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107. STAGE DOOR, 1937

A witty, moving, and heavenly all-star look at the unseen side of theatre

Ginger Rogers and Katharine Hepburn fight over luggage in the classic Hollywood film "Stage Door" comedy movie
"Stage Door"

Combine razor-sharp dialogue with top-notch actors, madcap laughs, and a bit of tragedy, and you end up with the supremely delectable “Stage Door”. This screwball tragicomedy of sorts is an exemplary 1930’s Hollywood studio film and one heck of an enjoyable one at that. Lightning-fast banter rolls off the tongues of just about everyone in sight, and a no-holds-barred approach to its story makes for a riveting ride. Top-billed actors give knockout portrayals (Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, and Adolphe Menjou), surrounded by shining performances from a slew of then little known actors on their way to the top (Lucille Ball, Jack Carson, Eve Arden, and Ann Miller). Critically lauded as one of the top films of 1937, it received four Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture), and is considered the crowning achievement of its director, Gregory La Cava (earning him a Best Director Oscar nomination). I never ever tire of watching this high-voltage delight.

Katharine Hebpurn, Ginger Rogers, Eve Arden, Footlight Club women in the classic Hollywood film "Stage Door" comedy movie
"Stage Door"

“Stage Door” centers around the struggling inhabitants of the Footlights Club, a New York City women's theatrical boarding house. While these women yearn to find themselves performing under the bright lights of Broadway, most are currently unemployed, broke, and hungry for work. To their amusement and chagrin, in walks wealthy wannabe actress, “Terry Randall” to rent a room. She ends up rooming with the club’s most flippant resident, dancer “Jean Maitland”. “Jean” is already at odds with another boarding house tenant, the stately “Linda Shaw”, who in turn is being kept by sugar-daddy “Anthony Powell”, one of Broadway’s biggest producers. “Anthony” is on the verge of producing his next play, in which Footlights Club resident “Kay Hamilton” is desperate to star. Other Footlights Club inmates include a singing housekeeper, an actress with a cat, one who goes on dinner dates to get a decent meal, and an older actress turned acting coach. It may sound a bit complex, but it’s not. It’s merely a setup for a wonderfully giddy mishmash of wisecracks, double crosses, longings, and tears, making for one superb exploit.

Adolphe Menjou, Ginger Robers, Franklin Pangborn, and Katharine Hepburn in the classic Hollywood film "Stage Door" comedy movie
"Stage Door"

Lurking beneath all the zany ballyhoo and one-liners are some dark themes about the struggles of actors, the underbelly of show business, and life during the Great Depression. Difficulties finding work, nerves, narcissism, careers versus relationships, and shattered dreams are all touched upon, and the film takes the stand that heartbreak is necessary to build a true actress. There is also a largely unsympathetic view of the privileged class, a popular position held by Depression Era audiences. But again, all heavy themes become sheer undertones, overshadowed by crackling, fast-paced comedy.

Ann Miller and Ginger Rogers dance while Gail Patrick, Adolphe Menjour and Franklin Pangborn watch in the classic Hollywood film "Stage Door" comedy movie
"Stage Door"

At the time, Hollywood was in its prime. It was a star-driven business and studios trained, shaped, promoted, and sold movie stars. Promising candidates would get a makeover which could include changing hair color, hairlines, teeth, weight, names, and even rewriting a person’s backstory – all to produce a sellable image. A star would be cast in roles (often created for them) that fostered their image, while the studio's publicity department would write and invent stories and gossip (primarily through fan magazines) to further align with their image. Studios covered up personal scandals, chose dating partners, and even arranged marriages when needed (often for gay and lesbian actors) to help maintain a star's image. The hope was that a star would become so popular, fans would rush and pay to see every film in which they appeared. The bigger the star, the bigger the audience, and thus, the bigger the studio’s profits. Movie stars became a Hollywood studio’s biggest moneymaking asset.

