Friday, February 18, 2011

They Go Together

Werth: Allo, Wise!

Wise: Same to ya’, Werth!

Werth: Did you happen to see that The Landmark Lowe’s Jersey Theatre in Jersey City is showing three Bogey & Bacall movies Saturday and Sunday?

Wise: I did—right after you told me about it.

Werth: I love the Bogey & Bacall story. It’s so crammed full of Hollywood history and legend.

Wise: Unlike the Brangelina Saga.

Werth: Perhaps one day Hollywood couples like Brad & Angelina and Demi & Ashton will have a more epic feel to them, but until then, my favorite on-screen/off-screen romance is the Tracy & Hepburn coupling.

Wise: Good ol’ Spence and Kate.

Werth: Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn starred together for the first time in 1942’s Woman of the Year. Their on-screen chemistry translated off-screen and soon the two began a love affair. The film was a success so future pairings of these two well-matched, accomplished actors were plotted by MGM to the cha-ching of Cupid's cash register. There was only one problem in promoting this new cinematic couple—

Wise: —Spence was married—

Werth: —to a Catholic with a daughter and a deaf son no less. Stories vary as to why Tracy never left his wife for Hepburn: powerful Catholic guilt, career ruination, Hepburn wasn’t the marrying kind. But whatever the reason, Tracy never divorced his wife. That meant Tracy and Hepburn had to try to pretend that they weren’t involved, but it seems their affair was one of the worst-kept secrets in Hollywood.

Wise: How could anyone see their on-screen sparks and not wonder if Spence was putting his Boys Town in Kate’s Stage Door?

Werth: Exactly. And the studios didn’t want to separate them. Hepburn and Tracy were coupled romantically nine times in classics like State of the Union (1948), Adam’s Rib (1949) and Pat and Mike (1952). It all helped create the impression that Tracy and Hepburn were a match made in MGM heaven, so if they happened to hook-up off the lot, as long as there were no sordid divorce proceedings, who cared?  It was kind of the best of both worlds. Nobody had to admit to a scandalous affair and the audience could live vicariously through the silver screen romance that Tracy and Hepburn’s illicit affections generated. It was a win-win.

Wise: Like when the McDonald’s McRib sandwich is on the dollar menu?

Werth: Most accounts have Hepburn and Tracy’s relationship cooling in the 1950’s to a very deep friendship. But when you watch their final film together, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (1967), you get a sense of the love that these two clearly shared for one another. Tracy was gravely ill during the shooting and legend has it that Hepburn had to offer her salary as a guarantee to the producers that Tracy would actually finish the film. Hepburn and Tracy’s scenes in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner are beautiful not just for the subtlety that both actors had developed over time, but for the ability of film to capture the last moments of the unmistakable bond between the two. 
Tracy’s final monologue in the film is powerful, touching and tragic as you watch Hepburn watching him, knowing that this very important man in her cinematic and personal life was dying. Seventeen days after filming ended, while making a pot of tea in Hepburn’s kitchen, Spencer Tracy died. Hepburn did not attend the funeral and claimed never to have watched Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, because it was too painful for her. It was the last chapter of a great romance on film and in real life.

Wise: Wow. It sounds like you’re having a sweet love hangover from last week’s Valentine’s posting.

Werth: That or someone slipped a little estrogen into my vodka tonic.

Wise: I plead the fifth.  Anyway, while you’re busy feeling verklempt, I want to talk about another cinematic couple that has fascinated millions on screen and off.  

Werth: Liz Taylor and Richard Burton?  

Wise: Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog.  

Werth: Did we just get picked up by PBS?

Wise: I know this sounds like a joke, but I’m actually serious.  Kermit was a major character among the Muppet players, starting on a local kids show in the DC area, rising to stardom on Sesame Street, and becoming part of the cultural firmament with the premiere of The Muppet Show in 1976.  Miss Piggy began as a minor character on that show, but her role expanded as her insatiable twin desires for big time stardom and romance with Kermit made her an audience favorite.  

Werth: That explains why her her face changed so drastically from the first season. Not that Piggy would admit to having plastic surgery.

Wise: By the time of The Muppet Movie, her star had risen to a level almost equal to that of Kermit and their burgeoning romance allowed for some of the more tender moments amid all the slapstick, jokes and absurdity.  Of course their scenes had all those comic elements as well—I’m thinking specifically of a scene where Steve Martin plays their dimwitted waiter during a romantic dinner—but the romance allowed the movie to tap into a certain kind of overblown Hollywood romance that was ripe for Muppet parody.  One of the movie posters even copied the the famous one-sheet from Gone With the Wind featuring Rhett clutching Scarlett over the burning ashes of Atlanta.  

Werth: Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a ham!  

Wise: Their screen chemistry reached its apotheosis, however, with The Great Muppet Caper.  Kermit, Fozzie the Bear and the Great Gonzo play three reporters hot on the trail of jewel thieves, only to mistake Miss Piggy for her fashion designer boss, Lady Holiday, played by Diana Rigg with witty and sexy aplomb.  The mistaken identities, snappy dialogue, and visual verve put this movie on par with some of the best screwball comedies of the 1930s, but what really makes it special are the amazing song and dance numbers performed by the Muppets.  
Kermit and Piggy share a dance duet in a swank London nightclub, a romantic bicycle ride together in a park, and, perhaps best of all, Miss Piggy stars in a water ballet while Kermit and Charles Grodin compete for her in song.  

Werth: Even at nine-years-old I knew Charles Grodin was a bad man.

Wise: The frog and the pig’s romance continues to this day, so hopefully when Jason Segel’s reboot of the Muppet franchise hits theaters later this year, we’ll get the chance to fall in love with them all over again.  

Werth: I think there’s one more sassily fun cinematic couple we should mention before we close.  

Wise: Statler & Waldorf?  

Werth: Haven’t you ever heard of self-promotion?  

Wise: Oh, right.  Check back next week for more pork from that witty and charming blogosphere twosome—Werth & Wise!”

Werth: Now I’m hungry for a McRib...

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