Study Guide

Kramer vs. Kramer Cast

  • Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman)

    If you look up "workaholic," in the dictionary, we're pretty sure you'll see a picture of Ted Kramer.

    Dictionaries, BTW, are these thick books full of words and their definitions that people used to keep in their homes and classrooms before the internet.

    Original Recipe Ted

    At the start of Kramer vs. Kramer, Ted's a self-centered Manhattan ad man working his tail off to become a partner in his firm. He's married and has a six-year-old son, but did we mention that he's on track to make partner? Because that's the most important thing in Ted's world. It's what he wants more than anything. He's hardworking, he's tenacious, and he's totally checked out of his family life. Here's what happens when Joanna tries to tell him that she's leaving him:

    TED: I just gotta call the office before they go. Joey, you're gonna be real proud of me. I got good news.

    JOANNA: Ted.

    TED: Yeah, one second. Let me just do this

    JOANNA: I'm leaving you.

    TED: Honey, please. I can't hear. (into the phone) What? Okay. You, too. Thanks a lot. See you tomorrow.

    Ted hangs up.

    TED: You guys eat?

    JOANNA: Ted, I'm leaving you.


    Ted may be home, but the office is still at the forefront of his mind (and on the other end of the phone). He doesn't know what Joanna's trying to tell him; frankly, he doesn't care. All he knows is that, whatever it is, it can't possibly be more important that what he's trying to get done for work.

    Later, when Ted and Margaret discuss Joanna's departure and what might happen next—before it's clear that Joanna's gone for good—Ted's incapable of seeing things from Joanna's perspective and consider A) why she left; and B) why she may never come back. He's not even worried about the fact that he might suddenly be a single parent; he's still most preoccupied with his quest to become Creative Director and how Joanna ruined what should've been one of the best days of his life with her whole "I don't love you anymore. Gurrl, bye!" speech. Here's how he sums up Joanna's departure to Margaret:

    TED: Look, the fact is, for the last six months, I've been spitting blood to get this agency one of the biggest accounts it's ever had, and at 5:00 this afternoon, we got the account! At 8:00, I'm walking home with the vice president who tells me I'm going to be the next Creative Director of this department. I come through this door to share with my wife what's probably is going to be one of the five best days of my life, and she looks at me, cool as a cucumber, and tells me she doesn't want to live with me anymore! Can't you understand what she's done to me?

    MARGARET: Yeah, she loused up one of the five best days of your life.

    How's that for clueless?

    If Ted sounds like a child there, it's because he's acting like one. That's why Margaret drops some sarcasm on him. Ted thinks his entire family revolves around him because he's the man and he "brings home the bacon" because that's what men do. Joanna's wants and needs are less important than his at best and completely inconsequential at worst.

    After Joanna leaves and the dust settles (read: Ted realizes she's never coming back), everything starts to change for Ted: his home life, his work life, his relationship with Billy, even his relationship with Margaret. For starters, he has no choice but to get involved in his family's life, immediately, because this isn't a Charles Dickens novel and Billy's not going to raise himself.

    Ted's Most Important Client

    Joanna's out of the picture for 18 months. During that time, Ted slowly gets his act together. His priorities gradually change. He applies his strengths as an ad man—namely his work ethic and his tenacity—to parenting. For example, when Billy takes a nasty fall off the jungle gym, Ted scoops him up and runs him all the way to the hospital on foot. Makes you wonder why, when Jim fires him, Ted doesn't just start his own rickshaw ambulance company, right? Just us?

    Later, when the doc asks Ted to step out of the room while he stitches up Billy's head, Ted refuses, making it clear to the doctor that the only way he's leaving that room is if a couple of massive orderlies carry him out over their shoulders, sack-of-potatoes style.

    As Ted's primary goal shifts from making himself Creative Director to taking care of Billy, his priorities at work change accordingly. He still works his tail off, and he still definitely wants to nab that phat promotion, but over the course of the story he becomes more and more willing to put Billy before his clients and Jim. He shows up late when Billy's needs and school schedule conflict with work, and, as it's revealed in court, he missed an important deadline because Billy was running a 104º fever:

    TED: On that day, I had to go home because my child was sick. He had a fever.

