Night of January 16th
|Night of January 16th|
First hardback edition of book (1968)
|Written by||Ayn Rand|
|Setting||A courtroom in New York City|
Night of January 16th is a play by Ayn Rand, inspired by the death of the "Match King", Ivar Kreuger. It takes place entirely in a courtroom during a murder trial. An unusual feature of the play is that members of the audience are picked each night to take on the roles of jury members. They hear the case of Karen Andre, the former secretary and lover of businessman Bjorn Faulkner, whom Andre is accused of having murdered. The play does not directly portray the events of Faulkner's death; instead the jury must rely on character testimony and vote on whether Andre is guilty, with different endings depending on the verdict. Rand intended to dramatize a conflict between individualism and conformity, with the jury's verdict revealing which viewpoint they preferred.
The play was first produced in 1934 in Los Angeles under the title Woman on Trial to positive reviews and moderate commercial success. Producer Al Woods brought it to Broadway during the 1935–36 season and gave it the title Night of January 16th. It drew attention for its jury gimmick and became a hit, running for seven months. Doris Nolan, in her Broadway debut, received positive notices in the lead role. Several regional productions followed. An Off-Broadway revival in 1973, under the title Penthouse Legend, was a failure both commercially and critically.
Rand had many heated disputes with Woods over script changes he wanted for the Broadway production. Their disputes climaxed in an arbitration hearing when she discovered he had diverted a portion of her royalties to pay for a script doctor. Because of the changes, Rand disliked the Broadway production and the version published for amateur productions, so in 1968 she re-edited the script for publication as the "definitive" version. A movie loosely based on the play was released in 1941, and the story has also been adapted for television and radio.
For this play, Rand drew inspiration from two sources. After seeing The Trial of Mary Dugan, a 1927 melodrama about a showgirl prosecuted for killing her wealthy lover, Rand determined to write her own play featuring a trial. In a twist, her play would have no fixed ending, but could vary depending on the result of a trial. She based her victim on Ivar Kreuger, a Swedish businessman known as the "Match King" due to his monopolies on match production. When his business empire became financially unstable, Krueger shot himself amid accusations of shady and possibly illegal financial deals. From this incident Rand was inspired to make the victim a businessman of great ambition and dubious character, who had given multiple people motives for his murder.
Rand wrote the play in 1933. She was 28 years old and had been in the United States for seven years, after emigrating from the Soviet Union, where her strong anti-Communist opinions had put her at risk. She had never written a stage play, but had worked in Hollywood as a junior screenwriter for Cecil B. DeMille, and then in the wardrobe department at RKO Studios. In September 1932, she sold an original screenplay, Red Pawn, to Universal Studios and quit RKO to finish her first novel, We the Living. By 1934, her agent was trying to sell the play and the novel, but both were repeatedly rejected. Red Pawn was shelved and Rand's contract for rewrites on it ended. Rand's husband, an actor, was getting only minor roles with little pay, putting the couple in financial distress. With the last of her money from Red Pawn exhausted, Rand got an offer for her new play from Al Woods, who had produced The Trial of Mary Dugan for Broadway. The contract included a condition that Woods could make changes to the script. Wary that he would destroy her vision of the play to create a more conventional drama, Rand turned Woods down. Soon after, she accepted an offer from Welsh actor E. E. Clive to produce the play in Los Angeles. It opened in October 1934 under the title Woman on Trial.
At the end of the run in Los Angeles, Woods renewed his offer to put the play on Broadway. Although he was a renowned producer of many famous plays in a career of more than three decades, he had lost much of his fortune after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and had not produced a hit in several years. Being refused by a neophyte author shocked him and increased his interest. Woods still wanted the right to make script changes, but he made adjustments to the contract to give Rand more influence. She reluctantly agreed to his terms.
