“I hope you’re going to tell me your name. I want you for my first friend in New York. Mine’s Eva Lovelace. It’s partly made up and partly real. It was Ada Love. Love’s my family name. I added the ‘lace.’ Do you like it, or would you prefer something shorter? A shorter name would be more convenient on a sign. Still, ‘Eva Lovelace in Camille,’ for instance, or ‘Eva Lovelace in Romeo and Juliet’ sounds very distinguished, doesn’t it?”
In 1932, Katharine Hepburn was an aspiring young actress, who had just arrived in Hollywood to make her film debut opposite John Barrymore in A Bill of Divorcement. One year later the starlet had already conquered the hearts of millions worldwide, and now after adding a few successful films to her resume, Kate received her first Academy Award for playing a carbon copy of herself in a picture called Morning Glory ( 1933 ).
Morning Glory is a superbly crafted backstage production that is infused with plenty of wit and dramatic undertones. Although, the films plot is derived from the usual subject matter of show business, the story is built around a strong narrative arc, and its main core is about the pursuit of dreams and the evolution of hope.
The film started out as an unproduced stage play that came from the pen of Zoe Akins, a notable playwright and author, whose works have become successful screen adaptations. After being labelled as abandoned material for three years, Morning Glory captured the attention of Howard J. Green, who wanted to bring it to vivid life on screen.
Initially, the script was designed to fit the personality of Constance Bennett. At the time, Bennett was the main top-drawer at RKO, and to capitalize on her popularity the studio assigned her the role of Eva Lovelace in Morning Glory. This was until the film piqued an interest in Katharine Hepburn, who immediately realized that she was destined to play the part, and persuaded Pandro S. Berman to reconsider his casting choices. In order to have Hepburn in the role, the part of Eva had to be modeled to suit Katharine’s talents, but despite all the adjustments that had to be made, the task was far from impossible. Katharine Hepburn received her wish, and Constance Bennett found her moment of triumph in the 1933 film Bed Of Roses.
“I went into Pandro Berman’s office, saw the script on his desk, picked it up and started to read it. Was fascinated. Called my friend Laura Harding. She came. She read it too. It was by Zoe Akins. Laura thought it fascinating. Went to Pandro and said I must do it. He said no. It was for Connie Bennett. I said No-ME. I won. It was directed by Lowell Sherman, who was in the original What Price Hollywood? as leading man opposite Connie Bennett. A brilliant picture. He was very good.”
( Kate )
The casting of Katharine Hepburn was a masterstroke of success. Ironically, Constance Bennett remained incognizant of the fact that Kate was steeped in acclamation for a role that could have brought her success. On the RKO lot, the two stars were friendly acquaintances. Hepburn remembered Bennett for her amiable persona and went on to state that they were always exchanging pleasantries whenever they crossed paths at the studio.
Director Lowell Sherman played a large part in the films success. Although, Sherman was not as prolific with his directorial duties as the more mainstream directors were, he’s contributions to the field never went unnoticed. At the time of filming, Lowell was hitting triumphant peaks in his career. His previous works had garnered critical acclaim, and his efforts behind Morning Glory was solid proof that helming pictures could be his staple.
In fact, if there is one word that would best define Lowell Sherman, it would be versatile. Before embarking on his directorial career, Sherman worked prolifically as an actor in motion pictures and on Broadway. After a while, the acting profession became a mundane task, and when he grew tired of it, he started to explore other opportunities that the entertainment industry had to offer. The answer to his quest to secure better employment was becoming a director. His foray into this medium came when he started directing movies that he starred in, a practice that was considered unusual at the time in Hollywood.
After the success of Morning Glory, Lowell Sherman continued his auspicious tenure as a director, but right at the height of his success and popularity, Sherman died of complications from pneumonia on December 28th, 1934. He was 46 years old.
The untimely death of Lowell Sherman sparked a melancholy commotion, but the large body of work he left behind is a true testament to his talents. In Morning Glory, he paints a clear portrait of the ambitious Eva Lovelace ( Katharine Hepburn ), and her quest to rise above her current predicament to become an actress.
