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Behind the Camera (3/19 & 8/27)
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Adam's Rib

ADAM'S RIB

Behind the Camera on ADAM'S RIB

The Production Code Administration's chief concerns with the film were that the judicial system be treated with proper respect and nothing be done to make the adulterous relationship between Tom Ewell and Jean Hagen's characters funny. They also cautioned against making Amanda's songwriter friend, Kip, come across as gay.

Adam's Rib was filmed almost entirely on location in New York City. During filming, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy stayed in separate homes, as was their habit whenever traveling together. That allowed them to maintain their decades-long relationship without any scandal appearing in the press.

Shooting in New York also meant that Judy Holliday could continue appearing on Broadway in Born Yesterday. At times she had to work a 20-hour day to honor her commitments to both projects. When production moved back to Hollywood, however, she had to arrange an early release from her Broadway contract.

Although Judy Holliday (Doris Attinger) had played some small roles on screen, Adam's Rib was her first major film role. She had become a star on Broadway when she had stepped in at the last minute after Jean Arthur quit the leading role in Garson Kanin's political comedy Born Yesterday.

Holliday hoped to repeat her stage performance in the film version of Born Yesterday (1950), but the rights had been bought by Columbia Pictures, whose production chief, Harry Cohn, wanted no part of the woman he referred to as "that fat Jewish broad." He wouldn't even let her test for the role. When Kanin complained about this to Hepburn, she suggested casting Holliday as the woman who shoots her husband in Adam's Rib. When they offered her the role, however, she turned it down. Finally Hepburn got the real reason out of her. Sensitive about her weight, Holliday didn't want to be called "fatso" on screen. Hepburn assured her that the Kanin's would gladly rewrite the line: "They're writers. They know lots of words." Finally, Holliday agreed. Later she insisted that the word "fatso" be restored because it was the best way of playing the scene.

Hepburn, Cukor and the Kanins managed to turn her performance in Adam's Rib into a screen test for the other film. In particular, one long scene in which Doris recounts how and why she shot her husband was written as a near monologue for the character. Holliday shot her close-up of the speech in one take. Then Hepburn refused to shoot more than a few brief reaction shots, thus forcing Cukor to focus the entire scene on Holliday. That scene convinced Cohn to test Holliday. After three tests (she borrowed a gown from Hepburn for one of them), he finally cast her over such glamorous stars as Rita Hayworth, Lucille Ball and the young Marilyn Monroe. Hepburn would later explain her generosity to Kanin: "It was the kind of thing you do because people have done it for you." (Garson Kanin, Tracy and Hepburn: An Intimate Memoir).

One thing that brought Cohn around was press reports during shooting that Holliday was stealing the film from her more experienced co-stars. The items concerned Cukor, who didn't believe it was really possible to steal a film. When he confronted MGM's head of publicity about the stories, he discovered they had all been planted by Hepburn as part of her campaign to help Holliday win the lead in Born Yesterday.

Judy Holliday was so nervous on her first day of shooting that she repeatedly missed her mark. Fearing the crew would think her stupid, she offered them all free tickets to see her in Born Yesterday.

During filming, Katharine Hepburn was planning to tackle feminism a la Shakespeare as the cross-dressing Rosalind in a revival of As You Like It. Cukor hoped to direct her in the production, but, wanting to make the revival an escape from Hollywood, she asked the producer to turn him down gently. He got word during the first week of filming. The stage production was a personal triumph for her.

The script called for Kip Lurie (David Wayne) to write a song about his devotion to Hepburn's character. Kanin wrote a song for the moment, but nobody liked it. When he dared Hepburn to find a better song, she asked Cole Porter to do it. At the time, the leading lady's name was "Madeleine." Porter turned Hepburn down, saying it was impossible to do a song about a woman with that name. Then he suggested changing her name to Amanda. Eight days later, he presented them with a new song, "Farewell, Amanda." It was actually a re-working of "So Long, Samoa," a song he had written in 1940 and never used. Rather than charge MGM for his services, he asked that they make a large donation to the Red Cross.

by Frank Miller

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