Night of January 16th

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Night of January 16th
Hardcover book turned slightly to the side. On the cover is a silhouette of a skyscraper and a man falling from it. The words "Night of January 16th a play by Ayn Rand author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead" appear inside the silhouette.
First hardback edition of book (1968)
Written by Ayn Rand
  • Karen Andre
  • Mr. Stevens
  • Mr. Flint
  • Nancy Lee Faulkner
  • John Graham Whitfield
  • Larry "Guts" Regan
Date premiered September 16, 1935 (1935-09-16)[notes 1]
Place premiered Ambassador Theatre
Original language English
Genre Courtroom drama
Setting A courtroom in New York City
IBDB profile
Theatricalia profile

Night of January 16th is a play written by Ayn Rand, inspired by the death of the "Match King", Ivar Kreuger. It takes place entirely in a courtroom during a murder trial. One unusual feature of the play is that members of the audience are picked to take on the role of jury members each night. The play does not directly portray the events; instead the "jury" must rely on character testimony and vote on whether the "defendant" is guilty or not guilty. The play has different endings depending on the verdict. Rand intended the play to dramatize a conflict between individualism and conformity, with the jury's verdict revealing which viewpoint they preferred.

It was first produced in Los Angeles under a different name in 1934, to positive reviews and moderate commercial success. Producer Al Woods brought it successfully to Broadway during the 1935-36 season, where it drew attention for its jury gimmick. Doris Nolan, in her Broadway debut, received positive notices in the lead role. Several regional productions followed. An Off-Broadway revival in 1973 was a failure, both commercially and critically.

Rand had many heated disputes with Woods over script changes he wanted for the Broadway production. She disliked the result 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 productions.


Rand's inspiration for the play came primarily from two sources. One was seeing a performance of The Trial of Mary Dugan, a melodrama about a showgirl on trial for killing her wealthy lover. This play gave Rand the idea to write a drama about a trial, but one where the ending would not be fixed. The other source was news reports about the suicide of Ivar Kreuger, a Swedish businessman known as the "Match King" because of monopolies on match production he had negotiated with various governments. When his business empire became financially unstable, he shot himself amid accusations of shady and possibly illegal financial deals. From this incident Rand got the idea to make the victim a businessman of great ambition and dubious character, who could have been murdered for more than one reason.[1]

Rand wrote the play in 1933 under the title Penthouse Legend.[2] Her agent submitted it to several theatrical producers in New York, but it was repeatedly rejected. Rand finally accepted an offer from E.E. Clive to produce the play at the Hollywood Playhouse in Los Angeles. It opened in October 1934 under the title Woman on Trial. She later described the production as "badly handicapped by lack of funds" and "competent, but somewhat unexciting." However, it was modestly successful and got some positive reviews.[3]

Black and white portrait photo of Al Woods.
Producer Al Woods brought the play to Broadway in 1935.

At the end of the run in Los Angeles, producer Al Woods offered to put the play on Broadway, provided that he could make changes to it. Rand reluctantly agreed to his terms.[4] One of the changes was to the title, which became Night of January 16th. Rand disliked this title, but when the play became a success she decided the name was too famous to change again.[5]

Rand arrived in New York at the beginning of December 1934, in anticipation of the new production opening in January. However, the financing for the play fell through, delaying the production for several months.[6] Woods eventually arranged new financing from theater owner Lee Shubert,[7] and he hired John Hayden to direct.[8] As work resumed on the play, Rand's relationship with Woods quickly soured as he demanded changes that she later derided as "a junk heap of worn, irrelevant melodramatic devices".[9] The changes included the creation of a new character, a gun moll, who was played by Shubert's mistress.[7][8] Frustrated by Rand's refusal to make some of his changes, Woods hired two additional writers to make them. He gave a portion of Rand's royalties to them without her permission. Rand subsequently won an arbitration against Woods over the royalty diversion.[7][10] Their disputes did not prevent the play from opening at Shubert's Ambassador Theatre in September 1935 and running for seven months with 283 performances.[11]

