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 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. An unusual feature of the play is that members of the audience are picked to take on the role of jury members each night. They hear the case of Karen Andre, the former secretary and lover of businessman Bjorn Faulkner, whom Andre is accused of murdering. 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 or not guilty. It has 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 Los Angeles under the title Woman on Trial in 1934, 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 productions.
- 1 History
- 2 Synopsis
- 3 Productions
- 4 Broadway cast and characters
- 5 Dramatic analysis
- 6 Reception
- 7 Adaptations
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes
- 10 References
- 11 External links
Rand's inspiration for the play came primarily from two sources. One was seeing a performance of The Trial of Mary Dugan, a 1927 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 1932 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.
Rand wrote the play in 1933. Her agent submitted it to several theatrical producers in New York, but it was repeatedly rejected. Then Rand got an offer from Woods, the producer who had put The Trial of Mary Dugan on Broadway. The offer was an important opportunity for Rand, who was young and financially struggling at the time. However, Woods included a condition that he could make changes to the script. Wary that he would destroy her vision of the play in order 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. Woods was suffering financial difficulties of his own. Although he was a renowned producer with 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 only increased his interest. Woods still wanted the right to make script changes, but he made some adjustments to the contract to give Rand more say. She reluctantly agreed to his terms.
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. Woods eventually arranged new financing from theater owner Lee Shubert. When 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". Woods, who had made his success on Broadway with lowbrow melodramas like Nellie, the Beautiful Cloak Model and risqué comedies like The Demi-Virgin, was not interested in what he called Rand's "highfalutin speeches", preferring that the dramatic conflict focus on more concrete elements, such as whether Andre had a gun. The changes included the creation of a new character, a gun moll, who was played by Shubert's mistress. 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.
Although best known as Night of January 16th, the play's title was changed multiple times, and several additional alternative titles were considered. Rand's working title when writing it 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 subsequently 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 renaming it dynamically so that every day it would be titled after the current date.
When Rand had her version of the play published in 1968, she wrote that she although she disliked the Broadway title, it was too famous to change again. However, she did agree to using Penthouse Legend as the title for an Off-Broadway revival in 1973.
The contract between Woods and Rand allowed him to hire collaborators if he thought it was 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 with Weitzenkorn even worse than she did with Woods and Hayden, arguing over political differences as well as his ideas for the play. Woods gave Weitzenkorn another percentage point from Rand's royalties, but without informing her of the diversion. 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, Mrs. Vincent Astor, 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 play was first published for use by 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 disowned 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 the 1973 revival production.
The plot centers on a trial to decide whether business executive Bjorn Faulkner has been murdered by his secretary, Karen Andre. Prior to the start of 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 at the top 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 of the play, 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 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. 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 "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 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, with Phoebe Foster taking the lead role for her first appearance on the London stage. It closed after 22 performances. A production in Montreal, Quebec, 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. Phillip and Kay Nolte Smith, a married couple who were friends with Rand, produced, and Kay also starred under a stage name. It opened at the McAlpin Rooftop Theater on February 22, 1973, and closed on March 18, 1973, after just 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 eventually 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 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. 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. However, Pidgeon left the production after about a month to take a role in another play, There's Wisdom in Women. 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.
The speaking parts from the Broadway production are given below, in order by 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. After the play became successful, it was famous for its "jury gimmick" and this criticism dissipated entirely.
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 famous from the Lindbergh kidnapping trial earlier that year. 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 of the 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 after subtracting the ticket price. Another rule in New York at that time was that only men could serve on a jury, although Woods made exceptions for some performances, such as the one Keller attended. He later loosened the rule to allow women jurors at matinee performances twice a week.
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. For her own view, Rand, who supported individualism, considered Andre to be "not guilty".
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." 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 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." Merrill dismissed this explanation as a cover-up for the play promoting Nietzschean ideas that she 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) 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. 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 a negative review from Brooks Atkinson in The New York Times, who called 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. 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". Some reviews focused on Woods, who had many previous theatrical successes, as the source of the play's positive attributes. Time, for example, suggested Woods was repeating a successful formula from The Trial of Mary Dugan. For Rand, who considered Woods' changes to be negative, reviews that praised these elements were an embarrassment. Once again reviewers ignored the broader themes that Rand considered important.
The London production in 1936 got 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 in fact 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 of the production, 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."
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 the movie in 1941, but Rand did not participate in the production. William Clemens directed, and three writers (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 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 claimed 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 of the reviews were negative.
Television and radio
Adaptations of the play were done for several different 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 any chance it would be 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.
- Branden 1986, pp. 109–110
- Gladstein 1999, p. 10
- Burns 2009, pp. 28–30
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- Wilt, David E. (1991). Hardboiled in Hollywood: Five Black Mask Writers and the Movies. Bowling Green, Ohio: Popular Press. ISBN 0-87972-525-7. OCLC 24154116.
- "Author Wins Royalty Row". The New York Times. February 11, 1936. p. 19.
- "ITV Play of the Week: Season 5 (1959–60)". The Classic TV Archive. Retrieved June 25, 2014.
- "London Theatres: The Night of January 16th". The Glasgow Herald. October 1, 1936. p. 19.
- "Murder Play Jury Captivates London". The New York Times. September 30, 1936. p. 29.
- "Nazimova to Play Tonight". Los Angeles Times – via ProQuest (subscription required). Mar 16, 1936. p. 13.
- "New Plays in Manhattan". Time. September 30, 1935. p. 22.
- "News of the Stage: Equity Talks It Over, Reasonably, Quietly—Other Matters of the Theatre". The New York Times. October 5, 1935. p. 18.
- "News of the Stage: Mr. Cochran Speaks—Tonight's Premier-Ambassador Theatre for Sale—Nowhere Bound Closing". The New York Times. January 30, 1935. p. 16.
- "News of the Stage: The Illustrators' Show Now Due on Jan. 22, which Gives Broadway Three Shows Next Week". The New York Times. January 17, 1936. p. 15.
- "Night of January 16th (1941): Notes". TCM.com. Retrieved May 23, 2014.
- "Night of January 16th (1941): Overview". TCM.com. Retrieved May 21, 2012.
- "Penthouse Legend". Lortel Archives. Retrieved April 22, 2014.
- "Second Arbitration on Play Royalties". The New York Times. January 17, 1936. p. 15.
- "Staging The Verdict at Playhouse". Variety. October 11, 1934. p. 3.
- 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