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Theatre / Once in a Lifetime

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Once In A Lifetime is an American play, notable as the first of eight collaborations by famous playwriting duo George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. The play has elements of Satire, but for the most part it is content to be zany, character-driven Farce. It was first produced on Broadway in 1930.

The plot follows May Daniels, Jerry Hyland, and George Lewis, a trio of vaudeville performers who, in the wake of the first motion picture with sound (The Jazz Singer), head out to Hollywood to try their hand at teaching movie stars how to speak eloquently. When they get there, however, they discover just how difficult it is to get by in Hollywood, and just how crazy some of the people out there can be. Some of those crazy people include:


  • Susan Walker, a small-town girl who dreams of being an actress. She travels out to Hollywood with her mother, meeting (and falling in love with) George along the way. She's not very talented.
  • Herman Glogauer, head of the Glogauer Studios, who signs on the trio with their voice training school. He lives in the shadow of his greatest failure: turning down the Vitaphone, which would go on to make The Jazz Singer the first talkie and make rival studio Schlepkin Brothers a ton of money.
  • Helen Hobart, an old friend of May from their vaudeville days who is now famous in Hollywood as a gossip columnist. Exceedingly flamboyant and affected.
  • Lawrence Vail, a young playwright who was brought out to Hollywood to be a screenwriter, given an office and a big salary, and promptly ignored by the studio.
  • Miss Leighton, Glogauer's brisk, efficient secretary. Much hated by Vail, for certain reasons.
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  • Rudolph Kammerling, a much put-upon German film director.
  • Phyllis Fontaine and Florabel Leigh, two beautiful film starlets with horrific voices.

This play contains examples of:

  • Ambiguously Jewish - Glogauer
  • Bad "Bad Acting" - Susan
  • Beta Couple - George and Susan
  • Boisterous Bruiser - Both Glogauer and Kammerling—which makes their arguments a sight to see.
  • Cloudcuckoolander - Half the damn cast.
  • Consolation Backfire: When George's movie appears to be a fiasco, May tells him that "we've got a gold dinner set, anyway. A hundred and six pieces, and every piece with your initials in diamonds. That's not bad for two months' work." This is the cue for two pages to appear, carrying said dinner set out.
  • Creator Cameo - George S. Kaufman himself originated the role of Lawrence Vail on Broadway.
  • Deadpan Snarker - Vail and May both have their moments.
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  • The Ditz - George. Susan as well, but mostly George.
  • Loads and Loads of Roles - The most efficient way to handle the huge cast in the piece. Most productions still have casts in excess of twenty people, even with doubling (or tripling).
  • Love Redeems - Jerry—who is a shameless suck-up to Glogauer the entire play—quits his job in pursuit of May after she leaves, proving that he really does love her.
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg - "Ladies and gentlemen—and Mr. Glogauer..."
  • Naïve Newcomer - The main trio (and the Walkers to an extent)
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed - Played with all over. Janet Gaynor, John Barrymore, and the major studios of the times are all name-dropped normally, but Kammerling is probably supposed to represent Fritz Lang, and the Schlepkin Brothers studio is clearly meant to be a send-up of Warner Bros.
    • Which makes it really strange when you think about the fact that Warner Bros. itself is referenced elsewhere by it's actual name.
  • Only Sane Woman - May
  • Our Acts Are Different - The play is split up into three acts, with an Intermission usually taken between each act. Also, the first and third are comprised of three scenes each, but the second act is just one big scene.
  • The Roaring '20s
  • Stage Mom - Mrs. Walker has a little of this in her.
  • ¡Three Amigos! - Our heroes
  • Too Dumb to Live - George, but of course, his stupidity lands him an executive job at the studio.