Cast & Crew
Madden Thomas, a once brilliant actor now fallen upon hard times due to alcoholism, lives in New York City with his devoted, gentle daughter Kathi. Despite Kathi's best efforts, Madden's binges are frequent and riotous, and one causes him to be fired on Christmas Eve from a job playing a department store Santa Claus. The night that he is fired, Madden is helped to his apartment by a new neighbor, Robert Carter, a composer who is thrilled to meet the great actor. Robert cultivates a friendship with Kathi, whose loveliness, despite a lame foot, helps him overcome his shyness. Robert succeeds in getting Madden a small part in a play for which he has written the music, much to the delight of his aunt, Alma Lothian, who has been a fervent admirer of Madden for decades. Kathi is pleased that Madden is working again, for she honestly believes that he could be as great as he once was if only he would try. Madden appears to be cutting down on his drinking as well, and Kathi buys some new furniture. She must return it, however, when she learns that Madden has been drinking in secret and owes a large amount of money to a liquor store owner. That night, Robert, who has fallen in love with Kathi, questions her about her past and her hopes for the future. She reveals that her mother died in childbirth, and that while she herself greatly desires children, she is afraid of passing on her lameness. Soon after, producer Sid Gordon tells Madden that he wants him to star in a new production of King Lear . Madden is worried about the hard work involved, but Kathi is thrilled and begins to get him in shape. Robert, who had been offered a job in Hollywood, stays in New York to do the music for the play, which is being backed by the wealthy Alma. Robert also finds the doctor who delivered Kathi and learns that she was not born crippled, but was hurt when a drunken Madden dropped her when she was a few months old. To spare the grieving actor any more pain, the doctor told him that Kathi had a congenital defect that did not surface immediately. Kathi is pleased to learn that she can safely have children and agrees to marry Robert. Not wanting to distract Madden, who is excelling in rehearsals, the couple decide not to tell him that they are marrying and leaving for Hollywood until the actual day, which will be after opening night. Madden accidentally finds out, however, and is crushed to think that Kathi is deserting him. He gets drunk and arrives late at the theater on opening night, and during an ensuing argument with Kathi, she reveals that he caused her lameness. Determined to leave her clinging father for good, Kathi insists that she is still going with Robert to Hollywood, but the next evening, is overcome with remorse. She tells Madden that he did not cause her injury, then tells Robert that she must stay in New York. Madden overhears their discussion as they proclaim their undying love and realizes that he cannot deprive his daughter of starting a life of her own. After writing Kathi a note telling her to go to Hollywood, Madden goes to Alma's apartment, where he accepts her proposal of marriage.
J. Edward Bromberg
Hal K. Dawson
Charles La Torre
The working title of this film was The Light of Heart. Nunnally Johnson's onscreen credit reads "Produced and Written for the Screen by." According to contemporary sources, screen rights to Emlyn Williams' play were purchased for $50,000. In late August 1940, Johnson was replaced as producer by Robert T. Kane because Johnson was "tied up" with production of the 1941 Twentieth Century-Fox picture Tobacco Road (see below). According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library and Hollywood Reporter news items, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sarah Y. Mason and Victor Heerman worked on the picture's screenplay. The extent of their contribution to the completed film has not been determined, however. [Life Begins at Eight-Thirty was the last motion picture writing assignment for Fitzgerald, who died in December 1940].
A October 7, 1940 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that Kane was negotiating with Gladys Hensen, Arthur Powell and Godfrey Tearle, all of whom appeared in the London production of the play, to star in the film. A July 18, 1940 Los Angeles Examiner news item reported that John Barrymore was to star in the picture, and that Raymond Griffith had been named as associate producer. [Barrymore, who died in May 1942, made his last screen appearance in the 1941 RKO production Playmates]. In March 1942, Hollywood Reporter noted that "due to the lack of British players for casting," Johnson was reinstated as producer and was assigned to re-write the script. A March 30, 1942 Hollywood Reporter news item asserted that Johnson would be directing the film as well. Hollywood Reporter also stated that Anne Baxter was tested for a role, that John Shepperd and then Dana Andrews were set for the part of "Robert Carter," and that director Irving Pichel shot "background material" in New York City. Williams' play was also the basis of a 1961 German film entitled Das Leben beginnt um acht, which was directed by Michael Kehlmann and starred O. E. Hasse and Johanna Matz.