Tuesday 7 July 2015

Philip Barry's "The Philadelphia Story"

"They mentioned her doing the Charleston with Josephine Baker in Paris, dancing a foxtrot with the Duke of Windsor at El Morocco...and lunching with Churchill on Aristotle Onassis' yacht." (http://www.reelclassics.com/Movies/Philstory/tracylord-article.htm)

The Philadelphia Story debuted on March 29, 1939 at the Schubert Theatre in New York City.  Starring Katharine Hepburn, it was based on a Philadelphia socialite's wedding plans, which were complicated upon the arrival of her ex-husband and an attractive journalist.  Hepburn had been labelled "box office poison" after the disappointment of Bringing Up Baby.  The actress passed on a salary in exchange for 10% of the play's profits.  The Philadelphia Story, which ran for 415 performances, grossed $1.5 million.

Playwright Philip Barry based his character, Tracy Lord, on a real life Philadelphia socialite named Helen Hope MOntgomery Scott.  Her patrician family, which lived in the Main Line district of Philadelphia, the city's "most fashionable address", represented old money.  The very term WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) was coined to describe Philadelphia's elite.  

Young Philadelphia debutantes had coming out parties at the Philadelphia Assemblies Ball, an event that dated back to 1748.  It was on the staircase that a young Helen Hope Montgomery descended in 1922.  By the end of the ball, the debutante had four marriage proposals.  However, she had a mind of her own and chose to marry Pennsylvania Railroad heir Edgar Scott.  Her parents' wedding gift was a 1720 fieldstone house on her family's 750 acre Androssan estate.  As Mrs. Scott, Helen hosted endless grand dinner parties.  Philadelphia society buzzed about Helen and her beauty.  Painters offered to paint her likeness; photographers lined up to snap her picture.  

In 1939, Philip Barry cast Katharine Hepburn as Helen Montgomery, Joseph Cotten as C. K. Dexter Haven, Van Heflin as Macauley connor and Shirley Booth as Lix Imbrie in The Philadelphia Story.  The following year, Hepburn reprised her role for the screen, but this time opposite Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart.  The latter won Best Actor and the film wont Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

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