"The Philadelphia Story"

Looking Back on a Classic
Fri February 16, 2018 at 8:02 AM PST

With its return to the big screen this Sunday (and also Wednesday, February 21), we thought we'd take a quick journey back to the City of Brotherly Love and one of Hollywood's most beloved romantic comedies, The Philadelphia Story. This 1940 classic not only received six Academy Award® nominations including "Best Picture," winning Oscars for James Stewart's performance and Donald Ogden Stewart's screenplay, but has certainly stood the test of time. Ranking #44 on AFI's prestigious "100 Movies...100 Years" list in 2007, the film is one of those rare gems which retains a 100% Rating on Rotten Tomatoes with a critic consensus that says it all: "Offering a wonderfully witty script, spotless direction from George Cukor, and typically excellent lead performances [from Oscar nominee Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and Stewart], The Philadelphia Story is an unqualified classic."

 

While this particular road to Philly is a long and winding one, the box office success of the film marked one of cinema's greatest comebacks for a woman who would, arguably, become one of Hollywood's most influential and successful actresses, Katharine Hepburn. In only her third film, Hepburn reeled in her first Oscar for 1933's Morning Glory, but would unceremoniously be dubbed "box office poison" by theater owners by the end of the decade after a succession of less-than-popular films (although a handful, including 1938's Bringing Up Baby, are now considered cinematic treasures!). Showing the self-determination she would become known for throughout her life, Hepburn took matters into her own hands, first buying herself out of her contract with RKO and returning to the footlights with the stage production of The Philadelphia Story, written by her friend Philip Barry.

The play was an enormous success and Hepburn's love interest at the time, the one and only Howard Hughes, bought her the film rights for The Philadelphia Story as a gift. Hepburn sold the rights to MGM with the condition that she would star in the film and have her choice of director and casting. Enter Hepburn's friend and director George Cukor, whom she had worked with previously in successes like Little Women and Holiday. She then chose Grant and Stewart to star with her with Grant receiving top billing. 

 

The movie was a huge hit upon its release and the previously mentioned accolades would follow. Hepburn, a Hollywood pioneer whose influence on the empowerment of women extends far beyond Tinsel Town, would go on to win three additional Academy Awards, the most ever by any actor—male or female—during her amazing 60+ year career. She retired from acting in the mid-90s, and passed away in 2003 at the age of 96.

Here are a few photos that we think capture the magic of this inarguable cinematic classic:

Director George Cukor and Katharine Hepburn discuss the script on the set of The Philadelphia Story.
Director George Cukor and Katharine Hepburn discuss the script on the set of The Philadelphia Story.
Cary Grant gets a "manny" on the set between scenes.
Cary Grant gets a "mani" on the set between scenes. Grant, who received top billing on the film received a six-figure payday for the film, but donated the entire amount to the British War Relief Society.
original sketch of katharine hepburn's pant suit, somewhat controversial for the era.
Original sketch of Katharine Hepburn's pant suit, which was still somewhat controversial for the era.
James Stewart, carrying Hepburn's character home after a late night party, is accosted by Grant and John Howard.
James Stewart, carrying Hepburn's character home after a late night party, is accosted by Grant and John Howard. 
George Cukor gives some specific direction to his cast on the set of The Philadelphia Story.
George Cukor gives some specific direction to his cast of Hollywood immortals on the set of The Philadelphia Story.
Blessed with a zest for life and can-do philosophy, Hepburn was never in need of a stunt double as she proved in the film's memorable pool scene.
Blessed with a zest for life and can-do philosophy, Katharine Hepburn was never in need of a stunt double as she proved in the film's memorable pool scene. 
The Philadelphia Story's impressive cast (from L-R): James Stewart, Ruth Hussey, John Howard, Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant.
The Philadelphia Story's impressive cast (from L-R): James Stewart, who won the Oscar for his role; Ruth Hussey, nominated for the Oscar for her performance; John Howard; Katharine Hepburn, also an Oscar nominee; and Cary Grant.
Katharine Hepburn hanging with the film's crew in this great behind-the-scenes photo. Director George Cukor is pictured standing second from the left.
Katharine Hepburn hanging with the film's crew in this great behind-the-scenes shot on the set. Director George Cukor is pictured standing second from the left.

 

Tickets for the special theatrical screenings of The Philadelphia Story are now available at Fathom Events.