Adolphe Menjou woos Ginger Rogers in the classic Hollywood film "Stage Door" comedy movie
"Stage Door"

Few actors were instantly chosen for stardom. A majority worked their way up from bit and small parts chosen for them based on their physicality, to supporting roles, and eventually leads, until their commercial niche clicked with the public. Some actors, like Bette Davis, had to fight for a breakthrough role they knew they were right for. Others, such as Rita Hayworth or Jennifer Jones, got lucky and had a powerful person helping shape them into stars. And others, such as Gary Cooper, caught a studio's attention after thousands of fan letters poured in each week for them. However stardom came, it was ultimately the public (via the box-office) who decided which actors became and remained movie stars. Along with studio shaping, they possessed a magical quality with which audiences fell in love. The Hollywood stars of the studio era became idealized fantasy figures of mythic proportions. Other countries had kings and queens. America had movie stars.

Katharine Hepburn and Constance Collier in the classic tragicomedy “Stage Door”
“Stage Door”

“Stage Door” is a fascinating example of the star system at work on many levels, beginning with Katharine Hepburn. With a manner, style, looks, voice, and vulnerability unlike anyone else at the time, her meteoric rise to fame began with her 1932 film debut “A Bill of Divorcement”, quickly followed by a Best Actress Oscar win for 1933’s "Morning Glory”, and an iconic performance in the major 1933 hit "Little Women”. She rapidly emerged as one of RKO Radio Pictures’ biggest stars and its queen of prestige pictures.

Katharine Hepburn stars in the comedy movie "Stage Door", classic Hollywood fillm
"Stage Door"

After earning a second Best Actress Oscar nomination for the 1935 hit "Alice Adams", Hepburn made four disastrous financial flops in a row. Unconventional in every way, Hepburn refused to play the Hollywood game. She did not sign autographs, dress like a movie star, or give interviews. Fed up with her, the press began to label her rude and entitled – a surefire way to destroy a budding actresses’ career. To save one of their major assets, RKO’s supervising producer Pandro S. Berman knew she needed a hit and image revamp, and sought a funny, contemporary vehicle with which to do just that. When he saw the 1936 Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman hit Broadway play “Stage Door”, he quickly purchased the film rights for RKO with the hopes that it would save Hepburn’s career.

Ginger Rogers dong a dance starring in the movie "Stage Door" classic film
"Stage Door"

Because Hepburn's box-office draw was so poor at the time, RKO cast one of their current top current moneymakers, Ginger Rogers, opposite her. Rogers and her song and dance partner Fred Astaire were among the biggest superstars in the world (having appeared together in seven films so far). Though Rogers had appeared in films without Astaire, she had yet to prove herself on her own. So “Stage Door” also acted as a vehicle to establish Rogers as a star apart from Astaire, and prove she had dramatic chops.

Katherine Hepburn looks at an eye mask with Ginger Rogers in the classic Hollywood film "Stage Door" comedy movie
"Stage Door"

The film ingeniously uses both stars' images (humanizing Hepburn’s upperclass air and capitalizing on Rogers’ working-class aura), humorously pitting one against the other – a perfect fit for Depression Era audiences. Helping take pressure off both stars, “Stage Door” is truly an ensemble piece, which gave the studio an additional opportunity to test the waters and showcase some of their contract players in larger roles to see if they clicked with audiences.

Ginger Rogers in fur with Gail Patrick, Constance Collier, Lucille Ball, and Ann Miller in the classic Hollywood film "Stage Door" comedy movie
“Stage Door”

Gregory La Cava was hired to direct, and screenwriters Morrie Ryskind and Anthony Veiller were brought on to adapt it for the screen. Since the play was pro-Broadway and anti-Hollywood, the screenwriters erased all anti-Hollywood sentiment, keeping only some of the play’s names and events. La Cava was known for telling actors to ignore a script, as he favored improvisation and experimentation on the set. With "Stage Door", he incorporated improvised dialogue, jokes, and an actor’s manner into the script. Though uncredited, La Cava helped write most of the scripts for his films.

