Cast & Crew
When the metropolitan newspaper The Bulletin is bought by publisher D. B. Norton, he changes its name to The New Bulletin and replaces its motto, "A free press for a free people," with "A streamlined newspaper for a streamlined era." As part of the new streamlining efforts, managing editor Henry Connell fires "sob-sister" columnist Ann Mitchell because she does not produce enough "fireworks" to bring up the paper's circulation. However, Ann resolves to fight for her job by writing a phony letter to her column, claiming to have received it from a man protesting the degenerated state of affairs in the world and announcing his plans to jump from the roof of City Hall at midnight on Christmas Eve. She signs the letter "John Doe," and its publication results in an explosion of public interest in the fictitious man. Mayor Lovett, who is sensitive about the publicity a suicide from City Hall would generate, publicly offers the mysterious John Doe a job to prevent the suicide, and marriage proposals begin to pour in from concerned women. As a result of the overwhelming interest in her creation, Ann is able to convince Connell that The New Bulletin should continue to print stories about "John Doe" or be forced to admit fraud. Ann is quickly reinstated at the paper, with a thousand dollar bonus, and the search begins for a real person they can use as their John Doe stooge. After reviewing a number of derelicts who have shown up at the paper claiming to have penned the original suicide letter, Ann and Connell decide upon a former bush league baseball pitcher named Long John Willoughby, who is in need of money to repair his injured arm. The naïve John is hired for the job and treated to expensive gifts by the paper, while his hobo friend, The "Colonel," voices his disapproval of the arrangement and tries to warn him about the dangers of becoming one of the "heelots" who, like a lot of heels, sacrifice character for comfort and wealth, and lose compassion for those less fortunate than themselves. No sooner does the John Doe ideal gain widespread notoriety, than the unscrupulous Norton plans to use its potential to further his political goals. Norton commissions Ann to write a radio speech for John, paying her generously for the effort, but she anguishes over the content of the speech, until she finds inspiration in the idealistic writings of her father's diary. Before John makes his speech, however, Mike, an emissary from The Chronicle , Norton's chief competitor, tries to persuade the baseball player to expose the hoax by telling him that if he continues the scam, his baseball career will be over. John considers this, but despite an offer of five thousand dollars and a guaranteed hasty exit from the performance, he tremblingly reads the speech written by Ann, with whom he is infatuated. Later regretting the incident, John and The Colonel flee, but Ann and Norton quickly catch up with them in Millville, where Ann asks John to hear out local members of one of the newly formed John Doe Clubs, hoping that they will convince him to go on as their spokesman. John agrees to continue after being moved by the sincerity of a local John Doe Club chapter leader, Bert Hansen, who tells a heartwarming story about how the movement has been a true inspiration for him and his neighbors. While John, who is now in love with Ann, seeks advice from her mother about how to propose to her, Norton showers Ann with expensive gifts and coerces her into persuading the baseball player to announce the creation of a new political party, which the publisher plans to exploit as a stepping stone to the presidency, at the planned John Doe convention. Disillusioned by the whole affair, Connell gets drunk and exposes Norton's plans to take over the minds of the American people to John, who immediately marches over to Norton's, where he finds Ann and Norton's cohorts meeting to decide the future of the John Doe movement. After upbraiding them for their misdeeds, John announces that he plans to reveal the truth about Norton and his sinister plot at the convention that evening, and then storms out. Ann rushes after him to explain her unwilling involvement in the plan, but John refuses to listen, and police detain her until after the convention. That night, John is outwitted by Norton, who foils his attempt to expose him by distributing printed propaganda that portrays John as a fake and cutting the microphone wires before he can explain the situation. The crowd turns on John, and he is forced to leave and go into hiding. John mulls over the debacle and decides that the only way he can redeem himself is by making good on the suicide promise and thus proving his sincerity and devotion to the cause. On Christmas Eve, the now ill Ann, The Colonel, Connell and Norton intuitively gather on top of City Hall and wait for John to show up. John emerges from the darkness just before midnight, and, as he prepares to jump, Norton tries to stop him by telling him that the act will go unnoticed by the public, because he has made arrangements to have his body removed immediately after impact. Ann pleads with John to reconsider, but he appears resolved to go through with it until a delegation of John Doe Club members arrive and persuade him not to jump by convincing him that they had always believed in him and his good intentions. With his faith in the goodness of the human spirit restored, John leaves the rooftop carrying Ann, who has fainted, in his arms.
Rod La Rocque
J. Farrell Macdonald
John B. Hughes
Hall Johnson Choir
Dave Miller And His New York French Casino Band
American Legion Band
St. Brendan's Boys Choir
Mrs. Gardner Crane
Isabelle La Mal
Ed Peil Sr.
