On This Gay Day: The movie ‘Bringing Up Baby’ premiered

The release of the 1930s screwball comedy ‘Bringing Up Baby’ is an important moment in queer history.

Bringing Up Baby was the first of four films Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant made together. While it’s considered a classic film of the 1930’s it didn’t do well at the box office when it first released.

The film sees Grant playing a paleontologist who is on the verge of getting married. He meets a free spirited young woman, played by Hepburn,  on a golf course. They go on a series of adventures based around a misunderstanding, and the film is mainly remembered for the fact Hepburn’s character has a fully grown leopard as a companion.

When the film began getting played on television it’s popularity increased and now it’s considered a classic of the era.   The film is important in queer history too, because it’s the first recorded incidence of the word ‘gay’ being used to describe homosexuality on film.

Filming of the movie went over budget and over schedule, largely attributed to the lead actors breaking into laughter on the set, and ad-libbing many of their scenes. The line where Cary Grant’s character uses the word gay is not in the original script, suggesting it was something the actor said off the cuff.

Prior to the 1930’s the meaning of the word gay was shifting from meaning happiness to a descriptor of sexuality. Just a few years earlier Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers starred in the musical The Gay Divorcee, which just about a woman who was happy to be getting a divorce.

Usage of the word ‘gay’ to describe homosexuality can be traced further back, Gertrude Stein used the phrase in written work in 1922, and as far back as the fourteenth century the word had been used to describe immorality and prostitution.

In the 1980’s Madonna starred in the film Who’s That Girl which takes its inspiration from Bringing Up Baby. Rather than a Leopard, Madonna’s character hung out with a cougar.

OIP Staff