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Morning Glory

Morning Glory(1933)

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teaser Morning Glory (1933)

Katharine Hepburn had made a stunning film debut in A Bill of Divorcement in 1932, playing a well-bred English ingnue. In her next film, Christopher Strong (1933), she once again played a Brit, a headstrong aviator who stomped around in mannish clothes and fell in love with a married man. Hepburn's confident patrician manner and upper-class accent were well-suited to those characters, but it was the role of aspiring actress Eva Lovelace in her third film, Morning Glory (1933), that was most like the young Hepburn of that era. Her performance won Hepburn her first of four Academy Awards as Best Actress.

Based on an unproduced play by playwright Zoe Akins (who had also scripted Christopher Strong), Morning Glory is the story of a stage-struck girl from a small New England town who moves to New York, confident that she'll find success on the stage. With the help of an elderly actor (C. Aubrey Smith) who takes a benevolent interest in her, Eva makes the right connections and catches the eye of a sophisticated theatrical manager, played by Adolphe Menjou. She also meets a young playwright, (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.), and hits some bumps on her road to theatrical glory and romance.

After her success in her first two films, Hepburn's agent Leland Hayward had negotiated a new contract for her with RKO, giving her an unprecedented percentage of the gross, approval of co-stars and director, and time off between films for theater work. At that time, it was unheard of for a young actress to have so much control over her career, but Hayward was an extraordinary agent, and Hepburn, clearly, was on her way to becoming an extraordinary star.

Although Hepburn disliked Zoe Akins personally and had not been happy with Akins' script for Christopher Strong, she was eager to do Morning Glory as her next film. One day while waiting to meet with producer Pandro Berman in his office, she saw the script for Morning Glory on his desk and began reading it. She was instantly enthusiastic, telling Berman, "That's the most wonderful script ever written for anybody." Berman told her it was intended for Constance Bennett, but Hepburn demanded it for herself. Akins reportedly had modeled the character of Eva on Tallulah Bankhead (whom Hepburn also disliked), but Hepburn demanded changes so that the character resembled her.

Director Lowell Sherman understood actors; he had been a leading theater and film actor himself before turning to directing in the early 1930s. (One of his best performances was as the alcoholic director in 1932's What Price Hollywood?, his final film as an actor.) Sherman rehearsed Morning Glory like a play, and shot it in continuity in 18 days, skillfully developing the actors' characterizations. It paid off; not only was Hepburn's performance superb, the rest of the cast was excellent also, particularly Smith as Eva's elderly mentor, and Fairbanks, giving a complex portrayal of the playwright, attracted to Eva but wary of her ambition, and ambitious for his own career. Fairbanks evidently had similar mixed emotions about Hepburn. He tried to date her, but she wasn't interested. In fact, she was secretly involved with Leland Hayward, although both were married to others at the time. Finally, Hepburn agreed to go out with Fairbanks, but she cut the date short, complaining of a headache. When he took her home, Fairbanks watched as she went inside, then immediately came out again, getting into a car with Hayward.

Morning Glory's star-is-born plot was serviceable but hackneyed, and some of the dialogue was overripe, but Hepburn was irresistible, and the film was a big success. Critics heaped praise on Hepburn's performance. "Miss Hepburn is supremely good, vivid, forthright, zestful, and capable beyond praise," wrote William Boehnel in the New York World-Telegram. Regina Crewe of the New York American was one of several who noted Hepburn's development as an actress: "More an actress, less a 'personality,' Katharine Hepburn gives reason for rejoicing among the faithful, and cause for defection from the ranks of the skeptics, with a sure, skillful, sound performance." And some, like the London Times critic, found her better than the material: "Miss Hepburn admirably mingles intellectual austerity with physical gaucherie...her grip never falters, but those who most admire the perfection of her technique must have wished she could, for a few minutes, be free of the depressing limitation of a second-rate story." Forty years later, Hepburn evaluated her own performance: "I should have stopped then. I haven't grown since."

Director: Lowell Sherman
Producer: Pandro S. Berman
Screenplay: Howard J. Green, based on a play by Zoe Akins
Cinematography: Bert Glennon
Editor: William Hamilton
Costume Design: Walter Plunkett
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase
Music: Max Steiner
Principal Cast: Katharine Hepburn (Eva Lovelace), Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (Joseph Sheridan), Adolphe Menjou (Louis Easton), Mary Duncan (Rita Vernon), C. Aubrey Smith (Robert Harley Hedges), Don Alvarado (Pepe Velez, the Gigolo).
BW-74m. Closed captioning.

by Margarita Landazuri

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