How Ruth Gordon Inspired It Should Happen to You

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Judy Holliday and director George Cukor teamed for the fifth time to complete It Should Happen to You, originally titled A Name for Herself. Cukor had been instrumental to Holliday’s career, and their final collaboration was another success.

1. It was a big role for Lemmon.

Prior to the film, Lemmon appeared on multiple television series and on stage. It Should Happen to You gave him the chance to step out into the spotlight. Interestingly, Columbia’s studio head Harry Cohn wanted him to change his name – just in case harsh reviews took advantage of the actor’s last name to call him a “lemon”. Cohn proposed “Lennon” instead, but Jack fought to keep his real name.

2. Lemmon and Holliday were pals.

At this point in her career, Judy Holliday could have been quite the diva – having had success on Broadway and in Hollywood thanks to Born Yesterday. Instead, the actress was warm and welcoming to newcomer Jack Lemmon. After accepting his invitation to dinner, the newly acquainted pair had quite a night when they got lost and then got a flat tire. Holliday came to the rescue though and put on the spare! Lemmon and Holliday worked together again shortly after in Phfft that same year.

3. Ruth Gordon inspired the film.

Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon were quite the couple, and the pair collaborated on several films together including Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn’s Adam’s Rib and Pat and Mike. When driving one day through New York’s Columbia Circle, Kanin noticed his wife was feeling down. Trying to lift her spirit, he asked if she’d like to have her name printed on an empty billboard for all to see. And that was beginning of the idea. Originally, Kanin imagined the lead would be Danny Kaye, but Gordon instinctively knew it was meant for Holliday. After all, her husband’s play Born Yesterday was Holliday’s big break.

4. The piano performance wasn’t in the script.

Originally, Holliday and Lemmon’s piano sing-a-long wasn’t in the script. The bit came thanks to a delay in shooting. While the two actors were waiting on set, Holliday found a piano, and the two started having fun singing and playing. Director George Cukor saw how natural they were and decided to add it to the film.

5. Lemmon snuck an idea in.

Coming from a theater background, it took Jack Lemmon a bit to get used to Cukor’s multiple-take style and to play the character with less stage technique. Unsure how the director would respond to his idea, Lemmon decided to just try it when they were filming. Originally, his character got upset with Holiday, waited a second, and then confirmed their date. Instead, he decided to exit, slamming the door, only to pop back a few moments later to confirm the date. When the time came to do it, the funny bit seemed like an improvisation, and it was kept in.