The play was first published for use by amateur theater organizations in 1936, using a version edited by Nathaniel Edward Reeid,[12] which included further changes to eliminate elements such as swearing and smoking. Rand disowned this version due to the changes.[13] In the 1960s, Rand revised the text to eliminate most of the changes and had the "final, definitive version" published in 1968 with an introduction discussing the play's history.[14] She made several dozen further small changes in language for a production of the play in 1973.[15]


The plot centers on a trial to decide whether Bjorn Faulkner has been murdered by his secretary, Karen Andre. Prior to the start of the play, 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 at the top of the Faulkner Building in New York, 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 of the play, the prosecutor (Mr. Flint) and Andre's defense attorney (Mr. Stevens) call witnesses whose testimonies build conflicting stories.[notes 2]

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 in favor of marrying Nancy Lee Whitfield, and then fired Andre as his secretary, 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 who was hired by Nancy Lee Faulkner 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. Then Andre takes the stand in her own defense. She 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 Larry "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 his 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 "Lefty" O'Toole, who believes Regan killed her husband. (This character does not appear in Rand's version of the play.)[16] Finally, Stevens recalls two witnesses, first Whitfield and then Faulkner's bookkeeper, to follow up on issues from Regan's testimony. Then the defense and prosecution give their closing arguments.

The jury is sent off 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 alternative 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.[17]


Black and white portrait of a smiling Walter Pidgeon.
Walter Pidgeon played "Guts" Regan in the Broadway production.

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. Welsh actor E.E. Clive produced, and Barbara Bedford played Karen Andre.[18] The production opened in October 1934 and closed in late November 1934.

The most successful production was on Broadway under the title Night of January 16th, produced by Al 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.[19] 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, with Phoebe Foster in the lead role. It closed after 22 performances.[20] A production in Montreal, Quebec opened on June 16, 1941, starring Fay Wray as Andre and Robert Wilcox as Regan.[21]

In 1972, Rand gave her approval for an Off-Broadway revival using her preferred version of the script and her original title, Penthouse Legend. Phillip and Kay Nolte Smith, a married couple who were friends with Rand, produced, and Kay also starred under a stage name.[22] It opened at the McAlpin Rooftop Theater on February 22, 1973, and closed three weeks later.[23]

Broadway cast and characters[edit]

The play's protagonist and lead female role is the defendant, Karen Andre.[24] With Rand's support,[25] Woods filled this role with 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.[26] At just 17 years old, she was being cast as a femme fatale who was presumably not a teenager. She did have one important advantage, however: 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. Her fears were not realized.[27] Although Rand later deprecated her as "not a sensational actress",[8] reviewers praised her performance.[28]

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.[8] As with Nolan, reviewers approved the choice.[29] However, Pidgeon left the production after about a month to take a role in another play, There's Wisdom in Women.[30] He was replaced by William Bakewell, over the objections of Rand, who instead recommended Morgan Conway, the actor who played the part in the Los Angeles production.[31]

Black and white portrait of Edmund Breese.
Edmund Breese played District Attorney Flint in the Broadway production.

The speaking parts from the Broadway production are given below, in order by when the character first speaks:

Character Broadway cast Other notable performers
Bailiff Donald Oliver[32]
Judge Heath J. Arthur Young[32]
District Attorney Flint Edmund Breese[32][33]
Defense Attorney Stevens Robert Shayne[32]
Clerk of Court George Anderson[32]
Dr. Kirkland Edward Wing[32]
John Hutchins Calvin Thomas[32]
Karen Andre Doris Nolan[32][33] Barbara Bedford (1934 LA production);[18]
Fay Wray (1941 Montreal production);[21]
Kay Nolte Smith (1973 revival)[22]
Homer Van Fleet Harry Short[32]
Elmer Sweeney Leo Kennedy[32]
Magda Svenson Sarah Padden[32][33]
Nancy Lee Faulkner Verna Hillie[32]
John Graham Whitfield Clyde Fillmore[32]
James Chandler Maurice Morris[32]
Siegurd Jungquist Arthur Pierson[32]
Larry "Guts" Regan Walter Pidgeon (September–October 1935);[33]
William Bakewell (October 1935-April 1936)[31][34]
Morgan Conway (1934 LA production);[35]
Robert Wilcox (1941 Montreal production)[21]
Roberta Van Renssalear Marcella Swanson[32]

