It Should Happen to You: Making of George Cukor–Garson Kanin Comedy

George Cukor was hard at work on his next film, “It Should Happen to You,” penned by Garson Kanin, during post-production on “The Actress,” based on the memoirs of Ruth Gordon’s Kanin’s wife-actress. 
 
The project had started at Fox with Garson’s script, “Miss Nobody.” But producer Zanuck somehow “loused it up” with his requests for rewrites. When Zanuck showed willingness to sell the script for $38,000s, Garson prepared a new script, titled “A Name for Herself”  within a matter of weeks.   Cukor began shooting the Columbia picture in New York City on May 5, 1953. 
A raucous comedy, it is the story of Gladys Clover (Judy Holliday), an average woman who, afraid that life is passing her by, grasps at a chance to be somebody. A frustrated actress yearning for celebrity, Gladys spends all of her savings to put her name on a Columbus Circle billboard. She also faces a romantic dilemma, having to choose between Pete (Jack Lemmon), an honest but poor documentary filmmaker, and Evan (Peter Lawford), a rich soap manufacturer.
 
Cukor saw “It Should Happen to You” as a frothy comedy about the hunger for publicity of people who lack real qualifications. Achieving a celebrity status without doing anything, and the power of publicity in making careers, were new topics for the movies at the time. Cukor’s targets in this satire were advertising and the TV talk shows.              
No script submitted to Cukor was ever accepted without demands for revisions.  In this case, Cukor felt that some of the Pete-Gladys sequences were “too discursive and argumentative.” He thus asked for a revision that would have “a definite story progression” and a “fine emotional climax.” Kanin originally wrote the script for Danny Kaye, but with Holliday aboard, he changed it to fit her unique qualities. Fashioned after l930s screwball comedies, the part had the kind of vitality and emotion that Holliday handled better than other comedic actresses.     
Interestingly, Garson had suggested for the lead role Julie Harris, who scored a big success in Member of the Wedding and now had a “picture status.” Over the last year, the Kanins had “gone off” Holliday, perhaps because they have done too much with her. Holliday was becoming less interesting as a performer to them. 
 
On the first day of work, Cukor shot around New York’s Central Park. There was a heat wave in Manhattan, which brought all the mad people out to the Park, making things even more difficult. On the second hot day, Cukor invited the cast up to his suite at the Plaza hotel for lunch.  Suddenly, Holliday breezed in. “I have to take a cold bath,” she announced, which she did with her hat and makeup on.            
There was no envy in Cukor’s heart that the Kanins were vacationing in France. He was delighted that they were living it up in such luxury. “I’m not bitter (pronounced bidda),” Cukor wrote, “that you cooked up some ridiculous episodes in the script, that you caused me to spend three days–at a temperature of 99–shooting a ridiculous white Jaguar going around Columbus Circle.”
 
Holliday played her earlier scenes marvelously, perfecting her dumb type with shrewdness and determination. The scene in which she just drives around Columbus Circle, infatuated with her billboard, was at once funny and chilling. 
 
After Gladys becomes famous, she’s invited to appear on a TV show with other celebrities. Cukor cast the scene with his old friends, Constance Bennett and Ilka Chase. He noticed that guests on these shows talk a lot but say nothing; he thus satirized their fatuous “personality.” The guests pretend to be very original, but they’re really just interested in putting themselves across. He hated with passion TV shows in which everything was false, especially the atmosphere of fake friendship. 
 
Cukor’s real discovery in “It Should Happen to You” was Jack Lemmon. Though he had some experience in television, this was Lemmon’s first chance at a movie. A novice, Lemmon was not easy to work with. After each reading, Cukor would say, “Jack, give less, much less.” Exasperated, Lemmon finally screamed, “Don’t you want me to act at all?” “Dear boy,” said Cukor, “you’re beginning to understand the essence of film acting.” This was one of Cukor’s trademarks, making a scene seem spontaneous and improvised. The scene when Gladys and Pete are talking between snatches of playing the piano and singing, seemed spontaneous but was well rehearsed. As usual, Cukor watched for all the little things his actors were doing naturally, trying to catch them when they behaved instinctively.  For him, the most delightful moments were those he got unexpectedly from his actors.       
 
