SCREWBALL COMEDY MONTH
“WOMAN OF THE YEAR” ( 1942 )
Katharine Hepburn has never been in a bad movie, and that is evident in “Woman Of The Year”. I might be bias when I say that because my passion for Kate has been apparent for many years. Through my enthusiasm, and after watching Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy on the screen, I came to admire Spencer, and for several years now, Spencer Tracy has been my favorite actor. One of the first Tracy and Hepburn vehicles I seen was “Woman Of The Year” and even though I’ve seen it over and over again, it always cements itself as one of my favorite movies of all time.
“Woman Of The Year” marks the first of the nine Tracy and Hepburn collaborations. For years, Katharine Hepburn was eager to work with Spencer Tracy. When Howard Hughes brought the film rights from the play for “The Philadelphia Story” she convinced Louis B. Mayer to purchase them from her for only $250,000, in return of Katharine having choice over the cast, director, producers and screenwriter. Hepburn wanted Spencer Tracy to portray Mike Connor, and Clark Gable to play Dexter Haven, and her friend George Cukor as director. Both actors had other commitments at that time and couldn’t fulfil Katharine’s preference, so the roles went to Cary Grant, Hepburn’s frequent co-star at the time, and James Stewart. Katharine’s close friend Garson Kanin developed an outline for a proposed film titled “Woman Of The Year”, and Hepburn passed it onto Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who agreed to produce the picture. Once the script was completed, Hepburn held the major decision on the co-star and director, and chose Spencer Tracy and George Stevens. This time she was lucky. Her request was fulfilled, and Spencer Tracy became Hepburn’s leading man.
The film boasted a major success with two of the studios biggest stars, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn together for the first time. After her commendable portrayal of Tracy Lord in “The Philadelphia Story”, Katharine Hepburn had vanquished the title of ‘Box Office Poison” that she attained in 1938, and now her career was escalating to great heights.
Superbly directed by George Stevens, who had worked with Hepburn in films like “Alice Adams” and “Quality Street”, and with a script by Michael Kanin and Ring Lardner, Jr., “Woman Of The Year” will remain ‘Film Of The Year’ for many decades to come.
The film tells the story of Tess Harding and Sam Craig ( Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy ) who are both journalists for the ‘New York Chronicle’. Tess is a worldly, and erudite political affairs columnist, while Sam is a sagacious sports writer. Though they have never met, Sam doesn’t care for Tess’s attitude. After a feud erupts in their column, Sam approaches Tess, and is contiguously infatuated by her. Soon after he invites her to a baseball game, and in return she asks him to her apartment that night, where Sam automatically thinks it’s going to be a romantic night for two, but is shocked to discover that it’s a party with a plethora of guests that are not affluent with speaking English.
Regardless of their differences in their personalities, the two form a close friendship with one another, and are eventually swept into the triangle of love. Shortly after Sam proposes to Tess, and she accepts. With Harding’s hectic lifestyle they get married in a very brief and rushed ceremony. Not long into the marriage, personalities clash, and Sam is irascible with Tess being a workaholic, and not paying any attention to the marriage. This results in a series of conflicts, which exacerbate when Tess adopts Chris, a Greek refugee child without Sam’s cognizance or approval. Sam doesn’t want an unrelated child in the house, and feels uncomfortable about him being in their presence. However he does try to warm up to Chris by introducing him to sports.
Altercations ensue when Tess attains the ‘America’s Outstanding Woman Of The Year’ award, which is to be presented at the Gala ceremony. Wanting Sam to attend, she plans to leave Chris at home by himself. Sam refuses to cooperate, and nor does he wish to engage himself in his wife’s activities. With this latest tribulation, tensions rise, and the two are caught up in another storm.
“Woman Of The Year” is a real treasure for classic film fans. It’s sparkling with humor, and plenty of laughs. Though the film is not really classified as a Screwball Comedy, it does have elements of Screwball Comedy in it. In fact the film showcases many types of comedy including Slapstick humor, which is very notable in the end Kitchen scene where Tess returns to Sam’s apartment and decides to cook him breakfast. Tess has no idea how to cook or make coffee, and the whole scene is just a streak of disaster, resulting in non stop laughs from the viewers.
To me, the movie is pure gold. I love Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, and their chemistry is clearly evident in this film. The chemistry they displayed for one another was real, and honest. The thing about the films with Tracy and Hepburn are that they actually present a relationship, not just a courtship and a “and then they lived happily ever after, for all time” ending. They show the real issues with communication, work, space, and borders, everything that must be understood about a person to make it work. And they are absolutely adoring of each other.
Woman of the Year was the first of nine films Hepburn and Tracy made together. They met for the first time on the shoot. In the 1993 documentary Katharine Hepburn: All About Me, Hepburn herself says she was wearing high heels at the first meeting with Tracy and producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and said “I’m afraid I’m a bit tall for you, Mr. Tracy”. Mankiewicz then responded, “Don’t worry, Kate, he’ll cut you down to size.” It was during the filming of Woman of the Year that Hepburn and Tracy became romantically involved – a relationship that lasted until Tracy’s death in 1967.
Katharine Hepburn speaks six different languages in this film. They are English, French, Spanish, Russian, German and Greek.
As Katharine Hepburn‘s close friend and frequent director, George Cukor was a natural choice to direct, but for her first film with Spencer 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 (1935). 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 Keeper of the Flame (1942), Adam’s Rib (1949) and Pat and Mike (1952).
The Broadway musical version opened at the Palace Theater on May 29, 1981, ran for 770 performances starring Lauren Bacall and Harry Guardino and was nominated for the 1981 Tony Awards for the Best Musical, Book and Score.
Quotes from film:
Tess Harding: “Sam, why can’t we sit down like adults and patch this thing up?”
Sam Craig: “I’m afraid that might become a habit. Then we’d wind up with a patchwork quilt for a marriage.”
Tess Harding: “I’m going to be your wife. You don’t think that I can do the little ordinary things that any idiot can do, do you?”
Sam Craig: “No.”
Tess Harding: “Why not?”
Sam Craig: “Because you’re incapable of doing them, that’s why. You can’t expect Seabiscuit to stop in the middle of the stretch, drink a glass of water, and count to seven at the same time, you know. That takes training.”
Tess Harding: “Well, I’m not Sea biscuit.”
Sam Craig: “I don’t want to be married to Tess Harding any more than I want you to be just Mrs Sam Craig. Why can’t you be Tess Harding Craig?”
Tess Harding: “I think it’s a wonderful name.”
Katharine Hepburn: Born Katharine Houghton Hepburn on May 12th, 1907 in Hartford, Connecticut. Died: June 29th, 2003 in Fenwick, Connecticut. Aged 96.
Spencer Tracy: Born Spencer Bonaventure Tracy on April 5th, 1900 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Died: June 10th, 1967 in Beverly Hills, California. Aged 67.
Note: On the night of Spencer’s death he got out of bed and proceeded into the kitchen to make himself a cup of tea. Katharine followed him but before she reached the kitchen she heard a loud thump on the floor and the shattering of glass. She ran in and found Spencer dead. She squatted down and nursed his head on her lap.