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According to various contemporary sources, Woman of the Year was written especially for Katharine Hepburn by screenwriters Ring Lardner, Jr. and Michael Kanin and was purchased by M-G-M at Hepburn's request. A feature article in Time on February 12, 1942, summarizes information from several sources and states that the screenplay was purchased for $100,000, at that time a record for an original screenplay. The article and other sources noted that the purchase price was especially surprising considering the relative youth of the two writers [Lardner was twenty-six and Kanin thirty-one], and added that Hepburn chose her own leading man, Spencer Tracy, and insisted that George Stevens, who had directed her in two RKO films, Alice Adams in 1935 and Quality Street in 1937 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.0065 and F3.3576) be borrowed for the picture. M-G-M publicity materials contained in the AMPAS Library file on the film, however, claim that the film was expressly written for both Hepburn and Tracy.
Hollywood Reporter news items indicate that the screenplay was purchased by M-G-M and Stevens was hired as the director in mid-July 1941. Some contemporary and modern sources indicate that Lardner, Jr. originally suggested to director Garson Kanin an idea for a screenplay based on the relationship between his author and sportswriter father and New York Herald Tribune political columnist Dorothy Thompson. Kanin then suggested that Lardner, Jr. collaborate with his brother Michael on the script.
Woman of the Year was the first of nine films in which Hepburn and Tracy co-starred. Tracy died in 1967, shortly after completion of their last film together, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70; F6.1975). Their film roles often re-created characterizations established in Woman of the Year, and included such popular films as Adam's Rib (1949, ), Pat and Mike (1952) and Desk Set (1957). Many modern critics have written about the personal relationship between the two actors, and, subsequent to Tracy's death, Hepburn gave interviews and wrote about their twenty-five year love affair. Although Tracy and Hepburn did not meet until production was about to start on Woman of the Year, they were featured as characters in a scene in the 1938 "Silly Symphony" cartoon "Mother Goose Goes Hollywood." Hepburn clarified an often recounted story of their first reall meeting: Producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz introduced the two actors at a chance meeting on the M-G-M Culver City lot. Later, according to Hepburn, when she expressed to Mankiewicz some concern that she might appear too tall onscreen next to Tracy, Mankiewicz replied, "Don't worry, he'll cut you down to size."
Woman of the Year earned an Oscar for Lardner, Jr. and Michael Kanin for Best Original Screenplay and also earned a nomination for Hepburn for Best Actress. It was selected as one of the "Top Ten" films of the year by the New York Times and others. Reviews generally agreed with the New York Times review which stated "the plot is formula, but the writing, the direction of George Stevens and the acting of Miss Hepburn and Mr. Tracy are all as crisp and crackling as a brand new $1,000 bill." Some reviews and many modern sources have commented on the film's surprisingly pro-feminist statements and the fact that at the end of the film "Sam" accepts "Tess" as the strong, career-oriented woman she is.
Actor Dan Tobin made his motion picture debut in the film. Woman of the Year also marked William Bendix's first feature film appearance. The popular Information, Please radio quiz program, hosted by noted literary critic Clifton Fadiman, was broadcast from 1938 to 1948. A 1976 TV movie broadcast on CBS was based on the film and starred Renee Taylor and Joseph Bolgna. In 1981, Lauren Bacall portrayed "Tess" and Harry Guardino played "Sam" in a Broadway musical production of the story. Both the TV movie and the play were also entitled Woman of the Year.