Dramatic analysis[edit]

Jury gimmick[edit]

The element of selecting a jury from the audience was the play's primary dramatic innovation.[18] It created concerns among many of the producers that considered and rejected the play. Although Woods liked the idea,[36] 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. After the play became successful, it was famous for its "jury gimmick" and this criticism dissipated entirely.[37]

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.[33] Boxer Jack Dempsey was on the jury for the Broadway opening. At a special performance for the blind, Helen Keller sat on the jury.[38] The jurors for the London opening included actors Adrianne Allen, Raymond Massey, and Vera Pearce, as well as musician Jack Hylton.[20][39]


Rand described Night of January 16th as "a sense-of-life play".[40] 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.[41] Rand believed the jury's decision at each performance revealed the attitude of the jurors towards these two conflicting senses of life. For her own view, Rand, who supported individualism, considered Andre to be "not guilty".[42]

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."[43] Ronald Merrill went further, calling the play "a powerful and eloquent plea for the Nietzschean worldview."[44] 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".[45] 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 that, "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."[46] Merrill dismissed this explanation as a cover-up for the play promoting Nietzschean ideas that she later rejected.[47] Similarly, biographer Anne Heller said Rand "later renounced her romantic fascination with criminals," making the characters' criminality an embarrassment for her.[48]


The play's reception over the years has been mixed. The initial Los Angeles run (as Woman on Trial) got complimentary reviews, although 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.[49] The Broadway production received a negative review from Brooks Atkinson in The New York Times, who called it "the usual brew of hokum".[50] A review from Theatre Arts Monthly was similarly dismissive.[51] Most other reviewers were more positive, praising its melodrama and the acting of Nolan and Pidgeon. Commonweal described it as "well constructed, well enough written, admirably directed ... and excellently acted".[28] Some reviews focused on Woods, who had many previous theatrical successes, as the source of the play's positive attributes, although Rand considered his changes harmful and was embarrassed by reviews that praised these elements. Once again reviewers ignored the broader themes that Rand considered important.[52]

The London production in 1936 got 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 in fact the production ended its run in less than a month.[20][39]

The 1973 revival (as Penthouse Legend) was a failure and received strongly negative reviews.[53] 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".[54] In The New York Times, Clive Barnes called the play tedious and said the acting was "not particularly good".[55]

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.[29] 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".[56] 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.[57] 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."[45] Mimi Reisel Gladstein described the play as "significant for dramatic ingenuity and thematic content."[58] Rand biographer Anne Heller considered it "engaging, if stilted",[59] 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."[44]


Color movie poster for The Night of January 16th. In the top half, a woman drags a man's body by his feet. In the bottom half, a man and woman look up apprehensively.
Poster for the 1941 movie adaptation


The movie rights to the play were initially purchased by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) in October 1934. They hired Rand to write a screenplay, but the project was scrapped. MGM eventually resold the rights to RKO Pictures, who in turn sold them to Paramount Pictures. Paramount finally produced the movie in 1941. Rand did not participate in the production, and three other writers (Delmer Daves, Robert Pirosh, and Eve Greene) were brought in to write a new screenplay.[60][61]

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 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.[61][62] Rand claimed only a single line from her original dialog appeared in the movie, which she dismissed as "cheap, trashy vulgarity".[63] The film received little attention when it was released, and most of the reviews were negative.[64]


Adaptations of the play were done for several different television series in the 1950s and 1960s, including:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Premier information is for the Broadway production.
  2. ^ 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.


