skip navigation
Woman of the Year

Woman of the Year(1942)

TCM Messageboards
Post your comments here
ADD YOUR COMMENT>

share:
Remind Me

TCMDb Archive MaterialsView all archives (3)

DVDs from TCM Shop

Woman of the Year Opposites distract when a... MORE > $59.98 Regularly $59.98 Buy Now

Articles

powered by AFI

SEE ALL ARTICLES
teaser Woman of the Year (1942)

SYNOPSIS

Flinty sports writer Sam Craig and haughty political columnist Tess Harding first meet after a war of words triggered by her suggesting that baseball be suspended until the war in Europe ends. A peacemaking date turns into romance and then marriage, but as the relationship continues, Sam begins to resent Tess' devotion to her career at the expense of what he values most in her character. When she's named woman of the year just as he reaches the breaking point, it sets the stage for a confrontation that could make or break their marriage.

Director: George Stevens
Producer: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Screenplay: Ring Lardner, Jr., Michael Kanin
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Editing: Frank Sullivan
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Randall Duell
Music: Franz Waxman
Cast: Spencer Tracy (Sam Craig), Katharine Hepburn (Tess Harding), Fay Bainter (Ellen Whitcomb), Reginald Owen (Clayton), Minor Watson (William Harding), William Bendix (Pinkie Peters), Dan Tobin (Gerald Howe), Roscoe Karnes (Phil Whittaker), Ludwig Stossel (Dr. Marin Lubbeck), Sara Haden (Matron at Refugee Homes), Joe Yule (Building Superintendent), Jimmy Conlin, Ray Teal (Reporters), Gerald Mohr (Voice of Radio M.C.)
BW-114m.

Why WOMAN OF THE YEAR is Essential

Woman of the Year was the first film to team Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, one of the most acclaimed and beloved of all screen couples. They would appear together in nine films, including such classics as Adam's Rib (1949), Pat and Mike (1952) and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), Tracy's last film.

As the follow-up to Hepburn's The Philadelphia Story (1940), Woman of the Year cemented her comeback after her late-'30s years as "box office poison" and pointed the way to the more mature vehicles of her later years. As with the 1940 film, it softened her image, revealing the vulnerable woman beneath her noted arrogance and independence. Moreover, it was the first film to exploit her sexiness, thanks largely to the MGM star treatment, which included Adrian's costumes, Sydney Guilaroff's hair styling and Jack Dawn's makeup.

Woman of the Year was the third film teaming Hepburn with director George Stevens. Previously he had helped refine her acting technique in Alice Adams (1935) and directed the underrated Quality Street (1937). With Woman of the Year, he helped shape the star image that would sustain her through the '40s and '50s.

Publicity for Woman of the Year introduced the new Hepburn nickname, "Kate the Great," which would stay with Hepburn through the rest of her career.

Woman of the Year marked Hepburn's official debut as an MGM star. She had made The Philadelphia Story on a one-picture deal, but with her second film at the studio, she signed a long-term contract.

by Frank Miller

back to top
teaser Woman of the Year (1942)

Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn would make eight more films together -- Keeper of the Flame (1942), Without Love (1945), The Sea of Grass (1947), State of the Union (1948), Adam's Rib (1949), Pat and Mike (1952), Desk Set (1957) and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967). They also narrated a short for the American Cancer Society in 1946.

Although made before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Woman of the Year, released in January 1942, was very much a World War II film. In many ways, the war made Hepburn's once iconoclastic image socially acceptable. As women went to work in factories while their boyfriends and husbands were fighting overseas, Hepburn's mannish slacks became the fashion of necessity, while her strength and independence struck a cord with working women during the war years.

Tracy and Hepburn made their only radio appearance together in a half-hour version of Woman of the Year presented on Screen Guild Theatre in 1943.

In the '70s, McCall's Magazine created an annual Woman of the Year award. Hepburn was the first recipient.

Woman of the Year was remade as a television movie in 1976 with husband-and-wife actors Joseph Bologna and Renee Taylor in the lead roles.