Ginger Rogers and Ann Miller in chorus girl audition lineup in the classic 1937 film comedy movie "Stage Door"
"Stage Door"

Because many of the actresses in “Stage Door” were comediennes, it worked out exceedingly well, and the reinvented film greatly improved upon the original play. As Frank S. Nugent pointed out in his New York Times review, “[The scriptwriters] have taken the play’s name, its setting, and part of its theme and have built a whole new structure which is wittier than the original, more dramatic than the original, more meaningful than the original, more cogent than the original”. On top of its solid story, the dialogue in this film is among the most natural sounding and funniest in all of classic cinema. “Stage Door” earned Ryskind and Veiller Best Screenplay Academy Award nominations.

Lucille Ball and Eve Arden in producer's waiting room in the classic Hollywood film "Stage Door" comedy movie
“Stage Door”

movie star actresses Lucy Lucille Ball and Katharine Hepburn confer with director Gregory La Cava on the set of the classic movie “Stage Door”
Lucille Ball, Gregory La Cava, and Katharine Hepburn on the set of “Stage Door”

La Cava let his actors shine to the point that his exceptional direction can seem invisible. But his work adds a heap of additional humor and personality to a film already bubbling with amusement. He populates it with reaction shots, making us feel for and identify with each of the characters, often serving as humorous commentary. An example is when “Terry” arrives and checks-in at the Footlights Club. While this is happening, La Cava intersperses close-up reactions from the residents – from eye rolls to a somewhat devilish smile. Not only do these shots tell us about each of the women and underscore “Terry” as an outsider, but they also give the film its charm and wonderful quirkiness. La Cava loved to explore the clashing of the aloof idle rich against the working class, and “Stage Door” is no exception. Known for the brisk pace of his films, the quips fly so fast, I sometimes watch this film with subtitles so I don’t miss any of the jokes. For his marvelous work on "Stage Door", La Cava received a Best Director Academy Award nomination.

Hollywood film director Gregory La Cava portrait photo
Gregory La Cava

Pennsylvania born Gregory La Cava began as an animator, working for the likes of Walter Lanz, Raoul Barré, eventually heading newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst's International Film Service animation studio, directing over 120 animated shorts between 1916 and 1920. After Heart's animation studio failed, La Cava made his way to Hollywood to begin directing live action films starting with the 1921 feature "His Nibs", exclusively directing features starting with 1924’s "Restless Wives". He worked with many top silent stars, and was responsible for helping find and establish the drunken, henpecked screen persona of W.C. Fields. With the advent of sound, La Cava became one of the highest-paid directors of the 1930s – and it is for his work in that decade (particularly his comedies) that he is best remembered. "Stage Door" and his classic 1936 screwball comedy "My Man Godfrey" are considered to be among the best comedies of the 1930s, and both earned him Best Director Oscar nominations (his only). “Stage Door” also earned him the New York Film Critics Circle Best Director Award. It was the pinnacle of his career. He directed just four more films through 1942, plus "Living in a Big Way" in 1947. Set to direct the 1948 Mary Pickford film "One Touch of Venus", Pickford fired him for not having a script, after which he retired. Other important La Cava works include "Primrose Path", "Fifth Avenue Girl", "Living in a Big Way", "Gabriel Over the White House", and "She Married Her Boss”. He was married and divorced twice. La Cava had a drinking problem (he was even caught on the set of "Stage Door" with gin in his tea) which worsened with time and led him in and out of sanitariums. Gregory La Cava died of a heart attack in 1952 at the age of 59.

Katharine Hepburn as Terry Randall in the classic Hollywood tragic comedy movie “Stage Door”, the calla lilies are in bloom again
“Stage Door”

Portrait of a very young, 1930s Katharine Hepburn movie star actress legend
Katharine Hepburn