    GRESSEN: Mr. Kramer, did you or did you not miss a deadline? Yes or no?

    TED: My son was sick.

    ATKINS: Mr. Kramer, answer the question.

    TED: I'm trying to answer the question. It's not yes or no. I'm sitting there in my office—

    GRESSEN: Mr. Kramer, yes or no?

    TED: He had a 104 temperature! He's lying there sweating! I go home to be with him!

    ATKINS: Mr. Kramer, I must urge you to stop or else I'll have to hold you in contempt.

    TED: I missed the deadline.

    Original Recipe Ted would've never missed a deadline; because he would've just ignored the fact that Billy was this close to melting and just let Joanna handle it. That was her job, not his. Being left in charge of Billy forces Ted to grow up and take responsibility at home.

    It also means a twisty combination of working harder than ever before while effectively sacrificing his dream of becoming Creative Director—at least for now. He simply can't give Jim the time that Jim needs (which is basically all of Ted's time) and take awesome care of his most important client: Billy. In other words, Ted can shoot for being Creative Director or for being Father of the Year, and he chooses Father of the Year.

    Now We're Talkin'

    Shouldering all the responsible at home also prods Ted to develop way better communication skills with his kid. Again, it doesn't happen immediately. Initially, Ted thinks he can just handle Billy like an advertising account and make business deals with him. Check out what happens when Billy spills some juice by accident:

    BILLY: Sorry.

    TED: Yeah, you're sorry. I told you to keep that juice in the dining room. You don't take anything out here anymore.

    BILLY: Sorry.

    TED: Who took you to the park and gave you everything you wanted, huh?

    BILLY: You.

    TED: Yeah. Who bought you an ice cream?

    BILLY: You.

    TED: Yeah. And who promised Daddy that when we got home, you would let him work and not bother him, huh?

    Ted acts like Billy violated some binding verbal contract they had. Every parent knows it simply doesn't work that way. Kids don't mean to knock over their juice (or a lamp or a 10-gallon fish tank), and a promise not to be annoying is utterly unenforceable. Just ask your mom.

    Billy still has to suffer through some suppers where Ted reads the Sports page instead of talking to his kid, but eventually, just as he learns where Joanna kept the bowls, Ted learns how to communicate with Billy. Big Kramer and Little Kramer grow closer and closer with each passing day—close enough that they feel comfortable enough discussing things like whether or not Ted will ever get married again. Check out this exchange that goes down as Ted shows Billy his new office:

    BILLY: Dad, are you ever gonna get remarried?

    TED: I don't know. I hadn't thought about it.

    BILLY: Are you ever gonna remarry to Phyllis?

    TED: No. We're just good friends.

    BILLY: Oh. Are you and Mom ever gonna get remarried?

    TED: No, Mommy and me will never be remarried.

    BILLY: I bet if she saw this [Ted's new office] she'd remarry you.

    Ted learns that raising Billy isn't a series of business transactions, it's a sequence of moments that require him to look alive, push himself, and be patient. If he wants to do right by Billy and succeed as a parent, he can't check out like he used to; he can't be the old Ted who was so indifferent to his family that he didn't know what grade his own son was in. He has to be engaged 24/7, and the longer Joanna's in the Golden State, the closer Ted and Billy become.

    Ideas Like Bell Bottoms

    Billy isn't the only one who grows like a weed while Joanna's away. Kramer vs. Kramer is the story of Ted's rapid, trial-by-fire evolution from a self-centered workaholic to a doting, dedicated dad. The Ted we meet at the beginning of the movie seems to have totally bought into the cultural norms of 1979 that say:

    • Because he's the breadwinner and a dude, Ted isn't obligated (or even expected) to take any interest in what goes on at home.
    • Joanna should do the parenting because she's a woman.

    Yup. Pretty retro stuff.

    That's old Ted: a lame husband and a shoddy dad. The Ted that tells Joanna she looks "fantastic" at the end of the film, on the other hand, has grown to reject those caveman-quality gender ideas completely. Here's what Ted 2.0 says in court:

    TED: My wife used to always say to me, "Why can't a woman have the same ambitions as a man?" I think you're right, and maybe I've learned that much, but by the same token, I'd like to know what law is it that says that a woman is a better parent simply by virtue of her sex. 

