Character List for Born Yesterday Eddie Brock - Harry’s cousin and right-hand man, for everything from bartending to tipping the bell boy to packing bags. He knows his limits and has a healthy respect for them. He also understands what’s really going on. Helen - a maid at the hotel who takes no b.s. and likes Billie; an ally of hers. The Assistant Manager of the hotel - very professional and very efficient. He prefers upscale patrons but, naturally, serves everyone. Paul Verrall - a reporter for the magazine The New Republic who knows there is more to Harry than meets the ears. He is, naturally, inquisitive, alert and thoughtful; he seems also to be intellectual and perhaps even bookish. Serious by nature, he’s a bit stiff at the beginning but loosens up. He has no problem standing up for what he believes in, among which is included democracy and the rights of the voting public. Harry Brock - a self-made man who made him self by selling junk, stealing it back and selling it again, among other inventive schemes. Not a college man, not a patient man. When he gives an order, at the top of his lungs, it had better happen now; if not things might get physical. He has come to DC to try and pave his own way to all the WWII debris he can get, with the help of a well-positioned senator. He really does love Billie, in his way, which is rather as a possession. Ed Devery - a once-promising young lawyer who lost sight of the promise, he is now an alcoholic lawyer with one client, Harry. Generally speaking Ed is resigned to his lot but at times his memory of what he was brings out in him some bitterness and even backbone. Billie Dawn - a chorus girl who had five lines in a Broadway production of Anything Goes. She has been with Harry for nine years. Her mother died when Billie was young and she has lost contact with her father. She is as tough, inarticulate and uneducated as Harry but she still has some scruples. At heart she is funny, kind, simple. A tabula rasa with a knockout build and heart of gold. Senator Norval Hedges - a member of the Senate for some time now, he has never made a name for himself there, and instead has become reliant on the Harry Brocks of the world to support his lifestyle. This bothers him a great deal. He is probably in his last term as senator. Mrs. Hedges - a socially graceful woman who is the perfect Congressional helpmeet: poised, well-dressed, charming, and completely incurious about her husband’s actual work.
The Design Team Director
Setting Harry Brock’s suite at a four-star hotel in Washington, DC, during the fall of 1946. We see the suite's sitting room as well as entrances to the second-floor bedrooms within it (!).
Harry Brock: How can anybody get so dumb? Paul Verrall: We can’t all know everything, Harry. Billie Dawn: Who’s Tom Paine, for instance? Harry: What the hell do I care who he is? Billie: I know!
Paul Douglas, Gary Merrill, Judy Holliday
Garson Kanin Rochester-native Kanin, forced out of high school by the ’29 stock market crash, worked as a Western Union messenger, salesman and a clarinetist/saxophonist in a jazz band before making his was into vaudeville and radio. He studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and earned his first Broadway role on graduating in 1933. Kanin went on to appear in such hits as Three Men on a Horse and Boy Meets Girl before becoming a production assistant to legendary producer/director George Abbott (producer of Brother Rat and Room Service, among others). Mr. Abbott encouraged him to direct which Kanin did to such acclaim that he was soon summoned to Hollywood. A few B movies later he was given Bachelor Mother with Ginger Rogers, My Favorite Wife with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne and They Knew What They Wanted with Carole Lombard and Charles Laughton. In 1941 Kanin joined the army’s Training Film Laboratory,
though he served as an Air Force sergeant for a year. He and British director Carol Reed shared an Oscar for the D-Day documentary The True Glory. In December 1942 Kanin married actress Ruth Gordon, with whom he wrote such films as A Double Life and the Tracy/Hepburn pictures Adam’s Rib and Pat and Mike. He began Born Yesterday, his best known work, during World War II, intending it to be a “serious expose of Washington” starring his friend actress Jean Arthur, he later said. “But, if I could define what is for me the ideal accomplishment, it is to treat a serious subject lightly.” Born Yesterday ran for 1600 performances; the film, directed by George Cukor, earned Judy Holliday the Best Actress Oscar. He was the recipient of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts’ Award of Achievement in 1958. Subsequently Kanin wrote the libretto for the musical Do Re Mi as well as one for the opera Die Fleidermaus. He directed the film Diary of Anne Frank in 1955 and staged Funny Girl, starring Barbra Streisand, in 1964. Following Ruth Gordon’s death in 1985 Kanin married the actress Marian Seldes. Garson Kanin died March 13, 1999.
