Filmsite Movie Review
Morning Glory (1933)
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Morning Glory (1933) is the story of a naive and pretentious aspiring actress. It starred Katharine Hepburn in only her third film. This RKO film, directed by Lowell Sherman and adapted from a stage play by Zoe Akins, is notable since it helped to launch the actress' successful career, and provided her with the first (of four) Best Actress Oscars - the film's only nomination.

Many critics have noted that Hepburn should have won an Oscar for her first screen appearance in A Bill of Divorcement (1932) a year earlier.

This film is in the tradition of other backstage dramas (such as Gregory La Cava's Stage Door (1937)) and tales of unknown actresses rising to stardom (such as William Wellman's A Star is Born (1937)).

The Story

Fresh-faced and luminous Ada Love/"Eva Lovelace" (Katharine Hepburn) is an inexperienced, small town community theatre actress from a New England (Franklin, Vermont) country town who comes to New York stagestruck, bringing all of her yearnings, hopes and dreams. She states: "I have something very wonderful in me, you'll see."

She makes new friends quickly including kindly, paternalistic veteran stage actor Robert Harley Hedges (C. Aubrey Smith), who takes her up to the offices of a major Broadway casting office, Lewis Easton Productions, where while waiting in the lobby, she meets her competition - a more experienced actress Miss Gwendolyn Hall (Geneva Mitchell) swathed in a fur wrap, who complains about the number of auditioners: "Evidently everyone else has heard it too. When I arrived here, it looked as though the entire Actor's Equity Association had been sent for." When Eva is asked about her thin coat, she replies snidely: "I like to feel cold. It makes me feel strong. I shouldn't like to go about swathed in furs unless they're sables. I don't like anything cheap, particularly furs.'

Befriended by R.H. Hedges, she introduces herself and explains her name:

I hope you're going to tell me your name. I want you for my first friend in New York. Mine's Eva Lovelace. It's partly made up and partly real. It was Ada Love. Love's my family name. I added the 'lace.' Do you like it, or would you prefer something shorter? A shorter name would be more convenient on a sign. Still, 'Eva Lovelace in Camille,' for instance, or 'Eva Lovelace in Romeo and Juliet' sounds very distinguished, doesn't it? I don't want to use my family name, because I'll probably have several scandals while I live and I don't want to cause them any trouble until I'm famous when nobody will mind. That's why I must decide on something at once while there's still time, before I'm famous. Don't you think there's something very charming, something that just suits me about Eva Lovelace?

And then Eva meets to speak to slimy, philandering and opportunistic Broadway producer Lewis Easton (Adolphe Menjou), where she gushes about her career promise. As she promotes herself, she shows him a remarkable letter from George Bernard Shaw, and describes her ambitious dreams of becoming a Broadway theatrical star:

I was in a lot of plays at the Franklin Theatre Guild - at the Little Theater...At Franklin, Vermont, where I lived until sometime ago. The Franklin papers, both of them, agreed that I had a future. I play all sorts of parts. Hedda, you know, lbsen's Hedda of course, the old woman in Riders to the Sea, the queen in The Queen's Enemies by Dunsany, and Kitty in Shaw's You Never Can Tell...Yes, the one and only...He's the greatest living dramatist...I know it. By the way, I had a charming letter from him the other day. I wrote him and sent him a photograph of a scene from the play and told him all about it - that I was coming to New York and expected to be very famous and have a theater of my own so I could play his Cleopatra until I was too old for it, when I'd do Mrs. Warren's Profession. Of course, I didn't know whether he'd ever answer my letter or not, but here's his letter. May I read it to you? It's never left me a moment since I received it. I even sleep with it under my pillow.

Earnest young playwright Joe Sheridan (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) overhears the conversation and takes a look at the letter, remarking:

Oh, this is marvelous. He says it's cheeky of them to have produced a play of his at all. He's sure it was a, uh, piratical performance. He's glad that Miss, uh, Miss Lovelace?...He's glad Miss Lovelace will see that he's properly recognized when she has her own repertoire theater and hopes she won't forget him.

