MoMA’s holdings of films starring the American actress Judy Holliday (1921–1965) are abundant, and this nine-film selection features some of the Academy Award–winning actress’ most beloved star-making roles.
From Adam’s Rib to Bells Are Ringing, Holliday remained an onscreen delight and audience favorite from the 1940s through the early 1960s. Generally known for her comedic work and distinctive, high-pitched, nasal voice, Holliday had hopes of attending Yale Drama School, but a fortuitous detour brought her to Orson Welles’s Mercury Theatre, where she worked as the switchboard operator. In the early 1940s, as a part of the cabaret act The Revuers, Holliday, using her given name Judith Tuvim, went to Hollywood and signed with Fox, but had minimal success. Returning to Broadway, Holliday fatefully stepped in one night for Jean Arthur in the Garson Kanin play Born Yesterday—in a role that would eventually earn her an Oscar for the 1950 film version.
No dumb blonde in reality, Holliday reportedly had an IQ in excess of 170. In 1950, when she was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee to explain her supposed association with communist activities, legend has it she was counseled to play dumb—effectively channeling her Born Yesterday role as an uncouth, uneducated woman. Her testimony so flummoxed the committee that Holliday was released without naming names or being blacklisted.
Holliday’s career was tragically cut short when she died from cancer, at the age of 43, in 1965.
Organized by Anne Morra, Associate Curator, Department of Film.