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Born Yesterday

Born Yesterday(1950)

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teaser Born Yesterday (1950)


Junk tycoon Harry Brock gets more than he bargained for when he tries to buy some respectability and sophistication for his brash girlfriend Billie Dawn. He hires political reporter Paul Verrall to educate her so she won't embarrass him during a Washington lobbying trip, but Verrall teaches her more than grammar and diction. He opens her eyes to Harry's crooked business deals and gives her a healthy insight into the dreams that shaped the nation, turning Billie into Harry's biggest enemy and his own ideal woman.

Director: George Cukor
Producer: S. Sylvan Simon
Screenplay: Albert Mannheimer
Based on the play by Garson Kanin
Cinematography: Joseph Walker
Editing: Charles Nelson
Art Direction: Harry Horner
Music: Frederick Hollander
Cast: Judy Holliday (Billie Dawn), Broderick Crawford (Harry Brock), William Holden (Paul Verrall), Howard St. John (Jim Devery), Frank Otto (Eddie), Larry Oliver (Norval Hedges)


Critics have hailed Judy Holliday's Billie Dawn as the screen's definitive dumb blonde, while noting that during the course of the film she becomes progressively smarter.

Born Yesterday made Holliday a star. Although Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn had resisted the idea of casting her in the film version of her stage hit, the film's success prompted him to come up with other vehicles to exploit her unique mix of brassiness and sensitivity.

Born Yesterday is one of the key films cementing George Cukor's reputation as a "woman's director." Almost all of the focus is on Holliday, to the extent that the picture not only introduced her to audiences as a leading lady but made her a star and brought her the Oscar® for Best Actress.

Born Yesterday marked the fourth of eight collaborations for director George Cukor and writer Garson Kanin and/or his wife, actress-writer Ruth Gordon, one of the most productive director-writer collaborations in film history.

The film was the first of three Holliday made with Cukor, all with scripts by Garson Kanin. On the later two, Gordon also collaborated. Their second film together was The Marrying Kind (1952), followed by It Should Happen to You (1954).

With Born Yesterday, Columbia Pictures became the first film studio to pay $1 million for a literary property.

by Frank Miller

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teaser Born Yesterday (1950)


Born Yesterday has had one Broadway revival. The 1989 production, which originated at the Cleveland Playhouse, starred Madeline Kahn as Billie Dawn, Ed Asner as Harry Brock and Daniel Hugh Kelly as Paul Verrall. The production ran for six months.

Born Yesterday was remade in 1993 with Melanie Griffith as Billie Dawn, then-husband Don Johnson as Paul Verrall and John Goodman as Harry Brock. Most critics felt the filmmakers had failed to match the magic of the original. Griffith was nominated for a Razzie Award as Worst Actress.

by Frank Miller

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teaser Born Yesterday (1950)

Many years after the release of Born Yesterday writer Garson Kanin finally admitted that he had used Columbia Pictures mogul Harry Cohn as the model for Harry Brock.

William Holden and Broderick Crawford became good friends during filming, united by their fondness for liquor and a mutual dislike of Cohn. Among the jokes they played on him were ordering large Scotches at lunch so he would worry about their getting drunk in the middle of a shooting day. They also ran up huge bills for room service during location shooting in Washington just to aggravate him.

Judy Holliday and Crawford extended their famous gin-rummy scene to their off-screen relationship. Afraid of flying, Holliday insisted on taking the train to Washington for location shooting. Crawford went along and they passed the four-day trip playing gin for money. When they arrived in Washington, Holliday had won $600 from him, along with his undying friendship.

Holliday was so worried about jinxing her Oscar® chances she placed six different five dollar bets against herself.

Three weeks before the film's December 26 premiere, the reviewer for Tidings, a Catholic newspaper based in Los Angeles, jumped the gun with a scathing review of the film's political content. Inspired by Kanin's own liberal politics and the nation's rising tide of anti-Communist rhetoric, reviewer William H. Mooring, stated, "Never have human symbols been more subtly molded to carry destructive comment through disarming comedy." The notice, syndicated to Catholic papers around the country, triggered an uproar in Hollywood, with protests from even the most conservative members. Gossip columnist Louella Parsons countered, "If there are any pink ideas infiltrated into Born Yesterday, they are way over my head." By the time the film premiered, the controversy had blown over.

