05 May 2011

Kate and Ginger, Ginger and Kate Both are Wonderful Both are Great Watch 'Em Stage Door Make it a Date

I have decided to retire from professional yodeling effective immediately.

That being said I don't have a whole lot else to say other than to confess that I've never yodeled in my life, professionally or otherwise. It's just that I occasionally like to start a writing with a "grabber." This would be something that "grabs" or "gets" your attention. Here's an example of what would be a good "grabber":

I have come up with the cure for restless leg syndrome.

Pretty good, eh?

Okay so you're now doubt wondering what this is all about and frankly I don't blame you. In fact I'm quite surprised you've read this far. If you haven't read this far then you've missed out on this sentence entirely and it's a doozy.

But I digress....

I recently watched Stage Door (1937) a film directed by Gregory La Cava that boasts the only screen pairing of two legends: Ginger Rogers and Katharine Hepburn. One of them alone makes for a great cast. Put them together and you've got a great cast squared. Seriously, you wouldn't have needed a script or props or a director. These two you could watch sitting and having a chat over tea.

But for Stage Door there were a whole mess of people involved and it damn near got in the way of these two legends. Fortunately one thing that enhanced the film was the supporting cast. It featured a young, cute Lucille Ball; the permanently sardonic Eve Arden, fondling a cat through the whole picture; the incredibly underrated and incredibly interesting Gail Patrick (you don't know here? she played Lombard's nasty sister in another LaCava flick, My Man Godfrey (1936)); that's for starters.

I'm going out on a limb and saying that you've seen Stage Door so don't require a synopsis (synopsis, there's an awkward looking word). If you do require one take two aspirin and call me in the morning, or check the film's IMDb page which is linked at my first mention of the film.

So I wasn't kidding earlier about all the other people involved with making Stage Door nearly interfering with Rogers and Hepburn. Everyone did a fine job and some cases an excellent one. But I've got some real problems with the movie. None of these flaws ruin Stage Door for me but they keep it from being the masterpiece it could have been. However, I'm not going to get all nit picky about it so you can relax.

Anyway what's most compelling is, as I've been harping about, two greats of the silver screen together for the first, last and only time. What I found most interesting was how much more I liked.....Ginger. There was that patrician air to Kate that she came by quite naturally. She was all upper class Yankee elocution and mannered sophistication and clothes that, well they fit on her like plumage. It's all part of why my favorite performance of hers is in Bringing Up Baby (1938) where she gets to play a wacky dame version of herself. You still get the hoity toity Hepburn but this time as goofy as a frog in your uncle's spaghetti.

Hepburn did everything right. Whether the picture was Alice Adams (1935) or The Lion in Winter (1968) she was putting on an acting clinic. Frankly I would find a Hepburn film festival tiresome. If I'm gonna sit through the same actress in a slew of films give me Barbara Stanwyck or Ginger Rogers.  Yeah, the same Ginger I've been going on about.

Sometimes I find Ginger too sexy for words. Sometimes I find her absolutely adorable. Sometimes I find her just oh so cute in a non cloying totally endearing way. She was just so damn natural. Every bit herself at all times and yet creating a whole new character. Even when paired with Fred Astaire in those absolutely delightful if quite silly musicals, she was an effortlessly relatable character. She might have been giving Astaire the air in the coldest of ways but still danced up a storm and let Fred worm his way into her heart. She was the cats.

Stage Door has a certain sisterhood is powerful tinge to it. It was made back in the time that women did not have an equal place anywhere in society except Hollywood. Now it's damn near the reverse. Good strong roles from women are in U.S. films are a rarity. Not in the 1930s. The creme de la creme in those days included Bette Davis, Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Stanwyck, Rogers and Hepburn.

If a film like Stage Door was made today it would be set in a sorority house with demeaning roles for the women as stereotypes as proscribed by cable television. Yuck!

There are certainly actresses today who are the equal and even perhaps the superior of Kate and Ginger, at the craft of acting. But none can match their star quality. No one today has their screen presence, which is so essential to telling certain types of stories. By not creating strong female pictures we are being denied female stars, in the traditional sense of the word.

If you chance to watch Stage Door soon, watch especially the scenes between Kate and Ginger. In sports when you get to see two superstars its usually because they are in competition. Here you witness a pair of greats in a collaborative effort. I certainly detected no scene-stealing by either. One would guess they had two much respect for the craft to stoop to such nonsense. Watch also their contrasting styles that play so well together and pay great service to the story.

I would guess that someone who had never heard nor seen either of these legends would still be very much drawn to them. They both in their own distinct way embody something of the women of their time. Hepburn was the best of those born of means and Rogers was the quintessential middle class girl who would be equally comfortable dancing in a night club or working as a Rosie the Riveter. Stage Door is a showcase not only for these two distinct stars but an opportunity to see them together. God they were good.

And if there's any footage of the two sitting down for tea and chatting away, put me down for the first DVD.


Meredith said...

ya had me at 'restless leg syndrome' (would that be a good grab?)

love this review and the film as well, they may get in the way but it's still such fun to see all those great actresses in one space.

no footage but there is a story ginger tells in her autobiography of doing a screen test with hepburn where if memory serves (sorry can only give the gist) they both sit down at a table. only ginger decided to play a prank and pretend to be someone else through an elaborate getup. when she sits down and hepburn recognizes her she starts chastising ginger under her breath and kicking her under the table. so the incredible sparks between them in stage door appear to be very real!

Tudor Queen said...

I would, in fact, attend a Hepburn film festival - she's one of my top ten favorite actresses ever - but I do think that Ginger Rogers is vastly underrated in just about every category, and the two together in "Stage Door" were amazing.

BTW, whatever happened to Andrea Leeds

Richard Hourula said...

From her bio on IMDb: After the death of her fiance in 1938 her interest in acting began to wane then "Andrea married wealthy sportsman Robert Stewart Howard, heir to father Charles S. Howard's racing stables, and gave up her profession completely to raise a family. Devoutly religious, Andrea and her husband eventually settled in the Palm Springs area with their two children, Robert Jr. and Leann, the latter dying of cancer in 1971. Her life and interests would include owning and breeding horses. After her husband's death in 1962, she operated and owned a modest jewelry shop in the Palm Springs area, designing many of her own pieces. Andrea died of cancer in 1984 at age 70."