Adam's Rib was inspired by the 1939 divorce of actors Raymond Massey and Adrianne Allen. Their friends, married attorneys William Dwight Whitney and Dorothy Ludington Whitney, represented them. The divorce was so amicable that after it was over, the attorneys themselves divorced and married their clients. Both marriages would last for decades, only ending when the husbands died.
Actress-writer Ruth Gordon knew the story well, having worked with Massey on stage and screen (most notably in Abe Lincoln in Illinois which was filmed in 1940, shortly after the divorce).
She and husband Garson Kanin got the idea for the film during a drive to their country home in Connecticut. They had to drive through a storm, which was making Gordon nervous. To take her mind off the weather, Kanin asked her to tell him something interesting, so she told him about the Massey-Allen-Whitney divorces. Kanin was so intrigued by the story, that he missed their exit. They stayed up until 4 a.m. working out the plot for a film about married lawyers on opposite sides of the same case.
During discussions of the plot, the Kanins fell into referring to the lawyers as Spence and Kate. They even included bits of the stars' personalities in the two characters they would play. Adam's Rib was the first script written specifically for Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn since their first movie together, Woman of the Year, in 1942.
The script's original title was Man and Wife, but MGM executives thought it might be considered too risqué.
Once the script was completed, Hepburn and Tracy agreed to make the film, and MGM production chief Dore Schary agreed to bankroll it. All involved knew that George Cukor was the perfect choice to direct.
Cukor and Hepburn did research for the film by attending the Los Angeles murder trial of accused murderer Betty Ferreri. One thing he noted was a change in the defendant's look. During the first days of the trial she looked hard and overly made-up. Later, possibly under direction from her lawyer, she adopted a more natural, softer look. He used this in planning Judy Holliday's look for the trial scenes.
by Frank Miller