It Should Happen to You: Starring (Difficult and Overweight) Judy Holliday

George Cukor was hard at work on his next film, “It Should Happen to You,” during post-production on The Actress. The project had started at Fox with Garson Kanin’s script, “Miss Nobody.” But Zanuck somehow “loused it up” with his requests for rewrites. When Zanuck showed willingness to sell the script for only $38,000, Garson prepared a new script, titled A Name for Herself, within a matter of weeks.
 
Cukor began shooting the Columbia picture in New York on May 5, 1953. A raucous comedy, it is the story of Gladys Clover, played by 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 perceived “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. 
 
Judy Holliday was suffering from a weight problem, which became known as the “Fatso” or “FA” (Fat Ass) operation. Cukor had a candid talk with Holliday’s friends, Adolph Green and Betty Camden, who told him that she had a habit of indulging herself over a period of time and then absolutely starving herself to lose weight. Garson resented talking about Judy as if she was some magical creature like Garbo. Garbo was “irreplaceable,” but Judy, a good comedienne when she has a good part, was “highly replaceable.” 
 
When Holliday tipped the scales to a 160 pounds, Cukor sent her a wire with a none too subtle message: “This is a delightfully light script–I hope you are too.” The latest scoop on “Operation FA,” in response to Cukor’s wire, was Holliday’s confidence that she could get herself down to the required weight. Cukor told Harry Cohn not to pussy-foot around with Holliday–a good scare should help her. Cukor even advised Cohn to threaten cancellation; it was “unconscionable” of Holliday to let herself go in this way. 
 
Cukor was therefore glad to report that, according to his April 7 bulletin, Holliday has lost four pounds. Thus started a count down of Holliday’s weight on a daily basis. On April 16, the good news from the “Fatso Department” was that Holliday had lost another 7 pounds and was now down to 146 pounds.
 
Cukor felt uncomfortable about burdening the Kanins with silly complaints and bellyaches of his actresses’ problems. But he remembered not too fondly “a few ticklish passages” during Marrying Kind, when he had to reassure the insecure Holliday of how great she was. This time, the increasingly impatient Cukor was determined not to go into a similar “song and dance”; he was too old for that.
 
The troubles with Holliday’s size filled Garson with anger and bitterness. The whole project was halted, because of what Garson called a “big slob who eats too much and has got too large a posterior.” Garson believed that something startling must happen to wake Holliday up; she was just “too apathetic and undisciplined,” and she bit her fingernails, which ought to be a tip-off for anybody. Garson didn’t care if the picture was made with someone else–it might do Holliday good to lose the part. He now completely sympathized with George Kaufman’s great line about actors, “When they get too trying, I tell them to try somewhere else.”
 
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. 
 
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, 1954, Garson Kanin thought that, overall, It Should Happen to You was their best collaboration. Jack Lemmon, in his big debut, was all Cukor said he would be, though for them, Judy Holliday was just Judy Holliday—the same. Cukor couldn’t help thinking how much better Judy Holliday would have been were she more disciplined and less apathetic.