Holiday (1938): Making of One of Cukor’s Best (Still Underestimated) Films, Starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn

In 1936, Columbia Pictures purchased a group of scripts, including the script for Holiday, from RKO for $80,000.

Although the film was originally intended to reunite The Awful Truth co-stars Cary Grant and Irene Dunne, George Cukor decided to cast Hepburn instead.

As a result, Columbia borrowed Hepburn from RKO, where she had just turned down the lead role in Mother Carey’s Chickens.

Joan Bennett, with whom Cukor had worked before, and Ginger Rogers, then still best known for her musicals with Fred Astaire, were considered to play Hepburn’s role.

The very young Rita Hayworth had tested for the role of Julia, but was not cast.  Even so, Cukor remembered her audition and later cast her in his later film, which represented a steppingstone in her quickly ascending screen career.


The character of Linda Seton, played by Hepburn, was loosely based on socialite Gertrude Sanford Legendre.

Donald Ogden Stewart, who co-wrote the screenplay of this movie as weel as that of The Philadelphia Story, had played Professor Nick Potter in the original Broadway cast.

Katharine Hepburn had understudied the role of Linda Seton in the original Broadway cast.

The working titles for the film were Unconventional Linda and Vacation Bound, which Cukor did not like, claiming it was too literal and unappealing.

Opening Scene: Cut in Editing Process

A scene that was to come before what is now the first scene of the film was set in the snows of Lake Placid, New York, but it was filmed in Bishop, California.

The idea was to “open up” the stage play by utilizing an exterior scene, but when director Cukor saw the scene, he did not like it and decided to cut it.

A few still photographs, one of them on a lobby card that was distributed to theaters, are the only known remnants of this scene.

Although the film was not a commercial success, it was well received by critics.

Various biographers (including myself) have speculated that one reason might have been thematic: Johnny Case’s plans to give up working did not appeal to Great Depression audiences who were struggling to find jobs.

There were other reasons: the film was too theatrical, betraying its stage origins.

Moreover, the character of Julia, and the actress who played her, Doris Nolan, were no match for that of Hepburn, and from the start, there was no chemistry between her and Cary Grant.

Hepburn, at the time, had earned a reputation as box office poison, causing her departure from RKO Pictures.

Holiday was the third of four films starring Grant and Hepburn, the others being Sylvia Scarlett (1935), Bringing Up Baby (1938), and The Philadelphia Story (1940).

Today, Holiday is considered to be one of George Cukor’s best films, though not as widely recognized or written about as the 1940 Philadelphia Story.

Oscar Nomination:

The film was nominated for the Best Art Direction Oscar by Stephen Goosson and Lionel Banks, but did not win.


Katharine Hepburn as Linda Seton
Cary Grant as Johnny Case
Doris Nolan as Julia Seton
Lew Ayres as Edward “Ned” Seton Jr
Henry Kolker as Edward Seton Sr
Edward Everett Horton as Professor Nick Potter
Jean Dixon as Susan Potter
Binnie Barnes as Laura Cram
Henry Daniell as Seton Cram

Jean Dixon retired from films after this performance.