That Dinner of ’67 revisits a Hollywood classic
31 December, 2020 — By Lucy Popescu
IN 1967 race riots swept across America. As the Supreme Court considered a landmark case on interracial marriage, Hollywood director Stanley Kramer (David Morrissey) started filming Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? William Rose’s topical story was about a pair of young lovers – one black, one white – seeking the “blessing” of their parents before getting married.
Kramer assembled a stellar cast of Oscar winners, including Sidney Poitier (Adrian Lester), Spencer Tracy (Kenneth Branagh) and Kate Hepburn (Tracy-Ann Oberman), with Hepburn’s niece Katharine Houghton (Daisy Ridley) making her film debut. It was to be Tracy and Hepburn’s last film together; one of Hollywood’s greatest double acts.
Spencer was dying but was determined that his final work with Kate (after a love affair that had lasted 26 years) would be a masterpiece.
Initially, Columbia Pictures got cold feet; worried that the subject would backfire – the race riots had resulted in 85 people dead, over 2,000 injured: “Anything could tip this over.”
Then the studio couldn’t get anyone to insure Tracy – they didn’t think he would make it through the film.
Hepburn, committed to Rose’s themes, suggested placing her fee in escrow until the end of filming and Kramer joined her. Historically, interracial marriage had been illegal in the US and remained illegal in many Southern states until June 12, 1967, six months before the film was released.
In this drama, That Dinner of ’67 by Tracy-Ann Oberman with David Spicer, Oberman’s script shows Tracy suffering throughout, barely able to speak his lines. Tracy died just 17 days after the film’s wrap. Two days later, anti-miscegenation laws were struck down by the Supreme Court in the Loving v Virginia case.
Superbly realised by an award-winning British cast, Oberman’s poignant drama offers some fascinating insights into the making of a classic movie and the enduring love of two Hollywood stars but, most importantly, she reminds us of the appalling racism of 1960s America and Kramer’s courage in tacking topical issues that most studios avoided.
- BBC Radio 4, 2,15pm, December 31 and BBC Sounds