Born Yesterday (1950 film)

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Born Yesterday
Born yesterday.jpg
original film poster
Directed by George Cukor
Produced by S. Sylvan Simon
Written by Albert Mannheimer
Garson Kanin (uncredited)
Based on Born Yesterday
1946 play
by Garson Kanin
Starring Judy Holliday
Broderick Crawford
William Holden
Music by Frederick Hollander
Cinematography Joseph Walker
Edited by Charles Nelson
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date
  • December 26, 1950 (1950-12-26)
Running time
103 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $4.15 million (US rentals)[1]

Born Yesterday is a 1950 American comedy-drama film directed by George Cukor. The screenplay was credited to Albert Mannheimer based on the stage play of the same name by Garson Kanin. According to Kanin's autobiography, Cukor did not like Mannheimer's work, believing it lost much of the value of the play, so he approached the playwright about writing the screenplay from his own play. Because of some legal entanglements, Kanin did not receive screen credit.[2][3]

Judy Holliday, in an Oscar-winning performance, William Holden and Broderick Crawford star in the story of an uneducated young woman, Billie Dawn, and an uncouth, older, wealthy junkyard tycoon, Harry Brock, who comes to Washington to try to "buy" a congressman. Brock hires journalist Paul Verrall to educate Billie, and, in the process, she learns just how deep Harry's corruption goes.

The film was produced and released by Columbia Pictures, which was somewhat ironic, given that Kanin frequently stated that Harry Brock was modeled on Columbia's production chief Harry Cohn, with whom he'd long had a testy relationship. According to Cohn biographer Bob Thomas, Cohn knew of the connection but was not bothered by it.

In 2012 this film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.


Uncouth tycoon Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford) goes to Washington, D.C. with his brassy girlfriend, Emma "Billie" Dawn (Judy Holliday), and his crooked lawyer, Jim Devery (Howard St. John), to "influence" a politician or two. The lawyer also presses Harry to marry Billie on the grounds that a wife cannot be forced to testify against her husband.

Harry becomes disgusted with Billie's ignorance and lack of manners, though he himself is much worse. He hires a tutor for her, journalist Paul Verrall (William Holden). Blossoming under Paul's encouragement and her own hard work, Billie learns about literature, history, politics and the law, and turns out to be much smarter than anybody knew. She begins to think for herself and apply her reading and learning to her life situation, but Harry reacts violently to her enlightenment, striking her and then forcing her to sign the contracts related to Harry's crooked deal.

Meanwhile, Devery has persuaded Harry to sign over many of his assets to Billie to hide them from the government. When Harry needs to get them back, he comes into conflict with Billie's new-found independence. She and Paul use her leverage to escape from Harry's domination. She promises to give him back his property little by little as long as he leaves them alone. A brief final scene reveals that Billie and Paul have married.

White House Sightseeing bus as pictured in the film.



Though all the major Hollywood studios wanted to film Garson Kanin's Broadway play Born Yesterday, Columbia Studios purchased the rights for $1 million in 1948. However, the project was put on the shelf for months because of casting problems. In April 1950, Columbia head Harry Cohn assigned George Cukor to direct the film, though Cukor was not the studio's first choice.

Cukor’s preparatory work for Born Yesterday was quite innovative. The actors rehearsed the screenplay for two weeks, then performed it before an audience drawn from studio employees. Cukor’s idea was to give the actors a chance to develop “dimensional characters,” and clock laugh values from audience reaction before the cameras began rolling. Cukor held that if a scene is funny, there is no need to play about with it. When people complained, “that laugh overrode the line, I did not hear the next line,” Cukor’s answer remained the same, “Go and see the movie again.” But he did make some changes – when the laughter was long and loud, he added some visual detail. [4]


Although the film was clearly written for a mature audience, Kanin and Cukor were forced to amend the film to appease censors. Cukor explained, "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."

However, the censors thought the scrutiny was necessary, and Cukor was urged to use caution when filming Holliday's dresses. At that time, it was mandatory for intimate body areas, especially breasts, to be completely covered. The censors also requested that Cukor avoid any suggestion that Billie was trying to get Paul in bed. Billie'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 into the final cut.[5]


According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, Holliday initially refused to reprise her popular Broadway role for the film. In September 1947, Rita Hayworth was reported to be in line for the role, but in late April 1949, it was reported that Gloria Grahame was to be borrowed from RKO for the lead, and that Jean Arthur and Lana Turner had also been considered for the part. An October 16, 1947 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that Columbia was negotiating with Paul Douglas to reprise his Broadway role.

