Episode 24 of 52: In which Katharine Hepburn shows off her talented fingers.
I have the strangest sense of deja vu. Kate’s stuck in another melodrama about a young artist in love with a tortured composer. The composer is played by another foreign leading man. And I’ve created another set of box office graphs to answer KHep career questions through science. It’s like we never left RKO! I know you have a lot of questions--one being ”are you really going to start calling her KHep?” (Answer: Yes.) But first, let’s talk about the movie.
Song of Love is the highly inaccurate but very sweet story of Clara Wieck Schumann, a piano prodigy who marries tortured genius Robert Schumann (Paul Heinreid). Clara Wieck Schumann really was a piano prodigy, and she really did marry Robert Schumann and pop out babies like a human Pez dispenser. However, basically everything else about the movie is Hollywood fiction, including a second almost-romance with Brahms, played charmingly by Robert Walker (who’d just finished charmingly playing Kate’s son in The Sea of Grass. Accidental incest is awkward). It’s a pity the film glosses over her story, because Clara Wieck was actually incredible.
Channeling her inner Clara, Kate successfully learned to play piano for the role. (The music is dubbed.) When not tickling the ivories, Kate spends a lot of time looking very pretty sitting next to Paul Heinreid, or crying by him, or kissing him. Honestly, Katharine Hepburn and Paul Heinreid have about as much chemistry together as do my rug and my lamp; they look very nice next to each other and they spruce the place up, but barring any faulty wiring, I don’t expect a fire.
Still, the music is good and the acting is sweet. Plus, after three movies of men scowling at Kate it’s a relief to watch a guy smile at her again, even if (century-and-a-half-old spoiler alert) it’s before he goes insane and dies in an asylum. Enough about the movie, though. Let’s get to the real drama: the box office.
Last time we did this, I was trying to figure out the truth behind the Box Office Poison myth. (Verdict: “Poison” is such a harsh word.) This time it was more for idle curiosity. Verdict: what a difference a decade makes!
Observation #1: It pays to have a major studio like MGM backing you. Bigger budgets, wider releases, and more money. Even Kate's worst-grossing film at MGM (that’d be Song of Love) still grossed only a few hundred thousand less than her best film at RKO (that’d be Little Women).
Observation #2: Like or hate Spencer Tracy (most of you seem to hate him), he had a significant effect on Kate's earning potential. I don’t think it’s an accident that he’s Kate’s costar in 4 of her 5 top grossers.
Observation #3: These numbers are good, but not great. KHep would never be a huge draw at the box office, but she’s still earning enough for MGM to keep renewing her contract. Overall, it reminds me of Meryl Streep in the late 90s: a couple of years from something really incredible, but still with enough star power to command strong billing.
Hepburn stated numerous times that she started out wanting to be famous and only decided to learn how to act later. With that in mind, the 1940s look like the peak of Kate The Star. She found a niche with the Slapstick Battle of the Sexes, and dabbled in other genres in between comedies. Nothing too tough, nothing too interesting. However, at the end of the 1940s, Kate would begin seriously working on her craft, and her next steps would take her from KHep the Star to Katharine Hepburn the Legend.
What are your observations about the graph?
Previous Weeks: A Bill of Divorcement, Christopher Strong, Morning Glory, Little Women, Spitfire, The Little Minister, Break of Hearts, Alice Adams, Sylvia Scarlett, Mary of Scotland, A Woman Rebels, Quality Street, Stage Door, Bringing Up Baby, Holiday,The Philadelphia Story, Woman of the Year, Keeper Of The Flame, Stage Door Canteen,Dragon Seed, Without Love, Undercurrent, The Sea Of Grass
Next Week: State of the Union (1948) - In which Kate confronts Angela Lansbury onscreen and the Blacklist offscreen and manages to beat both.