Garson Kanin, a prolific playwright who created the Broadway and Hollywood classic “Born Yesterday,” died Saturday. He was 86.
Kanin died of heart failure at his Manhattan home after a long illness, said his assistant, Martha Wilson.
His place in entertainment history would have been assured had he done no more than write and direct “Born Yesterday,” the oft-revived play that made Judy Holliday a star of the theater in 1946 and won her an Oscar for the movie version in 1950.
Kanin was the author or director of numerous stage and movie hits, including some of the celebrated screen pairings of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.
In collaboration with his wife of 43 years, actress Ruth Gordon, he wrote the screenplays of Tracy and Hepburn’s 1949 film “Adam’s Rib” and their 1952 movie “Pat and Mike.” Kanin and Gordon also received an Academy Award nomination for writing “A Double Life,” the 1948 movie for which Ronald Colman received a best actor Oscar.
Gordon died in 1985. In 1990, Kanin married actress Marian Seldes, who was with him when he died.
Kanin claimed collaboration in the first Tracy-Hepburn teaming, “Woman of the Year,” in 1942. His screenwriter brother, Michael Kanin, and Ring Lardner Jr. were the officially credited writers and won an Oscar.
Garson Kanin also said “The More the Merrier,” the delicious 1943 comedy of wartime Washington, was his brainchild, but the screenplay is credited to four other writers. The stage version of the comedy of political corruption and personal redemption, which ran for 1,642 performances on Broadway, boomed anew during the latter Nixon years.
As an officer in a U.S. Army film unit during World War II, Kanin was co-director, with Carol Reed, of “The True Glory,” which won the Oscar for best documentary in 1945.
He wrote 14 books of fact and fiction and published numerous articles and short stories in everything from Good Housekeeping to Penthouse.
Kanin, born in Rochester, N.Y., dropped out of James Madison High School in Brooklyn during the Depression. He worked as a telegram messenger, Macy’s stock boy, burlesque comic and honky-tonk saxophone player, but also attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, which led to the stage.
He got bit parts in several plays and joined movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn’s production staff in Hollywood in 1937.
Prewar movies that Kanin directed included another celebrated teaming, of Cary Grant and Irene Dunne, in “My Favorite Wife” in 1940. He also directed two Ginger Rogers favorites, “Bachelor Mother” (1939) and “Tom, Dick and Harry” (1941), and the critically acclaimed “They Knew What They Wanted” (1940), with Charles Laughton and Carole Lombard.
In 1942, while in the Army, Kanin married Gordon, who was 16 years his senior. Seldes was 16 years his junior.
Notable among the 30 New York stage productions Kanin directed were “The Diary of Anne Frank” in 1955, “Sunday in New York” in 1961, “Funny Girl” in 1964 and “Do Re Mi,” which he also wrote, in 1961.