I won’t rehash too much of the plot, but to hint slightly at the films happenings: Eva Lovelace is a stage-struck hopeful, who eludes her small time life to pursue a career on Broadway. Despite the fact that she exudes innate optimism and a high level of confidence, Eva has not been able to requisite enough experience to be noticed by top agents, but once she meets Louis Easton ( Adolphe Menjou ) and Joseph Sheridan ( Douglas Fairbanks Jr. ), she starts moving around in theatrical circles.
The plot of Morning Glory closely echoes the other films about show business that largely dominated Hollywood, but its not entirely reminiscent. While many of these movies are about producers putting on a show, the essence of our story is Eva Lovelace, and her visions of becoming a successful stage sensation.
Katharine Hepburn was the best possible actress to breathe life into Eva Lovelace. A few years before the film was made, Kate was leading an existence that closely paralleled that of her characters. Like Eva, Hepburn had left her hometown to find her destiny. Both were in search of fame and success, but neither found the life they had envisioned for themselves imminently. In order to reach their preferred heights, Katharine performed on stage for stock theatre companies and largely went unnoticed or sometimes fired, while Eva studied drama at school and attended several auditions.
Apart from all their similarities, there is also a striking contrast between the two. This is clearly evident in their personalities. In the movie, Eva is ambitious and tends to look through rose colored spectacles, but asides from being ebullient and confident, she is also extremely naive. On the other hand, Katharine was more independent and didn’t exude so much conviviality and girlishness when it came to pursuing her career. She was also more mature and experienced in the sense that she had been exposed to the harsh realities in life and therefore knew what to expect in the theater world.
While it’s common knowledge that for the part of Eva Lovelace, Kate drew inspiration from her own theatre days and added biographical tones to the film, there are also traces of Ruth Gordon’s life in her performance. Hepburn stated in her autobiography Me: Stories Of My Life that she had seen Gordon in a play titled Church Mouse, and she could visualize Morning Glory played in the same key.
Walking into Academy Award territory is no easy feat, but Katharine Hepburn proved that she could successfully glide in to the privileged vicinity. After taking home the Oscar for Morning Glory, Hepburn later received three more gold statuettes to adorn her mantelpiece, and to this day she still holds the record of being the only star to become a four time Academy Award recipient.
It was from this moment on that Kate made a firm decision not to attend the Academy Awards ceremony. This decision would remain with her all through out her career. At first she was shunned, but as time progressed everybody had become accustomed to Hepburn’s absence that it was listed as a habit. In fact, when she finally did make her first and only appearance at the Oscars in 1974 to present the Irving Thalberg Award to Lawrence Weingarten, everyone was in a state of shock. You can watch Kate’s appearance on the Academy Awards here.
“I never went to the Oscars when I was nominated. I always said I couldn’t go because I didn’t have anything to wear. It was a flippant answer. It was also the truth. I didn’t care to have Oscar clothes in my wardrobe. Those fancy dresses use up so much space, but I could have afforded to buy a dress. In my more serious moments, I knew I didn’t go because I didn’t know I’d win and I’ve never been a good loser. After a while I said no to going so many times, it became a habit.”
( Kate )
Katharine always stated that the Academy Awards was not her style. She detested the idea of having to wear a lavish gown that would take up her entire wardrobe. Plus, away from the cameras, Kate secluded herself from the movie star life, and retreated back to her beloved family in Fenwick.
Despite any misconceptions that the general public may of had regarding the film and Hepburn’s Academy Award winning performance, Kate always maintained that the production of Morning Glory was a high point of her career. Compared to the tense atmosphere and the problems she was enmeshed in on the set of her second picture Christopher Strong, the filming process ran smoothly – taking only seventeen days to complete.
Katharine Hepburn found that the Morning Glory set was abounded with privileges. One major asset was the choice of director. Kate had favored Lowell Sherman’s methods of filming in sequence, a technique that allowed her to fully develop her character like she did on stage. Having a director that she understood was beneficial for Kate, so much so that Hepburn herself often credited Sherman as being the instrumental force behind her receiving the Academy Award.
Attaining the role of Eva Lovelace was a twist of fate. If the start of 1933 was an indicator of how the rest of the year would pan out, it would have been impossible for any epiphany to occur. In January of that year, Kate was taken to the Good Samaritan Hospital on Wilshire Boulevard, where it was reported that she was suffering from influenza, but as it turns out, the problem was more serious than any diagnosis given. When she was discharged, Hepburn immediately returned to Connecticut to be placed under her fathers care at Hartford Hospital. After undergoing a operation, it was determined that Kate was inflicted with severe uterine troubles.