    It's hard to picture Original Recipe Ted saying that. Fortunately, ORT is AWOL. Ted's learned that being a parent is a balancing act. He's learned that, as with so many things in life, success as a parent is primarily predicated upon just showing up:

    TED: You know, I've had a lot of time to think about what is it that makes somebody a good parent. You know, it has to do with constancy; it has to do with patience. It has to do with listening to him. It has to do with pretending to listen to him when you can't even listen anymore. It has to do with love, like she was saying, and I don't know where it's written that says that a woman has a corner on that market, that a man has any less of those emotions than a woman does. 

    Ted's had about 18 months to think about things, in fact: a year-and-a-half to keep showing up, even when he's tired, even when he'd rather be doing something else, and to get promoted to legit Dad status.

    Joanna's departure might just be the best thing that could've happened to Ted—you know, aside from him never taking her for granted or adhering to such antiquated ideas about gender roles and parenting in the first place. Being thrown into the role of primary parent, Ted had no choice but to grow up and think about people other than Ted. He may not have made Creative Director this year, but he's definitely Father of the Year in Billy's eyes—even if he still makes him eat Salisbury steak.

  • Joanna Kramer (Meryl Streep)

    Life hasn't gone as planned for Joanna Kramer.

    She's smart, talented, and, for the past decade or so, she's been languishing in her Manhattan high-rise as a homemaker and mother. We think it's a safe bet that "bored, neglected housewife" wasn't her dream job.

    Kramer vs. Kramer kicks off with Joanna leaving Ted. Before she bolts, she feels stuck, miserable, and so depressed that she thinks she's unfit to be Billy's mom. That means she feels forced to leave him behind, too:

    TED: What about Billy?

    JOANNA: I'm not taking him with me. I'm no good for him. I'm terrible with him. I have no patience. He's better off without me.

    TED: Joanna, please.

    JOANNA: And I don't love you anymore.

    Oh yeah, and she's fallen out of love with Ted, who's married to his job, too. Ted works constantly; when he's not working, he's talking about work, and he's totally checked out of Joanna and Billy's lives. He may come home to their apartment every night, but he's not really there. For her own sanity and safety, as evidenced by the fact that she tells Ted she might jump out the window if he forces her to go back into their apartment, Joanna's got to get away: from their home, from her marriage, from motherhood.

    And so she does.

    Is She a Villain or What?

    When Joanna comes back into the picture after 18 months in California getting therapy and regaining her independence, confidence, and sense of self, she's in a much better place. Here's how she explains her time away to Ted, before she drops the "I want custody of Billy" bomb on him and he launches a wine glass at the wall:

    JOANNA: All my life I've felt like somebody's wife or somebody's mother or somebody's daughter. Even all the time we were together, I never knew who I was. That's why I had to go away, and in California, I think found myself. I got myself a job. I got myself a therapist, a really good one, and I feel better about myself then I ever have in my whole life. And I've learned a great deal about myself. 

    That's rad that Joanna's found herself, but, when she comes back into the picture and demands Billy, she seems like a selfish flake because, as an audience, we've just spent a ton of time with Ted and Billy and that's where our sympathies lie at the moment.

    We've watched Ted struggle to balance his work and home lives. We've watched him run Billy to the emergency room on foot. We've watched him become adorable BFFs with Margaret. We've watched him read bedtime stories, and tie Billy's shoes, and feed Billy lines at his Halloween pageant when he forgets them. In short, we've been rooting for Ted to become a great dad, so when Joanna's shows up all, "Give me my son," of course we're #TeamTed.

    Blame Pie à la Mode

    What we're forgetting, as we wave our "Ted 4Eva!" pennants and print T-shirts with his face on them, is how Joanna got so miserable in the first place. Let's slice up this blame pie and hand out some pieces.

