Bringing Up Baby
is a 1938 screwball comedy
directed by Howard Hawks
and starring Katharine Hepburn
and Cary Grant
. It tells the story of a scientist winding up in various predicaments involving a woman with a unique sense of logic and a leopard
named Baby. The supporting cast includes Charles Ruggles
, Barry Fitzgerald
, Walter Catlett
, and May Robson
Adapted by Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde from a story by Hagar Wilde, Bringing Up Baby was an infamous box office catastrophe, causing Hawks to be fired from his next RKO film (Gunga Din, also starring Cary Grant) and forcing Hepburn to buy out her contract. As time went on, however, the movie gained more and more attention and is now revered as a sophisticated classic decades ahead of its time, and it continues to generate revenue for Hepburn's estate.
Bringing Up Baby is number ninety-seven on AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies, number fourteen on its 100 Years... 100 Laughs, and number fifty-one on its 100 Years... 100 Passions. In 1990, it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant", going on the second year that the registry started preserving films. Entertainment Weekly also voted the film number twenty-four on its list of the greatest films. In 2000, readers of Total Film magazine voted it the forty-seventh greatest comedy film of all time. It is also consistently on the Internet Movie Database's list of top 250 films.
The 1987 movie Who's That Girl? starring Madonna is loosely based on this film, as is the 1972 Barbra Streisand classic What's Up, Doc?, directed by Peter Bogdanovich.
David Huxley (Cary Grant) is a mild-mannered paleontologist
beleaguered by problems. For the past four years, he has been trying to assemble the skeleton of a Brontosaurus
but is missing one bone (an "intercostal clavicle
"). To add to the stress, he is about to get married to a dour woman with a severe personality and must make a favorable impression upon a Mrs. Random, a wealthy woman who is considering donating one million dollars to his museum. The day before his planned wedding, David meets Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn) by chance. She is a free-spirited young lady and, unknown to him at first, happens to be Mrs. Random's niece.
Susan's brother (Mark) has sent her a tame leopard from Brazil (despite the fact that leopards are Old World animals, and Brazil is jaguar territory), "Baby," which she is supposed to give to her aunt. Susan believes David is a zoologist rather than a paleontologist and she practically stalks him in order to get David to go to her country home in Connecticut to help her take care of Baby. Complications arise as Susan decides that she has fallen in love with David and she endeavors to keep him at her house for as long as possible to prevent him from marrying his colleague. At this point, the plot becomes further entangled as Susan's dog, George, steals and buries the last dinosaur bone that David needs to complete his Brontosaurus skeleton at the museum. Susan's aunt Elizabeth (Mrs. Random) arrives. She is unaware of who David really is because Susan has introduced him as a man named "Mr. Bone". Baby runs off, as do George and a decidedly untame leopard from a nearby circus that Susan and David had inadvertently let loose from its cage, thinking it was Baby. Now Susan and David must find Baby, George the dog, and the dinosaur bone, while ensuring that Mrs. Random donates her million dollars to the museum. To accomplish this, they must first get out of the county jail, where they've been mistakenly locked up by a befuddled town constable.
- Katharine Hepburn ... Susan Vance, a ditzy but well-meaning socialite
- Cary Grant ... Dr. David Huxley (alias Mr. Bone), a mild-mannered paleontologist
- Charles Ruggles (credited as Charlie Ruggles) ... Maj. Horace Applegate,
- Walter Catlett ... Constable Slocum, who arrests most of the cast
- Barry Fitzgerald ... Aloysius Gogarty, a heavily stereotyped Irish-American gardener
- May Robson ... Aunt Elizabeth Random, Susan's snobbish aunt
- Fritz Feld ... Dr. Fritz Lehman
- Leona Roberts ... Mrs. Hannah Gogarty, wife of Aloysius
- George Irving ... Dr. Alexander Peabody, Mrs Random's lawyer
- Tala Birell ... Mrs. Lehman
- Virginia Walker ... Alice Swallow, David's shrewish fiancée
- John Kelly ... Elmer
- Asta ... George, a dog
- Nissa ... both of the leopards
- Ward Bond ... Motorcycle cop at jail (uncredited)
- Jack Carson ... Circus Roustabout (uncredited)
- Karl 'Karchy' Kosiczky ... Midget (uncredited)
Usage of the word "gay"
Arguably, this was the first work of fiction, aside from pornography
, to use the word "gay
" in a homosexual
context. Robert Chapman's The Dictionary of American Slang
reports that the adjective "gay" was used by homosexuals, among themselves, in this sense since at least 1920. Donald Webster Cory writes in The Homosexual in America
- "Psychoanalysts have informed me that their homosexual patients were calling themselves gay in the nineteen-twenties, and certainly by the nineteen-thirties it was the most common word in use by homosexuals themselves."
Cory continued that it was such an insiders' term that "an advertisement for a roommate can actually ask for a gay youth, but could not possibly call for a homosexual. According to Vito Russo the script actually had David (Grant) saying, in an attempt to explain why he is wearing Susan's marabou-trimmed negligee, "I... I suppose you think its odd, my wearing this. I realize it looks odd... I don't usually... I mean, I don't own one of these." However Grant ad-libbed
his own line, "Because I just went gay
all of a sudden." Russo has pointed out that this was an indication that people in Hollywood
, at least in Grant's circles, were already familiar with the slang connotations of the word. However, neither Grant himself nor anyone involved in the film ever confirmed this. The term "gay" did not become widely familiar to the general public until the Stonewall riots