Katharine Hepburn is wondrous as “Terry Randall”, the rich girl who wants to be an actress. Having longed to live in an atmosphere like the Footlights Club, “Terry” tries to fit in, but her expensive clothes and affected manner make her a fish out of water, initially disliked or mocked by almost everyone. Hepburn mixes snobbery and humanity with exquisite skill (even in her reaction shots), and as “Terry” evolves, she genuinely shifts emotions, giving rise to some very funny and touching scenes. The film's improvised lines include those said by “Terry” in the play within the film, which begin, "The calla lilies are in bloom again…”. Hepburn lifted those words from the 1933 play "The Lake", in which she appeared and flopped, and of which critic Dorothy Parker famously wrote, “Hepburn runs a gamut of emotions from A to B”. Repeating these lines in “Stage Door” turned one of the worst experiences in Hepburn's career into a major triumph. It became a much imitated iconic Hepburn catchphrase.

early glamour portrait of young Hollywood actress and movie star Katharine Hepburn
Katharine Hepburn

Hepburn was insecure while shooting "Stage Door". She worried audiences would not like the snobby, upper-class “Terry”, and was not used to being part of an ensemble, standing around watching others act. A couple weeks into filming she finally asked La Cava "Who is 'Terry?", to which he replied, “You’re the human question mark”. She had no idea what that meant, but instead of making a scene, decided to be quiet and do nothing, and states in her autobiography “Me: Stories of My Life”, “Shutting up and being jolly was the cleverest thing I ever did. La Cava got sorry for me playing the rich girl and handed me the whole last part of the movie”. Hepburn rightfully received tremendous praise for her portrayal, and went on to say in her autobiography, “I had no idea until much later that in the first preview Ginger Rogers was billed over me. I don’t even think that Ginger knew. At this preview so many cards came back saying, The best Katharine Hepburn picture we’ve seen and she is great. I’m talking about preview cards which would be given to the audience as they were leaving the theatre to jot down their opinions. They returned me to my first position. Lucky me”.

Katharine Hepburn unpacks her trunks as Ginger Rogers watches in the classic movie film "Stage Door"
"Stage Door"

While “Stage Door” was a huge critical success and moderate box-office hit, it wasn’t enough to revive Hepburn’s career. Because she did so well with the film’s humor, RKO next cast her in a screwball comedy, “Bringing Up Baby” which was critically acclaimed but another financial flop (now considered a masterpiece). She became labelled “box-office poison” and was the first to admit it was most likely her presence in “Bringing Up Baby” that kept audiences away. It took a complete redo of her screen image (an embellishment of the humbled aristocratic “Terry Randall”) in the 1940 comedy “The Philadelphia Story” to return Hepburn to major star status, which she retained for the rest of her legendary career (she was voted the #1 Greatest American Female Screen Legend by both the American Film Institute and Entertainment Weekly magazine). You can read more about Katharine Hepburn’s transformation in my post on “The Philadelphia Story”, and more on her life and career in my posts, “Bringing Up Baby”, “The African Queen”, and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”. Click on each title for more.

Constance Collier comfort Katharine Hepburn backstage in the classic Hollywood film "Stage Door" comedy movie
"Stage Door"

A bit of fun trivia: When Hepburn was preparing to appear in a 1950 stage version of William Shakespeare's "As You Like It”, she called Shakespearian veteran actress Constance Collier to coach her with Shakespeare’s rhythm and language. Collier is the actress who plays "Miss Luther", “Terry’s” acting coach in "Stage Door".

Ginger Rogers as wisecracking Jean Maitland in the classic Hollywood movie film "Stage Door"
"Stage Door"

Ginger Rogers young glamour portrait from 1930s, movie star, singer, dancer, Hollywood actress
Ginger Rogers

La Cava was known for getting the best out of his actors, and further proof is the glorious performance by Ginger Rogers as dancer “Jean Maitland”. A sarcastic, sometimes insolent woman, “Jean” is given the biggest load of the film’s wisecracks, and Rogers effortlessly breathes vibrant life into them, even throwaway lines such as “That lamb stew has got me counting sheep at night”. Her wisecracking is never forced but comes across as part of “Jean’s” overflowing personality. Rogers’ give-and-take with Hepburn is one of the film’s highlights, especially when they first meet, with such fun interplay as when “Terry” asks “How many doors are there to this place?”, and “Jean” responds, “Well, there’s the trap door, the humidor, and the cuspidor. How many doors would you like?”. The scene where she and “Terry” realize they are roommates is itself a classic, as they size-up one another, quibble about “Terry’s” luggage, and “Jean” concludes about “Terry”, “Fancy clothes, fancy language, and everything”.

