Holliday made her Broadway debut on March 20, 1945, at the Belasco Theatre in Kiss Them for Me and was one of the recipients that year of the Clarence Derwent Award. In 1946, she was back on Broadway, as the scatterbrained Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday. Author Garson Kanin had written the play specifically for his friend, the brilliant but difficult Jean Arthur. Arthur played the role of Billie out-of-town, but after many complaints and illnesses, she resigned. Kanin chose Holliday as her replacement.
Garson Kanin's book on Tracy and Hepburn mentions that when Columbia bought the rights to film Born Yesterday, studio boss Harry Cohn wouldn't consider casting the unknown (outside of Broadway) Holliday. Kanin, together with George Cukor, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, conspired to promote Holliday by offering her a key part in the 1949 film Adam's Rib. She got rave reviews and Cohn offered her the chance to repeat her role for the film version of Born Yesterday, but only after she did a screen test (which at first was used only as a "benchmark against which to evaluate" other actresses being considered for the role). She won the Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Actress, beating out such formidable competitors as Gloria Swanson, who was nominated for Sunset Boulevard and Bette Davis for All About Eve.
In 1952, she was called to testify before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee to "explain" why her name had been linked to Communist front organizations. In spite of her 172 IQ, she was advised to play dumb (like some of her film characters) and did so. She used this technique to avoid giving up names of people she knew to be Communists.
In 1954, she starred with a then-rising young star Jack Lemmon for the popular comedy, It Should Happen to You. Holliday and Lemmon next starred together (in that same year) in Phffft!. Their comedic chemistry on screen made the two films into big hits.
Holliday died from breast cancer, in 1965 at the age of 43. She was survived by her young son, Jonathan Oppenheim, and by her ex-husband, clarinetist and conductor David Oppenheim. She was interred in the Westchester Hills Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. Jonathan Oppenheim grew up to become a documentary film editor of note, editing Paris is Burning, Children Underground, and Arguing the World.
Holliday has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6901 Hollywood Blvd.
|1938||Too Much Johnson||Extra||short subject|
|Something for the Boys||Defense plant welder||uncredited|
|Winged Victory||Ruth Miller|
|1949||Adam's Rib||Doris Attinger||Nominated - Golden Globe|
|On the Town||Daisy (Simpkins' MGM date)||uncredited, voice only|
|1950||Born Yesterday||Emma 'Billie' Dawn||Academy Award for Best Actress; Golden Globe|
|1952||The Marrying Kind||'Florrie' Keefer||Nominated - BAFTA Award|
|1954||It Should Happen to You||Gladys Glover|
|Phffft!||Nina Tracey nee Chapman||Nominated - BAFTA Award|
|1956||The Solid Gold Cadillac||Nominated - Golden Globe|
|1957||Full of Life|
|1960||Bells Are Ringing||Nominated - Golden Globe|
|1942||My Dear Public||with The Revuers|
|1945||Kiss Them for Me||Alice||Tony Award - Theatre World Award|
|1946||Born Yesterday||Billie Dawn|
|1956||Bells Are Ringing||Ella Peterson||Tony Award|
|1963||Hot Spot||Sally Hopwinder|