When Evans is trying to seduce Gladys, he chases her around the room. He gets her on the couch and starts nuzzling her neck erotically, as if he were taking her clothes off. Evans takes one of her earrings off and nuzzles her ear. She picks up the earring and tries to escape. He chases her again, and she ends up on the couch, in the same position, with the earring back on. “May I help on this?” a property man said during shooting. “Please do,” Cukor said. “Let her take the earring off herself,” he suggested, “so he can nuzzle her ear.” Cukor saw that it made a terribly funny moment.
 
Later in the scene, Gladys pours a glass of champagne down Evans’s neck. Peter Lawford had only four clean shirts, which meant they could shoot only four takes. Holliday did it once, but it was a tricky shot for the cameraman and he didn’t get it. Holliday then told Cukor that in the next take, she was going to laugh. “If you do,” said Cukor, “I’ll kill you.” Holliday didn’t laugh, but she giggled. Cukor had to admit it was great and keep the scene as is.
 
Cukor enjoyed working with Lemmon, but did not get along with Peter Lawford. He had wanted a more accomplished actor, an American Rex Harrison, for the part. Lawford knew that Cukor didn’t want him, and he also disagreed with Cukor’s direction. 
Producer Sam Marx once invited Cukor to visit the set of The Thin Man, a TV series starring Lawford. There were some problems with the main characters of Nick and Nora, and he thought Cukor might be of help. Besides, Cukor was interested in observing the new medium of TV, of which he knew little. It never occurred to Marx that anybody would mind Cukor’s visit. But to his surprise, Lawford was against it. As soon as Cukor walked in, the actor walked off, taking the TV director with him. Lawford simply refused to face Cukor; Marx never spoke to the actor again.
 
Despite the strained relationship with Lawford, there were many funny moments on the set. The script satirized every glamour bath that has ever been seen in a movie. The shooting of the bathing scene involved 34 men, with Holliday up to her dimpled chin in bubbles. One prop man poured soap flakes into the tub, and another whipped up a mountainous froth of suds with an electric mixer. “It is quite a commotion just to get one girl bathed,” Cukor said, “This is taking on the appearance of a mob scene from Quo Vadis, and we intend to prove the ancient Romans were pikers when it came to bathing.” After several takes, Holliday began to tire, but Cukor said, “We’ll do it again, Judy, but this time try to give that bar of soap a more raphsodic look. Gaze at it as though it is a necklace from Cartier’s.” “All right,” said Holliday, “but I hope this take does it. I want to get out of here and take a nice clean shower!”
 
There were problems with the ending. In the original script, Pete and Gladys stop at a motel and Pete pointed at a sign out the window, which reads, “Mr. and Mrs. Pete Sheppard.” But the studio
came up with another ending, which Garson knew nothing about until some mimeographed pages were delivered to him, where Judy looks up and sees an empty sign. Kanin allowed that neither of his finishes was perfect, but either was better than the studio’s stale ending.
 
The Kanins begged Cohn to listen to his own showman’s instincts, because the ending could mean the difference between a hit and a failure. At this point, Cukor did not have the strength for another fight; he had simply come to the end of his energies. But the last scene struck him as dangerously tepidwhen he saw the preview. Cukor cabled after the first preview, that the ending was “lame,” but Cohn reported that the first three previews indicated that audiences were moved by it. 
 
Cohn didn’t mind shooting a new ending, but he didn’t think it would help the picture. Kanin soon realized they had lost the battle. He read Cukor’s letter through amist of tears caused, not by hurt or frustration, but by the heartless and brainless injustice: “That a Johnny-come-lately can step in and take charge, vetoing and overriding,” was appalling to him. 
 
In November, the film’s title was changed in a sneaky wayby the studio, behind Cukor’s back. Cukor got the information third-hand from the cutter. Protesting to Jerry Wald that he was the last to know, Cukor was beginning to get accustomed to being double-crossed and treated badly by Columbia. He vowed that he and Columbia would have to get along without each other in the future.
 
Released on January 15, l954, Garson thought that, overall, It Should Happen to You was their best collaboration. Lemmon was all Cukor said he would be, though Holliday was just Holliday. Cukor couldn’t help thinking how much better Holliday would have been were she more disciplined and less apathetic.
 
“It Should Happen to You” was the last picture Cukor made with the Kanins. While the professional association ended, their friendship continued for another 20 years, until their falling out, caused by the publication of Kanin’s Tracy and Hepburn.