Happy Birthday, Wanda June

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Happy Birthday, Wanda June
First edition
Directed by Mark Robson
Produced by Lester M. Goldsmith
Written by Kurt Vonnegut
(play and screenplay)
Starring Rod Steiger
Susannah York
Cinematography Fred J. Koenekamp
Edited by Dorothy Spencer
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date
December 9, 1971 (NYC)
Running time
105 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Happy Birthday, Wanda June is a 1971 film adaptation, directed by Mark Robson, based on a play by Kurt Vonnegut.[1]


The opening of this play is "This is a simple-minded play about men who enjoy killing, and those who don't."

Big-game hunter and war hero Harold Ryan returns home to America, after having been presumed dead for several years. During the war, he killed over 200 men and women, and countless more animals — for sport. He was in the Amazon Rainforest hunting for diamonds with Colonel Looseleaf Harper, a slow-witted aviation hero, who had the unhappy task of dropping the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Harold finds that his wife Penelope has developed relationships with men very much unlike himself, including a vacuum cleaner salesman called Shuttle and a hippie doctor called Dr. Woodly, who later becomes Harold's foe. Harold also finds that his son, Paul, has been pampered and grown unmanly. Harold Ryan, the prolific killing machine, is very unsatisfied. It is set during 1960s America, and Harold feels the country has become weak, all the heroes have been replaced by intolerable pacifists, and that in postwar America, no proper enemy is available for him to vanquish. This is the story of his tragic attempt to find one.

The "Wanda June" of the title is a young girl who died before she could celebrate her birthday. She was run over by an ice cream truck, but she is very pleased with her situation in Heaven, and feels that dying is a good thing and everyone in Heaven loves the person who sent them there. Her birthday cake was subsequently purchased by one of Penelope's lovers, for a celebration of Harold's birthday in his absence. Wanda June and several other deceased connections to Harold Ryan (including his ex-wife Mildred who drank herself to death because she could not stand Harold's premature ejaculation, and Major Von Koningswald, The Beast of Yugoslavia, Harold Ryan's most infamous victim) speak to the audience from Heaven, where Jesus Christ, Adolf Hitler, Albert Einstein, and Judas Iscariot are happily playing shuffleboard.


Productions and adaptations[edit]

Happy Birthday, Wanda June originated as a play called Penelope, which was first performed at the Orleans Arena Theater in Orleans, Massachusetts.[2]

Vonnegut and composer Richard Auldon Clark collaborated on an opera adaptation which was debuted at Butler University in 2016, nine years after Vonnegut's death.[3]

The Gene Frankel Theater staged an Off-Off-Broadway revival in April 2018, directed by Jeff Wise and featuring Jason O'Connell, Kate MacCluggage, and Matt Harrington.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ McCaffrey, Donald W. (1992). Assault on Society: Satirical Literature to Film. Scarecrow Press p. 123. ISBN 978-0-8108-2507-9.
  2. ^ Bosworth, Patricia (October 25, 1970). "To Vonnegut, the Hero Is the Man Who Refuses to Kill". The New York Times. Retrieved September 27, 2018.
  3. ^ Lindquist, David (September 12, 2016). "Vonnegut's 'Happy Birthday' opera finally comes of age". The Indianapolis Star. Retrieved September 27, 2018.
  4. ^ Collins-Hughes, Laura (April 16, 2018). "Review: Toxic Masculinity, Vonnegut Style, in 'Happy Birthday, Wanda June'". The New York Times. Retrieved September 27, 2018.

External links[edit]