KATHARINE HEPBURN MONTH
ALICE ADAMS ( 1935 )
Katharine Hepburn is one of the brightest and most versatile stars to ever grace the silver screen. In a career spanning over seventy years, Katharine Hepburn pioneered her way through each decade, appearing in films that were of notable success or garnered her Academy Awards or nominations. However when delving into her illustrious filmography and the years she spent under the helm of Hollywood, the 1930’s appear to be a deficit time for Kate. Apart from starring in a few successful vehicles, the most famous being “Alice Adams”, Hepburn was mostly cast in films that failed dramatically, which resulted in her earning the title of “Box office poison”.
After making her film debut in 1932 in “A Bill Of Divorcement”, and receiving her first Academy Award for her momentous portrayal of Eva Lovelace in “Morning Glory”, Katharine Hepburn’s popularity seemed to escalate for a while in the early 1930’s, but just when things were running smoothy, she was cast in one picture that was of moderate success, and would put a dampener on her reputation. By the time 1935 approached, Hepburn was always being decried by the press for her lack of glamour, fashion sense, and her choice of roles she was subjected to being cast in. The press wanted to see her play a character that is warm, humble, non threatening and abounded with feminism. For someone like Katharine Hepburn the task proved to be onerous, but a few weeks later the perfect vehicle was found, and Katharine was to begin work on “Alice Adams” that Spring.
“Alice Adams” was considered the ideal vehicle by the press, but for Katharine it was a disappointment. She had originally wanted her close friend George Cukor to serve as the films director. However Cukor was busy with other assignments and persuaded Hepburn to choose either William Wyler or George Stevens. Hepburn had always admired William Wyler, and was favoring him for the task, though the producer, Pandro S. Berman was adamant about hiring George Stevens.
After much consideration, George Stevens was cast as director, though Katharine was not impressed. Prior to this, Stevens resume of films mainly consisted of two-reelers and a few Wheeler and Woolsey programmers, which Hepburn didn’t look favorably upon. She was a bigger star than him, and she was earning more money than him. With this in mind, she wanted someone more experienced in the field, and to Katharine, Stevens was not qualified. On the other hand, Stevens was not going to be intimidated by Hepburn. He had a lot riding on this project, and he wasn’t about to let the the young star sabotage it.
As time progressed, Katharine Hepburn warmed up to George Stevens, and like George Cukor, she found him sympathetic, which made it easier for Hepburn to approach what was her greatest acting challenge at the time. For Hepburn the role of an impecunious girl from the poor side of town was a not a part that Katharine was accustomed to, but for the first time on screen she was about to display softness, vulnerability and most importantly femininity.
To add to George Stevens spectacular directing, the film was adapted from Booth Tarkington’s famous novel of the same name, and written for the screen by Dorothy Yost and Mortimer Offner, who worked as a Broadway photographer between 1925- 1934. During his tenor as a photographer, he became known for his specialized portraits of dramatic actresses and older stars of the illegitimate stage, most notably Ethel Barrymore, with whom he took great admiration to and started producing an array of exquisite photos of her, using his preferred technique of natural light and sitter contact.
With all of that in one title, “Alice Adams” was set to be a winner from the start, but just how big was yet to be determined.
Katharine Hepburn irradiates the screen with her poignant and touching portrayal of Alice Adams, a young and determined girl from a lower middle class family, who wants to escape her non existent lifestyle and yearns for a reputable place in high society among all the other girls in town.
With Alice’s indigent situation, the other girls won’t accept her in daily activities, and view her as rather abnormal. The only invitation that comes her way is to a dance held by Mildred Palmer, a wealthy socialite who lives a life of opulence. Alice accepts the offer and prepares for the dance, but due to being impecunious she has to wear a dress that is two years old which is adorned with flowers that has been picked from the local park.
At the dance, Alice finds herself singled out from the assembled crowd until she meets Arthur Russell ( Fred MacMurray ) who is eager to get to know Alice. As time progresses, the two become infatuated with one another and Alice tries to impress Arthur by hyperbolizing her parents financial status.
Problems arise when Alice’s mother implores her to invite Arthur over for dinner to meet her family, but being ashamed of their pecuniary difficulties Alice rejects the idea. Eventually Alice agrees to the dinner party, and mother and daughter try to put on an upscale family dinner to please Arthur, but the result is chastening.
This was a totally different role for Katharine, who at the time was accustomed to playing strident and strong willed characters, but here she displays warmth, vitality and wit accompanied with intelligence and a vivacious aura that makes “Alice Adams” appealing.
“Alice Adams” also spotlights a stellar supporting cast which include, Fred MacMurray, Ann Shoemaker, Fred Stone and Hattie McDaniel in a memorable dinner scene towards the end of the movie. The flowing talent of the assembled cast all help deliver solid support. Alice’s father, Fred Stone is a highlight. Some might be a little put off by him, but you only have to witness the confrontation scene with his boss to realize that he indeed was a very powerful actor.
One of the films main focal points is Hattie McDaniel. Even though her screen time is limited and she only appears in a short role, it is her who steals the movie. Hattie McDaniel has always been one of those character actors who has a magnetic touch and attracts your attention, and that is the case with her performance in “Alice Adams”. Without the presence of Hattie McDaniel with her acidic mood and clumsiness, that dinner scene wouldn’t be anywhere near significant or hilarious.
A lot of credit goes to Katharine Hepburn. This is by far one of her most touching performances from her career, and there are some scenes that really showcase her acting ability, most notably the scene when Alice arrives home from the dance and runs to her bedroom crying out the window. It’s easy to see why Kate was nominated for an Oscar for her enriching portrayal of “Alice Adams”.
The 1930’s is considered by many the greatest decade for movies, and “Alice Adams” really epitomizes that assumption. It’s a film that no matter how many years has passed, it will always stand the test of time.
There was a disagreement among Katharine Hepburn and George Stevens about the post-party scene. The script called for Hepburn to fall onto the bed and break into sobs, but Stevens wanted her to walk to the window and cry, with the rain falling outside. Hepburn could not produce the tears required, so she asked Stevens if she could do the scene as scripted. Stevens yelled furiously at Hepburn, which did the trick and the scene was filmed Stevens’ way, and Hepburn’s tears are real.
Though Bette Davis won the 1935 Academy Award/Oscar for Dangerous (1935) beating out Katharine Hepburn in Alice Adams (1935), Davis was noted for saying more than once that she didn’t deserve the award that year and that the one who did was Katherine Hepburn.
Arthur Russell: “I heard a great deal at Mildred’s this afternoon, too.”
Alice Adams: “So they did talk about me.”
Arthur Russell: “Yes, they talked about you a lot. And I found out one thing. I love you, Alice.”
Alice Adams: “Gee whiz!”
Arthur Russell: “I love you.”
Virgil Adams: “Why, you think you’re going to be pushed right sprang up against a wall – you can’t see any way out, or any hope at all – then something you never counted on turns up – and you kind of squeeze out of it, and keep on going.”
Katharine Hepburn: Born Katharine Houghton Hepburn on May 12th, 1907 in Hartford, Connecticut. Died: June 29th, 2003 in Fenwick, Connecticut. Aged 96.
Fred MacMurray: Born Fredrick Martin MacMurray on August 30th, 1908 in Kankakee, Illinois. Died: November 5th, 1991 in Santa Monica, California. Aged 83.