‘The Philadelphia Story’: You Won’t Believe These Behind-The-Scenes Facts About the 1940 Movie

The Philadelphia Story, the Academy-Award winning romantic comedy released in 1940, stars famous classic film actors Cary GrantKatharine Hepburn, and James Stewart. Below you’ll find a few of our favorite behind-the-scenes factoids about The Philadelphia Story and its star-studded cast.

The cast of ‘The Philadelphia Story’ were total professionals

The Philadelphia Story
Cary Grant, James Stewart, John Howard, and Katharine Hepburn in portrait for the 1940 movie The Philadelphia Story | Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images

Director George Cukor shot his black-and-white movie in just eight weeks. Also, according to IMDb, the filming of The Philadelphia Story did not require any retakes. We suppose that’s what happens when you cast actors with the kind of experience as Hepburn, Stewart, and Grant.

The Criterion Collection film has a few hiccups (pun intended)

In the scene where Stewart and Hepburn’s characters, Macaulay and Tracy, get drunk together, Macauly hiccups. Stewart, in fact, improvised those hiccups in the moment. (A solid acting choice, as hiccups are a common symptom of drunkenness). In the shot, if you look closely you can see Grant looking away and stifling a smile, apparently about to break. However, Grant kept his cool, and still, the Philadelphia Story scene only took one take.

Also while Macaulay is drunk, he sings the Wizard of Oz tune “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” However, he sings the lyrics incorrectly; he says “someday” in place of “somewhere.” While it’s listed on IMDb as a goof, it very well could have been an acting choice–especially considering Stewart’s character was pretty liquored up when he was belting out the song.

‘The Philadelphia Story’ movie is based on a play that starred Katharine Hepburn on Broadway

Hepburn, who stars in the movie, also played the lead in the Broadway play on which screenwriter Donald Ogden Stewart based the film script. The famous actress actually owned the film rights to The Philadelphia Story. Her friend, the billionaire Howard Hughes, gave Hepburn the rights as a present.

Katharine Hepburn
Actress Katharine Hepburn on the set of her Broadway play The Philadelphia Story | Alfred Eisenstaedt/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

The movie was a test of 1940 Hollywood standards and censors

Remember early in the film, when Tracy (a.k.a. Hepburn) is rocking a sleek white trouser suit? Hepburn’s incredible #OOTD almost didn’t make it to screen. Louis Mayer, an MGM executive, objected to the suit. And really, how dare women wear pants? Luckily, someone persuaded Mayer to let the scene (and the amazing romper-before-rompers-were-a-thing) stay.

However, even the actors themselves got cold feet about the censors. Stewart has said some of the lines of dialogue made him uncomfortable to deliver. The It’s a Wonderful Life star felt especially hesitant about the scene in which he and Hepburn change into their swimsuits–even though he is only ever seen in a dressing gown (the swimming costume presumably underneath).

Stewart predicted that had he dropped the robe and showed off his swimming costume in The Philadelphia Story, it could have ended his career.

The Philadelphia Story
A scene from the film The Philadelphia Story | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

What the ‘The Philadelphia Story’ cast members got paid

When offered a role in the movie, Grant was told he could choose between the two male lead parts, and he chose the less showy role. Still, given that Grant was a Hollywood star by this point, he demanded his name get top billing. He also negotiated a $137,000 salary, which at the time, was massive. (Adjusting for inflation, that would be about a $2.5 million payout today.) However, the actor wasn’t being greedy. Grant ended up donating the whole chunk of change to the British War Relief Fund.

Hepburn, on her part, negotiated for 45% of the profits in place of a traditional salary. Given that, in 1941, The Philadelphia Story was the 5th most popular film at the box office, it seems this worked out well for the actress.

The Philadelphia Story
Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in The Philadelphia Story | Clarence Sinclair Bull/John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images

Katharine Hepburn was considered ‘box office poison’ in 1940 – but hey, she does her own stunts!

However, the studio executives were not convinced this film would be a hit. A big reason the MGM chiefs agreed to Grant’s demand for top billing and a high salary? Hepburn, who owned the rights to the film and was starring in a hit Broadway run of the play, was dubbed to be “box office poison” after she appeared in some flops.

But we can’t end on that note! Especially since Hepburn’s acting and comedic timing in The Philadelphia Story are things of perfection. So, our last fun fact: remember that lovely dive Tracy does into the pool? No stunt doubles needed; Hepburn nailed it herself.