Saturday, October 17, 2015

Good and Tight

I can tell you exactly when I become a Katherine Hepburn fan. Coincidentally, it was also my first exposure to SRO.

"A Matter of Gravity" was playing at the Kennedy Center, my de facto venue for theater, and, as you might imagine, the run was selling out fast. By the time I nabbed a ticket, all that was available was standing room only.

It only demonstrates how young and naive I was that I'd had no clue that you could purchase a ticket to stand in the aisles, but I was game if it meant seeing a legend in the flesh. She had to be close to 70 at that point, but still absolutely commanded the stage.

Since then, I've done my best to see her film work on the big screen, not always an easy thing to do.

Today's Movies and Mimosas feature at the Bowtie was "Alice Adams," a Hepburn film I'd barely even heard of. I say "barely" because I've read a biography or two of her, so I'd undoubtedly read about it, but didn't recall much.

Turns out it didn't matter because when the woman in line in front of me asked for a ticket to "Alice Adams," I overheard her being told they hadn't gotten the film in. Instead, they had four other Hepburn vehicles to choose from.

She and I looked at each other. Huh? The cashier said that the plan was for the audience to vote. Democracy in action at the theater, why not?

Inside, there were only two other people, not surprisingly all big fans of old movies. Within minutes, we'd discovered that we're all planning to catch one of the four screenings of the restored version of "My Fair Lady" next week. It was a Saturday morning meeting of the film geek society.

That made the four of us intent when options were proffered by the projectionist: "Little Women," "Stage Door," "Philadelphia Story" and "Morning Glory," which won Hepburn her first Oscar.

I'd seen "Stage Door" and "Philadelphia Story," not that I couldn't have watched either again, and I was pretty damn sure I was the sole film lover in the room who'd never seen "Little Women," so I voted for "Morning Glory," a suggestion quickly seconded because no one else had seen it, either.

At 74 minutes, it was over in a flash. The 25-year old actress had not yet reached the height of her powers, but there was something refreshingly different about her. When she insisted in the script that she would be a great actress, you sensed it was as much Hepburn herself as the character making the point.

Made in 1933 and set on Broadway, the film was a testament to life in moneyed Manhattan at the time. Women wore fur coats, stoles and collars and carried fur muffs (Hepburn's character was holding out for sable) and evening dresses were cut on the bias, but day dresses were long and dowdy.

Parties at the producer's Art Deco apartment (Adolphe Menjou playing the same role he played in so many films of that era) featured glittering guests - theater critics, playwrights, actors - along with endless champagne and a live string quartet.

Just a little get-together where people say things such as, "You know, the only way to live through a party like this is to get good and tight."

Hepburn's character does, drinking for the first time, and is soon performing scenes from "Hamlet" and "Romeo and Juliet" for the astonished guests. But the sense of assurance and certainty brought on by her first buzz register as completely believable, charming even, not over the top.

No one but youth can play youth to perfection.

By the time I saw her at the Kennedy Center, she'd honed that talent into the gravelly Hepburn persona of age and life experience.

And for that, this youth - who was definitely not tight - was more than happy to stand for a few hours. SRO cred couldn't have been better earned.

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