Rand arrived in New York at the beginning of December 1934, in anticipation of the opening in January. Financing fell through, delaying the production for several months until Woods arranged new financing from theater owner Lee Shubert. When work resumed, Rand's relationship with Woods quickly soured as he demanded changes that she later derided as "a junk heap of worn, irrelevant melodramatic devices". Woods had made his success on Broadway with lowbrow melodramas such as Nellie, the Beautiful Cloak Model and risqué comedies such as The Demi-Virgin, and was not interested in what he called Rand's "highfalutin speeches", preferring the dramatic conflict to focus on more concrete elements, such as whether the defendant had a gun. The changes included the creation of a new character, a gun moll played by Shubert's mistress.
The contract between Woods and Rand allowed him to hire collaborators if he thought it necessary, and pay them a limited portion of the author's royalties. First he hired John Hayden to direct, paying him one percentage point from Rand's 10 percent royalty. Although Hayden was a successful Broadway director, Rand disliked him, later deriding him as "a very ratty Broadway hanger-on". As the play began tryouts in Philadelphia, Woods demanded more script changes and was frustrated by Rand's refusal to make some of them. He brought in Louis Weitzenkorn, the author of a previous hit, Five Star Final, to act as a script doctor. Rand got along worse with Weitzenkorn than she did with Woods or Hayden, arguing over political differences as well as his ideas for the play. Woods gave Weitzenkorn another percentage point from Rand's royalties without informing her. Rand filed a claim against Woods with the American Arbitration Association. She objected to Weitzenkorn receiving any portion of her royalties, telling the arbitration panel that he had only added a single line to the play, which was cut after the tryouts. Upon hearing this testimony, one of the arbitrators responded incredulously, "That was all he did?" In two hearings, the panel ruled that Weitzenkorn should receive his agreed-upon one percent, but that Woods could not deduct the payment from Rand's royalties because she had not been notified in advance.
The disputes between the author and the producer did not prevent the play from opening at Shubert's Ambassador Theatre in September 1935 and running for seven months. Night of January 16th was the last theatrical success for either Rand or Woods. Rand's next play, Ideal, went unsold, and a 1940 stage adaptation of We the Living flopped. She finally achieved lasting success and financial stability with her 1943 novel, The Fountainhead. Woods produced six more plays, none a hit, and he died in 1951, bankrupt and living in a hotel.
The play was first published in an edition for amateur theater organizations in 1936, using a version edited by drama professor Nathaniel Edward Reeid, which included further changes to eliminate elements such as swearing and smoking. Rand disavowed this version due to the changes. In 1960, Rand's protégé Nathaniel Branden asked about doing a public reading of the play for students at the Nathaniel Branden Institute. Rand did not want him to use the amateur version, so she created a revised text that eliminated most of the changes from Woods and Reeid. She had what she then called the "final, definitive version" published in 1968 with an introduction discussing the play's history. She made several dozen further small changes in language for an Off-Broadway revival in 1973.
Although best known as Night of January 16th, the play's title has changed multiple times, and several additional alternative titles were considered. Rand's working title was Penthouse Legend. When Clive picked up the play, he thought Rand's title suggested a fantasy story that would put off potential patrons. The play was called The Verdict during the Hollywood Playhouse rehearsals, but opened with the title Woman on Trial. When Woods brought it to Broadway, he insisted on a new title. He offered Rand a choice between The Black Sedan and Night of January 16th. Rand liked neither, but picked the latter. Woods later suggested two other name changes that he did not implement. Prior to the opening, he considered renaming the play The Night is Young. After the play opened, he considered changing its name each day to match the current date.
When Rand published her version of the play in 1968, she wrote that she although she disliked the Broadway title, it was too well known to change again. She did agree to using Penthouse Legend as the title for the 1973 revival production.
