It Should Happen to You is a 1954 comedy film starring Judy Holliday, notable as the first screen appearance of Jack Lemmon, who was then an aspiring young actor. The film was directed by George Cukor. Garson Kanin originally intended the script as a vehicle for Danny Kaye, but Kanin's wife, Ruth Gordon, suggested casting Judy Holliday instead. The title was initially "A Name for Herself."
Lemmon had a contentious meeting with studio boss Harry Cohn, who feared that critics might use jokes about the name "Lemmon" in headlines panning the film. He wanted Lemmon to change his name to "Lennon." Lemmon countered that if he did that people might confuse his name with "Lenin" and associate his name with Communism, a very real concern in the 1950s. He decided to keep the name Lemmon and went on to become a Hollywood legend.
When the film appeared, Bosley Crowther, writing in the New York Times, called it "a neat piece of comic contrivance that will contribute to the joy of man" with "intelligence, compassion, and lots of gags." Holliday is "brilliantly droll," and the script "a compound of clever situation and broad but authentic character, wrapped up in free splurged emotions and witty, idiomatic dialogue."
In a rapid piece of exposition, we learn that she has been in New York for two years, has just lost her job as a model of girdles because her hip size is 3/4" larger than it should be, and still has the $1000 which she "saved up." We learn that she is discouraged at having gotten nowhere in two years and that she wants to make a name for herself. It is clear to the audience that Pete is much taken with Gladys. He gets her address by offering to drop her a postcard when the documentary is finished so she can see herself in it. "Really?" she says. "I'd give my right arm to see myself in the movies." "You don't need to give me your right arm," says Lemmon, "just give me your right address." They part.
Wandering despondently, Gladys' attention is caught by a large billboard overlooking Columbus Circle, with the notice "This space for rent. Choice location. Inquire Horace Pfeiffer Co, 383 Madison Avenue." She fantasizes her name on the billboard. Gathering her nerve, she goes to 383 Madison Avenue to inquire. The naive Gladys asks for "Mr. Horace Puh-feiffer," pronouncing the letter P, and is humiliated by the receptionist, who corrects her pronunciation and tells her there is no Mr. Pfeiffer. However, the determined Gladys obtains an interview with a busy man conducting a telephone conversation, who brusquely tells her that the sign is available, demands to know "whom she represents," and finally says "I'm really too busy for this sort of thing." The spunky Gladys pulls $1000 in cash from her purse, complains that he is too "stuck up" to listen to her, asks "what sort of place treats people that way" and starts to leave. The representative relents and tells her that the sign is $210 per month, three months minimum. Gladys pays $630 in cash and arranges to have her name put on the billboard.
Within a few days the sign is up and she is thrilled. It turns out, however, that the Adams Soap company has traditionally booked that sign, intended to book that sign, and is upset to learn that another client has obtained it. The Pfeiffer company calls her to a meeting where Evan Adams III (Peter Lawford) attempts to induce her to give up the sign by offering her more money. Gladys is simply not interested. She is called to another meeting at which they offer to give her six signs in exchange for that one. This time, she accepts. Now there are six huge signs in New York, one in lights, each saying simply "Gladys Glover."
Meanwhile, Pete Sheppard has taken an apartment adjacent to hers, a move which does not seem to rouse Gladys' curiosity, and they become platonic friends. Sheppard is, however, exasperated by her fascination with her signs and her requests that he tour the city with her to see them. Citygoers are intrigued by the mysterious signs. Gladys shops in a department store, and when she gives her name, the word spreads quickly and dozens of people flock around to get the autograph of the famous Gladys Glover.
Soon, she is being asked to appear on television shows. However, the round of publicity starts takes an unpleasant turn. Gladys has of course explained that she obtained the signs simply in order to "make a name for herself." She does not seem to be aware that she is being treated as a freak or figure of fun. Evan Adams III decides, however, that she is ripe for exploitation as "the average American girl," and hires her to do a series of advertisements for Adams Soap. As she pursues what is becoming a lucrative career, relations between her and Peter Sheppard become strained.
At the same time, Adams is showing an increasing interest in her. The situation reaches a crisis when Gladys breaks a date with Sheppard in order to attend what Adams says is a business conference to discuss a cross-country publicity tour. The conference turns out to be an attempted seduction. As Adams reaches to embrace Gladys, she accidentally or intentionally spills a full glass of champagne down the back of Adams neck, breaking the spell. Gladys says "I don't mind the way you're acting, exactly. What I mind is the way you give the idea you're sort of entitled." "Maybe I am," says Adams. "Oh, sure, if you want to make it into a sort of business proposition." "That's what you're doing, isn't it?" asks Adams. Gladys says "The way it looks to me, Mr. Adams, is that there are two sorts of people. The people who will do anything to make a name for themselves, and the people who will do almost anything." She walks out, saying "Soon there will be signs all over saying I'm the average American girl. That was your idea wasn't it? Well, I don't think the average American girl should do... this." She walks out.
She arrives home to find a 16 mm movie projector in her room with a note from Sheppard telling her to run it. It is a film, complete with titles and synchronized sound, entitled "Goodbye, Gladys," The charmingly self-deprecating Sheppard confesses that he loves Gladys, acknowledges that his profile is not as good looking as Adams, and says goodbye.
Gladys' advertising career continues. She finds its emptiness more and more frustrating. She recalls Sheppard's frequent questions as to why she wants to be above the crowd instead of being happy being part of the crowd.
We find Sheppard in a cage at a zoo, where he is making a documentary showing how the visitors appears to the animals. He coaches the crowd to react to him as if he were a chimpanzee and he jumps around in the cage, filming the crowd as they throw him peanuts. Suddenly the crowd's attention is distracted. We here the sound of an airplane and the crowd saying "Oooh" and turning away from the cage. The puzzled Sheppard looks upward and see that the plane has skywritten the message "PETE CALL GLADYS PLEASE." He grins, the film cuts to Gladys and Pete driving in a car and discussing plans for the future. Gladys spots an empty billboard with a message "THIS SPACE FOR RENT. Apply Acme Realty Co." "What are you looking at?" asks Pete. "Nothing." says Gladys. "Absolutely nothing."