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The Philadelphia Story is a 1940 American romantic comedy film directed by George Cukor, starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and James Stewart and featuring Ruth Hussey. Based on the Broadway play of the same name by Philip Barry, the film is about a socialite whose wedding plans are complicated by the simultaneous arrival of her ex-husband and a tabloid magazine journalist. The socialite character of the lay – performed by Hepburn in the film – was inspired by Helen Hope Montgomery Scott (1904-1995), a Philadelphia socialite known for her hijinks, who married a friend of playwright Barry.
Written for the screen by Donald Ogden Steward and an uncredited Waldo Salt, it is considered one of the best examples of a comedy of remarriage, a genre popular in the 1930s and 1940s, in which a couple divorce, flirt with outsiders and then remarry – a useful story-telling ploy at a time when the depiction of extramarital affairs was blocked by the Production Code.
The film was Hepburn’s first big hit following several flops, which had led to her being included on a 1938 list that Manhattan move theater owner Harry Brandt compiled of actors considered to be “box office poison”. She acquired the film rights to the play, which she had also starred in, with the help of Howard Hughes, in order to control it as a vehicle for her screen comeback. According to a Turner Broadcasting documentary MGM: When the Lion Roars, after MGM purchased the film rights they were skeptical about Hepburn’s box office appeal, so Meto-Goldwyn-Mayer’s Louis B. Mayer took an unusual precaution by casting two A-list male stars (Grant and Stewart) to support Hepburn. Nominated for six Academy Awards, the film won two; James Stewart for Best Actor and Donald Ogden Steward for Best Adapted Screenplay. It was remade in 1956 as a musical, re-titled High Society.
The Philadelphia Story was produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 1995.