Hollywood movie stars and actresses Katharine Hepburn (knitting) and Ginger Rogers talk on the set of the classic film "Stage Door"
Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers on the set of "Stage Door"

Because both Hepburn and Rogers had reputations as being tough, temperamental women, the press positioned them as rivals and everyone anticipated on set fights. But they were both professionals, stayed out of each other's way, and evidently worked together well, though they never became friends. It is sometimes said they caused friction on the set, but neither has publicly said anything negative about the other and I’ve never found any true evidence of trouble.

portrait of young Hollywood movie star actress singer dancer Ginger Rogers
Ginger Rogers

“Stage Door” indeed proved that Rogers was a full-fledged movie star and great actress. She followed up with a couple more comedies, more musicals opposite Astaire, two more films directed by La Cava ("Fifth Avenue Girl" and "Primrose Path"), and made her way to full-on drama, winning a Best Actress Oscar win for "Kitty Foyle" in 1940 (beating out Hepburn in "The Philadelphia Story”). She was one of the top box-office stars of the 1940s, and you can read more about Ginger Rogers in my post on the Astaire/Rogers' classic “Top Hat”. Be sure to check it out.

Adlophe Menjou stars as theater producer Antony Powell in the classic Hollywood movie "Stage Door"
"Stage Door"

Hollywood character actor silent film movie star portrait photo of Adolphe Menjou
Adlophe Menjou

Also top-billed is Adolphe Menjou, as heavyweight theatrical producer "Anthony Powell”. A bold and tricky role (even for nowadays), Menjou gives an outstanding portrait of an outwardly charming, inwardly slimy predator who preys upon desperate actresses, shining light on the sexual harassment “casting couch” side of the business. Menjou nails it, as “Powell” never feels anything too deeply or takes anything too seriously. He is able to switch from anger to congenial business man on a dime. Notice his glee watching “Jean” and “Annie” dance at the club as he realizes that “Linda” and “Jean” know and despise each other. Menjou makes the despicable “Powell” entirely entertaining. A former silent film matinee idol, Adolphe Menjou was now almost exclusively playing large supporting roles. A fine actor who appeared in many classics, watchers of the films on here should recognize him from the 1930 film "Morocco", and can read more about his life and career in my post on that classic. “Stage Door” was his second of four films with Hepburn, though the two loathed each other. Another fun bit of trivia: the photo of “Powell’s” wife in the picture frame is of actress Verree Teasdale, Menjou's real-life wife.

Ginger Rogers and Gail Patrick face off in the classic wisecracking comedy film "Stage Door"
"Stage Door"

Gail Patrick is excellent as “Linda Shaw”, the well-bred, ambitious actress who refers to her sugar daddy “Powell” as “Aunt Susan”. Her verbal fights with “Jean” are thrillingly satisfying, with each nasty witticism topping the next. Best known for playing the bad girl or the other woman, Patrick is completely in her element in “Stage Door”, for “Linda” is sort of both in this film.

Hollywood bad girl movie star Gail Patrick in the classic movie “Stage Door”
“Stage Door”

Hollywood actress, movie star Gail Patrick glamour portrait photo
Gail Patrick

After graduating from Howard College, Alabama-born Gail Patrick had aspirations of becoming a state governor. She happened to enter a beauty contest at Paramount Pictures and lost, but was given a studio contract and began appearing in films with 1932's "If I Had a Million". She rose from playing bit parts, and after less than a dozen films graduated to prominent supporting roles, starting with 1934’s "Death Takes a Holiday”. Patrick worked steadily in films through the 1930s and early 1940s, ending with 1947’s "The Inside Story", accruing just over sixty film credits before retiring. In 1957, she began producing, including two TV shows: the 1958 TV movie "Cool and Lam”; and the hit classic TV series "Perry Mason" from 1957 until 1966 (and made a final cameo acting appearance in the series finale). Her other films include "My Favorite Wife", "Love Crazy", "Brewster's Millions", "Murders in the Zoo", and perhaps her best known role as sister to Carole Lombard in La Cava's "My Man Godfrey”. She was married four times. Gail Patrick died in 1980 at the age of 69.

