Once in a Lifetime

by George S. Kaufman, Moss Hart

Start Free Trial

Characters Discussed

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Jerry Hyland

Jerry Hyland, the leader of a small-time, three-person vaudeville act who becomes an executive at Glogauer Studios in Hollywood. A likable second-rate actor in his early thirties, he has a penchant for concocting moneymaking schemes to get the trio out of vaudeville. After seeing The Jazz Singer, the first motion picture with sound, Jerry is convinced that talkies will revolutionize the film industry. He sells the act and persuades his partners to go to Hollywood to become part of that revolution. When it seems that he has “gone Hollywood,” Jerry redeems himself by leaving California to go after May.

May Daniels

May Daniels, a member of the vaudeville act who becomes an elocution teacher at Glogauer Studios. Tall, slender, and attractive, May has a quick, sharp mind with a tongue to match. She is the voice of reason, although a slightly cynical one, throughout the play. May dreams up a gimmick for the act to market in Hollywood: an elocution school to prepare silent-film actors for the talkies. Although she is in love with Jerry, she returns to New York when it seems that he has adopted the film industry’s superficial values.

George Lewis

George Lewis, the vaudeville act’s straight man, who becomes the supervisor of productions at Glogauer Studios. About twenty-eight years old, George is clean-cut, naïve, and rather dim. George follows Jerry and May’s lead, which includes acting as the elocution school’s technical adviser, “Dr. Lewis.” He comes into his own when he meets and falls in love with an aspiring actress. The head of Glogauer Studios is so impressed by George’s guileless candor that he promptly makes George supervisor of all productions. George’s blunders work to his benefit, and “Dr. Lewis” becomes Hollywood’s new genius.

Susan Walker

Susan Walker, a young woman who goes to California to be a film star. The female counterpart of George, she falls in love with him when they meet on the train to Hollywood. George’s intervention with the studio head gets her the lead in Gingham and Orchids, a dreadful film in which she gives a wretched performance. Critics, however, love the film and her star turn in it.

Herman Glogauer

Herman Glogauer, the head of Glogauer Studios. A caricature of a Hollywood mogul, Glogauer foolishly passed up the opportunity to make the first talkie, so he is now open to new ideas, including an elocution school at his studio. In a comic confrontation, George becomes the first person to remind Glogauer of his error in judgment concerning talkies. Glogauer mistakes George’s ignorance for insight and assumes that George cloaks his brilliant perception in seemingly simple statements and careless actions.

Helen Hobart

Helen Hobart, America’s foremost film critic and columnist. She is immensely impressed with herself and her accomplishments. Helen was once in a vaudeville troupe with May, and the trio takes advantage of this tenuous connection to break into the motion picture industry.

Lawrence Vail

Lawrence Vail, a New York playwright hired by Glogauer Studios, one of a shipment of sixteen playwrights. Vail’s numerous efforts to meet Glogauer and get an assignment are fruitless. After six months of sitting in his office and collecting his paychecks without speaking to anyone except the payroll clerk, he returns to New York.

Rudolph Kammerling

Rudolph Kammerling, a temperamental German film director. Brought to America by Glogauer, he directs the sappy Gingham and Orchids under George’s inept supervision.

Miss Leighton

Miss Leighton, Glogauer Studios’ reception secretary. Decked out in glamorous gowns, she deals with the swarms of people who converge on the reception area.

Mr. Meterstein

Mr. Meterstein and


(This entire section contains 617 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access


Mr. Weisskopf, Glogauer’s flunkies.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

May Daniels
May is one of the three vaudevillians who form the core of the play. Of the three, May is the worrier. From the beginning, she is well aware of how little money they have, and how much they need to work. She cannot believe that Jerry sold their act without her input. Yet May is also a survivor. She immediately forms the plan for what they can do in Los Angeles: open an elocution school. It is she who has the contact (Helen Hobart) that gets them the studio school. At the studio, she does most of the work at the school.

May sees through the falseness of Hollywood and takes no guff. When Jerry begins ignoring her, she calls him on how he has changed. May takes a similar attitude towards George when he screws up, as well as Herman Glogauer and others. May leaves Los Angeles alone when she knows the move is right. Though May believes that Gingham and Orchids is garbage, she takes advantage of situations when they present themselves. The movie is a hit, and May returns to Hollywood to work for George and reunite with Jerry.

Mr. Flick
Mr. Flick is a door painter who works at the movie studios. He changes the names on the doors, using temporary paints because of the constant turnover.

Phyllis Fontaine
Phyliss Fontaine is a somewhat famous silent film actress. The switch to sound movies puts her at a disadvantage because of her accent. She attends May’s elocution school at the studio so that she can work in talkies.

