It Happened... Thanks to Capra, Gable, and Colbert

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It’s hard to believe, but It Happened One Night was not an instant success. In fact, the film opened without much fan-fare. But thanks to word of mouth, eventually the picture caught on and became a smash.

“Clark and I left wondering how the movie would be received. It was right in the middle of the Depression,” said Claudette Colbert. “People needed fantasy, they needed splendor and glamour, and Hollywood gave it to them. And here we were, looking a little seedy and riding on our bus.”

Seedy or not, It Happened One Night swept the Oscars in 1935. It won every category that it was nominated for – a first in Oscar history – including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Writing.

1. The leads could have been very different.

Apparently, an earlier draft of the script was the reason that Fredich March, Robert Montgomery, Myrna Loy, and Margaret Sullavan said no. Carole Lombard was interested, but already obligated to another film. Bette Davis was considered, but Warner Brothers wouldn't let their star be loaned out.

2. The title was changed.

Night Bus by Samuel Hopkins Adams was first optioned by MGM. Later, director Frank Capra read the story in Cosmopolitan, and quickly asked Columbia to grab the rights. Harry Cohn, the head of the studio, wanted a different name for the film – something that would get some buzz since other “bus” pictures (Fugitive Lovers and Cross Country Cruise) had come before. The “it” in It Happened One Night was just enough to spark intrigue and perhaps even hint at something steamy.

3. Gable’s mustache survived because of this film.

Clark Gable’s signature mustache came and went depending on the role he was called to play. For instance, he saved it off for Mutiny on the Bounty. The eventual response to It Happened One Night proved Gable was a star. Men wanted to emulate him and the expression “Who do you think you are? Clark Gable?” became popular. As a result, Gable decided that he would keep his mustache – that is, whenever it didn’t conflict with a acting job.

4. Colbert didn’t expect to win an Oscar.

In fact, she didn’t even attend the ceremony. Instead, she was ready to board a train to New York. Thankfully, she was contacted in the nick of time and quickly transported there. This was Colbert’s first Oscar and first time being nominated. She was nominated twice afterward for Private Words and Since You Went Away but didn’t take the statue home either time.

5. Gable’s Oscar was auctioned.

Gable’s son, John, put his father’s Academy Award for It Happened One Night up for auction in 1996. Many were displeased with the move and even tried to talk him out of it. In the end, director Steven Spielberg stepped in and purchased the statue for $607,500 and donated it to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who keeps it on display. Spielberg also bought another statue, which can be read about here.