Stage Door is a 1937 RKO film directed by Gregory La Cava. Adapted from the play of the same name, it tells the story of several would-be actresses who live together in a boarding house at 158 West 58th Street in New York City. The film stars Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Adolphe Menjou, Gail Patrick, Constance Collier, Andrea Leeds, Samuel S. Hinds and Lucille Ball. Eve Arden and Ann Miller, who became notable in later films, play minor characters.
Stage Door theatrical poster
|Directed by||Gregory La Cava|
|Produced by||Pandro S. Berman|
|Screenplay by||Morrie Ryskind|
|Based on||Stage Door (play)|
by Edna Ferber
George S. Kaufman
|Music by||Roy Webb|
|Cinematography||Robert De Grasse|
|Edited by||William Hamilton|
|Distributed by||RKO Radio Pictures (US)|
Radio Pictures Ltd (UK)
The film was adapted by Morrie Ryskind and Anthony Veiller from the play by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman, but the play's storyline and the characters' names were almost completely changed for the movie, so much so in fact that Kaufman joked the film should be called "Screen Door".
Terry Randall (Katharine Hepburn) moves into the Footlights Club, a theatrical boarding house in New York. Her polished manners and superior attitude make her no friends among the rest of the aspiring actresses living there, particularly her new roommate, flippant, cynical dancer Jean Maitland (Ginger Rogers). From Terry's expensive clothing and her photograph of her elderly grandfather, Jean assumes she has obtained the former from her sugar daddy, just as fellow resident Linda Shaw (Gail Patrick) has from her relationship with influential theatrical producer Anthony Powell (Adolphe Menjou). In truth, Terry comes from a wealthy Midwest family. Over the strong objections of her father, Henry Sims (Samuel S. Hinds), she is determined to try to fulfill her dreams. In the boarding house, Terry's only supporter is aging actress Anne Luther (Constance Collier), who appoints herself Terry's mentor and acting coach.
When Powell sees Jean dancing, he decides to dump Linda. He arranges for Jean and her partner Annie (Ann Miller) to get hired for the floor show of a nightclub he partly owns. He then starts dating Jean, who starts falling for him.
Meanwhile, well-liked Kay Hamilton (Andrea Leeds) had a great success and rave reviews in a play the year before but has had no work since and is running out of money. She clings desperately to the hope of landing the leading role in Powell's new play, Enchanted April. She finally gets an appointment to see Powell, only to have him cancel. She faints in the reception area, the result of malnutrition and disappointment. Seeing this, Terry barges into Powell's private office and berates him for his callousness. As a result, the other boarding house residents start to warm to the newcomer.
Terry's father secretly finances Enchanted April on condition that Terry be given the starring role, hoping she will fail and return home. Powell invites Terry to his penthouse to break the news. When Jean shows up unannounced, Terry sees the opportunity to save her friend from the philandering Powell. She pretends that Powell is trying to seduce her. It works. However, it makes things uncomfortable around the boarding house. Terry's landing of the plum part breaks Kay's heart.
The inexperienced Terry is so woodenly bad during rehearsals that Powell tries to get out of his contract with Sims. On opening night, after she learns from Jean that Kay has committed suicide, Terry decides she cannot go on. Anne Luther tells her that she must, not just for herself and the tradition of the theatre, but also for Kay. She does and gives a heartfelt performance. She and the play are a hit, much to the chagrin of her father, who is in the audience. At her curtain call, Terry gives a speech in tribute to her dead friend, and Terry and Jean are reconciled. The play remains a success after months, but Terry continues to board at the Footlights Club. A newcomer shows up looking for a room.
as Terry Randall
|Ginger Rogers |
as Jean Maitland
as Anthony Powell
|Gail Patrick |
as Linda Shaw
as Anne Luther
|Andrea Leeds |
as Kay Hamilton
|Samuel S. Hinds
as Henry Sims
|Lucille Ball |
as Judy Canfield
- Franklin Pangborn as Harcourt, Powell's butler
- William Corson as Bill
- Pierre Watkin as Richard Carmichael
- Grady Sutton as "Butch"
- Frank Reicher as Stage Director
- Jack Carson as Mr. Milbanks, a lumberman from Seattle who takes Jean to dinner
- Phyllis Kennedy as Hattie
- Eve Arden as Eve
- Ann Miller as Annie
- Margaret Early as Mary Lou
- Florence Reed (uncredited)
The writers listened to the young actresses talking and joking off set during rehearsals and incorporated their style of talking into the film. Director Gregory La Cava also allowed the actresses to ad lib during filming. Hepburn's famous lines during the play within the film, "The calla lilies are in bloom again. Such a strange flower, suitable to any occasion. I carried them on my wedding day and now I place them here in memory of something that has died," are from The Lake (1934), the play for which Dorothy Parker panned Hepburn's performance as "running the gamut of emotions from A to B."
The movie has almost nothing to do with the play, except in a few character names, such as Kay Hamilton, Jean Maitland, Terry Randall, Linda Shaw, and Judith Canfield. In the play, Terry Randall is from a rural family whose father is a country doctor, and Jean Maitland is actually a shallow girl who becomes a movie star. Kay Hamilton does commit suicide, but for completely different reasons and not on an opening night.
Stories of life on the stage have always appealed to Hollywood: here success is sensational and meteoric, and failure equally sudden and dramatic. We know the formula by heart, and expect of our entertainment that it shall be rowdy, aggressive, and spectacular, culminating in the rise of the central character to fame in the bright lights of Broadway. Stage Door is rowdy and aggressive, and it does end in success for one of its characters and failure for another, but for all that it is a film of unusual insight and characterization. (...) The dialogue is brilliant, with typical American point and brevity, but nearly always spiteful and cruel, for these girls are the product of a hard environment. Three stand out from among the rest: Miss Katharine Hepburn (...) Miss Ginger Rogers (...) Miss Andrea Leeds.— The Times, “New films in London: Back-stage tragedy”—3 January 1938, p. 10.
Prior to the film, Hepburn's last four movies had flopped commercially. However, as a result of the positive response to her performance in Stage Door, RKO immediately cast Hepburn opposite Cary Grant in the screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby (1938).
After Kay commits suicide, there is a brief shot of her grave as part of the montage of the success of the play, which was once edited out on all TV showings and is not in the original release on VHS and Beta. The shot was restored for the DVD and is now included in TV showings of the restored version.
Stage Door was presented on Philip Morris Playhouse December 5, 1941. The 30-minute adaptation starred Geraldine Fitzgerald. "Stage Door" was presented on Lux Radio Theater. On April 6, 1955, a 60-minute version of the play, written by Gore Vidal, aired on the CBS Television series The Best of Broadway.
- Dooley, Roger, From Scarface to Scarlett: American Films in the Thirties
- The Times digital archive: First advertisement for the film on 31 December 1937 (showing at the Regal), followed by review on 3 January 1938
- Richard Jewel, 'RKO Film Grosses: 1931-1951', Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television, Vol 14 No 1, 1994 p56
- Inspired by the real-life Rehearsal Club, according to Robert Osborne, host of Turner Classic Movies
- "Oscars.org -- Stage Door" Archived 2013-11-20 at Archive.today. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved November 20, 2013.
- "Johnny Presents". Harrisburg Telegraph. December 5, 1941. p. 19. Retrieved July 26, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
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