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Katharine Hepburn and George Cukor Classic Movies

A Classic Partnership in Sophisticated Women's Films


Acclaimed woman’s director and master of such genres as the screwball comedy and the musical, George Cukor found in Katharine Hepburn the perfect actress for his films. Strong, sophisticated, and quick witted, Hepburn delivered her career’s greatest comedic performances in a several pictures directed by Cukor, whose flair for sharp witty dialogue brought out the best in Kate the Great.

Later in their collaboration, Hepburn and Cukor were joined by Spencer Tracy, and made some of the best battle of the sexes comedies with Adam’s Rib (1949) and Pat and Mike (1952), the latter proving to be their final collaboration together. Despite both actress and director working in Hollywood over the next few decades, they never made another film together despite their overwhelming critical and box office success. Here are five exceptional movies made by Katharine Hepburn and George Cukor.

1. ‘Little Women’ – 1933

MGM Home Entertainment
Made in the same year she won her first Oscar for Best Actress, this adaptation of Louisa May Aclott’s sentimental 1868 novel marked the second of eight films made between Hepburn and Cukor. Lavishly produced and faithful to the source material, Little Women featured Hepburn as Josephine ‘Jo’ March, the oldest of four sisters living in Civil War-era Massachusetts, where she dreams of leaving home to become a writer. While initially determined to stay home to care for her family, Jo eventually does depart New England for New York City, where she makes the acquaintance of an impoverished professor and launches her career, only to discover her youngest sister (Jean Parker) is dying of scarlet fever. An auspicious sophomore effort between actress and director, Little Women turned Hepburn into a star while Cukor earned his first of five Academy Award nominations for Best Director.
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2. ‘Holiday’ – 1938

Columbia Pictures
By this point in her career, Hepburn was labeled box office poison thanks to a string of commercial failures in part brought on by public perception of her difficult personality behind the scenes. She bought out her contract with RKO and made her first film outside the comforts of a studio contract, Holiday, her fourth picture with Cukor. Here she played the more rebellious daughter of a wealthy family whose money-obsessed sister (Doris Nolan) plans to marry a self-made businessman (Cary Grant). Of course, she falls for her sister’s fiancé, while Grant struggles to choose between maintaining tradition or running off with soul-mate Hepburn. Well received by critics, Holiday suffered at the box office and gave Hepburn a final push toward returning to Broadway. Today, however, Holiday remains one of Cukor’s most beloved films and one of the pair’s finest collaborations.
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3. ‘The Philadelphia Story’ – 1940

MGM Home Entertainment
After being labeled box office poison following a string of critical and box office duds, Hepburn briefly returned to the Broadway stage to star in a production of Philip Barry’s The Philadelphia Story. Smelling a hit, the forward-thinking actress purchased the rights to the play and launched her Hollywood comeback completely on her own terms. Given her own choice of directors, Hepburn naturally chose Cukor to direct this classic screwball comedy, where she played a brassy socialite who enters a battle of the sexes with her charming ex-husband (Cary Grant) and a muckraking reporter (James Stewart) on the eve of her marriage to a wealthy stuffed shirt (John Howard). Tailor made for Hepburn’s talents, The Philadelphia Story featured Cukor’s flair for rapid-fire pacing and razor sharp dialogue, making it the perfect Hepburn-Cukor collaboration. Surprisingly, this was the only film for which Hepburn earned an Academy Award nomination under Cukor’s direction.
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4. ‘Adam’s Rib’ – 1949

MGM Home Entertainment
Seven years after making their least successful film, Keeper of the Flame (1942), Hepburn and Cukor reunited for this superb battle of the sexes comedy. Hepburn and real-life companion Spencer Tracy – partnered here for the sixth of nine films – starred as a happily married husband and wife who happen to be attorneys on opposite sides of a headline-making case. Tracy played prosecutor to Hepburn’s defense attorney in a case of a distraught wife (Judy Holliday) accused of attempted murder against her philandering husband (Tom Ewell). Of course, both the rival attorneys continue oral arguments at home as the barbs fly over legal and gender issues. A fine-turned comedy chock full of witty banter between Hepburn and Tracy, Adam’s Rib was a critical and financial hit that was as worthy an addition to the Hepburn-Cukor catalogue as The Philadelphia Story.
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5. ‘Pat and Mike’ – 1952

Warner Bros.
Following a spinsterish performance in The African Queen, where the actress started to transition into more middle-aged roles, Hepburn made her eighth and final film with Cukor, Pat and Mike. Once again starring opposite Spencer Tracy, Hepburn played the titular Pat, a champion golf and tennis player who becomes involved with a shady sports manager (Tracy) linked to the mob. Meanwhile, Pat dominates on the links and on the court, but grows nervous whenever her fiancé (William Ching) shows up. He wants her to give up her sports life in order to marry, but naturally she’ll have none of that and continues pursuing her career with Mike as her manager. Eventually, Pat and Mike come to realize they love one another and forge ahead on a more permanent relationship. An exceptional athlete herself, Hepburn’s prowess was rarely ever shown on film until Pat and Mike. Not quite The Philadelphia Story or Adam’s Rib, this charming romantic comedy was top-notch all around and leaves one wishing Hepburn and Cukor made just one more movie together.
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