s dream, but his is really to live simply with good friends in his beautiful Colorado.

Just because you are trying to improve your financial situation doesn’t mean that everyone around you is as well.

Don’t despair over temporary setbacks.

After the money burns, JJ grabs his pick and walks out of the cabin. He immediately wants to get more money to make Molly happy again. Molly, who now realizes she wants him more than the money, runs after him. As they hug, JJ throws his pick and it lands in a huge vein of gold.

If they had stayed in the cabin and wrung their hands over the burned money, they might never have struck gold.

Look at your setbacks to see what opportunities they present for you to do or learn something.

People who get a lot of money all of a sudden can make poor financial decisions.

After striking gold, JJ and Molly buy a mansion on that expensive street in Denver and remodel it. They then spend a lot of money trying to impress their new neighbors – including extensive traveling in Europe to become ‘second generation’ so that the neighbors won’t snub them.

No mention is made of efforts to invest the proceeds from the mine or diversify into other areas. What happens when the vein runs dry?

Take care if you receive sudden money.  Take time to learn how to deal with it and get used to your new situation before spending it or giving it away.

Having money won’t make everyone accept you.

JJ and Molly just don’t fit in with the neighbors idea of proper behavior. They talk and act like Colorado hillbillies, reminding the neighbors of their own parents. Because of this, JJ and Molly are snubbed and derided.

True friends are the ones who liked you before you had money, or in spite of your riches. Don’t expect money to make up for things you lack in life.

Having money lets you explore options.

To gain polish (and thus the neighbor’s acceptance), the two travel to Europe. They meet nobles and dignitaries. They take lessons to learn multiple languages, visit cultural centers to learn about art and music, and more.

Without financial backing, they would not have had as many options. View money as a tool that gives you options in life you might not have had otherwise.

Money is not an end in and of itself.

JJ and Molly fought after they came back to Colorado and hosted a party which was a dismal failure in establishing their social presence (in spite of all the European nobles that came). Molly wanted to go back to Europe, JJ did not. He finally said no to her. She went to Europe. He went back to the Colorado mountains.

After being separated from JJ, Molly realized her wealthy life had no meaning without him. Her dream of being rich, learning to read and write, becoming genteel and seeing what there was to see had come true, but it wasn’t fulfilling to her anymore.

Molly realized that being rich wasn’t really what she wanted. Don’t make accumulating money your end game, it is only the means to an end.

The happy ending of this movie is that Molly sailed home on the Titanic (which of course sank) but used her indomitable spirit to spur the other occupants of her lifeboat to keep on fighting to survive until help came. She was triumphantly welcomed back to the country and by the Colorado neighbors. JJ had the big brass bed moved to the Denver mansion and the two were reunited.

Have you a favorite movie for financial lessons?


Financial Lessons from the Movies – The Unsinkable Molly Brown — 3 Comments

  1. Marie, love this post. The one I believe most important is the the second one – many people dream but the ones that get waht they want out of life act on their dreams. The rest, stop at the dream.

  2. Oh, I totally love this one “Think about what you want your life to be, dream big, then go after that dream.”, I watched one interview before, her story was like a rags to riches. She dream big even if it was really impossible, but she worked hard for it until she reached her dream.

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