Eve Arden, Andrea Leeds, and Lucille Ball in the classic Hollywood comedy film "Stage Door" with birthday cake
"Stage Door"

A standout surprise to many critics and filmgoers at the time was the performance of Andrea Leeds as the down-on-her-luck “Kay Hamilton”. The most talented performer in the Footlights Club, “Kay” hasn’t worked in a year and can’t even afford the club’s meals anymore. Her heart is set on one thing – landing the lead in “Powell’s” upcoming play, “Enchanted April”. “Kay” is kind and passionate, the only one who genuinely seems to respect “Terry”, and the only one that “Jean” appears to truly like. It is a thoughtful and sensitive portrayal that earned Leeds a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination. She is dazzling in her final scene.

Andrea Leeds in her Oscar nominated performance in the classic 1937 Hollywood comedy, "Stage Door" movie
"Stage Door"

portrait of young movie star Hollywood actress Andrea Leeds
Andrea Leeds

Born in Butte, Montana, Andrea Leeds began her film career in bit parts starting with "Meet the Baron" in 1933. Her first important role was in 1935's "Come and Get It", followed by the second female lead in 1937's "It Could Happen to You". "Stage Door" came next, which turned her into a popular leading actress. In 1939 she married Robert Stewart Howard (son of Seabiscuit racehorse owner Charles S. Howard). After just seven more films (starring in six of them), she retired from acting to be a wife and successful horse breeder. Leeds appeared in just twenty five films in her seven year movie career (all but six in smaller roles), which include "Swanee River", "My Man Godfrey", "Anna Karenina", "Letter of Introduction", and her final film, "Earthbound" in 1940, though she is best remembered for "Stage Door". She remained married to Howard until his death in 1962. Andrea Leeds died in 1984 at the age of 69.

Katharine Hepburn, Lucille Ball, and Ginger Rogers in the classic comedy tragedy movie Hollywood film "Stage Door"
"Stage Door"

Someone just about everyone will recognize is a very young Lucille Ball, star of TV’s “I Love Lucy”, as “Judy Canfield”, the actress who keeps dating lumbermen to avoid eating the Footlight Club’s lamb stew. "Judy" has the film’s first line of dialogue, snapping at the singing housekeeper, “Do you have to do that?!”. With one of the larger supporting roles, Ball gets a chance to show off her impeccable comic timing, even as those around her (like Rogers) get the most zingers. It’s a fine performance, and was her first standout film role.

Lucille Ball, very young in the classic Hollywood comedy tragedy movie "Stage Door"
"Stage Door"

very young portrait photo of a blonde Lucille Ball, actress, model, comedienne
Lucille Ball

After losing her father to typhoid when she was three, New York born Lucille Ball was encouraged by her stepfather to appear in her first stage show at the age of twelve, and was bitten by the acting bug. While studying acting alongside classmate Bette Davis, she became a model, dyed her hair blonde and learned how to wear clothes. She later moved to Hollywood to train as a Goldwyn Girl (female dancers under contract to Samuel Goldwyn) and appear in "Roman Scandals”. But before that film came her film debut as an extra in 1933's "The Bowery". Ball soaked up as much as she could about the industry while continuously appearing in uncredited bit parts. In 1935, she appeared as a fashion model in the Astaire/Rogers musical "Roberta", which led to a contract with RKO. Rogers' mother, Lela Rogers (who was very involved in Ginger's career), was put under contract to RKO and conducted workshops and plays featuring studio contract players. She took notice of Ball and fought to help her career, landing Ball her first speaking part as a flower shop clerk in the Astaire/Rogers musical "Top Hat”, as well as her role in "Stage Door" (which elevated her to a supporting actress in A-list films and star of B-movies). Lela was somehow related to Ball’s mother's family, making Lucy and Ginger distant cousins. They became lifelong friends.

