Oscar Winner Who Fought Sexual Harassment to Get Biopic Treatment (Exclusive)

Judy Holliday - Photofest - H 2017
Courtesy of Photofest

'Rocky' producer Gene Kirkwood has acquired life and some music rights to make a film about Judy Holliday titled 'Smart Blonde.'

It's an old but timely story.

Rocky producer Gene Kirkwood has acquired life and some music rights for the late Oscar winner Judy Holliday and will turn her story into the biopic Smart Blonde.

The actress was a 22-year-old day player at Fox when she stood up to mogul Darryl F. Zanuck's aggressive sexual overtures. "Her agent scheduled her for the notorious '4 o'clock meeting' and ordered her to stuff her bra," says Pulitzer-nominated playwright Willy Holtzman, who is writing the screenplay.

At the meeting, Zanuck locked the door, unzipped his pants and pushed Holliday onto the couch as he grabbed her breasts. "He said, 'You belong to me.' Judy reached into her blouse, removed the pads from her bra, threw them at him and shouted, 'These belong to you. I don't,' " adds Holtzman.

A tough New Yorker with an IQ of 172, Holliday returned home and went to Broadway. In 1946, she starred in Born Yesterday and won a best actress Oscar for the 1950 big-screen adaptation. Still, she paid the price for being outspoken and was eventually blacklisted in Hollywood as a communist.

Holtzman, who will exec produce Smart Blonde, acquired Holliday's rights from her only child, Jonathan Oppenheim, and optioned them to Kirkwood; he will finance development and shop the film. Loeb & Loeb negotiated the deal.

Kirkwood, who most recently exec produced HBO's The Defiant Ones, has the rights to "The Party's Over," which Holliday famously sang at the Village Vanguard in 1965, about a week before she died of breast cancer at age 43.

"Sexual harassment was as common back then as orange juice," says Kirkwood. "Judy just didn't have the camaraderie that the girls have today." 

This story appeared in the Nov. 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.