AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Born Yesterday
Director: George Cukor (Dir)
Release Date:   Feb 1951
Premiere Information:   New York premiere: 25 Dec 1950
Production Date:   15 Jun--12 Aug 1950
Duration (in mins):   102 or 104
Duration (in feet):   9,283
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Cast:   Judy Holliday (Billie Dawn)  
    Broderick Crawford (Harry Brock)  
    William Holden (Paul Verrall)  
    Howard St. John (Jim Devery)  
    Frank Otto (Eddie)  
    Larry Oliver (Norval Hedges)  
    Barbara Brown (Mrs. Hedges)  
    Grandon Rhodes (Sanborn)  
    Claire Carleton (Helen)  
    Smoki Whitfield (Bootblack)  
    Helyn Eby Rock (Manicurist)  
    William Mays (Bellboy)  
    David Pardoll (Barber)  
    Mike Mahoney (Elevator operator)  
    Paul Marion (Interpreter)  
    Charles Cane (Policeman)  
    Bhogwan Singh    

Summary: Wealthy, crooked junk dealer Harry Brock arrives in Washington, D.C. with his brassy mistress, former Brooklyn showgirl Billie Dawn, and checks into a lavish hotel suite. Although he himself is crude and pushy, Billie's unrefined behavior embarrasses Harry during a meeting with Congressman Norval Hedges and his wife, and although he does love her, he considers breaking off their relationship until his lawyer, the alcoholic Jim Devery, reminds him that for tax purposes, he put his business holdings in Billie's name. Jim suggests that Harry hire someone to smooth Billie's rough edges and then marry her, because a wife cannot testify against her husband. Harry offers the job to reporter Paul Verrall, who earlier attempted to interview him. Paul readily accepts, both because he is attracted to Billie and because he hopes to discover something about Harry's operations. Later, Paul delivers some books to Billie, instructing her to circle everything that she does not understand and look up the words in the dictionary. The following day, Paul takes Billie on a tour of the capital. Billie is excited by her lessons in U.S. history, and her simple, honest enthusiasm impresses Paul. Paul's advice helps Billie to reconcile with her father, who does not approve of her relationship with Harry. Paul's disdain for Harry causes Billie to raise questions about Harry's business dealings. One day, after eavesdropping on Harry's conversation with Jim and Hedges, Billie, who with Paul's encouragement has started to express herself, asks Hedges why he puts up with Harry's bullying and points out that Harry was never elected to a position of power. Then, when Jim asks Billie to sign some papers, she refuses to do so without first reading them. This so angers Harry that he hits her, and an hysterical Billie leaves the apartment. She contacts Paul, and the following day, believing Harry to be out, the two of them search Harry's room for the papers. Harry is home waiting, however, and while Billie distracts him, Paul takes the papers. Later, Harry proposes to Billie, who turns him down, explaining that she is leaving him in search of a different life. When Billie reveals that Paul has taken Harry's papers and plans to expose his nefarious dealings, Harry offers Paul money to return them. Paul is uninterested, however, and Billie offers to sign back one company a year to Harry as long as he behaves himself. Finally, Billie and Paul, who have each grown more like the other, get married. 

Production Company: Columbia Pictures Corp.  
Distribution Company: Columbia Pictures Corp.  
Director: George Cukor (Dir)
  David Pardoll (Dial supv)
  Earl Bellamy (Asst dir)
Producer: S. Sylvan Simon (Prod)
Writer: Albert Mannheimer (Scr)
Photography: Joseph Walker (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Harry Horner (Prod des)
Film Editor: Charles Nelson (Film ed)
Set Decoration: William Kiernan (Set dec)
Costumes: Jean Louis (Gowns)
Music: Morris Stoloff (Mus dir)
  Frederick Hollander (Mus score)
Sound: Jack Goodrich (Sd eng)
Make Up: Clay Campbell (Makeup)
  Helen Hunt (Hair styles)
Country: United States
Language: English

Source Text: Based on the play Born Yesterday by Garson Kanin, as produced on the stage by Max Gordon (New York, 4 Feb 1946).
Authors: Max Gordon
  Garson Kanin

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Columbia Pictures Corp. 30/1/1951 dd/mm/yyyy LP644

PCA NO: 14779
Physical Properties: Sd: Western Electric Recording
  b&w:

 
Genre: Comedy-drama
 
Subjects (Major): Class distinction
  Education
  Political corruption
  Reporters
  Romance
  Transformation
  Washington (D.C.)
 
Subjects (Minor): Alcoholics
  Battered women
  Cards
  Eavesdropping
  Fathers and daughters
  Hotels
  Junk trade and junkyards
  Lawyers
  Mistresses
  Tutors and tutoring
  United States--History
  United States. Congress

Note: According to a HR news item, Judy Holliday initially refused to reprise her popular Broadway role for this film. In Sep 1947, a HR news item announced that Rita Hayworth would star in the film. A late Apr 1949 HR news item 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. A 16 Oct 1947 HR news item stated that Columbia was negotiating with Paul Douglas to reprise his Broadway role. According to modern sources, Garson Kanin convinced Columbia studio head Harry Cohn to cast Holliday by first writing with his wife, Ruth Gordon, a part in the 1949 M-G-M film Adam's Rib particularly for her. Her performance in Adam's Rib garnered her critical acclaim and convinced Cohn of her comedic abilities. One scene which was singled out for praise by contemporary and modern critics involved a gin rummy game between "Billie" and "Harry" in which Billie quickly wins, despite enthusiastically humming the song "I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby" and constantly rearranging her hand. In another popular scene, when Harry tries to impress Billie with his knowledge and her ignorance of words, he asks her to define "peninsula," and she retorts by calling it "the new wonder drug."
       Larry Oliver and Frank Otto also reprised their Broadway roles. A 20 Sep 1950 article in LADN reported that before filming began, the cast perfected their comic timing during six performances in front of live audiences of studio employees. Although CBCS credits John L. Morley and Ram Singh as "Natives," no natives appeared in the viewed print. Exterior scenes were shot on location in Washington, D.C.
       On 1 Dec 1950, William H. Mooring, motion picture editor of the Catholic newspaper Tidings and syndicated columnist for numerous Catholic papers, labeled the film "clever film satire strictly from [Karl] Marx." His accusations were countered by, among others, conservative columnist Louella Parsons, reviewer William R. Weaver of MPH and Kenneth Clark of the MPPA, who stated "we feel very deeply and sincerely the picture gives warmth and positive support to the democratic ideals, principles and institutions of America." On 26 Mar 1951, HR reported that the film was picketed by the Anti-Communist Committee of the Catholic War Veterans because Holliday and Kanin were affiliated with organizations on the Attorney-General's list of subversive groups. Holliday won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of "Billie Dawn." The film also received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Costume Design (black and white). Kanin's play also served as the basis for the 1992 film Born Yesterday , directed by Luis Mandoki, and starring Melanie Griffith, John Goodman and Don Johnson. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   25 Nov 1950.   
Film Daily   20 Nov 50   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   15 Sep 1947.   
Hollywood Reporter   16 Oct 47   p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter   29 Apr 49   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Nov 49   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   28 Jul 50   p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter   17 Nov 50   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   27 Nov 50   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   26 Mar 1951.   
Los Angeles Daily News   20 Sep 1950.   
Motion Picture Herald   9 Dec 1950.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   25 Nov 50   pp. 590-91.
New York Times   10 Dec 1950.   
New York Times   27 Dec 50   p. 30.
Tidings   1 Dec 1950.   
Variety   17 Nov 50   p. 8.
Variety   6 Dec 1950.   

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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