It Should Happen to You
Mar 11, 2020 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
I’ve always been a big Jack Lemmon fan, but I had never seen his very first major film performance. That all changed a few weeks ago when I watched the delightful movie titled It Should Happen to You. The chemistry between leading lady Judy Holliday and Jack is apparent from the start. I love when witty banter and eccentricity are the order of the day and It Should Happen to You has that in spades. But what has me thinking about this 1954 flick weeks later isn’t necessarily the performances, it’s the relevancy of the plot. Judy’s character, Gladys Glover, has qualities that transcend genre. She dreams for more, wants to be known, and would like a chance to dip her toe in the spotlight. Who doesn’t yearn for a moment of glitz and attention?
In this day and age it’s so easy to self promote. Cameras are built into nearly every device we can imagine and, with the advent of filters, we control the presentation. But in the 1950s a young lady seeking fame had to put in the legwork. We see Gladys invest her hard-earned savings in the procurement of a NYC billboard. Her name is thrust into the spotlight, in the view of everyone walking through Columbus Circle. Gladys’ dream is achieved. She has quite literally made a name for herself in the big apple. Now, because it’s Hollywood, the plot continues to unfold in surprising ways that showcase Gladys’ signature spunk. Soon events spiral out of control and this one spontaneous purchase has transported her to real fame. People recognize her on the street, seek her opinions, and want to see more of her. But is all that glitters really gold?
I’ll quote the original New York Times review and tell me if you feel a sense of déjà vu. “She’s racing toward disaster because of a normal aspiration for fame.” While I would argue that the wording from 1954 is much more eloquent than the splashy headlines of People magazine, the sentiment is the same. Variety angled its review toward the struggle to navigate a personal life with the demands of fame. Another thesis that doesn’t shock our modern sensibilities. Gladys discovers that in the quest to be known by all she sacrifices the joy of being truly known by one person.
A few months ago Instagram announced it was testing the removal of likes after concerns were raised by the mental health community. The unflappable Horace Greeley had this all figured out two hundred years ago. “Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident, and riches take wings. Only one thing endures and that is character.” As editor of the New-York Tribune, Greeley was all about substance over sensation. (We can thank him for the legacy of media outlets that are inspired by fact-based reporting.) But what this quote from the 1800s and this film from the 1950s can teach us is that this quest for recognition is nothing new. Humans have been craving it for eons. The result of these efforts has also remained consistent: it comes at a cost.
Perhaps what it really comes down to is motivation. Gladys marched into that advertising agency with a fire in her belly. She was going to make good on a promise to herself, a dream she had been working on diligently for years. She was going to grab that brass ring! Through that experience she is given a clarity of purpose. The ring tarnishes and she realizes she’s lost the root of her original motivation. What was supposed to be a quick boost to her beleaguered spirit has taken on a life of its own, dragging her away from the parts of herself she loved the most. But that’s not the end of her story. Gladys figures out what’s important and applies the passion she had for that billboard to the things (and people) she really values. I don’t know about you dear reader, but this tale from the silver screen gives me hope. There is beauty in being ourselves! So next time you’re getting ready to post to social media perhaps ask what’s motivating you. Is it the joy of sharing an experience with a far-off friend? Is it the fun in being your own scribe? Or is it maybe something else?