Tracy and Hepburn's first meeting on the set was dramatized in Martin Scorsese's 2004 Howard Hughes biography The Aviator. Cate Blanchett won an Oscar® for her performance as Hepburn, with Kevin O'Rourke as Tracy.

A musical version of Woman of the Year opened on Broadway in 1981, with book by Peter Stone and songs by John Kander and Fred Ebb. Lauren Bacall won a Tony Award for her performance as Tess, with John Guardino as Sam. The show ran for almost two years, with Raquel Welch and later Debbie Reynolds taking over the female lead.

The musical version of Woman of the Year was filmed for television by original book writer Peter Stone in 1984. Barbara Eden and Don Chastain starred.

by Frank Miller

back to top
teaser Woman of the Year (1942)

At 5', 7", Katharine Hepburn was four inches taller than MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer. To make a strong impression when she went to pitch Woman of the Year, she wore four inch heels.

Hepburn's character, Tess Harding, got her surname from the star's close friend and frequent companion Laura Harding.

When Mayer first bought the story for Woman of the Year, he and producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz speculated that it had been written by Ben Hecht or Charles MacArthur, two playwrights among the most respected writers in Hollywood.

Hepburn had previously requested Spencer Tracy for the role of the reporter in The Philadelphia Story (1940), but fearing his fee would drive the budget too high, Mayer had insisted on assigning the role to the young James Stewart instead.

After warming to Hepburn on the set, Tracy told her he had tried to have her cast in his previous film, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941). He had wanted to mirror his character's divided nature by casting the same actress as both his aristocratic fiance and the barmaid Hyde seduces and kills, and considered her one of the few actresses capable of playing both roles. Studio executives, considering the idea too "artsy," had insisted on casting Lana Turner and Ingrid Bergman, respectively, in the two roles.

Tracy always insisted on top billing in his films with Hepburn. When their friend writer-director Garson Kanin asked why that was so, suggesting, "Ladies first?" Tracy quipped, "This is a movie, chowderhead, not a lifeboat!" (Kanin and Tracy quoted in Tracy and Hepburn: An Intimate Memoir).

Hepburn had been a fan of Tracy's since seeing him on Broadway in The Last Mile. He, on the other hand, claimed never to have seen any of her pictures before they worked together on Woman of the Year.

During production, Hepburn upgraded her wardrobe, trading in her men's trousers for more tailored pants made specifically for women.

There are more kissing scenes between Tracy and Hepburn in Woman of the Year than in all of her previous films combined. Actually, the film is the only one in which they kiss passionately on-screen. In their other films, such blatant shows of affection would not have been appropriate to the characters.

Woman of the Year brought in $3 million in rentals, confirming Katharine Hepburn's comeback after her years as box-office poison and helping to make Spencer Tracy the year's number ten box-office star.

Famous Quotes from WOMAN OF THE YEAR

"Women should be kept illiterate and clean, like canaries." -- Roscoe Karns, as Phil Whittaker

"Are all these people unemployed?"
"No, they're all attending their grandmother's funeral." -- Katharine Hepburn, as Tess Harding, attending her first baseball game, with Spencer Tracy, as Sam Craig.

"You mean our paper sends two people to cover the game?"
"No, I cover the game, he just kicks it around in his column."
"We've got only one man at Vichy."
"Vichy? Are they still in the league?" -- Hepburn, as Tess Harding, and Tracy, as Sam Craig.

"I love you."
"You do?
"Positive."
"That's nice. Even when I'm sober?"
"Even when you're brilliant." -- Tracy, as Sam, stating his intentions to Hepburn, as Tess.

"Can I drop you someplace, Miss Whitcomb?"
"You can drop that 'Miss Whitcomb'." -- Tracy, picking up Fay Bainter, as Ellen Whitcomb, at the airport.

"You know, it's too bad I'm not covering this dinner of yours tonight, because I've got an angle that would really be sensational: the outstanding woman of the year isn't a woman at all." -- Tracy, trying to tell Hepburn there's trouble in their marriage.

