The play is based on playwright & movie director Garson Kanin’s script about a decidedly dumb blond who is taken by her corrupt boyfriend to Washington to help secure underhand deals with her feminine attractions. But her clumsy ways necessitate that she be taught in civic mannerisms by a reporter, during the course of which she understands about her boyfriend’s true nature & retaliates. Born Yesterday
has, at its core, the romance of corrupt & morally decayed tycoon Harry Brock with former chorus girl Billie Dawn. The relationship has lasted nine years & Brock takes along Dawn to Washington to enlist her help in getting some deals done. At once, Dawn is pampered & caught in ecstasy by the posh life, prowling around her hotel suites, & doing exactly as her boyfriend desires. She helps tilt the hand of a few powerful men that need persuasion to complete Brock’s deals, & he is on the verge of a corrupt bumper agreement with senator Norval Hedges. But her uncouth unrefined mannerisms disturb Brock, who wants his naïve mistress to carry herself around with more authority to complement his self-styled Washington bigwig image. No-nonsense reporter Paul Verrall is hired by Brock to help teach her about American high gentry civic ethics, & under his tutelage, Dawn starts increasing her vocabulary & grasp on things. However, her increased knowledge opens her eyes to Brock’s nature & how she is being used to gain leverage. Dawn then decides to take things into her own hands, although she faces stubborn resistance from Brock’s fraudulent lawyer Ed Devery & his henchman, Cousin Eddie. Her growth in conscience & authority is overseen by Verrall, with whom she falls in love. Brock, meanwhile, is unaware of her newfound audacity & intelligence and takes his lawyer’s advice of signing over many assets to Dawn in order to hide them from the government. When he demands their return, he is met by a transformed Dawn. She is in a position to bargain her release from his dominance under her conditions. After escape, she pledges to return his property piece by piece provided she is left alone.
The original play hit Broadway’s Lyceum Theater in February 1946 for its premier. In post-war times, the relevance of the topic was solid, & Garson Kanin directed the play as well as being its writer. Kanin has a number of Hollywood ventures under his belt, including the hit film Adam’s Rib,
before venturing into Broadway for Born Yesterday
& The Diary of Anne Frank
. Judy Holliday starred as Billie Dawn, with Paul Douglas playing the brute Brock.
The original 1946 play was uproariously successful, winning Douglas a Clarence Derwent Award for most promising male. The show kept running till 1950, when the movie adaptation came out. Holliday reprised her role, & her charming naiveté even earned her an Oscar for Best Actress. The film was directed by George Cukor, with Kanin contributing to screenplay. Holliday’s squawky laughter was instrumental in earning it 24th
place on AFI’s list of best comedy films ever. After a sizeable gap, 1989 saw the revival emerge strongly, with Madeline Kahn grabbing a Tony nomination with her role as Dawn. The latest revival opened in April to great reviews of Nina Arianda’s lead performance, which earned her a Tony nomination, along with costume designer Catherine Zuber. Jim Belushi & Robert Sean Leonard’s return from television to stage is commendable.
Born Yesterday tickets
have got fans excited all over again. With lead characters molding into their roles with consummate ease, it is easy to see why Born Yesterday
functions so smoothly in all its quirky moments.