It took several months for Kate to fully recover. Those closest to Kate reported that she grew tired frequently and lacked interest in food. For a while, Luddy feared that she was going to meet her death, though these worries were soon vanquished when Hepburn jumped out of her sickbed to make an appearance at the New York premiere of A Bill Of Divorcement.
Shortly after the premiere, Katharine’s health rapidly improved. Within a few weeks, she bounced back and was once again pounding the pavements for work. One month later, she secured the role of Lady Cynthia in Christopher Strong ( 1933 ).
Behind the cameras, Kate may have been shrouded in acclamation. She devoured basking in all her success, and the fact that she was a motion picture actress in the movie capital of the world was stimulating and rewarding to her, but away from the bright lights of Hollywood, she was steeped in chaos. At the root of her worries was her crumbling marriage to Ludlow Ogden Smith ( Luddy ). Kate had never fully committed to the domesticated married life and always considered her career to be more fundamentally important. On the other hand, Luddy was constantly trying to resurrect their matrimonial state and was yearning for another chance of happiness, but when Katharine entered the film industry in 1932, his plans were thwarted.
With Kate now working in movies, Luddy realized that he would have difficulties trying to repair the strains of their marriage, but he still clung to the hope. What he didn’t know is that Kate had plunged straight into a passionate affair with her agent Leland Hayward, and considered her life with Luddy to be over.
For Katharine, this was a perplexing crisis to be embroiled in. Despite her marital rows, she still deeply loved Luddy, and she hated having to let him down. Kate felt guilty when they agreed to separate on account of her career, but this time she was faced with an even bigger problem- she had to tell him that she was sleeping with Leland Hayward, a difficult task that she feared would hurt Luddy. Fortunately, Luddy understood. Katharine’s affair with Leland was absolutely no business of his and he was not about to dwell over something that he can’t prevent. After all, Kate was still his wife, and he viewed Leland as a man who made love to her. As far as Luddy was concerned, it was only an innocent affair that wouldn’t last.
It soon became clear to Luddy that the marriage was over. In 1934, Hepburn traveled to Mexico to file for a quick divorce. By now, Luddy accepted his fate and supported Kate’s decision. The two remained close friends until Luddy’s death in 1979.
In later years, Kate always held Morning Glory in high esteem. She remembered a myriad of things about the film, but the one aspect that was continuously embedded in her memory was the beautiful friendship she forged with Douglas Fairbanks Jr.. The two built a close rapport with each other from the moment they first met, and would remain close all throughout the years. Incidentally, Fairbanks passed away in 2000, three years before Kate.
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. also had fond memories of the film. He and Hepburn both stated that their favorite scene was when they played Romeo and Juliet for a dream sequence. Fairbanks strongly believed that he would receive an Academy Award for his performance in this scene alone, but instead he was left perturbed when he discovered that it was scrapped from the picture and sent to the cutting room floor.
The fact that the Romeo and Juliet scene was scrapped was a misfortune for all involved, but despite from that, the positive aspects eclipsed any altercation that may have ensued. Katharine certainly didn’t recall being plagued with difficulties, and neither did Douglas. At this point in her career, her biggest burden was nerves. When Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks Sr. came to watch her and Fairbanks perform the Romeo and Juliet scene in costume, Kate was terrified. She was still only a newcomer to the industry, and the thought of being observed by two of cinemas most renowned stars made her wound up in fear.
“When I met Miss Hepburn, I was more than pleased. She came upon the scene from Broadway and then a wonderful first movie performance in A Bill Of Divorcement as John Barrymore’s daughter, and she held her own with Barrymore. It was clear she had a brilliant future, and a brilliant present. I wasn’t much of a judge of how fabulous Kate was as an artist, because my all too-susceptible heart had been captivated by her. I fell in love with my Juliet, with Eva Lovelace, her character, who my character fell in love with in the film, and with Kate, the real-life flesh-and-blood person.”
( Douglas Fairbanks Jr. on Kate. )
Although the film was made during the Pre-Code era, Morning Glory is far from being a model of eroticism. What the film presents instead is an undercurrent of suggestiveness, but none of this is openly explored and any topic discussed is not really part of the sexual denominator. In fact, the movie is that tame that it could have easily been released when the production code was rigorously enforced.