"You're my woman of the century. I've always felt that you were above marriage." -- Hepburn to Bainter, as Ellen Whitcomb.

"Success is no fun unless you share it with someone." -- Bainter, as Ellen.

"No one will ever believe we were married sober." -- Tracy.

"I've just launched Gerald." -- Tracy, closing the film by announcing that he has just gotten rid of Dan Tobin, as Gerald Howe.

Compiled by Frank Miller

back to top
teaser Woman of the Year (1942)

After her successful comeback in MGM's The Philadelphia Story (1940), Katharine Hepburn took her time choosing a follow-up vehicle. Among the projects she considered were The Little Foxes (1941), which went to Bette Davis; Reap the Wild Wind (1942), which starred Paulette Goddard; and Take a Letter, Darling (1942), which became a Rosalind Russell vehicle.

Garson Kanin got the idea for Woman of the Year when he received a letter from sports writer Jimmy Cannon the day after he had spent an evening in the company of political columnist Dorothy Thompson. The juxtaposition of the two very different writers in his life made him wonder what would happen if two people like them were to fall in love. He thought a character like Thompson would be a natural for Hepburn, whom he had met through his friend Vivien Leigh during the Broadway run of The Philadelphia Story.

When Kanin was drafted, he handed the idea to his brother, Michael, who worked on the script with Ring Lardner, Jr.

When Kanin brought the idea to Hepburn, she was enthusiastic. She set up a meeting to pitch the story to MGM head Louis B. Mayer, and sat up all night with Lardner and the two Kanins finishing the treatment in a bungalow at the Garden of Allah Hotel. When their energies flagged she even sent out for gourmet food from Chasen's to get them back on track.

Hepburn sold the script to Mayer, not telling him it had been written by two virtual unknowns. She not only got them $100,000, the highest fee ever paid for an original screenplay, but pocketed an $11,000 agent's commission for selling the script.

Mayer was particularly well disposed towards Hepburn as The Philadelphia Story was the highest grossing stage adaptation to that time. As a result, she was able to negotiate co-star and director approval for Woman of the Year in addition to a $100,000 fee for acting. In return, she signed a seven-year contract with MGM, joining one of Hollywood's most glittering star lineups.

Hepburn wanted Spencer Tracy as her leading man, but when she first set up production, he was tied up on location in Florida shooting The Yearling (1946). Mayer suggested she consider Walter Pidgeon or Clark Gable, but then production on Tracy's film shut down because of a variety of location problems. Tracy signed on for Woman of the Year, but would never return to The Yearling. MGM finally put the film back in production with Gregory Peck as the male lead and the 1946 release became a major hit.

Wanting an equal balance between the film's male and female leads, Hepburn decided to bypass her good friend George Cukor, already known as a "woman's director" and the man who had directed The Philadelphia Story. Instead, she chose George Stevens, whom she had dated while working on Alice Adams (1935). Cukor was upset by her decision but did not let it interfere with their friendship. Some biographers have asserted that she had renewed her relationship with Stevens at the time, even though he was married.

When Tracy and Hepburn finally met she was wearing heels, which made her slightly taller than him. There are several versions of the exchange that followed, but the most reliable has Hepburn saying, "I'm afraid I'm a little tall for you, Mr. Tracy," and producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz quipping, "Don't worry, he'll cut you down to size." Others have attributed the line to both Tracy and Garson Kanin.

According to Hepburn, Tracy needed to be convinced to work with her. At their first meeting, he was more upset about her dirty fingernails than her haughtiness, and allegedly said, "How can I do a picture with a woman who has dirt under her fingernails and who is of ambiguous sexuality and always wears pants." (from Me: Stories of My Life by Katharine Hepburn).

by Frank Miller

back to top
teaser Woman of the Year (1942)

The first scene shot for Woman of the Year was the characters' first date, in a bar. Katharine Hepburn was so nervous she spilled her drink, but Spencer Tracy just handed her a handkerchief and kept going. Hepburn proceeded to clean up the spill as they played the scene. When the drink dripped through to the floor, she tried to throw Tracy off by going under the table, but he stayed in character, with the cameras rolling the entire time.