The plot centers on the trial of secretary Karen Andre for the murder of her employer, business executive Bjorn Faulkner. Before the play's action, Faulkner had been a prominent businessman who swindled millions of dollars to invest in the gold trade. In the wake of a crash, he had faced bankruptcy. On the night of January 16, Faulkner and Andre were in the penthouse of the Faulkner Building in New York City, when Faulkner apparently fell to his death. The play takes place entirely in the courtroom. Although his death is the focus of the trial, Faulkner himself is never seen. Within the three acts, the prosecutor Mr. Flint and Andre's defense attorney Mr. Stevens call witnesses whose testimonies build conflicting stories.[notes 1]
The first act begins with the judge asking the court clerk to call jurors from the audience. Once the jurors are seated, the prosecution argument begins. Flint explains that Andre was not just Faulkner's secretary, but also his lover. He says Faulkner jilted her to marry Nancy Lee Whitfield, and then fired Andre, motivating her to murder him. He then calls a series of witnesses, starting with the medical examiner, who testifies that the body was so damaged by the fall that it was impossible to determine whether Faulkner was killed by the impact or already dead. An elderly night watchman and a private investigator whom Nancy Lee Faulkner hired to follow her husband both describe the events they saw that evening. A police inspector testifies to finding a suicide note. Faulkner's very religious housekeeper disapprovingly describes the sexual relationship between Andre and Faulkner, and says she saw Andre with another man after Faulkner's marriage. Nancy Lee testifies about their courtship and marriage, portraying both as idyllic. The act ends with Andre speaking out of turn to accuse Nancy Lee of lying.
The second act continues the prosecution's case, with Flint calling John Graham Whitfield, Faulkner's father-in-law and president of Whitfield National Bank. He testifies about a large loan he made to Faulkner. In his cross-examination, defense attorney Stevens suggests the loan was used to buy Faulkner's marriage to Whitfield's daughter. After this testimony the prosecution rests, and the defense argument begins. A handwriting expert testifies about the signature on the suicide note. Faulkner's bookkeeper describes events between Andre's firing and the night of Faulkner's death, as well as related financial matters. Andre takes the stand and describes her relationship with Faulkner, as both his lover and his partner in financial fraud. She says she did not resent his marriage, because it was a business deal to secure credit from the Whitfield Bank. As she starts to explain why Faulkner would have committed suicide, she is interrupted by the arrival of "Guts" Regan, an infamous gangster. He tells Andre that Faulkner is dead. Despite being on trial for Faulkner's murder, Andre is shocked by this news and faints, ending the act.
The final act continues Andre's testimony, but her attitude has changed from defiant to somber. She says that she, Faulkner and Regan had conspired to fake Faulkner's suicide so they could escape with money stolen from Whitfield. Regan, who was also in love with Andre, provided the stolen body of one of his already-dead gang associates, "Lefty" O'Toole, to throw off the building. In cross-examination, Flint suggests she and Regan were using knowledge of past criminal activities to blackmail Faulkner. Stevens then calls Regan, who testifies that he was to meet Faulkner at a getaway plane after they left the stolen body with Andre, but Faulkner did not show up and the plane was missing. Instead Regan encountered Whitfield, who gave him a check that Regan says was to buy his silence. Later Regan found the missing plane, burned with what he presumes is Faulkner's body inside. Flint's cross-examination offers the alternative theory that Regan put the stolen body in the plane to create doubt about Andre's guilt, and the check from Whitfield was protection money to Regan's gang. In the Broadway and amateur versions, the next witness is Roberta Van Rensslaer, an exotic dancer and wife of O'Toole, who believes Regan killed her husband. (This character does not appear in Rand's version of the play.) Finally, Stevens recalls two witnesses to follow up on issues from Regan's testimony. Then the defense and prosecution give their closing arguments.
The jury goes to vote, while the characters repeat highlights from their testimony under a spotlight. The jury then returns to announce their verdict. One of two short endings follows. If found not guilty, Andre thanks the jury. If found guilty, she says they have spared her from committing suicide. In Reeid's amateur version, after either verdict the judge berates the jurors for their bad judgment and declares that they cannot serve again.
The play has had several professional productions under three different titles. It first opened at the Hollywood Playhouse in Los Angeles as Woman on Trial. E. E. Clive produced, and Barbara Bedford played Andre. The production opened on October 22, 1934, and closed in late November 1934.