The overly-dramatic Eva replies and vows: "Oh, I won't. I've sworn it. There will always be a Shaw play in my repertoire as long as I remain in the theater. Of course, I expect to die at my zenith. My star shall never set, I've sworn that, too. And when that moment comes, when I feel that I've done my best, my very best, I shall really die by my own hand some night at the end of the play on the stage."

At a cocktail party held in the penthouse apartment of Lewis Easton, Eva becomes drunk on champagne, first evident when she almost sits on Easton's lap and blabs on about herself:

I shouldn't be surprised if I'm a great actress...I shouldn't be surprised. Either I'm a rotten actress or I'm a great actress. I'm not just a pretty good actress. Now, sometimes, I think I'm very, very, very bad. No good. Tonight, I think I'm wrong when I think that. Oh, I feel wonderful, Mr. Easton. Not afraid anymore....You see, I wasn't afraid, not for a long time. When I lost a part, I thought it was because I was a genius, and geniuses always have a hard time....Yes, the world never appreciates genius when it's young. Then I began to get afraid. 'Maybe I'm crazy,' I got to thinking. 'Maybe I'm not a genius.' And then I said, 'It's better not to think.' In this world where but to think is to be full of sorrow, it's better.. But tonight I'm not afraid to think though, because I'm almost thoroughly convinced that I'm a genius again.

She also pretentiously brags to Easton: "I'm the greatest young actress in the world. I'm gonna go on getting greater and greater and greater, you'll see...", when Hedges cautions Eva about making a fool of herself, but she decides to prove everyone wrong: "I'm gonna prove it to you. Now keep quiet, all of you. And you. You, just wait a minute. Just watch me" - and she performs a slurred-speech rendition of Hamlet's soliloquy in front of startled party guests: "To be or not to be - that is the question." She then goes on to perform a second show-offy excerpt from the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene, taking the part of love-struck Juliet:

Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name. Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love and I'll no longer be a Capulet. (Sheridan as Romeo: Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?) 'Tis but thy name that is my enemy. What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd, retain that dear perfection which he owes without that title. Romeo, doff thy name and for thy name which is no part of thee, take all myself.

Ambitious Joseph Sheridan arranges for her to be the understudy for successful but troubled and temperamental star Rita Vernon (Mary Duncan) in a new show that he has written. On opening night, Rita demands more money from Easton just before the curtain goes up, but Easton resists and fires her. Eva takes Rita's place, performing brilliantly.

Backstage following her triumphant debut performance, she is warned about instant success going to her head by Hedges, like a "morning glory" which blooms beautifully, but then quickly withers and dies.

Every year, in every theater, some young person makes a hit. Sometimes it's a big hit, cometimes a little one. It's a distinct success, but how many of them keep their heads? How many of them work? Youth comes to the fore. Youth has its hour of glory. But too often it's only a morning glory - a flower that fades before the sun is very high.

Embracing her tearful, middle-aged wardrobe assistant Nellie Navarre (Helen Ware) in her dressing room, who at one time was a 'morning glory' star, Eva declares to Nellie that she doesn't care if she is a morning glory, speaking defiantly - although she acknowledges her loneliness:

Nellie, they've all been trying to frighten me. They've been trying to frighten me into being sensible, but they can't do it. Not now. Not yet. They've got to let me be as foolish as I want to be. I-I want to ride through the park. I want to, I want to have a white ermin coat. And I'll buy you a beautiful present. And Mr. Hedges! I'll buy Mr. Hedges a little house. And I'll have rooms full of white orchids. And they've got to tell me that I'm much more wonderful than anyone else, because Nellie, Nellie, I'm not afraid. I'm not afraid of being just a morning glory. I'm not afraid. I'm not afraid. I'm not afraid. Why should I be afraid? I'm not afraid.