When I was a pre-teen, I dreamed of being wanted by three different boys at the same time. I wanted to know what that would feel like deep within my soul. I yearned to be seen and known for all my good and not-so-good qualities. I dreamed of looking into the eyes of those I chose to love and being able to see my true reflection pouring back. Romance and being desired were everything when you were an awkward child of 13. Looking “statuesque” was the ultimate goal while maintaining your “power” as a girl seeking womanhood. How little did any of us know back then? How silly and trite were our beginning thoughts about true romance? Who could we ask about traveling through the mushy, perilous world of dating and, ultimately, marriage?
Sitting in a dark movie theater or watching films on classic stations gave my generation a taste of what romance, life, and love could be like, especially if your family was filthy rich. These pictures gave young impressionable girls like me an opportunity to be swept away into the wealthy world of high society. I devoured these snippets of education and made sure I stored them away for future use. I relived my life as Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) and saw myself spectacularly stunning and surrounded by three “hunky men.” THE PHILADELPHIA STORY was my reimagined life. I wanted the clothes, the breezy, perfect hair, and that lean, strong body. Deep in my very young heart, I believed if you looked like Katharine Hepburn, life would be simply divine and perfect.
THE PHILADELPHIA STORY made it to the screen after only eight weeks of filming. Most of the scenes were completed in only one take. The director, George Cukor, was chosen by Katharine Hepburn. She starred in the Broadway production and was gifted the movie rights by her friend and admirer, Hugh Hefner. Katharine decided Cary Grant had to be in the film in whatever role he chose. He selected the quieter part of C.K. Dexter Haven. His salary was a mere $137,000, which he donated to Britain’s War effort. His salary would be comparable to over two million by today’s standard of inflation. James Stewart was cast as Macaulay or nicknamed Mike. John Howard portrayed George to complete the men who surrounded the alluring Tracy Lord. The film received two Oscars for Best Supporting Actor, James Stewart, and for Best Screenplay, Donald Stewart. James Stewart didn’t feel like he deserved the award and was not planning on attending until he received a call to let him know he should attend. Ballots were not as secret back in the day.
THE PHILADELPHIA STORY is remembered as a quicker than lightning-speed romantic comedy. The chemistry between these stars made audiences fall in love over and over. The camera angles were tight and up close and personal. It made viewers feel like they were staring deep into the actor’s eyes, dancing cheek to cheek, or even being held and kissed. Every emotion was stripped bare for our lingering imaginations. It was just hot and oh, so lusty for the times.
It was a constant see-saw effect for who would be chosen as the lucky groom. I thoroughly enjoyed the honesty Tracy’s dad shared with her about the kind of woman she had become and what she really wanted. Harsh words to tell your daughter. Did she want to live her life as an untouchable statute or as a queen to be admired? In the end, her decision was crystal clear. To be worshipped is not what women truly dream about. Relationships are complicated, just like C. K. and Tracy’s sailboat, “True Love.” She was a “yar boat.” Tracy wanted to be “yar” as well. She tried to withstand anything life could throw at a young couple. She dreamed of working in sync with who she loved. Not all couples can achieve that goal.
One of my favorite scenes was between Mike and C.K. Mike was supposed to be drunk, and, in the middle, he pretended to get the hiccups. They didn’t stop filming this during the ad-libbing. It was tough for Cary not to break character as Jimmy continued to hiccup. They still got the scene in one take. Another special moment was Katharine’s dive into the swimming pool. Those were her diving moves. No stunt double. That woman is an athlete.
THE PHILADELPHIA STORY gave audiences an inside look into the rich and famous. It set standards for how the public often sees the everyday lifestyles of those who live in those mansions most of us drive by on our way to work. It just wasn’t what everyone imagined to be true. The rich have “normal” problems too. They make mistakes and can fall flat on their face just like the “average” person. They just dress better and have more of a nest egg.
THE PHILADELPHIA STORY is wordy and witty. It showcases Katharine Hepburn as the goddess she truly was. Sparkling and vivacious. Who could ever resist her charm and beauty? This film gave Katharine back her “star power” as a box office success. Hepburn, Grant, and Stewart together are memorable for all time. They mesmerized audiences with their outstanding performances. The three of them were in a class all their own, which tips the scales to make THE PHILADELPHIA STORY an enduring, romantic classic for couples everywhere. Here’s to a “yar” standard for all those in love.
THE PHILADELPHIA STORY is available to stream on TCM on HBO Max.