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The working titles for this film were Love Is Legal and Man and Wife. Adam's Rib was the sixth of nine M-G-M films in which Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy were teamed. A June 1949 Daily Variety news item noted that M-G-M purchased the rights to the title from Paramount, which used it for an unrelated 1923 Cecil B. DeMille film. Screenplay co-writers Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon were married and often wrote in collaboration. Garson Kanin wrote an article about the film in the October/November 1989 issue of Memories and noted that the story of Adam's Rib was based on the lives of Ruth Gordon's friends, Dorothy and William Dwight Whitney, and actor Raymond Massey. The article also notes that the Kanins immediately thought of Hepburn and Tracy for the leads, and that Judy Holliday initially turned down her role in the film because she is called "fatso" in the script. Modern sources indicate that Hepburn deliberately allowed Holliday to steal the scenes in which they appeared together so that Holliday could show off her talent to Columbia executives, who were resisting the idea of casting her in a film version of the role she originated in Born Yesterday. Holliday did, in fact, star in that film, and won an Oscar for her performance (see below). An April 1949 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that actress Carol Channing wanted to play the "comedy lead" in the film. May 1949 Hollywood Reporter news items indicate that actor Scott McKay and producer Brock Pemberton were tested for roles, but they did not appear in the released film. A June 1947 Hollywood Reporter news item lists Danny Schwartz in the cast, but his appearance in the final film has not been confirmed.
Adam's Rib marked the motion picture debut of actress Jean Hagen and the first film in nearly a decade for comic actress Polly Moran, a former silent and sound film star, who had announced her retirement from motion pictures following her role in the 1940 film Tom Brown's School Days (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.4676). According to contemporary sources, some filming took place on location in various parts of New York City, including the Women's House of Detention at Greenwich Avenue and Tenth Street, where, in the film, "Doris Attinger" is taken after shooting her husband, and at Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin's farm at Newton, CT. In a March 1951 New York Times article, actress Judy Holliday is quoted as saying, "I started off as a moron in [the play] Kiss Them for Me, worked up to an imbecile in Adam's Rib, and have carved my current niche as a noble nitwit." Cole Porter, according to Kanin's article, refused to write a song for a character named "Madelaine," the original name of Hepburn's character, so the name was changed to "Amanda." According to a June 1949 Hollywood Reporter news item, Porter and M-G-M agreed to donate all profits from sales of the song "Farewell Amanda" to to the Runyon Cancer Fund. Modern sources note that M-G-M paid the Kanins $175,000 for the rights to their original screenplay. An August 1949 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Tracy and Hepburn had had "serious talks" with Gordon and Kanin about the possibility of performing Adam's Rib on Broadway. Adam's Rib received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. In 1973, the ABC Television Network aired a five-part series based on the film. The series starred Ken Howard and Blythe Danner as the husband and wife lawyers.