George Cukor was known in the trade as a “woman’s director” because of his skill in directing such stars as Katharine Hepburn, but his credits range over a wide variety of genres. A Bill of Divorcement (1932) was Hepburn’s screen debut, as the daughter of a man who has been committed to an insane asylum for many years and then returns home to find that his wife has left him for another man. Dinner at Eight (1933) is, along with Edmund Goulding’s Grand Hotel (1932), the definitive all-star film, a shrewd combination of comedy and drama centering on the lives of a group of ambitious Manhattan socialites.
David Copperfield (1935) is a faithful adaptation of Dickens’s classic novel and offered W C. Fields his only serious role as the perennially bankrupt Mr. Micawber. Gaslight (1944), one of the screen’s great melodramas, stars Charles Boyer as a husband who contrives to drive his wife (Ingrid Bergman) mad so that he can have her declared insane and gain control of her fortune. Cukor also directed the classic comedy of the sexes The Philadelphia Story (1940), with Hepburn, James Stewart, and Cary Grant, and teamed Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in Adam’s Rib (1949) and Pat and Mike (1952).
The show business drama A Star Is Born (1954), with Judy Garland and James Mason, suffered massive cuts when first released, yet is now recognized as a classic examination of the mechanics of the star system, the Hollywood studio system, and the evanescent nature of celebrity. In all, Cukor’s career spanned over five decades; his later works are highlighted in Chapter 8.