Spending My Birthday With Katharine, Cary, Jimmy, and My Mom

Today is my birthday!  It is also Susan Hayward’s, Glenda Farrell’s, and Marya’s from Cinema Fanatic…as well as the day that RED HEADED WOMAN was released.  But yes, it is my birthday!

Imagine my excitement when I realized that TCM was showing my favorite movie, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, at 1PM on my birthday!  Imagine my dismay when I realized by addled brain had misread the guide and it was actually playing at 1AM on my birthday.  Never fear, Mom to the rescue!

To celebrate my Mom came over to my house with sandwiches and all kinds of junk food and treats that we never eat and we watched THE PHILADELPHIA STORY.  At first it was just the two of us and later it was the two of us and my son, who was resisting his nap and ending up sleeping next to us after watching some Cary Grant.  We spent the time chatting, discussing trivia, and deciding who would be a modern day cast if they ever remade the film today.  We decided on Leonardo DiCaprio for CK Dexter Haven, Lee Pace for Mike Conner, Jennifer Lawrence for Liz Imbry, Bradley Cooper for George Kittridge, and either Jessica Chastain or Amy Adams for Tracy Lord.  And Bill Murray for Uncle Willy.  But we both agreed that you really shouldn’t mess with perfection that is Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, and Katharine Hepburn.

Our snacks…

My Mom doing her best Greta Garbo…

My feet (My feet are made of clay, made of clay did you know?)

All in all a delightful afternoon and way to spend my birthday!  Thanks Mom!

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My Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon: THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940)

This post is part of the My Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon hosted by Rick’s Classic Film and TV Cafe.  Check out all the other terrific entries here!

I can’t tell you exactly when I started loving THE PHILADELPHIA STORY.  I can’t tell you exactly what made me start watching it or what made me keep watching it.  What I can tell you is that it is one of those movies that holds a special place in my heart.  It is one of those films that I have to watch every few months, one of those films that I know lines of dialogue from, one of those films that I tell everyone about.  Any time that I see that THE PHILADELPHIA STORY is on TV, it doesn’t matter what point in the movie we are at, that is it I have to stop everything that I am doing and watch.

I am not going to get too involved in the plot, as I think many people know the movie and for those who don’t I really don’t want to spoil much and would much rather entice you to see the film and let me know what you think!  That having been said…

Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn) is a Philadelphia socialite from a very old and very wealthy family.  She is the ex-wife of one C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant), sportsman and recovering alcoholic.  The marriage between the two childhood sweethearts broke up due to Tracy’s imperious and holier-than-thou attitude which is due mostly to her wealth and privileged upbringing.  Two years later Tracy is engaged to self-made man, and wind bag, George Kittridge (John Howard).

Tracy’s absentee father has caused the family some embarrassment of late by taking up with a dancer.  Unfortunately for everyone, the publisher of the biggest gossip magazine has gotten a hold of some dirt on the affair and is now threatening to publish it.  C.K. Dexter Haven now shows up at Tracy’s door with a reporter named Mike Conner (James Stewart) and a photographer named Elizabeth Imbrey (Ruth Hussey).  It seems that Dexter has agreed to allow Mike and Liz to cover Tracy’s upcoming nuptials in exchange for the magazine agreeing not to publish the embarrassing information about Tracy’s father.

What follows is a most delightful mess of family dysfunction, love triangles, champagne, swimming, and redemption.  All in all my idea of a really perfect movie.

Katharine Hepburn was considered undesirable in 1938.  Several flops had led her to be added to Manhattan movie theater owner Harry Brandt’s list of “box office poison”.  Taking some time away from Hollywood she starred in a play on Broadway, entitled THE PHILADELPHIA STORY.  Inspired by the life of socialite Helen Hope Montgomery Scott, a Philadelphia socialite known for her crazy antics, it was written by Philip Barry who happened to be friends with Montgomery Scott’s husband.  Barry wrote the role of Tracy Lord specifically for Katharine Hepburn and she played alongside Joseph Cotten (Dexter), Van Heflin (Connor), and Shirley Booth (Imbrey).  Barry and Hepburn both backed the play, with Barry forgoing a salary, and the play (and Hepburn) were a great success.  Howard Hughes, then Hepburn’s boyfriend, purchased the film rights and gave them to her as a gift.  In the hopes of undoing her label of “box office poison”, Hepburn sold the rights to Louis B. Mayer in exchange for $250,000 and veto rights over director, producer, cast, and screenwriter.

