The Philadelphia Story

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 I just knew they would be boring, outdated, and corny and I wouldn’t like them.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!

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.

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