Hepburn and Tracy started production addressing each other as "Miss Hepburn" and "Mr. Tracy," but within a few days they were on a first-name basis. When frustrated with her behavior, Tracy would also refer to her as "Shorty" or "that woman."

One major difference between the stars was that Hepburn loved to rehearse while Tracy preferred to work more spontaneously and often gave his best performance on the first take. Hepburn had to adjust to his approach to hold her own.

Knowing of Tracy's reputation as a heavy drinker, Hepburn served him strong tea between scenes. She also got him to paint, as she did, as an escape from the pressures of Hollywood life.

Despite warnings from her friends, who told her that Tracy would never leave his wife for another woman, Hepburn fell in love with her co-star. Out of respect for his wife, whose position in Hollywood had helped with her charitable work for the deaf (the Tracy's son, John, was deaf), Spencer, Kate and the press kept the romance out of the papers.

At the time he met Hepburn, Tracy was already living apart from his wife, spending most of his time in his suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel, while his wife and children lived on a ranch in the San Fernando Valley.

Before production finished, it was clear to all at the studio that Tracy and Hepburn were romantically involved. Although studio executives would normally have tried to curtail such a relationship for fear of negative public reaction, they kept a hands off approach, partly because of the stars' discretion and partly because they realized that Hepburn was helping to keep Tracy's drinking under control. When he went on a bender, she would often sleep on the floor outside his hotel room door, waiting until things got quiet before she went in to help him sober up so he could report to the set.

During production, Tracy and Hepburn began sharing their lunch breaks in his dressing room, a habit they would maintain throughout her MGM years, even when they weren't working together.

One benefit of Hepburn's relationship with Tracy was that he got her to change her manner of dealing with the press. During her first years in Hollywood, she had developed a reputation for looking down upon the press and not cooperating with interviewers. In fact, MGM publicity head Howard Strickling had to call in personal favors simply to get reporters to meet with her on the set of Woman of the Year. She repaid him by meeting with reporters on time and submitting to their questions with a minimum of fuss.

When Woman of the Year previewed in early December 1942, the original ending, in which Hepburn's character becomes a bigger baseball fan than her husband, tested poorly, particularly among women. Mankiewicz and Stevens realized that the average woman, who at the time would have been a stay-at-home wife and mother, would resent Hepburn's perfection in the film, so he and Stevens decided on a more humiliating ending in which the character fails miserably in trying to make breakfast for her husband. The idea came from a silent comedy Stevens had directed. With the original writers unavailable, they turned to John Lee Mahin, who was noted for his work on such male-oriented films as Red Dust (1932) and Boom Town (1940). Writers Michael Kanin and Ring Lardner, Jr. objected to the new scene, but only got to remove a few lines they found particularly chauvinistic. Hepburn hated the new scene, but women cheered when it was shown in a preview. The original ending is believed lost.

While Woman of the Year was still in its first theatrical run, reporters noticed Tracy slipping into the back seat of a Pittsburgh theatre where Hepburn's next project, the Philip Barry play Without Love, was playing during a pre-Broadway tour.

by Frank Miller

back to top
teaser Woman of the Year (1942)

Among the many film collaborations between Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, Woman of the Year (1942) is especially significant because it was the first film in which they appeared together. In fact, during the filming of the movie, the two fell in love, sparking a relationship that would last more than 25 years, right up until Spencer Tracy's death in 1967.

Based on the life of renowned newspaper columnist Dorothy Thompson, Garson Kanin wrote the script with Hepburn in mind. Hepburn's character, Tess Harding, is an international affairs writer for the same paper that features articles by sports writer Sam Craig (played by Spencer Tracy). Craig, a very passionate and dedicated sports fanatic becomes incensed when he hears a radio address in which Tess declares that the game of baseball should be abolished until WWII comes to an end. Craig voices his displeasure in his weekly column and the battle begins - on the printed page. The two carry on their conflict within their respective columns, until finally they meet. Suddenly, the dynamics change dramatically as their mutual attraction becomes evident. Much to the surprise and consternation of their friends and coworkers, the pair begin an unlikely courtship that eventually leads to marriage. It is then that the fun really begins.