The only aspect that hints at the film being Pre-Code is the entanglement between Eva Lovelace and Louis Easton. When Robert Hedges ( C. Aubrey Smith ) escorts Eva to a party at Easton’s plush and commodious tenement, she is given two glasses of champagne. For many people this is only a minimal amount, but for Eva, its a large quantity. Even though Eva is not use to consuming alcohol, she drinks it like its a delicacy. As a result she is quickly inebriated, which causes her to lose control of her faculties and behave in a strange manner. Shortly after we witness Eva performing a set of Shakespeare tragedies to the assembled guests, who she is hoping to impress. However, her veneer of professionalism has just been stripped. The audience look at her as being an intoxicated stage-struck hopeful, who constantly fantasizes about her future among the stars. Her drunken rendition does not warrant an enthusiastic response from Easton either, but he provides her with shelter for the night, even if he does not wish to become involved with her quest for stardom.
If Morning Glory was made after July 1934, this particular scene could have been omitted. That being said, all the explicitness has been watered down, and the happenings at the party do not reach the depths of full on Pre-Code. One interesting observation I have made while watching Katharine Hepburn’s movies is that her Pre-Code work seems to be more subtle and delicate in racy content compared to other films from that period. If you look at Kate’s films from this time frame, the only production that really represents the full nature of Pre-Code is Christopher Strong, a 1933 vehicle that has Kate playing an aviator who embarks on an elicit affair with a married man.
When analyzed and reviewed, Morning Glory is not often lauded for its screenplay, but in actual fact its one of the films greatest attributes. Howard J. Green provided a script that was punctured with effective dialogue that is sometimes poetic, and tinged with plenty of witticism. There is also a juxtaposition with Eva’s speech delivery. In the scenes where she is trying to sell herself, she is speaking affluently with poise, etiquette, grace, and polished mannerisms, but in other scenarios, she is very talkative and speaks with a girlish tone while still remaining sure of herself.
The prolific efforts from the background team all helped catapult Morning Glory to a higher level. The renowned music composer Max Steiner contributed a lot to the film, and cinematographer Bert Glennon’s input was exceptional. It’s not often that these aspects are lauded, but the hours that these individuals spent working on the production is worthy of applause.
Katharine Hepburn is the heart of the story. Without her presence anchoring the film, Morning Glory would probably fall flat. We are first introduced to Eva when she is seen in a majestic New York theatre gazing at portraits of Ethel Barrymore, Maude Adams and Sarah Bernhardt. This brief scene encapsulates our heroines most pivotal goal. She is in awe of these tremendous talents, and she envisions that one day her name will be on the marquee just like her idols. Will all Eva’s dreams come true? or will her star soon fade?
The film was later remade in 1958, and was given the title Stage Struck. This version stars: Henry Fonda, Susan Strasberg, and Christopher Plummer.
In October, 1942, Lux Radio Theatre broadcast a radio adaptation of the film, starring Judy Garland as Eva Lovelace and Adolphe Menjou reprising his role of Louis Easton. Garland performed the song “I’ll Remember April” on the broadcast.
In 1949, a second radio adaptation was aired on the radio, this time with Elizabeth Taylor in the lead role of Eva Lovelace.
Katharine Hepburn‘s Best Actress Oscar win was this film’s only Oscar nomination.
Katharine Hepburn: Born, Katharine Houghton Hepburn on May 12th, 1907 in Hartford, Connecticut. Died: June 29th, 2003 in Fenwick, Connecticut. Aged: 96.
Douglas Fairbanks Jr.: Born, Douglas Elton Fairbanks Jr. on December 9th, 1909 in New York City. Died: May 7th, 2000 in New York City. Aged: 90.
Adolphe Menjou: Born, Adolphe Jean Menjou on February 18th, 1890 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Died: October 29th, 1963 in Beverly Hills, California. Aged: 73.
This article is part of a blog series on Katharine Hepburn that I am conducting. It was also written for Tiffany, the author of the website, Pure Entertainment Preservation Society. I would like to say a big thank you to Tiffany, who kindly asked me to write for a few events that is taking place on her website. As you may know, Kate is my all time favorite actress along with Ethel Barrymore and Bette Davis, so writing about Kate is an absolute pleasure for me.