Cast & Crew
Following the death of his wife, Gregory Vance, a respected Harvard educator and scholar, degenerates into a philosophical drunk, finally sinking to the position of night watchman. However, Vance's two young, children Joan and Donald, believe that their father can attain his former greatness if only he could find the inspiration to do so. Due to their father's tutoring, the children are outstanding students, but they dread going to school because the other children, led by bully Davy McCarthy, call their father a drunken bum. Donald and Joan find an ally in their new teacher, Miss Agnes Billow, who is impressed with their intelligence and intrigued when Donald utters the Harvard battle cry "Anghard" when fighting off Davy. She visits Vance and discovers that he is the scholar she has admired for years. Vance's luck begins to change when a press agent unearths the fact that he is the last uncommitted registered voter in a precinct that has traditionally determined the outcome of the election, and the mayor orders his political boss, Iron Hat McCarthy, to deliver Vance's vote. In response, Iron Hat tries to bribe Vance with a job as janitor, but Joan and Donald bargain with him until he offers their father the position of Commissioner of Education. Before Vance can cast his ballot, however, the children's wealthy grandparents appear and threaten to take them away from him. As Vance wrestles with the issue of compromising his ideals, the campaign makes him the center of attention, thereby restoring his self-respect. After shrewdly demanding the job offer in writing, Vance reveals that he voted against McCarthy's crooked political machine; thus he regains his dignity without sacrificing his honor. His dignity and family restored, Vance begins to court Miss Billow.
J. M. Kerrigan
Pandro S. Berman
Hugh Mcdowell Jr.
Van Nest Polglase
The Great Man Votes
As low as Barrymore had fallen, Weidler was at the top of her game at her home studio (MGM) and in loan outs (she made The Great Man Votes for RKO). The same year she made this RKO feature, she appeared in nine pictures, including the all-star hit The Women (1939), where she held her own with the likes of Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford. Working with Barrymore, however, turned out to be more difficult than appearing opposite such legendary divas.
Peter Holden, the six-year-old making his only screen appearance as the professor's son, was terrified of the star and extremely docile, almost immobile, in his presence. Weidler, however, a veteran of more than 20 films, was an expert actress and scene-stealer, so accomplished that Barrymore began referring to her sarcastically as "Mrs. Thomas Whiffen," the celebrated American stage actress who had continued to act well into her later years. In one key scene, Barrymore had to deliver a long, moving speech to the children about their dead mother. Virginia sat on his lap, twisting and re-twisting his necktie around her finger as he beautifully delivered the monologue. Kanin found himself enthralled by Weidler's bit of business until suddenly the take was interrupted by a scream from Barrymore. He jumped to his feet and hurled the little girl across the set (luckily, she was caught by two stagehands), cursing and berating her for being a "hammy little bitch" who craftily pulled focus to herself in what was supposed to be his big dramatic moment. Weidler was led off the set weeping, and Kanin walked Barrymore around the lot until he calmed down. The director later admitted that, unpleasant as the incident was, the outburst did refocus his attention on what was best dramatically for the scene. The next day, Weidler sat stone still on Barrymore's lap while the actor did a magnificent take of the scene with no distraction.
Despite the volatile nature of Barrymore's eruption, his overall behavior during production proved Kanin had been justified in hiring him for the part. Barrymore was by all accounts a delight to work with, sober on the set and, despite his reliance on reading his lines off blackboard cue cards, highly professional and effective. One of the ways Kanin guaranteed this happy outcome was to order all members of the cast and crew to refer to him as "Mr. Barrymore," even those people who for years had known him simply as "Jack." Not only did this maneuver bolster the 57-year-old star's sense of being respected and revered for his long and distinguished career, it also helped ensure that he did not become pals with crew members, a practice that on previous projects led to long nights of carousing and many problems during shooting.
Unfortunately, despite fine work by all involved, The Great Man Votes was not a success. Weidler went on to bigger pictures, such as The Philadelphia Story (1940) and Babes on Broadway (1941) before retiring from show business at the age of 17 in 1943. Barrymore made only five more movies, in which he was often called on to lampoon his own wastrel image, before his death in 1942 of pneumonia and cirrhosis of the liver.
Director: Garson Kanin
Producer: Cliff Reid
Screenplay: John Twist, Garson Kanin (uncredited), story by Gordon Malherbe Hillman
Cinematography: Russell Metty
Editing: Jack Hively
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase
Original Music: Roy Webb
Cast: John Barrymore (Gregory Vance), Virginia Weidler (Joan Vance), Peter Holden (Donald Vance), Katharine Alexander (Agnes Billow), Donald MacBride (Iron Hat McCarthy).
by Rob Nixon
The Great Man Votes
According to a news item in Los Angeles Times, Victor Moore was originally to have played the lead opposite ZaSu Pitts. A later item in Hollywood Reporter notes that RKO considered producing a sequel to this film entitled The Great Man in Politics.