As you will come to learn about me, I love the old Hollywood films. There were some truly wonderful films made while the screen was still silver, films that still hold up to this day.
One such film is Stage Door, an engrossing drama released in 1937, that serves as a snapshot of the life of young actresses looking to make their mark on Broadway. A star studded affair featuring a who’s who of female stardom of the 30s, including Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Gail Patrick and a young blonde the world would come to love in about 20 years as a redhead named Lucille Ball, Stage Door tells the story of the Footlights Club, a theatrical rooming house in New York. It was tradition in those days for young ladies to room together (read: no men), especially those who were looking to make the stage their source of bread and butter. But it was no easier back then and the young women soon become callus about their chances and the men who dangle hope in front of them.
Terry Randall (Hepburn) takes up lodging at the Footlights Club and is an immediate outsider due to her coming from wealth and her superior attitude. She is roomed with Jean Maitland (Rogers), a brilliant dancer and hardened cynic. The two are at each others’ throats from the very beginning, showcasing not only the great pace of the acting but the wonderful, energized style of the writing. In fact, the screenplay was adapted by Morrie Ryskind and Anthony Veiller from the popular stage of the same name by Edna Ferber and George Kaufman.
The film was changed so that it barely resembled the play. During production, the writers were inspired by the jokes and slang of the young actresses talking off set during rehearsals and incorporated their style of talking into the script. Even the director, Gregory La Cava allowed the actresses to improv on camera. Stage Door received four Academy Award nominations for their efforts, including Outstanding Production, which we now know as Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Director.
But the true stand out in here is Andrea Leeds, who won a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her role as Kay, a young talent whose luck has run out. Her performance here is understated until it’s simply heartbreaking.
Miss Leeds own film career was cut short just two years later, when she fell in love and married Robert Stewart Howard, the son of racehorse owner Charles S. Howard, who owned and raced the famous racehorse Seabiscuit, who was immortalized in a film of his very own in 2003. The couple became successful horse owners and breeders.
Stage Door is a story you’ve surely seen before, but this is an excellent telling of the story and perhaps one of the first times the tale of success and failure under the spotlights was committed to screen. I highly recommend Stage Door, which should be available via most streaming and/or online rental and video sharing sites.
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