The chemistry between Hepburn and Tracy in Woman of the Year is palpable. It has often been noted that the characters they play in the movie mirror their own very distinct personalities. Tracy, as the no-nonsense Irishman with a penchant for cocktails and the simple pleasures of life, and Hepburn, self-righteous and egotistical in her own right, but with a tender disposition. It was through her own tenacity that Hepburn was able to obtain the rights to Woman of the Year, pick the director of her choice, cast the leading man she preferred, and command the salary she wanted. Already an imposing figure at 5' 7, Hepburn made a point of donning high-heeled shoes for her meeting with MGM executive Louis B. Mayer to discuss Woman of the Year. Determined to convince the studio head to buy the script, Hepburn met with Mayer and recited her list of demands which included a salary of $100,000 for herself, plus an $11,000 commission for serving as a script agent. After the meeting, Hepburn assumed she had not swayed Mayer in the least. She was stunned to later learn he agreed with all of her demands, even her right to pick the director and the leading man.

To helm Woman of the Year, Hepburn requested George Stevens who had proven himself to be a first class director in the '30s and '40s with a mixture of romantic comedies and musicals such as Alice Adams (1935), the first picture he made with Hepburn, Swing Time (1936), Vivacious Lady (1938), Gunga Din (1939) and Penny Serenade (1941). He also happened to be romantically involved with Hepburn when they began work on Woman of the Year. However, shortly after filming began, their relationship ended.

As for her leading man in Woman of the Year, Hepburn thought the part was ideal for Spencer Tracy. The story of their first meeting has become legend. Joseph Mankiewicz, the producer of the movie, introduced Hepburn and Tracy in the MGM commissary where Hepburn quipped, "I'm afraid I'm a little tall for you, Mr. Tracy." To which Tracy replied, "Don't worry, Miss Hepburn, I'll cut you down to my size."

One interesting fact about Woman of the Year is that the original ending of the film was changed after an audience sneak preview. The reason for this is revealed in A Remarkable Woman: A Biography of Katharine Hepburn by Anne Edwards (William Morrow & Co.): "The original ending of the Lardner-Kanin script had Tess Harding take an honest interest in baseball (her husband's passion) and become more enthusiastic than he at the game, which implied not compromise but growth and love. But Mankiewicz and Stevens were concerned that "the average American housewife, seated next to her husband, staring for two hours at this paragon of beauty, intelligence, wit, accomplishment, and everything else, (could not) help but wonder if her husband (wasn't) comparing her very unfavorably with this goddess he sees on the screen." Stevens, who for all his charm was a dedicated male chauvinist, decided with Mankiewicz that Tess Harding had to have her comeuppance. Stevens recalled a kitchen routine he had done in a silent film in which a wife tried to fix a simple breakfast in order to prove her domesticity to her husband and "completely f*cked it up." (Ring Lardner) and Mike Kanin had already left for New York and so John Lee Mahin was assigned to write a new ending to specifications. When Lardner and Kanin found out they objected strenuously, but the only concession made to them was that they were permitted to rewrite some of the more objectionable lines. Kate termed the new breakfast-scene ending "the worst bunch of sh*t I've ever read," but Mankiewicz left it in after women at the next preview cheered, "not only with admiration," he said, "but relief."

Despite the compromised ending, the first collaboration between Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn proved to be quite an achievement. Woman of the Year succeeded with both the public and the critics. The film received two Academy Award nominations -for Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay - Michael Kanin and Ring Lardner, Jr., who took over the script from Garson Kanin, won the award for Best Screenplay.