Thomas W. Ross
Mrs. Wilfred North
Daisy, The Dog
Arthur S. Black
Leo F. Forbstein
William S. Holman
William Cameron Menzies
C. A. Riggs
Samuel Francis Smith
Best Writing, Screenplay
The Essentials - Meet John Doe
After she's fired, newspaper reporter Ann Mitchell decides to bow out with a bogus story about an unnamed idealist, John Doe, threatening to throw himself off the roof of City Hall on Christmas Eve as a protest against the continued mistreatment of the little man. When the story sells papers, she has to find an unemployed man to become her John Doe. But she gets more than she bargains for when she gives the job to Long John Willoughby, a baseball pitcher put out of work by a bum arm. As the furor mounts, her publisher, Norton, steps in to use Willoughby as his ticket to political power. By the time Willoughby catches on to his game, John Doe Clubs have spread across the nation, triggering the birth of a new political party. When Willoughby tries to denounce Norton, the publisher accuses him of being a fraud and stealing the Clubs' money. Publicly disgraced, Willoughby sees no way of bringing back the spirit of John Doe except to follow through on a suicide threat he never made.
Producer-Director: Frank Capra
Screenplay: Robert Riskin
Based on the short story "A Reputation" by Richard Connell and the motion picture story "The Life and Death of John Doe" by Connell and Robert Presnell
Cinematography: George Barnes
Editing: Daniel Mandell
Art Direction: Stephen Goosson
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Gary Cooper (Long John Willoughby), Barbara Stanwyck (Ann Mitchell), Edward Arnold (D.B. Norton), Walter Brennan (The Colonel), Spring Byington (Mrs. Mitchell), James Gleason (Henry Connell), Gene Lockhart (Mayor Lovett), Rod La Rocque (Ted Shelton), Irving Bacon (Beany), Regis Toomey (Bert Hansen), J. Farrell MacDonald (Sourpuss Smithers), Sterling Holloway (Dan), M. J. Frankovich (Radio Announcer), Ann Doran (Mrs. Hansen), Bess Flowers (Mattie), Susan Peters (Autograph Hound), Jim Thorpe (John Doe Applicant)
Why MEET JOHN DOE is Essential
Meet John Doe is now considered the climax of a trilogy in which Frank Capra dealt with American individualism. The other two films are Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) an Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939).
Contemporary critics have hailed the film as one of Capra's most personal. Like the characters played by Barbara Stanwyck, Gary Cooper and Edward Arnold, he had become a shaper of public opinion through his highly successful films. The picture explores the nature of such power, with Stanwyck and Cooper's characters, like Capra himself, questioning the validity of their influence. With Cooper's betrayal in the film, critics also see Capra questioning the nature of public opinion and the ease with which the pubic can turn against its heroes.
After establishing Gary Cooper's all-American image in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, director Capra propelled him into the ranks of top Hollywood stars with Meet John Doe. Ironically, the former presented him as a man who keeps his small-town ideals despite a bruising encounter with big-city corruption, while the latter presents him as a man with no true ideology who develops his ideals after almost being destroyed by political manipulators. With the release of Sergeant York later the same year, Cooper made his first appearance on the year-end list of top box office stars.
Capra had directed Stanwyck in five films, starting with Ladies of Leisure (1930), the film that made her a star. They had not worked together since 1933's The Bitter Tea of General Yen. Historians have credited him with helping her refine her acting for the screen. By the time they reunited for Meet John Doe, she was one of Hollywood's top stars.
Meet John Doe is one of the few films of its era to deal with the dangers of Fascist movements on American soil in the years preceding the U.S.' entry into World War II. Publisher William Randolph Hearst and aviator Charles Lindbergh had publicly expressed support of Adolph Hitler's Third Reich. Organizations like the German-American Bund actively supported Hitler's programs in the U.S., while Lindbergh's America First Committee fought to keep the U.S. out of World War II.
Meet John Doe marked Frank Capra's last collaboration with his most sympathetic screenwriter, Robert Riskin. The two had first worked together on The Miracle Woman (1931), adapted from Riskin's play Bless You Sister. Their ten films together included It Happened One Night (1934), for which Riskin won an Oscar®, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Lost Horizon (1937) and You Can't Take It with You (1938). Capra chose to make Here Comes the Groom (1951) because it was adapted from a story Riskin had written in 1947.
by Frank Miller
The Essentials - Meet John Doe
Pop Culture 101 - Meet John Doe
During production, Frank Capra and Robert Riskin had discussed making a sequel, The Further Adventures of John Doe. When the film's tax problems forced them to dissolve Frank Capra Productions, those plans were scrapped.