At the time Born Yesterday appeared, Holliday was listed in the anti-Communist publication Red Channels as a member of organizations charged as fronts for the Communist Party. As a result, the film was picketed by veterans in New York and New Jersey.

Judy Holliday listened to the Oscar® broadcast at a New York night club with Cukor and Swanson, who was appearing on Broadway at the time in Twentieth Century. When she won, on-lookers couldn't tell if Swanson wanted to congratulate her or kill her. After a failed attempt to make a speech for the press, interrupted by the broadcast of Ethel Barrymore's accepting the award on her behalf in Hollywood, Holliday returned to her table, where Swanson whispered to her, "Why couldn't you have waited until next year?"


"I wasn't only in the chorus. I spoke lines. I could have been a star probably if I'd stuck to it." -- Judy Holliday, as Billie Dawn, to Howard St. John, as Jim Devery

"A world full of ignorant people is too dangerous to live in." -- William Holden, as Paul Verrall

"Nobody's born smart, Billy. Do you know what the stupidest thing on Earth is? An infant!"
"Whadaya got against babies all of a sudden?"
"Nothing. I've got nothing against a brain that's three weeks old and empty. But, after it hangs around for 30 years and hasn't absorbed anything, I begin to wonder about it."
"What makes you think I'm 30?" -- Holden, as Paul Verrall, trying to interest Holliday, as Billie Dawn, in education

"Are you one of these talkers, or would you be innarested in a little action." -- Holliday, as Billie, coming on to Holden, as Paul

"One night I brought home a hundred dollars and gave it to him. Do you know what he did?... Well, it sure didn't do the plumbing no good." -- Holliday, describing her father's reaction to her good fortune as mistress of Broderick Crawford, as Harry Brock

"You're just not couth." -- Holliday, lording it over Crawford, as Harry Brock

"Look, when I say I want a whole floor, I don't want one wing, and I don't want two wings. I want the whole bird." -- Crawford, as Brock, lording it over a hotel employee

"You think you're so smart, huh -- what's a peninsula?"
"...That new medicine..." -- Crawford, trying to prove Holliday hasn't learned much.

"What have you been doing, standing over a hot resolution all day?" -- St. John, as Jim Devery, greeting Larry Oliver, as Congressman Hedges

"Would you do me a favor, Harry?"
"Drop dead!" -- Holliday and Crawford.

"This country and its institutions belong to the people who inhibit it." -- Holliday, standing up to Broderick

"You an' your big numbers. You don't watch out, you'll be wearing one across yer chest." -- Holliday, responding to Crawford's attempt to bribe Holden

"What's goin, on around here?"
"A revolution." -- Broderick and St. John, as Devery

"To all the dumb chumps and all the crazy broads, past, present, and future, who thirst for knowledge and search for truth... who fight justice and civilize each other... and make it so tough for crooks like you...AND me." -- St. John, toasting Holliday and Holden

Compiled by Frank Miller

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teaser Born Yesterday (1950)

During World War II military service, Garson Kanin decided to try his hand at playwriting. The result was Born Yesterday, which he submitted to Broadway producer Max Gordon. Gordon agreed to produce the show with Kanin directing.

Despite Gordon's complaints that she was unreliable, Kanin cast film star Jean Arthur to return to Broadway after a 15-year absence as Billie Dawn. Kanin had worked with her on The More the Merrier, a hit comedy in which he had contributed to the script without credit.

Paul Douglas was cast as junk tycoon Harry Brock. He would go on to star in films, partly on the strength of his performances in Kanin's play.

Jean Arthur started creating problems with her first rehearsal, insisting on re-writing her lines and fighting the character's more brazen behavior early in the play. Gordon suggested they start looking for a replacement, but Kanin was convinced Arthur would adjust to the demands of the part.

When Born Yesterday began preview performances in New Haven and Boston, the show got only mixed reviews, with the best notices going to Douglas. During the run, Arthur became ill, and her doctor informed Gordon and Kanin that she would not be able to return to the show until it moved to Philadelphia. Finally, Kanin agreed to start looking at possible replacements.

Rumors circulated that Kanin's wife, Ruth Gordon, would take over the role, but she announced that she was giving up acting to concentrate on writing.

Max Gordon was particularly excited about the possibility of casting June Havoc as Billie Dawn, but she was already committed to another show.

