STAGE DOOR Authors and Production History: Stage and Screen
THE SHOW– Stage Door was first produced in 1936 at Music Box Theatre in mid-town Manhattan. It ran for 169 performances, closing in March of 1937. The play features the lives of young actresses as they try to make it on the stage in the world of Broadway in the 1930’s. They all live together in The Footlights Club, a house exclusively for female performers, trying to negotiate the business of theatre. The show explores success, failure, love, comradeship and perseverance. Emerging in the midst of The Great Depression, this show serves as a love letter to the American Dream and the persistence of all starving artists.
THE THEATER– The Music Box Theatre opened in 1921 constructed by Irving Berlin specifically in order to accommodate his Music Box Revues. For its first few years of business it annually produced new musicals, in the 860-seat space. In 1925 straight plays were introduced into the repertoire. It still operates on Broadway today. Among notable productions in this space are: The Man Who Came to Dinner, Summer and Smoke, Agnes of God, Once in a Lifetime.
THE WRITERS– Stage Door is a collaboration between two American authors, George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber. The two were good friends and members of the literary club the Algonquin Round Table.
George S. Kaufman: Kaufman, also the director of Stage Door’s premiere production, had his first hit in 1925 with The Butter and Egg Man. From the years 1921 to 1958 Broadway was producing a work either written or directed by Kaufman every year. He entered into collaborations with the Marx Brothers, Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hart, and Stephen Sondheim. He won two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama with his 1932 Of Thee I Sing and 1937 You Can’t Take It With You; he won the Tony Award for Best Director in 1951 with Guys and Dolls.
Edna Ferber: Ferber’s work spans many mediums; short story, novel, magazines and plays, adaptations of her work have made it to film. In her time she was a very prolific novelist. So Big, published in 1924, won her the Pulitzer Prize. The first play she wrote, Our Mrs. McChesney, was based on a popular series of 30 short stories of hers, published in national magazines. All the rest of her theatrical work was done in collaboration with Kaufman. From 1925 to 1949 the partnership turned out six plays.
THE MOVIE– One year after the stage run RKO Pictures produced a film of the same name, very loosely based on the play. The film stars many names that have stood the test of time: Katherine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Adolphe Menjou and Lucille Ball. The film was “adapted” by Morrie Ryskind and Anthony Veiller. But the storyline and the characters’ names were almost completely changed for the movie, so much so in fact that Kaufman joked the film should be called “Screen Door”. The character of Kay Hamilton committing suicide is one of the few consistencies between the play and movie, but with very different intentions. The themes evident in the stage show do not cross over into the film, which dilutes the storyline into a cautionary tale about the entertainment business. The movie did well, with a nomination for Best Picture and Andrea Leeds (as Kay) for Best Supporting Actress. But it hardly relates to the stage play.
THE IRONY– Margaret Sullivan played Terry Randall in the premiere production of Stage Door. Her life ironically parallels story points in the play in many different ways. She had her first Broadway success in 1933 in Dinner at Eight, serving as a replacement for actress Marguerite Churchill. From this she gained the attention of Universal Studios and signed a three-year contract. It was on her own terms of: $1,200 a week for three years, non-exclusive and with approval rights. In 1933 she made her film debut in Only Yesterday. Once her contract expired she returned directly to Broadway, promptly starring in Stage Door as a character who is vehemently loyal to theatre.
One year into her contract, after making her second movie with Universal she told “Photoplay” magazine:
“I still hate making pictures! And I don’t like Hollywood any better! I detest the limelight and love simplicity, and in Hollywood the only thing that matters is the hullabaloo of fame…at present Hollywood seems utterly horrible and interfering and consuming. Which is why I want to leave it as soon as I am able”.
Compiled by Britt Keller
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Hischak, Thomas S. Broadway plays and musicals: descriptions and essential facts of more than 14,000 shows through 2007. Jefferson, N.C.: 2009.
Kaufman, George S., and Edna Ferber. Stage Door. Dramatist Play Service Inc., 1998. Print.
La Cava, Gregory, dir. Stage Door. 1937. Film.