Born Yesterday (1950 film)

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Born Yesterday
Born Yesterday (1950 poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGeorge Cukor
Written byAlbert Mannheimer
Garson Kanin (uncredited)
Based onBorn Yesterday
1946 play
by Garson Kanin
Produced byS. Sylvan Simon
StarringJudy Holliday
Broderick Crawford
William Holden
CinematographyJoseph Walker
Edited byCharles Nelson
Music byFrederick Hollander
Columbia Pictures
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • December 25, 1950 (1950-12-25)
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$4.15 million (US rentals)[1]

Born Yesterday is a 1950 American comedy-drama film directed by George Cukor, based on the 1946 stage play of the same name by Garson Kanin. The screenplay was credited to Albert Mannheimer. According to Kanin's autobiography, Cukor did not like Mannheimer's work, believing it lacked much of the play's value, so he approached Kanin about adapting a screenplay from his own play. Because of legal entanglements, Kanin did not receive screen credit.[2][3]

The film tells the story of an uneducated young woman, Billie Dawn (played by Judy Holliday, in an Oscar-winning performance) and an uncouth, older, wealthy junkyard tycoon, Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford) who comes to Washington to try to "buy" a congressman. When Billie embarrasses him socially, Harry hires journalist Paul Verrall (William Holden) to educate her. In the process, Billie learns how corrupt Harry is, and eventually falls in love with Paul.

The film was produced and released by Columbia Pictures. Kanin frequently stated that Harry Brock was modeled on Columbia production chief Harry Cohn, with whom Kanin had a long and testy relationship. According to Cohn biographer Bob Thomas, Cohn knew of Kanin's attribution but didn't care about it.

In 2012, Born Yesterday was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.[4][5]


William Holden and Judy Holliday in a promotional still for Born Yesterday

Bullying, uncouth junkyard tycoon Harry Brock goes to Washington, D.C., with his brassy girlfriend, Emma "Billie" Dawn, and his crooked lawyer, Jim Devery, to "influence" a politician or two. As a legal precaution, Devery presses Harry to marry Billie, as a wife cannot be forced to testify against her husband.

Harry becomes disgusted with Billie's ignorance and lack of manners, though his are much worse. He hires journalist Paul Verrall, who had come to interview him, to educate her and give her some culture. 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 anyone knew.

Billie starts thinking for herself and applying her learning to her situation. She also falls in love with Paul, who respects and appreciates her. When she stands up to Harry, he reacts violently, striking her and forcing her to sign the contracts related to his crooked deal.

Meanwhile, Devery has persuaded Harry to sign over many of his assets to Billie to hide them from the government. When Harry experiences Billie's new independence, he tries to intimidate her into signing his assets back to him. Billie 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.[6]


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 co-writing – with wife Ruth Gordon – a part specifically for her in the 1949 MGM film Adam's Rib. 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.[7]


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.[8]


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.[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. 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. 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.[6]


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.[11]


In a review published the day after the film's premiere, Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote, "Just in time to make itself evident as one of the best pictures of this fading year is Columbia's trenchant screen version of the stage play, 'Born Yesterday' ... On the strength of this one appearance, there is no doubt that Miss Holliday will leap into popularity as a leading American movie star."[12][13] Variety stated, "Columbia has a promising box-office offering in its screen version of the Broadway hit play, 'Born Yesterday.' The bright, biting comedy of the Garson Kanin legit piece adapts easily to film and there is every indication that key-city audiences will give it a hearty ticket play."[14] Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post called it "an even more beguiling comedy than it was on the stage, and Judy Holliday's even funnier ... It's one of the few I'd like to see twice."[15] A review in Harrison's Reports declared, "An excellent adult comedy ... What really puts the picture over is the brilliant performance of Judy Holliday as the beautiful but dizzy 'girl-friend' of an unscrupulous, uncouth multi-millionaire junk dealer, whose downfall is brought about when he makes the mistake of deciding that she needs an education. One has to see and hear Miss Holliday to fully appreciate the superb delivery of her lines and the fine shadings of her artful mannerisms."[16] The Monthly Film Bulletin stated, "Garson Kanin's comedy is a pleasing lesson in the virtues of democracy, enlivened by smart, sometimes witty, dialogue and by characterisation which, if broad and simple, is always lively."[17]

