It was the year 1967, a time when the perennial classics were a thing of the past, and a period when modernism was starting to dominate the movies.
Just when the world thought that the days of quality entertainment were over, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, one of cinemas most dynamic couples came to the fore one last time.
The film was Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, a Stanley Kramer directed romantic comedy drama that marks the final chapter of their nine collaborations that Tracy and Hepburn made together.
Almost forty eight years since it’s release, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner has now been distinguished as a work of art not only for the fact that it’s the final screen pairing of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, but because it’s the last film curtain of Spencer Tracy, who passed away only seventeen days after the production was completed.
For years Tracy had been suffering from ill health which left him unable to work. After a severe attack of breathlessness and a short stint in hospital on July 21st, 1963, Katharine Hepburn moved in with Tracy permanently to provide constant care. Less than two years later he was diagnosed with Hypertensive Heart Disease and almost died in July that year due to Prostatectomy which was resulted from kidney failure.
After filming of Long Days Journey Into Night ( 1962 ) came to a cessation, Katharine Hepburn abandoned motion pictures for a while to take care of Spencer Tracy. Instead of going to work on the movie set each day, Hepburn and Tracy spent the time living a peaceful and contented life while they engaged themselves in quiet leisurely activities which included, reading, painting and listening to music.
During that five years, Katharine Hepburn was more concerned about Spencer Tracy’s exacerbating illness, and rejected all film offers that came her way. It wasn’t until 1967 when Tracy’s frequent director, Stanley Kramer announced that he was making a movie that focuses on interracial marriages that they finally agreed to star in the production.
The role of Matt and Christina Drayton were custom made for Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, and they knew that they were the only ones who could perfect the roles of the domineering husband versus the loyal and understanding wife. They also felt strongly about the films main premise and granted Stanley Kramer’s wish before even reading the script.
Sidney Poitier was under consideration for the role of the black physician who wishes to marry the Drayton’s daughter Joanna before preparations for the film were underway.
Sidney Poitier’s love interest in the film was played by Hepburn’s real life niece, Katharine Houghton. As soon as Hepburn accepted the part of Christina Drayton, she realized that the role of her daughter would be a difficult one and required a young unknown actress who could win the sympathy of the audience. Those necessity’s summed it all up and Hepburn heavily campaigned for her niece who is the daughter of her sister Marion to be cast. Katharine Hepburn later stated: “There was a lovely part for Kathy Houghton, my niece. She would play Spencer’s and my daughter. I loved that. She’s beautiful and she definitely had a family resemblance. It was my idea.”
The only underlying problem which monopolized the whole production was Tracy’s failing health. Fearing that he might not be able to complete the picture, insurance companies refused to cover him. However the studio resolved the slight altercation when they agreed to make the movie if Hepburn and Kramer put their salaries in escrow so if Tracy passed away in the process the filming could still continue with another actor taking Tracy’s place.
Once filming commenced, Spencer Tracy’s condition was accommodated for. Due to his poor health he was unable to complete a full days work. Instead Kramer made sure that all of Tracy’s scenes be filmed between 9:00 a.m. and noon which would allow him ample time to rest. Katharine Hepburn also fully assured that Spencer was taken care of, and for most part during shooting she followed Tracy around and assisted him with remembering his lines.
On it’s release the film was a commercial and financial success. Katharine Hepburn attained her second Academy Award for Best Actress while Spencer Tracy received an Oscar nomination. Though later Hepburn would state that her award was really meant for Tracy who passed away before Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner even hit the cinemas.
The film is also highly regarded for it’s significant approach in dealing with interracial marriages. At the time the subject was still very controversial with racially mixed elopements being illegal in most states of the United States. This changed on June 12th, 1967, six months before the films release date.
Accompanying Stanley Kramer, the films director and producer was William Rose who provided the screenplay for the movie, which garnered him an Academy Award for the writing of the original screenplay. Rose was prolific in adapting two distinct cultures, and became eminent for writing successful British comedies and Hollywood productions that earned him a plethora of accolades.
