How Katharine Hepburn Helped Get Judy Holliday Her Oscar-Winning BORN YESTERDAY Role

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Even though Judy Holliday played the role of former chorus girl Billie Dawn in the stage version of BORN YESTERDAY for three years, she was not the first choice for the role in the film! Harry Cohn, who was the production chief at Columbia Pictures at the time, did NOT want to cast an unknown in the starring role and wanted Rita Hayworth; however, Rita had just gotten married and was not interested. (In our discussion of GILDA, James and I talked about how Rita and Judy shared a similar mix of sultry and innocent…they were beautiful but with a childlike quality in their most famous roles, Gilda and Billie Dawn.)

Garson Kanin (who wrote the play), George Cukor (BORN YESTERDAY’s director), and Katharine Hepburn (all-around superstar) got together and hatched a plan to get Judy this role. They cast her in a supporting role in 1949’s ADAM’S RIB as the long-suffering wife who goes on trial for attempted murder so the Columbia bosses could see her talent on the big screen. Then, Katherine planted stories in the tabloids about how Judy’s performance in ADAM’S RIB overshadowed hers and co-star Spencer Tracy’s. The rest is film history: Judy nabbed the role of Billie Dawn in the 1950 film version and won a Best Actress Oscar for it, beating out Gloria Swanson in SUNSET BOULEVARD and Bette Davis in ALL ABOUT EVE.

For more on BORN YESTERDAY, check out James and Lara’s discussion here.

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