Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
|Guess Who's Coming to Dinner|
|Directed by||Stanley Kramer|
|Produced by||Stanley Kramer|
|Screenplay by||William Rose|
|Music by||Frank De Vol|
|Edited by||Robert C. Jones|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Box office||$56.7 million|
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is a 1967 American comedy-drama film produced and directed by Stanley Kramer, and written by William Rose. It stars Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, and Katharine Hepburn, and features Hepburn's niece Katharine Houghton.
The film was one of the few films of the time to depict an interracial marriage in a positive light, as interracial marriage historically had been illegal in most states of the United States. It was still illegal in 17 states—mostly Southern states—until June 12, 1967, six months before the film was released. Roughly two weeks after Tracy filmed his final scene (and two days after his death), anti-miscegenation laws were struck down by the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia.
The film is notable for being the ninth and final on-screen pairing of Tracy and Hepburn, with filming ending just 17 days before Tracy's death. Hepburn never saw the completed film, saying the memories of Tracy were too painful. The film was released in December 1967, six months after his death.
In 1998, the film was ranked #99 on the 100 Years...100 Movies list, by the American Film Institute.
In 2017, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". The film's Oscar-nominated score was composed by Frank De Vol.
In 1967, Joanna Drayton, a 23 year old white woman, returns from her Hawaiian vacation to her parents' home in San Francisco with Dr. John Prentice, a 37 year old black widower. The couple became engaged after a 10-day whirlwind romance. Joanna's parents are Matt Drayton, a successful newspaper editor, and his wife, Christina, who owns an art gallery. Though both of the Draytons are liberal-minded, they are initially shocked their daughter is engaged to a man of a different race. Christina gradually accepts the situation, but Matt objects because of the likely unhappiness and seemingly insurmountable problems the couple will face in American culture.
Without telling Joanna, John tells the Draytons he will withdraw from the relationship unless both Draytons give the couple their blessing. To complicate matters, John is scheduled to fly to New York later that night, and then to Geneva, Switzerland for three months in his work with the World Health Organization. His answer from the Draytons, therefore, will determine whether Joanna will follow him. Tillie, the Draytons' black housekeeper, suspicious of John's motives and protective of Joanna, privately corners John and speaks her mind. To John's surprise, Joanna invites John's parents to fly up from Los Angeles to join them for dinner that evening. John has not told them his fiancée is white. Monsignor Ryan, Matt's golf buddy, arrives after Matt cancelled their game. He tells both Matt and the couple he is supportive of the engagement. But Matt will not yield. Christina tells Matt she, too, is supportive of Joanna, even if it means fighting Matt. On the way to the airport to meet John's parents, the couple stop for a drink with an old friend of Joanna's and her husband; they are also completely supportive. While at the club, they hear a singer (Jacqueline Fontaine, uncredited) perform "The Glory of Love", a 1936 hit for Benny Goodman.
John's parents, the Prentices, arrive. They, too, are shocked when discovering Joanna is white. At the Drayton home, various private conversations occur among the two families. All agree more time is needed to absorb the situation. The two mothers meet and agree this was an unexpected event, but support their children. The two fathers meet, both expressing disapproval at this unhappy occasion. The Monsignor advises John not to withdraw, despite Matt's objections. John's mother tells him she and Christina both approve. John and his father discuss their generational differences. John's mother tells Matt that he and her husband have forgotten what it was like to fall in love, and their failure to remember true romance has clouded their thinking. John chides Matt for not having the "guts" to tell him face to face he disapproved of the marriage. Finally, Matt reveals his decision about the engagement to the entire group. In his speech, Joanna learns for the first time that John made their marriage conditional on the Draytons' approval. Matt ultimately concludes, after having listened to John's mother, that he does remember what true romance is. He says although the pair face enormous problems ahead due to their racial differences, they must find a way to overcome them, and he will approve the marriage, knowing all along he had no right to stop it. The families and the Monsignor then adjourn to the dining room for dinner.
- Spencer Tracy as Matt Drayton
- Sidney Poitier as Dr. John Wade Prentice
- Katharine Hepburn as Christina Drayton
- Katharine Houghton as Joanna "Joey" Drayton
- Cecil Kellaway as Monsignor Mike Ryan
- Beah Richards as Mrs. Mary Prentice
- Roy E. Glenn Sr. as Mr. John Prentice Sr.
