It’s fortuitous that just last week I was introduced to this 1954 film. Many people turned to A Face in the Crowd, the 1957 drama starring Andy Griffith in the face of Trump’s inauguration. The film I want to discuss today was made a few years earlier and is considerably less dark, but deals with similar subject matter. It questions what fame is and why society values it, all while Judy Holliday cracks us up.
It Should Happen to You follows Gladys Glover (Judy Holliday), a young woman who’s close to broke and living in the big apple. On a walk, she meets a young photographer, Pete Sheppard (Jack Lemmon) and they start a’courtin’. Later, on her walk, she notices an empty billboard and decides to take what little funds she has to rent it. What, you may ask, does she advertise? Herself, of course! Enter a mega advertising firm and Evan Adams III (Peter Lawford), who will do anything to get the billboard away from her, including leasing several other billboards to Gladys. Pretty soon, Gladys’s name is everywhere and people think, Well, she must be someone if she has her name on a billboard. Her fame soon rises and she secures endorsements…all while Pete just wants to marry her. But, of course, Gladys is oblivious. Obvi, drama ensues because OF COURSE IT DOES.
Here are just a few reasons why It Should Happen to You is still relevant:
IMHO, the Casting!
For real, guys. Casting counts for so much, but especially in this film. I’d seen a few of Judy Holliday’s other films, like Born Yesterday and Bells are Ringing!, but I don’t think I really appreciated her until I saw her in this. While she can easily be discounted as a ditzy blonde in the vain of Marilyn Monroe, Holliday was really special. For one, she looked like a real person, which especially in this day and age, I appreciate. Our present movie stars all look like models and as such, there’s sometimes a difficulty in really relating to them.
She had real talent too, in singing and dancing. She was, after all, a broadway star. In this film though, I felt like she really had a chance to shine as an actress. The film is first and foremost a comedy, but she switches from comedy to drama easily, and makes the heavier moments lighter with her ditzy, hilarious charm.
Jack Lemmon was just 29 in this film and it marked his film debut. And let me just say, he was dreamy even then…maybe I should say, especially then! His Lemmon schtick wasn’t completely set in stone yet. You can tell he’s still figuring it out…but he is so appealing, so effortlessly funny, you can’t but fall in love with him. It would be six years till he starred in one of my favorite films of all time, The Apartment.
Although Holliday had just given birth to her son a few months before shooting the film, it’s well known that she and Peter Lawford had an affair on the film. Their love scenes certainly do have a certain chemistry, but I have to say, I’ll aways be team Lemmon!
The Script Tho…
Garson Kanin penned the script and looking at his filmography, it almost looks like he was Miss Holliday’s personal screenwriter. He also wrote the screenplay for The Marrying Kind and Born Yesterday. He was also big in the Tracy-Hepburn films. Suffice it to say, he knew how to write a great screwball comedy.
The subject matter for this story wasn’t based on anything or anyone specific, but focuses on something even more relevant today than it was then: celebrity. We all grow up, putting people who are in the public eye on a pedestal. They’re famous, so they must be special, right? That’s what Gladys thinks too. Her yearning for fame has less to do with what fame actually is and more with a longing to be special, to belong. She learns in her journey that fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
In the TCM article for the film, Jeff Stafford, quotes the director of this film, George Cukor as saying:
“The idea of becoming a great celebrity without being able to do anything is a very important notion,” Cukor stated in an interview with author Gavin Lambert. “Publicity can really do it, too. Today it makes Presidents. It’s really the name of the game.”
It’s difficult to read that statement and realize that that has never been more true. Jack Lemmon’s character routinely tells Gladys that fame is nothing if the real person behind it stands for nothing. I’ll just let that sit with you for a moment. *Cough* Trump *Cough*
I mean, George Cukor is just a legend. He directed too many classics to name, but my favorites are My Fair Lady, Gone with the Wind (where he was one of many directors) and The Philadelphia Story. He knew a thing or two about romance and comedy…
The gowns ❤ ❤ ❤
Jean Louis was a PROLIFIC costume designer and his gowns in this film are the epitome of 1950’s style! Incidentally, costume design was the only category the film received an Oscar nomination for.
The SNAP of the Dialogue
As a writer, I obvi appreciate wit and this one delivers the wit tenfold. Judy Holliday delivers them zingers well!
It’s hilarious, romantic, and most importantly, thought provoking!
Celebrity is a huge currency in our society, especially now that the internet has given rise to social media influencers. Last week, the U.S. inaugurated a president who’s famous because of his money. He hasn’t done anything worthy of our recognition. He’s rude and uncouth. His qualifications to be president are zilch.
In a way, we as a society, gave ourselves Trump because we view celebrities as special and worthy of our attention. We give celebrity status to people who shouldn’t have it. This film may not be profound, but it’s a nice reminder that fame for the sake of fame, to quote Jack Lemmon’s character, Pete, means nothing.
Vintage trailer below:
Gifs and photos property of Columbia Pictures/Sony.