portrait of Lucille Ball young, in gold dress, holding cigarette
Lucille Ball

After a featured role in the 1938 Marx Brothers comedy "Room Service", Ball began playing leads in RKO B-movies (such as "Five Came Back” and "Beauty for the Asking"), soon earning the nickname "Queen of the Bs". She starred in the 1940 musical "Too Many Girls" where she met and married Cuban actor/singer Desi Arnaz. Her starring role in 1942's "The Big Street" led to a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), where she starred in the musical comedy "Du Barry Was a Lady" opposite Red Skelton. To publicize their newest star, MGM nicknamed and promoted her as "Technicolor Tessie" because of how magnificently her red hair, complexion, and blue eyes photographed in Technicolor. But other than glamorize her, MGM didn’t quite know what to do with her, and she soon left MGM. She was now a star, but major movie stardom never struck.

color portrait photo of a young Lucille Ball, Hollywood actress, comedienne
Lucille Ball

Since the late 1930s, Ball had also worked on radio and in 1948 starred in the very successful radio comedy "My Favorite Husband", which CBS asked her to develop into a TV series. To save her ailing marriage with Arnaz, she insisted her husband co-star, to the dismay of CBS (who were worried about public reaction to an Anglo-American being married to a Cuban). After a successful live version of the show, CBS gave the green light for the TV version, and the all-time classic "I Love Lucy" was born. Ball and Arnaz formed the Desilu production company, and he developed several technical methods with which to create the show that are still used today (such as filming in front of a live audience, perfecting the three-camera-technique, and using adjoining sets). “I Love Lucy” ran from 1951 through 1957, was the #1 show for four years in the US, syndicated in dozens of languages around the world, and is often regarded as the greatest and most influential sitcom in history. In 2012 it was voted the Best TV Show of All Time in a survey conducted by ABC News and People Magazine. It made Lucille Ball an icon, one of the most recognizable figures in the world, and part of the zeitgeist. The show earned a total of twenty Emmy Award nominations, winning four, along with a 1991 Hall of Fame Emmy Award. Ball and Arnaz followed the show with the "The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour" which ran from 1957 until 1960.

Lucille Ball color photo portrait from "I Love Lucy"
Lucille Ball

Desilu became the largest independent TV production company in the US. After the end of their marriage in 1961, Ball bought-out Arnaz and ran the company on her own for several years, becoming the first woman to own her own film studio. As head of Desilu, Ball was personally responsible for green lighting the original "Star Trek" and "The Untouchables” TV shows. She executive produced seventy shows, including "Mission: Impossible", "The Danny Thomas Show", and "Mannix". Continuing to act, Ball starred in three more TV series emulating her "I Love Lucy" character: "The Lucy Show" (1962-1968); "Here's Lucy" (1968-1974); and "Life with Lucy" in 1986 (her final acting appearance). Ball earned thirteen career Emmy Award nominations, taking home the statue four times, along with an Emmy Hall of Fame award in 1984 and their Governors Award in 1989. Her other films include "Follow the Fleet” (another Astaire/Rogers musical), “Lured", "Ziegfeld Follies”, "Without Love” (starring Hepburn), "Yours, Mine and Ours”, "The Long, Long Trailer" (opposite Arnaz), and her final, the 1974 musical “Mame". Her second marriage was to producer Gary Morton from 1962 until her death. She and Arnaz had two children, Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr., both actors and producers. After a legendary career and indelible contribution, Lucille Ball died in 1989 at the age of 77.

Eve Arden and white cat in the classic film Hollywood comedy movie "Stage Door"
"Stage Door"

Hollywood comedienne, actress, movie star, radio, TV, Broadway Eve Arden
Eve Arden

There are three actors in smaller roles in ‘Stage Door” who went on to stardom, and previously appear in this blog. The first is Eve Arden who plays “Eve”, the snippy actress with the cat. Though her part is small, she’s given several fun quips which are fully enriched by her deadpan delivery (such as “I predict a hatchet murder before the night’s over”). A freshly signed contract player at RKO, this was Arden's fourth film and first major role. She made such an impression that this film boosted her career and helped form what would become her screen image as a fast-talking, deadpan, wisecracking woman. This fabulous Emmy Award winning actress conquered film, TV, Broadway, and radio, and you can read more about Eve Arden’s life and career in my post on "Mildred Pierce", for which she earned her only Academy Award nomination (Best Supporting Actress).