Warner Bros. spoofed the film's title in the 1941 animated film "Meet John Doughboy." The cartoon was a series of sight gags about the military presented by Porky Pig and bore no relationship to the Frank Capra film beyond its plot.
One myth attached to Meet John Doe is that nine minutes were cut from it after its initial release. The film's original publicity indicated it was 132 minutes long, while most surviving prints were 123 minutes. Historians looked for the missing nine minutes for years until an original fine grain negative turned up with a running time of 123 minutes. Apparently, the longer running time was a typo.
Eager to get involved in the war effort and, according to some sources, tired of Capra's taking most of the credit for their work together, Riskin ended their collaboration after Meet John Doe. When Riskin informed him that he wanted to work on other projects than those they had planned together, Capra became quite bitter toward his former partner. At one point, he said, "Those damn writers shouldn't be making pictures."
By 1945 ownership of Meet John Doe had reverted to Capra and Riskin. They sold the film to an independent distributor, Goodwill Pictures, for $150,000. When that company failed to renew their copyright, the film reverted to the public domain. Goodwill also allowed the camera negative to deteriorate, leaving most prints of the film in bad condition. In the '70s, the American Film Institute restored the film from two surviving nitrate prints and Warner Bros.' studio print. That version is currently stored in the Library of Congress.
Remakes of Meet John Doe were announced by United Artists in 1962 and Columbia Pictures Television in 1982, but nothing came of either project.
A 1989 Indian film, Main Azaad Hoon, borrowed plot elements from Meet John Doe with a story about a female reporter who invents stories about a common man fighting political corruption who eventually decides to commit suicide. This film used the ending Capra did not dare use, with the John Doe character throwing himself from an unfinished skyscraper at the end.
A musical version of Meet John Doe played briefly at Washington, DC's, Ford Theater in 2007.
by Frank Miller
Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success by Joseph McBride
Pop Culture 101 - Meet John Doe
Trivia - Meet John Doe - Trivia & Fun Facts About MEET JOHN DOE
The tune Gary Cooper and Walter Brennan play on their harmonica and ocarina, respectively, is "Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee (An Actor's Life for Me)" from Pinocchio (1940).
Capra needed 1,500 extras to shoot the convention scene in Meet John Doe, with most of the work done at night. The extras got $5.50 and a box lunch for each night's work.
While shooting Meet John Doe, Barbara Stanwyck had to cope with a request for a divorce when her husband, Robert Taylor, fell in love with Lana Turner while shooting Johnny Eager (1941). When Turner informed her co-star she was not interested in a long-term relationship, the couple patched things up.
Meet John Doe was one of the 20 top-grossing films of the 1940-41 season and -- with his other 1941 hit, Sergeant York -- earned Gary Cooper seventh place on the list of top box office stars for the year. This was his first appearance on the list.
Warner Bros.' tagline for the film proclaimed, "ALL AMERICA WANTS TO MEET THE 'MR. DEEDS' OF 1941!"
by Frank Miller
Famous Quotes from MEET JOHN DOE
"Below is a letter which reached my desk this morning. It's a commentary on what we laughingly call a civilized world.
"Dear Miss Mitchell: Four years ago, I was fired out of my job. Since then, I haven't been able to get another one. At first, I was sore at the state administration because it's on account of the slimy politics here we have all this unemployment. But in looking around, it seems the whole world is goin' to pot. So in protest, I'm goin' to commit suicide by jumping off the City Hall roof.
"Signed, a disgusted American citizen. John Doe.
"Editor's Note: If you ask this column, the wrong people are jumping off the roofs." -- The newspaper column by Barbara Stanwyck, as Ann Mitchell, that sets the plot in motion
"If it was raining hundred dollar bills, you'd be out looking for a dime you lost someplace." -- Stanwyck, as Ann Mitchell, complaining that her editor -- James Gleason, as Henry Connell -- doesn't get the potential of her story
"All this John Doe business is batty if you ask me...Trying to improve the world by jumping off buildings. You couldn't improve the world if the buildings jumped on you." -- Walter Brennan, as The Colonel
"You're gonna get used to a lot of stuff that's gonna wreck ya...I've seen guys like you go under before, guys that never had a worry. Then they got ahold of some dough and went goofy. -- Brennan, as The Colonel
"If he made a hit around here, he can do it every place else in the country. And you'd be pulling the strings!" -- Stanwyck, as Ann, convincing Edward Arnold, as D.B. Norton, to keep the story going
"John, when you read that speech, please, please believe every word of it. He turned out to be a wonderful person, John."
