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Behind the Camera - Woman of the Year
Remind Me
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Behind the Camera on WOMAN OF THE YEAR

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