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- Read TCM's article on Harvey
Elwood P. Dowd (James Stewart) is a good-natured eccentric who is a regular fixture at his neighborhood tavern. He doesn't cause any real trouble, except for his insistence that his best friend is an invisible six-foot-tall rabbit named Harvey. Wherever Elwood goes, Harvey goes. Elwood lives with his high-strung sister Veta, who is desperately trying to find a suitable husband for her aging daughter, Myrtle Mae. When Elwood's behavior embarrasses her once too often, Veta tries to have him committed to an asylum.
Director: Henry Koster
Producer: John Beck
Screenplay: Mary Chase, Oscar Brodney
Based on the play Harvey by Mary Chase
Cinematography: William Daniels
Editing: Ralph Dawson
Art Direction: Bernard Herzbrun, Nathan Juran
Music: Frank Skinner
Cast: James Steward (Elwood P. Dowd), Josephine Hull (Veta Louise Simmons), Peggy Dow (Miss Kelly), Charles Drake (Dr. Sanderson), Cecil Kellaway (Dr. Chumley), Victoria Horne (Myrtle Mae Simmons), Jesse White (Wilson), William Lynn (Judge Gaffney), Wallace Ford (The Taxi Driver), Nana Bryant (Mrs. Hazel Chumley), Grace Mills (Mrs. Ethel Chauvenet), Clem Bevans (Mr. Herman Schimmelplusser).
Why HARVEY is Essential
Writer Mary Chase won the Pulitzer Prize for her play Harvey, and adapted it for the screen. The result is the ideal model of a successful stage to film visualization.
Jimmy Stewart's performance as Elwood P. Dowd earned him an Academy Award nomination and became one of the most beloved roles of his career.
Josephine Hull's performance as Stewart's put-upon sister - a role she originated on Broadway - won her the Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress.
Seeing the film Harvey is about as close as you can come to seeing a production of the long-running original Broadway play. It is a rare example of Hollywood hiring almost everyone from the original stage version to reprise their roles in the film.
by Andrea Passafiume
Jimmy Stewart reprised the role of Elwood P. Dowd in a very successful Broadway revival of Harvey 20 years after the film's release in 1970.
Stewart reprised the role again in a 1972 Hallmark Hall of Fame television presentation with Helen Hayes.
Stewart reprised the role of Elwood P. Dowd for the last time in a London stage revival in 1975.
In 1958 Art Carney played the role of Elwood P. Dowd in a television special segment of "The DuPont Show of the Month."
In 1998 there was a television movie version of Harvey starring Harry Anderson as Elwood and Swoosie Kurtz as Veta.
In the 1988 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit there is a scene in which one of the characters addresses an imaginary Harvey in a reference to the film.
Harvey Weinstein purchased the rights to Harvey again in 1999 as a possible vehicle for John Travolta. The project is currently in development.
In Wallace and Gromit: the Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) the were-rabbit is a giant rabbit like Harvey. The local vegetable shop is named "Harvey's" in an affectionate nod to the film.
There is a slight similarity between Harvey and the cult black comedy Donnie Darko (2001). In the latter film, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a teenager who is plagued by the recurring appearance of a demonic 6 foot tall rabbit named Frank that only he can see and who warns him about the demise of the world in 28 days.
by Andrea Passafiume
Frank Fay originated the role of Elwood P. Dowd on Broadway.
Whenever fans stopped Jimmy Stewart on the street following the success of Harvey and asked if Harvey was with him, Stewart always replied, "No. Harvey has a cold and he decided to stay home."
Jimmy Stewart often told the story about how when he was performing in Harvey on stage, there would always be at least one child there who would ask loudly during a performance, "Where's the rabbit?"
In the film version, Harvey is said to be 6' 3 " tall, but in the stage version Harvey's height was changed to 6' 8 " in order to be more of a contrast to Stewart's height, which was a very tall 6' 3".
At Stewart's suggestion, many of the shots are shot wide enough to allow space for the imaginary Harvey.