"John Doe, the one in the speech."
"You know something. I...I've actually fallen in love with him." -- Stanwyck, handing Gary Cooper, as Long John Willoughby, his radio speech
"To most of you, your neighbor is a stranger, a guy with a barking dog and a fence around him. Now you can't be a stranger to any guy who's on your own team. So tear down the fence that separates you...You'll tear down a lot of hates and prejudices...I know a lot of you are saying to yourself: 'He's asking for a miracle'...Well, you're wrong, it's no miracle...I see it happen once every year...at Christmastime...Why can't that spirit last the whole year round? Gosh, if it ever did -- we'd develop such a strength that no human force could stand against us." -- Cooper, as Long John Willoughby, delivering his big speech on the radio
"It's a shame how little we know about our neighbors...The reason we wanted to tell you this, Mr. Doe, was to give you an idea of what you've started. And from where I'm sitting, I don't see any sense in you jumping off any building....You're a wonderful man, and it strikes me you can be mighty useful walkin' around for a while." -- Regis Toomey, as Bert Hansen, convincing Cooper, as Long John, that he's doing good
"What makes them come and listen and get up their John Doe clubs the way they do?....Maybe they're like me -- just beginning to get an idea of what those things mean. I never thought much about people before. They were always just somebody to fill up the bleachers. The only time I worried about them was if they...when they didn't come in to see me pitch. You know, lately, I been watching 'em when I talk to 'em. I could see something in their faces. I could feel that they were hungry for something, you know what I mean? Maybe that's why they came. Maybe they're just lonely and wanted somebody to say hello to. I know how they feel. I've been lonely and hungry for something practically all my life." -- Cooper, to Stanwyck
"I get mad for a lot of other guys besides myself. I get mad for a guy named Washington, and a guy named Jefferson and Lincoln. Lighthouses, John - lighthouses in a foggy world." -- Gleason, as Henry Connell, cluing Cooper in to the plot to use him
"These are daring times...We are coming to a new order of things. There's too much talk been going on in this country. Too many concessions have been made. What the American people need is an iron hand." -- Arnold, as D.B. Norton, revealing his political ambitions
"I'm going down to that convention, and I'm going to tell those people exactly what you and your fine feathered friends are trying to cook up for them." -- Cooper, standing up to Arnold, as Norton
"May I remind you that I picked you up out of the gutter and I can throw you right back there again?...Get off that righteous horse of yours and come to your senses. You're the fake! We believe in what we're doing. You're the one that was paid the thirty pieces of silver. Have you forgotten that? But I haven't. You're a fake, John Doe, and I can prove it. You're the big hero who's supposed to jump off tall buildings and things. Do you remember? What do you suppose your precious John Does will say when they find out that you never had any intention of doing it, that you were being paid to say so?" -- Arnold, threatening Cooper
"Well, boys, you can chalk up another one to the Pontius Pilates." -- Gleason, as Connell, after Arnold turns the mob against Cooper
"The first John Doe already died to keep the good will movement alive, and He has kept that idea alive for more than two thousand years...It's worth dying for, it's an idea worth living for...This is not time to give it up." -- Stanwyck, trying to keep Cooper from throwing himself off City Hall
"We need you. There were a lot of us who didn't believe what that man said. We were going to start our own John Doe Club again whether we saw you or not...And there were a lot of others going to do the same thing...Only it would be a lot easier with you. Please...please come with us, Mr. Doe." Ann Doran, pleading her case to Cooper
"There you are, Norton, the people! Try and lick that!" -- Gleason
Trivia - Meet John Doe - Trivia & Fun Facts About MEET JOHN DOE
The Big Idea - Meet John Doe
Originally, Riskin wanted to film the life of Shakespeare, while Capra was more interested in doing either Cyrano de Bergerac with Ronald Colman or Don Quixote with John Barrymore and Wallace Beery. Then Riskin remembered reading a story called "A Reputation" by Richard Connell in a 1922 issue of Century Magazine. In the story, a clerk invades a Park Avenue party and threatens to commit suicide in protest against the mistreatment of the little man. Jo Swerling had attempted a stage adaptation in 1937 but had never finished it. Connell and Robert Presnell had written a screen treatment called "The Life and Death of John Doe" in 1939. Riskin got hold of it and sent it to Capra in New York, where he was attending the premiere of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Capra read it on the train back to Hollywood and at the next stop wired Riskin to start working on the screenplay.
