Filmsite Movie Review
Morning Glory (1933)
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Morning Glory (1933) is the cliched story of a naive and pretentious aspiring actress, with a very literate script, rich dialogue, and superb acting. It starred Katharine Hepburn in only her third film. This RKO showbiz-related romantic drama, directed by Lowell Sherman and adapted from a stage play by Zoe Akins, was 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. In many ways, Hepburn's role paralleled her real-life career experience.

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 was 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)).

Plot Synopsis

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

She made new friends quickly including kindly, paternalistic veteran stage actor Robert Harley Hedges (C. Aubrey Smith), who took her up to the offices of a major Broadway management casting office, Lewis Easton Productions, where while waiting in the lobby, she met her competition - a more experienced actress Miss Gwendolyn Hall (Geneva Mitchell) swathed in a fur wrap, who complained 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 was asked about her thin and shabby coat, she replied 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."

As Eva waited to speak to Easton himself, she was befriended by R.H. Hedges. She introduced herself and explained her name, with her non-stop, chatterbox vivacious style:

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?

She was even able to forcibly convince him to become her vocal coach and mentor.

And then the young and inexperienced Eva met with the slimy, handsome, middle-aged, philandering and opportunistic Broadway producer Lewis Easton (Adolphe Menjou) - a slick businessman and theatre owner. She unabashedly gushed about her career promise as she promoted herself. She showed him a remarkable letter from George Bernard Shaw, and described her over-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.

She seemed more in love with the romanticized idea of becoming an actress without realizing it would take talent and hard work. Earnest young playwright Joe Sheridan (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.), the scriptwriter of Easton's new comedic play, overheard the conversation and took a look at the letter also remarking as he became entranced by her effervescence:

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 replied and vowed: "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." Eva vowed that she would never allow her talent to go into decline, and would rather dramatically commit a farewell suicide on-stage after doing her best and serving a useful life.

Even after Easton departed, Eva continued chatting with his male assistant Mr. Seymour (Fredric Santly) in the outer office, offering to take any mostly-congenial role for $20 dollars a week; she then expressed her life's philosophy as an artist who must be "free to love, free to dream, free to sin, if you call it sin."

After initial career disappointments and on the verge of being penniless and hungry, at a celebrity cocktail party held in Easton's penthouse apartment, Eva became drunk on champagne and completely uninhibited, first evident when she almost sat on Easton's lap and blabbed 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 bragged 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 cautioned Eva about making a fool of herself, but she decided 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 performed 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 went 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.

There was subdued applause when she finished. Hedges complimented her: "Stylishly beautiful! Impossibly beautiful!" Even Easton added: "Really charming!" She soon became involved in a love triangle between her Broadway manager Louis Easton and playwright Joseph Sheridan. Eva's flights of fancy included her unrealistic and sentimentalized dreams of a love affair with Easton (after spending one night with him). The uncaring Easton tried to extricate himself from her infatuation with him and end their association by paying her off and ignoring her romantic gestures (the sending of flowers). Her career fortunes began to decline rapidly, illustrated in a series of montages, as she desperately accepted employment in summer stock and vaudeville, and ultimately stooped to be a fashion show model.

Finally, she would receive her big break. Ambitious Joseph Sheridan arranged for her to be the understudy for successful but troubled and temperamental blonde star-diva Rita Vernon (Mary Duncan) in the new show that he had written. On opening night fifteen minutes before the curtain debut opening on Broadway for The Golden Bough, the arrogant Rita demanded more money from Easton, but Easton resisted. Easton reluctantly replaced her with her understudy ("the little Lovelace girl") - Eva - even without a rehearsal! Easton returned to tell Rita of his decision - she was fired: "Since you've decided to act in this most unprofessional manner and to take advantage of me at a moment like this, l've decided to let you do exactly as you please."

Eva was petrified of failing and claimed she was too tired to act to Sheridan, but then she bolstered her self-confidence and affirmed: "Oh, it was silly the way I just talked. Listen, I'll give a performance tonight that will make you proud of me."

Backstage in her dressing room following her brilliant and triumphant debut performance, she was first congratulated by her middle-aged wardrobe woman Nellie Navarre (Helen Ware): "Your performance, my dear, was inspirational. I've seen them come, and I've seen them go. This is your moment. May God bless you while it lasts." Easton also praised Eva, but insensitively ignored her attempts at affection: (she told him: "You're in my heart"). He told her that she didn't belong to any man, but only to Broadway and the theater: ("You must put me out of your heart. I don't belong there, and you don't belong in mine. I'm not the man for you, I never was. You don't belong to any man now. You belong to, to Broadway, to theatre, lights") - causing Eva to feel emotionally devastated.

She was also commended, but also lectured and warned by Hedges about instant success going to her head - like a "morning glory" which bloomed beautifully, but then quickly withered and died:

"Every year, in every theater, some young person makes a hit. Sometimes it's a big hit, sometimes 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, the flower that fades before the sun is very high."

Hedges added that Nellie was very much like Eva - she was an "overnight" young star years earlier who became "the toast of the town and then faded out."

Sheridan also expressed his love for Eva, and she was grateful for his support and understanding ("You've always understood me"), but Easton's earlier rejection of her overshadowed his declaration, and she was unable to accept it.

In the film's poignant closing with Nellie, Eva honestly expressed her loneliness, her slight fear and emptiness, and her loss of love. But then with her confidence strengthened about her love for Sheridan: ("I can make him happy, and he can make me happy"), she embraced her tearful assistant, and declared to her that she didn't care if she was a morning glory, speaking defiantly. She delivered a curtain-closing (last lines) statement, vowing that she would not quickly blossom, wither and die like so many other performers:

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.

Whether her quick success would be long-lasting or withering like a "morning glory" remained to be seen.