Eventually, friends suggested he look at Judy Holliday, a young actress who had gotten strong positive reviews for the comedy Kiss Them for Me. Only Born Yesterday's costume designer, Mainbocher [Main Rousseau Bocher], had seen the show, and he urged them to give Holliday a chance. Her audition delighted Gordon and Kanin.

At this point Arthur's doctors informed Kanin that Arthur's condition had gotten so bad she would have to quit the show. Kanin, who seriously doubted Arthur was that ill, was more than a little relieved.

Gordon postponed the sold-out Philadelphia run for three days so that Holliday could learn the role. She worked practically around the clock to learn the lines and staging. At the final run-through, she broke down in tears every time she left the stage. But when she played her first performance in Philadelphia, the play came together as never before.

When Born Yesterday opened on Broadway on February 4, 1946, it made Holliday a star. The production ran for 1,642 performances. She would play the role on Broadway for over three years.

With the play's impressive Broadway success, Hollywood staged a bidding war for the screen rights. Kanin had had bad dealings with Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn earlier in his career and instructed his agent to offer the script to everyone except him, stating he wouldn't sell him the rights for a million dollars. Two months later, Columbia purchased the rights for exactly that amount, the highest ever paid for film rights at that time.

Studio head Harry Cohn's first choice to play Billie was his reigning female star, Rita Hayworth. At the time, however, she was heavily involved in an international romance with Aly Kahn. When she wed him and temporarily retired from the screen, Cohn put the project on hold.

George Cukor was waiting for independent producer David O. Selznick to raise the funds for a film version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night - slated to star Selznick's wife, Jennifer Jones -when Cohn offered him the chance to direct Born Yesterday. With little chance of the financially strapped Selznick getting the production money raised, Cukor accepted Cohn's offer. Tender Is the Night would not be filmed until 1962. Although Jones played the female lead, it was directed by Henry King and produced by Henry T. Weinstein.

With Hayworth out of the picture, Kanin suggested giving Holliday a shot at the film, but Cohn wasn't about to risk his already hefty investment on an unknown he described as "That fat Jewish broad." Among the actresses he considered for the role were Lucille Ball, Barbara Stanwyck, Gloria Grahame, Marie Wilson, Evelyn Keyes, Barbara Hale and Jean Porter, a film actress who had toured in the show. One agent tried unsuccessfully to pitch his new, up-and-coming client, but having rejected the unknown Holliday, Cohn wasn't about to take a chance on the then-unknown Marilyn Monroe.

Originally, Kanin declined any involvement in the film version of Born Yesterday, mainly because Cohn expected him to write the adaptation for free. Cukor offered the adaptation to Philip and Julius Epstein, who had co-written Casablanca (1942), but their version made so many changes in the original, Cukor refused to use it.

Albert Mannheimer then took over, but he made too many changes for Cukor, too. The director then asked Kanin to take over, which he did without credit or payment (Cohn refused to put any more money into the screenplay). In addition to restoring lines and scenes cut from Mannheimer's version, Kanin decided to illustrate Billie's description of her trip to various sites in the nation's capital, opening up the play by allowing Cukor to shoot location scenes at the Supreme Court, the Washington Monument, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the National Gallery and the Treasury Department.

Production delays and Cohn's refusal to even consider Holliday to play Billie Dawn so alienated Douglas that he passed on the film version (others have claimed that he felt Brock's role had been diminished in the screenplay in order to build up Billie's character). Instead, Cohn cast Broderick Crawford, who had just won an Oscar® for playing a crooked politician in All the King's Men (1949).

Initially, William Holden passed on the role of Paul Verrall, claiming that it would be overshadowed by the other leading roles. Finally, Kanin convinced him that the three roles had been written as equals, but Douglas and Holliday had so overpowered the original Broadway Paul (Gary Merrill), it had made people think of it as a secondary role. When he offered to build the role up for the screen, Holden finally agreed to do the film.

Hollywood's Production Code Administration forbade any overt reference to the fact that Billie Dawn and Harry Brock lived together, so Kanin and Cukor had to come up with shots of Billie sneaking into Brock's Washington apartment through the back door to make it seem that she had her own place elsewhere.

