Tag Archives: Adam’s Rib

Top 15 Katharine Hepburn Movies

 

Finding just 15 movies to highlight from someone with a career like Katharine Hepburns is just literally insane…as she has well over 15 movies worth highlighting. She’s amazing, and quite possibly my favorite actress.  So I’ve narrowed the list down the only which way I could…I simply list my favorites. All of her films are worth watching, but if you’ve never seen any of them yet, here’s a good start:

15 – Summertime (1955)summertime

David Lean is famous for his grand epics, but it’s fun to highlight an intimate film like this for both Katharine Hepburn and David Lean. Katharine Hepburn was more than impressed with her experience working with David Lean. She even asked to sit in on the editing sessions with him to watch him at work. In her autobiography, she wrote, “[Summertime] was told with great simplicity in the streets, in the Piazza San Marco. We would shoot in tiny streets only a few feet wide. The sun would come and go in a matter of minutes. It was a very emotional part, and I tell you I had to be on my toes to give David enough of what he wanted practically on call. But it was thrilling… He seemed to me to simply absorb Venice. It was his. He had a real photographic gift. He thought in a descriptive way. His shots tell the story. He was capable of a sort of super concentration. It made a very deep and definite impression on me, and he was one of the most interesting directors I ever worked with. Wasn’t I lucky to work with him?”

This material is well within Hepburn’s wheelhouse but is very different for Lean. What I find to be of great interest with the material is that Hepburn had a great eye for stage plays and especially ones that would make fine transitions over to the big screen. Many of her success came from turning great plays into marvelous movies. The writer is Arthur Laurents who wrote the plays Home of the Brave, Gypsy and West Side Story.

14 – Stage Door (1937)stage-door

Another play (you’ll find that most of this list started out as plays), but this one is even more interesting, as it’s about the behind-the-scenes drama of actresses trying to make it big on Broadway. Originally, the writer of the stage play, George S. Kaufman, upset and bemused by the way the screenwriters had substantially changed the play, suggested that the title also be changed, to “Screen Door”. The screenplay was considerably altered from the hit stage play. Director Gregory La Cava was particularly gifted working with actresses. For two weeks prior to filming, he had his cast improvise in the boarding house set as if they were actually rooming together, and had a script girl take down all their interchanges. Most of the dialog you hear in the boarding house is extemporaneous ad-libs by the actresses during rehearsals. Just as an example of how much the play had been rewritten, Adolphe Menjou’s character was not in the original stage play at all.

Katharine Hepburn was in discussions to star in the original Broadway stage production of “Stage Door”, but Broadway producer Leland Hayward, reportedly jealous of her deepening friendship with noted film director John Ford, cast his then-girlfriend Margaret Sullavan in the leading role. Hayward and Sullavan married one month after the stage play opened. Margaret Sullavan was considered for the film version but became pregnant with their first child, and the part went to Katharine Hepburn.

13 – Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (1967)hepburn_tracy_guess_whos_coming_to_dinner

Worth mentioning in this film is one of three of the finest speeches I’ve ever seen written for Spencer Tracy at the end of a film. The others being in State of the Union and Judgment at Nuremberg. Now particularly, in this film during this scene, Katharine Hepburn doesn’t have a single line and yet she speaks VOLUMES. The brilliant decision to have Tracy stand up and then move back to where Hepburn is sitting so that the camera has her in view as he gives the speech about their love, is simply a work of genius. I get choked up every time I see it, as the emotion erupting from both of them is palpable. It’s also important to note that this is their last film together and Tracy’s final film before he died. He would die a few weeks later, and I can’t help but think he was expressing how he really felt about her for all of us to see.

Hepburn would win one of her four Academy Awards from her performance in this movie and it’s not hard to see why, from a single scene where she doesn’t even speak. She’s that good. Ironically, Tracy and Hepburn would do a total of nine movies together but this film was the only one where they were both nominated for Academy Awards, but Tracy would lose out to Rod Steiger, for Heat of the Night, a film also starring Sydney Poitier. Both Tracy and Poitier had won Oscars previously, for other films.