While writing the screenplay with Riskin, Capra thought of re-teaming James Stewart and Jean Arthur of You Can't Take It with You (1938) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Then he envisioned Ronald Colman, the star of his Lost Horizon (1937), in the leading role of Long John Willoughby. As the script developed, however, he realized the part needed to go to Gary Cooper, who had become the epitome of all-American values in the director's Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936).
Eventually, Capra made a distribution deal with Warner Bros. In return for $500,000 and use of the their production facilities, the studio would distribute Meet John Doe under their production banner and take 25 percent of the gross after the first $2 million. Frank Capra Productions borrowed an additional $750,000 (putting up the director's home as collateral) from which it would pay Capra $250,000, the leading man $150,000 and the writers a total of $100,000. After five years, the film's ownership would revert to Frank Capra Productions.
Warner Bros. leading ladies Ann Sheridan and Olivia de Havilland tested for the female lead. Originally, Capra was prepared to cast Sheridan, but she was in a contract dispute with the studio and, to punish her, Warner's wouldn't let her do the film. Finally, Capra turned to Barbara Stanwyck, whom he had directed several times in the '30s.
The film's leading players -- Cooper, Stanwyck, Edward Arnold, Walter Brennan, James Gleason and Spring Byington -- agreed to do the film without seeing a completed script simply on the strength of Capra's name. Stanwyck asked if her role were honest. When Capra gave her his word that it was, she signed on.
To get Cooper, who was under contract to independent producer Samuel Goldwyn at the time, Capra had to pay $200,000, more than his budgeted salary for leading man. In addition, Warner Bros. had to loan Goldwyn Bette Davis for The Little Foxes (1941).
In particular, Capra didn't have an ending for his story. Determined to prove critics wrong who had criticized his sunny optimism and upbeat populist visions, he and Riskin deliberately put the leading character, Long John Willoughby (Cooper), into the direst straights they could envision at the end. But they couldn't figure out how to solve his problems. They called in writers Myles Connolly and Jules Furthman for advice, but nothing seemed to work. Eventually they had to go into production without a final scene.
Shortly after making his film debut (in 1929's Alibi), Regis Toomey had met Frank Capra in a Hollywood store. They talked for several minutes before Toomey even knew who Capra was. Then Capra said, "Regis, someday I will have a part that I particularly want you to play. I hope you will be available." Ten years later, Capra called him for a meeting and asked him to look over a 14-page scene from a film he was working on. When Toomey got home, he realized it was a 14-page monologue. He came back the next morning, and Capra asked him to read the scene for screenwriter Robert Riskin. Toomey already had it memorized and landed the part of Bert Hansen.
by Frank Miller
The Films of Frank Capra by Victor Scherle, William Turner Levy and William O. Douglas
The Big Idea - Meet John Doe
Behind the Camera - Meet John Doe
Regis Toomey had already memorized his monologue about the John Doe Clubs for his audition, so the day he was supposed to shoot it, Frank Capra asked if he needed a rehearsal. Toomey didn't, so they shot the scene in one take.
Well into production, Capra refused to reveal publicly what the film was about. Part of the motivation for his secrecy was fear that U.S. Fascist groups would pressure Warner Bros. not to make the film. But he also did not have a completed screenplay, and keeping mum on the film's subject was his way of keeping Warner Bros. from pulling out of their agreement.
Capra went into production without a clear idea of how Meet John Doe should end. He shot or edited five endings and previewed two. In one, the film ended with Gary Cooper's being disgraced at the John Doe Convention and James Gleason's editor saying, "Well, boys, you can chalk another one up to the Pontius Pilates." Preview audiences found that version too depressing. Another ending actually had Cooper committing suicide, with his friend, Walter Brennan, cradling his dead body in his arms and saying "Long John, you poor fool. You poor sucker." Riskin preferred this ending, but Capra was unconvinced, and feared the suicide would cause problems with the Catholic Church. He also had a version in which Barbara Stanwyck talks Cooper out of committing suicide and a variation in which Cooper's merry Christmas with Edward Arnold causes the corrupt publisher to see the light. Undecided, Capra released different versions of the ending for the film's initial engagements in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, DC. Finally, a comment from one of the previews inspired a fifth ending, in which some of the original John Doe Club members show up to tell Willoughby they had never stopped believing in him. That also would allow Capra to deal with another problem pointed out by preview audiences and in letters from angry fans - the depiction of Cooper's followers as a fickle herd easily swayed by the film's corrupt politicians. Capra shot the new ending and had prints called back from theatres so it could be added before the film went into national release. Years later he would say that even that ending wasn't quite right.
The rooftop set for the final scene in Meet John Doe was built in an icehouse to capture the sense that it was taking place on Christmas Eve. Stanwyck later said after shooting the scene she had to go to "the hospital for a defrost."