With little hope of starring in Born Yesterday, Holliday accepted a meaty supporting role in Adam's Rib (1949), written by Kanin and Ruth Gordon and directed by Cukor. The writers and director enlisted that film's star actress, Katharine Hepburn, in a campaign to win Holliday the lead in Born Yesterday. The three turned her performance in Adam's Rib into a screen test for the other film. In particular, one long scene in which Holliday's character recounts how and why she shot her husband was written as a near monologue for the character. Holliday shot her close-up of the speech in one take. Then Hepburn refused to shoot more than a few brief reaction shots, thus forcing Cukor to focus the entire scene on Holliday (Cukor would later state that that was the only way to film the scene anyway). That scene convinced Cohn to test Holliday. After three tests (she borrowed a gown from Hepburn for one of them), he finally cast her. Hepburn would later explain her generosity to Kanin: "It was the kind of thing you do because people have done it for you." (Garson Kanin, Tracy and Hepburn: An Intimate Memoir)

One thing that brought Cohn around was press reports during the shooting of Born Yesterday that Holliday was stealing the film from her more experienced co-stars. The items concerned Cukor, who didn't believe it was really possible to steal a film. When he confronted MGM's head of publicity about the stories, he discovered they had all been planted by Hepburn as part of her campaign to help Holliday win the lead in Born Yesterday.

At Holliday's first official meeting with Cohn after she had been cast in Born Yesterday, he looked her up and down then muttered, just loud enough for her to hear, "Well, I've worked with fat asses before." He then tried to get her to sign a standard seven-year contract. Instead Holliday, who intended to continue living in New York between pictures, negotiated a one-film-a-year contract for seven years that also allowed her to do stage, television and radio work. In return, he got her for the then low salary of $30,000, with only $10,000 raises promised for each subsequent film.

by Frank Miller

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teaser Born Yesterday (1950)

Director George Cukor prepared his cast for the filming of Born Yesterday by rehearsing the script for two weeks as if it were still a play. He even had a small theatre built on the Columbia back lot, where the cast gave six performances in front of a live audience of studio employees and any Hollywood insiders who could wrangle a ticket. This allowed him to get a better sense of where the laughs were coming, while also generating positive word-of-mouth within the industry.

Judy Holliday still had a hard time adjusting to filming the play without an audience. Although the crew often laughed during rehearsals, she had to play the scenes to total silence. Critics would later complain that some of the dialogue was so quickly paced that audience laughter drowned out lines.

Cukor instructed production designer Harry Horner to approach the script as if it had never been a stage play. Instead of the play's one-room set, Horner constructed an entire hotel suite, allowing Cukor to move the action from room to room as the action would have dictated in real life.

Costume designer Jean Louis gave Holliday 13 outfits that became more stylish and tasteful as her character grew in knowledge and self-awareness.

Used to the honeyed tones of the typical Hollywood leading lady, the sound department tried to clean up the sound of Holliday's voice. When Cukor watched the first rushes, he complained that her voice sounded different. The sound engineer told him "We just cut out some of the crud in her lower register." Cukor told them to stop because "You've also cut out the comedy and the heart."

During location shooting in Washington, Cukor was so moved by the sight of the Jefferson Memorial, that he insisted on having Holliday and Holden visit it during their tour of the city.

Production on Born Yesterday ended in August 1950. Holliday stayed in town for some interviews, then returned to the East where she and her husband, classical musician David Oppenheim, had bought a country home near West Point.

The rough cut of Born Yesterday was so impressive that Cohn ordered the film completed earlier than scheduled so it would qualify for the 1950 Academy Awards®.

by Frank Miller

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teaser Born Yesterday (1950)


Born Yesterday placed tenth on the New York Times' ten-best list for 1950. The top slot went to the documentary The Titan -- Story of Michelangelo.

Kicking off the Hollywood awards season, Judy Holliday picked up the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy.

Born Yesterday won a Writer's Guild Award nomination for Best Written American Comedy.

Born Yesterday picked up five Oscar® nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress (Holliday), Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Costumes. Holliday's win, over favorites Bette Davis in All About Eve and Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard is considered one of the biggest upsets in Academy Awards® history.


Born Yesterday was the sixth highest-grossing film of 1951 (it had been released late in 1950), with $4.15 million in film rentals.

"Most potent box-office factor will be the word-of-mouth buildup for Judy Holliday, repeating her legit success here as a femme star of the film version. Almost alone, she makes Born Yesterday a smart ticket buy for filmgoers, and the dumb sexy character she portrays is one the public will take to its heart." -- Brog., Variety.