Synopsis: Harry Brock is an American businessman whose drive for acquisitiveness has gone into overdrive. In order to create an international junk-dealing empire he comes to DC to ascertain the assistance of Senator Norval Hedges in gaining access to all that great WWII wreckage. He will do this through the efforts of his lawyer, Ed Devery, who has laid the groundwork by finding Hedges and softening him up with a little advance. Harry has brought his girlfriend and business partner (on paper) Billie Dawn, in part to act as his hostess in CC, but it soon becomes apparent that her rough edges could use a bit of filing. Since literate, intelligent reporter Paul Verrall is determined to watch Harry carefully anyway, Brock enlists Verrall to tutor Billie, hoping to distract him enough to carry out his plan without outside objections. Billie is naturally resistant to the idea that she needs improvement but finds Verrall so amenable that she swallows her pride only to discover that knowledge is good. Thus Harry finds himself “surrounded” by do-gooders, particularly when Devery unearths sufficient backbone to let his disgust at Harry’s plan come out. Sharper than the serpent’s tooth is wiseguy’s wise girlfriend. Vocabulary Gin rummy - This is a 2-person card game in which each player tries to make up sets of 3 or 4 cards that are either the same denomination (i.e., all 7s) or a sequence in the same suit (3, 4, 5, 6 of clubs) with a hand of 10 cards. As players build these sets they keep them in hand, drawing additional cards either from the stock (the remainder of the deck, face down) or the top discard. Players lay out their matches only when they have completed their sets. If there are no unmatched cards the player claims gin. If the opposing player has any unmatched cards (after matching any appropriate sets laid out by the winner) their value is given to the winner (face cards are 10 points, aces are 1, 2 is 2, etc.). The first player to earn 100 points is the winner. (I have not found out what a schneid is but it must be something that earns Billie even more points and more money from Harry.) cartel - a formal or informal agreement between businesses to reduce or suppress competition in a particular market through price fixing, limit supplies to others, dividing
the market between the cartel’s partners (excluding others) and pooling profits. The word cartel usually implies that companies from different nations have formed a group. The best known cartel today is OPEC. Bethlehem Steel – A leading producer of steel and other metals on the east coast. They are competing with Harry for the WWII debris littering Europe. Teapot Dome scandal - During President Warren G. Harding’s administration it was discovered that Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall (former New Mexico senator) had taken advantage of his newly-won control of lands containing oil reserves intended for Navy use: Fall had convinced the secretary of the Navy that, since these were American lands federally controlled under Teddy Roosevelt’s federal land conservation program, the Interior Dept. should control them. Once under his sway Fall had secretly leased the oil reserves within them to private oil companies who repaid him with “gifts” and “loans” amounting to $400,000. Pan-American Petroleum and Transport had been given access to a reserve near Elk Hills, California, and Mammoth Oil was working a reserve near Casper, Wyoming, called the Teapot Dome because of a prominent rock on the property in that familiar shape. When the Senate investigation led by Thomas J. Walsh of Montana and Robert M. LaFollette of Wisconsin revealed Fall’s involvement, President Calvin Coolidge (Harding had died), responding to media pressure, appointed a special prosecutor whose own findings, excavated over 3 years, were ultimately set before the Supreme Court. The Court ruled that the leases were illegally obtained; Fall was found guilty of bribery, fined $100,000 and sentenced to a year in prison, but while the oil companies were assessed damages for having piped the oil none of their administrators were convicted of bribing Fall (Mammoth’s president was found in contempt of Congress when he would not cooperate with the investigation). This scandal was thought so outrageous that its infamy nearly lasted until the Watergate break-in during the Nixon administration. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. - 1841-1935. This jurist served on Massachusetts and federal Supreme Courts, and certainly made his mark on both benches, but he is equally wellknown as a legal philosopher and wit. After being wounded in the Civil War Holmes attended Harvard Law School, which granted him a degree in 1866 and hired him as a lecturer on constitution law and jurisprudence from 1870 to 1873. He also served as an editor for the periodical American Law Review. In 1881 his book The Common Law presented his thoughts on this subject for the first time: besides asserting that common law was “not a brooding omnipresence in the sky” but a set of rules that were changed by society as society needed. In other words, common law was not set upon mankind by a supernatural power (nor was it necessarily the province of the wealthy/powerful alone). He added, “The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.” As for his time on the U.S. Supreme Court (he was appointed by Teddy Roosevelt in 1902 and served until 1932), he was instrumental in expanding Congress’ ability to exert control over the national economy but he is probably best known as an advocate of free speech, establishing that only those speeches creating a “clear and present danger” to the country and/or its people need be restricted. His freedom of speech standard is that which allows Americans the freedom of expression many of us have come to expect. He also believed
that “the man of action has the present, but the thinker controls the future; his is the most subtle, the most far-reaching power.” Who is Who in Quotes “A little learning is a dangerous thing.” Alexander Pope, “An Essay on Criticism,” 1711, part II. The essayist is also the source of the quote, "The proper study of mankind is man. “An Essay on Man,” Epistle II, l. 2, 1733-1734. “This country with its institutions belongs to the people who inhabit it.” Abraham Lincoln, “Inaugural address,” March 4, 1861. He continued: “Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it.” Attorney Ed Devery tells Harry, “It’s a new world. . . . Knowledge is power.” The latter remark was originally written by Francis Bacon in his Holy Meditations (1597); it was notably quoted by JFK in a 1962 speech he made honoring Nobel Prize winners. Jane Addams is not quoted, though Billie reads one of her most famous books, Twenty Years at Hull House (1910), in which Addams wrote, “Private beneficence is totally inadequate to deal with the vast numbers of the city’s disinherited.” This sentiment led Addams to establish Hull House in Chicago, where recent immigrants and other members of the lowest class could receive instruction, assistance and reassurance that they could prosper. It was Addams’ contention that this work should be done with public funds. Billie’s reading list David Copperfield, Charles Dickens - poor orphan boy makes good with help from some virtuous well-placed wealthy people who feel they must do good. Napoleon, Rbt. G. Ingersoll -Radical nineteenth-century author, lecturer and confessed atheist rejects Napoleon's gory, cold-hearted glory, insisting instead that a simple, untroubled life is best. Here’s an excerpt, part of which is recited by Paul: I saw him in Egypt in the shadow of the pyramids—I saw him conquer the Alps and mingle the eagles of France with the eagles of the crags. . . . I saw him in Russia, where the infantry of the snow and the cavalry of the wild blast scattered his legions like winter’s withered leaves. . . . And I saw him at St. Helena, with hands crossed behind him, gazing out upon the sad and solemn sea. I thought of the orphans and widows he had made—of the tears that had been shed for his glory, and of the only woman who ever loved him, pushed from his heart by the cold hand of ambition. And I said I would rather have been a French peasant and worn wooden shoes. I would rather have lived in a hut with a vine growing over the door, and the grapes growing purple in the kisses of the autumn sun. I would rather have been that poor peasant with my loving wife by my side, knitting as the day died
out of the sky—with my children upon my knees and their arms about me— I would rather have been that man and gone down to the tongueless silence of the dreamless dust, than to have been that imperial impersonation of force and murder, known as “Napoleon the Great.” Twenty Years at Hull House, Jane Addams (see above) The Age of Reason, The Rights of Man, Tom Paine - In these treatises Paine set forth many democratic ideals that his fellow early Americans incorporated into government either overtly or though inference. He, like Jefferson, is truly one of our democracy's forebears. Works Consulted Bartlett, John. Familiar Quotations: A Collection of Passages, Phrases and Proverbs traced to their sources in Ancient and Modern Literature. Emily Morison Beck, ed. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1980. Gordon, Ruth. My Side: The Autobiography of Ruth Gordon. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1976. Mantle, Burns. The Best Plays of 1945-46 and the Year Book of the Drama in America. New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1946.
Character List and Background Information for Born Yesterday-1950