Monday, June 18, 2012

Philip Barry wrote The Philadelphia Story

Philip Barry
It is the birthday of playwright Philip Barry (1896), who wrote his best-known work, The Philadelphia Story, especially for his friend Katherine Hepburn. Barry was educated at Yale and studied drama at Harvard. He wrote comedies about high society, circles within which he moved, and he had several Broadway successes. Hepburn starred in a film version of his 1928 play, Holiday, which skewered materialism. In the late 1930s, Hepburn's career was on a downturn. She had had a string of box-office flops and was looking for a winner. (She had been turned down for the role of Scarlett in Gone With the Wind.)  Barry was working on an idea for a play inspired by a prominent young Philadelphia socialite who had married a classmate of his.  She was Helen Hope Montgomery, a free-spirited daughter of a Philadelphia investment banker and a highly visible member of the WASP Main Line society. Hepburn liked Barry's idea and helped him shape it from the story of a prominent family under siege from the press on the eve of their daughter's second wedding to the story of the daughter's transformation from an ice queen to a vulnerable real woman. Hepburn's ex-boyfriend, Howard Hughes, put up a large share of the money for the production. It opened in March 1939 to appreciative audiences and rave reviews. Hepburn had chosen to take 10 per cent of the gross instead of a salary. The show made more than $1.5 million. Hughes bought the film rights for Hepburn and she sold them to MGM for $250,000 and the right to choose the director and leading men. She wanted Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable (who weren't available) so she chose Cary Grant and James Stewart. The film adaptation was an enormous box-office success, and was nominated for several Oscars, though the only ones who won were James Stewart for Best Actor and Donald Ogden Stewart for Best Screenplay. Barry's play was adapted again as the 1956 musical High Society, starring Grace Kelly and Bing Crosby, with the music of Cole Porter. The movie was adapted as a Broadway musical in 1998.

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