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December 27, 2015

How 'The Philadelphia Story' salvaged Katharine Hepburn's film career 75 years ago

Story of Main Line socialite helped revive actress' box office woes

Philadelphia has produced several recent mega-stars in the movie business; Will Smith and Bradley Cooper are names that come to mind.

Decades ago, however, it was a tale set in the City of Brotherly Love that didn't spawn but instead saved the career of a star performer.

On Friday, TIME magazine looked back at how when "The Philadelphia Story" hit theaters the day after Christmas in 1940, its lead actress Katharine Hepburn was coming off of a run in which several of her movies flopped very badly.

They had done so poorly that a New York City theater famously called her "box office poison." 

That man, Harry Brandt, was forced to rescind the statement when the movie about a wealthy Main Line girl opened. More from TIME:

He took it back, however, when The Philadelphia Story opened 75 years ago, on Dec. 26, 1940, quickly drawing what TIME then called “the longest line in the eight-year history of the Radio City Music Hall.” People “queued up during a spell of foul weather to pay top prices,” and within four days “had set a new record for the period with 110,168 paid admissions in the nation’s No. 1 movie house.”

The film lit a flame under Hepburn's career after she had taken time to focus on stage roles, TIME points out, and it remains an "unqualified classic" to this day, according to Rotten Tomatoes.

Following a socialite of the Philly suburbs, the movie also stars Cary Grant and James Stewart but was written specifically for Hepburn as a Broadway production. 

She purchased the rights to the story along with  business tycoon Howard Hughes before the movie opened.

Its title has served as the inspiration for countless headlines over the years, and in case you've never seen it, it can be rented on DVD through Netflix (sorry, no streaming).

You can read more from TIME, including a review from when the movie was released, here.