Famous Quotes from HARVEY
"Here, let me give you one of my cards. Now if you should want to call me, use this number. This other one is the old number." Elwood P. Dowd (James Stewart).
"Well, I've wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it." Elwood P. Dowd to Dr. Sanderson (Charles Drake).
"Years ago my mother used to say to me, she'd say, 'In this world, Elwood, you must be' - she always called me Elwood 'In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.' Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me." Elwood P. Dowd.
"Myrtle Mae, you have a lot to learn, and I hope you never learn it." Veta Louise Simmons (Josephine Hull) to her daughter, Myrtle Mae (Victoria Horne).
"Harvey and I sit in the bars... have a drink or two... play the jukebox. And soon the faces of all the other people they turn toward mine and they smile. And they're saying, 'We don't know your name, mister, but you're a very nice fella.' Harvey and I warm ourselves in all these golden moments. We've entered as strangers - soon we have friends. And they come over... and they sit with us... and they drink with us... and they talk to us. They tell about the big terrible things they've done and the big wonderful things they'll do. Their hopes, and their regrets, and their loves, and their hates. All very large, because nobody ever brings anything small into a bar. And then I introduce them to Harvey... and he's bigger and grander than anything they offer me. And when they leave, they leave impressed." Elwood P. Dowd.
"I took a course in art last winter. I learned the difference between a fine oil painting and a mechanical thing, like a photograph. The photograph shows only the reality. The painting shows not only the reality, but the dream behind it. It's our dreams, doctor, that carry us on. They separate us from the beasts." Veta Louise Simmons.
"Oh, mother, people get run over by trucks every day. Why can't something like that happen to Uncle Elwood?" Myrtle Mae Simmons.
"It may be ridiculous, but I'm gonna miss every one of the psychos, and the neuros, and the schizos in the place." Dr. Sanderson (Charles Drake).
"Miss Kelly, you make this flower look beautiful." Elwood P. Dowd to Miss Kelly (Peggy Dow).
Compiled by Andrea Passafiume
Harvey began as a stage play written by Mary Chase. Reportedly, Chase had been inspired to write the whimsical tale in order to cheer up a widowed neighbor in Denver, Colorado whose son had been killed during World War II. The play opened on Broadway in November 1944 at the 48th Street Theater starring Frank Fay as Elwood P. Dowd and Josephine Hull as his sister Veta. The play was a smash it, running for 5 years and earning Mary Chase the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1945.
In a shrewd move, Universal picked up the film rights to the play for a record one million dollars while it was still running successfully on Broadway. Contractually, the studio couldn't move forward with making a film version until the run of the play was over so as not to cut into its business. Universal then asked Henry Koster to direct; he had recently been nominated for an Academy Award for his film, The Bishop's Wife (1947). "It was a story right up my alley," said Koster in a 1987 interview. "There was so much whimsy, so much fairytale, so much deep thought, so much decency in people. I loved it. I had seen it already twice on the stage, but never with Jimmy Stewart. So when I was asked if I wanted to do it, I said, 'Do I ever!'"
With Koster on board, Universal started discussing actors to portray Elwood P. Dowd in the movie. Mary Chase, as part of her deal with Universal, had approval of the lead actor. Some of the names suggested besides Jimmy Stewart were Bing Crosby, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, Jack Benny and James Cagney.
In the summer of 1947 Jimmy Stewart took over the role of Elwood P. Dowd from Frank Fay on Broadway for a 7-week limited run, while Fay toured with the play in Colorado. Harvey was already in its third solid year on Broadway when Stewart took over the role. It was a move on Stewart's part that many saw as his attempt to prove to Hollywood that he would be perfect in the film role.
Stewart settled into his new stage role comfortably, though things were shaky in the beginning. "I became a little belligerent about it," said Stewart years later, "you know, over-determined to make a success of it, with the result that on the first night I was awful and received a real roasting from the critics. But I got better." Stewart's assessment of his reception by the critics was probably exaggerated, as reviews of his Broadway performance are positive. Variety called him "letter perfect in his first performance."
