Judy Holliday: “Adam’s Rib” Scene Stealer

When you think of the movie Adam’s Rib, odds are the first people who will come to mind are Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.  But as delightful as Tracy and Hepburn are, I think Adam’s Rib has one of my favorite supporting casts ever.  It’s got Jean Hagen in her film debut, Tom Ewell in what was a breakthrough role for him, and last, but certainly not least, there’s Judy Holliday as jilted wife Doris Attinger.

I always thought Judy shone the brightest out of all of Adam’s Rib’s supporting players.  Doris Attinger isn’t ditzy like Billie in Born Yesterday, but what I love about Judy’s performance in Adam’s Rib is how she so perfectly conveys a mixture of nerves, anger, and vulnerability, with just a touch of comedy.  And a lot of the time, she does this without actually saying much of anything.

Not only is her performance great, there’s also a good story behind how she got the part.  At the time, Judy was mostly known for her stage work.  Movie-wise, she had only done a few uncredited parts and one small role.  She had been a great success playing Billie in Born Yesterday on Broadway, but when Columbia bought the movie rights to the play, Judy wasn’t a top contender for the film version because she wasn’t known as a movie actress.  Knowing they couldn’t seriously make Born Yesterday without Judy Holliday, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, George Cukor, and playwright Garson Kanin teamed up to get Judy noticed in films.  So they gave her the part of Doris Attinger and took every opportunity they could to put the spotlight on her.  The first few minutes of the movie are virtually all Judy.  For the scene where Amanda first interviews Doris, Katharine insisted that the camera stay on Judy the whole time and refused to do any reaction shots that could be used to cut away from Judy.  Katharine was even planting stories in the gossip columns that Judy had been stealing the show from her and Spencer.  Luckily, all their scheming paid off and when Judy got good reviews for her work in Adam’s Rib, she landed the lead in Born Yesterday and won an Oscar for it.

I’ve always thought it was too bad that Adam’s Rib wasn’t the beginning of a far more illustrious film career for Judy Holliday.  Her comedic timing was brilliant and I’m curious about how she would have done in a drama.  I really would have loved to have seen more from her.  Unfortunately, she made only a handful of films before dying of cancer at the age of 43.  But luckily the films she did make were all winners.  There isn’t a movie of hers that I haven’t truly enjoyed.

This is just one of many contributions for the Gone Too Soon Blogathon hosted by Comet Over Hollywood. To read more contributions, just click the picture!

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21 comments

  1. Adam’s Rib is hilarious! I haven’t seen the rest of the Tracy/Hepburn films but I loved this. The discussion of gender roles (appropriately more hilarious by having the actors cross-dress) is fun and Jean Hagen is always appreciated in film!

    1. I hope you enjoy some of the other Tracy/Hepburn pairings! Adam’s Rib is my personal favorite of the bunch, but it’s hard to go wrong with any of the movies they did together.

  2. Wow! It always warms my heart to hear when bigger stars try to help new comers. I know Spencer Tracy was especially good about that like making sure Van Johnson kept his role in “A Guy Named Joe” when he has his car accident. I’m equally impressed with Katharine Hepburn and think its hilarious she posted things about Judy Holiday in the gossip columns.
    Thank so much for joining the blogathon and I can’t wait to read about Valentino 🙂

    1. It really is nice to hear stories like that. I once heard Robert Osborne quote someone as saying that Katharine didn’t want to be in anything unless she could be either the corpse or the bride. So for her to so gladly step back and let the focus go to Judy seems like it’s pretty much the highest compliment you could get from her.

  3. Judy Holliday was so funny in this! I loved when Kate gave her the hat that was a gift from Spence. I also like a lot the song “Farewell Amanda”, sung by the obnoxious neighbor.
    Particularly, my favorite Hepburn-Tracy pairing is “Woman of the Year”.
    Oh, I’m also in the blogathon. I loved your review and I hope you enjoy mine as well (about Olive Thomas).
    Greetings,
    Le

  4. Hi, I’m visiting from the Gone Too Soon Blogathon. I totally adore Judy Holliday…she is easily one of my top 10 actresses. She is always such a delight.

    I loved hearing how the “bigger” stars helped her get started in films. When it seems like it’s always a dog eat dog world, it’s really nice to know that not everyone was like that.

    Thanks for a great post.

  5. Great post on Judy. Seeing her is always a little bittersweet – she is so vibrant and full of life and it’ so sad that she was taken so young.

  6. What a lovely post! I also adored Judy Holliday the woman. During the Red Scare, she refused to name names, but she did it with such style! When asked if she was SURE composers Comden and Green weren’t Communists, she said, “I am as sure of that as I can be of anyone who’s not me.” She sounded like she was being forthcoming but she wasn’t, not one bit. And when working in her garden she said she was proud of her greenery and didn’t miss flowers because “with fronds like these, who needs anemones?”

  7. I’m so SO glad you posted about July Holliday’s performace in “Adam’s Rib”. The scene where she tells Katharine Hepburn about the murder is one of my all-time favourite movie scenes, period.

  8. I had the great pleasure of attending a Judy Holliday retrospective here in New York several years ago. I had already seen most of her movies to that point, but seeing them on a big screen was even nicer. I absolutely adore her and I’m glad someone thought to include her in this blogathon.

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