It has recently come to my attention that there is a film featuring Katharine Hepburn as an aviatrix who commits an abortion/suicide by flying into the sun, and I am simply furious with each and every one of you for keeping this from me.
“That…that can’t possibly be right,” I hear you stammer weakly. OHO, CAN’T IT. I present to you the plot summary of Christopher Strong:
Kate plays Lady Cynthia Darrington, an aviatrix who meets and falls in love with Sir Christopher Strong played by Colin Clive. Sir Strong is married and rather then tell him that she is going to have a baby and since she knows their relationship is doomed she decides to take a challenge to attempt the world speed record. Her plane climbs to 30,000 feet where she takes off her oxygen mask, loses control and dies in the crashing airship.
Can you imagine. I cherish the thought that the original script called not for Cynthia to be an aviatrix but a society woman who dies from a regular, run-of-the-mill botched abortion, and Hepburn herself decided to make things a little more interesting.
“Say, fellas. Love the script. It’s terrific stuff, the real Tabasco. But what if the girl’s a pilot?”
“A…pilot? But she’s a socialite.”
“Sure, that’s a great gag. But catch this angle: she does the abortion herself by flying into the sun.”
“I don’t follow.”
“‘Course you don’t, boys, keep up. She wants to beat the world altitude record, see? And to also have an abortion and die.”
“You…you really think that’s a good idea, Kate?”
[pounds table] “Boys, we’d be crazy not to make her a lady daredevil pilot. I wouldn’t do the picture otherwise.”
“Well, if you think so…but most girls have abortions on the ground, don’t you think, Kate?”
“I think my character would prefer to have one by flying into the sun. If she’s going to have an abortion, she might as well break the sound barrier while she’s at it.”
“You’re the boss, Kate.”
“Damn right, lads. And one more thing. Find a way to make my character wear a moth costume in this picture.”
“A moth costume?”
“That’s right. Here, have a cigar.”
The 1930s were a wonderful time. Women were constantly breaking the sound barrier to have abortions and giving cigars to henpecked studio heads. You couldn’t turn around without kissing a lady reporter who worked like a man and played like one too, and the streets of New York City were crawling with female stenographers who’d kill you as soon as look at you. And Katharine Hepburn made at least one movie with a trailer like this:
Which was a promotion for, you might remember, a film where she played a lady pilot who has an abortion by flying towards the sun (Tagline: “Higher and higher! Faster and faster! She gave herself to the great god Speed, and tried to run away from the fires within her!”).
Let us consider the following posters for Christopher Strong. Would you say that this effectively communicates “lady daredevil has illicit affair, then flies to a lonely death”?
Oh, that’s better, that’s a great deal better. Her thousand-yard-stare is part Jack Torrance and part Hannibal Lecter. “Who is this man sitting next to me,” her face seems to say. “Why aren’t I flying ’round the world right now?” But we can do better.
Chris: “What do other women do who don’t risk their lives flying?”
Cynthia: “I don’t know. I only know I want to go up again. I want to break records. I want to train hard and not eat and drink all the time. I want to get up at dawn. I want to smell the fields and the morning air, and not mind getting oil in my hair and hands. And I want to talk with the boys I’ve flown with again.”
And have abortions by flying into the sun. And have, lest we forget, abortions by flying into the sun.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.