12 – The African Queen (1951)katharine-hepburn-african-queen

There are two movies on this list where Hepburn is stuck on a raft or a boat going downstream with a gruff character, this one with Humphrey Bogart and Rooster Cogburn with John Wayne. The movie was directed by Bogart favorite, Walter Huston. In both movies, she plays a christian, a missionary in one and the minister’s daughter in the other. She took her part quite seriously in African Queen, according to Katharine Hepburn’s autobiography, John Huston initially found her performance to be too serious-minded. One day, he visited her hut and suggested that she model her performance on Eleanor Roosevelt; putting on her “society smile” in the face of all adversity. After Huston left, Hepburn sat for a moment before deciding, “That is the best piece of direction I have ever heard.” Lauren Bacall famously ventured along for the filming in Africa to be with husband Humphrey Bogart. She played den mother during the trip, making camp and cooking. This also marked the beginning of her life-long friendship with Katharine Hepburn.

11 – State of the Union (1948)katherine-state-of-the-union

What I love about Katharine Hepburn’s performances most is that she plays some incredibly strong women characters but in vulnerable ways. She lets little cracks come through, we see her characters doubt at times, even as she tries to keep her chin up and fight through. This one is directed by my favorite director, Frank Capra. This was a political film, and pride runs strong with Capra and most of it’s cast, but the country was going through some turmoil over what would be known as the Hollywood Blacklist. There was tension on the set between the strongly conservative Adolphe Menjou and liberal thinking Katharine Hepburn, who had recently made a public speech against America’s anticommunist hysteria and was facing a backlash as a result. Adolphe Menjou was a hard-line political conservative who had willingly co-operated with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and named names. Katharine Hepburn was decidedly more liberal and had been an outspoken critic of the blacklist. When Hepburn learned Menjou had worked with HUAC, she refused to speak to or have anything to do with him unless they were filming a scene. Once the cameras were off, she kept her distance. They had previously worked together in two other films (Stage Door and Morning Glory) and had no problems those times. Perhaps the familiarity between the two had caused some deep disappointment in each other’s hard stand.

10 – Holiday (1938)hepburn-holiday

This is the first of three films on this list with her other frequent collaborator, Cary Grant. They are magic together. I love all the movies she does with Tracy, they seem like the perfect pair, but quite possibly what I love about Hepburn matched up with Grant is that they seemed like the perfect foes. They’re completely at odds with each other but Grant is not quite her equal, she’s a queen he keeps trying to knock off of her pedestal, whereas with Tracy they seem to be equals. This one was written by one of Katharine Hepburn’s favorite writers, Donald Ogden Stewart, who also wrote her other films, The Philadelphia Story, Keeper of the Flame, and uncredited work on Summertime. He was uncredited in many of his later screenplays as he was one of the writers that were eventually blacklisted by the (HUAC) House Un-American Activities Committee.

9 – Rooster Cogburn (1975)katherine-hepburn-and-rooster-cogburn

This is the latest movie on the list, and even though I liked her work in On Golden Pond in 1981, it didn’t quite make the list. This one was a follow-up to John Wayne’s Academy Award winning turn as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. She enjoyed working with the Duke very much because they were both spitfires! Katharine Hepburn was bemused by co-star John Wayne’s tendency to argue with everybody, especially the director, during filming. At the party to celebrate the last day of filming she told him, “I’m glad I didn’t know you when you had two lungs, you must have been a real bastard. Losing a hip has mellowed me, but you!” The film received terrible reviews on release. Many critics felt that it was too obviously derived from The African Queen, and that both John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn were too old for their parts, but I really love seeing these two veteran actors going head-to-head. John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn were born a mere two weeks apart (Wayne being the eldest), and their careers paralleled each other, yet this film marked the only time the Hollywood veterans appeared together onscreen.

8 – Bringing Up Baby (1938)Bringing Up baby Lobby Card

Holiday, Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story all make my list as well for the Top 15 Cary Grant Movies, you can see the blog post here to see where they wind up on that list. I also talk about this movie in a blog post about What’s Up, Doc?, you can read that one here if you’re interested. Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant frequently socialized off the set, double-dating with their respective steadies at the time, Howard Hughes and Phyllis Brooks. They loved working on the film so much that they frequently arrived early. Since Howard Hawks was usually late, they spent their time working out new bits of comic business. Hawks and Hepburn started out a little rough at the beginning of shooting.  After the bad start, Hawks grew to respect Hepburn tremendously for her comic timing, ad-libbing skills and physical control. He would tell the press, “She has an amazing body – like a boxer. It’s hard for her to make a wrong turn. She’s always in perfect balance. She has that beautiful coordination that allows you to stop and make a turn and never fall off balance. This gives her an amazing sense of timing. I’ve never seen a girl that had that odd rhythm and control.” I talk a little more about this film in a blog post about the Top 15 Films Directed By Howard Hawks.

