What Strange Approach Did Frank Capra Use to Get Claudette Colbert to Show Her Legs in a Film?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.

MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Frank Capra had a Machiavellian way to get Claudette Colbert to show her legs in It Happened One Night.

It Happened One Night was a great success when it was released in 1934, becoming a box office smash.

Not only that, but it was the first film (and only film for nearly four decades – and still only one of three films) to sweep the “major” categories, Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress, at the Academy Awards.

However, at the time of the filming, the movie was not thought to be much of a big deal by the particulars of the film.

The lead actor, Clark Gable, had a lot of problems with the film’s script.

And Gable was the HAPPY one on set!

Lead actress Claudette Colbert was not the first choice for the picture (nor was Gable, actually), and when offered the part, she initially refused. She had worked on an unsuccessful picture with Capra a number of years earlier, and she wanted nothing more to do with the director.

She finally was coerced into doing the film when her salary was doubled and she was promised that she would be finished in four weeks, so as to not conflict with a planned vacation she had coming up.

Still, once on set, she was not particularly happy, and Capra resorted to all sorts of tricks to keep her interested, including enlisting Gable to play a few little pranks on her to make her feel more at home, and supposedly, it worked, as Colbert later recalled having fun filming the picture, although she still told friends that it was the worst picture she had ever been in (she was more graceful when she won her Oscar, though, stating that her Oscar was all due to Capra).

She would still have a few outbursts during the film, primarily some objections over overly salacious (in her view, at least) aspects of the script.

One such objection was for the now-famous scene where the two characters are hitchhiking.

After Gable’s character gives a speech about the proper way to hitch hike, he promptly fails to get any cars to stop for them.

This leads to Colbert’s character taking a crack at it (while Gable is amused at the notion that she could possibly be better than him at hitch hiking) and succeeding when she shows a little leg…

Originally, though, Colbert refused to do the scene, not wanting to show her legs like that.

So Capra devised a little scheme to get her to do it.

He agreed to not have her do the scene, and just found a particularly shapely extra and had her do the scene, doubling for Colbert.

This promptly led Colbert to decree:

Get her out of here. I’ll do it. That’s not my leg!

And she did, and it was a great scene!

The legend is…


Thanks to Frank Capra’s great auto-biography, The Name Above The Title, for the information!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

One Response to “What Strange Approach Did Frank Capra Use to Get Claudette Colbert to Show Her Legs in a Film?”

  1. According to the film histories I’ve read, this was supposed to be a punishment assignment for Gable–Columbia was a second-rate studio and bus pictures were never hits so loaning him to Columbia was supposed to shut him up about demanding better roles. Didn’t work, obviously.

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