The most successful production was on Broadway under the title Night of January 16th, produced by Woods at the Ambassador Theatre, with John Hayden directing. Doris Nolan played the defendant. The play opened on September 16, 1935, and closed on April 4, 1936, with 283 performances. Woods then launched productions of the play in other cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, and London. The production in London opened on September 29, 1936, where Phoebe Foster took the lead role for her first appearance on the London stage. It closed after 22 performances. A production in Montreal opened on June 16, 1941, starring Fay Wray as Andre and Robert Wilcox as Regan.
In 1972, Rand gave her approval for an Off-Broadway revival using her preferred version of the script and her original title, Penthouse Legend. Production was by Phillip and Kay Nolte Smith, a married couple who were friends with Rand, and Kay also starred under the stage name "Kay Gillian". It opened at the McAlpin Rooftop Theater on February 22, 1973, and closed on March 18, 1973, after 30 performances.
Broadway cast and characters
The play's protagonist and lead female role is the defendant, Karen Andre. Woods considered several actresses for the role, but with Rand's support, he cast an unusual choice, an actress named Doris Nolan. It was Nolan's Broadway debut, and her previous professional acting experience was a failed attempt at completing a movie scene. At just 17 years old, she was cast as a femme fatale who was presumably not a teenager. She did have one important advantage: Woods was her manager and got a commission from her contract. The inexperienced Nolan was nervous throughout rehearsals. When other actresses visited, she feared they were there to replace her. Although Rand later deprecated her as "not a sensational actress", reviewers praised her performance.
Rand actively pushed another casting choice, Walter Pidgeon in the role of gangster "Guts" Regan. Woods objected at first, but eventually gave Pidgeon the part. As with Nolan, reviewers approved the choice. Pidgeon left the production after about a month to take a role in another play, There's Wisdom in Women. William Bakewell replaced him, over the objections of Rand, who recommended Morgan Conway, the actor who played the part in the Los Angeles production.
The speaking parts from the Broadway production are given below, in order of when the character first speaks:
|Character||Broadway cast||Other notable performers|
|Judge Heath||J. Arthur Young|
|District Attorney Flint||Edmund Breese|
|Defense Attorney Stevens||Robert Shayne|
|Clerk of Court||George Anderson|
|Dr. Kirkland||Edward Wing|
|John Hutchins||Calvin Thomas|
|Karen Andre||Doris Nolan|
|Homer Van Fleet||Harry Short|
|Elmer Sweeney||Leo Kennedy|
|Magda Svenson||Sarah Padden|
|Nancy Lee Faulkner||Verna Hillie|
|John Graham Whitfield||Clyde Fillmore|
|James Chandler||Maurice Morris|
|Siegurd Jungquist||Arthur Pierson|
|Larry "Guts" Regan|
|Roberta Van Renssalear||Marcella Swanson|
The element of selecting a jury from the audience was the play's primary dramatic innovation. It created concerns among many of the producers that considered and rejected the play. Although Woods liked the idea, Hayden worried that it would destroy the theatrical illusion and feared that audience members might refuse to participate. Successful jury selections during previews indicated it would not be a problem. This criticism dissipated following the play's success and fame for its "jury gimmick".
The play's jury has sometimes enlisted famous participants, and the Broadway selections were rigged to call on celebrities known to be in the audience. The jury for the Broadway opening included boxing champion Jack Dempsey and attorney Edward J. Reilly, who was known from the Lindbergh kidnapping trial earlier that year. Jurors for subsequent Broadway performances included actors Ricardo Cortez, Fania Marinoff, Chester Morris, Margaret Wycherly, and Roland Young; attorneys Dudley Field Malone and Samuel Leibowitz; baseball player Babe Ruth; bridge player Ely Culbertson; director Eddie Buzzell; and James Roosevelt, son of President Franklin Roosevelt. At a special performance for the blind, Helen Keller sat on the jury. The jurors for the London opening included actors Adrianne Allen, Raymond Massey, and Vera Pearce, as well as musician Jack Hylton.