7 – Desk Set (1957)katharine-hepburn-desk-set

This one was written by Phoebe Ephron and Henry Ephron, the mother and father of Nora Ephron! Great writing runs in the family! I love this movie as an older couple meet and fall in love.  It’s also got some very interesting research details and a fun computer bit. The computer dates the film however because it’s so big and blinky.

6 – Alice Adams (1935)

ALICE ADAMS, Fred MacMurray, Katharine Hepburn, 1935

George Stevens directed Hepburn in Alice Adams and Woman of the Year. Both films make my list but her character is so starkly different! The first one is about a young woman trying to break through certain social circles, very unsure of herself and naive and the second is a very strong reporter trying to make it in a man’s world, very secure and confident.  She enjoyed working with him but he really pushed her to be a better version of herself. She was having problems with her public persona, which was of a cold woman. She credits Stevens for her change in the public’s perception, by helping her, in “Alice Adams”, portray more warmth and vulnerability than she had ever shown previously. For example, there was a disagreement among Hepburn and Stevens about the post-party scene. The script called for Hepburn to fall onto the bed and break into sobs, but Stevens wanted her to walk to the window and cry, with the rain falling outside. Hepburn could not produce the tears required, so she asked Stevens if she could do the scene as scripted. Stevens yelled furiously at Hepburn, which did the trick and the scene was filmed Stevens’ way, and Hepburn’s tears are real. I think this scene is dead right the way Stevens has created and set the mood.

5 – Lion in Winter (1968)katharine-and-lion-in-winter

Katharine thought very highly of Peter O’Toole. She thought he could do anything, strong but kind, funny but dramatic…she really admired him. Although Hepburn was a great admirer of his work, she had no intention of putting up with the rather bad habits he often exhibited on his productions. “You’re known to be late,” she told him on the first day of work. “I intend for you to be on time. I hear you stay out at night. You’d better be rested in the morning if you’re going to work with me!” O’Toole meekly obliged when she told him “Peter, stop towering over me. Come and sit down and try to look respectable.” O’Toole readily admitted in her presence that she reduced him “to a shadow of my former gay-dog self.” “She is terrifying. It is sheer masochism working with her. She has been sent by some dark fate to nag and torment me.” Her reply: “Don’t be so silly. We are going to get on very well. You are Irish and you make me laugh. In any case, I am on to you and you to me.” In spite of her stern warnings, she enjoyed O’Toole tremendously. She said his vigour and energy helped restore her own vitality at a time when she really needed it.

This film is also the first film for Timothy Dalton and Anthony Hopkins. Timothy Dalton was hugely impressed by Katharine Hepburn, particularly when she came in to shoot reverse shots with him on her day off from filming.

4 – Little Women (1933)little-women-katharine-hepburn

She got the coveted iconic role in this one and runs away with the film. It helped to cement a long relationship with director George Cukor, who would go on to direct her in Sylvia Scarlett, Holiday, The Philadelphia Story, Keeper of the Flame, Pat and Mike, and Adam’s Rib. Katharine Hepburn wrote in her autobiography, “This picture was heaven to do – George Cukor perfect. He really caught the atmosphere. It was to me my youth!”  The third screen adaptation of the novel, following silent versions in 1917 and 1918. Little Women would be filmed a total of 8 times for film and several more times as TV shows and a couple mini-series!

3 – Woman of the Year (1942)woman-of-the-year-katharine-hepburn

This is the first of nine films Hepburn and Tracy would do together. She was unaware of how they would do together onscreen for the first time and wondered if they had the right chemistry.  The first scene shot was the characters’ first date, in a bar. Hepburn was so nervous she spilled her drink, but Tracy just handed her a handkerchief and kept going. Hepburn proceeded to clean up the spill as they played the scene. When the drink dripped through to the floor, she tried to throw Tracy off by going under the table, but he stayed in character, with the cameras rolling the entire time. After this she knew the two of them would be golden as they became so comfortable together, she knew it was magic. As Hepburn’s close friend and frequent director, George Cukor was a natural choice to direct, but for her first film with Tracy, Hepburn wanted Tracy to be as comfortable as possible, so as a quasi-producer, she hired George Stevens, who had directed her in Alice Adams. As Hepburn said, “I just thought he (Tracy) should have a big, manly man on his team – someone who could talk about baseball.” Cukor (who was openly gay and known for his friendships with actresses) would later become a good friend of Tracy and would direct both actors in 3 more movies.

