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14 Fast-Talking Facts About The Philadelphia Story

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Katharine Hepburn was as much a personality as she was an actress, and The Philadelphia Story is the quintessential depiction of both. Here is where Kate's public persona—haughty, patrician, and fiercely independent—came to be defined. But it's also one of the best showcases of her considerable acting talent, alongside great performances by fellow legends Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. What else is there to know about this sophisticated comedy classic? Let's eavesdrop and find out. 

1. IT WAS LOOSELY BASED ON A REAL PERSON.

The character of Tracy Lord was inspired by Helen Hope Montgomery Scott (1904-1995), a beautiful socialite whose family had been Philly royalty for generations. (Vanity Fair called her "the unofficial queen of Philadelphia's WASP oligarchy.") Her husband, railroad heir Edgar Scott, had been friends with playwright Philip Barry since their days at Harvard, and the Scotts and Barrys often socialized. Barry used some of Helen's exploits during the 1920s and '30s as inspiration for Tracy Lord's free-spirited ways. Mrs. Scott had no problem with the play, saying, "I thought it was great fun, but I really didn't pay much attention. I don't really think Tracy Lord was like me, except that she was very energetic and motivated." 

2. IT WAS WRITTEN FOR KATHARINE HEPBURN. 

Philip Barry had been a friend of Hepburn's since she (and Cary Grant) starred in the movie version of his play, Holiday (1938). When Barry became aware of Hepburn's desire to recalibrate her career (see next item), he began tailoring the Tracy Lord character to suit her. The finished version created a persona for Hepburn that audiences would adore for the rest of her life: independent, sharp-tongued, icy, but ultimately vulnerable.  

3. BEFORE THIS, HEPBURN SPENT A FEW YEARS AS “BOX OFFICE POISON.”

It's hard to believe given her legendary status today, but after a string of flops in the 1930s, Hepburn was considered "box office poison." That was an official designation, by the way; a 1938 survey of theater owners labeled her as such, along with such luminaries as Fred Astaire, Greta Garbo, Mae West, Joan Crawford, and Marlene Dietrich. (The theater owners weren't wrong about those stars' movies not being big sellers lately, though perhaps it wasn't very nice of them to publish a list like that.)

4. IT WAS A HIT ON BROADWAY FIRST, ALSO STARRING HEPBURN.

The actress was so intent on rebuilding her Hollywood cachet that she left movies and returned to the stage. The Philadelphia Story, written as a comeback vehicle for her, opened on Broadway on March 28, 1939 and ran for a year.  Ever the trouper, Hepburn performed for several months in the nationwide tour as well, appearing onstage as Tracy Lord even after the movie version was in theaters. (She had shrewdly foregone a salary for the Broadway production and taken 10 percent of the gross instead, netting her $150,000—about $2.6 million in 2016 dollars.) 

5. HOWARD HUGHES HELPED.

The not-yet-completely-insane tycoon was Hepburn's friend (and former lover), and he ponied up some of the money for the stage production as well as the movie rights. He doesn't get all the credit, though: Hepburn pitched in plenty of her own money (box office poison or not, she was loaded), as did the Theatre Guild and Barry, the playwright.

6. CLARK GABLE AND SPENCER TRACY WERE HEPBURN’S FIRST CHOICE OF CO-STARS.

It would have been her first film with Tracy, an actor she admired, but he was unavailable. Instead, their first (of nine) movies would be Woman of the Year (1942), followed by a love affair that would last the rest of his life. As for Gable, he may have had a scheduling conflict, but there was probably another reason he didn't play C.K. Dexter Haven in The Philadelphia Story: the film's director, George Cukor, had been fired from Gable's Gone with the Wind, and the two did not get along.  

7. CARY GRANT HAD TWO SURPRISING DEMANDS.

One, he wanted top billing, even though Hepburn's character was the protagonist and Stewart's character had more dialogue. Two, he wanted a salary of $137,500, to be paid directly to the British war relief effort.