For the Broadway run, Woods decided that the jury would mimic some rules for jury service in the New York courts. One rule was paying jurors three dollars per day for their participation, which meant the selected audience members turned a profit of at least 25 cents after subtracting the ticket price. Another was that only men could serve on a jury, although Woods made exceptions, such as at the performance Keller attended. He later loosened the rule to allow women jurors at matinee performances twice a week. Unlike a normal criminal trial, verdicts required only a majority vote rather than unanimity.
Rand described Night of January 16th as "a sense-of-life play". She did not want its events to be taken literally, but to be understood as a representation of different ways of approaching life. Andre represents an ambitious, confident, non-conformist approach to life, while the prosecution witnesses represent conformity, envy of success, and the desire for power over others. Rand believed the jury's decision at each performance revealed the attitude of the jurors towards these two conflicting senses of life. Rand herself supported individualism and considered Andre "not guilty". She said she wanted the play to convey the viewpoint: "Your life, your achievement, your happiness, your person are of paramount importance. Live up to your highest vision of yourself no matter what the circumstances you might encounter. An exalted view of self-esteem is man's most admirable quality." She said that the play "is not a philosophical treatise on morality" and represents this view only in a basic way.
Several later commentators have interpreted the play as reflecting Rand's early interest in the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche. Shoshana Milgram saw elements of Nietzsche's morality in the descriptions of Bjorn Faulkner, who "never thought of things as right or wrong". Ronald Merrill went further, calling the play "a powerful and eloquent plea for the Nietzschean worldview" of the superiority of the "superman", represented by Faulkner, who he interprets as rejecting external moral authority and the "slave morality" of ordinary people. Others found significance in the fact that the characters Rand admired in the story were criminals. Historian Jennifer Burns said Rand "found criminality and irresistible metaphor for individualism" because of the influence on her of "Nietzsche's transvaluation of values [which] changed criminals into heroes". Rand denied that criminality as such was the important attribute of the characters, saying that a criminal could serve as "an eloquent symbol" of independence and rebellion against conformity, but stated, "I do not think, nor did I think when I wrote this play, that a swindler is a heroic character or that a respectable banker is a villain." Merrill dismissed this explanation as a cover-up for the play promoting Nietzschean ideas that Rand later rejected. Similarly, biographer Anne Heller said Rand "later renounced her romantic fascination with criminals", making the characters' criminality an embarrassment for her.
The play's reception over the years has been mixed. The initial Los Angeles run as Woman on Trial received complimentary reviews; Rand was disappointed that they focused on the play's melodrama and its similarity to The Trial of Mary Dugan, while paying little attention to aspects she considered more important, such as the contrasting ideas of individualism versus conformity. Rand later described the production as "badly handicapped by lack of funds" and "competent, but somewhat unexciting", but it performed reasonably well at the box office during its short run.
The Broadway production received largely positive reviews that praised its melodrama and the acting of Nolan and Pidgeon. Commonweal described it as "well constructed, well enough written, admirably directed ... and excellently acted". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle complained the action came in "fits and starts", but praised the acting and the novelty of the jury gimmick. Brooks Atkinson gave it a negative review in The New York Times, calling it "the usual brew of hokum". A review from Theatre Arts Monthly was also dismissive, calling the play a "fashionable game" that would be "fun in a parlor" but seemed "pretty foolish" on stage. Some reviews focused on Woods as the source of the play's positive attributes, as he had had many previous theatrical successes. Time suggested Woods was repeating a successful formula from The Trial of Mary Dugan. Reviews that praised these elements were an embarrassment to Rand, who considered Woods' changes to be negative. Again reviewers ignored the broader themes that Rand considered important.
The London production in 1936 received mostly positive reviews but was not a commercial success. A reviewer for The Times praised Foster's performance as "tense and beautiful". In The Daily Telegraph, reviewer W. A. Darlington anticipated that the show would be popular with audiences, but the production ended its run in less than a month. The review in The Glasgow Herald described it as a "strong, quick thriller", but with inferior dialog to The Trial of Mary Dugan. The reviewer for The Spectator was more critical, saying the play itself was "strong", but brought down by "mediocre playing" from "bad actors".
