CMBA Blogathon: Film Passion 101: The Philadelphia Story

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This post is part of the Film Passion 101 Blogathon, hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association. Be sure to head over there and read all the other great posts!

I have a bad habit of saying I don’t like things when I haven’t even given them a try. I’m sure that habit has caused me to miss out on some great things in life, and I really should learn to break it. Well, except maybe when it comes to beets it would have been wiser to stick to the stubborn “I don’t like them even though I’ve never tried them” declaration that I made for so long. Beets really are gross! :-)

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On a serious note, that habit did almost cause me to miss out on something that I now love dearly and that has had a profound impact on my life, watching classic or “old” movies. For the longest time I insisted that I didn’t like old black and white movies when I had never even tried watching one. I just knew they would be boring, outdated, and corny and I wouldn’t like them. There wasn’t much anyone was going to say or do to get me to watch them. Or so I thought!

Unlike many of the other participants in this blogathon, I wasn’t exposed to old movies very much when I was growing up. My dad watched things like Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy (thanks for the reminder, Ruth!), and maybe a western here and there, and I have vague memories of my mom watching Gone With the Wind at some point, but that’s about it. Of course I did watch The Wizard of Oz quite a few times as a kid, but I honestly thought at the time that it was a current movie, not an old classic.

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Now fast forward to the early 1990s when I was a junior or senior in college and my feelings about old movies changed forever. The really cool professor I had for a literature class I was taking was a fan of watching movies that were based on books or plays, and he showed several throughout the semester, including The Philadelphia Story (1940)

The stage version of The Philadelphia Story (1939), which tells the story of a rich socialite whose wedding plans are disrupted by the return of her ex-husband was written by Philip Barry specifically for Katharine Hepburn. At the time she had recently starred in several movies that were commercial failures, which resulted in her being labeled “box office poison” along with several other movie stars.

After the play became a huge success on Broadway, Katharine Hepburn’s then boyfriend Howard Hughes purchased the film rights and gave them to her as a gift. She in turn sold them to Louis B. Mayer in return for the final say in the selection of the producer, director, screenwriter and cast. She chose Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart for the two male leads, and George Cukor, who she made several other movies with was chosen to direct.

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Despite my previous bias against old movies, I started watching the movie with an open mind because of the compelling way my professor introduced it. I was very surprised though at how much I liked it right from the start. It certainly helped that the set decoration was very appealing, there was great chemistry between Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, and the dialogue was so intelligent, sophisticated, and witty.

I especially enjoyed the performance by Katharine Hepburn. I thought she was beautiful, funny, and there was a complexity to her character that made her so interesting. It was quite the revelation to me, because the Katharine Hepburn I was familiar with was the one I saw in her later years in On Golden Pond (1981), which I watched in the theater with my dad and sister. I had no idea then that she had such a long and storied history in classic movies.

I loved everything about The Philadelphia Story including the performances of Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Ruth Hussey, and Virginia Weidler. Along with Double Indemnity, it is the only other movie I can think of that I consider absolute perfection!

Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story

But of all the things I loved about the movie, the thing that stood out to me the most were the fashions worn by Katharine Hepburn. I absolutely loved her wardrobe in the movie!

When I first saw the pants outfit she wore in one of the opening scenes, I immediately fell in love with it and realized that I would actually wear that outfit today if I could be so lucky as to own it. She also wore several beautiful dresses in the movie, which were designed by costume designer, Adrian.

I think realizing how much I loved the clothes from that time period also sparked an interest in other things from that time including the cars, furniture, architecture, etc. My continued viewing of old movies brought out and intensified a love of history I didn’t even know I had. It’s too bad I didn’t know then what I know now, or I probably would have majored in history and/or film studies instead of boring old business.

On a related note, I recently had the privilege of viewing an exhibit called “Dressed for Stage and Screen” at a local museum. Originally organized by the The Kent State University Museum, the exhibit contains a collection of some of Katharine Hepburn’s costumes from theater, film, and television including many items from her personal collection.

PartyDress It was a fascinating exhibit, and it was such a cool experience to be so close to items she once actually wore. The items were out in the open and not enclosed in any kind of case, so I was literally inches away from the costumes, many of which were absolutely beautiful! The collection contained the wedding dress she wore in the stage version of The Philadelphia Story, a beautiful pink silk organza and chiffon dress designed by Valentina.

To this day, I wish I could remember the name of my college professor so I could try to track him down and thank him for getting me started on my classic movie journey.

If it wasn’t for him, I may not have ever gone from someone who would not give old movies a chance to someone who has now watched several hundred of them and will definitely be a classic movie fan for life. My love for old movies has impacted my life in so many positive ways, and I will be forever grateful to him for making that happen.

I often wish I could go back to those first days when everything was so exciting and new and I had so many new movies, actors, actresses, directors, and costume designers yet to discover. One of my favorite memories from those early days was when I decided that I was one day going to own a theater that showed nothing but old movies, a story I’ve told in a previous post. I also remember when I first discovered Turner Classic Movies, and like many other classic movie fans, fell in love with Robert Osborne and at the same time started dreaming of one day taking over his job. :-)

I have seen so many wonderful movies since that time, learned so much about movie history, and have met some really great people during my time as a blogger, and I hope that continues for the rest of my life.

What movie first started your love of classic film?

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P.S. If you’re interested in watching and discovering more about the movie that started me on my classic movie journey, you can purchase a two-disc special edition DVD of The Philadelphia Story from Amazon.com. The set contains an informative commentary by film historian Jeannine Basinger and documentaries about Katharine Hepburn and the movie’s director, George Cukor.

