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« Oscar Nominations. They're Finally Here! | Main | Interviews, Travel »

A Year With Kate: Morning Glory (1933)

Episode 3 of 52  Anne Marie is screening all of Katharine Hepburn's films in chronological order. On the eve of the Oscar nominations, Morning Glory (1933)

In which the seeds of Oscar history are sown...

Sometimes, Katharine Hepburn’s career seems too charmed to be real. At the 6th Academy Awards, Kate won her first Oscar. For her third movie. In her second year. To put that in perspective, it took Bette Davis 23 movies and 4 years to get a nomination alone (on a controversial write-in ballot). Ingrid Bergman: 6 movies and 5 years to be nominated. Olivia de Havilland: 29 movies and 10 years to win. The other record-holding actresses of the Studio System had to slog through bad scripts and bit parts to get their golden statues, but young Kate practically waltzed into the Academy and casually picked one up (figuratively speaking, since she didn’t actually show up)

Morning Glory is the by-now cliché story of a naive actress making it big in New York. 1933's model was Eva Lovelace. [more...]

"That's L-O-V-E-L-A-C-E"

Eva's obnoxious, artless, and speaks in a unceasing monotone patter that renders others speechless. For example, take this doozy she delivers to producer Louis Easton (Adolphe Menjou) when describing her planned career:

“Of course I expect to die at my zenith. My star shall never set, I’ve sworn that too. And when that moment comes, when I feel that I’ve done my best, my very best, I should really die by my own hand some night at the end of the play. On the stage.”

Oi. But here’s the thing: Eva is supposed to be annoying. You’re supposed to feel a mix of pity, admiration and irritation at her blind ambition and girlish dreams. She’s in a long line of heroines - Mary Evans, Esther Victoria Blodgett, Fanny Brice - who succeed because they don’t know how to fail.

The argument can be made that Eva Lovelace (“That’s L-O-V-E-L-A-C-E”) is just a version of Katharine Hepburn (That’s K-A-T-H-A-R-I-N-E). But that’s not entirely true. Kate was ambitious, but she could be cold, and she vocally disdained lovesick mooning like Eva’s crush on Easton. More importantly, Kate’s acting ability shines through for the first time. Eva’s signature high-pitched patter is a deliberate choice; the opposite of Hepburn’s typical swallowed-marbles mode of enunciation. As Eva, Kate is in full mastery of her vocal range: she prattles, she croons, and when truly heartbroken her voice drops an octave and fills with regal gravitas.

Kate also debuts an acting gift that we don’t talk about nearly enough: drunk acting. Kate played drunk better than almost anybody. She could perform insobriety in any theme--comedy, tragedy, romance--and shift gracefully through each with a sigh and a hiccup. Eva’s drunk rant at the party scene is mostly comic (bordering on cringeworthy), but she’s painfully serious about her hammered take on Hamlet.

Drunk or dramatic? You be the judge.

Since Morning Glory is a Depression era fable, it ends with a heavy-handed moral: Success is fleeting for the foolish. 1933 would end up being Kate’s best year at RKO, but from 1934 on, things deteriorated rapidly. Bad movies and publicity snubbing turned audiences against her, and it looked as though Morning Glory’s warning was prescient for the young actress. Many even questioned whether she deserved her Oscar. The Academy has a long memory for perceived slights; for the next several years Oscar didn't pay Kate much favor.

Did Katharine Hepburn earn this first win? Sound off in the comments below.

Next week: Little Women (1933) in which we remember childhood fondly. (available on Amazon Prime)
Week 1: A Bill of Divorcement
Week 2: Christopher Strong 

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Reader Comments (16)

She was nominated a couple years later for Alice Adams, but a bit of a drought after that!

January 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

Good point! I think I tend to skip over Alice Adams mentally because I don't care for it all that much.

January 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Marie

Kate's drunk acting is tops. I DEFY anyone to name a better drunk scene than hers in The Philadelpha Story. "Yes you am are you!"

January 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret

I recently watched Kate in this film and I thought she was a delight. Some people don't like her because she's annoying and such but that's the point! Though I thought she was much better that year in Little Women, I still think she deserved her award out of the three ladies nominated.

January 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAllen

Why would you leave Streep out of your calculation when she will probably be the actress everyone will be measured against? After all, she's got the most nominations. I think Streep made only one or two feature films before her first Oscar nomination. Not exactly sure how many films before a win.

January 15, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

Brandz, I love me la Streep (2 movies to a nom, 5 to win) but because the Studio System was so different from New Hollywood on how films were made and actors were cast, I thought it was better to compare Kate to her contemporaries.

January 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Marie

Yes precisely, how dare you discuss an actress without measuring her against Meryl Streep? What is this Betty Davies you speak of? Was she the other one in Julee and Julia?

Meantime, the finale aside, I find Hepburn's first Oscar winning performance both delightful and madly underrated. Not quite as full bodied as her Jo March perhaps but still thoroughly worthy.

I also appear to have enjoyed Morning Glory the film me than must people. Dated maybe, but when it comes to 30s Hollywood, dated is a plus, not a minus. At the very least, they knew what's a healthy running time back then.

January 15, 2014 | Unregistered Commentergoran

as a Kate agnostic i am hoping to jump in soon and watch one of these things concurrently because they're fun to read and i'm sure it would be better if i'd also seen the movies. this ies one of the best actress winning movies that i haven't seen. BAD GAP FOR FILM NATTY

January 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNathanielR

I remember not liking MORNING GLORY too much, but loving her drunkenness.

January 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

Her award for this adequate performance shows that the anointing of the new young supernova is hardly a recent practice as far as Oscar goes. I thought both this film and her work in it were middling, she really was far superior in Little Women, and I'm not surprised that apparently Hollywood felt the same way once the prize was awarded. She still received nominations on a fairly regular basis except for almost a decade long drought in the 40's but it was 34 years between this and her next win and then the academy seemed to lose their heads over her and couldn't stop giving her the thing. In that prospective Meryl's 20 year gap doesn't seem so bad, it's just a shame her wait was broken by an award for less than her best work.

Coming up next Kate's best early film and performance, yeah!, back to back with her worst, the godawful Spitfire.

January 15, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Love this feature, and yeah, it was her drunk scene that really made me like this. She was extremely self-aware and very few actors can play their persona in so many fascinating ways.

January 15, 2014 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

Unrelated but can someone tell me what time the Oscar nominations will be tomorrow eastern time?

January 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Morning Glory is my least favorite of the Hepburn wins. I don't care much for her early work to be honest, with Little Women and Philadelphia Story being the exceptions. I appreciate her more during the latter years. I guess this retrospective is a good oportunity to revisit her career. The point you make about her voice made me interested in rewarching it, though!

January 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCarmen Sandiego

steve -- oscar nominations are always at between 8:30 am and 9:00 am eastern. usually around 8:45 am

January 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNathanielR

I have definitely seen this movie though it has been many years. I remember liking it well enough in that creaky early-talkies sort of way, but my most lasting memory/thought is why THIS movie? I have seen STAGE DOOR many times and find it a much better movie with a semi-similar performance. Kate is really at her best when there are moments of lightness in the script since she was equally (if not more) adept at comedy than drama.

Still, who wears clothes better or looks more "modern" in these early movies than Kate?

January 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

Ugh I really can't stand "Morning Glory." This might be my least favorite of Katharine Hepburn's Oscar wins, which I thought would now and forever be reserved for "On Golden Pond." But there's more of her early catalogue that I still need to see. Very curious about "Alice Adams" and "The Philadelphia Story" now.

April 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVan

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