Stage Door: Book Summary & Plot

Instructor: Ginna Wilkerson

Ginna earned M.Ed. degrees in Curriculum and Development and Mental Health Counseling, followed by a Ph.D. in English. She has over 30 years of teaching experience.

The play 'Stage Door' was co-wrriten by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman, and made its stage debut in 1936. The story centers around a boarding house for aspiring actresses in New York City.

Background to the Play

Ferber and Kaufman collaborated to tell the story of several young aspiring stage actresses living in a boarding house together in New York City. At the time of writing, Ferber had a niece who did, in fact, live in such a boarding house called The Rehearsal Club while she attempted to make her way in the theater. The story is meant to promote the legitimate stage while questioning the value of the new film culture building power in Hollywood.

Promoting Live Theater
Broadway theater

It is more likely that you have seen the RKO film version of Stage Door, as it featured several actresses of the era whose names are still well-known. Katherine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, and Ann Miller made the film a tour-de-force of character acting and comedy. However, if you are studying the play script, keep in mind that the plot of the film is dramatically different, even adding main characters that are not in the play.

The Characters

The featured part is that of Terry Randall, a spunky girl from the Midwest who is determined to succeed on the Broadway stage. She voices many of the criticisms of Hollywood acting that pepper the script.

''Yes, and then they put it in a tin can -- like Campell's soup. And if you die the next day it doesn't matter a bit. You don't even have to be alive to act in pictures.''

Terry Randall in the Film Version
Terry Randall

The other girls living in the Footlights Club all represent some aspect of life as an aspiring actress during the Depression Era. Jean Maitland ends up with a Hollywood film contract - the big prize. Tragically, Kaye Hamilton gets so discouraged at her lack of success in acting that she commits suicide. Another girl, Pat Devine, works as a dancer in a nightclub. And Linda Shaw, a girl from a well-known society family, scandalizes her mother when she has an affair with a rich married man.

Various men go in and out of the girls' lives, most of them in some way connected to the theater or to Hollywood. This play paints a vivid picture of the struggle for success, the trials and failures, and the emotions of theater people during the Depression.

The Plot

All told, there are more than 20 girls living at The Footlights Club, all striving for whatever success they can find. The close quarters and competing ambitions the girls experience lead to friendships and arguments, which provided the playwrights with a great deal of interesting dialogue.

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