Born Yesterday (1950 film)

Born Yesterday is a 1951 American comedy-drama film directed by George Cukor, based on the 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]

Born Yesterday
original film poster
Directed byGeorge Cukor
Produced byS. Sylvan Simon
Written byAlbert Mannheimer
Garson Kanin (uncredited)
Based onBorn Yesterday
1946 play
by Garson Kanin
StarringJudy Holliday
Broderick Crawford
William Holden
Music byFrederick Hollander
CinematographyJoseph Walker
Edited byCharles Nelson
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • December 26, 1951 (1951-12-26)
Running time
103 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$4.15 million (US rentals)[1]

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, Brock 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. Ironically, 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.


Bullying, uncouth junkyard tycoon Harry Brock goes to Washington, D.C. with his brassy girlfriend, Emma "Billie" Dawn, and his crooked lawyer, Jim Devery (played by Howard St. John) 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 a journalist, Paul Verrall (William Holden) 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.

She 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.



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]


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.[5]


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.[6]


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]


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,[7] where Dawn and Verrall attend a then-regular outdoor summer concert of the National Symphony Orchestra[8]) 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.[4]


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.[9]


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."[10][11] 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."[12] 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."[13] 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."[14] 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."[15]

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.[5]

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."[16]

Awards and honors

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:


Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Kanin reportedly pursued plans for an updated remake, possibly starring Bette Midler 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.[20] The remake was finally made in 1993, directed by Luis Mandoki and starring Melanie Griffith, Don Johnson and John Goodman.

  • 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. "Born Yesterday (1950): Starring Judy Holliday in her Oscar-Winning Performance - Emanuel Levy".
  5. "AFI-Catalog".
  6. "Born Yesterday (1950)". Turner Classic Movies.
  7. "Born Yesterday (1950) Filming Locations", Retrieved 2016-09-01.
  8. Cochran, Tom, "Do you know the other Watergate?",, July 11, 2012. Retrieved 2016-09-01.
  9. "Screenland - Lantern: Search, Visualize & Explore the Media History Digital Library".
  10. 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.
  11. Times, The New York (2004-02-21). The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made. Macmillan. ISBN 9780312326111.
  12. "Film Reviews: Born Yesterday". Variety. November 22, 1950. 8.
  13. Coe, Richard L. (February 2, 1951). "Kanin Play's Even Better on Screen". The Washington Post. C7.
  14. "'Born Yesterday' with Judy Holliday, William Holden and Broderick Crawford". Harrison's Reports. November 25, 1950. 186.
  15. "Born Yesterday". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 18 (206): 227. March 1951.
  16. "Born Yesterday - Notes". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved June 2, 2019.
  17. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-07-17.
  18. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-07-17.
  19. "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2016-08-19.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  20. 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.
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