George Cukor was selected as the director and Donald Ogden Stewart was brought in as screenwriter.  Hepburn initially wanted Clark Gable to play Dexter and Spencer Tracy to play Connor but both had other commitments, and Mayer was still wary of Hepburn’s poisonous status.  As insurance he put in two A-list celebrities to co-star with Hepburn, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart.  Grant agreed to the part as long as he received top billing and his salary would total $137,000 which he would donate to the British War Relief Society.  The film went into production in Culver City from July 5 to August 14, 1940 and was opened for general release on January 17, 1941.  THE PHILADELPHIA STORY went on to break a box office record by taking in $600,000 in six weeks.

Now that we know a bit more about the history of the film, let’s talk about why I love it so.  But first, here is the trailer which should give you a little taste of the greatness to come!

First of all, can you beat this cast?  Katharine Hepburn is Tracy Lord.  Full stop.  No one else but Katharine Hepburn could pull off the role and give Tracy the complex dimensions that she does.  Tracy is cold and aloof but underneath it you can sense that hurt and disappointment with her father and her ex husband have made her that way.  She is privileged and wealthy but she also is in love with George and with the hope that he will give her something real, honest, and true because he is a self-made man.  She is totally in control and wildly out of it.  Tracy Lord is a woman who starts as one thing and ends as another and we take the journey with her and whats more we actually like her as well.  In spite of the hard time she gives everyone, in spite of what other people say about her, we still like her and find ourselves rooting for her.  Only Katharine Hepburn could do this and Tracy Lord is the role she was meant to play.

Then there is Cary Grant.  What can I say?  I would watch Cary Grant tie his shoes and it would be amazing.  Here he brings his quintessential light humor to the role and where C.K. Dexter Haven could have been a somewhat nasty piece of work, he makes him into a man who is still in love with his ex-wife but feels betrayed by her lack of support and, more importantly, love during his struggles with alcoholism.  He brings a humor to his scenes and seems to be having a fantastic time during the filming.  Just watch his face sometimes, even when he isn’t the focus of the scene and you will see what I mean.  And let’s be honest, only Cary Grant could start off a film shoving a woman to the ground by her face and still be a man you root for.

James Stewart won an Oscar for his role as Mike Connor and while I would have liked to see a double Oscar between him and Cary Grant, you can’t deny that this is a breakout role for him.  Not to say that he had never made any great films prior to this, I mean THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER and MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON are fantastic, but I think that this film really showed Jimmy Stewart holding his own in an ensemble and even having moments of outshining even Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant.  Mike is a complex character, an everyman who is tired of being the everyman.  He wants to be comfortable and rich but sees the “old money” families as obstacles to his ultimate happiness.  He wants to be an author but he works as a newspaper reporter for a gossip magazine.  He also wants to dislike Tracy Lord because of everything she stands for in his mind, but he can’t because there is something magnetic in her and he can’t resist.  Starting out cynical and hard, Mike ends up being chivalrous and genuine making a transformation that we can all believe and one that makes sense.

Like I said, this is a dream cast.  And let’s not forget Ruth Hussey, Roland Young, and Virginia Weidler.  Oh how I love Virginia Weidler in this movie.

If you didn’t at least smile once during that clip…then I’m sorry I can’t help you.

And that brings me to what I think I love the most about this movie.  The words.  I have loved words and books ever since I was little.  True story, my first word was book.  Even now when I am driving or going for a walk or cooking in the kitchen, I would much rather listen to a podcast or a book on tape than music.  So for me, the script in this film is just heaven.  The quick and witty dialogue, the truly funny jokes, the pure poetry of the monologues…this film makes me feel like a really great book has come to life before my eyes.  The quality of the writing is palpable and I would be just as happy closing my eyes and listening to this movie as I would be watching it.  Donald Ogden Stewart wrote in his autobiography that adapting the screenplay for THE PHILADELPHIA STORY was the easiest job he ever had because the original material was so perfect.  So whether it is thanks to Philip Barry or Donald Ogden Stewart that we have dialogue like;

C. K. Dexter Haven: Sometimes, for your own sake, Red, I think you should’ve stuck to me longer.
Tracy Lord: I thought it was for life, but the nice judge gave me a full pardon.
C. K. Dexter Haven: Aaah, that’s the old redhead. No bitterness, no recrimination, just a good swift left to the jaw.

Or

Margaret Lord: Oh, dear. Is there no such thing as privacy any more?

Tracy Lord: Only in bed, mother, and not always there.

Or

Macaulay Connor: The prettiest sight in this fine pretty world is the privileged class enjoying its privileges.

Well, I could go on.  But whoever it was…the script is divine and the movie is divine and I love it.  I wish that I could fill this entry with clips of the film and quotes of dialogue and bits of trivia, but I can’t.  What I can do instead is to wish you all a Happy National Classic Movie Day and encourage you all to go out and watch my  favorite movie, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY.

The Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon: CHRISTOPHER STRONG (1933)

This post is part of The Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon hosted by Margaret Perry!  Check out all the other entries here!

