The Philadelphia Story (play)

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The Philadelphia Story
First edition
Written by Philip Barry
Date premiered March 28, 1939 (1939-03-28)
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. Written as a vehicle for Katharine Hepburn, its success marked a reversal of fortunes for the actress, who was one of the film stars deemed "box office poison" in 1938.


The character of Tracy Lord was inspired by Helen Hope Montgomery Scott, 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] The play was a great success on Broadway, and was Hepburn's first great triumph after a number of Hollywood failures had led the Independent Theatre Owners of America to publicly deem her and a number of other film stars "box office poison".

Hoping to create a film vehicle for herself which would erase the label, 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][3][4]

Produced by the Theatre Guild, The Philadelphia Story opened March 28, 1939, at the Shubert Theatre in New York City. The three-act comedy was directed by Robert B. Sinclair, with lighting and scenery by Robert Edmond Jones.[5]


Katharine Hepburn in the Broadway stage production of The Philadelphia Story



In 1940 the play was adapted to film, in a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer picture directed by George Cukor and starring Cary Grant, Hepburn, and James Stewart.

In 1956, it was adapted to a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musical film version, High Society with Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and Louis Armstrong. Kelly incidentally was an actual Philadelphia socialite in real life.


Radio adaptations of The Philadelphia Story include a half-hour presentation on The Prudential Family Hour of Stars (February 26, 1950), starring Sarah Churchill, Norma Jean Nilsson, Gerald Mohr and Gene Kelly.[6] An hour-long adaptation was broadcast August 17, 1952, on Best Plays, with a cast including Joan Alexander, Betty Furness, Myron McCormick and Vera Allen.[7]


The Philadelphia Story was adapted for the second season of the NBC-TV series, Robert Montgomery Presents. Starring Barbara Bel Geddes (Tracy Lord), Richard Derr (Macauley Connor) and Leslie Nielsen (C. K. Dexter Haven), the one-hour live program aired December 4, 1950.[8]

On December 8, 1954, a live 60-minute adaptation of the play was broadcast on the CBS-TV series, The Best of Broadway. The cast included Mary Astor (Margaret Lord), Dorothy McGuire (Tracy Lord), Charles Winninger (Uncle Willie), Neva Patterson (Liz Imbrie), Richard Carlson (Mike Connor), Dick Foran (George Kittredge), John Payne (C.K. Dexter Haven) and Herbert Marshall (Seth Lord).[9]


Copyright for The Philadelphia Story was registered in 1939 by Barry and his wife, portrait artist Ellen Semple Barry,[10] and was renewed by her in 1967.[11] Her estate retains copyright to the play.[12]


  1. ^ Irvine, Ian "The Real Philadelphia Story" at
  2. ^ a b Melear, Mary Anne "The Philadelphia Story" (TCM article)
  3. ^ TCM Notes
  4. ^ All Movie Overview
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Atkinson, Brooks (March 29, 1939). "The Play: Katharine Hepburn Appearing in Philip Barry's 'The Philadelphia Story' for the Theatre Guild". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-11-10. 
  6. ^ "The Prudential Family Hour of Stars". RadioGOLDINdex. Retrieved 2015-11-10. 
  7. ^ "Best Plays". RadioGOLDINdex. Retrieved 2015-11-10. 
  8. ^ "Robert Montgomery Presents". Classic Television Archive. Retrieved 2015-11-10. 
  9. ^ "Best of Broadway". Classic Television Archive. Retrieved 2015-11-10. 
  10. ^ Library of Congress, Copyright Office (1939). Catalog of Copyright Entries. Part 1. Group 3. Dramatic Composition and Motion Pictures. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. p. 39. 
  11. ^ Library of Congress, Copyright Office (1967). Catalog of Copyright Entries 3D Ser Vol 21 Pts 3-4 Dramas and Works Prepared for Oral Delivery. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. p. 146. 
  12. ^ Blake, Jason (November 2, 2013). "Copyright closes the book on Philadelphia Story". The Age. Retrieved 2015-11-10. /

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