Although Meet John Doe seemed poised to make a handsome profit for Capra and Riskin, under current federal laws they were required to pay taxes on the income before the profits even came in. Without studio overhead and a steady stream of pictures to keep money rolling in, they had to dissolve their corporation simply to pay taxes on the film. Capra would have to postpone his dream of producing his own films for years because of that.
by Frank Miller
Starring Miss Barbara Stanwyck by Ella Smith
Behind the Camera - Meet John Doe
Meet John Doe
One of the reasons Capra attached the project to Warner was to have access to the studio's impressive roster of stars. But when Capra got the idea for Meet John Doe, he knew that he could only use Gary Cooper for the lead role or no one else. Other sources on Capra's career say that the master filmmaker was initially thinking of Ronald Colman for the role, which is curious since Colman doesn't strike anyone then or now as the quintessential "common man" that Meet John Doe called for. For the lead female part of cynical newspaper writer Ann Mitchell, Capra tested several top-notch actresses, including Ann Sheridan and Olivia de Havilland. His first choice was Sheridan, whose casting was announced in May 1940. After Sheridan was eventually vetoed by Warner Bros. because of a contract dispute, Capra finally hired Barbara Stanwyck, with whom he had not worked with since The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933). Capra directed Stanwyck in five other pictures, starting with her star-making turn in Ladies of Leisure (1930). Stanwyck later said of working with Capra: "You make other pictures to live, but you live to make a Capra picture."
In addition to Stanwyck and Gary Cooper, other actors, such as Edward Arnold, James Gleason, Walter Brennan, and Spring Byington, echoed the same high esteem for Capra by enthusiastically agreeing to appear in Meet John Doe. Capra commented that this was the highest compliment anyone could give him, to agree to appear in his movie, even without seeing a finished script. But in fact, it is fortunate they thought so highly of Capra's merits, because no script for the motion picture Meet John Doe existed. Long before principal photography began, Meet John Doe had stirred up worldwide press speculation, primarily because Capra and Riskin wouldn't tell anybody what the film was going to be about. It was a secret because it was still a secret to Capra and Riskin. To admit this to Jack Warner might give him and Warner Bros. second thoughts about Capra and Riskin's independent venture. The production of Meet John Doe was also noteworthy in the press because the director and writer put a hefty sum of their own money on the line, besides the money that Warner Bros. was providing. Capra had to mortgage his home in order to partially finance Meet John Doe. This was a difficult and risky decision, since he was suffering from a severe cash shortage due to heavy taxes. (Capra paid the second highest income tax in Hollywood - $240,000 - second only to Louis B. Mayer.) But his money problems were only going to get worse if he and Riskin couldn't shape a screenplay around a brilliant story idea, one that would hopefully convince important critics that not every Capra film was syrupy Capra-corn that could have been, as Capra put it, "written by Pollyanna."
Because of this resolve for dealing in a different fashion with a sobering topic, he and Riskin eventually cornered themselves once it came time to write a satisfying and logical ending. Screenwriter and renowned script doctor Jules Furthman was brought in to assess the screenplay. Once Furthman looked at their story, he declared, "You guys can't find an ending to your story because you got no story in the first place." Furthman's diagnosis was not met with much relief, simply because it didn't solve the writers' dilemma over a conclusive ending. Eventually, several endings were considered, shot and edited into various rough-cuts of the film. Some sources say that Capra actually shot four different endings, with only two previewed to audiences. Other sources say that only two endings were actually shot, with two other alternate endings created in the editing room.
In one preview ending, the film ended with a comment by James Gleason commenting, "Well, boys, you can chalk up another one to the Pontius Pilates." Too bleak, said the test audience. Another ending had John Doe jumping to his death, with the film closing on Walter Brennan cradling Doe in his arms. Riskin argued for this ending, but Capra didn't take to it. Yet another possibility came to Capra in an anonymous letter sent to him from an early test viewer who thought that only the real John Does of the world could talk the symbolic Doe off the edge to suicide. By the time Capra realized this was the answer to the ending quandry, a print of the film was already in release in major cities. So Capra recalled all the existing prints and attached the fifth and final ending on a film that would become a favorite of the critical establishment at the time. In the end, Capra proved himself capable of much more than just Capra-corn audience pleasers.
Director: Frank Capra
Producer: Frank Capra
Screenplay: Richard Connell & Robert Presnell (story), Robert Riskin
Cinematography: George Barnes
Editor: Daniel Mandell
Art Direction: Stephen Goosson
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Gary Cooper (John Doe/ Long John Willoughby), Barbara Stanwyck (Ann Mitchell), Edward Arnold (D.B. Norton), Walter Brennan (The Colonel), Spring Byington
BW-123m. Closed captioning.
by Scott McGee
Meet John Doe
Critics' Corner - Meet John Doe
Richard Connell and Robert Presnell were nominated for the Oscar® for Best Original Story.