The film revolves around the story of Christina and Matt Drayton ( Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy ) and chronicles the challenges that arise when their daughter, Joanna Drayton ( Kathy Houghton ) arrives home from a vacation in Hawaii with John Prentice ( Sidney Poitier ) a black physician who she wishes to marry.
The already complicated situation intensifies when John’s parents decide to fly to San Francisco to meet Joey, but once they discover that their son is involved with a white girl, a rigorous debate ensues as the two families unite to discuss the serious consequences that would enmesh them in this marriage.
Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner might be considered dated to many people, but it’s still as relevant today as it was when the film was being made. Even though interracial marriages is no longer illegal, some families regard it as deplorable and for that matter would be against their son or daughter being involved with somebody who’s black or belongs to a different cultural group.
The films main formation is the interracial marriage, and the story is built to be idealistically perfect with the only fundamental issue being the fact that Joanna Drayton is involved with a black person. Despite from the dispute over John’s race, every other aspect is favourably promising. John is a notable physician who had graduated from a top school and has innovative medical initiatives in Africa. Unlike a myriad of other males his age he is not out to physically hurt Joey and refuses premarital sex with his fiancée even though she maybe willing. Adding to John’s redeeming features is his amiable nature which is evidently epitomized throughout the film. For instance John leaves money in an open container on Matt’s desk for a long distance phone call he made to his parents in Los Angeles, and when Christina joins Joey and John outside for lunch he pulls Christina’s chair out so she can sit down.
Joanna is incognizant of any concerns that her parents may have. Her father, Matt Drayton is a fighting liberal who runs a successful newspaper and her mother, Christina is the owner of a San Francisco art gallery. For years they have instilled in her their strong beliefs in racial equality, so with this in mind she automatically assumes that her parents will have no impending issues and immediately approve the marriage. Instead she is surprised when her father expresses his rejections and that the only person who can relate to the situation is her mother who yearns for Joanna’s happiness.
In addition to Christina and Matt Drayton is their close friend, Monsignor Ryan ( Cecil Kellaway ) who immediately warms up to the situation and does not foresee any problems. However the Drayton’s black maid, Tillie is appalled and inhabits the beliefs that somebody of her race is getting above himself.
Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner is a masterfully crafted masterpiece that showcases the indelible talents of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Sadly for Hepburn this was not a happy partnership. She faced the production with extreme tense and solicitousness over Tracy’s illness. By now Spencer Tracy was in the concluding stages of his life and Katharine Hepburn feared that he may die during the filming process.
Katharine Hepburn’s emotions for Spencer Tracy is largely evident throughout the film, most notably during the finale when Tracy is relaying that powerful speech about how Joanna and John feel for one another. In truth they were not really acting in this scene. Tracy was elucidating his love for Katharine Hepburn while Katharine sat on the couch staring affectionately at Tracy with her eyes full of tears. This is such an intense and dramatic moment as we watch Spencer Tracy’s farewell speech unfold while Katharine Hepburn sits there displaying mountains of emotion. It’s like she’s reminiscing back at the convivial times she spent with Tracy. The entire scene is heartbreaking to watch, and we can’t help crying along with Katharine.
In Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner we can notice the onset of Katharine’s hereditary shake. This is very noticeable in some scenes, for instance, when she is pouring a drink for Monsignor Ryan right after his second arrival.
Katharine Hepburn never saw the completed movie. She said the memories of Tracy were too painful.
The three-inch bronze sculpture of Spencer Tracy featured in the film was created by Katharine herself.
Christina Drayton: [to her assistant, Hilary, in the driveway] “Now I have some instructions for you. I want you to go straight back to the gallery – Start your motor – When you get to the gallery tell Jennifer that she will be looking after things temporarily, she’s to give me a ring if there’s anything she can’t deal with herself. Then go into the office, and make out a check, for “cash,” for the sum of $5,000. Then carefully, but carefully Hilary, remove absolutely everything that might subsequently remind me that you had ever been there, including that yellow thing with the blue bulbs which you have such an affection for. Then take the check, for $5,000, which I feel you deserve, and get – permanently – lost. It’s not that I don’t want to know you, Hilary – although I don’t – it’s just that I’m afraid we’re not really the sort of people that you can afford to be associated with.”
