ella’s review published on Letterboxd:
by 1938, katharine hepburn was labeled box office poison. hepburn was not desirable in the eyes of RKO or audiences. her films were failing financially and critically. she was outspoken and wore pants. she spent her entire career refusing to conform.
the greatest example of her nonconformity lies in her decisions regarding the character of tracy lord.
after her failings of the late 30s, hepburn bought herself out of her RKO contract and moved back east to figure out what to do with her career. she was approached by philip barry with a play called the philadelphia story. hepburn accepted and performed as tracy lord well over 400 times.
howard hughes bought katharine hepburn the film rights for the philadelphia story. she proceeded to sell the rights to LB mayer.
this is not only a genius fiscal decision on the part of hughes and hepburn, but a career-saving one as well. by choosing to play an elite, somewhat snobby woman, hepburn directly played into everything audiences thought of her. not only is the character of tracy lord a messy one, but throughout the entirety of the film, tracy endures scathing, personal attacks for her snobbish tendencies and “blatant disregard for human frailty.”
if hepburn had chosen to play it safe and continued to work with RKO, she wouldn’t have sustained much of a career. because she chose to play into her own faults in front of anyone who would listen, katharine hepburn saved her own career.