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May Flowers: Stage Door

The Calla Lilies Are in Bloom Again... 

Such a strange flower. Suitable to any occasion. I carried them on my wedding day and now I place them here in memory of something that has died.

That line, uttered by Katharine Hepburn in 1937's Stage Door, quickly became synonymous with the actress. One need only adapt that clipped, upper crust voice and mention the bloomin' of those calla lilies for people to know exactly who you're impersonating. No other line is as popular in conveying what a unique star she was. (Well, a strong case could be made for some from On Golden Pond, you old poop. But by then even she seemed to be doing a Katharine Hepburn impression. And none of those have the history of this one.)

The line was used in the film for the play that Hepburn's character makes her theatrical debut in. It came from an actual Broadway flop that Hepburn starred in called The Lake. Just how bad was the show? In Dorothy Parker's review of it, she said, "Miss Hepburn runs the gamut of emotions from A to B." The play was so wildly atrocious that Kate herself paid the director to halt production. But, it was a learning experience for Hepburn.

When they decided to use it in the film, Hepburn proved that despite the seeming haughtiness and snobbishness people perceived in her, she was still able to laugh at herself and poke fun at her previous failings --–especially in the rehearsal scenes where she mechanically goes though the motions. Later in the film, when she says the line on opening night, she surprises everyone with how great an actress she actually is. The public, like her fellow actresses in the film, had underestimated her. (By the way, if you haven't seen Stage Door–you must! You owe it to yourself as an Actressexual. It's all about a theatrical boarding house and co-stars Ginger Rogers, Eve Arden, Lucille Ball, and Ann Miller!)

So, the next time you're doing your Katharine Hepburn impersonations for your movie-loving friends (and, really, who doesn't love a good Kate impression. Hell, Cate Blanchett won an Oscar for it...), remember those calla lilies and make Kate proud.

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Reader Comments (11)

Rogers never gave a better non musical performance. Hepburn does great self parody. Both should have been nominated for the Oscar. All time great supporting cast.

May 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterrobertL

Beautifully written. I agree Stage Door is definitely a must see.

May 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Glad to see you shine a light on this one. Reading about "The Lake" in Katharine's autobiography makes the importance of this line and the moment stand out more. "Stage Door" is such a delightful film, that cast of GREAT women playing GREAT women is so much appreciated.

Great choice for May Flowers and Kate week.

May 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew K.

Ann Margaret is not in this film. Perhaps you mean Ann Miller?

May 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMark

Mark -- i fixed that. He meant Ann Miller ;) Ann-Margret was not yet born when the film was made.

Andrew -- i love love love Stage Door. I haven't seen it in so long so i was really surprised & happy to see the other Andrew take it on for this series.

May 11, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

oh, ha! it was late when i wrote this...it certainly would have been a very different movie if ann-margaret showed up from the future in some go go boots! (thanks for catching and correcting!)

May 11, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterabstew

A fantastic film and one of the all time best supporting casts. Even the actresses that didn't go on to greater fame like Margaret Early as the slightly addled southerner Mary Lou or Phyllis Kennedy as Hattie the cook add so much to the flavor of the film. Who would believe Ann Miller was only 14 when she made this! ah the magic of Hollywood.

May 11, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Good post and I totally need to see Stage Door. I love Hepburn more with every film of hers I watch.

Parker - Hepburn
Kael - Streep

I'm simplifying, I know.

May 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

I have seen Stage Door probably 10 times. I love it. Hepburn and Rogers
are not my favorite actresses but the entire ensemble is great in this film.

May 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMark

What does the Parker & Kael references mean?

May 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMark

Mark - I mean that just like Kael wasn't a big Streep fan, Parker (at least in one case) was not a Hepburn fan.
I'm sure she changed her mind afterwards.

May 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

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