When Harvey finally closed on Broadway after 1,775 performances, director Henry Koster was ready to make his film. Jimmy Stewart's plan had worked-he was tapped to play Elwood P. Dowd, a role he desperately wanted. Koster wanted to keep the film version close to the stage version. To do this, he had Mary Chase, the author of the play, write the screenplay with Oscar Brodney. He also cast most of the original actors from the play including Josephine Hull (Veta), Victoria Horne (Myrtle Mae), Jesse White (Wilson), Cecil Kellaway (Dr. Chumley) and Charles Drake (Dr. Sanderson).
by Andrea Passafiume
Production on Harvey began in April 1950 at Universal in Los Angeles. Director Henry Koster stayed true to his plan to keep the movie close to the stage version, and made very few changes. To open the play up a bit, he worked with writer Mary Chase. "She was a very nice lady to work with and a great writer of comedy," said Koster of Chase. "She wrote additional dialogue for us, and we had to rearrange it for cinematic purposes, from the stage play which takes place in one or two rooms, to the show that takes place in twenty or thirty rooms. We wanted to get the visual effects just as much as we wanted that lovely dialogue." Jimmy Stewart and the Broadway veterans played off of each other expertly, successfully capturing Harvey's playful and eccentric spirit.
Though it is made clear in a subtle way that the character of Elwood P. Dowd is a raging, though benign, alcoholic, the Hollywood Production Code at the time would not allow Stewart to be shown getting drunk on film. Instead, his on-screen character does a lot of drink ordering at the bar but you never see him actually drinking.
Koster and Stewart discovered that they worked extremely well together. Koster said later that working with Stewart was "without any doubt one of the most pleasant experiences of my life...It must have been his spirit. There was very little friction, ever, only ambition and craftsmanship and precision, just doing it right professionally. On top of that he put the whipped cream of great talent...He was always the first on the set."
Shooting was quick and pleasant for all. "I must say it was a complete, one hundred percent pleasure, the whole picture," said Henry Koster. "I had the most wonderful performers. The spirit of Harvey, that splendid and helpful ghost, was always with us while we did it." In fact, as a joke, the cast and crew of Harvey would often set a chair for the title character at lunch and order him something to eat.
Mary Chase had the idea that film audiences should actually see Harvey at the end of the film because she "didn't want anybody to go out of the theater thinking Elwood is just a lush. He believes in Harvey...and I think the audience ought to believe in Harvey, too." The studio reportedly considered this and experimented with how to show him to the audience, including his appearance in silhouette, and even by attaching a rabbit tail to the taxi driver at the film's conclusion. In the end, however, the studio won out and wisely decided NOT to ruin the illusion. Only once had a giant rabbit actually appeared on stage in the play of Harvey, and the results were disastrous. Theatrical Producer Brock Pemberton recalled in a 1945 interview that at that performance in Boston, "a chill descended on the gathering, which never quite thawed out afterwards."
Harvey opened to positive reviews in October 1950. There were some loyalists to Frank Fay's original stage interpretation of the role, but Jimmy Stewart made Elwood P. Dowd his own.
Henry Koster was unable to attend the U.S. premiere of the film because he was working in London on his next picture No Highway in the Sky (1951). Instead, he watched the film in a projection room at the London Universal offices along with Jimmy Stewart and actress Marlene Dietrich.
Harvey did well at the box office, but not quite well enough to recoup its production costs, which had been driven way up with the one million dollar price tag for the rights to the play. However, in 1990, Jimmy Stewart recorded an introduction to the VHS release of the film, which turned out to be one of the biggest selling videos of the year.
Jimmy Stewart was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actor for his performance, but lost to Jose Ferrer in Cyrano de Bergerac (1950). Josephine Hull, however, won for her supporting role as Stewart's sister.
Henry Koster and Jimmy Stewart enjoyed working together so much that they went on to make four more films together including Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation(1962) and Take Her She's Mine(1963).