Herman Glogauer
Herman Glogauer is the owner of Glogauer Studios. He is a powerful mogul in Hollywood, who is vulnerable when Helen, May, Jerry, and George bring their elocution school idea to him. Glogauer turned down the Vitaphone technology that created the talkies, and does not want to miss out on the next big thing. Glogauer takes on the elocution school for a short time before getting rid of it. Glogauer is an impulsive man, trying to stay ahead of the game in Hollywood. He is also not used to being challenged, so when George tells him off, Glogauer immediately hires him as the studio head. Glogauer sees George’s mistakes as genius, as long as they can benefit him in the end. Glogauer’s only concern is the bottom line.

Helen Hobart
Helen Hobart is the foremost movie critic in the United States. She is also an acquaintance of May Daniels. They previously worked as actresses in the same troupe. May uses this relationship to get their elocution school idea heard in Los Angeles. It is Helen who arranges the meeting with Herman Glogauer, the owner of Glogauer Studios. Through this contact, the school gets started, though Helen gets half of the profits. When the school is about to be closed, Helen is not at all friendly to May. Helen is only interested maintaining relationships that are beneficial to her. She plays the Hollywood game well, so well that the studios have bought her a house and kennel full of dogs.

Jerry Hyland
Jerry is one of the three vaudevillians who form the core of the play. Of the three, he is the doer. After seeing The Jazz Singer—the first sound movie with spoken dialogue—Jerry sees that the future is in the movies and that with their skills, the three could be a success in Hollywood. Without consulting his partners, Jerry sells their vaudeville act for $500 and decides that they are moving to Los Angeles. This does not sit well with May, with whom there is some romantic tension.

Once the three arrive in Los Angeles, Jerry does everything he can to be successful in the movie industry, though May does most of the work. May feels ignored in favor of Jerry’s fast Hollywood life. It is only when she leaves after George is fired as studio supervisor that Jerry seems to realize what she means to him and what is important. Jerry goes after her, and when he catches up to her, declares his feelings. They are together at the end of the play.

Rudloph Kammerling
Rudolph Kammerling is a German movie director working in Hollywood. He is extremely frustrated that Dorothy Dodd has been cast in the lead role of the film he is directing. When he meets Susan through George Lewis’s intervention, he sees that she is perfect for the role. Kammerling gets to direct Gingham and Orchids with her in the lead. After Herman Glogauer shuts down the production because George has given Kammerling the wrong script, Kammerling considers returning to Germany.

Florabel Leigh
Florabel Leigh is a somewhat famous silent film actress. The switch to sound movies puts her at a disadvantage because of her accent. She attends May’s elocution school at the studio so that she can work in talkies.

Miss Leighton
Miss Leighton is the harried receptionist at Glogauer Studios. She does her best to keep everything she is juggling—numerous phone calls, people, and their needs—straight, but she forgets Lawrence Vail entirely. It her treatment of him that contributes to his quitting.

George Lewis
George is one of the three vaudevillians who form the core of the play’s story. He is an actor, rather young, and single, and is somewhat carefree and oblivious. George follows the lead of May and Jerry at the beginning of the play. When Jerry announces that he has sold the act and they are moving to Los Angeles, George goes along. When May decides that they will open an elocution school, George goes along. He just wants to get along. One of his only decisive actions is to notice and fall for Susan Walker. He uses his good fortune to help her.

It is when George tries to further Susan’s career that he lucks into his biggest break. George, May, and Jerry’s school has been closed and they have all been fired. George hears that Rudolph Kammerling needs a new lead actress for his movie, and suggests Susan. After George stands up to Glogauer, Susan gets the part and George is appointed supervisor of the studio’s production. Despite two setbacks, George manages to hang on to the job, keep his friends together, and get the girl. George is lucky, and he knows it.

Lawrence Vail
Lawrence Vail is a well-known playwright who is employed at the studio as a scenario writer. Vail is extremely frustrated. He cannot get a meeting with the studio head and is shuffled from person to person. Even the secretary, Miss Leighton, continually forgets who he is. Vail believes he is underemployed and does not like his job. He left behind a happy life in New York City to come to Hollywood, and while he draws a salary at the studio, he has not received one assignment. Vail finally quits and checks into a sanatorium that only takes such playwrights as patients. He meets May on the train back to New York City. Though she changes her mind and decides to go back to Los Angeles, he continues on to New York.

Mrs. Walker
Mrs. Walker is Susan Walker’s mother. She does not know much about Hollywood, but supports her daughter’s ambitions. Mrs. Walker does what she can for her before and after Susan has been case in Gingham and Orchids.

Susan Walker
Susan Walker is a nineteen-year-old wannabe actress from Columbus, Ohio. She is traveling to Los Angeles with her mother to pursue her career when she meets George Lewis. Susan is not particularly talented, but because George is enamored with her, she ends up starring in a movie. Susan has agreed to marry him after her acting career has started, and they are a couple at the end of the play.




Critical Essays