Director: George Stevens
Producer: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Screenplay: Ring Lardner, Jr., Michael Kanin, John Lee Mahin (uncredited)
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Randall Duell
Music: Franz Waxman
Cast: Katharine Hepburn (Tess Harding), Spencer Tracy (Sam Craig), Fay Bainter (Ellen Whitcomb), Reginald Owen (Clayton), Minor Watson (William Harding), William Bendix ("Pinkie" Peters).
BW-115m. Closed captioning. Descriptive video.

by Mary Anne Melear

back to top
teaser Woman of the Year (1942)

AWARDS & HONORS

Woman of the Year placed ninth on the New York Times's yearly ten best list.

Woman of the Year received two Oscar® nominations, Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay. Hepburn lost to Greer Garson in Mrs. Miniver (1942), but Michael Kanin and Ring Lardner, Jr. won.

Woman of the Year was voted a place on the National Film Registry in 1999.

THE CRITICS' CORNER - WOMAN OF THE YEAR (1942)

"Woman of the Year is particularly fortunate in having Miss Hepburn and Mr. Tracy teamed for the first time in a film. For they are both so competent in the field of screen performing that they rarely miss in realizing all the potentialities of a script or in realizing all the conception of an able director."
- Howard Barnes, New York Herald Tribune

"The Philadelphia Story, it is now clear, marked a turning point in Miss Hepburn's career; gone for good are the mannerisms, the tricks, the superficiality which marred much of her previous work. Her performance in Woman of the Year shows even more subtlety and depth, despite the light nature of the story. Her performance is a constant pleasure to watch. Mr. Tracy is an excellent foil for her in this particular instance. His quiet, masculine stubbornness and prosaic outlook on life is in striking contrast with her sparkle and brilliance. They make a fine team, and each complements the other."
- Donald Kirley, Baltimore Sun

"Actors Hepburn and Tracy have a fine old time in Woman of the Year. They take turns playing straight for each other, act one superbly directed love scene, succeed in turning several batches of cinematic corn into passable moonshine. As a lady columnist, she is just right; as a working reporter, he is practically perfect. For once, strident Katharine Hepburn is properly subdued."
- James Agee, Time

"Woman of the Year is an entertaining film with superb work by Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy...Lardner and Kanin had an amusing starting point....but wend it tortuously through every hackneyed and expected plot device without a surprise at every turn. Director Stevens lets it get out of hand completely with minutes on end devoted to a few tired situation gags."
- Variety

"The comic byplay between opposites....is a consistent pleasure, even if its sexual politics are ambiguous: Spence scores more points than Kate, and the whole film is geared toward the climax when she cooks him breakfast like a good little housewife."
- Adrian Turner, The TimeOut Film Guide

"Woman of the Year...is an excellent emotional comedy that introduced Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn and never lost the charge of feeling between them, even if it settles for a male chauvinist attitude."
- David Thomson, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film

"...a polished and astringent comedy.."
- The Oxford Companion to Film

"The chemistry is great, but the plot and the tone are wobbly...The comedy goes sour whenever the movie scores points against her [Hepburn], and the slapstick resolution has an air of desperation."
- Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies

"Film is hurt by silly and overly sentimental plot contrivances...but Tracy and Hepburn ride out the rocky road. What's most fascinating about the film is Hepburn's uninhibitedly sexual performance - you won't forget her aggressive behavior toward Tracy in a cab and then in her dark apartment (it's obvious that she is ready to go all the way, although they aren't married yet); her sexiness comes from how she uses her eyes, voice, body, and, more significantly, her mind prior to lovemaking."
- Danny Peary, Guide For the Film Fanatic

"...here is the jolliest screen comedy that's come along since The Lady Eve [1941]-a cheering, delightful combination of tongue-tip wit and smooth romance, a picture of surface brilliance designed unreservedly "pour le sport" but with enough of a homely little moral to make it quite comforting in these times. It's as warming as a Manhattan cocktail and as juicy as a porterhouse steak."
- Bosley Crowther, The New York Times

"First teaming of Tracy and Hepburn is a joy...Unforgettable scene of Hepburn trying to understand her first baseball game."
- Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide

Compiled by Frank Miller

back to top