“The calla lilies are in bloom again. Such a strange flower — suitable to any occasion. I carried them on my wedding day, and now I place them here in the memory of something that has died.”
Katherine Hepburn spoke that line in The Lake, a long-forgotten play. I adore listening to her let the words roll off her tongue in her stylistic Mid-Atlantic accent, and, indeed, the line’s iambic pentameter sounds wonderful spoken in my California accent, too.
If you are a close reader, you are wondering how I’m able to hear her words. Let me tell you the story; it’s a great one! You see Katherine, it seems, was as tough as the characters she became famous for playing in her films.
The Lake was both a critical and popular flop. The same critics who had lauded Hepburn’s work in films wrote that the stage had exposed her to be lacking in great talent. Dorothy Parker famously said that her performance “ran the gamut of human emotion from A to B.” On top of that, the play was directed by Jed Harris, who was an infamous “big bad wolf” of American theatre. He was known for his abusive behavior to actresses (sound familiar?!). Harris intended to take the show on the road as he had sunk all his money into it. Hepburn, who was desperate to leave the play, wrote him a check for her life savings (around 14,000 dollars) and was released from her contract. She later said the experience was an important lesson in accepting responsibility for her own career.
Four years later, Hepburn was cast in Stage Door, a film about several aspiring actresses living together in a boardinghouse and competing for the same role in a play. The fictional play within the film prominently features the calla-lily- line. The director, Gregory La Cava, lifted it from The Lake. Hepburn’s character practices it in rehearsal over and over, always without much feeling. But in the movie’s tragic climax, she memorably delivers the line with great emotion. Following the success of Stage Door, that line became one of Hepburn’s signature catchphrases. She had turned her famous flop into a testament to tenacity. Now, that’s a strong woman.
They say that every person has a story to tell. It seems to me that every flower has something to say, as well!
P.S. Unfortunately, the elegant calla lily is poisonous; I do not let the puppy roam the hill as she is still in the “everything and anything goes in my mouth stage.”