    First, a huge piece goes to the expectations of society at large. In the late 1970s, women were fighting to get out of the kitchen and into the boardroom even harder than they still have to today. When Joanna married Ted, she gave up her career because that's what women did. It doesn't matter that she's well-educated, presumably talented, and did not want to stop working; she gave up her career because that's what women did, and because Ted was totally unsupportive. Check out this exchange between Joanna and her attorney that sums things up:

    GRESSEN: Did you continue to work after you were married?

    JOANNA: No, I did not.

    GRESSEN: Did you wish to?

    JOANNA: Yes, but every time I talked to Ted—to my ex-husband about it, he wouldn't listen. He refused to discuss it in any serious way. I remember once he said that I probably couldn't get a job that would pay enough to hire a babysitter for Billy.

    GRESSEN: Tell me. Are you employed at the present time?

    JOANNA: Yes, I'm a sportswear designed for Selco here in New York.

    GRESSEN: And what is your present salary?

    JOANNA: I make $31,000 a year.

    BT-dubs, $31,000 in 2017 dollars is about $111,000, so yeah—we're pretty sure Joanna could afford to pay a babysitter.

    Speaking of Ted, our second slice of blame pie goes to him. As Joanna's testimony, well, testifies, he was totally cool with Joanna giving up her job, career aspirations, and future in general to be "Ted's wife" and, later, "Billy's mom": two jobs that, as it turns out, don't come with a ton of benefits

    Ted completely took Joanna for granted. He diminished her (see: affording a babysitter), and he neglected her. For example, he was so unengaged from their family life that the first time he took Billy to school after Joanna vamoosed, Ted didn't know what grade his kid was in.

    The third, and final, piece of the blame goes to Joanna for not leaving sooner. It's a tiny little sliver, but, still, Joanna's not completely without responsibility here. She didn't have to stay so long…but she also didn't want to leave Billy. That's one seriously tricky situation. We'll let Joanna explain her decision to leave in her own words, in this revealing monologue she delivers from the witness stand:

    JOANNA: During the last five years of our marriage, I was becoming more and more unhappy, more and more troubled, and I really needed somebody to help me, but when I turned to Ted, he just wasn't there for me, so we became more and more isolated from one another, more and more separate. He was very involved in his career, and because of his attitude towards my fears and his inability to deal with my feelings, I had come to have almost no self-esteem. I was scared, and I was very unhappy, and in my mind, I had no other choice but to leave. At the time I left, I felt that there was something terribly wrong with me, and that my son would be better off without me. And it was only after I got to California that I realized, after getting into therapy, that I wasn't such a terrible person, and just because I needed some kind of creative or emotional outlet other than my child, that didn't make me unfit to be a mother.

    See? Joanna isn't a selfish jerk; she was just depressed and driven to an existential crisis by being married to Ted in 1979, when women struggled to be defined by more than marriage and motherhood.

    Just to be clear: Plenty of women in 1979 were working moms, but we're guessing they weren't married to men like Ted Kramer.

    Joanna Accidentally Games the System

    The irony is that Joanna ends up winning custody of Billy because of the same sexist attitudes that led to her being miserable in the first place; this time, they just happen to work in her favor.

    Given the evidence we see presented, the court seems to rule in Joanna's favor primarily because she's Billy's mother. Let's be objective about it: Joanna's been AWOL for 18 months (a lifetime in kid years), she gets skewered by Shaunessy on the stand, and Ted's grown into a terrific father…yet Joanna still wins, most likely because she's a woman, which, according to the cultural attitudes of the time, makes her the better parent by default.

    Alrighty then.

    For her part, Joanna also seems to buy into this idea that mothers are better parents, at least a little bit. Here's how she concludes her final monologue before the court:

    JOANNA: Billy's only seven years-old. He needs me. I'm not saying he doesn't need his father, but I really believe he needs me more. I was his mommy for five-and-a-half years, and Ted took over that role for 18 months, but I don't know how anybody can possibly believe I have less of a stake in mothering that little boy than Mr. Kramer does. I'm his mother. I'm his mother.

    "I'm his mother," she repeats. "I'm his mother." That word, "mother," is supposed to mean something to the court, and, ultimately, it does. Joanna gets Billy, and Ted gets a pretty lame visitation schedule that neither he nor Billy are particular stoked about. Sleepovers every other weekend? Dinner once a week? Yay?

