Did You Know That ‘You’ve Got Mail’ Was Inspired by a Play?

It’s officially the Holiday season, and that means it’s time to dust off the collection of Christmas movies. Each year, the masses debate what exactly makes a movie a Christmas movie. Purists will argue that films like Die Hard and You’ve Got Mail are not officially Christmas movies. In contrast, other movie enthusiasts will insist that any movie that takes place during the holidays is a Christmas flick. You’ve Got Mail is certainly a holiday movie in the loose definition, and if you look at its inspiration play, Parfumerie, it’s absolutely a holiday classic. 

What is You’ve Got Mail about? 

The 1998 romantic comedy, You’ve Got Mail, follows a bookshop owner, Kathleen Kelly, played by Meg Ryan, as she navigates the pitfalls of being a small business owner when a large corporate bookseller moves into her shop’s Manhattan neighborhood. The Fox family owns the company and Joe Fox, played by Tom Hanks, spearheads the new store’s development. He and Kathleen meet at a party but don’t see eye-to-eye. 

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Eventually, Joe and Kathleen become friends, but Joe is keeping a massive secret. He realizes that he and Kathleen had been corresponding by email for months. The pen pals never exchanged names or exact locations, allowing them to share their feelings and confide in each other. 

The movie was inspired by a Hungarian play from the 1930s 

You’ve Got Mail took plenty of creative license and modernized the plot to including the internet and email, but a play written by Miklós László inspired the film. The production, Parfumerie, follows a group of coworkers in a gift shoppe in the weeks before the Christmas Holiday. The story paid particular attention to two employees. By day they work together and despise each other, but they are also unwitting pen pals who actually get along swimmingly. 

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in 'You've Got Mail'
Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in ‘You’ve Got Mail’ } Getty Images

According to The Los Angeles Times, the play inspired three films, and a wildly popular musical in the United States, but, had never actually been produced in America until 2009. Even then, the production, adapted into English by Lazlo’s nephew, only had moderate success. 

You’ve Got Mail isn’t the only film inspired by the play

While Parfumerie is a somewhat obscure play, it isn’t unknown to Hollywood heavy hitters.  You’ve Got Mail is not the first film to use the work as inspiration for a movie. The first time Parfumerie’s premise was adapted for film came in 1940. The film, The Shop Around The Corner, was based on the play. Nine years later, Judy Garland starred in In The Good Old Summertime, the play’s musical adaptation. 

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Laszlo’s now-famous play has lived in the shadows of movies since the 1940s, and that doesn’t seem likely to change. If a film inspired by the play referenced an earlier movie inspired by the play, instead of Parfumerie directly, what chance does it have? In You’ve Got Mail, Kathleen’s shop, The Shop Around the Corner, pays homage to the 1940s film of the same name.