2 – The Philadelphia Story (1940)philadelphia-story

Grant trying to knock Queen Hepburn off her pedestal is never more evident than in this movie. He even calls her a Queen and mocks he high and mightiness, in a marvelous duel of words between exes that were never more in love than when they were fighting. To get back at him she falls off the pedestal for short time and lands in Jimmy Stewart’s arms. James Stewart never felt he deserved the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in this film, especially since he had initially felt miscast. He always maintained that Henry Fonda should have won instead for The Grapes of Wrath (1940), and that the award was probably “deferred payment for my work on Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)”, but I thought he was great in this one as well.

1 – Adam’s Rib (1949)adams-rib

I wrote about how gracious Hepburn was with co-star Judy Holliday in this film, in a blog post you can read here. What I didn’t talk about in that post was how great she is in the movie, on her own right. Written by husband and wife Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, they would become lifelong friends of Hepburn and Tracy and Kanin would also go on to write an intimate biography on Hepburn and Tracy.

Interesting bit of trivia, in the memorable Tracy-Hepburn massage scene, a radio plays Frank Sinatra singing Cole Porter’s “Farewell, Amanda,” a gift to Amanda Bonner (played by Hepburn) from her songwriter-neighbor, Kip Lurie (played by David Wayne) who, earlier in the picture, had crooned the ditty, accompanying himself on the Bonners’ piano. While Adam Bonner (played by Tracy) is massaging his wife, he abruptly shuts off the radio. Sinatra is again heard when a record is accidentally started in a later scene. This prerecording of “Farewell, Amanda” is lost.

Judy Holliday, Gone Too Soon

 

If you remember Judy Holliday, you would know there was really no one like her. She only did a handful of movies, but was simply unforgettable on stage, on screen and in person. She was acting for a few years when she got the role of Billie Dawn in the Broadway debut of Garson Kanin’s play, Born Yesterday. Garson Kanin and his wife, writer/actor Ruth Gordon were very good friends of Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy and they came and saw her in the play and thought she was wonderful. Katherine felt duty bound to get this actress noticed on the silver screen in the film adaptation of the play, and Judy badly wanted to recreate the part in the movie, but the rights were purchased by Columbia Pictures, and production chief Harry Cohn, thought Judy to be a “fat, jewish broad”. Garson Kanin was going into production on a movie of his own, written by himself and his wife Ruth Gordon. When Garson Kanin complained about Cohn’s opinion of Judy to Katharine, she suggested casting Holliday as Doris Attinger in his movie.Holliday1

Doris Attinger is the attempted murderess on trial and defended by Katherine Hepburn’s Amanda Bonner in what became one of my all time favorite films, Adam’s Rib in 1949. She literally does steal the show, thanks to the likes of Katherine and her onscreen husband, Spencer Tracy who plays the prosecutor Adam Bonner, but she turned down the role at first. Finally Hepburn got the real reason out of her. Sensitive about her weight, Holliday didn’t want to be called “fatso” on screen, as written in the script they had given her. Hepburn assured her that the Kanin’s would gladly rewrite the line: “They’re writers. They know lots of words.” Finally, Holliday agreed. Later she insisted that the word “fatso” be restored because it was the best way of playing the scene.adamsrib

This film was her big break, but it didn’t change the fact that she was going to be sharing the screen with two legends. In her early monologue scene with Katharine Hepburn, Judy Holliday can be seen trembling. This was not acting, but nervousness. The inexperienced Judy Holliday was terrified of performing with Katharine Hepburn. But she soon realized that Katherine was Judy’s biggest fan. To help build up Judy’s image, particularly in the eyes of Columbia Pictures chief Harry Cohn, Katharine reportedly urged director George Cukor to focus the camera on Judy during a number of their shared scenes, and Katharine deliberately leaked stories to the gossip columns suggesting that Judy’s performance in Adam’s Rib was so good that it had stolen the spotlight from Hepburn and Tracy. This got Cohn’s attention and Holliday won the part in Born Yesterday (1950), also directed by George Cukor.  This to me is a great example of what a great friend Katherine Hepburn could be. Hepburn would later explain her generosity to Kanin: “It was the kind of thing you do because people have done it for you.” Garson Kanin, by the way, would go on to write a fantastic book about Hepburn and Tracy called “Tracy and Hepburn: an Intimate Memoir”, published in 1971 by Viking Press.Judy Holliday Broderick Crawford William Holden in Born yesterday

