Bringing Up Baby
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Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn team up for the second time in Howard Hawks' 1938 screwball comedy, Bringing Up Baby (Their first film together was Sylvia Scarlett, 1935). Cary Grant plays the stodgy Dr. David Huxley, a paleontologist who is trying to get funding for his museum, marry his secretary and complete work on a fossil, all on the same day. A self-assured but eccentric heiress, Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn) throws a wrench in his plan when she steals his golf ball during a game with a potential benefactor. In the ensuing 102 minutes, David and Susan are put through a series of outrageous situations involving leopards, a police lockup, and a missing dinosaur bone before the anticipated romantic fade-out.
Though Bringing Up Baby (1938) featured a wonderful cast and expert comic direction by Howard Hawks, it was not a box office hit. With the approaching war in Europe and the Depression not yet behind them, American filmgoers were looking to the movies for total escapism. Despite a delightfully absurb plot, the characters in Bringing Up Baby were intellectuals and the dialogue was considered too fanciful for mainstream audiences at the time.
Still, there were plenty of hilarious sight gags and situations to keep audiences laughing. The origin of one gag in particular was based on an actual occurence. According to Jack Haley, Jr., who heard the story first hand from Cary Grant, "It was the scene in which Cary steps on the tail of Katherine Hepburn's dress and tears out the rear panel. He based it on a real-life happening. He went to the Roxy Theatre in New York. Sitting next to him were the head of the Metropolitan Museum and his wife. At some point he gets up to go to the men's room and returns. A little while later the woman gets up and crosses in front of him. They're right at the edge of the balcony, he starts to stand, and he sees that his fly is open. So he zips his fly shut and catches her frock in it. They had to lock step to the manager's office to get pliers to unzip his fly from her dress. He told Howard Hawks the story, and Hawks used it. He couldn't use the fly joke, but he used the lockstep."
According to Howard Hawks in the book, Hawks on Hawks by Joseph McBride, the director had some difficulty getting Hepburn to stop overacting during the early stages of production. "The great trouble is people trying to be funny," Hawks observed. "If they don't try to be funny, then they are funny. I couldn't do any good with her, so I went over to an actor who was a comic for the Ziegfeld Follies and everything, Walter Catlett, and said, "Walter, have you been watching Miss Hepburn?" He said, "Yeah." "Do you know what she's doing?" "Yeah." And I said, "Will you tell her?" He said, "No." "Well," I said, supposing she asks you to tell her?" "Well then, I'd have to tell her." So I went over to Kate, and I said, "We're not getting along too well on this thing. I'm not getting through to you, but there's a man here who I think could. Do you want to talk to him?" She came back from talking with him and said, "Howard, hire that guy and keep him around here for several weeks, because I need him." And from that time on, she knew how to play comedy better, which is just to read lines."
At the time this film was made, Katharine Hepburn was experiencing some trouble with RKO. The studio suits knew Hepburn had a considerable personal fortune and no tolerance for people who undermined her position so they offered her an ultimatum once Bringing Up Baby began to go over budget. She had the option to take a part in an undesirable film--Mother Carey's Chickens (1938)- or buy out her contract. To no one's surprise, she chose the latter.
Despite the fact that it was not very well received in its day, the cast of Bringing Up Baby (1938) was dedicated to having fun and bringing about its success. Hawks wanted to capture a side of Hepburn he'd seen once during the filming of Mary of Scotland (1936) when she was working with Hawks' friend, John Ford. Hawks modeled Huxley, Grant's character, on aspects of Harold Lloyd's and John Ford's personalities. He even gave the Grant character John Ford's trademark small, round glasses. Hawks also captured the good-natured teasing and banter between Hepburn and Ford he witnessed on the set of Mary of Scotland in the Grant-Hepburn relationship in Bringing Up Baby. The film still continues to delight audiences 60 years later, and yes, George, the troublesome terrier in the film, was also featured in Thin Man series and The Awful Truth (1937)
Director: Howard Hawks
Producer: Howard Hawks
Screenplay: Dudley Nichols, Hagar Wilde (based on the short story by Hagar Wilde)
Cinematography: Russell Metty
Editor: George Hively
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase, Perry Ferguson
Music: Roy Webb
Cast: Katharine Hepburn (Susan Vance), Cary Grant (Dr. David Huxley), Charlie Ruggles (Maj. Horace Applegate), May Robson (Aunt Elizabeth), Barry Fitzgerald (Mr. Gogarty), Walter Catlett (Constable Slocum)
BW-103m. Close captioning, Descriptive Video.
by Kerryn Sherrod