Monday, 7 October 2013

Kay, the chorus girl in... "The Great Confusion of 1941"

Hepburn and Tracy: Nine movies and a secret romance

Hello, my pals and gals!
For today's post I'll have the help of Ms. Katharine Terryman, our chorus girl Kay.
She was in Hollywood in 1941, when the movies invaded the real world and Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy kissed for the first time in a moonlit hotel room where the cameras were not watching. Their characters were in love for the whole world to see on a movie screen, but behind the cameras it was their gaze that met, out of character, and it was their arms that were around each other when the lights were off and the studio called it a day.
Their relationship was a secret, or so they wanted, but it was clear as the light of day that the two of them had deep feelings for each other from day one. Magically, they became box office gold, bringing crowds to the theaters at the mere mention of their billings together. It wasn't the first or the last time that the public was less than discreet about their desire to see real-life couples on-screen together.
Why?

Well, this dates back, I have to assume, to one of the fundamentals of human existence: We pry.
And no, I don't mean that we all are nosey bastards who feed off of other people's private scandals and make a living out of the public joys and sorrows of poor movie stars. We simply have an innate curiosity towards the famous and a tendency to glamorize the way they live their lives. So much so that at the mention of a romance between stars of the standing of Hepburn and Tracy, the audience pictured their nightly strolls holding hands 'neath the moonlight, regardless of that ever happening or not. When given the opportunity of actually watching it happen, even if in character, the audience seldom wastes it. And the movie business has made a habit of profiting from this. I call it The Great Confusion, confusing personal life with on-screen stories.

Taylor and Burton: She took him to the screen
When married to Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton was appearing on Broadway on the play "Hamlet". Shakespeare was his specialty and he made a point of exploring that to the fullest. But when Elizabeth came into the picture, they decided to take advantage of The Great Confusion and Richard immediately transferred his talents to a primarily cinematic context. They made a total of 11 films together. Richard made the full transition, but when it was time for Elizabeth to go on the stage, she encountered difficulties, especially with her voice, high and small. But, nonetheless, their partnership on the screen generated hundreds of millions of dollars for the pair, still one of the highest paid couples in movie history. Their relationship is also an example of how mixing personal life with show business may end badly: Arguably the greatest love story of the twentieth century ended in divorce. The amount of press surrounding every aspect of their life was undoubtedly a factor in their untimely separation.

Bogart and Bacall in '52. By the time this
picture was taken, their on-screen
partnership was over.
It's important to note that this is usually the worst downside to combining an off-screen partnership with its on-screen counterpart. One of the two has to remain away from the press. In the same way that Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy hid their private affair from the press, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall kept their on-screen partnership to a minimum. Appearing constantly on and off screen at the eyes of the public can be considered by the public as an invitation to pry even more into one's private affairs. If one concentrates one's appearances to one of the two circumstances, the eagerness to see more will be cooled down.

There are undoubtedly advantages of working with a significant other. Not only will the understanding and compromising attached to a relationship make the working dynamic easier but the fun of spending the day with a loved one instead of with strangers will increase motivation. But one must be very careful to not let it intrude in the private relationship and learn to identify the minute that the personal life of the couple starts to suffer. Ultimately, real life needs to be the priority.

The Great Confusion is another factor that obtains little consideration when analysing one's stardom. Very few remember that Lauren Bacall would probably not be a star had she not starred with Humphrey Bogart in her first picture. Katharine Hepburn had a huge launch in her career by working with Spencer Tracy and their partnership increased the endurance of both of their screen appeals. I'm not saying that any of these love stories were built on financial interest by any means, but falling in love with another actor and appealing to the masses together is a great luck. That's all it is. Luck.

Like Kay herself says:
"There's nothing as complicated as one's rise to stardom. So many factors count, so many moments are decisive. And to be a star is a transitory state. One day you might be loved by the audience, the next you may be shunned from the American screen. Look at Ingrid Bergman for example. We, actors, are at the mercy of the audience. They are the real bosses."