Stage Door (1937)

Stage Door
Katharine Hepburn, Lucille Ball and Ginger Rogers

'Stage Door' is a sparkling comedy drama, made in 1937, directed by Gregory La Cava and starring Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Andrea Leeds and Adolphe Menjou, with supporting roles from a young Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, Gail Patrick and Ann Miller. The movie is about a group of young actresses and chorus girls in a theatrical boarding house in New York.

The movie is based on the play of the same name by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman but apart from the names of the main characters, has been changed almost beyond recognition. 'Stage Door' was nominated for four Academy Awards (without winning), for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress for Andrea Leeds.

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The movie tells the story of a group of young chorus girls and would-be actresses who live together in a New York City boarding house called The Footlights Club. All the girls are hoping to get their big break, and the film shows their successes and failures, hopes and fears, romances and entanglements as they interact with each other and with other members of New York's theatrical community.

The basic plot concerns Terry Randall, played by Katharine Hepburn, a young actress from a wealthy family, and how the suicide of Kay Hamilton, played by Andrea Lord, one of the other aspiring actresses in the boarding house, affects and humanises her and changes her outlook on life. Despite the dramatic and tragic backdrop the film is very funny indeed. The script is genuinely witty and is a seemingly never-ending and fast moving series of wisecracks, insults and putdowns between the girls.

With its brilliant cast playing well rounded, believable characters,, interesting plot and sparkling screenplay, 'Stage Door' is one of the best films made in the late 1930's. The direction by La Cava is excellent and he maintains a fast pace whilst keeping the serious and amusing sides of the story in balance and maintaining a convincing, and not overly glamorised atmosphere. A thoroughly good film which has come to be regarded as a classic.


Stage Play
The movie is loosely based on the stage play of the same name written by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber, which opened in New York at the Music Box Theater in October, 1936. It starred Margaret Sullavan in the Hepburn role and ran for 169 performances. The play was inspired by an actual New York boarding house called The Rehearsal Club, which was open in Manhattan from 1913 to 1979.

RKO bought the screen rights to the play for $130,000, but then completely changed the story, keeping only the basic idea and bare sketches of some of the main characters. For instance the character played by Adolphe Menjou was not in the original stage play. The studio used the play as a means of showcasing together its two biggest female stars, Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers.

Director Gregory La Cava and writers Anthony Veiller and Morrie Ryskind improved on the original script, partly by noting the natural repartee between the cast members and using it as dialogue in the screenplay. During shooting La Cava continued to make revisions to the script on a daily basis.

Studio Set
Most of the film's action takes place in the down-at-heel boarding house and the RKO art department designed a suitably shabby set, completely different to the glamorous, art deco sets of the Astaire-Rogers movies and other films of the period. For realism, director La Cava insisted that the cast wear their own everyday clothes in order to avoid something glamorous and out of place from the RKO costume department.

The movie was well received by the critics when it premiered at Radio City Music Hall in October, 1937 and it went on to make a modest profit for the studio.

Main Cast

The cast list is spectacular and features most of the top RKO female stars of the day in peak form, led by Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers whose apparent personal animosity did not prevent them from playing off each other brilliantly. The excellent supporting cast features Constance Collier as the would-be mother figure for the younger actresses,and memorable appearances from the young Eve Arden and Gail Patrick as well as the first film appearance of Ann Miller, who was only fourteen at the time, (or possibly seventeen. as there is some doubt about her birth year,) having lied about her age to get the role. In addition there is a wonderful performance from Lucille Ball, in one of her best movie roles, which earned her a renewed contract at RKO. The main male role is the lecherous but genial impresario played by Adolphe Menjou, who suits the part perfectly.

Katharine Hepburn's popularity had suffered after a series of box office failures such as 'Break of Hearts' in 1935 and period pictures such 'Mary of Scotland' in 1936 and 'Quality Street' in 1937. Ginger Rogers was well known as a brilliant dancing partner to Fred Astaire but her acting ability was an unknown quantity. The careers of both actresses received a major boost from the success of 'Stage Door'. Both were paid $75,000 for their appearance in the movie.

Katharine Hepburn ... Terry Randall
Ginger Rogers ... Jean Maitland
Adolphe Menjou ... Anthony Powell
Gail Patrick ... Linda Shaw
Constance Collier ... Catherine Luther
Andrea Leeds ... Kay Hamilton
Samuel S. Hinds ... Henry Sims
Lucille Ball ... Judy Canfield
Franklin Pangborn ... Harcourt, Powell's butler
William Corson ... Bill
Pierre Watkin ... Richard Carmichael
Grady Sutton ... 'Butch'
Frank Reicher ... Stage Director
Jack Carson ... Mr. Milbanks
Phyllis Kennedy ... Hattie
Eve Arden ... Eve
Ann Miller ... Annie
Margaret Early ... Mary Lou


Director ... Gregory La Cava
Producer ... Pandro S. Berman
Screenplay ... Morrie Ryskind, Anthony Veiller
Original Play ... Edna Ferber, George S. Kaufman
Music ... Roy Webb
Cinematography ... Robert De Grasse
Format ... B & W
Distribution Company ... RKO Radio Pictures
Release date ... October 8, 1937
Running time ... 92 minutes

Academy Awards

Four Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Picture ... RKO Radio Pictures
Best Director ... Gregory La Cava
Best Supporting Actress ... Andrea Leeds
Best Screenplay ... Morrie Ryskind, Anthony Veiller