  1. ^ Branden 1986, pp. 109–110
  2. ^ Gladstein 1999, p. 10
  3. ^ Rand 1971, pp. 6–8; Branden 1986, pp. 111, 117–118
  4. ^ Heller 2009, p. 78; Branden 1986, p. 118; Rand 1971, p. 8
  5. ^ Rand 1971, p. 7; Branden 1986, p. 121
  6. ^ Heller 2009, p. 82
  7. ^ a b c Heller 2009, p. 90
  8. ^ a b c d Branden 1986, p. 122
  9. ^ Rand 1971, pp. 8–9
  10. ^ Branden 1986, p. 123
  11. ^ Heller 2009, pp. 92, 95; Gladstein 2009, p. 12
  12. ^ Perinn 1990, p. 6
  13. ^ Rand 1971, pp. 13–14
  14. ^ Rand 1971, pp. 15–16
  15. ^ Peikoff 2005, p. 17
  16. ^ Reeid 1964, pp. 82–87; Rand 1971, p. 9
  17. ^ Merrill 1991, p. 31; Reeid 1964, pp. 98–99
  18. ^ a b c Heller 2009, p. 76
  19. ^ Heller 2009, pp. 92, 95
  20. ^ a b c Kabatchnik 2009, p. 435
  21. ^ a b c Archer 1941
  22. ^ a b Branden 1986, pp. 369–370
  23. ^ Baker 1987, p. 35
  24. ^ Gladstein 1999, pp. 48–49
  25. ^ Kabatchnik 2009, p. 433
  26. ^ Slide 1999, pp. 85, 89
  27. ^ Slide 1999, pp. 90–91
  28. ^ a b Baker 1987, pp. 34–35
  29. ^ a b Bordman 1996, p. 120
  30. ^ Bordman 1996, pp. 120, 124
  31. ^ a b Rand 1995, pp. 22–23; Rainey 2005, p. 46
  32. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "Night of January 16". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved July 22, 2013. 
  33. ^ a b c d e Slide 1999, p. 90
  34. ^ Reeid 1964, p. 2
  35. ^ Rand 1995, p. 23
  36. ^ Rand 1971, p. 9
  37. ^ Branden 1986, pp. 122–124
  38. ^ Gladstein 2009, p. 87
  39. ^ a b "Murder Play Jury Captivates London". The New York Times. September 30, 1936. p. 29. 
  40. ^ Rand 1971, p. 1
  41. ^ Rand 1971, pp. 1–2; Baker 1987, p. 39
  42. ^ Rand 1971, pp. 5–6
  43. ^ Milgram 2006, pp. 27–30
  44. ^ a b Merrill 1991, p. 32
  45. ^ a b Burns 2009, p. 28
  46. ^ Rand 1971, p. 2
  47. ^ Merrill 1991, p. 31
  48. ^ Heller 2009, pp. 75–76
  49. ^ Branden 1986, pp. 117–118; Heller 2009, p. 219
  50. ^ Atkinson 1935
  51. ^ Isaacs 1935
  52. ^ Gladstein 1999, p. 117; Gladstein 2009, p. 87; Branden 1986, p. 124; Baker 1987, pp. 34–35
  53. ^ Branden 1986, p. 372; Kabatchnik 2009, p. 436
  54. ^ Novick 1973
  55. ^ Barnes 1973
  56. ^ Baker 1987, p. 36
  57. ^ Baker 1987, p. 40
  58. ^ Gladstein 1999, p. 37
  59. ^ Heller 2009, p. 75
  60. ^ Heller 2009, pp. 77–78
  61. ^ a b Weiler 1941
  62. ^ "Night of January 16th (1941)". Retrieved May 21, 2012. 
  63. ^ Rand 1971, p. 14
  64. ^ Johnson 2005, pp. 55–56

Works cited[edit]

External links[edit]