    Girl Power, '70s Style

    It's hard to root for Joanna at times. For starters, "finding yourself" seems so 1979. It's also hard not to see her as fickle. She leaves. She comes back. She spends thousands of dollars to win custody of her son; then she decides to let him stay with his dad. If you're screaming "Make up your mind, woman!" at your screen through a mouthful of half-eaten Junior Mints, you're not alone.

    Here's the thing, though: if you look at her in context, through the lens of 1970s America, she's a complex, and even fascinating character who embodies the era's attitude toward gender roles and parenting. By her own admission, leaving Billy was hard:

    JOANNA: I know I left my son. I know that that's a terrible thing to do. Believe me, I have to live with that every day of my life. But in order to leave him, I had to believe that it was the only thing I could do, and that it was the best thing for him. I was incapable of functioning in that home, and I didn't know what the alternative was going to be, so I thought it was not best that I take him with me. However, I have since gotten some help, and I have worked very, very hard to become a whole human being, and I don't think I should be punished for that, and I don't think my little boy should be punished.

    Leaving Ted, on the other hand, probably wasn't as difficult. (No offense, Ted.) Still, it took guts for Joanna to essentially declare "I want more." It took even more guts for her to go out and get it when Ted ignored her for the 7,825th time.

    That's the catch: Joanna had to take care of herself before she could take care of Billy. You might think about it like the oxygen mask warning you hear on airplanes—you know, how parents should put their masks on first, before they attend to their kids. Joanna needed to breathe before she could take care of Billy.

    If Ted had been willing to support his wife, maybe Joanna wouldn't have had to drive across the country, jammin' out to some Supertramp, to find somebody who would lend an ear, see her as a human being, and let her catch her breath.

    (Yeah, we're just assuming it was Supertramp. Because 1979.)

  • Billy Kramer (Justin Henry)

    This isn't Billy's story.

    Neither of the Kramers in the film's title are him. Nope, Kramer vs. Kramer is the rare movie about a kid's parents getting divorced where the story isn't really concerned with the kid. Billy may be caught in the middle, but the story's about Ted and Joanna, not about Billy.

    The Pint-Sized Professor

    Okay, so it is about him, in that both of his parents love him a bunch and want him to live with them, but Kramer vs. Kramer is his parents' story. It's the story of his mom leaving to find herself so she can be a better mother. It's the story of his dad being forced to grow up and stop being so self-centered.

    To that end, Billy's primary role in the film is to teach Ted how to be a dad. On the practical end of things, he has to show Ted stuff like where they keep the bowls and pans in the kitchen; he has to share his morning routine with Ted, and show him how they get to school. His life's been upended, and he just wants the stability of knowing where his bed and toys are going to be

    Big picture-wise, that means Billy teaches Ted what it's like to care more about another person than you do about yourself. When Ted's late, Billy lets him know it:

    TED: I'm not that late, Billy. I'm only 20 minutes.

    BILLY: You wanna make a bet?

    TED: Yeah.

    BILLY: All the other mothers were there before you.

    Did you catch that Billy lumps Ted in with all the mothers? To Billy, moms and dads are fundamentally the same. For Billy, being a parent isn't dependent on gender; it's dependent on being patient, being protective, being kind, and perhaps more than anything, simply being there. On time.

    Billy's a pretty unflappable kid (just ask Phyllis), but he needs stability. That's why two of his biggest concerns when Ted breaks the news to him that he's going to be moving in with Mom and sleeping over at Dad's every other weekend are where his toys and his bed are going to be.

    You Can Count on Me

    Billy's world may be small, but he needs certainty within it. Faced with prospect of his routine changing once again, as well as the realization that he won't see Ted very often anymore, Billy's justifiably upset:

    BILLY: You're not gonna kiss me goodnight anymore, are you, Dad?

    TED: No, I won't be able to do that, but, you know, I get to visit. It's gonna be okay. Really.

    BILLY: (crying) If I don't like it, can I come home?

    That scene is really hard to watch.

