Oscar History

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Jan 22 2014

A Year With Kate: Little Women (1933)

Episode 4 of 52Anne Marieis screening all of Katharine Hepburn's films in chronological order.

In which we remember childhood fondly.

When I was 11,our school librarian told me that if you love a book enough,you have its first line burned into your brain.Being a very literal child,I immediately selected my favorite book,Little Women,and studiously memorized the first line:

"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents,grumbled Jo,lying on the rug."

Later—much later than I'm comfortably willing to admit—I realized that Mrs.Krallactuallymeant that when you love a story,you revisit it so often that it stays with you.I think we can all agree this extends to film as well.[more...]

Favorite characters have been my constant companions,bringing comfort ("In a world where carpenters get resurrected,anything is possible"),commiseration ("I'm going crazy.I'm standing here on my own two hands and going crazy"),and even some creative ways to curse:

It's no surprise that Jo March was my childhood hero.I was a tomboy.I was a bookworm.I put on plays in my parents' living room.I cut my hair short,and played in the dirt,and wanted to be a writer.(Not much changed there.) In my mind,IwasJo March.And I wasn't the only one.

Did you know that when she was little,Hepburn cut her hair and went by the name Jimmy?For all its 30's staginess,Little Womenmay be the closest we ever get to seeing Kathy the Kid instead of Kate the Star.She swaggers and swears and—gasp!—even whistles.(No pants,though.) Egged on by George Cukor,Hepburn throws elegance to the wind and plays Jo March as a horror in a hoopskirt.And while we're still a year away from Dorothy Parker's immortal barb that "Katharine Hepburn runs the gamut of emotions from A to B,"I would like to share this particular closeup as preemptive proof that Miss Parker can shove it.

Of course,Jo March is just one of four little women growing up in this Civil War story.If you didn't love her as I did,maybe you identified with one of her sisters: the vain Amy (Joan Bennett),the saintly Beth (Jean Parker),or the motherly Meg (Frances Dee).Little Womenis a nostalgic recollection of childhood,as the four sisters grow,get sick,get published,and get married.(I actually have a bone to pick with that last one.Why would Jo marry the guy who keeps criticizing her stories?Why should Jo marry at all?A pox on Professor Bhaer!I say Jo settled.)

Little Womencloses the book on 1933,Kate's most successful year at RKO.(I know we all loveBringing Up Baby,but remember how nobody at the time did?We'll get there,I promise.)  Surprise Oscar win notwithstanding,1934 would be a rough year for Kate.For those playing along,be warned: we're about to see our first real stinker.

But instead of looking ahead,let's look back a little longer.Who was your childhood hero?

Previous Weeks:A Bill of Divorcement,Christopher Strong,Morning Glory
Next Week:Spitfire(1934): In which an East Coast debutante plays a hick named Hicks and the result is about what you'd expect.

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Reader Comments (7)

Ah,the first time a pretty great Hepburn performance mysteriously got ignored for a kind of uneven Hepburn performance at the Oscars.亚博主页I mean,she's fine inMorning Gloryand all,but she's soalivein this movie.It's my favorite of her performances (that I've seen) prior toStage Door.

And those stills of her face are sublime,and I thank you for putting them up there,that we can all look at them in adoration.

January 22,2014 | Registered CommenterTim Brayton

I'm mesmerized by that gif.She really did look divine in the trappings of that period.The severe pulled-back hairstyles were great for showcasing The Cheekbones.

Also,I am a Professor Bhaer apologist (at least the book version of the character).Come at me!

January 22,2014 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret

While it's not among my personal favorites of her films I do feel this is the film her first Oscar should have been awarded for.It's a beautiful performance surrounded by others doing very fine work and of course she found a very simpatico director in Cukor.He was able to draw her out in ways other directors couldn't and the role fit her like a glove.It's funny that she and Bette Davis were both New England girls through and through but I can't imagine Bette in this most Yankee role,actually none of the sisters would have suited her personality.

To be fair that quote of Parker's is about Kate's stage performance in The Lake and even Kate acknowledged that she was nervous and too full of herself at that point to be as effective as she should have been in the lead..She started on the stage but had quick success,left for Hollywood and had never carried a stage vehicle.She had some success on the stage in later years but film was the medium where her personality and skill translated best.

I'm girding myself for the horror show that is Spitfire next week.If Jo March was an early perfect match than Trigger Hicks was the exact opposite.

Childhood hero: Thomas Jefferson.Literary hero: Charlotte of Charlotte's Web

January 22,2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

I liked the book Little Women.And also Alcott's Rose In Bloom,and to a lesser extent,Little Men and Jo's Boys.Of books set in sort of that era,I prefer Anne of Green Gables.I could understand and relate more to Anne.

Of the 3 movie versions of Little Women I've seen (1933,1949,1994) Katherine Hepburn is by far my favorite Jo.The rangy tom boyishness also has a side of cool elegance.Hepburn has a wonderful effervescence that makes Jo make sense.The intelligence and wit and charm she also brings to it make Jo such a sympathetic heroine.

In the 1949 version,I like Rossano Brazzi ( Hepburn's costar in Summertime) as the Professor,Margaret O'Brien as Beth,and Elizabeth Taylor as Amy.

In the 1994 version,I like Christian Bale as Laurie,Kirsten Dunst as Amy,Susan Sarandon as Marmee-Mrs.March,and Trini Alvarado as Meg.

In EW in October,Jodi Walker wrote about her dream cast for a new remake if Little Women,with Brie Larson as Jo.Since Robin Swicord,who is one of the producers and also wrote the script for the 1994 version,is also the mother of Zoe Kazan,I think they could find a part for Kazan there.Part of the irresistible fun of Little Wonen is that it has FOUR roles for young contemporary actresses.

January 23,2014 | Unregistered Commenteradri

I think that Hepburn won her first Oscar for this role too.It's like Julie Christie in Darling and Doctor Zhivago,or Nicole Kidman in The Hours and The Others.The second role highlighted the range of the actress and made it "safe"to give the award to a relative newbie to the Oscars.亚博主页Heaven knows that LIttle Women is the superior film,but I guess Morning Glory is ONLY about Katharine Hepburn after all.

And really,think of the times,if Jo didn't marry the Professor she'd end up without,er,getting any.I much prefer to think of Jo as an adventurer in all aspects of life,even if it means she has to "settle"somewhat.

January 23,2014 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

I like Kate,but that Parker line is a riot.

January 23,2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

The Oscar shld've gone to this,rather than Mourning Glory!

No offense to all her die-hard fans,but Kate is so IRRITATING & clattering like a machine gun in MG,it really grates on U (Shakespeare b damned)!!

Here in Little Women,she really became a STAR!Jo is so much like herself,that no other future actress could play this role w/o being compared to Kate's performance.She herself had said that she was as puzzled as every1 else why Oscar choose to honour the appetiser (MG) rather than the main course (LW)..It won her Venice best actress and is a performance she hold dear to her heart

Sidenote: Cukor should've won the Oscar for best director,& not only bcos of his skillful direction o LW,but also for Dinner at Eight!Talk abt versatibility

August 26,2014 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

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