Annaleigh Ashford will be portraying Academy Award winning actress Judy Holliday in the upcoming biopic Smart Blonde.
Holliday’s story certainly has resonance for today’s audiences as she was outspoken about having to fend off a sexual advance from 20th Century Fox mogul Darryl F. Zanuck during her early film career as a day player on the studio lot. Holliday found herself scheduled for one of Zanuck’s infamous “four o’clock meetings,” in which young starlets were expected to have sex with the executive. When Zanuck unzipped his pants and tried to pin Holliday down on a couch, she was able to fend him off and leave. The incident prompted her to temporarily abandon her nascent Hollywood career and head for the footlights of Broadway.
A native New Yorker, Holliday got her showbusiness start in the nightclub act The Revuers, performing alongside future Broadway show composers Betty Comden and Adolph Green and others. She landed her first film role, in Fox’s 1944 drama Winged Victory, right as The Revuers was breaking up. She made her Broadway debut a year later in Kiss Them For me.
Holliday’s biggest success came in 1946, when she landed the lead in the smash Broadway comedy Born Yesterday. While she received rave reviews for her role as the scatterbrained Billie, when Columbia Pictures bought the screen rights to the show, studio boss Harry Cohn was hesitant in casting Holliday given her lack of motion picture experience. He was more interested in casting the likes of Rita Heyworth, Gloria Grahame or Jean Arthur in the role.
Born Yesterday playwright Garson Kanin teamed up with Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn and director George Cukor to get Holliday a key supporting role in the upcoming Cukor-directed comedy Adam’s Rib as a way to show Cohn that Holliday could handle being front and center in a film. Even then, Cohn still demanded a screen test for Holliday, even though he would say that it was a “benchmark against which to evaluate” other actresses under consideration for the role. She would go one to win both a Golden Globe and the Oscar for Best actress for her work on the film.
Currently no director is attached to the project. Pulitzer-nominated playwright Willy Holtzman is writing the screenplay.