The Relevance of Judy Holliday and ‘It Should Happen to You’

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 endorsementsall while Pete just wants to marry her. But, of course, Gladys is oblivious. Obvi, drama ensues because OF COURSE IT DOES.

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THAT LAWFORD THO.

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.

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I wish people still wore hats. I think I have FOMO about the 50’s…

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.

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I love that eyebrow lift! ❤ ❤ ❤

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!

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Easy on the eyes though, no?

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*

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We’ve all had that dream…though hopefully we’ve grown out of it.

The Director

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…

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Case in point: THIS SCENE.

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.

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I NEED this outfit. 

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!

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GOLD. 

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.

 

An Introduction to Deanna Durbin AKA Judy Garland’s preteen singing nemesis

Maybe about a year ago, I was introduced to Deanna Durbin. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, that’s understandable. She’s pretty well forgotten. However, in her day, she was one of the highest paid actresses and her popularity actually saved Universal from bankruptcy.

When she was discovered at thirteen, her name was Edna and she was in competition with a young Judy Garland at MGM. They were both great singers and were thought to be answers to the Shirley Temple problem. They made a short subject film together called Every Sunday where they were put side by side and tested. I think they’re both great, but that’s just me!

According to legend, MGM Studio head Louis B. Mayer watched the film and nixed “the fat one.” He apparently meant Garland, but Durbin was the one who lost her contract. Shortly after, she was picked up by Universal and made a string of light musical comedies. The major difference between Durbin and Garland’s career was that Garland was allowed to transition to adult roles while Durbin was kept in juvenile territory.

Still, I was amazed by Durbin’s quiet beauty, her comedic chops and her astoundingly beautiful operatic voice. Though she retired from film at the age of 27, she left a mark on moviegoers and deserves to be remembered.

With that in mind, here are her best performances and films IMHO:

Three Smart Girls (1936)

This film was Durbin’s feature film debut. She was just 15 years old. Directed by Henry Koster and written by Adele Comandini, the film follows three sisters, one of which is played by Durbin who scheme to reunite their divorced parents so their father won’t marry a gold-digger. Sound familiar? Three Smart Girls was remade in the 60’s…a little film called The Parent Trap.

With co-stars Ray Milland, Charles Winniger, and Barbara Read, Three Smart Girls is a fun lighthearted musical and it gave Durbin her first chance to shine.

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Girls will be girls…haha

First Love (1939)

Any Cinderella fans out there will get a kick out of First Love. In this modern re-telling, Durbin plays Constance Harding, an orphan who finishes up school and goes to live with her wealthy uncle (Eugene Pallette) and his family. She even has an evil step-sister to boot, played by Helen Parrish.

The film is often noted for having Deanna’s first on-screen kiss, her beau being played by a twenty year old Robert Stack. Though certainly flawed, this film is one of her best. It’s fun and sweet and has some wonderful songs!

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What a FIRST KISS! #HerDressThough

It’s A Date (1940)

In this one, made just after First Love, Durbin plays Pamela Drake, a young, aspiring actress with a famous actress mother, played by Kay Francis. She gets offered the lead role in a new play only to realize that her mother is competing for the same role. On a boat, she meets John Arlen (Walter Pidgeon), a much older man who she believes is vying for her affection. Pamela soon realizes she may be competing with her mother romantically as well as professionally.

Story-wise, parts of this just don’t work for me, but despite its flaws, it has some wonderful scenes of screwball comedy antics and a great finish where Durbin sings Ave Maria.

It Started With Eve (1941)

This film has a great premise. It follows Anne Terry (Durbin), a hat check girl who is asked to pose as a man’s (Robert Cumming) fiancee because his father (Charles Laughton) is dying. Only problem is after Durbin meets Cumming’s father. He doesn’t die. No great moment to tell your loved one, “Uh, sorry. Just kidding, not my real fiancee. Just thought you were dying, so, uh…” There’s no way for that not to be awkward.

This was the first of Durbin’s films that I saw and it is thought by many to be her best. It is my personal favorite. I feel like it accomplishes telling a coherent story while including the screwball comedy antics and Durbin’s lovely voice! Her chemistry with Robert Cummings doesn’t hurt either!

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I kinda wish hats were still a thing. Just me?

Christmas Holiday (1944)

It’s hard to encapsulate this one. It’s unlike any of her other films. Though her co-star is the lovely musical Gene Kelly and the title sounds like a Hallmark/Lifetime Christmas special, Christmas Holiday is a fairly bleak film noir. Durbin was 23 when she made this film and finally gained script approval, a right she used to graduate to more adult roles.

Christmas Holiday follows Jackie Lamont (Durbin), a singing prostitute (they never say it outright, but that’s what she is) who meets a young lieutenant (Dean Harens). They find solace in one another, telling their tales of how they got to be where they are. Jackie recounts finding out her husband, Robert Manette (Gene Kelly) murdered a girl and explains that even so, she still loves him. It is truly Gene Kelly as you’ve never seen him before. He’s a far cry from Don Lockwood in Singin’ in the Rain.

Though it’s a truly strange film, Durbin proves that she has more than just an amazing voice. And the cinematography is on point!

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The black and white is GORGEOUS!

She was gorgeous, a singing prodigy, and a fantastic actress!

It’s so easy to play the “if/then” game, but I truly believe if Durbin’s talents had really been recognized and utilized, she could’ve become a star on the same level as Judy Garland. But she was different than Garland in many ways – she seemed to have a good head on her shoulders and chose a happy, quiet life over the chaos and absurdity that is Hollywood.

The magic of movies is that we can still appreciate her despite the fact that she stopped acting at 27 and passed away in 2013. I discovered her only recently and for those who, like me, enjoy films of the musical and screwball comedy persuasion, get ready for your new obsession!

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A New Year Ensemble to be proud of. Anyone know where I can get those hair star pins? P&T!

Happy watching!

Gifs and photos property of Universal Pictures.