Warning!  This blog entry will discuss various plot points and the ending of the film in question.  There will be advance warning before the ending is revealed but in order to have good discussion of the film I feel that the main points of the plot need to be revealed.  

It is a fine evening out in England and the lovely young socialites and their lovers are having a treasure hunt.  The instigator of this event is Carrie Valentin, aunt to Monica Strong (Helen Chandler).  Monica is having a grand time at the party with her married boyfriend, Harry Rawlinson (Ralph Forbes), and is all set to win the grand prize of a sable scarf when Aunt Carrie announces that there is a problem.  It seems that the scavenger hunt was too easy and there are too many winners so there is a bonus item.  The party guests must find a truly faithful husband and a women over twenty who has never had a love affair.  Monica knows just who to bring and rushes home to get her father, the parliamentary leader Sir Christopher Strong (Colin Clive).  Harry meanwhile steals a motorcycle and rushes off to find the female counterpart to the final item and ends up colliding with her on the motorway.  Lady Cynthia Darrington (Katharine Hepburn) is a renowned aviatrix and has also never had a lover or a love affair.

Back at the party Christopher and Cynthia share their respective stories and help Harry and Monica claim their prizes.  Cynthia agrees to dine with Monica and Christopher later in the week, and then takes her leave to head to the airfield for an early morning flight.  Cynthia soon becomes a great friend to Monica and begins spending a great deal of time at the home of Christopher and his wife Elaine (Billie Burke).  Elaine begins to have some misgivings at the growing closeness of Cynthia and Christopher but she remains silent, convincing herself that her husband loves her and that will be enough.  Christopher meanwhile finds himself more and more drawn to Cynthia, who is the complete opposite of Elaine.  Her single-mindedness and determination draw Christopher to her in spite of his love for his wife.  Cynthia has also begun to develop feelings of her own and begun to fall in love with Christopher.

Monica meanwhile is running wild with Harry, who is still married.  Elaine finally steps in and forbids her daughter from seeing him any longer.  Harry agrees to take time apart from Monica, much to her chagrin, and leaves the house to return to his wife.  Monica is devastated and hurries off to her room where she remains for some time.  The family takes their annual trip to Cannes, with Elaine going ahead to get the house ready.  She cannot wait for the arrival of her husband, delighted at the prospect of finally having him all to herself again.  But to her dismay she receives a telegram informing her that not only are Christopher and Monica coming to join her but they are bringing a surprise guest in the form of Cynthia.

One night the entire family go to yet another party hosted by Aunt Carrie.  At the party Elaine watches with increasing unease as Christopher and Cynthia glide around the dance floor.  She complains of a headache and takes her leave of the party.  Monica has found a swarthy young man to occupy her time and she manages to leave with him, with her father’s blessing surprisingly.  But Christopher is blind to all dangers to his daughter’s honor in is now single-minded desire to be alone with Cynthia.  Christopher and Cynthia take a moonlit boat ride and it is here that they finally confess their love for each other.  Upon their return they decide that they must not pursue their relationship any further and part with a kiss.  Unfortunately, Elaine cannot hear what is being said and can only watch in despair as her husband kisses another woman.

Cynthia keeps her word and stays away from the Strong family, that is until Monica appears on her doorstep.  She is determined to kill herself because Harry, who is now divorced from his wife, refuses to marry her after finding out about her dalliance in France.  Cynthia convinces her to reconsider her suicide plan, which Monica finally agrees to, before hurrying off to attempt an around the world flight from England to New York.  After a grueling and deadly competition, Cynthia is declared the winner and she returns to New York exhausted.  While in her hotel she receives a call from Christopher who is desperate to see her.  That night she hosts him in her hotel room and they consummate their affair.  The couple now begins seeing each other in earnest, much to Elaine’s increasing despair, and Cynthia agrees to give up her high-flying and dangerous life style.

Warning to anyone who doesn’t want to know the ending of the film!  This would be the time to stop reading!

Things are happy for a time, but nothing lasts forever.  Monica and Harry are now married and expecting their first child.  Going out to lunch at one of their old haunts they spot Christopher and Cynthia having an intimate moment in the back corner.  That night at a party celebrating their upcoming blessed event, Monica denounces the affair to Cynthia and warns her that she will confront Christopher later that evening so as not to hurt her mother.  She ends her friendship with Cynthia and Cynthia takes this as her cue to leave.  On her way out, Cynthia is stopped by Elaine who wishes to thank Cynthia for what she did to save Monica from her suicide which has led to their present happiness.  Later that night Cynthia is waiting for Christopher to come to her apartment for dinner when she receives a note instead.  Christopher is remaining home with his family to toast the health of his new grandchild but promises that he will join her the following evening.  Cynthia goes to her desk and writes a note to Christopher  in which reveals that she too is pregnant.  She does not send the note and the next evening she and Christopher are sitting in front of the fire.  Cynthia asks Christopher if he would marry her, at the expense of his family and his happiness, if she was pregnant.  Christopher says that of course he would, but they don’t have to worry about that do they?

