The Philadelphia Story (play)

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This article is about the play. For the film adaptation, see The Philadelphia Story (film).
The Philadelphia Story
Cover of an edition of the text
Written by Philip Barry
Date premiered 28 March 1939
Place premiered Shubert Theatre, New York City
Original language English
Subject Love, marriage, divorce
Genre Comedy
Setting The suburbs of Philadelphia in the 1930s

The Philadelphia Story is a 1939 American comic play by Philip Barry. It tells the story of a socialite whose wedding plans are complicated by the simultaneous arrival of her ex-husband and an attractive journalist.


The character of Tracy Lord was inspired by Helen Hope Montgomery Scott (1905–1995), a Philadelphia socialite known for her hijinks, who married a friend of playwright Philip Barry.[1]

Barry wrote The Philadelphia Story specifically for Katharine Hepburn, who ended up not only starring in but also financially backing the play, foregoing a salary in return for a percentage of the play's profits.[2] Co-starring with Hepburn on Broadway were Joseph Cotten as "C.K. Dexter Haven", Van Heflin as "Macauley Connor", with Shirley Booth as "Liz Imbrie".[3]

The play was a great success on Broadway, and was Hepburn's first great triumph after a number of commercial failures (including the classic Bringing Up Baby) had led the Independent Theatre Owners of America to publicly deem her and a handful of other actresses "box office poison."

Film and TV adaptations[edit]

Hoping to create a film vehicle for herself which would erase the label of "box office poison", Hepburn accepted the film rights to the play from Howard Hughes, who had purchased them as a gift for her. She then convinced MGM's Louis B. Mayer to buy them from her for only $250,000 in return for Hepburn having veto over producer, director, screenwriter and cast.[2][4][5]

In 1940 it was adapted to film, in an MGM production directed by George Cukor and starring Cary Grant, Hepburn, and James Stewart. On December 8, 1954, a 60-minute adaptation of the play was broadcast on the CBS Television series The Best of Broadway. In 1956, it was adapted to an MGM musical film version, High Society with Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and Louis Armstrong.


The copyright to the play is shared with Barry's wife Ellen (Semple) Barry, a noted Portrait Artist. Although she gave interviews during her life about the play and did not mention her contribution, her Estate claims copyright to the play.[6]


  1. ^ Irvine, Ian "The Real Philadelphia Story" at
  2. ^ a b Melear, Mary Anne "The Philadelphia Story" (TCM article)
  3. ^ The Philadelphia Story at the Internet Broadway Database
  4. ^ TCM Notes
  5. ^ All Movie Overview
  6. ^

External links[edit]