Pre-Broadway: February 20-March 5, 1939
Chestnut Street Opera House - Philadelphia
Premiere: March 28, 1939-March 30, 1940
Sam Schubert Theatre - New York
Nixon Theatre - Pittsburgh (April 8, 1940)
Sam Schubert Theatre - New York (April 24, 1939-)
and on tour 1940-1942
Fords Theatre - Washington DC (April 01-06, 1940)
Hartman Theatre (Season 40/41)
Paramount Theatre (October 21, 1940-)
Court Theatre - Chicago
Lyrics Theatre - Richmond (January 31-February 1, ??)
Fords Theatre - Washington DC (March 09, 1942-)
On the eve of Tracy Lord's second marriage, to a stuffy Philadelphia blueblood, her ex-husband, C.K. Dexter Haven, equally well born, but more down to earth and something of a drunk, makes an appearance. Haven has arranged for Mike Conner, a reporter from Spy magazine, and Liz Imbrie, the magazine's photographer, to write up the wedding festivities. The reportorial duo are allowed to stay on in the exalted Lord household only after Tracy discovers that she can buy off a scandalous story dealing her fathers illicit affair with an actress by consenting to pose for Spy herself.
John Mason Brown - New York Post
"Mr. Barry's play at its best is no more than a nice red carpet he has enrolled for her [Hepburn]. She is no impassive beauty. Her finely chiselled face is a volatile mask. If it is difficult to take one's eyes off of her, it is because she is also blessed with an extraordinary personality. Slim and lovely as she is, Miss Hepburn likewise possesses a voice which in her emotional scenes can be sheer velvet."
Brooks Atkinson - The New York Times
"A strange, tense little lady with austere beauty and metallic voice, she has consistently found it difficult to project a part in the theatre. But now she has surrendered to the central part in Mr. Barry's play and she acts it like a woman who has at last found the joy she has always been seeking in the theatre. For Miss Hepburn skips through the evening in any number of light moods, responding to the scenes quickly, inflecting the lines and developing a part from the beginning to its logical conclusion. There are no ambiguous corners in this character portrayal. Dainty in style, it is free and alive in its darting expression of feeling."
Brooks Atkinson - The New York Times
"When the Theatre Guild, Miss Hepburn and Mr. Barry are in top form at the same time, all is for the best in the best of all possible Broadways. Although the comedy of manners has almost been lost in the dark whirl of world affairs, it is still a source of unholy delight when experts write, act and produce it."
Time Magazine - April 24, 1939
"Several weeks ago when the curtain rang down on the first New York performance of Philip Barry's Philadelphia Story, Katharine Hepburn heard for the first time the intoxicating music of approving applause from a first-night Broadway audience. The lanky, coltish thoroughbred whom Broadway had kicked off the track five years ago when she tried to run in The Lake delighted the audience with her spirited performance, and became overnight a box-office favorite."
What Kate had to say
Katharine Hepburn - Me - 1991
"I wanted a very strong and conventional director. Bob Sinclair had just directed The Women. I wanted a director who did not think that I was sort of the second coming. Someone who was very down-to-earth and wouldn't let me be - well - fancy."
Katharine Hepburn - Me - 1991
"One of my favorite happenings on this play was when Lawrence Langer came back one night and said to me, 'Kate, I think that the young girl Lenore Lonergan is - well - she seems to be sort of copying you.' 'Oh no, Lawrence. You are wrong. It's the other way - I'm copying her. Isn't she great?'"
Katharine Hepburn - All About Me - 1992
"On Tracy Lord: I gave her life and she gave me my career back."
What fellow actors, the director and friends had to say
Lauren Bacall - 1996
"'Hallo Dexter' (spoken warily). 'Hallo Gawdge' (spoken disapprovingly). 'Hello, Mike' (spoken breathlessly). Only one voice does one hear - only one face does one see. It could never be otherwise. I was 15 years old, sitting in a 55-cent seat in the second balcony at the Shubert Theater on Broadway when I heard those words and saw the face of Katharine Hepburn live for the first time. It was The Philadelphia Story. I knew from the start that she was different. She is that rare creature, her voice immediately bringing to mind her astonishing face. She is a member of that club of very few actresses who at their sound are totally identifiable. An immediate vision."