As the early light creeps in, Cynthia sneaks out of the house to take part in a dangerous aeronautical test.  In an attempt to climb to 3500 feet, she climbs into her plane and readies her oxygen mask.  On the table in her home is the note to Christopher with a new postscript in which she says that courage conquers love and that she hopes he will understand when she doesn’t come back.  Taking off from the airfield Cynthia begins to climb higher and higher into the sky.  As she climbs, Cynthia sees the faces of the people that she has loved and hurt, and remembers the moments spent with Christopher.  Tears stream down her face and in her emotional turmoil she rips off her oxygen mask.  Too late does she attempt to recover from her mistake and she blacks out.  The plane plummets to the earth and erupts into a fiery wreck, killing her.  Sometime later a statue is erected in Cynthia’s honor with a plaque that reads HER LIFE AND COURAGE INSPIRED US ALL.

This is such an interesting film with so many fascinating aspects to possibly discuss.  This is the first leading role for Katharine Hepburn and the only time she ever played “the other woman”.  This is also the film that gets the most credit for the development of the “Katharine Hepburn persona”, the independent, slightly masculine, non-conformist attitude that would become a staple of Katharine Hepburn’s career.  It was directed by a woman, Dorothy Arzner, as well as written by one, Zoe Akins.  And there is also the sad tale of Helen Chandler and her descent into alcoholism.  Lest we forget this is also a pre-code film so there are two extramarital affairs, one out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and a fiery death scene all in seventy-seven minutes.  So when it came time to write this blog post I decided it was best to narrow things down and focus on two topics.  One being the possible parallels between this film and Katharine Hepburn’s own love life, and the other being the ending.

The ending of this film deserves a moment or two of discussion.  My main issue was did Cynthia go up in order to commit suicide?  I am not so sure.  I know that in her note she tells Christopher that she isn’t coming back, but I wonder if she was simply planning on leaving and raising their child on her own.  After spending time to convince Monica that she shouldn’t kill herself, to then go and do the exact opposite seems a little odd.  And Cynthia never seemed to be the sort to just want to end it all.  I think that she realized that Christopher was never going to leave his family, that she would always be the mistress.  She knows that Monica hates her now and that Elaine will soon know everything.  She knows that Christopher would marry her if she told him she was pregnant but that it would ruin their love for each other because he would only do it out of duty and not because he wanted to.  And then there is the matter of giving up her aviatrix career.  Before they are discovered by Monica, Cynthia was telling Christopher that she was feeling that she wanted to go back to flying and doing what she loved.  She missed having that purpose and independence, and she hated the idea of becoming a woman just waiting all day for her man to come home.  Having thought of all this, the idea that this strong, single-minded, independent, fiery woman would go out and commit suicide to spare her lover having to marry her doesn’t quite make sense to me.  I can’t help but wonder if she wasn’t planning to go out and attempt the altitude climb to start her career again before going out into the world to live her life with her child.  She is looking back on what has transpired and realizes that she has lost friends, hurt people, and will never see the man she loves ever again.  Her emotions take hold and she can’t breathe so she rips the mask off.  We can see the shock and panic when she realizes her mistake and tries desperately to get the mask back on but it is too late.  Why bother to try to get the mask back on if your intention was to take it off?  In my mind the character of Cynthia is complex and vibrant, and perhaps this is why I can’t quite wrap my head around the apparent suicide.

I tend to think that Katharine Hepburn put a lot of herself and her own personal experiences into this role.  In fact, the scene where Christopher calls her hotel room after her world flight closely mirrored when Howard Hughes returned from his global flight and called his girlfriend, Katharine Hepburn.  The character of Cynthia is uninterested in men for the most part, preferring instead to keep her mind focused on other matters such as her flying career.  She tells Christopher that they are both different from most people and that is why they are attracted to each other.  I can only imagine that this might have been close to something Katharine Hepburn would have felt in her life.  She was a truly unique and independent person and not prone to flights of fancy.  Looking at two of her great loves, Spencer Tracy and yes Howard Hughes, we can see that this men are also unique and independent.  The sense of resigned loneliness that is in Cynthia when we first meet her, a feeling that yes she is lonely and wishes to experience love but that she has decided to put that behind her to pursue her goals, seems to be an honest emotion coming from Katharine Hepburn herself.  I wonder if that is why she seemed to take on the persona of Cynthia Harrington over the rest of her career, because maybe she felt that this woman was not only close to who she was but also someone who she wanted to be.


If you want to read more about this terrific movie, Danny at Pre-Code.com has a great post as does The Great Katharine Hepburn!