Garson Kanin began his show business career as a jazz musician, burlesque comedian, and actor. He graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and made his Broadway debut in Little Ol' Boy (1933). In 1935, Kanin was cast in a George Abbott play and soon became Abbott's assistant. Kanin made his Broadway debut as a director in 1936, at the age of twenty-four, with Hitch Your Wagon.
In 1945, Kanin directed Spencer Tracy in Tracy's first play in 15 years. Tracy had been through a dark patch personally—culminating with a stay in hospital—and Katharine Hepburn felt that a play would help restore his focus. Tracy told a journalist in April, "I'm coming back to Broadway to see if I can still act." The play was The Rugged Path by Robert E. Sherwood, which first previewed in Providence, Rhode Island on September 28, to a sold-out crowd and tepid response.
The Rugged Path was a difficult production, with Kanin later writing, "In the ten days prior to the New York opening all the important relationships had deteriorated. Spencer was tense and unbending, could not, or would not, take direction". Tracy considered leaving the show before it even opened on Broadway, and lasted there just six weeks before announcing his intention to close the show. It closed on January 19, 1946, after 81 performances. Tracy later explained to a friend: "I couldn't say those goddamn lines over and over and over again every night ... At least every day is a new day for me in films ... But this thing—every day, every day, over and over again."
Kanin's 1946 play Born Yesterday, which he also directed, ran for 1,642 performances. Kanin worked, uncredited, on the screenplay of the 1950 film adaptation.
His other stage work includes directing The Diary of Anne Frank (1955), which ran for 717 performances, and the musical Funny Girl (1964), which ran for 1,348 performances.
Kanin wrote and directed his last play, Peccadillo, in 1985, the same year he was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.
His first film as a director was A Man to Remember (1938), which The New York Times considered one of the ten best films of 1938. Kanin was twenty-six at the time. Other directing credits include The Great Man Votes (1939), My Favorite Wife (1940), They Knew What They Wanted (1940) and Tom, Dick and Harry (1941).
Kanin's Hollywood career was interrupted by the draft. He served in the United States Army from 1941 to 1945. During this time Kanin, with Carol Reed, co-directed General Dwight D. Eisenhower's official record of the Allied Invasion, the Academy-award-winning documentary The True Glory (1945). During this time, he began writing what would become his greatest play, Born Yesterday.
Kanin's best-remembered screenplays, however, were written in collaboration with his wife, actress Ruth Gordon, whom he married in 1942. Together, they wrote the Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn film comedies Adam's Rib (1949) and Pat and Mike (1952), as well as A Double Life (1947), starring Ronald Colman, all directed by George Cukor.
In the 1950s through the 1980s, Kanin adapted several of his stories and plays for television, most notably Mr. Broadway (1964), and Moviola (1980).
Kanin's best-selling novel Smash (1980), about the pre-Broadway tryout of a musical comedy, has recently been adapted into the television series Smash.
He was a colleague of Thornton Wilder, who mentored him, and an admirer of the work of Frank Capra. Kanin said "I'd rather be Capra than God, if there is a Capra." Kanin and Katharine Hepburn were the only witnesses to Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh's wedding in California on August 31, 1940. In 1941, he and Katharine Hepburn worked with his brother Michael Kanin and Ring Lardner, Jr., on the early drafts of what would become Woman of the Year right before Garson enlisted in the army. He is also quoted as saying, "When your work speaks for itself, don't interrupt."
His most famous quote, from his hit play "Born Yesterday," is on a New York City Public Library plaque on a 41st Street sidewalk: "I want everyone to be smart. As smart as they can be. A world of ignorant people is too dangerous to live in."
The Academy Film Archive preserved "Ring of Steel" and "Salut a La France" (French language version) by Garson Kanin.
Kanin was married to his frequent collaborator, Academy-award winning actress Ruth Gordon, from 1942 to her death in 1985.
In 1990, Kanin married the celebrated stage actress Marian Seldes (1928-2014). In 1999, Kanin died at age 86 in Manhattan of undisclosed causes.
Kanin was Jewish.Remembering Mr. Maugham, with an introduction by Noël Coward, 1966.
Hollywood: Stars and Starlets, Tycoons, Moviemakers, Frauds, Hopefuls, Great Lovers. New York: Viking, 1967.
Tracy and Hepburn: An Intimate Memoir. New York: Viking, 1971.
NovelsBlow Up a Storm
Do Re Mi
The Rat Race
Where It's At
The Smile of the World
The Rat Race
The Live Wire
Come on Strong
Do Re Mi
A Man to Remember (1938) - director
Next Time I Marry (1938) - director
The Great Man Votes (1939) - director
Bachelor Mother (1939) - director
They Knew What They Wanted (1940) - director
My Favorite Wife (1940) - director
Tom, Dick and Harry (1941) - director
The More the Merrier (1942) - writer
The True Glory (1945) - director
From This Day Forward (1946) - writer
A Double Life (1947) - writer
Adam's Rib (1949) - writer
Pat and Mike (1952) - writer
The Marrying Kind (1952) - writer
It Should Happen to You (1954) - writer
The Girl Can't Help It (1956) - original story
High Time (1960) - original story
The Rat Race (1960) - writer
Some Kind of a Nut (1968) - writer, director
Where It's At (1969) - writer, director