play, named after the train
the action took place on, the Twentieth Century Limited
. The play would later become one of Hollywood
's first screwball comedies
Playwright Bruce Milholland had a three act play called Napoleon of Broadway, based on his experiences working with a maniacal theatre director. Producer Joel Harris optioned the script in 1929, called in Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur to do rewrites, including moving the entire play onto the train. It opened on Broadway in 1932.
The story centers on the relationship between Oscar Jaffe, an egotistical theatre director (modeled on David Belasco) who takes under his wing a temperamental actress, Lily Garland, a nobody he turns into a star. Her career takes off in Hollywood as his plummets in New York. The movie featured John Barrymore in an over the top performance as Jaffe and Carole Lombard as Garland. Preston Sturges had a hand in the screenplay and Howard Hawks directed.
In 1977, Adolph Comden and Betty Green turned the play into a musical, renaming it On the Twentieth Century.