Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Girl Week 2020: Stage Door, a guest post by Joel

Welcome to Day 3 of Girl Week 2020. 

One of the traditions of this blogathon, and others I run on this site, is having a major contribution from the super-reader Joel. He's been reading and commenting on my blog, and possibly yours, for years. It's only right that I show my gratitude by giving him a space to participate when he feels so inclined. Besides, I need somebody to class up the joint. I'll shut up now and turn it over to Joel.

Stage Door

Directed by Gregory La Cava.
1937. Not Rated, 92 minutes.
Cast: Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Adolphe Menjou, Gail Patrick, Andrea Leeds, Constance Collier, Samuel S. Hinds, Lucille Ball, Eve Arden. 

At the Footlights Club, a New York rooming house for aspiring actresses, rich girl Terry Randall (Katharine Hepburn) arrives with a flock of luggage, a superior attitude and a determination to find out if she can make it on Broadway.

Paired with the cynically flippant Jean Maitland (Ginger Rogers) as roommates things get off to a rocky start when Jean assumes that Terry’s comfortable position comes from being kept by the “Grandfather” whose picture Terry puts out. In fact Terry is actually Terry Sims, a wealthy dilettante whose Midwest father Henry (Samuel S. Hinds) disapproves of what he sees as his daughter’s flight of fancy. But he has allowed her to pursue her desire hoping she will fall on her face and sensibly return home.

Though the other girls don’t know her true identity her other affectations do not endear her to these other young women who are actually struggling to get by and desperate for any kind of break. Initially receiving the deep freeze from the other denizens, including wisecrackers Eve (Eve Arden) and Judy (Lucille Ball), aspiring dancer Annie (a 14 year old Ann Miller-though she doesn’t look it), the once promising Kay (Andrea Leeds-who was Oscar nominated) who is now back pounding the pavement and actual kept woman Linda Shaw (Gail Patrick), Terry is taken under the wing of Anne Luther (Constance Collier) an older resident who has been reduced to coaching to get by.

Linda’s sugar daddy is a Broadway impresario named Anthony Powell (Adolphe Menjou) who happens to be producing the hottest and most anticipated upcoming show of the season “Enchanted April”. Kay, who since her earlier success hasn’t been able to get cast anywhere even though all the other girls consider her the best actress among them and near the end of both her money and her wits fervently believes that the lead role MUST be hers and has been tirelessly working to get in to see Powell whose previous play she had had such a triumph in.

On the day she finally is scheduled for an audition Powell cancels on her at the last minute (he’s getting a haircut!) and a distraught Kay faints in his outer office. Terry, Judy and Eve happen to be there as well and Terry full of righteous indignation storms into Powell’s office and rips into him for playing with people’s lives. Flummoxed but impressed Powell invites Terry to his penthouse for dinner.

Meanwhile Powell’s wandering eye has alighted on Jean who at first gives him the air. But once he surreptitiously arranges for Annie and she to be hired to perform their dance act in a nightclub he partially owns she softens, at first to goad Linda whom she barely tolerates but eventually starts falling for him.

When Terry arrives at the penthouse Powell tries to put the moves on her offering the usual line about how his wife doesn’t understand him and his son is away in military school. The thing is though that the boy in the picture he claims as his son is the same one used in the brochure for the military school Terry’s brother had attended and she recognizes his “wife” as a model for a face powder! Caught out he good-naturedly backs off and offers her the lead in Enchanted April. Unexpectedly Jean arrives and Terry, who despite their squabbling has come to really like Jean, pretends to be in a compromising position to expose Powell to Jean for the cad that he is. It works but the nascent friendship they had started to have is iced.

Back at the Footlights Club things have been easing between Terry and the other girls who find a grudging respect for the way she stood up for Kay but things go awry again when during a surprise birthday party for Kay Anne Luther pops in with the announcement that Terry has scored the lead in the play Kay had pinned her hopes on. Devastated and bereft, though not at Terry (who unknown to all but the landlady has been paying Kay’s board) who didn’t know she was also pursing the role, Kay suffers a nervous collapse.

Once rehearsals begin Terry, who believes acting is all common sense, is a disaster waiting to happen-stiff as a border and argumentative. Powell is getting ready to fire her when a representative of her father shows up and offers to fully back the play if he doesn’t since Daddy sees this as his chance to get Terry back home when she flops. Powell, unaware of these machinations, accepts and tries to shape Terry’s performance and rescue what he now sees as a sinking ship.

