Born to Win

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Born to Win
Dvd Born to Win.jpg
Directed byIvan Passer
Produced byPhilip Langner
Written byDavid Scott Milton (story)
Ivan Passer
StarringGeorge Segal
Paula Prentiss
Karen Black
Hector Elizondo
Jay Fletcher
Robert De Niro
Ed Madsen
Music byWilliam S. Fisher
CinematographyRichard C. Kratina
Jack Priestley
Edited byRalph Rosenblum
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • December 1, 1971 (1971-12-01)
Running time
88 minutes
CountryUnited States

Born to Win is a 1971 black comedy film directed by Ivan Passer and starring George Segal, Karen Black, Paula Prentiss, Hector Elizondo and Robert De Niro. Filming locations took place in Manhattan, specifically Times Square.


The film follows Jay Jay (George Segal), a former hair dresser who becomes a drug addict. He lives his new life by doing deals for Vivian (Hector Elizondo) from time to time. One day he meets Parm (Karen Black), a free spirited girl. The two fall in love. Jay Jay's drug habit grows, and he soon resorts to robbery. On the threat of arrest, he works alongside two dirty policemen by becoming a narc, and reports on his former fellow junkies. Yet, as the movie continues, Jay Jay sinks deeper into turmoil with feelings of self-hatred.


Actor Role
George Segal J
Karen Black Parm
Paula Prentiss Veronica
Hector Elizondo Vivian
Jay Fletcher Billy Dynamite
Robert De Niro Danny
Ed Madsen Detective


Ivan Passer and David Scott Milton started interviewing ex-addicts at the Phoenix House, near where they were putting on a play together titled Duet for Solo Voice. The resulting screenplay was originally much more serious in tone when shot. The comic elements were played up later during editing.

Milton based the characters in this film on the addicts who frequented the Manhattan diner he owned. He then adapted his observations of these characters into a play titled Scraping Bottom. The resulting screenplay for the film was titled Scraping Bottom. The copyright clearly can be read under the title as being credited to Scraping Bottom Productions.

Some of the characters in the film were played by actual junkies at the time, people who Passer encountered when researching the film.

The film was chosen to be screened at the New York Film Festival in October 1971.

The film was the first effort of a production company founded by George Segal and Jerry Tokofsky.

When Ed Madsen is chasing George Segal down the hallway, he slips and falls. This was not written in the screenplay. However, Passer thought it looked so real, he decided to leave it in the movie.

According to Passer, Robert De Niro nearly was fired many times throughout shooting. A devoted Stella Adler student, he did things to define his secondary character to draw attention from the leads.

Paula Prentiss received top billing, even though she appears on-screen for about three minutes. When asked about this at the press screening at the New York Film Festival, Passer said that her agent demanded it, adding "After all, what difference does it make?"


Born to Win received primarily mediocre reviews but many critics did make note that there was a form of brilliance within it. Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert said of the film, "...a good-bad movie that doesn't always work but has some really brilliant scenes."[1] Roger Greenspun of The New York Times wrote, " only Passer's second movie, and it is a dreadful disappointment — but not without its reasons, and not, I think, without some honor."[2]


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