Garson Kanin - Writer

Writer and Director. Nationality: American. Born: Rochester, New York, 24 November 1912. Education: Left school at age 15; later attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, New York. Military Service: U.S. Army Signal Corps, 1941–42: private; served in the Air Force, 1942–43, and the Office of Strategic Services, 1943–45; captain, on staff of SHAEF (European Theater Operations); made documentaries for the Office of Emergency Management. Family: Married the actress and writer Ruth Gordon, 1942 (died 1985). Career: 1929–32—jazz musician, Western Union messenger, stock boy and advertising proofreader at Macy's, New York; burlesque comedian, and summer camp social director; 1933—Broadway debut as actor; 1935–37—assistant to the Broadway director George Abbott; then freelance producer and director for the stage; 1938–41—director, RKO: first film, A Man to Remember ; 1946—first play produced, Born Yesterday ; 1947—first of several screenplays in collaboration with Ruth Gordon, A Double Life ; 1955—first novel published, Do Re Mi ; 1967—formed Kanin Productions; also wrote for TV. Awards: Academy Award, for The True Glory , 1945. Died: Of heart failure, 13 March 1999, in New York, NY.

Films as Director:


A Man to Remember ; Next Time I Marry


The Great Man Votes ; Bachelor Mother (+ ro)


My Favorite Wife ; They Knew What They Wanted


Tom, Dick, and Harry


Night Shift (doc); Ring of Steel (doc); Fellow Americans (doc)

Garson Kanin (center) with Ruth Gordon and Ronald Colman
Garson Kanin (center) with Ruth Gordon and Ronald Colman


German Manpower (doc)


Night Stripes (doc); A Salute to France (co-d with Renoir—doc); Battle Stations (doc)


The True Glory (co-d with Reed—doc)


Salute to France (co-d with Renoir)

Films as Writer:


From This Day Forward (Berry)


A Double Life (Cukor) (with Ruth Gordon)


Adam's Rib (Cukor) (with Ruth Gordon)


The Marrying Kind (Cukor) (with Ruth Gordon); Pat and Mike (Cukor) (with Ruth Gordon)


It Should Happen to You (Cukor)


Born Yesterday (+ co-d)


The Rat Race (Mulligan); High Time (Edwards)


An Eye on Emily (+ d)


Where It's At (+ d)


Some Kind of Nut (+ d)


Hardhat and Legs (Philips—for TV); The Year's Blonde (Erman—for TV); The Scarlett O'Hara War (Erman—for TV); The Silent Lovers (Erman—for TV)


Born Yesterday (Mandoki) (co-sc)

Films Based on Kanin's Writings:


The Girl Can't Help It (Tashlin)


The Right Approach (Butler)


By KANIN: plays—

Born Yesterday , New York, 1946.

The Smile of the World , New York, 1949.

Fledermaus , New York, 1950.

The Rat Race , New York, 1950.

The Live Wire , New York, 1951.

A Gift of Time , New York, 1962.

Come On Strong , New York, 1964.

By KANIN: fiction—

Do Re Mi , New York, 1955.

Blow Up a Storm , New York, 1959.

The Rat Race , New York, 1960.

A Cast of Characters , New York, 1969.

Where It's At , New York, 1969.

A Thousand Summers , New York, 1973.

One Hell of an Actor , New York, 1976.

Smash , New York, 1980.

Cordelia? , New York, 1982.

By KANIN: other books—

Remembering Mr. Maugham , New York, 1966.

Tracy and Hepburn (nonfiction), New York, 1971.

With Ruth Gordon, Adam's Rib (script), New York, 1972.

Hollywood (nonfiction), New York, 1974.

It Takes a Long Time to Become Young , New York, 1978.

Together Again , New York, 1981.

By KANIN: articles—

Interview with Penelope Houston and John Gillett, in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1972.

Focus on Film (London), Spring 1974.

Film Comment (New York), July/August 1978.

On KANIN: book—

Krautz, Alfred, Encyclopedia of Film Directors in the United States & Europe: Comedy Films to 1991, Munchen, 1993.

On KANIN: articles—

Houston, Penelope, "Cukor and the Kanins," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1955.

Films in Review (New York), December 1964.

Film Comment (New York), Winter 1970–71.

National Film Theatre Booklet (London), April/May 1972.

Monthly Film Bulletin (London), September 1972, additions in January and February 1973.

Films in Review (New York), November 1974.

American Film (Washington, D.C.), March 1976.

Film Dope (Nottingham), March 1984.

Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), April 1990.

Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), May 1994.

Obituary, in Variety (New York), 22 March 1999.

Obituary, in Opera News , July 1999.

* * *

Garson Kanin appears in this volume principally for his work as a screenwriter, but his contributions to American popular arts and letters, a number of them uncredited, were in a variety of genres and forums. He acted on the stage and in radio and wrote and directed for stage, screen, and television. He published novels, biographies, memoirs, and an extensive array of short fiction in magazines that run the gamut from Atlantic Monthly to Penthouse . As an actor in the 1930s, he appeared in several Broadway plays and in radio roles on programs ranging from the high-toned March of Time and Theatre Guild on the Air to the soap operatic Aunt Jennie's Real Life Stories and The Goldbergs .

Influenced by his work as production assistant to the legendary Broadway director George Abbott, Kanin began to direct plays in New York, mostly road company versions of Abbott productions. He joined Samuel Goldwyn's production staff in 1937, an inauspicious association that lasted only a year, but which led to a contract with RKO, where between 1938 and 1941 he directed seven pictures featuring such major stars as Ginger Rogers ( Bachelor Mother and Tom, Dick, and Harry ), Cary Grant and Irene Dunne ( My Favorite Wife ), and Carole Lombard and Charles Laughton ( They Knew What They Wanted ). Kanin also directed a group of films for the war effort after being drafted into the army. One of them, The True Glory , won an Oscar as best documentary for 1945.

Although he had made uncredited contributions to the screenplays for Bachelor Mother , which he directed, the Hepburn-Tracy Woman of the Year , and Jean Arthur's The More the Merrier Kanin was known primarily as a director until he wrote (and also directed) the Broadway play Born Yesterday (1946)—and until he and his wife, actress-writer Ruth Gordon, collaborated on a series of four memorable screenplays. Those screenplays are certain to stand as the pair's enduring legacy to American film. Two of them— Adam's Rib and Pat and Mike —were written for Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, whose contrasting elegance and gruffness provide the comic center around which each script's situations and dialogue sparkle. Both films (such as the two other Kanin-Gordon scripts, A Double Life and The Marrying Kind ) were directed by George Cukor and in them Cukor, Kanin, Gordon, Tracy, and Hepburn Americanized the Restoration comedy of manners.

Kanin boasts that neither he nor his late wife was "ever employed as a screenwriter for so much as a day by any studio in Hollywood," ever aware that a Hollywood contract "was the closest form of slavery in our time." Their scripts were therefore written on speculation in the east, and then offered for sale. "Some, we sold."

—Mark W. Estrin

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