Romancing Katharine Hepburn In The Philadelphia Story Was A Struggle For James Stewart

In a later interview, Stewart recounted how he would, “Get a heavy crush on every girl that was in every picture [he] did.” The son of a hardware store owner and piano teacher from the coal mining town of Indiana, Pennsylvania had eschewed much of the glitz that came with being a Hollywood star, managing to maintain the humility of his small-town upbringing in an industry that was anything but. That gave him the classic movie star ability to do nothing well, but it didn’t necessarily mean he was a natural when it came to on-screen romance — especially considering this small-town all-American couldn’t help but catch feelings for every actress he starred alongside.

Unsurprisingly, when it came time for a pivotal scene in “The Philadelphia Story,” where Mike professes his innermost feelings for Tracy, Stewart struggled. As recounted in Roy Pickard’s “Jimmy Stewart: A Life In Film,” the scene required Stewart to take Hepburn in his arms and recite some lines that were so overwrought and flowery they bordered on parody. According to Hepburn, “It did really cause him the most terrible distress. He had to say: ‘There’s a magnificence in you Tracy, a magnificence that comes out of your eyes, that’s in your voice, in the way you stand… You’ve got fires banked down in you, hearth fires and holocausts.’ Well, it was not exactly a Jimmy Stewart line.”

As the actress remembers it, Stewart rehearsed the scene with her and, “Nearly died,” before director George Cukor stepped in and told Stewart: “Jimmy, you’re not running away to the circus so don’t paw the ground with your foot. Just say it.” That seemingly worked, as according to Hepburn, Stewart “Took a deep breath and he said it. He was magnificent.”

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