THE CRITICS' CORNER - MEET JOHN DOE (1941)
"The synthetic fabric of the story is the foundation weakness of the production, despite the magnificence of the Capra-directed superstructure. With excellent acting, particularly by Miss Stanwyck, parts of the film are emotionally effective. The climactic mass-meeting of the Doe adherents at which their hero shows his feet of clay, is an expertly imagined and technically perfect presentation of mob psychology and movement. Less convincing are the transitional changes in the hearts and minds of the leading characters."
- Flin., Variety
"...in spite of a certain prolixity and an ending which is obviously a sop, this is by far the hardest-hitting and most trenchant picture on the theme of democracy that the Messrs. Capra and Riskin have yet made-and a glowing tribute to the anonymous citizen, too."
- Bosley Crowther, The New York Times
"He [Gary Cooper] has given great performances in the past, but none to touch this superbly modulated characterization. Whether he is toying with the idea of double-crossing the sob sister, is becoming involved with a fervent zeal for the John Doe movement, or is standing in pitiful lonely debasement when the Fascist publicist exposes the whole hoax, his is the utterly realistic acting which comes through with such authority on the screen."
- Howard Barnes, The New York Herald Tribune.
"Frank Capra's Meet John Doe is...an admirable challenge to the spirit of life today, is a picture that could make history and give a new turn to the thoughts of the nation, if -- and the IF is very large indeed -- it does not die abornin' ...[because] it lacks the inspiration of a great ending."
- Edwin Schallert, The Los Angeles Times.
"Meet John Doe (1941) is Frank Capra's wonderful, message-laden populist melodramatic tale about the common man. The sentimental, hard-hitting film is often grouped into a populist trilogy of Capra films about American individualism - associated with Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), although it is generally considered the weakest of the three."
- Tim Dirks, The Greatest Films
"After a bright start, this hunkers down to serious hand-wringing... Coop's hick (none too convincingly hinted at as the new Messiah) turns out to be a bore, and Capra strains to accommodate political chicanery and his own half-baked idealism."
- TimeOut Film Guide
Compiled by Frank Miller
Critics' Corner - Meet John Doe
I don't read no papers, and I don't listen to radios either. I know the world's been shaved by a drunken barber, and I don't have to read it.- The Colonel
Hey, stop worryin', Colonel, fifty bucks ain't gonna ruin me.- Long John Willoughby
I've seen plenty of fellas start out with fifty bucks and wind up with a *bank* account!- The Colonel
Hey, what's wrong with a bank account, anyway?- Beany
And let me tell you, Long John, when you become a guy with a bank account, they gotcha! Yes sir, they gotcha!- The Colonel
Who's got him?- Beany
The helots!- The Colonel
Walk slow, like you do when you come to pay your taxes.- Mayor Hawkins
If it was raining hundred dollar bills, you'd be out looking for a dime you lost someplace!- Ann
Lighthouses, John. Lighthouses in a foggy world.- Henry Connel
On December 26th, you get one railroad ticket... out of town. And the Bulletin agrees to pay to have your arm fixed. That's what you want, isn't it?- Henry Connel
Yeah, but, it's gotta be by "Bonesetter" Brown.- Long John Willoughby
Director Frank Capra tested the film in different areas of the US with four different endings to determine which one to keep. In one, John Willoughby commits suicide. In another, Ann Mitchell persuades him not to leap from City Hall. Inspired by a letter signed "John Doe," Capra filmed a fifth and final ending in which Mitchell talks some sense into Willoughby and then faints into his arms.
The tune that the main characters constantly play on their sweet potatoes is "Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee (An Actor's Life for Me)" from Pinocchio (1940)
Richard Connell's short story "A Reputation," which was reprinted in a collection of his fiction entitled Apes and Angels (New York, 1924), was being developed as a stage production by Connell and Robert Presnell at the time that Capra bought the rights to the treatment in 1939. The title of the treatment, "The Life and Death of John Doe" was used as a working title for the film, as was The Life of John Doe. According to a pre-production news item, the title was changed to Meet John Doe in order to avoid giving the impression that the film was based on a biography. Meet John Doe was the first film that Capra produced under his newly formed Frank Capra Productions, Inc., a company he co-founded in 1939 with writer Robert Riskin.