On opening night a fragile Kay offers Terry, who is a nervous wreck, some gentle advice on how to make the part she wanted so desperately more real and Terry with an appreciative hug leaves for the theatre. Kay left to her own devices makes a tragic decision which colors the rest of the narrative and ultimately brings all the women together into a tight unit of friends.

Based on a Broadway hit written by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman that had starred Margaret Sullavan in Kate Hepburn’s role this adaptation changed so much of the original story that Kaufman cracked that it should have been renamed “Screen Door”!

With its majority of female cast members it seems a bit odd that its director and writers were all male. But writers Morris Ryskind and Anthony Veiller (both Oscar nominated for their screenplay) listened to the women as they sat around talking during rehearsals and incorporated much of their style into their various roles. Director Gregory La Cava (likewise nominated) also let the women adlib many of their lines if the original didn’t feel right leading to a pretty harmonious set and a picture that is a good representation of the power of friendship and support.

Not totally without conflict though. Hepburn and Rogers were the queens of the RKO lot during the filming and there was tension between them. Ginger admired Kate but found her snippy (surely not helped by Hepburn waiting with water balloons in a producer’s office for Rogers to emerge below wearing a mink coat and dropping them on her head!) and Kate thinking Ginger common. Hepburn is the one who quipped about Rogers’s famous partnership with Fred Astaire-“He gives her class…she gives him sex appeal.”

Speaking of famous lines Stage Door is also the place where Hepburn says her infamous line "The calla lilies are in bloom again.”, which has been much imitated over the years. The line had originated in Hepburn’s disastrous first return to Broadway “The Lake” from a few years previous to the production of this film. In 1934 with her newfound screen stardom she was sure she was unconquerable and had stormed the boards in the play that turned out to be an immense flop and where she gave a performance that Dorothy Parker said "ran the gamut of emotions from A to B.” Chastened Kate returned to Hollywood until career problems (she was labeled Box Office Poison) lead her to return to Broadway years later in the much more successful “The Philadelphia Story” which reinvigorated her career for good this time.

A gateway picture for all concerned, aside from being a success for it’s two main stars it helped push Lucille Ball, Eve Arden and Ann Miller to a degree of prominence and notice none had before, moving Lucy into B leading lady roles (it would be years of struggle though before she exploded into TV superstardom), Ann into second feature musicals (before her eventual move to MGM and fame as a tap dancing marvel) and Eve into being one of the premier supporting actresses in the business (and an eventual Oscar nomination for Mildred Pierce). Supporting actress nominee Andrea Leeds seemed on the cusp of major stardom but after a few years of success she married into a horse breeding family from the East (her father-in-law owned Seabiscuit) and retired to a happy family life.

Check out yesterday's entries in Girl Week 2020:


  1. Great post, Joel! I really want to see this movie (which I think I've mentioned before) I'll have to keep an eye out for it.

  2. This looks so great Dell! Thanks for dressing it up for me. Love, love, LOVE the picture of Ginger and Gail Patrick as Jean and Linda shooting daggers at each other. It's exactly how they felt about each other in the film.

    Sorry I couldn't offer a bit more this time out but when my old computer decided to lose the others I had planned I just didn't have time to pull them together again. :-(

    But this one was such a perfect match for Girl Week and such a good film I couldn't let it slip by! It really wrote itself, and had the advantage of lots of backstage anecdotes to spice it up. I'll be more prepared next year (I'll save my docs in two places instead of one!)

    Thanks as always for letting me participate.

    1. Thanks! I take my cues from your writing, so my job's easy.

      No worries. I'm grateful for anything you're able to contribute.

      Looking forward to next year, already!

  3. Joel, I love this film and I only saw it. Couple of years ago! Katherine Hepburn really did need a kick in the ass eh? LOL. It is well acted all the way around and it showcases all the actresses so well. I really love this film.

    1. So glad to find another lover of this film Birgit! I figured you would be a fan, it is a great collection of actresses in a good well-directed story with situations that haven't dated. I've read the play this was based on and Kaufmann was right the writers did basically reinvent it but I think they improved on the original.