Competing with Idiots by Nick Davis

Competing with Idiots by Nick Davis

Author:Nick Davis [Davis, Nick]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Published: 2021-09-14T00:00:00+00:00

Ruth Hussey, Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, and Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story (1940)

But while The Philadelphia Story ended on a note of equality among the sexes, the finale of Joe’s next film with Katharine Hepburn, Woman of the Year, would be downright reactionary. Produced the following year, it would be the first movie to pair the legendary screen team of Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. It was Joe’s idea to put the two together—he said later that he felt Spencer Tracy would be a perfect match for Hepburn’s stubborn streak, and he was justly proud of teaming the two stars for the first time. For years afterward, Joe loved to tell the story of their first meeting outside the studio commissary, after which Hepburn, clipped and aristocratic, watched Tracy walking away and told Joe, “He’s a little short for me, isn’t he?” “Don’t worry, Joe said, “he’ll cut you down to size.”

Significantly, rather than a “woman’s director,” “man’s man” George Stevens directed, from a script attributed to Michael Kanin and Ring Lardner Jr. Hepburn’s Tess Harding is a self-confident, world-renowned journalist, humanitarian, and women’s rights activist, accomplishments that earn her the prize “Woman of the Year.” During the film, Harding feuds with the more conventional sports journalist Craig (Tracy) before finally, inevitably, their sparkling banter reveals that they love each other, and they marry. But then, Craig is left to wither in the shadow of a woman who feels good about herself. Although Tess Harding is in many ways unlike heiress Tracy Lord, both are presented as superior, haughty creatures, in whose comeuppance an audience will take great pleasure. Tess’s sin is one she shares with Joe Mankiewicz: arrogance. As she says, “I like knowing more about what goes on than most people.”

Just as Cary Grant suffered under his “goddess,” Spencer Tracy endures the humiliations of a man with a more accomplished wife. He submits to the comic interruptions of a large crowd wanting to discuss war news on his wedding night. He quite literally wears the apron in the family, making his wife eggs for breakfast. But, finally married, before he heads off for work, leaving her alone for the day in their new house, he remarks, “The outstanding woman of the year isn’t really a woman at all.” To allow the comic reversal a restoration of traditional gender requires, the movie then offers a denouement, but the original one cooked up by Kanin and Lardner hadn’t done the trick. In it, to get back in her husband’s good graces after a quarrel, Harding researches and writes an article about boxing and puts his byline on it, and the two reconcile at a boxing match. The first preview audience of the film was cool to the ending, and something else was required.

Joe’s solution, entirely his own, was the final breakfast scene, when to win her husband back, Harding attempts to transform herself into a docile, traditional wife and fails miserably. Her attempt to make him breakfast is both comic and unintentionally ludicrous—waffles explode as she watches helplessly, crying.


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