Sunday, March 2, 2014

Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant go on Holiday

Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant
go on Holiday

Katharine Hepburn wanted to play Linda Seton in the film version of Holiday. Next, she felt she was right for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind.  

Failing that, she'd work even harder to get The Philadelphia Story made. Holiday is funny, smart, sweet and thoughtful. It isn't known or acknowledged as it should be.

Katharine Hepburn was familiar with the role 
of Linda Seton in Holiday. She'd understudied the part on Broadway in 1929. There was no opportunity to be onstage since Hope Williams was healthy during the run of the show

Hepburn did have one chance later to play the role on stage when the play reopened in the Riviera Theater at Ninety-seventh Street and Broadway in preparation for a cross-country tour.

"Arthur Hopkins watched her from the back of the theater and he thought her performance was 'even more compelling than any he had seen his leading lady give.'" Hopkins directed, produced and staged the play.
-- Quote from Katharine Hepburn: A Remarkable Woman, Anne Edwards

1935 Rotogravure Katharine Hepburn
"Those old meanies who whispered
that the Hepburn crown was slipping
have had to eat their words." Original Rotogravure
Philip Barry, who wrote the play was a fan of Hepburn's. He would also write The Philadelphia Story seemingly with Hepburn in mind for the part of Tracy Lord. Julia comes home from a vacation with a man, Johnny Case. They're engaged to be married. 

They could hardly be more different. Linda and Julia's father doesn't approve.
Holiday Movie Poster
1930 Ann Harding, Mary Astor,
Edward Everett Horton,
Robert Ames, Hedda Hopper
Turns out that he is just right for Linda, but she will not stand in the way of Julia's happiness if this is really what her sister wants.

Holiday had been produced as a film once before in 1930. Ann Harding was Linda and Mary Astor, Julia Seton respectively. Robert Ames was Johnny Case.

Ann Harding received an Oscar nomination at the 4th Academy Awards for her performance as Linda Seton in Holiday. Her competition for Best Actress that year was Marie Dressler, Marlene Dietrich, Norma Shearer and Irene Dunne. Dressler won the award for her work in Min and Bill. 

Interestingly Edward Everett Horton played Johnny's friend Nick Potter in both the 1930 and 1938 films. 

Donald Ogden Stewart played Potter on Broadway. He would go on to write the screenplay for the 1938 movie that Cukor directed.

In late 1937 Louella Parsons was saying Irene Dunne and Cary Grant, who'd been successful in The Awful Truth, would team up again in a film production of Holiday and that Leo McCarey would direct. The public wanted a reunion of the trio. When it did occur 1940s with My Favorite Wife, they had another major hit.

Katharine Hepburn Cary Grant Holiday
Knowing how to fall is a big part of being a successful acrobat

I liked this comment by John Houseman about Katharine Hepburn's acting style and successful actors in general.

"In working with Hepburn, John Houseman wrote many years later, 'I made a fascinating discovery about star quality in general and hers in particular.... In every star role there are one or more opportunities for such peaks. If not they must be created....'

"The somersault with Grant is such a peak, designed to emphasize Hepburn's beauty and adventurousness, giving the spectators a moment of pure voyeurism, when they seem to glimpse the star enjoying herself.  

"But if the joyful performance-within-a-performance in the upstairs room allows
The Philadelphia Story
George Cukor,
Katharine Hepburn,
Cary Grant
Hepburn to show off in a charming way, subsequent developments give her an opportunity to behave like a straightforward actress. ... actorly moments that reveal the conflict between Linda Seton's public and private self. 

"Sometimes her technique is localized in a line of dialogue as when she wishes Johnny Happy New Year in a voice that quavers with chagrin d' amour."
-- Acting in the Cinema, James Naremore 

"When Holiday was finished George Cukor threw a traditional end-of-shooting party. 'I stole the old Holiday test from RKO and ran it for the guests. I laughed when I saw myself.

"I led the laughter and everyone just fell over, Cary, George everyone, laughed themselves sick. I was so terrible! It was heartbreaking to see how eager, how hard I was trying to impress -- too eager. I turned to George and said, 'Oh God why did you hire me?'"  
-- Kate: The Life of Katharine Hepburn, Charles Higham


It received decent critical reviews particularly praise for the actors' performances. Film was a great form of escapism during the 1930s. 

Often romantic and screwball comedies also presented story lines that mocked class or snobbery. Though the characters may have lived in opulent surroundings somehow they managed to send a message, to make the viewer feel good about themselves. A film like My Man Godfrey really championed the poor and working class.

One reason suggested that Holiday didn't do as well as it might is that it was a 1920s play released during the heart of the Depression. Grant's character had gotten through college working in a factory, driving a garbage truck. But he essentially walks away from a job offer because he wants to earn enough money to take an extended holiday. The term holiday was sometimes used as a euphemism at that time for time off due to a loss of a job.  

