Garson Kanin, the multifaceted novelist, playwright, director, librettist and screenwriter whose Born Yesterday was one of the first major hits of postwar American theatre, died March 13 in Manhattan. He was 86.
Mr. Kanin's most enduring character in a career that included screenplays for such films such as "Pat and Mike" and "Adam's Rib" and such novels as "Moviola" (about a Hollywood studio) and "Smash" (about the making of a Broadway musical) was Billie Dawn, the tough, blonde mistress of a corrupt businessman in Born Yesterday (1946). The vehicle made Judy Holliday an instant star on Broadway and, later, Hollywood.
Mr. Kanin's wife, the actress Marian Seldes, was with him when he died at his home in Manhattan after a long illness, the New York Times reported. He was predeceased in 1985 by his first wife, Ruth Gordon, his co screenwriter for five films, including the Katharine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy pictures "Pat and Mike" and "Adam's Rib." The couple also worked together on theatrical projects, with Mr. Kanin directing her scripts or her performances.
Born in Rochester, NY, in 1912, Mr. Kanin began his theatrical career as an actor and an apprentice director to George Abbott. When he was in his twenties, Mr. Kanin was also a film director (RKO's "A Man to Remember," among others) before he served in World War II in the U.S. Army Signal Corps.
He directed plays by Ms. Gordon -- they were considered one of the great showbusiness couples of the century -- and wrote and directed his own works, including The Smile of the World, The Rat Race, A Gift of Time and The Live Wire, among many others. As a stage director, one of his best-known successes was Funny Girl, the 1964 musical about vaudevillian Fanny Brice, starring a young Barbra Streisand.
He also directed the original Broadway production of The Diary of Anne Frank and he directed and wrote the libretto of the Betty Comden Adolph Green-Jule Styne musical, Do Re MI, which is being revived in concert by "Encores!" this spring.
He married Seldes in 1990, when he was 76. He is also survived by a sister, Ruth Kanin, of Montreal, the Times reported.
-- By Kenneth Jones