Saturday, December 26, 2015

Judy Holliday Was No Dummy

Billie (Judy Holliday): You're just not couth!

Harry (Broderick Crawford): Yeah? Well, I'm as couth as you are!

Judy Holliday wasn't the movies' first dumb blonde, and she certainly wasn't the last. But she may have been the best.

Let's be clear here, though. Judy Holliday was not dumb. She was said to have had an IQ of 172. That would put her in the ballpark with Albert Einstein, whose IQ is unknown but is estimated to have been between 160 and 190, and just behind Leonardo da Vinci, whose IQ was estimated to be between 180 and 190. That's pretty impressive company.

But she knew how to play dumb. She won the Oscar for Best Actress for playing the dumb blonde in "Born Yesterday," which premiered on this date in 1950. For a comedy, it garnered quite a few Oscar nominations — for Best Picture, Best Director (George Cukor), Best Screenplay, Best Black and White Costume Design — in addition to Holliday's. When she smiled for the camera, her twinkling eyes seemed to be saying, "You know, this is really an act. I'm a lot smarter than I seem."

"Born Yesterday" is a movie I never tire of watching — and what a treat it must have been for audiences 65 years ago to go to the theaters the day after Christmas and see Judy Holliday co–starring with William Holden and Broderick Crawford.

Kind of reminds me of Christmases when I was a child, and my parents would take my brother and me to the movies either on Christmas Day or the day after Christmas.

I don't think we ever went to a theater during the Christmas season and saw a movie that is regarded as a classic today, though, and I know for sure that we never saw a trio as talented as Judy Holliday, Broderick Crawford and William Holden.

Even so, Christmas always seemed to me to be a smart time for a studio to release a movie that seemed destined to be a blockbuster — or that the studio simply wanted to draw bigger audiences — but they didn't really seem to do that much when I was growing up. They do it a lot more now.

It was an interesting shift for Crawford, who won a Best Actor Oscar for "All the King's Men" the year before. In some ways, though, it was the same character. They were both manipulators; Willie Stark was just better at it than Harry Brock. Maybe the product that Willie Stark was selling (himself) was more highly regarded than what Harry Brock was selling (junk) — although, given the reputation politicians seem to have always had, that seems to be backward, doesn't it?

Of course, the story did take place in Washington, D.C., which was where Harry was trying to buy a congressman.

For that matter, Holden hadn't yet been nominated for an Oscar when he made "Born Yesterday," but he got his first Oscar nomination for his performance in "Sunset Boulevard," which was in theaters only a few months earlier — and probably was still showing in many theaters in that pre–multiscreen cineplex era when movies could and did show at the same theaters for months.

Initially, Harry hired Holden's character to smooth Holliday's rough edges and instruct her in some of the finer points of government and history.

That way she could converse intelligently with Harry's clients. But she learned a lot more than he expected her to learn from Holden.

In the process, they fell in love.

And Holliday's character showed millions of Americans what being a liberated woman was about — a couple of decades before the phrase became a part of modern American lingo.

Holliday played the role with true panache.

And, really, I would expect no less from someone as smart as she was.