Lady for a Day (1933): Capra’s Oscar-Nominated Fable, Starring May Robson in Oscar Nominated Performance

In the early 1930s, Frank Capra was not making movies at a major studio–Columbia was a small company, sort of Poverty Row.  All that would change the following year, when Capra’s “It Happened One Night” would sweep most of the 1934 Oscar Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor (Gable) and Best Actress (Claudette Colbert).


Ambitious and determined to elevate his stature, Capra decided to film Damon Runyon’s acclaimed story, “Madame La Gimp,” about a poor street vendor (May Robson), who keeps her daughter happy in her letters by pretending to be a member of the high society.  However, when the young woman decides to visit her rich mom with her aristocratic fiancé in tow, there’s urgent need for deception to hide the truth of her real life. With the aid of her gangster friends, Apple Annie passes herself off as a socialite.


Suitable for the Depression era in which it was made, Capra’s fairy tale “Lady for a Day” has plenty of charm due to the colorful characters that are May Robson’s accomplices.   The lead, Apple Annie, was played by 75-year-old May Robson, an Australian-born stage actress who had mostly played supporting roles in Hollywood—until Capra’s casting. 


“Lady for a Day” was both a commercial and critical success, and Robson was deservedly praised for her performance, which garnered her a Best Actress nomination.


The movie was such a hit that Capra himself was tempted to remake it as “A Pocketful of Miracles,” in 1962, with Bette Davis, Glenn Ford, and Ann-Margret.



Oscar Alert


Oscar Nominations: 4


Best Picture

Director: Frank Capra

Screenplay Adaptation: Robert Riskin

Actress: May Robson


Oscar Awards: None


Oscar Context


“Lady for a Day” competed for the Best Picture Oscar with nine other films: “Cavalcade,” which won, “A Farewell to Arms,” Forty-Second Street,” I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang,” Little Women,” The Private Life of Henry VIII,” “She Done Him Wrong,” “Smiling Through,” and “State Fair.”