Meet John Doe

Meet John Doe Information

Meet John Doe is a 1941 American comedy drama film directed and produced by Frank Capra, and starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. The film is about a "grassroots" political campaign created unwittingly by a newspaper columnist and pursued by a wealthy businessman. It became a box office hit and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Story. Though the film is less well known than other Frank Capra classics, it remains highly regarded today. It was ranked #49 in AFI's 100 Years... 100 Cheers. In 1969, the film entered the public domain (in the USA) due to the claimants' failure to renew its copyright registration in the 28th year after release.


Infuriated at being told to write one final column after being laid off from her newspaper job, Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck) prints a letter from a fictional unemployed "John Doe" threatening suicide on Christmas Eve in protest of society's ills. When the note causes a sensation and the paper's competition suspects a fraud and starts to investigate, the newspaper editor rehires Mitchell who comes up with a scheme of hiding the fictional nature of "John Doe" while exploiting the sensation caused by the fake letter to boost the newspaper's sales, for which she demands a bonus equal to 8 months' pay. After reviewing a number of derelicts who have shown up at the paper claiming to have penned the original suicide letter, Mitchell and editor Henry Connell (James Gleason) hire John Willoughby (Gary Cooper), a former baseball player and tramp who is in need of money to repair his injured arm, to play John Doe. Mitchell now starts to pen an article series in Doe's name, elaborating on the letter's ideas of society's disregard of people in need.

Willoughby gets $50, a new suit of clothes, and a plush hotel suite with his tramp friend (Walter Brennan), who launches into an extended diatribe against "the heelots", lots of heels who incessantly focus on getting money from others. Willoughby is hired to give radio speeches, guided by Mitchell who is promised $100 a week to write his speeches, paid by the newspaper's publisher, D.B. Norton (Edward Arnold). Willoughby turns down a $5,000 bribe to admit the whole thing was a publicity stunt, gives Mitchell's speech, and dashes off to the countryside with "The Colonel". They ride the rails, playing the harmonica and ocarina until they show up in Millsville, where John Doe is recognized at a diner. He's brought to City Hall, where he's met by Hanson, who gives a five-minute monologue about how he was inspired to start a local John Doe club.

The John Doe philosophy spreads across the country, developing into a broad grassroots movement whose simple slogan is, "Be a better neighbor". Far from being an altruistic philanthropist, however, Norton plans to channel the support for Doe into support for his own national political ambitions. As a culmination of this plan, Norton has instructed Mitchell to write a speech for Willoughby in which he announces the foundation of a new political party and endorses Norton as its presidential candidate.

When Willoughby, who has come to believe in the John Doe philosophy himself, realizes that he is being used, he tries to expose the plot, but is first stymied in his attempts to talk his own mind to a nationwide radio audience at the rally instead of reading the prepared speech, and then exposed as a fake by Norton, who claims to have been deceived, like everyone else, by the staff of the newspaper. Frustrated by his failure, Willoughby intends to commit suicide by jumping from the roof of the City Hall on Christmas Eve, as indicated in the original John Doe letter. Only the intervention of Mitchell and followers of the John Doe clubs persuades him to renege on his threat to kill himself. At this point in the movie, a reference to Jesus Christ is made, that a historical "John Doe" has already died for the sake of humanity. The film ends with Connell turning to Norton and saying, "There you are, Norton! The people! Try and lick that!"


  • Gary Cooper as John Doe/Long John Willoughby
  • Barbara Stanwyck as Ann Mitchell
  • Edward Arnold as D. B. Norton
  • Walter Brennan as The Colonel
  • Spring Byington as Mrs. Mitchell
  • James Gleason as Henry Connell
  • Gene Lockhart as Mayor Lovett
  • Rod La Rocque as Ted Sheldon
  • Irving Bacon as Beanie


The film was screenwriter Robert Riskin's last collaboration with Capra. The screenplay was derived from a 1939 film treatment, titled "The Life and Death of John Doe", written by Richard Connell and Robert Presnell who would go on to be the recipients of the film's sole Academy Award nomination for Best Original Story. The treatment was based upon Connell's 1922 Century Magazine story titled "A Reputation".

Gary Cooper was always Frank Capra's first choice to play John Doe. Cooper had agreed to the part without reading a script for two reasons: he had enjoyed working with Capra on their earlier collaboration, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), and he wanted to work with Barbara Stanwyck. The role of the hardbitten news reporter, however, was initially offered to Ann Sheridan, but the first choice for the role had been turned down by Warner Bros. due to a contract dispute, and Olivia de Havilland was similarly contacted, albeit unsuccessfully.


Meet John Doe was dramatized as a radio play on the September 28, 1941 broadcast of The Screen Guild Theater, starring Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward Arnold in their original roles.

A musical stage version of the film, written by Eddie Sugarman and composed by Andrew Gerle, was produced by Ford's Theatre in Washington, DC, from March 16 to May 20, 2007 featuring Heidi Blickenstaff as Ann Mitchell and James Moye as John Willoughby/John Doe. Donna Lynne Champlin had previously appeared as Ann Mitchell in workshop versions of the show. After an off-Broadway stint, the Chicago production of the musical was presented at the Porchlight Music Theatre from March 5 to April 17, 2011 under the direction of Jim Beaudry, musical direction by Eugene Dizon, featuring Elizabeth Lanza as Ann Mitchell and Karl Hamilton as John Willoughby/John Doe, garnering a Jeff Award nomination for Actress in a Principal Role " Musical for Elizabeth Lanza. Due to this production, R&H Theatricals has licensed the show for future productions.

Bollywood made a remake of the same movie titles Main Azaad Hoon (1989) starring Amitabh Bachchan..

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