When the Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman play Stage Door (now being performed by the American Century Theater) was made into a film, their script was altered so much that the pair joked it should have been called "Sceen Door." But privately, they must have felt the kind of bitter glee that comes with the ability to say "I told you so," for Stage Door, their love letter to live theater, was also an excoriation of the shallow art of moviemaking. And when Stage Door was adapted for the screen – leaving out all of the parts where Terry, the most talented girl in a boarding house full of aspiring actresses, laments the lack of artistic integrity in Hollywood – Ferber's and Kaufman's hypothesis was proven.
The movie of Stage Door came out in 1937, produced by RKO when Hollywood was still under the studio system. It starred a young Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, and Lucille Ball. But the only real similarities between the play and the film are the setting and the characters' names. In the play, Terry waits and waits for her big break, and watches all of her closest friends succumb to the temptation to abandon their artistic aspirations and move to Hollywood to make loads of money.
But in the film, Hollywood isn't an option – these ladies are competing against each other for stage roles, and Terry (Played by Hepburn) lands a big part despite her lack of talent, when her wealthy father finances a play. She uses the access to an important director to save her friend Jean from a bad relationship. That wasn't in Ferber's and Kaufman's script, either: They wrote Terry as a poor girl whose father was a country doctor, and Jean as a starry-eyed film actress who makes it big despite her inability to act. In the film, Terry gains stage presence after another girl in the house experiences a terrible tragedy, and delivers the opening line of her play: "The calla lilies are in bloom again."
Stage Door was a critic's pick this week. Compare it to the film, below.