The Oscar-nominated movie that is known for its many catch phrases (“The calla lilies are in bloom again”) has a few distinct connections with the Nutmeg State. Katharine Hepburn, born of Hartford, created the role of Tracy Lord on the stage in 1939, which immediately preceded the 1940 on-screen release of The Philadelphia Story.
It has been said that the role was made for Hepburn, whose life as a proclaimed “Hartford-born aristocrat” seemed to mirror that of the fictitious Tracy Lord. Philip Barry, creator of the stage version of The Philadelphia Story (intended specifically for Hepburn), was a well received playwright in Connecticut. Stamford’s Hartman Theatre Company was the first resident professional theater to present a Phillip Barry comedy in 1977, when they presented “The Animal Kingdom” (1931).
Designer Valentina Nicholaevna Sanina produced fashions for numerous plays, including “The Philadelphia Story”. One of the jackets made by Valentina (as she was known), and worn by Hepburn, is owned by the Connecticut Historical Society. The jacket is made of machine- and hand-stitched silk, and features a gold-on-black ribbon label that reads “Valentina”. The Asian-inspired shape of the jacket is characteristic of the designer, and yet it also speaks to the style that was distinctly Katharine Hepburn’s.
Be sure to visit us to see the new exhibition Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen, and enjoy the upcoming Kate Couture: A Hepburn-Inspired Fashion Show, coming to CHS on Saturday, May 10. Information for both events can be found on our website, and select Hepburn images can be found at Connecticut History Online and eMuseum.
Sierra Dixon is a Research & Collections Associate at the Connecticut Historical Society