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Meet John Doe is a 1941 comedy drama film directed and produced by Frank Capra and starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. The film, about a "grassroots" political campaign, created unwittingly by a newspaper columnist and pursued by a wealthy businessman, became a box office hit and was nominated for an Academy Award for best original story (for Richard Connell and Robert Presnell Sr.).

Though the film is less well known than other Capra classics, it remains highly regarded today. It was ranked #49 in AFI's 100 Years... 100 Cheers.

The film is now in the public domain.


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 Awards 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 simalrily contacted, albeit unsuccessfully.


Infuriated at being laid off from her job as a newspaper columnist from The New Bulletin, Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck) prints a fake letter from the unemployed "John Doe," threatening suicide in protest of society's ills. When the note causes a sensation, the newspaper is forced to rehire Mitchell. After reviewing a number of derelicts who have shown up at the paper claiming to have penned the original suicide letter, Ann and Henry Connell (James Gleason) decide to 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.

The Doe philosophy spreads across the country, developing into a political movement, with financial support from the newspaper's publisher, D.B. Norton (Edward Arnold), who plans to channel the support for Doe into support for his own political ambitions.

When Willoughby, who has come to believe in the Doe philosophy himself, realizes that he is being used, he tries to expose the plot, but is stymied in his attempts to talk to a nationwide radio audience at a rally, 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 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!"



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 and composed by Andrew Gerle, was produced by Ford's Theatremarker in Washington, DC, from 16 March to 20 May 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.

Bollywood made a remake of the same movie as Main Azaad Hoon



  1. Dirks, Tim. Review: Meet John Doe (1941)." Retrieved: 13 January 2008.
  2. Meet John Doe (1941)


  • Capra, Frank. Frank Capra, The Name Above the Title: An Autobiography. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1971. ISBN 0-30680-771-8.
  • McBride, Joseph. Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success. New York: Touchstone Books, 1992. ISBN 0-671-79788-3.

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