Regarding Born Yesterday, there’s even more to the story that makes this that much more sneaky.  Apparently, Garson Kanin claimed that he modeled the part of the obnoxious junk dealer Harry Brock after Harry Cohn, but that the studio chief never realized it. Kanin sold Born Yesterday to Columbia Pictures for $1 million, setting a record for the highest price ever paid for a film property. In his autobiography, Kanin wrote that Cohn paid the record $1 million for the films rights because he had heard that Kanin said he “wouldn’t sell the rights to Harry Cohn for any amount – not even a million dollars.” The part of Billie Dawn was originally written for star Jean Arthur and even hired to play the role on Broadway, but left during tryouts and was replaced by Holliday. Judy would go on to win the Golden Globe and the Oscar for her performance in the film. Jean Arthur never won an Oscar.holliday

Later, she was cast in George Cukor’s It Should Happen To You (1954), again written by Garson Kanin and costarring Jack Lemmon. Up-to-that-point, Lemmon had only done mostly television, and had a tendency to overact for the camera but Cukor soon convinced him that “less is more.” Lemmon later remarked, “I’ve learned my craft from that advice. It’s the hardest thing in the world to be simple, and the easiest thing in the world to act your brains out and make an ass of yourself.” A perfect example of Cukor’s approach to acting was demonstrated to Lemmon during a restaurant scene where Pete and Gladys argue. Cukor recalled, “They rehearsed it and did it very well, but I said, “I don’t believe it, I don’t believe one damn thing. Jack, what do you do when you get angry?” He said, “I get chills and cramps, I get sick to my stomach, but can’t use that.” “Oh,” I said, “do that!” So in the height of fury he suddenly clutches his stomach, and it makes all the difference.”it-should-happen-to-you

Lemmon and Holliday would go on to act together again in 1954 on Phffft (terrible title…how do you tell people what movie you just saw?). Jack Lemmon had become a fan and admirer of Holliday’s, just as Hepburn had. He would later go on to say of her, “She was intelligent and not at all like the dumb blonds she so often depicted. She didn’t give a damn where the camera was placed, how she was made to look, or about being a star. She just played the scene — acted with, not at. She was also one of the nicest people I ever met. She was hardly the dizzy blonde. If she were alive today, she would’ve zipped right through the Mensa puzzles. ”  She was reported to have an IQ of 172, even though the characters she played onscreen were all dizzy blondes. She often said that it took a lot of smarts to convince people that her characters were stupid. According to biographer Gary Carey, in its search for subversives in the film industry, the House Un-American Activities Committee was flummoxed by Holliday. She essentially playing her Billie Dawn character on the witness stand. She ended up being the only person ever called before HUAC who was neither blacklisted nor compelled to name names.Jack Lemmon and Judy Holliday

She continued doing movies, sparingly after the trials, but preferred the stage. She would go on to win Broadway’s 1957 Tony Award as best actress in a musical for Bells Are Ringing, a role that she recreated in the film version of Bells Are Ringing (1960) along with Dean Martin. The music in the film is amazing.  She proved to have a flawless singing voice and even released a few albums, during this time to join the broadway albums she performed in. In October 1960, Holliday started out-of-town tryouts on the play Laurette based on the life of Laurette Taylor. The show was directed by José Quintero with background music by Elmer Bernstein and produced by Alan Pakula. Unfortunately, Holliday became ill and had to leave the show. It closed in Philadelphia without opening on Broadway. She had throat surgery shortly after leaving the production in October 1960.bells are ringing 1960 - judy holliday dean martin

Her last play was another musical, Hot Spot (1963) but was troubled from the very start. One of Broadway’s most well-known flops, it had 58 “preview” performances, setting a record by cancelling its official opening four times, and then running for only 43 “official” performances. According to Steven Suskin, “it was one of those big-budget, big-advance-sale bonanzas which go wrong and turn into highly public busts.” According to the review in Billboard, “Predictions of failure preceeded the show and these were confirmed when the New York Critics Circle passed a unanimous negative judgement.” She would go on to say, “You can only live through one or two Hot Spots in your life.”Bells-Are-Ringing-film

She would die of breast cancer only 2 years later, at the very young age of 43.  Gone too soon, this talented and hilarious actress and singer would have surely gone on to entertain us with her versatility and immense charisma for years to come. Jack Lemmon would add, “She was one of the greats, and her early death was one of the great tragedies.”