8. THE SCREENWRITER WAS GIVEN VERY SPECIFIC INSTRUCTIONS.

Donald Ogden Stewart (no relation to Jimmy), a successful Broadway playwright who'd come to Hollywood in the late 1920s, had actually adapted a Philip Barry play into a Katharine Hepburn movie once before: Holiday, in 1938. But his job of turning The Philadelphia Story into a screenplay was made more difficult by a peculiar demand from MGM producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz. He gave Stewart an audio recording of a live performance of the play so he could hear the audience response, and told him to make sure the same laughs all made it into the movie. Stewart felt "restricted" by this, to say the least, but he managed to mostly comply. When he accepted the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, Stewart said, "I have no one to thank but myself!" 

9. IT RESULTED IN JIMMY STEWART'S ONLY COMPETITIVE OSCAR.

The beloved actor had been nominated for Best Actor the year before, for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and would be nominated another three times after this. But The Philadelphia Story was his only lifetime win, surprising those (including himself) who thought Henry Fonda deserved it for The Grapes of Wrath. (Some observers felt it was Stewart's compensation for not getting the Mr. Smith win.) In 1995, Stewart won an Honorary Oscar.

10. STEWART GOT SHAFTED, SALARY-WISE.

As mentioned, Cary Grant got $137,500. Hepburn got $75,000 for acting, plus $175,000 to sell the play's movie rights (which Howard Hughes had helped her buy before the play even opened), plus a percentage of the box office. And poor old Jimmy Stewart? He got $3000 a week, which amounted to $15,000.

11. THE FINISHED VERSION INCLUDES SOME AD-LIBBING FROM STEWART AND CARY GRANT.

When a drunken Macaulay Connor shows up at C.K. Dexter Haven's place to chat, Stewart decided to play it loose and improvise a hiccup before beginning to speak. Grant, caught off-guard, smiled slightly and quipped, "Excuse me," probably assuming Cukor would call "Cut!" and they'd redo it. But Cukor liked the natural, playful interaction between the two and kept it in.

12. IT BROKE SOME BOX OFFICE RECORDS. 

In 1940, Radio City Music Hall was "the nation's No. 1 movie house" (according to TIME magazine), the world's largest (6000 seats), and a useful yardstick for determining how successful a movie might be. When The Philadelphia Story opened there the day after Christmas 1940, it quickly drew the longest lines in the theater's eight-year history, selling a record 110,168 tickets in the first four days. It went on to play there for six weeks, beating a record set by Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

13. YES, THE "BOX OFFICE POISON" LABEL WAS REMOVED.

Hepburn made The Philadelphia Story as a way of getting off that "box office poison" list, and it worked. Harry Brandt, the Manhattan theater owner who'd said it on behalf of his industry, wrote shortly after the film was released: "Come on back, Katie, all is forgiven." 

14. THE MAIN CAST REPRISED THEIR ROLES FOR A RADIO PERFORMANCE.

The film was adapted into a 60-minute radio play in 1942, and a 30-minute one in 1947. Hepburn, Grant, and Stewart all came back for both versions. Hey, when you find a role you love, it's hard to let go. 

Additional sources:
DVD commentary and features
American Film Institute

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11 Black Friday Purchases That Aren't Always The Best Deal
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Black Friday can bring out some of the best deals of the year (along with the worst in-store behavior), but that doesn't mean every advertised price is worth splurging on. While many shoppers are eager to save a few dollars and kickstart the holiday shopping season, some purchases are better left waiting for at least a few weeks (or longer).

1. FURNITURE

Display of outdoor furniture.
Photo by Isaac Benhesed on Unsplash

Black Friday is often the best time to scope out deals on large purchases—except for furniture. That's because newer furniture models and styles often appear in showrooms in February. According to Kurt Knutsson, a consumer technology expert, the best furniture deals can be found in January, and later on in July and August. If you're aiming for outdoor patio sets, expect to find knockout prices when outdoor furniture is discounted and put on clearance closer to Labor Day.