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18 Responses
  1. FlickChick says:

    Now that is a great post, Ginny! Isn’t it wonderful how one teacher can change our lives? Your post made me remember how many teachers have influenced my life in so many ways. Your professor picked a great film to spark your interests and you showed great taste – Hepburn, Grant, Adrian – as you say, the stars aligned and created perfection. Oh, and I totally agree about the beets.

    • Ginny says:

      Thank you! Yes, I still remember all the way back to the positive impact my 2nd grade teacher made on me. I don’t think you ever forget the really special ones. It’s funny, after I posted this I felt bad about possibly offending beet lovers, so I’m glad to know I’m not alone. :-)

  2. Thanks for sharing how classic film has made such a positive impact in your life, and how it all started with “The Philadelphia Story”. The people who have yet to “get old movies” don’t realize the doors to history and imagination that are opened for us. Katharine Hepburn continues to inspire and awe me. And, gosh, that wedding dress is gorgeous!

    • Ginny says:

      You’re welcome Patricia, and thanks so much for reading! That’s so true, and I’m so grateful I finally gave them a chance and didn’t miss out out on all the things they have to offer. It’s been my wish ever since then that others like me would overcome their misconceptions about older movies, too.

  3. Wow! Are you my twin or something?

    “…The Wizard of Oz… I honestly thought at the time that it was a current movie, not an old classic.”

    Same here.

    “…I was one day going to own a theater that showed nothing but old movies….”

    Ditto

    ” My continued viewing of old movies brought out and intensified a love of history I didn’t even know I had.”

    Yep. +1. Exactly.

    I’m so pleased that you shared your story since it helps me to understand why someone wouldn’t watch an “old ” film. Sometimes I live in an echo chamber.

    Thanks.
    - Java

    • Ginny says:

      That’s funny that we have all those things in common, especially regarding the movie theater! I was crushed when I discovered it wasn’t really feasible. :-) My love of history may just be the coolest thing that came out of the experience.

      It has been nice to find out that I can offer a bit of a different perspective, because it seems like most stories that I have read are by those who have loved classic movies their whole lives.

  4. Great write-up, Ginny! I’m more partial to Hepburn and Grant in Sylvia Scarlett and Holiday (Jimmy Stewart as a fast-talking reporter has always been a tough sell for me) but it’s great that this is the movie responsible for your classic movie leanings.

    • Ginny says:

      Thanks Ivan! I haven’t seen Sylvia Scarlett yet, but I certainly can’t argue with your preference for Holiday, which is also a great movie. In fact, I have plans to watch it again on New Year’s Eve.

  5. Fritzi says:

    Well, I love beets but I also love the story of how you fell for the classics! It’s amazing what an enthusiastic professor can do to open up our worlds.

  6. The Lady Eve says:

    Fascinating tale of your journey from having zero interest in “old black and white movies” to becoming a true believer. So well written – I felt like I was there with you as you watched “The Philadelphia Story” for the first time. But…you really ought to give beets a chance…

    • Ginny says:

      Thank you!

      I did try the one method I thought would be most successful, roasting them with olive oil and sea salt, but it was still a no go. I’m always open to new suggestions though. :-)

  7. R.A. Kerr says:

    I’m so glad that professor was able to convince you to watch “The Philadelphia Story”. Your passion for the film is contagious – and so is your admiration of Hepburn’s wardrobe. (She DOES have a killer wardrobe in that movie, doesn’t she?)

    I didn’t realize Hepburn had final say on director, casting, etc. She couldn’t have chosen better people to work with her on this film.

    Thanks for sharing these memories! :)

    • Ginny says:

      Thanks Ruth! I am too. I cannot imagine my life without classic movies now!

      I’m not sure if it’s true, but I heard that her first choices were Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy. As much as I love both of them though, I think it worked out perfectly in the end.

  8. Page says:

    Ginny,
    I would love to have seen the exhibit on the Screen Costumes. TPS certainly had its share of glamorous and memorable gowns worn by Kate. I also love the film and every thing about it. As much as I love Cary, Jimmy was hands down the best for me though. I still laugh everytime I think of his drunk scenes at Cary’s cottage. It really is one of the best and lucky for your readers you saw the stage play which led you to the film and this wonderful blog years later. : )

    I really enjoyed reading about your early experiences, how you came to love classic cinema.
    Page

    • Ginny says:

      Thanks Page! It’s great to hear from someone else who loves the movie as much as I do.

      That’s funny that you say that about Jimmy Stewart, because he definitely stood out the least for me out of the three of them, but now he is my favorite actor of all time and I gush about him at every opportunity. :-) I did really enjoy his performance in the movie though. That scene at the cottage was great, and I love the story about how they improvised some of it, including Jimmy’s hiccup.

  9. Rick says:

    Ginny, first of all, I agree that beets are gross! Second, this was a charming post about how THE PHILADELPHIA STORY opened the door to other classic films. Third, I’m jealous about the exhibit–which sounds awesome. Do you know if there’s there a connection between Kent State and Katharine Hepburn?

  10. Ginny says:

    As I mentioned above, I actually felt kind of bad for slamming beets, so I feel a little better knowing others feel the same. :-)

    Thanks for your kind words, Rick!

    It was awesome, and I was very surprised and excited when I found out the exhibit was going to be so close to me. I live in a fairly small community, and we don’t get to experience many cool things like that in this area. I don’t think there was a direct connection. They were asked by someone if they’d be interested in housing the collection and they agreed, and then decided to have it “tour” the country. I’m not sure how many cities it has been to so far.

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