    Billy may be able to roll with the changes exceptionally well for a six-year-old kid, but he's still very much a kid, and being a kid means being full of contradictions. Odds are, you don't remember what it was like to be six-years-old, but you do remember what it was like to be 16 years-old. Maybe you're 16 right now. Maybe you will be next year, and, in that case, Happy Early Sweet Sixteen to you. Sorry we didn't get you a card.

    Where were we? Oh, yeah: being a kid is confusing whether you're six or 16 (or, in some cases, 46). You're irrational, and you don't know how to weigh the importance of things accurately. Everything seems like THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER. That's why Billy, and every other kid, needs stability; they need consistency to be the backdrop for their self-created craziness.

    In the end, that's what Billy teaches Ted to provide: a stable, loving home where he has the freedom to be a completely illogical first-grader who wants to eat a gallon of ice cream for supper one minute…and a tiny, blonde Yoda who mentors his dad's metamorphosis from selfish jerk to doting dad the next.

    Justin Henry, who hadn't acted before being in this film, got universally rave reviews (and an Oscar nom) for his no-nonsense, emotionally honest portrayal of Billy. It can't be easy directing a young kid (Henry was seven years old during filming), or acting with one for that matter. But Henry, reviewers agreed, made the scenes with Hoffman totally authentic and believable.

  • Margaret Phelps (Jane Alexander)

    Everybody should have a BFF like Margaret Phelps. She's reliable, she's understanding, and she's smart—as long as it doesn't involve her ex-husband, Charley. When it comes to friendship, Margaret's in it for the long haul.

    Margaret starts out as Joanna's close friend and confidante. They're so tight that Ted tries to blame Joanna's departure on Margaret:

    TED: Do me a favor, just tell me the truth, okay? Did you set my wife up to this?

    MARGARET: No, I did not put Joanna up to this.

    TED: Give her a little pep talk?

    MARGARET: No, I did not give her any pep talk. Joanna and I talk a great deal, yes, and Joanna's a very, very unhappy woman, and you may not want to hear this, but it took a lot of courage for her to walk out of here.

    When Ted persists in making Joanna's unhappiness all about him, Margaret stands up to him, even unleashing some subtle sarcasm as Ted whines about how Joanna had the nerve to walk out on him on what was an otherwise awesome day for him, work-wise, as if she planned it that way for maximum inconvenience to Ted:

    TED: Look, the fact is, for the last six months, I've been spitting blood to get this agency one of the biggest accounts it's ever had, and at 5:00 this afternoon, we got the account! At 8:00, I'm walking home with the vice president who tells me I'm going to be the next Creative Director of this department. I come through this door to share with my wife what's probably is going to be one of the five best days of my life, and she looks at me, cool as a cucumber, and tells me she doesn't want to live with me anymore! Can't you understand what she's done to me?

    MARGARET: Yeah, she loused up one of the five best days of your life.

    Well played, Margaret. Well played.

    Needless to say, Margaret and Ted aren't best buds at the beginning of the film. As an audience, we're never made aware of exactly what their relationship was like before Joanna skips town, but she's pretty firmly on #TeamJoanna after she leaves, presumably because she's lent an ear to Joanna, and been a source of understanding. She had a front row seat to Joanna's misery, and it can't help but color her impression of Ted. (The fact that he keeps trying to blame her for Joanna's decision probably doesn't help.)

    Once Ted starts to get his act together, though, once he starts becoming a devoted dad to Billy, Margaret sees it and her attitude toward him changes. She becomes his friend, ally, and support system, just as she'd done for Joanna. Margaret and Ted take their kids to the park together, for example, and she and Ted hang out and discuss parenting and their love lives.

    As a divorcée, Margaret knows the drill, and she can sympathize, even though her situation with her ex is a little different than Ted's. Ted has no misconceptions that Joanna's going to come back, tell him she was wrong, and kick start a tearful reunion where they ride off into the sunset with Billy on matching unicorns. Margaret, on the other hand, still harbors feelings for her ex-husband. What kind of feelings? It's hard to say. Here's Margaret's attempt to explain:

    TED: You think you'll ever get married again?

    MARGARET: Nuh-uh.

    TED: I mean to anybody.

