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Once in a Lifetime (1932)

Passed | | Comedy | 2 October 1932 (USA)
Story of a Hollywood studio during the transition from silents to talkies.


Russell Mack


Moss Hart (play), George S. Kaufman (play) | 1 more credit »


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Complete credited cast:
Jack Oakie ... George Lewis
Sidney Fox ... Susan Walker
Aline MacMahon ... May Daniels
Russell Hopton ... Jerome 'Jerry' Hyland
Louise Fazenda ... Helen Hobart
Zasu Pitts ... Miss Leighton
Gregory Ratoff ... Herman Glogauer
Jobyna Howland ... Mrs. Walker
Onslow Stevens ... Lawrence Vail
Gregory Gaye ... Rudolph Kammerling
Eddie Kane Eddie Kane ... Meterstein
Johnnie Morris Johnnie Morris ... Weiskopf (as Johnny Morris)
Frank LaRue ... The Bishop
Margaret Lindsay ... Dr. Lewis' Secretary


Story of a Hollywood studio during the transition from silents to talkies.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Come see the funniest farce about the films ever filmed. Big comedy stars in the big star comedy! (Print Ad- Evening Post,((Wellington, NZ)) 6 April 1933)




Passed | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »






Release Date:

2 October 1932 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Una vez en la vida See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Universal Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Noiseless Recording Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Aline MacMahon created the role of May Daniels in the first tryout of the play. (Source: Moss Hart's autobiography 'Act One'.) See more »


Herman Gloguaer: What did they have to go and make pictures talk for? Things were going along fine. You couldn't stop making money - even if you turned out a good picture you made money.
See more »

Crazy Credits

The opening credits are followed by a written message from producer Carl Laemmle saying critics had questioned whether he would use the material that "so mercilessly and so hilariously poked fun at Hollywood and its motion picture people." But, he says, laughter is needed "in times like these." See more »


Referenced in The Flash: Deadly Nightshade (1991) See more »


You, You Alone
Music by Heinz Roemheld
See more »

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User Reviews

Broadway to Hollywood
1 June 2001 | by lugonianSee all my reviews

ONCE IN A LIFETIME (Universal, 1932), directed by Russell Mack, is a film comedy based on the 1930 stage success by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. The screen adaptation, often stagy and mostly all-talking, does manage to come across with some funny lines given by veteran comedians, headed by Jack Oakie (on loan from Paramount) as George Lewis, the lovable dim-wit who cracks and chews nuts, with Aline MacMahon (on loan from Warner Brothers) as the serious-minded, acid-tongued May Daniels, whose mannerisms sometimes reminds me of Audrey Meadows character role of Alice Kramden in the classic TV sit-com "The Honeymooners" starring Jackie Gleason.

The story begins with a trio of vaudevillians, George, May and Jerry Hyland (Russell Hopton) who find there is no longer a future in performing to almost empty houses while crowds line up outside movie theaters to watch the new phase of "talking pictures," the premiere of THE JAZZ SINGER starring Al Jolson. May suggests the trio take their once in a lifetime chance, pack up their bags and taking the next train bound for Hollywood where they can land jobs as voice-culture experts, even though they know nothing about the subject. On the train they encounter Helen Hobart (Louise Fazenda), a gossip columnist, conversing with Susan Walker (Sidney Fox), an young hopeful who is heading for Hollywood to break into the movies. George becomes very much interested in young Susan, but before long, Susan starts to call him "Georgie." After making a good impression with Helen Hobart, George, May and Jerry con her into letting them visit with the studio boss, Herman Glogauer (Gregory Ratoff) who agrees on setting up a school of elocution. Because George boldly talks back to the heavily accented Glogauer, telling him truths that his "yes" men keep from him, George is made supervising producer. Funny moments occur when George is given a movie assignment, but to Glogauer's rage, learns that George has filmed the wrong movie by taking a script from a 1910 Biograph production. As for Susan, who auditions by stump marching her feet and reciting "Boots, Boots, Boots, Boots ...." gets a small part in George's movie as a bride who says "I do," but after seeing the sneak preview, becomes outraged by the outcome, believing her career is finished before it's begun. More complications ensue.

Featured in the supporting cast are Onslow Stevens as Lawrence Vail, a young playwright (reportedly inspired by Kaufman himself) who sits in the studio waiting area for SIX months hoping to see Mr. Glogauer, eventually getting frustrated at Glogauer's scatterbrained receptionist, Miss Leighton (ZaSu Pitts), before taking the next train back East; Jobyna Howland and Robert McWade as Susan's parents; Gregory Gaye as Rudolph; Carol Tevis, the one with that baby voice, as Florabelle Leigh, auditioning for a movie role by crying; and appearing briefly is Margaret Lindsay as George Lewis's secretary.

Once considered to be a lost movie, the found ONCE IN A LIFETIME made its rare television broadcast February 11, 1971, on New York City's public television station of WNET, Channel 13, as part of NET Playhouse ("Rediscovery of a Lost Film"), as well as revival movie houses about the same time before being taken out of circulation again. Run times have varied from 75 to 91 minutes.

While other Hollywood's Hollywood stories of 1932 occasionally do get revived these days, including the serious "What Price Hollywood? (RKO); the hilarious Harold Lloyd comedy, "Movie Crazy," and comedy-drama, "Make Me a Star" (both for Paramount), as often broadcast in recent years on Turner Classic Movies cable television, ONCE IN A LIFETIME is worthy of rediscovering again, and to see it shown after decades resting in some dark studio vault, should definitely be a once in a lifetime experience. (***)

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