How Censors Vetoed Keeper's Happy Ending

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Keeper of the Flame reteamed Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, who had previously worked on Woman of the Year. While their first project was a romantic drama, this intriguing film changed courses.

1. The plot was supposedly based on a real person.

Keeper of the Flame focused on the secret life of a well-respected man. The novel on which the film was based was written by I.A.R. Wylie, who supposedly based this character on a real person. Some suspected that the inspiration was William Randolph Hearst, Henry Ford, or even Franklin Roosevelt. However, the author never revealed the person. Director George Cukor said, “We made this picture during a period of undercover Fascism in this country. I suppose to draw attention to them, we exaggerated.”

2. Kate was riding the box office high.

Spencer Tracy was the first actor attached to Keeper of the Flame with Kate joining afterward. After being deemed “box office poison," Katharine Hepburn found renewed success with The Philadelphia Story and Woman of the Year. She saw the role as a chance to do something different. Speaking about her character, she said, “Thinking back, I am surprised to find that I have never played a mature woman. I have played girls. Shy, whimsical, flamboyant, tempestuous—everything but mature human beings.”

3. Censors influenced the ending.

The studio wanted a romantic ending for their stars. However, the Motion Picture Production Code Administration required that if Hepburn’s character was actually guilty of murder then she needed to be punished. So the studio created an ending where Kate was revealed to be innocent, and she and Spence shared a kiss before he left. This ending, however, was scrapped.

4. Tracy impressed his small co-star.

Darryl Hickman (brother to Dwayne Hickman of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis) found Spencer Tracy to be generous scene partner, which was especially helpful given the emotionally charged scenes they shared. Hickman said, “He listened to you with such intensity that he literally drew you into himself. It isn’t that he did very much; in fact, he did almost nothing. But he created a connection that was so intense that you couldn’t pull yourself away from him.”