Relevance to Present Day:

The choices being made by the characters, to go after the most money possible or scale back and follow a life's passion is of true relevance to our present-day when we see people in high paying jobs quitting to pursue other interests. Vocation vacations have been around for a while. 

Do you want to do something that's more socially relevant or chase after the most money you can acquire? Do you want to follow your bliss? Which is the best role model for your kids? It's in the news all the time. A 1929 play, a 1938 film lives in 2014 society.

If any of you has reasons why these two should not be married,
speak now or forever hold your peace.

The 1930 version with Ann Harding and Mary Astor

Family Relationships:

Comparisons between the sister relationships in Holiday and Little Women have been explored by critics and film historians. In 1933 Hepburn had starred as sister Jo alongside Joan Bennett, Jean Parker, Frances Dee in RKO's Little Women, also directed by George Cukor.

Lew Ayres in Johnny Belinda
In Holiday, Linda Seton had identified with her mother. Her memory lived in a single room in their big house, a playroom that she'd decorated for the children. 

The sweet, heart-tugging brother Ned, played by Lew Ayres would go on to play Dr. Kildare on radio and films alongside Lionel Barrymore's Dr. Gillespie.

Linda and her brother Ned (Lew Ayres) knew they weren't the children their father had hoped for. Julia was more like her father. While she and Johnny were attracted to one another, they were so different that they probably wouldn't have had much of a future. 

Holiday has a timelessness in its portrayal of the relationships: family, friends and romantic. It's intelligent, poignant and witty. You're not presented with bad people as much as those who are maybe immature (sister Julia) or stuck in their ways (Henry Kolker as father, banker Edward Seton). The father is the steadfast, snobbish chap offered up ready to be deflated in many a Depression-era film. 

The playroom is unlike any other room in their museum of a house, so called by Johnny. The room is Linda's safe place. She brings Johnny inside and he keeps returning. He stays there with Linda even when his new fiancee, Julia tries to insist that he join her back at their big engagement party on New Year's Eve. He finally asserts himself.

It's a good film for couples who are dating. If you're having second thoughts it's okay to slow down and take time to think things over, get to know each other a bit more. Get to know yourselves.

While there's a relatively happy ending, it doesn't solve all the family's problems. The characters have to work on their relationships. So much of the film revolves around family and expectations. The father and what he wanted his children to be, all reflecting back on himself. 

On to Gone With the Wind??

After Holiday Hepburn had her eye on a particular prize. Cukor was signed by David O. Selznick to direct Gone with the Wind. Hepburn desperately tried to convince them that she was right for the role of Scarlett O'Hara. Selznick disagreed. He looked at that old box office poison reputation, thinking it would hurt the movie.

"Kate confronted Selznick directly and, after an hour of her insistence he offered to screen test her. Kate refused telling him, 'You know what I look like on screen, you know I can act. And you know this part was practically written for me. I am Scarlett O'Hara. So what's the matter?'"

"'All right, I'll tell you,' Selznick said, 'I just can't imagine Clark Gable chasing you for 10 years.'"

George Cukor was replaced on Gone with the Wind by Victor Fleming after 3 weeks of shooting. Differences of opinion between Cukor and Clark Gable, cast as Rhett Butler have been generally though to have precipitated the change. A much more likely reason would be Selznick's feelings that Cukor was undermining his control. 
-- Katharine Hepburn: A Remarkable Woman, Anne Edwards

It was after this that Hepburn would take a break. With the help of Howard Hughes, she would get the rights to Philip Barry's play, The Philadelphia Story and begin appearing in the play. 

The role of Tracy Lord had been written especially for her by the playwright. Hepburn could not be shoved out of the role she wanted in this picture. When the film version is released in 1941, reviewers are saying that no one should call Ms. Hepburn box office poison anymore.

Related Pages of Interest: 

Charles Boyer receives The Gift: When our children don't turn out like we are

Katharine Hepburn is Box Office Poison??

Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn & James Stewart in The Philadelphia Story 

My Favorite Wife: Cary Grant and Irene Dunne, nontraditional Holiday Movies


Me : Stories of My Life by Katharine Hepburn
Kate: The Life of Katharine Hepburn by Charles Higham

Katharine Hepburn: A Remarkable Woman by Anne Edwards
Irene Dunne: First Lady of Hollywood by Wes D. Gehring

Acting in the Cinema by James Naremore

Life's a Drag! Paper Dolls (Dover Celebrity Paper Dolls)

Men dressing as women, women dressing as men—even a woman dressing as a man dressing as a woman. Features 17 dolls and 30 costumes.

** I've been unsuccessful finding a scan of the original article and list from the 1938 Hollywood Reporter magazine. Some people give slight variations of the stars, sometimes adding Shirley Temple to the list.
Images from unless noted differently

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