Young Ann Miller in one of her first major roles in the classic Hollywood comedy "Stage Door"
"Stage Door"

Portrait photo of young Ann Miller, Hollywood dancer, actress, movie star
Ann Miller

Another actress at the start of her film career is Ann Miller, who plays “Annie”, fellow Footlight Club resident and dance partner to “Jean”. Her role is also small, though she gets to briefly dance with Rogers and has a great little scene overcome with nervousness upon meeting “Powell” for the first time (while tap dancing). When she was thirteen, Miller was discovered dancing in a nightclub by Ball, which led her to signing as an RKO contract player in 1936 (using a fake birth certificate to pretend she was eighteen). "Stage Door" was her third film under contract, and she was just fourteen years old at the time. Miller continued playing small roles as dancers and ingénues before signing with MGM in 1948 and becoming a top movie musical star. You can read more about the life and career of the impressive Ann Miller in my post of a classic she made a year after "Stage Door”, the Oscar-winning "You Can't Take It with You".

Ginger Rogers shakes hands with Jack Carson while Lucille Ball looks on in the classic comedy "Stage Door"
"Stage Door"

portrait photo of young actor Hollywood movie star Jack Carson
Jack Carson

Already seen in three films on this blog (“Mildred Pierce", "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof", and "Arsenic and Old Lace”), Jack Carson, quickly appears as lumberman “Mr. Milbanks”. He is in one scene, arriving to take “Jean” and “Judy” to dinner carrying a strong handshake and nervous laugh. “Stage Door” was Carson’s seventh film appearance (working primarily as an extra), and it is a nice showcase for a big and friendly guy – an image Carson would carry into stardom. His next film, "Stand-In", was his first major role, and he evolved into one of Hollywood's most popular character actors and stars. His 131 film and TV credits include many classics, and you can read more about him in my posts on his three aforementioned films.

Ginger Rogers and Katharine Hepburn embrace in a scene in the classic Hollywood comedy film "Stage Door"
"Stage Door"

Oscar nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress, this week’s very fun and surprisingly moving classic is first-class entertainment all the way. Chockfull of movie stars in various stages of their careers, all gloriously handling stellar dialogue, this is a film that is bound to leave you beaming. Enjoy “Stage Door”!

This blog is a weekly series (currently biweekly) on all types of classic films from the silent era through the 1970s. It is designed to entertain and inform movie novices and lovers through watching one recommended classic film a week. The intent is that a love and deepened knowledge of cinema will evolve, along with a familiarity of important stars, directors, writers, the studio system, and a deeper understanding of cinema. I highly recommend visiting (or revisiting) the HOME page, which explains it all and provides a place where you can subscribe and get email notifications for every new post. Visit THE MOVIES page to see a list of all films currently on this site. Please leave comments, share this blog with family, friends, and on social media, and subscribe so you don’t miss a post. Thanks so much for reading!






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TO READ AFTER VIEWING (contains spoilers):

Ginger Rogers and Ann Miller in the classic Hollywood comedy film "Stage Door"
"Stage Door"

To get unrehearsed reactions to “Terry’s” performance in “Enchanted April”, La Cava filmed Hepburn's scenes from the play on a closed set. He then sat the rest of the cast and extras in the audience, showed them the footage and filmed their reactions. Apparently, many were moved to tears.

Mary Forbes and Katharine Hepburn in the classic Hollywood comedy tragedy film "Stage Door", the calla lilies are in bloom again
"Stage Door"

One last fun fact for those watching the films on here:

“Terry’s” mother in the cast of “Enchanted April”, (seen for a brief few seconds) is actress Mary Forbes, who played James Stewart’s uptight mother in “You Can’t Take It with You”.

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