A Quartet of Screwball Comedy Classics on TCM

Tonight’s a big night for fans of classic romantic and screwball comedies: Beginning at 8 p.m. ET, TCM is airing four favorites in a row, so set those DVRs now (that’s assuming you’re not prepared to stay up until 4 a.m.):

8:00 p.m.
His Girl Friday (1940)
An unscrupulous editor plots to keep his star reporter-and ex-wife-from re-marrying.
Dir: Howard Hawks; Cast: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy

10:00 p.m.
My Man Godfrey (1936)
A zany heiress tries to help a tramp by making him the family butler.
Dir: Gregory La Cava; Cast: William Powell, Carole Lombard, Alice Brady

12:00 a.m.
Theodora Goes Wild (1936)
A woman’s two lives as small-town innocent and author of torrid romances collide.
Dir: Richard Boleslawski; Cast: Irene Dunne, Melvyn Douglas, Thomas Mitchell

2:00 a.m.
The More the Merrier (1943)
The World War II housing shortage brings three people together for an unlikely romance.
Dir: George Stevens; Cast: Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea, Charles Coburn

Happy 116th Birthday, Jean Arthur!

The wonderful Jean Arthur was born Gladys Georgianna Greene 116 years ago today in Plattsburgh, New York. She was a reluctant and, some say, unlikely star, but she was one of the true greats in the genre of screwball and romantic comedies. Here are 10 JA Did-You-Knows:

  • Arthur was of Norwegian and English descent. Her father was a photographer, and her family relocated frequently as she was growing up; she would spend time in Jacksonville, Florida; Schenectady, New York; Saranac Lake, New York; and Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood (the building she lived is still there, at 573 West 159th Street).
  • In the early 1920s, Arthur worked as stenographer. She also did some commercial modeling, and it was via her modeling work that she was discovered by Fox Film Studios, who thought she could be remade into a “flapper” type. She made her debut in Cameo Kirby (1923), directed by John Ford.
  • It’s said that she took her stage name from two of her heroes: Joan of Arc and King Arthur (we are skeptical of this, to be honest, but we are merely reporting what’s long been claimed).
  • Arthur’s trademarks as an actress were her comic timing and her distinctive voice, which Frank Capra described in his autobiography as “low, husky—at times it broke pleasingly into the high octaves like a thousand tinkling bells.”
  • Arthur was named one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars of 1929, along with Anita Page, Helen Twelvetrees and Loretta Young, among others.
  • Her film career floundering in the early 1930s, Arthur returned to New York City to hone her acting chops in a series of Broadway productions. Having gained confidence in her abilities, she returned to Hollywood in 1934, signing a five-year contract with Columbia Pictures that brought her financial stability. She also went blonde and would remain so throughout her career.
  • Arthur was convinced her left side was her best side, and she insisted on being filmed from that side whenever possible.
  • Arthur made three pictures with director Frank Capra, all of them very successful: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can’t Take It with You (1938) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). Capra once named her as his favorite actress.
  • The borderline reclusive Arthur was reluctant to participate in publicity efforts for her pictures. she was not active in the Hollywood social whirl and was hesitant to give interviews.
  • Arthur received one Academy Award nomination, in the Best Actress in a Leading Role category for The More the Merrier (1943). A year earlier, she won the Sour Apple Award from the Hollywood Women’s Press Club, which was given to the year’s “Least Cooperative Actor/Actress.”

Happy birthday, Jean Arthur, wherever you may be!

Jean Arthur