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COLUMN: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

A message from old friends that resonates today
Sidney Poitier (the first Black man to win an Oscar for Best Actor) and Katharine Houghton, Hepburn’s niece, fall in love. Photo YouTube.

Last week I spent a couple of hours with two old friends.

It was wonderful.

By name, they are Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, and the occasion was the film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

For those people who are not familiar with the movie (raised under a rock?), it was an iconic cinema event when was it was released in 1967, and for several reasons.

If this movie was a dish at a fine dining restaurant food critics would describe it as having many levels and depth of flavour.

Notably, it was Tracy’s last film.

He died 17 days after filming was completed, at age 67.

Hepburn never watched the finished product.

The two comprised a genuine Hollywood love story. Intimate partners and best friends for 25 years, they made nine movies together.

Tracy was in such ill health when the project of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner began, the production company refused to cast him, as he was non-insurable.

Hepburn, along with friend and director Stanley Kramer, put their own salaries into escrow, against the possibility the multiple Academy Award winner could not complete his contract.

Begging forgiveness here. Once deliciously down a rabbit hole of Golden Age trivia, it’s hard to remember where you started and why.

So on with the show.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is a story of a proposed interracial marriage. This was 55 years ago, when such a thing was illegal in 17 states in America.

It’s sometimes categorized as a romantic comedy-drama, but its themes are primarily serious.

In a nutshell, two young people, played by Sidney Poitier (the first Black man to win an Oscar for Best Actor) and Katharine Houghton, Hepburn’s niece, fall in love.

The intendeds spring this development on their respective families and recriminations occur on both sides. It never comes across as racism – more like two patriarchs who are worried for what their children will face, given the times.

Tracy’s character is a self-described liberal newspaper publisher, and he must confront his professed ideas, against his reality.

The story ends with a poignant monologue by Tracy, so well crafted by writer William Rose.

“You do know, I am sure you know, what you are up against. There will be 100 million people right here in this country who will be shocked and offended and appalled by the two of you. The two of you will just have to ride that out, and maybe every day for the rest of your lives. You can try to ignore those people, or you can feel sorry for those people, sorry for their prejudices and their bigotry and their blind hatred and stupid fear. But where necessary you will have to cling tight to each other and say, ‘Screw all those people.’”

Then they all go in to dinner and eat steaks. More than half a century later, those words are poignant and relevant, as many in our towns and cities come together to support new communities, couples, and families.

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Andrea DeMeer

About the Author: Andrea DeMeer

Andrea is the publisher of the Similkameen Spotlight.
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