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.[7]

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."[18]

Awards and nominations[edit]

In late 1950 many critics predicted that the Academy Award for Best Actress would be given to Gloria Swanson for Sunset Boulevard or Bette Davis for All About Eve and were surprised that the recipient was newcomer Judy Holliday for this film.[19] Bette Davis believed that her and Swanson's comparable characters effectively "cancelled each other out", allowing Holliday to win, a theory also invoked to explain Marisa Tomei's dark horse Best Supporting Actress win over Miranda Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave for the 1993 Joe Pesci vehicle, My Cousin Vinny.[20][21] Swanson recalled the press's reaction following Holliday's win: "It slowly dawned on me that they were asking for a larger-than-life scene, or better still, a mad scene. More accurately, they were trying to flush out Norma Desmond."[22]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards Best Motion Picture S. Sylvan Simon Nominated
Best Director George Cukor Nominated
Best Actress Judy Holliday Won
Best Screenplay Albert Mannheimer Nominated
Best Costume Design – Black and White Jean Louis Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Judy Holliday Nominated
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Won
Best Director – Motion Picture George Cukor Nominated
Jussi Awards Best Foreign Actress Judy Holliday Won
National Film Preservation Board National Film Registry Inducted
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Actress Judy Holliday Nominated
Venice International Film Festival Golden Lion George Cukor Nominated
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Written American Comedy Albert Mannheimer Nominated

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:


Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Kanin reportedly pursued plans for an updated remake, possibly starring Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand or Whoopi Goldberg, as well as a musical version that might star Bernadette Peters or Dolly Parton, with Frank Sinatra as Harry Brock, but neither of these projects came to fruition.[26] The remake was finally made in 1993, directed by Luis Mandoki and starring Melanie Griffith, Don Johnson and John Goodman.

In popular culture[edit]


  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. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2020-05-27.
  5. ^ "2012 National Film Registry Selections Showcased in January". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2020-04-23.
  6. ^ a b c "Born Yesterday (1950): Starring Judy Holliday in her Oscar-Winning Performance - Emanuel Levy".
  7. ^ a b "AFI-Catalog".
  8. ^ "Born Yesterday (1950)". Turner Classic Movies.
  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. ^ "Screenland - Lantern: Search, Visualize & Explore the Media History Digital Library".
  12. ^ Crowther, Bosley (December 27, 1950). "The Screen In Review: 'Born Yesterday' Is Reborn on Film in Columbia's Excellent Production at Victoria". The New York Times. 37.
  13. ^ The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made. Macmillan. 2004-02-21. ISBN 9780312326111.
  14. ^ "Film Reviews: Born Yesterday". Variety. November 22, 1950. 8.
  15. ^ Coe, Richard L. (February 2, 1951). "Kanin Play's Even Better on Screen". The Washington Post. C7.
  16. ^ "'Born Yesterday' with Judy Holliday, William Holden and Broderick Crawford". Harrison's Reports. November 25, 1950. 186.
  17. ^ "Born Yesterday". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 18 (206): 227. March 1951.
  18. ^ "Born Yesterday - Notes". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved July 7, 2022.
  19. ^ Swanson, pp.249-260
  20. ^ The Playboy interviews : larger than life. Randall, Stephen. (1st M Press ed.). Milwaukie, OR: M Press. 2006. ISBN 1595820469. OCLC 71350355.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  21. ^ Welk, Brian (2017-03-13). "Marisa Tomei Oscar Dispute: Inside the Conspiracy Theory 25 Years Later". Retrieved 2022-10-02.
  22. ^ Wiley and Bona, p. ??
  23. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs". American Film Institute. Retrieved 2022-07-07.
  24. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes". Retrieved 2022-07-07.
  25. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10". Retrieved 2022-07-07.
  26. ^ Schildcrout, Jordan (2019). In the Long Run: A Cultural History of Broadway's Hit Plays. New York and London: Routledge. p. 95. ISBN 978-0367210908.

External links[edit]