According to modern sources, Kanin convinced Cohn to cast Holliday by first writing with his wife, Ruth Gordon, a part in the 1949 MGM film Adam's Rib particularly for her. Holliday's performance in the film garnered her critical acclaim and convinced Cohn of her comedic abilities. Larry Oliver and Frank Otto also reprised their Broadway roles. A September 20, 1950 article in the Los Angeles Daily News reported that before filming began, the cast perfected their comic timing during six performances in front of live audiences of studio employees.[6]


To increase the film’s authenticity, Cukor went to Washington, D.C. for locations, and the city became a dramatic personage in the story. Observing tourists at the Lincoln Memorial, Cukor noticed that sightseers would chew gum and give works of art a cursory glance, if any at all. But in Hollywood movies, sightseers invariably were shown standing in rapt attention. Avoiding these cliches, Cukor considered the outdoor scenes among his best efforts. [4]


In the stage production, Holliday’s character Billie Dawn wore only five costumes, but in the film, costume designer Jean Louis designed thirteen elaborate creations. Cukor asked Louis to “characterize” the clothes, with obviously expensive and ornate clothes at the beginning, when Billie is dumb and self-centered. However, as she acquires culture, her wardrobe becomes simpler and more elegant. [4]


Syndicated Catholic columnist William H. Mooring decried the film as "clever film satire strictly from [Karl] Marx." In 1951, the film was picketed by the Anti-Communist Committee of the Catholic War Veterans because Holliday and Kanin were affiliated with organizations on the U.S attorney general's list of subversive groups. [6]

Supporters of the film included columnist Louella Parsons, reviewer William R. Weaver of the Motion Picture Herald and Kenneth Clark of the MPAA, who stated "we feel very deeply and sincerely the picture gives warmth and positive support to the democratic ideals, principles and institutions of America."

The New York Times review, published the day after the film's premiere, wrote “On the strength of this one appearance, there is no doubt that Miss Holliday will leap into popularity as a leading American movie star”.[7]


The Hollywood premiere of Born Yesterday was attended by many celebrities and the film was met with enthusiastic applause. Jan Sterling and Paul Douglas, who had played the two leading roles on stage, attended the premiere. [8]


Six named Washington, D.C. locations (Jefferson Memorial, Library of Congress, National Gallery of Art, Statler Hotel, United States Capitol and the Watergate Steps,[9] where Dawn and Verrall attend a then-regular outdoor summer concert of the National Symphony Orchestra[10]) were included in the shoot.

Awards and honors[edit]

The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, with Judy Holliday winning the Academy Award for Best Actress. The other nominations were for Best Costume Design - Black-and-White, Best Director, Best Picture and Best Writing - Screenplay.

Holliday also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Actress - Musical or Comedy, and was nominated for Best Motion Picture Actress - Drama. The film received Golden Globe nominations for Best Motion Picture - Drama, and Best Motion Picture Director (Cukor).

The film was nominated for the Venice Film Festival Golden Lion Award, and the Writers Guild of America Best Written American Comedy Award (Mannheimer). In addition, Holliday received a Jussi Award, the primary film award in Finland for Best Foreign Actress.

The British film magazine Picturegoer awarded the film its Seal of Merit, but warned its readers that Holliday's character is "from New York's East Side, and speaks in a baby Bronx voice that is like the tinkling of many tiny, tuneless cymbals." The magazine admired Holliday's performance and spoke of her in the same breath as Carole Lombard.

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


Garson Kanin's play also served as the basis for the 1993 film remake, directed by Luis Mandoki and starring Melanie Griffith, Don Johnson and John Goodman.

In popular culture[edit]

  • In the "Stage 5" episode of The Sopranos, J.T. (Tim Daly) cites this film as the inspiration for the mob boss character in the film "Cleaver".


  1. ^ 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1951', Variety, January 2, 1952
  2. ^ Osborne, Robert. Outro to the Turner Classic Movies presentation of the film (June 1, 2014)
  3. ^ Thomson, David. Have You Seen...?, 2008, London: Allen Lane, p118
  4. ^ a b c "Born Yesterday (1950): Starring Judy Holliday in her Oscar-Winning Performance - Emanuel Levy". 
  5. ^ "Born Yesterday (1950)". Turner Classic Movies. 
  6. ^ a b "AFI-Catalog". 
  7. ^ Times, The New York (2004-02-21). The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made. Macmillan. ISBN 9780312326111. 
  8. ^ "Screenland - Lantern: Search, Visualize & Explore the Media History Digital Library". 
  9. ^ "Born Yesterday (1950) Filming Locations", Retrieved 2016-09-01.
  10. ^ Cochran, Tom, "Do you know the other Watergate?",, July 11, 2012. Retrieved 2016-09-01.
  11. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-07-17. 
  12. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-07-17. 
  13. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2016-08-19. 

External links[edit]