2. TOOLS

A display of tools.
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Unless you're shopping for a specific tool as a Christmas gift, it's often better to wait until warmer weather rolls around to catch great deals. While some big-name brands offer Black Friday discounts, the best tool deals roll around in late spring and early summer, just in time for Memorial Day and Father's Day.

3. BEDDING AND LINENS

A stack of bed linens.
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Sheet and bedding sets are often used as doorbuster items for Black Friday sales, but that doesn't mean you should splurge now. Instead, wait for annual linen sales—called white sales—to pop up after New Year's. Back in January of 1878, department store operator John Wanamaker held the first white sale as a way to push bedding inventory out of his stores. Since then, retailers have offered these top-of-the-year sales and January remains the best time to buy sheets, comforters, and other cozy bed linens.

4. HOLIDAY DÉCOR

Rows of holiday gnomes.
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If you are planning to snag a new Christmas tree, lights, or other festive décor, it's likely worth making due with what you have and snapping up new items after December 25. After the holidays, retailers are looking to quickly move out holiday items to make way for spring inventory, so ornaments, trees, yard inflatables, and other items often drastically drop in price, offering better deals than before the holidays. If you truly can't wait, the better option is shopping as close to Christmas as possible, when stores try to reduce their Christmas stock before resorting to clearance prices.

5. TOYS

Child choosing a toy car.
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Unless you're shopping for a very specific gift that's likely to sell out before the holidays, Black Friday toy deals often aren't the best time to fill your cart at toy stores. Stores often begin dropping toy prices two weeks before Christmas, meaning there's nothing wrong with saving all your shopping (and gift wrapping) until the last minute.

6. ENGAGEMENT RINGS AND JEWELRY

Rows of rings.
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Holiday jewelry commercials can be pretty persuasive when it comes to giving diamonds and gold as gifts. But, savvy shoppers can often get the best deals on baubles come spring and summer—prices tend to be at their highest between Christmas and Valentine's Day thanks to engagements and holiday gift-giving. But come March, prices begin to drop through the end of summer as jewelers see fewer purchases, making it worth passing up Black Friday deals.

7. PLANE TICKETS AND TRAVEL PACKAGES

Searching for flights online.
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While it's worth looking at plane ticket deals on Black Friday, it's not always the best idea to whip out your credit card. Despite some sales, the best time to purchase a flight is still between three weeks and three and a half months out. Some hotel sites will offer big deals after Thanksgiving and on Cyber Monday, but it doesn't mean you should spring for next year's vacation just yet. The best travel and accommodation deals often pop up in January and February when travel numbers are down.

8. FOOD AND SNACK BASKETS

Gift basket against a blue background.
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Fancy fruit, meat and cheese, and snack baskets are easy gifts for friends and family (or yourself, let's be honest), but they shouldn't be snagged on Black Friday. And because baskets are jam-packed full of perishables, you likely won't want to buy them a month away from the big day anyway. But traditionally, you'll spend less cheddar if you wait to make those purchases in December.

9. WINTER CLOTHING

Rack of women's winter clothing.
Photo by Hannah Morgan on Unsplash.

Buying clothing out of season is usually a big money saver, and winter clothes are no exception. Although some brands push big discounts online and in-store, the best savings on coats, gloves, and other winter accessories can still be found right before Black Friday—pre-Thanksgiving apparel markdowns can hit nearly 30 percent off—and after the holidays.

10. SMARTPHONES

Group of hands holding smartphones.
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While blowout tech sales are often reserved for Cyber Monday, retailers will try to pull you in-store with big electronics discounts on Black Friday. But, not all of them are really the best deals. The price for new iPhones, for example, may not budge much (if at all) the day after Thanksgiving. If you're in the market for a new phone, the best option might be waiting at least a few more weeks as prices on older models drop. Or, you can wait for bundle deals that crop up during December, where you pay standard retail price but receive free accessories or gift cards along with your new phone.

