Who doesn’t love a good enemies-to-lovers story? A favorite of romance novel fans and fanfiction writers alike, the idea of two people who just can’t stand each other until something changes is a super compelling way to tell a love story. While there are lots of classic examples of this trope, one of the most long-surviving versions of the story is a romance from the 1930s about two shopkeepers that correspond anonymously while fighting every day at work. Sound familiar? It’s the basis for the 1998 movie You’ve Got Mail, but before that it was a play, two movies, and even a Broadway musical. So what exactly is the story behind She Loves Me in all its incarnations?
The Original Story: Parfumerie, 1937
The first version of this story, Parfumerie, was a Hungarian play from playwright Miklós László that premiered in Budapest in 1937. The story centered on a Budapest perfume and gift shop during the Christmas shopping season and the clerks’ relationships with each other. The main relationship, however, is two coworkers who argue constantly without realizing they are actually pen pals. Their romance was emphasized by MGM when László sold them the script after immigrating to the United States in 1938.
In 1940, Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan starred in The Shop Around the Corner, based on Parfumerie and directed by Ernst Lubitsch. The story is still set in Budapest, but the store was changed to a general store, and the characters were named Alfred Kralik and Klara Novak. Alfred and Klara’s romance was made into the main plot, more than in the play, where all the characters were given at least some focus. The Shop Around the Corner was successful when it came out, and is now considered one of the most important classic movies of all time. In fact, the US National Film Registry listed it as one of the movies they would preserve for its cultural significance. But it wasn’t the only movie adaptation of the story.
Several years later, in 1949, MGM adapted The Shop Around the Corner into a movie musical, In the Good Old Summertime. Judy Garland plays Veronica, who gets a job in a music store where she starts arguing with a salesman, Andrew. They are still secretly pen pals, and the romance stays a classic enemies-to-lovers story. The song “Merry Christmas” by Judy Garland comes from the movie, and it was a huge success because of her. Importantly, this was the first version of the story to change the setting, from 1930s Budapest to Chicago in the early 1900s. It also opened the door for the next musical adaptation, more than a decade later.
She Loves Me
Another musical version of Parfumerie, She Loves Me, opened on Broadway for the first time in 1963 and ran for more than 300 performances. It was written by Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, and Joe Masteroff, and was directed by the legendary Broadway director Hal Prince. The musical also played in London’s West End the next year, and was revived in both cities in the 1990s and in 2016. The show has become a classic among Broadway musicals, and dozens of productions are performed across the country every year. Songs from the show are well-known to musical lovers today, and tell the story of George and Amalia, who are again perfume salespeople in 1930s Budapest in this version.
The song “Vanilla Ice Cream” is also a classic favorite, and represents the turning point in the story, where George brings her ice cream when he learns she is sick. This is when Amalia starts to have feelings for George, not knowing that he is her beloved pen pal Dear Friend. He already knows, however, and sings “She Loves Me” after leaving her apartment with classic enemies-to-lovers-type lyrics like these:
I love her, isn’t that a wonder?
I wonder, why I didn’t want her?
I want her, that’s the thing that matters
And matters are improving daily!
Yesterday she loathed me, bah! now today she likes me, ha! and tomorrow…“She Loves Me”
You’ve Got Mail
And now, for the most well-known version to most people today, we’ve arrived at You’ve Got Mail, the 1998 movie starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. In this movie, the characters have been changed to Kathleen Kelly, the owner of The Shop Around The Corner children’s bookstore, and Joe Fox, the heir of commercial bookstore franchise Fox Books. Joe’s store is pushing Kathleen’s out of the neighborhood, and they understandably are at odds, although they’re emailing each other anonymously every night and falling in love. The ending of the movie has become a little controversial recently, since Joe basically manipulates her into ending up with him without telling her who he is for several weeks. But this movie is commonly on the list of the best rom-coms of all time anyway, and it updates the story into the world of the Internet in a really creative way.
Even More Adaptations
You’ve Got Mail isn’t the end of this story: A French play adapted the original Parfumerie in 2001, La Boutique au Coin de la Rue, and won several awards. Later, E.P. Dowdall, the nephew of the original playwright, adapted the Parfumerie script to a straight play in English, The Perfume Shop, at Asolo Repertory Theatre in Florida. So this story has lived on ever since the 1930s, almost 100 years now, and audiences haven’t gotten tired of it. It’s easy to see why. From perfume shop employees writing letters in Budapest to booksellers exchanging emails in New York, it seems like we’re always ready to watch a good romantic comedy, and this love story has proven that it’s truly timeless.
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