FOUR FOR FRIDAY: STAR OF THE MONTH: GINGER ROGERS.
“STAGE DOOR” ( 1937 )
I’ve always been an avid fan of Katharine Hepburn for as long as I can remember. Since she is known as one of the stepping stones into my journey of classic Hollywood, and is one of those stars that established my passion and enthusiasm for classic cinema, this was one of the very first films that I discovered. After my first viewing of this wonderful film, I came to admire Ginger Rogers, and was interested in delving more into her filmography.
“Stage Door” is the perfect definition of wholesome family entertainment. Superbly directed by Gregory LaCava, and written for the screen from the original stage play by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman, “Stage Door” spotlights a stellar cast including Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, Adolph Menjou, as well as a plethora of other notable names who would go on to become screen sensations later on in their career.
The setting: The Footlights Club, a theatrical boarding house for aspiring actresses in New York. Enter: Terry Randall ( Katharine Hepburn ) an ambitious hopeful who yearns for a place in the theatre. Terry is not like the other girls in the rooming house. She is an arrogant, self assured appellant, who hails from a wealthy family.
From the start Terry is an outcast at the boarding house. Her expensive clothes and polished mannerisms don’t hit off well with the other young women living there, especially her roommate Jean Maitland ( Ginger Rogers ) a vivacious cynical dancer, who thinks that Terry is spurious and rather vexatious. What the others think does not worry Terry, because to Terry all the other girls are just a bunch of stage struck wannabe’s who sit around telling wisecrack jokes while lacking the drive to succeed.
In the meantime Terry’s father holds strong objections about his daughter entering show business, and pleads for her to come back home. Terry is obstinate, knowing that this has been her desideratum for a long time, she is determined to accomplish her dreams on her own. Catherine Luther ( Constance Collier ) an aging actress residing in the boarding house realizes that Terry is serious and appoints herself as her mentor. When the play “Enchanted April” is set to be cast, former actress Kay Hamilton ( Andrea Leeds ) desperately hopes to secure the lead role in Powell’s upcoming play. She feels positive when an appointment is scheduled for her to see Powell, but Powell cancels out at the last minute, resulting in her fainting in the reception area due to malnutrition and disappointment.
Tensions rise when it is discovered that Terry’s father is secretly financing “Enchanted April”, so Terry can land the starring role, in the hopes that she will be a failure and return home.
This is a movie where it’s not just a one person show. The film is held up by it’s eminent supporting cast, who all are commendable in their roles. Although to me, Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers both steal the show. Katharine Hepburn is laudable in her portrayal of Terry Randall, the spoiled rich girl who comes to reside at the boarding house and starts criticizing the other hopefuls for sitting around and not taking charge of their lives. Ginger Rogers delivers a meritorious performance in her role of Jean Maitland, the brassy struggling dancer who happens to become Terry’s roommate. Lucille Ball is also copacetic considering that this could easily be seen as her breakthrough role. Prior to “Stage Door” Lucille Ball was often just an extra, sometimes not even worthy of an ending credit.
“Stage Door” is an excellent film that is light and sparkling with humor. With a fast paced script, and witty dialogue, featuring some of the most memorable lines in cinema history, “Stage Door” is one of those films that leaves a lasting impression.
When Katharine Hepburn delivered her climactic stage speech, Gregory La Cava reduced it to only ten lines and filmed it on a closed set. He later brought the actors and the extras in the audience and had them react to the filmed speech. Many of them broke down.
In an interview in Hollywood the Golden Years: The RKO Story (1987), Katharine Hepburn relates that she was upset that she was given the diminished role of a character that she felt was pointless to the script. Hepburn asked director Gregory La Cava what was the essential point of her character. He responded “She is the human question mark.” She then asked what that meant, and he replied “____ damned if I know!”
Incredibly, Ann Miller was only 14 years old when she appeared in this film. She had lied about her age and procured a fake birth certificate, but the precocious Miller was so tall and beautiful at age 14 that she pulled it off. With this knowledge, today it is quite impressive to see her holding her own while dancing with Ginger Rogers, by then an international star as the dance partner of Fred Astaire.
Lucille Ball always called this movie her big break.
Terry Randall: [delivering her opening speech in the play within the movie] “The calla lilies are in bloom again. Such a strange flower, suitable to any occasion. I carried them on my wedding day and now I place them here in memory of something that has died.”
Terry Randall: [entering the boarding house after trying the wrong door] “How many doors are there to this place?”
Jean Maitland: “Well, there’s the trap door, the humidor, and the cuspidor. How many doors would you like?”
Terry Randall: [With a superior air, leaving the crowded living room of girls after many snappy wisecracks and lively banter among the group] “It’d be a terrific innovation if you could get your minds stretched a little further than the next wisecrack.”
Katharine Hepburn: Born Katharine Houghton Hepburn on May 12th, 1907 in Hartford, Connecticut. Died: June 29th, 2003 in Fenwick, Connecticut. Aged 96.
Ginger Rogers: Born Virginia Katherine McMath on July 16th, 1911 in Independence, Missouri. Died: April 25th, 1995 in Rancho Mirage, California. Aged 83.