11. KITCHEN GADGETS

Row of hanging kitchen knives and utensils.
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Black Friday is a great shopping day for cooking enthusiasts—at least for those who are picky about their kitchen appliances. Name-brand tools and appliances often see good sales, since stores drop prices upwards of 40 to 50 percent to move through more inventory. But that doesn't mean all slow cookers, coffee makers, and utensil prices are the best deals. Many stores advertise no-name kitchen items that are often cheaply made and cheaply priced. Purchasing these lower-grade items can be a waste of money, even on Black Friday, since chances are you may be stuck looking for a replacement next year. And while shoppers love to find deals, the whole point of America's unofficial shopping holiday is to save money on products you truly want (and love).

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The Origins of 5 International Food Staples

Food is more than fuel. Cuisine and culture are so thoroughly intertwined that many people automatically equate tomatoes with Italy and potatoes with Ireland. Yet a thousand years ago those dietary staples were unheard of in Europe. How did they get to be so ubiquitous there—and beyond?

1. TOMATOES

For years, the wonderful fruit that’s now synonymous with Italy was mostly ignored there. Native to South America and likely cultivated in Central America, tomatoes were introduced to Italy by Spanish explorers during the 1500s. Shortly thereafter, widespread misconceptions about the newcomers took root. In part due to their watery complexion, it was inaccurately thought that eating tomatoes could cause severe digestive problems. Before the 18th century, the plants were mainly cultivated for ornamental purposes. Tomato-based sauce recipes wouldn’t start appearing in present-day Italy until 1692 (although even those recipes were more like a salsa or relish than a sauce). Over the next 150 years, tomato products slowly spread throughout the peninsula, thanks in no small part to the agreeable Mediterranean climate. By 1773, some cooks had taken to stuffing tomatoes with rice or veal. In Naples, the fruits were sometimes chopped up and placed onto flatbread—the beginnings of modern pizza. But what turned the humble tomato into a national icon was the canning industry. Within Italy’s borders, this business took off in a big way during the mid-to-late 19th century. Because tomatoes do well stored inside metal containers, canning companies dramatically drove up the demand. The popularity of canned tomatoes was later solidified by immigrants who came to the United States from Italy during the early 20th century: Longing for Mediterranean ingredients, transplanted families created a huge market for Italian-grown tomatoes in the US.

2. CURRY

Bowl of chicken curry with a spoon in it

An international favorite, curry is beloved in both India and the British Isles, not to mention the United States. And it turns out humans may have been enjoying the stuff for a very, very long time. The word “curry” was coined by European colonists and is something of an umbrella term. In Tamil, a language primarily found in India and Sri Lanka, “kari” means “sauce.” When Europeans started traveling to India, the term was eventually modified into “curry,” which came to designate any number of spicy foods with South or Southeast Asian origins. Nonetheless, a great number of curry dishes share two popular components: turmeric and ginger. In 2012, traces of both were discovered inside residue caked onto pots and human teeth at a 4500-year-old archaeological site in northern India. And where there’s curry, there’s usually garlic: A carbonized clove of this plant was also spotted nearby. “We don’t know they were putting all of them together in a dish, but we know that they were eating them at least individually,” Steve Weber, one of the archaeologists who helped make this astonishing find, told The Columbian. He and his colleagues have tentatively described their discovery as "proto-curry."

3. THE BAGUETTE

Several baguettes

A quintessential Gallic food, baguettes are adored throughout France, where residents gobble up an estimated 10 billion every year. The name of the iconic bread ultimately comes from the Latin word for stick, baculum, and references its long, slender form. How the baguette got that signature shape is a mystery. One popular yarn credits Napoleon Bonaparte: Supposedly, the military leader asked French bakers to devise a new type of skinny bread loaf that could be comfortably tucked into his soldiers’ pockets. Another origin story involves the Paris metro, built in the 19th century by a team of around 3500 workers who were apparently sometimes prone to violence during meal times. It’s been theorized that the metro foremen tried to de-escalate the situation by introducing bread that could be broken into pieces by hand—thereby eliminating the need for laborers to carry knives. Alas, neither story is supported by much in the way of historical evidence. Still, it’s clear that lengthy bread is nothing new in France: Six-foot loaves were a common sight in the mid-1800s. The baguette as we know it today, however, didn’t spring into existence until the early 20th century. The modern loaf is noted for its crispy golden crust and white, puffy center—both traits made possible by the advent of steam-based ovens, which first arrived on France’s culinary scene in the 1920s.