Barry's play about a magazine's invasion of a society girl's wedding grew out of this particularly modern 'tabloid' atmosphere. Indeed, The Philadelphia Story began as two short lines in one of Barry's many notebooks: 'The family in the process of bei ng studied for a piece in Fortune. Most unfortunate.' With this tidbit of inspiration, Bary combined careful observation of his favorite subjects, the idle rich. While on a visit to St. Paul, Minnesota, he heard of a peculiar local plague: some hardbit ten residents had a cottage industry blackmailing prominent wealthy families by threatening to expose their private lives. Returning to the East with these two elements, Barry followed his wife's suggestion to set his new play within the rarified air of Philadelphia's social elite. Helen Hope Montgomery, an eccentric socialite from Philadelphia's Main Line, was the original model for Tracy Lord. Her family and Barry's had become very close over the years: Barry was godfather to Montgomery's son and dedicated the play to her.
But in conceiving his play, Barry also began to draw on the personality of Katharine Hepburn, an actress he admired and whom he wanted for the title role in the play. The two had become friendly working on the movie of his play Holiday and later as neighbors. One day Barry took Hepburn for a walk, outlining for her the idea for his latest play. She recognized the potential in it, and the proximity between Tracy Lord and her own nature; he was excited enough at her response to send drafts of acts by s pecial messenger. Hepburn's response was doubtless derived in part from her own identification with the character she was to play. In what one critic describes as the 'family obsessed, deeply private, ultra-snobbish Philadelphian' the actress saw hersel f. Finishing-school product of old New England stock, proud daughter of a wealthy doctor and a free-thinking mother, she had even been married to an actual Philadelphia Main Line husband.
Furthermore, Hepburn - a very private woman - was embroiled in her own Tracy-Lord-like battle to protect herself from what she thought of as a 'shameless expose.' In 1939, her brother Dick, an aspiring playwright, presented her with a play that he had based on her life. The play, Sea Air, not only represented revealing scenes from Hepburn's lengthy affair with Howard Hughes, but it also contained unflattering caricatures of her family, Hughes, and Barry. Sea Air had been accepted for production at the Hedgerow Theater in New York when Hepburn and the rest of her family finally persuaded her brother to bury the project. Like his star, Barry was himself a very private person. In fact, he felt so strongly about protecting himself from the press that very little is known about his family life.
Katharine Hepburn agreed to star in The Philadelphia Story and the Theatre Guild agreed to produce based only on the strength of the first two acts. By the time they had found a director - Bob Sinclair, who had just directed The Women on Broadway - and had begun to cast, Barry had still not written an ending. When he called Hepburn from Florida, frightened that the cast would be ready to go before he had written Act III, she lied in order to calm him: 'I did not say: Where the hell in the third act? I just said, 'Oh, nothing much is going on up here. We're seeing actors and we have a good director and we're trying to take real care.' They received the script four days later. Hepburn had also helped cast the play, convincing Joseph Cotten to play C.K. Dexter Haven. Van Heflin and Shirley Booth played the two reporters.
As the play went into rehearsals, there were still problems with the third act, and Barry was revising and rewriting almost up until the show opened in New York. Much to everybody's relief, the audience greeted the play warmly and everyone involved with the production received glowing reviews in the New York newspapers.
The show's success eventually saved the Theatre Guild from financial ruin, saved Hepburn's career (she had only recently been labeled 'box-office poison') and saved Barry's reputation as a first rate writer of comedy.
The Philadelphia Story was made into a movie almost immediately, it was released in 1940. Because Hepburn owned the rights to the script, she sold it to MGM on the condition that she play the part she had made famous on Broadway. She also demanded two male stars Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy but she got Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. George Cukor, a friend of Hepburn's who was known as an 'actor's director' was chosen to direct. Barry had asked for too much money to write the screenplay so MGM gave the job to Donald Ogden Stewart. Stewart changed very little of the original play, only adding a few scenes and changing the order of others. It was Joseph Mankiewicz, the movie's producer, who ended up being responsible for the most significant change. In order to build up the character of Dexter, Mankiewicz suggested that they combine his part with that of Tracy's brother Sandy. Thus, in the movie version it is Dexter who brings the two reporters into the Lord household. The Philadelphia Story was as big a success on screen as it was as a play, breaking box office records and winning six Academy Award nominations. Hepburn did not win best actress, but Jimmy Stewart won best actor and Donald Ogden Stewart won for best screenplay adaptation. (Source: Court Theatre)