The 1973 revival as Penthouse Legend was a failure and received strongly negative reviews. A reviewer for The Village Voice complimented the story's melodramatic plot twists, but said it was "preposterously badly written" and described the production as "conventional and obvious". In The New York Times, Clive Barnes called the play tedious and said the acting was "not particularly good". It closed within a few weeks.
Academics and biographers looking back on the play have also expressed mixed opinions. Theater scholar Gerald Bordman declared it "an unexceptional courtroom drama" made popular by the jury gimmick, although he noted praise for the acting of Breese and Pidgeon. Historian James Baker described Rand's presentation of courtroom behavior as unrealistic, but said audiences forgive this because the play's dramatic moments are "so much fun". Ultimately he thought the play was "great entertainment" that is "held together by an enormously attractive woman and a gimmick", but "it is not philosophy" and fails to convey the themes Rand had in mind. Jennifer Burns expressed a similar view, stating that the play's attempts to portray individualism had "dubious results ... Rand intended Bjorn Faulkner to embody heroic individualism, but in the play he comes off as little more than an unscrupulous businessman with a taste for rough sex." Literature scholar Mimi Reisel Gladstein described the play as "significant for dramatic ingenuity and thematic content". Rand biographer Anne Heller considered it "engaging, if stilted", while Ronald Merrill described it as "a skillfully constructed drama" undercut by "Rand's peculiar inability to write an effective mystery plot without leaving holes". Mystery critic Marvin Lachman noted the novelty of the jury gimmick, but deemed the play unrealistic, with "stilted dialogue" and "stereotypical characters".
The movie rights to the play were initially purchased by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) in October 1934 as a possible vehicle for Loretta Young. They hired Rand to write a screenplay, but the project was scrapped. After MGM's option expired, Woods considered making a movie version through a production company of his own, but in 1938 RKO Pictures bought the rights for $10,000, a fee split between Woods and Rand. RKO looked at Claudette Colbert and Lucille Ball as possibilities to star, but they also gave up on the adaptation. The rights were resold to Paramount Pictures in July 1939 for $35,000. Paramount released a movie in 1941, but Rand did not participate in the production. William Clemens directed, and Delmer Daves, Robert Pirosh, and Eve Greene were brought in to prepare a new screenplay.
The new screenplay altered the plot significantly, focusing on Steve Van Ruyle (Robert Preston), a sailor who inherits a position on the board of a company headed by Bjorn Faulkner (Nils Asther). Unlike in the play where Faulkner is already dead, in the movie he appears as a living character who is then apparently murdered. Suspicion falls on Faulkner's secretary, Kit Lane (Ellen Drew), and Van Ruyle takes it upon himself to investigate the crime. Faulkner is discovered hiding out in Cuba after faking his own death. Rand stated only a single line from her original dialog appeared in the movie, which she dismissed as a "cheap, trashy vulgarity". The film received little attention when it was released, and most reviews were negative.
Television and radio
Adaptations of the play were done for several television anthology series in the 1950s and 1960s. The first was WOR-TV's Broadway Television Theatre, which aired their adaptation on July 14, 1952, with a cast that included Neil Hamilton and Virginia Gilmore. On CBS, the Lux Video Theatre presented a version on May 10, 1956, starring Phyllis Thaxter as Andre. In the United Kingdom, Maxine Audley took the lead role for an ITV Play of the Week broadcast on January 12, 1960, while Cec Linder played the district attorney. The broadcast had been scheduled for October 6, 1959, but was delayed to avoid being interpreted as political commentary before the general election held later that week. A radio adaptation of the play aired on the BBC Home Service on August 4, 1962.
- The Match King, a movie also inspired by Ivar Kreuger
- Plot details are primarily based on the version published in 1968, which varies at some points from the scripts used for the Broadway and amateur theater productions. See Rand 1971, pp. 8–16.
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- Night of January 16th at the Internet Broadway Database
- The Night of January 16th (1941) at the Internet Movie Database
- Penthouse Legend at the Internet off-Broadway Database
- Night of January 16th at Theatricalia.com