Although the national release date for this film was May 3, 1941, the film played at selected theatres around the country following its 12 March premieres. According to his autobiography, Capra acknowledged that five different versions of the ending of Meet John Doe were filmed and audience-tested before he arrived at the decision to release the fifth one for the 3 May national release. Capra also admitted that he was not satisfied with any of the endings that he shot, and that at one point, during the film's first run, following its 12 March premieres, three different versions of the film were playing in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington. One of the five versions ended in John jumping from the City Hall roof, while another had Ann and D. B. Norton talking him out of suicide. The fifth and final version of the end was suggested to the director by way of an anonymous letter, signed "John Doe," which read: "...I have seen your film with many different endings...all bad, I thought...The only thing that can keep John Doe from jumping are the John Does themselves...if they ask him." In an interview, Capra admitted that "for seven-eighths of the picture we had a fine, fine thing going for us there; the very end collapsed like a brick sock."
As noted in Capra's autobiography, the mystery surrounding the story details of the film, both before and during production, was the result of the director's deliberate attempt to shield Bank of America and Jack L. Warner from the fact that the script was not completed at the time of production. Production files on Meet John Doe indicate that Capra financed this picture by using his house as collateral for a $750,000 loan from Bank of America. The loan agreement specified that the remaining funds for the picture (estimated to cost $1,312,500) would be loaned to Capra by Warner Bros., which was to furnish the director with all the necessary equipment, props, facilities and contract players. The studio also negotiated a twenty-five percent cut of the picture's revenue after it grossed its first two million dollars. Other legal documents pertaining to the film indicate that part of Capra's debt to Warner Bros. was settled by a payment of $13,835.31, which the studio secured from the profits made on his next picture, Arsenic and Old Lace. Frank Capra Productions, Inc. was dissolved on December 29, 1941, and its assets were distributed to Capra and Riskin.
Pre-production news items note that Ann Sheridan was first announced for the part of Ann Mitchell, and that Fay Bainter was considered for the role of Ann's mother. Hollywood Reporter production charts listed Granville Bates, Henry O'Neill, Frank Orth and Russell Simpson in the cast, but Bates died shortly after he was announced for the role. There is no indication that O'Neill, Orth or Simpson, who was mistakenly credited with the role played by Walter Soderling in the New York Times review, were in the released film. Other actors announced in contemporary news items for roles, but who did not appear in the film, were: Charles Coburn, Lasses White, Donald Crisp, Dudley Digges and former silent film director Bruce Mitchell. Contemporary sources also note that "Daisy," the dog, was borrowed from Columbia's Blondie series for this picture. As noted in his biography, Dimitri Tiomkin, the film's scorer, became disillusioned with Capra when the director canceled the version of the film's ending that he had scored, which included a paraphrasing of the black spiritual "Deep River" and "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
The New York Times review of Meet John Doe incorrectly lists Mrs. Gardner Crane's character as Mrs. Webster, and erroneously credits Pierre Watkin with the role of Weston and Stanley Andrews with the role of Bennett. According to the Meet John Doe pressbook, Capra paid 350 extras to view and critique two versions of a speech written for John Doe, and decided which one to use based on the results of the survey. Dorothy Andree, who made a brief appearance in the film as the "Average American Girl," was selected from over 12,000 young females who wrote in from all over the country to apply for the part. A total of 137 players were assigned speaking parts in this film, which boasted the use of over 4,000 extras. Much of the filming took place on some fifty-seven sets that were designed by art director Stephen Goosson.
About two hundred plumbers were hired to keep the rain falling at the Gilmore Field baseball park in Los Angeles for eight nights during the filming of John's speech. William Erbes supervised the rain effects, which cost an estimated $300,000 to produce. Studio publicity material also indicates that actor Gene Morgan died soon after completing his part in the film. One modern source credits Jo Swerling and Robert Presnell with the original treatment on which this film was based, and another includes Charles K. French (as a fired reporter) and Cyril Ring in the cast. Modern sources also peg the final production cost at $1,100,000. Suzanne Carnahan, who played an autograph seeker in this film, changed her name to Susan Peters and later went on to become a leading lady in a number of 1940's features.
Meet John Doe was filmed at Warner Bros. Studio and at the following locations: Gilmore Field, Los Angeles; Griffith Park, Los Angeles; Pasadena, CA; and a Los Angeles icehouse. This film was nominated for an Academy Award for its original story, and was chosen by Film Daily as one of the ten best pictures of 1941. Gary Cooper appeared on the cover of Time magazine on March 3, 1941. Two remakes of Meet John Doe were put into development, but were never produced: one in 1962 at United Artists, and another in 1982 at Columbia Pictures Television for CBS-TV.