20 years after the film's release, Stewart played the role of Elwood P. Dowd once again in a triumphant Broadway revival of Harvey in 1970. This time, Helen Hayes played his sister. Stewart and Hayes reprised their roles for a Hallmark Hall of Fame television production in 1972. Stewart reprised the role for the final time in a 1975 stage revival in London.
by Andrea Passafiume
AWARDS AND HONORS
Harvey was nominated for 2 Academy Awards: Jimmy Stewart as Best Actor, and Josephine Hull for Best Supporting Actress. Stewart lost to Jose Ferrer for Cyrano de Bergerac, but Hull took home the award.
Harvey received 3 Golden Globe nominations for Best Actress (Josephine Hull), Best Actor (James Stewart) and Best Motion Picture Drama. Again, Hull won in her category, but the film lost in its other two categories, Stewart losing once again to Jose Ferrer.
Harvey was named #35 in the AFI list of the top 100 comedy films of all time.
THE CRITIC'S CORNER HARVEY (1950)
"...if you're for warm and gentle whimsy, for a charmingly fanciful farce and for a little touch of pathos anent the fateful evanescence of man's dreams, then the movie version of Harvey is definitely for you...Indeed, so freely flowing is the screenplay which Mrs. Chase and Oscar Brodney have prepared, so vivid and droll is the direction which Henry Koster has given it and, particularly, so darling is the acting of James Stewart, Josephine Hull and all the rest that a virtually brand new experience is still in store for even those who saw the play." The New York Times.
"James Stewart's Elwood does lack some of the magic of Frank Fay's wizened creation, perhaps because Mr. Stewart just doesn't look like the kind of man who ever spent much time in a barroom. Then too, as the years lurch on, Mr. Stewart has an increasing though understandable inclination to just be himself." -- Saturday Review.
"Stewart would seem perfect casting for the character so well does he convey the idea that escape from life into a pleasant half world existence has many points in its favor." --Variety.
"An amiably batty play with splendid lines is here transferred virtually intact to the screen and survives superbly thanks to understanding by all concerned, though the star is as yet too young for a role which he later made his own." - Halliwell's Film & Video.
"The film...sometimes seems static, but that's more than compensated for by the wonderful dialogue. Stewart's character, Elwood P. Dowd, is a gentle, hopeful, good-natured alcoholic, something very rarely seen in a Hollywood film, and this performance is one of his best. Interestingly, you never actually see Stewart having a drink in the film." - The Rough Guide to Cult Movies.
"Even if you don't believe in Harvey, it would be hard not to believe in Jimmy Stewart -- which is just as well, since I don't know what other actor could have made Elwood work. Harvey, of course, gives a flawless performance; he seems to have a lucky rabbit's foot....the movie's sensibility has, post-King of Hearts and One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, dated badly: Chase's broad, broad parody of psychiatry finds the asylum (hilariously represented by Cecil Kellaway, Charles Drake, and a pre-Maytag Jesse White) ready to commit respectable citizens at the drop of a hat. But Stewart and his bunny buddy turn Harvey into 14-carrot gold." - Jeffrey Gantz, Boston Phoenix.
"What makes Harvey great is the fact that it's equally enjoyable as a piece of comedic fluff and as slyly intelligent social commentary aimed squarely at people who try to enforce conformity, judge those who are different, and define what's sane behaviour and what isn't." - Brian Webster, Apollo Film Guide.
"The plot of the film is perpetually silly, but James Stewart, one of American's greatest actors, adds an extra layer of complexity to the movie to give it its meaning." - Silver Screen Reviews.
"Coming at the time it did, the film represents an upbeat post-War mentality - the desire for a giddy gayness, the abandoning of reason and society, and a celebration of eccentric individuality. It is quite amazing that the film's message, which stands up in favour of drinking, managed to get past the Hays Code though. The humour in the film comes with marvellous understatement." - Richard Scheib, The SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review.
Compiled by Andrea Passafiume & Jeff Stafford
I've wrestled with reality for 35 years, doctor, and I'm happy to state Ifinally won out over it."
Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey
One of the more offbeat and whimsical comedies produced for the screen, Harvey (1950) was a personal triumph for James Stewart who won over audiences and most of the nation's critics with his portrait of a lovable eccentric whose best friend is an invisible 6', 3-1/2"rabbit.
Harvey was the surprise hit of the 1944 Broadway season, runningfive years, winning the Pulitzer Prize and returning comic actor Frank Fayto the front rank of stage stars. He wasn't the first choice to star inthe play, nor was a six-foot rabbit the title character in Mary Chase'sfirst draft. She had written the piece for Tallulah Bankhead, andoriginally had her best friend be an invisible four-foot-tall canary. Butwith Fay in the lead after years of obscurity following a failed filmcareer and disastrous marriage to Barbara Stanwyck the show was aphenomenon. Everybody in the business wanted to see his performance excepthis ex-wife, who quipped that she'd seen enough of the hard-drinking Fay'ssix-foot rabbits.
Universal Pictures snapped up the film rights for a record $1 million butwasn't about to risk the property on an actor with little publicrecognition outside of New York. Instead, they cast James Stewart, who hadplayed the part on Broadway during the summers of 1947 and 1948. He hadn'tbeen the first choice, either. The show's producers had all but signedBing Crosby when the singing star decided his fans wouldn't accept thepriest of Going My Way (1944) as the hard-drinking Dowd. Although Stewart'sreviews were mixed, his two summer theatre engagements sold out. When Universal announcedplans for a film version, he campaigned for the role and even signed to dothe Western Winchester ‘73 (1950) to clinch the deal with the studio.
Universal wisely kept original stage cast members Josephine Hull as Dowd'sequally daffy but socially upright sister, Victoria Horne as his lovelornniece and Jesse White as a lunatic asylum attendant sucked into Dowd'smadness. Although White had had small roles in three earlier films,Harvey would mark the start of a long Hollywood career that wouldculminate with his role as the first Maytag repairman in a series ofpopular and lucrative commercials.
Director Henry Koster, who had helped make Deanna Durbin a star in the'30s, maintained a jovial mood on the set. During lunch breaks the castalways kept an empty chair for Harvey, and they even gave the character aslot in the final credits, where they announced that he had played himself.Audiences loved the film, and Stewart won an Oscar® nomination for hisperformance. So did Hull, who waltzed off with the award for BestSupporting Actress on Oscar® night. Stewart got another bonus whenWinchester ‘73 (a film he only agreed to do in order to win the lead inHarvey) became an even bigger hit and encouraged him to play tougher, more complexcharacters in '50s action films.
Despite his success as Dowd, however, Stewart tended to agree with thecritics who thought he came in a distinct second to Fay. He would laterstate that he had made Dowd "too nice." He got a chance to remedy thatproblem with an acclaimed return to the stage in the role, with Helen Hayesas his sister. After a profitable Broadway run in 1970, he reprised therole for a 1972 television production, with Hayes co-starring and JesseWhite reprising his original role. Then in 1975 he took the play to Londonfor still more rave reviews. For this return to the stage, he requested onechange in the script. Since Stewart's 6', 3" height was harder to disguiseon stage than on screen, it made little sense that Harvey would tower overhim at just 6', 3-1/2", so for the stage revivals, the rabbit's height was elevatedto 6', 7-1/2".
Producer: John Beck
Director: Henry Koster
Screenplay: Mary Chase, Oscar Brodney
Based on the Play by Chase
Cinematography: William Daniels
Art Direction: Nathan Juran, Bernard Herzbrun
Music: Frank Skinner
Principal Cast: James Stewart (Elwood P. Dowd), Josephine Hull (Veta LouiseSimmons), Peggy Dow (Miss Kelly), Charles Drake (Dr. Sanderson), CecilKellaway (Dr. Chumley), Victoria Horne (Myrtle Mae), Jesse White (Wilson).
BW-105m. Closed captioning.
by Frank Miller