The 1949 classic film Adam’s Rib starred Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Judy Holliday and Tom Ewell. George Cukor, a close friend of Hepburn and Tracy, directed this courtroom comedy about husband and wife attorneys (Spencer and Hepburn) who are on opposite sides of a criminal prosecution: Hepburn is defending a woman who shot her husband; Tracy is the prosecutor. Many think this film is the finest of the nine movies they made together from 1942 to 1967.
Did you know the screenplay is based on a true story? Or that Katharine Hepburn and Judy Holiday set up a scene to be a “screen test” for Holiday’s casting in another film? Read on for these stories and more behind the making of Adam’s Rib.
Screenplay Based on a Real-Life Story
The story is based on the real-life story of actor Raymond Massey and his wife Adrianne Allen’s divorce. They had hired married lawyers William and Dorothy Whitney, who, after the divorce was finalized, divorced each other and married their clients!
Despite featuring heavy-weight stars like Hepburn and Tracy, as well as the brilliantly funny actress Judy Holliday, the only Academy Award nomination went to the husband-wife team of Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin for writing the screenplay.
Adam’s Rib was also the screen debut of Tom Ewell, who later played the memorable role of Richard Sherman in The Seven Year Itch.
Holliday and Hepburn’s Ploy
Although Judy Holliday had received rave reviews for her role in Born Yesterday on broadway, Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn didn’t want to cast her in the film version because he thought Holliday was too dumpy to play the former showgirl. Seems Hepburn became Holliday’s champion, from suggesting she be cast as the frumpy housewife who stands trial for shooting her philandering husband in Adam’s Rib, then asking the Kanins to beef up the housewife’s role so it would showcase Holliday’s acting talents.
Hepburn also worked with Cukor to film Holliday’s strongest scene, a jailhouse interview with Hepburn, so that it essentially became Holliday’s screen test for the film Born Yesterday. It worked. After Cohn saw Adam’s Rib, he cast Holliday in the movie, for which she won an Academy Award.
Spencer Tracy Insisted on Top Billing
Apparently, Spencer Tracy had always insisted that he get top billing in his films with Hepburn. When Kanin chided Tracy for this, and suggested, “She’s the lady. You’re the man. Ladies first?” Tracy retorted, “This is a movie, Chowderhead, not a lifeboat.”
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