"...the whole picture is Judy's, and in the intervals between guffaws you have time to reflect that you are seeing the top comic performance by an actress in American movies this year." -- Life.

"A very simple idea, but enlivened by a sharp, witty script and by Cukor's effortless handling of the brilliant performances; especially fine are Holliday, as the dumb blonde who makes good, and Crawford, as the confused sugar-daddy, nowhere more so than in the marvelous scene where her mindless singing disturbs his concentration over a game of gin rummy." -- Geoff Andrew, Time Out.

"Unfortunately for both the junkman and the picture, the journalist reforms Billie, and as she gains in virtue, she diminishes in interest. But you'll remember the early, acquisitive Billy with her truculent voice and glassy eyes, and her gin-rummy game." -- Pauline Kael, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

"Pleasant film version of a cast-iron box-office play, subtle and intelligent in all departments yet with a regrettable tendency to wave the flag." - Halliwell's Film & Video Guide.

"Direction by George Cukor is too theatrical (as is Holliday's performance at times) and the script by Garson Kanin is clever but has only a few bright moments. I don't like the way Kanin uses Crawford comically through much of the film yet, when it suits his purpose, makes him a real heavy. Best scene is the most famous - when Holliday beats Crawford at gin rummy." - Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic.

"One of Cukor's best comedies, with a remarkable performance by Judy Holliday." - Georges Sadoul, Dictionary of Films.

"...Holliday was a strange actress, uneasily bending her own intelligence to the dumbest of New York blondes so that the performance in Born Yesterday often appears studied, cute, and condescending. It is a part of this curious meticulousness that she never seemed sexy on the screen. Never the "open, honest, bland, funny, sexy girl" that Kanin intended, but a neurotic barrage of timing, expression, and gestures." - David Thomson, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film.

"In many films, hero or heroine are transformed when they take off their glasses. In Born Yesterday Billie puts her glasses on." - Movie Diva (

"Holliday is amazingly funny and feisty as the blond who finds her brain. Everything else about the film falls flat, even the love story angle. It's all Holden and Crawford can do to keep up with her energy. A great star turn, despite the uneven story." - Crazy for Cinema,

Compiled by Frank Miller & Jeff Stafford

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teaser Born Yesterday (1950)

Today's films push the envelope. Many filmmakers aim for shock value, filling their movies with a plethora of sex, violence and gore. However, 50 years ago, filmmakers struggled with censors to put out films that would barely be PG-rated by today's standards. Such is the case with Born Yesterday (1950).

In Born Yesterday, Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford), a junk dealer, hires journalist Paul Verrall (William Holden) to tutor his dim-witted mistress Billie Dawn (Judy Holliday). Although the film was clearly written for a mature audience, writer Garson Kanin and director George Cukor were forced to amend the film to appease censors.

Director George Cukor explains, "It seems ludicrous now, but twenty years ago you couldn't have a character say, 'I love that broad,' you couldn't even say "broad." And the nonsense that went on to get over the fact that Judy Holliday and Broderick Crawford lived together! It required the greatest skill and some new business that Garson invented, like Billie Dawn always creeping into the apartment the back way. We managed to keep it amusing, I think, but it was so unnecessary."

The censors, however, thought the scrutiny was necessary, and Cukor was urged to use caution when filming Holliday's dresses. At that time, it was mandatory for the intimate areas on the body, especially breasts, to be completely covered. The censors also requested that Cukor avoid any suggestion that Billie was trying to get Paul in bed. Billy's line: "Are you one of those talkers, or would you be interested in a little action" was deemed offensive. However, Cukor stood his ground and the line made it to the final cut of Born Yesterday. The director knew what he was doing: Born Yesterdaygrabbed five Academy Award nominations (Best Actress, Best Costume Design, Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Screenplay) and Holliday ended up taking home an Oscar for Best Actress.

Director: George Cukor
Producer: S. Sylvan Simon
Screenwriter: Albert Mannheimer
Cinematographer: Josph Walker
Composer: Frederick Hollander
Editor: Charles Nelson
Art Director: Harry Horner
Costume Designer: Jean Louis
Cast: Broderick Crawford (Harry Brock), Judy Holliday (Billie Dawn), William Holden (Paul Verrall), Howard St. John (Jim Devery), Frank Otto (Eddie).

by Georgelle Cole

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