[Hilary opens her mouth to say something]
Christina Drayton: “Don’t speak, Hilary, just… go.”
Matt Drayton: “What the hell is it today? Less than 12% of the people in this city are colored people. I can’t even have a dish of Oregon Boosenberry without runnin’ into one of them.”
Joanna Drayton: “It never occurred to me that I would fall in love with a Negro, but I have, and nothing’s going to change that.”
Christina Drayton: “Joey! I want to ask you something. How deeply are you and John in – in – uh – no, no, I have no right.”
Joanna Drayton: “How deeply involved? Do you mean have we been to bed together? I don’t mind you asking me that. We haven’t. He wouldn’t. I don’t think he could’ve been in much doubt about *my* feelings, but he just wouldn’t.”
Joanna Drayton: “I brought you the latest bulletin. Guess who’s coming to dinner now?
Tillie: “The Reverend Martin Luther King?”
Monsignor Ryan: “Oh… well, in that case you’ll actually *need* me. Otherwise your side won’t even outnumber the blacks!”
Matt Drayton: Final speech. “Now Mr. Prentice, clearly a most reasonable man, says he has no wish to offend me but wants to know if I’m some kind of a *nut*. And Mrs. Prentice says that like her husband I’m a burned-out old shell of a man who cannot even remember what it’s like to love a woman the way her son loves my daughter. And strange as it seems, that’s the first statement made to me all day with which I am prepared to take issue… cause I think you’re wrong, you’re as wrong as you can be. I admit that I hadn’t considered it, hadn’t even thought about it, but I know exactly how he feels about her and there is nothing, absolutely nothing that you son feels for my daughter that I didn’t feel for Christina. Old- yes. Burned-out- certainly, but I can tell you the memories are still there- clear, intact, indestructible, and they’ll be there if I live to be 110. Where John made his mistake I think was in attaching so much importance to what her mother and I might think because in the final analysis it doesn’t matter a damn what we think. The only thing that matters is what they feel, and how much they feel, for each other. And if it’s half of what we felt- that’s everything. As for you two and the problems you’re going to have, they seem almost unimaginable, but you’ll have no problem with me, and I think when Christina and I and your mother have some time to work on him you’ll have no problem with your father, John. But you do know, I’m sure you know, what you’re up against. There’ll be 100 million people right here in this country who will be shocked and offended and appalled and the two of you will just have to ride that out, maybe every day for the rest of your lives. You could try to ignore those people, or you could feel sorry for them and for their prejudice and their bigotry and their blind hatred and stupid fears, but where necessary you’ll just have to cling tight to each other and say “screw all those people”! Anybody could make a case, a hell of a good case, against your getting married. The arguments are so obvious that nobody has to make them. But you’re two wonderful people who happened to fall in love and happened to have a pigmentation problem, and I think that now, no matter what kind of a case some bastard could make against your getting married, there would be only one thing worse, and that would be if – knowing what you two are and knowing what you two have and knowing what you two feel- you didn’t get married. Well, Tillie, when the hell are we gonna get some dinner?”
Katharine Hepburn: Born Katharine Houghton Hepburn on May 12th, 1907 in Hartford, Connecticut. Died: June 29th, 2003 in Fenwick, Connecticut.
Spencer Tracy: Born Spencer Bonaventure Tracy on April 5th, 1900 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Died: June 10th, 1967 in Beverly Hills, California. 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.
Sidney Poitier: Born February 20th, 1927 in Miami, Florida.
Katharine Houghton: Born Katharine Houghton Grant on March 10th, 1945. in Hartford, Connecticut. Katharine is the daughter of Kate’s sister Marion.