“We got on well, Cary and I. It was fun to play with him, and I think he had a good time too. People liked us together, so we enjoyed it,”
In the spirited life of Katharine Hepburn lived Spencer Tracy, a unique and complex individual who made movie magic with Hepburn in a nine film collaboration, which spanned from 1942 to 1967, but before the evolution of this legendary dynamic duo was the famed partnership of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, who helped pave the way for each others future success in motion pictures.
As far as many audiences are concerned, Katharine Hepburn’s ascent to super-stardom was fueled by Spencer Tracy, and their highly extolled on-screen romance, but in truth, Hepburn was already an established star in Hollywood, and had reached the pinnacle of success long before Tracy entered the picture. After making her film debut in A Bill Of Divorcement ( 1932 ), Katharine Hepburn had formed two notable partnerships with director, George Cukor, and Cary Grant, in which they appeared in four movies together.
In many ways, the teaming of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn is just as pivotal as her celebrated association with Spencer Tracy. In addition to possessing that unique flair for Screwball Comedy along with their magnetic chemistry that had the power to lure audiences, both stars inhabited similar personalities, and were not afraid to admit that they shunned the spotlight, and often refused interviews.
Even though the partnership of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn was only short-lived, and was later eclipsed by her unparalleled collaboration with Spencer Tracy, the four films that they did appear in together are among the best of both stars, and will continue to leave an indelible mark on cinematic history.
Their first film, Sylvia Scarlett may not have been as commercially successful as their other three outings, but it did open the door to many endless opportunities, as well as introducing audiences to this iconic couple whose sheer magnetism and zest for life are clearly evident in all four of their vehicles. In fact, if it weren’t for Sylvia Scarlett, the likeness of this screen-team may not have spawned the three Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant comedy extravaganzas that followed.
By the time the two made Sylvia Scarlett in 1935, both stars were secure in the motion picture industry, but hadn’t yet garnered the popularity or the prominent status that they would attain as time progressed. Cary Grant already had twenty-two acting credits to his resume, and was cemented in a reputable position in Hollywood, while Katharine Hepburn, who had made her movie debut the same year as Grant, had a total of nine films to her credit, and had already received her first of four Academy Awards two years earlier for her performance in Morning Glory ( 1933 )
While exhausting your way through the four film collaboration of Hepburn and Grant, you come to discover that their ephemeral partnership was a gift from heaven. These were two stars who produced magic together, and had the talent to reduce you to laughter even when your facing your darkest days, and a smile is the hardest thing to pull off. It’s a huge shame that after sending sparks fly in The Philadelphia Story, Cary Grant would never share the screen with Katharine Hepburn again. I personally would have liked to have seen Cary Grant appear alongside both Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in a movie, but I can only dream.
“She was this slip of a woman and I never liked skinny women. But she had this thing, this air you might call it, the most totally magnetic woman I’d ever seen, and probably ever seen since. You had to look at her, you had to listen to her; there was no escaping her.”
( Cary Grant on Katharine Hepburn )
SYLVIA SCARLETT ( 1935 )
Directed by: George Cukor: Starring: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Brian Aherne, and Edmund Gwenn.
In a film that floundered at the box office, Katharine Hepburn is given the opportunity to return to her childhood roots by playing, Sylvia Scarlett, a young girl who disguises herself as a boy, so her and her father, Henry Scarlett ( Edmund Gwenn ) can flee the country to elude embezzlement charges, and escalating troubles with the law. Along the way they meet and get involved with con-man, Jimmy Monkley ( Cary Grant ), who encourages them to join him in brief crime stints.
The film was initially considered to be a romantic comedy, and went as far to be labeled as one. However, on it’s release, the reaction from audiences was less than enthusiastic with critics complaining that it lacked the sublety of a comedy. Instead what we are given is a production that delves more into the facets of dark comedy.
BRINGING UP BABY ( 1938 )
Directed by: Howard Hawks: Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and Charlie Ruggles.
Bringing Up Baby is a cinematic masterpiece that truly epitomizes Screwball Comedy. In this glorious and cheerful extravaganza, Cary Grant plays David Huxley, a zoology professor who acquires one million dollars to complete the brontosaurus skeleton at his museum, but when he is pursued by Susan Vance ( Katharine Hepburn ), a flighty and maniacal heiress, he becomes embroiled in a series of complicated disasters that jeopardize everything that David has worked so hard for.
Bringing Up Baby is arguably the funniest and wittiest movie ever made. It is because of this that it simply cannot be surpassed. However, back in 1938, the film flopped dramatically, and was considered a commercial failure, but in the years that followed the film has attained the recognition that it so rightfully deserves, and now seventy-eight years since it’s release, Bringing Up Baby is considered to be the true definition of Screwball Comedy.
HOLIDAY ( 1938 )
Directed by: George Cukor: Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Edward Everett, and Lew Ayres.
Made shortly after Bringing Up Baby, Holiday is an entertaining romantic comedy that explores the economical status and the social class of two people from different walks of life. When Johnny Case ( Cary Grant ), a man who hails from menial beginnings, falls in love with the rich society girl, Julia Seton, he plans to marry and spend the immediate years of his marriage on holiday, But what he don’t realize is that he’s plans are obstructed by Julia and her father, who envision a successful life in business for Johnny. However, things take an unexpected turn when he discovers that Julia’s sister, Linda ( Katharine Hepburn ) supports his idea of a free way of life.
Holiday is considered an underrated masterpiece, and was recently labeled as one of George Cukor’s finest films, although on it’s initial release, it opened to critical acclaim. Financially the film was not a success with audiences during the Great Depression, who were struggling to find work, but despite the negative response from audiences, Holiday was not totally disastrous, as critics held it in high regard.
THE PHILADELPHIA STORY ( 1940 )
Directed by: George Cukor: Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey, Roland Young, and Virginia Weidler.
After a few years of being crowned “Box Office Poison”, Katharine Hepburn was back on the radar, and had catapulted to her zenith after starring in The Philadelphia Story, a cinematic masterpiece that tells the story of Tracy Lord ( Katharine Hepburn ), a Philadelphia socialite, who is on the verge of marrying the affluent aspiring politician, George Kittredge two years after divorcing, C.K. Dexter Haven ( Cary Grant ). For a wedding that was originally anticipated as a formal affair for selected elite guests, Tracy is shocked to discover that C.K. Dexter Haven has arrived on the scene the day before the wedding with two assigned reporters, Mike Connor ( James Stewart ) and Liz Imbrie ( Ruth Hussey ), who are required to cover the wedding.
Initially Katharine Hepburn wanted Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable as her co-stars in The Philadelphia Story , but when word came back that both actors were busy with other commitments the respective roles went to Cary Grant and James Stewart. At first, Hepburn was a bit disappointed that Tracy was unavailable. Hepburn didn’t need to worry however, as two years later her wish would finally be granted when she was teamed alongside Tracy in Woman Of The Year, the film that made them embark on a glorious and passionate love affair that remained a secret for years.
The Philadelphia Story received six Academy Award nominations. James Stewart won the award for “Best Actor”, and Donald Ogden Stewart attained the Oscar for “Best Screenplay”, while the film received another four nominations for best leading actress, best supporting actress (Ruth Hussey), best director, best picture.
That brings us to the end of Katharine Hepburn’s journey with Cary Grant. After the triumphant success of The Philadelphia Story, both stars went their own separate ways, and followed a different road to even greater acclaim. Cary Grant made his foray into more challenging roles that would lead to him becoming the prominent figure in four Alfred Hitchcock productions, while Katharine Hepburn would go on to make history with Spencer Tracy.