4. POTATOES

Bowl of red, white, and black potatoes on wooden table

Historical records show that potatoes reached Ireland by the year 1600. Nobody knows who first introduced them; the list of potential candidates includes everyone from Sir Walter Raleigh to the Spanish Armada. Regardless, Ireland turned out to be a perfect habitat for the tubers, which hail from the misty slopes of the Andes Mountains in South America. Half a world away, Ireland’s rich soils and rainy climate provided similar conditions—and potatoes thrived there. They also became indispensable. For millennia, the Irish diet had mainly consisted of dairy products, pig meats, and grains, none of which were easy for poor farmers to raise. Potatoes, on the other hand, were inexpensive, easy to grow, required fairly little space, and yielded an abundance of filling carbs. Soon enough, the average Irish peasant was subsisting almost entirely on potatoes, and the magical plant is credited with almost single-handedly triggering an Irish population boom. In 1590, only around 1 million people lived on the island; by 1840, that number had skyrocketed to 8.2 million. Unfortunately, this near-total reliance on potatoes would have dire consequences for the Irish people. In 1845, a disease caused by fungus-like organisms killed off somewhere between one-third and one-half of the country’s potatoes. Roughly a million people died as a result, and almost twice as many left Ireland in a desperate mass exodus. Yet potatoes remained a cornerstone of the Irish diet after the famine ended; in 1899, one magazine reported that citizens were eating an average of four pounds’ worth of them every day. Expatriates also brought their love of potatoes with them to other countries, including the U.S. But by then, the Yanks had already developed a taste for the crop: The oldest record of a permanent potato patch on American soil dates back to 1719. That year, a group of farmers—most likely Scots-Irish immigrants—planted one in the vicinity of modern-day Derry, New Hampshire. From these humble origins, the potato steadily rose in popularity, and by 1796, American cookbooks were praising its “universal use, profit, and easy acquirement.”

5. CORN

Corn growing in a field

In the 1930s, geneticist George W. Beadle exposed a vital clue about how corn—also known as maize—came into existence. A future Nobel Prize winner, Beadle demonstrated that the chromosomes found in everyday corn bear a striking resemblance to those of a Mexican grass called teosinte. At first glance, teosinte may not look very corn-like. Although it does have kernels, these are few in number and encased in tough shells that can easily chip a human tooth. Nonetheless, years of work allowed Beadle to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that corn was descended from teosinte. Today, genetic and archaeological data suggests that humans began the slow process of converting this grass into corn around 8700 years ago in southwestern Mexico. If you're wondering why early farmers showed any interest in cultivating teosinte to begin with, while the plant is fairly unappetizing in its natural state, it does have a few key attributes. One of these is the ability to produce popcorn: If held over an open fire, the kernels will “pop” just as our favorite movie theater treat does today. It might have been this very quality that inspired ancient horticulturalists to tinker around with teosinte—and eventually turn it into corn

BONUS: TEA

Person sitting cross-legged holding a cup of green tea

The United Kingdom’s ongoing love affair with this hot drink began somewhat recently. Tea—which is probably of Chinese origin—didn’t appear in Britain until the 1600s. Initially, the beverage was seen as an exotic curiosity with possible health benefits. Shipping costs and tariffs put a hefty price tag on tea, rendering it quite inaccessible to the lower classes. Even within England’s most affluent circles, tea didn’t really catch on until King Charles II married Princess Catherine of Braganza. By the time they tied the knot in 1662, tea-drinking was an established pastime among the elite in her native Portugal. Once Catherine was crowned Queen, tea became all the rage in her husband’s royal court. From there, its popularity slowly grew over several centuries and eventually transcended socioeconomic class. At present, the average Brit drinks an estimated three and a half cups of tea every day.

All photos courtesy of iStock.

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