Woman of the Year
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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
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