    MARGARET: Oh, no.

    TED: Why?

    MARGARET: I don't know. Maybe it's different if you don't have children, but even if Charley and I aren't living together, and even if we're sleeping with other people, and even if Charley were to get married again, I don't know, he's still my husband, and he's still the father of my children. That stuff about "'til death do you part," that's really true.

    Things between Margaret and Ted stay completely platonic throughout the film. They're really good friends, and nothing more. When Ted and Joanna go to court for custody of Billy, Margaret testifies on Ted's behalf, not Joanna's. She's witnessed Ted's evolution from jerk to hero firsthand while Joanna's been AWOL, and she pleads with Joanna to reconsider her custody demands until after she's had a chance to really see Ted 2.0 up close:

    MARGARET: Joanna, things are not the same now. Ted is not the same man. You don't know how hard he's tried. They're beautiful together, just beautiful…If you could see them together, Joanna—I mean, maybe you wouldn't be here now.

    "Maybe you wouldn't be here now." Ouch. We see you, Margaret, dropping truth bombs. That's just one more thing that makes Margaret a BFF extraordinaire. She keeps it real, and she keeps it civil.

    Now if only she could forget about that Charley guy. He sounds like he's the worst.

  • John Shaunessy (Howard Duff)

    Attorney John Shaunessy is one tough, whiskey-filled cookie. He may be gruff, and he may fight dirty if he has to, but you definitely want him to be on your side of the court room. Most importantly, Shaunessy keeps it real with Ted because Shaunessy's been here before, most likely dozens and dozens of times:

    SHAUNESSY: Now, how old is the child again?

    TED: Uh, my son is seven.

    SHAUNESSY: Oh, that's tough.

    TED: Why?

    SHAUNESSY: Well, in most cases involving a child that young, that court tends to side with the mother.

    TED: But she signed over custody.

    SHAUNESSY: I'm not saying we don't have a shot, but it won't be easy.

    He's straightforward, but he's no slouch. When Joanna's attorney raises the gender issue early on, Shaunessy reacts immediately:

    SHAUNESSY: Motherhood. They're going right for the throat.

    Because he's a seasoned, if not hardened, pro at this, Shaunessy knows the stakes, and he fights hard on Ted's behalf to earn the $15,000 that Ted's paying him. In fact, sometimes he fights a little harder than Ted would like. Watch how he tears into Joanna on the stand one final time, after he's already pried into her love life to try to make a disparaging point about her steadiness as a parent:

    SHAUNESSY Your honor, I would like to ask what this model of stability and respectability has ever succeeded at. Were you a failure at the one more important personal relationship in your life?

    JOANNA: It did not succeed.

    SHAUNESSY: Not "it," Mrs. Kramer, you. Were you a failure at the one most important relationship in your life? Were you?!

    Ted shakes his head at Joanna and mouths "No."

    Joanna smiles weakly and mouths "Yes."


    ATKINS: Is that a "yes," Mrs. Kramer?

    Joanna nods.

    SHAUNESSY: No further questions.

    That was brutal. Even Ted thinks so, and he reacts immediately:

    TED: Did you have to be so rough on her?

    SHAUNESSY: Do you want the kid or don't you?

    The way Shaunessy sees it, he's just doing his job. His mission is to help Ted win custody of his kid, and if that means smacking a witness around verbally, so be it. He's not a monster, though, and he's not reduced to the tired stereotype of money-grubbing lawyer, either. After Ted loses in court and wants to appeal the judge's ruling at any cost—even though he can't afford it—instead of saying, "Cool! Get your checkbook! Let's get 'em!" Shaunessy gives Ted a reality check:

    SHAUNESSY: This time it'll be Billy that pays. I'll have to put him on the stand.

    TED: You can't do that. No, I don't want to do that.

    (Ted fights back tears).

    TED: Thanks very much for your time. I'm gonna take a walk.

    Ted never comes back. Shaunessy knows Ted's not going to come back. And while we don't know what happens next, we're fairly certain that Shaunessy lights another cigarette, continues sipping his whiskey neat, and carries on with his day.

    Okay, there's probably a huge, rare steak involved, too. Just a guess.