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Born Yesterday (September 25, 2008)

Judy Holliday and Paul Douglas starred in the original Broadway play, from which this film was derived, with Paul Douglas in the role of Harry Brock, which Broderick Crawford plays in the film. That play was written by Garson Kanin and premiered on February 4, 1946. The part of Billie Dawn, which Holliday played, was originally written for Jean Arthur, but Arthur, who suffered from severe stage fright and developed a reputation as a notoriously difficult actress, resigned from the part.

Garson Kanin wrote that Harry Cohn, Columbia’s studio head, was reluctant to cast Holliday, who was unknown in pictures, in the lead in Born Yesterday. Kanin and his wife, Ruth Gordon, wrote a part for Holliday in their 1949 MGM film, Adam’s Rib, which was a Spencer Tracy-Katherine Hepburn film directed by George Cukor, who directed Born Yesterday as well. The effort to get Holliday noticed seems to have been something of a conspiracy between Kanin and Gordon, Cukor, and Tracy and Hepburn. In Adam’s Rib, Hepburn plays a lawyer defending Holliday, accused of shooting her husband. In that film, the interview scenes between Hepburn and Holliday show Hepburn looking at and playing to Holliday as Holliday speaks. This was apparently a deliberate move by Hepburn to play up Holliday’s role. Holliday’s role in Adam’s Rib, although minor, allowed her opportunities to show her ability to play comedy. The conspiracy was a success – Cohn cast her in Born Yesterday, which was made in June, July and August in 1950 and released the following Christmas. Judy Holliday won the Oscar for best actress. The picture was nominated for best picture, George Cukor was nominated for best director, and the screenplay was nominated for best screenplay.

Judy Holliday herself spoke ironically about playing dumb characters. Time magazine in 1978 reported the legend that she had an I.Q. of 172, which is an uncommonly high test score. In an interview with the New York Times in March 1951, she said, “I started off as a moron (in the play) Kiss Them For Me, worked up to an imbecile in Adam’s Rib, and have carved my current niche (in Born Yesterday) as a noble nitwit.” Reportedly she later used this stereotype to her advantage. She was called before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee in 1952 to explain why her name had been linked to Communist front organizations, and it was said she played dumb in her testimony to avoid naming people she knew to be Communists.

What to look for in this movie – the famous gin game between Judy Holliday and Broderick Crawford. They display a mastery of comic mannerisms that makes this into a truly memorable film scene. Cukor had the cast rehearse their lines for two weeks, while a 300-seat theater was built inside one of Columbia’s soundstages. Six performances of Born Yesterday were given in front of a live audience so that the pacing and timing of the dialogue were perfect.

I think you’ll find that Born Yesterday is a classic among comedy films. Holliday made only nine films before her death at the age of forty-four. I’ve always felt this one was one to treasure.