Garson Kanin

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This Sunday, a revival of the classic comedy “Born Yesterday” opens on Broadway.  As WNYC’s Sara Fishko tells us, its author, Garson Kanin, was responsible for a generous slice of American culture. Listen above to the next Fishko Files...


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Although Garson Kanin was perhaps best known for Born Yesterday, he covered a lot of cultural territory.


    • Wrote a book called Hollywood (1974) about the years he spent living there – full of sharp-dialogue and evocative profiles of Hollywood types, such as Kanin’s first boss: Sam Goldwyn.
    • Wrote a memoir called Tracy and Hepburn (1971), about Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn's lives together. Kanin was a close personal friend of the couple.
    • Wrote a novel called Moviola (1980), an inside story about the emergence of the movie industry in America.
    • Directed the first production of The Diary of Anne Frank in 1955 (the production ran on Broadway for 717 performances).
    • Directed the original Funny Girl (1964) on Broadway (the production ran for 1,348 performances).
    • Wrote the play Come On Strong (1964) about a pair of young actors, living together and competing with each other in New York’s theater scene.
    • Wrote the musical Do ReMi (1960).
    • Directed A Gift of Time -- a stage adaptation of writer Lael Wertenbaker’s autobiographical account of her husband’s final months living with cancer – in 1962. 
    • All in all, Kanin directed 16 feature films, wrote 14 books, and directed 32 plays.


      During some of Kanin’s most productive years he was married to Ruth Gordon - an actress and writer. Among other things, Gordon starred in Thorton Wilder's The Matchmaker (1955)-- she received a Tony Award nomination for that role. She also won an Academy Award for her role in Rosemary's Baby (1968). She also appeared in the films Harold and Maude (1971), Where’s Poppa (1970) and Boardwalk (1979) – as well as the television shows Rhoda (1975), Taxi (1979) and Newhart (1983).





      "She was very elegant, whimsical. When she was matron of honor at our wedding she wanted to cut her dress. I said do not cut the dress. You may not wear the dress above your knee as you’re walking down the aisle of a German-Jewish wedding. You may not. Everybody else is in top hats and she wanted to cut the dress. They had a great love affair the two of them. And they were openly affectionate and had public displays of affection at the rehearsal when she was distressed about things." - Tovah Feldshuh


      Ruth Gordon



      More than a decade after his death, Kanin is still known for his witty quotations. Here's a selection of his most memorable quotes.

      Memorable Quotes

        • "Amateurs hope, professionals work."
        • "There are thousands of causes of stress, and one antidote to stress is self-expression. That’s what happens to me every day. My thoughts get off my chest, down my sleeves and onto my pad."
        • "The best part of one’s life is the working part, the creative part. Believe me, I love to succeed. However, the real spiritual and emotional excitement is in the doing."
        • "Youth is a gift of nature. But age is a work of art.”
        • "Whenever I’m asked what college I attended, I’m tempted to reply, ‘Thorton Wilder.’" (Kanin was a high school dropout, but developed strong ties with Thorton Wilder, who mentored and guided Kanin for many years).
        • “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” (Kanin took credit for this quote, but there’s some dispute over its true origin. According to our research, Kanin may have appropriated from one of the following four people, to whom it has been attributed: Petronius, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, or Horace Porter.)



          More Reflections on Kanin

          John Rubinstein -- the son of the great pianist Artur Rubinstein -- got to know Kanin through his father and mother, who were very close with Kanin. 

          "He seemed to take great pleasure in his journey through life. Whatever it happened to be. He was a great storyteller. But the story telling always reflected his humor and his perception about people and about events. He seemed to be just having a good time. My father was like that in many ways, too. They both worked very hard and took their work very seriously. And took the world very seriously, too – politically and in every other way. They lived through those World Wars and all that. So they weren’t at all frivolous people. But they enjoyed the ride."


          For more Information...

          The revival of Garson Kanin's Born Yesterday opens April 24th. For more information, visit this website.

          See the entire documentary True Glory (1946) here.

          Listen to WNYC's Kanin Festival (from 2010) here.


          WNYC Production Credits...

          Mix Engineer: Wayne Shulmister

          Assistant Producer: Laura Mayer

          Managing Editor, WNYC News: Karen Frillmann