- Isabel Sanford as Tillie
- Virginia Christine as Hilary St. George
- Alexandra Hay as Carhop
- Barbara Randolph as Dorothy
- D'Urville Martin as Frankie
- Skip Martin as Delivery Boy
- John Hudkins as Cab Driver
- Jacqueline Fontaine as singer in Japanese cocktail lounge (uncredited)
- Produced and directed: Stanley Kramer
- Original screenplay: William Rose
- Associate producer: George Glass
- Music: Frank De Vol
- Director of photography: Sam Leavitt
- Film editor: Robert C. Jones
- Production designer: Robert Clatworthy
- Set decorator: Frank Tuttle
- Assistant director: Ray Gosnell
- Special effects: Geza Gaspar
- Process photography: Larry Butler
- Sound recording: Charles J. Rice, Robert Martin
- Costumes: Joe King
- Wardrobe supervisor: Jean Louis
- Song: "Glory of Love" by Billy Hill, sung by Jacqueline Fontaine
According to Kramer, he and Rose intentionally structured the film to debunk ethnic stereotypes. The young doctor, a typical role for the young Sidney Poitier, was created idealistically perfect, so that the only possible objections to his marrying Joanna would be his race, or the fact she had only known him for 10 days; the character has thus graduated from a top school, begun innovative medical initiatives in Africa, refused to have premarital sex with his fiancée despite her willingness, and leaves money in an open container on his future father-in-law's desk in payment for a long-distance phone call he has made. Kramer and Rose completed the film script in five weeks.
Kramer stated later that the principal actors believed so strongly in the premise that they agreed to act in the project even before seeing the script. Production had been set for January 1967 and ended on May 24, 1967. At age 67, Spencer Tracy was in poor health with heart disease, diabetes, high-blood pressure, respiratory disease, and other ailments. Aware of Tracy's failing health, insurance companies refused to cover him. Kramer and Hepburn put their salaries in escrow so that if he died during the production, filming could be completed with another actor. According to Kramer, "You're never examined for insurance until a few weeks before a picture starts. [Even] with all his drinking and ailments, Tracy always qualified for insurance before, so nobody thought it would be a problem in this case. But it was. We couldn't get insurance for Spence. The situation looked desperate. So then we figured out a way of handling it. Kate and I put up our own salaries to compensate for the lack of an insurance company for Spence. And we were allowed to proceed."
The filming schedule was altered to accommodate Tracy's failing health. All of Tracy's scenes and shots were filmed between 9:00 am and noon of each day to give him adequate time to rest for the remainder of the day. For example, most of Tracy's dialogue scenes were filmed in such a way that during close-ups on other characters, a stand-in was substituted for him.
Tracy's failing health was more serious than most people working on the set were aware of. According to Poitier: "The illness of Spencer dominated everything. I knew his health was very poor and many of the people who knew what the situation was didn't believe we'd finish the film, that is, that Tracy would be able to finish the film. Those of us who were close knew it was worse than they thought. Kate brought him to and from the set. She worked with him on his lines. She made sure with [Stanley] Kramer that his hours were right for what he could do, and what he couldn't do was different each day. There were days when he couldn't do anything. There were days when he was great, and I got the chance to know what it was like working with Tracy."
A bust of Tracy sculpted by Hepburn herself was used as a prop, on the bookshelf behind the desk where Sidney Poitier makes his phone call. Tracy died two weeks after he completed his work on the film.
Hepburn significantly helped cast her niece, Katharine Houghton, for the role of Joey Drayton. Concerning this, Hepburn stated: "There was a lovely part for Kathy [Houghton], my niece [...] She would play Spencer's and my daughter. I loved that. She's beautiful and she definitely had a family resemblance. It was my idea."
According to Hepburn, the role of Joey Drayton was one of Houghton's first major roles as a young actress. "The part of my daughter," Kate said, "was a difficult one. A young unknown actress needs more opportunity to win the sympathy of the audience. Otherwise, too much has to depend on her youth, innocence, and beauty. She had one good speech to win the audience, but it was cut. Instead she only talks with her father about the differences between the principles he taught her and the way he's behaving."
Poitier frequently found himself starstruck, and as a result, a bit tongue-tied in the presence of Hepburn and Tracy, whom he considered to be "giants" as far as acting is concerned. However, Poitier reportedly found a way to overcome his nerves. "When I went to play a scene with Tracy and Hepburn, I couldn't remember a word. Finally, Stanley Kramer said to me, 'What are we going to do?' I said, 'Stanley, send those two people home. I will play the scene against two empty chairs. I don't want them here because I can't handle that kind of company.' He sent them home. I played the scene in close-up against two empty chairs as the dialogue coach read Mr. Tracy's and Miss Hepburn's lines from off camera."
Given the tense nature of racism in the United States during the time of the film's production, Poitier felt he was "under close observation" by both Tracy and Hepburn during their first dinner meetings prior to production. However, he managed to swiftly win them over. Due to Tracy and Hepburn's close history with Kramer, Poitier cited that Hepburn and Tracy came to bear on him "the kind of respect they had for Kramer, and they had to say to themselves (and I'm sure they did), this kid has to be pretty okay, because Stanley is nuts about working with him".
The film premiered in theaters on December 12, 1967. The film falls into the genre of comedy drama. The film was released on VHS on December 12, 1987, on the 20th anniversary of the original release. The film was released on DVD on May 22, 2001. It was released on Blu-Ray on February 7, 2017 to commemorate the film's 50th anniversary.
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner was a box-office hit in 1968 throughout the United States, including in Southern states where it was traditionally assumed that few white filmgoers would want to see any film with black leads. The success of this film challenged that assumption in film marketing. Despite this success, which included numerous film award nominations, Frank Rich of The New York Times wrote in November 2008 that the film was frequently labeled as dated among liberals. Another main point of contention was the fact that Poitier's character, the golden future son-in-law, had no flaws and a résumé of good deeds. Many people felt that the dynamic between the Draytons and Poitier's character would have inevitably resulted in a happily-ever-after film ending because Poitier's character was so perfect, respectable, likable, and proper. Some people went as far as saying Prentice was "too white" not to be accepted by the Draytons. It was also criticized by some for these reasons at the time, with controversial African-American actor Stepin Fetchit saying that the film "did more to stop intermarriage than to help it."
The release of the film in the U.S. gave Poitier his third box-office success in six months in 1967, all of which placed the race of Poitier's character at issue. The film grossed a total of $56.7 million.
In a 1986 review of the film by The New York Times, Lawrence Van Gelder wrote: "the suspicion arises that were the film made today its makers would come to grips a good deal more bluntly with the problems of intermarriage. Still, this remains a deft comedy and – most of all – a paean to the power of love."
The original version of the film that played in theaters in 1968 contained a moment in which Tillie responds to the question "Guess who's coming to dinner now?" with the sarcastic one-liner: "The Reverend Martin Luther King?" After King's assassination on April 4, 1968, this line was removed from the film, so by August 1968, almost all theaters' showings of this film had this line omitted. As early as 1969, the line was restored to many but not all prints, and the line was preserved in the VHS and DVD versions of the film, as well.
Awards and honors
American Film Institute recognition
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies – #99
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions – #58
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
- "You think of yourself as a colored man. I think of myself as a man." – Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers – #35
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – Nominated
In 2003, comedian Daniele Luttazzi published the screenplay Tabù, an almost verbatim parody of the film. In the variation, the engaged lovers are aged 40 (him) and 12 (her), and are brother and sister.
An episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air featured a similar plot.
The 2005 film Guess Who starring Ashton Kutcher and Bernie Mac is a loose remake, styled as a comedy rather than a drama, with the racial roles reversed: Black parents are caught off-guard when their daughter brings home the young white man she has chosen to marry. Talking about the film, Bernie Mac told USA Today in 2003: "Interracial dating is not that significant any more." Mac said of the script: "They want to make it a comedy, but I won't disrespect Spencer, Katharine or Sidney."
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- Van Gelder, Lawrence (1986). "HOME VIDEO; New Cassettes: Big Stars and Big Bands". New York Times: 28.
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- Daniele Luttazzi (2003) La castrazione e altri metodi infallibili per prevenire l'acne, Feltrinelli, pp. 155-233.
- Thomas, Karen (2003). "Bernie will be Spencer in new 'Coming to Dinner'". USA Today.
- Andersen, Christopher (1997). An Affair to Remember: The Remarkable Love Story of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. William Morrow and Company, Inc. pp. 294–298. ISBN 0-688-15311-9.
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