Holiday (1938): Kate and Cary's Hesitant Romance

One of the best things Hollywood ever did was pair up Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Aside from Spencer Tracy, Grant was Hepburn's best partner and she was definitely one of Grant's finest leading ladies. Ridiculously gorgeous with unmistakable voices and one-of-a-kind personalities, Kate and Cary were a match made in cinematic heaven. Their collaborations are vital parts of their respective filmographies. Sylvia Scarlett gave Cary his breakout role, proving his comedic prowess. Bringing Up Baby became a screwball masterpiece that yielded two of the funniest performances you'll ever see, especially Kate's perfectly wacky heiress. The Philadelphia Story expertly blended comedy and drama, resulting in stunning performances from Hepburn and Grant (and Jimmy Stewart!).

The movie I'm going to be discussing today, though, is the romantic dramedy Holiday. This property began its life as a 1928 Broadway play penned by Philip Barry. The story focuses on the wealthy Seton family, which includes stuffy patriarch Edward, his snobby daughter Julia, his more unconventional daughter Linda, and his alcoholic son Ned. After vacationing in Lake Placid, Julia returns home engaged to a Mr. Johnny Case, whose middle-class status causes friction with her father. Things become worse when it is discovered that Julia and her father's ideas about living are in sharp contrast to Johnny's. He plans on quitting his job and enjoying life while he is still young rather than spending the rest of his days making money. Siding with Johnny is Linda, the self-proclaimed black sheep of the family. It doesn't take long to see which sister Johnny should really be with, but will he figure it out in time before he makes a huge mistake?

The success of Holiday led to a 1930 film version directed by Edward H. Griffith and adapted by Horace Jackson. Mary Astor portrayed Julia, Ann Harding was Linda, Robert Ames played Johnny, and the Potters, friends of Johnny's, were played by Edward Everett Horton and Hedda Hopper. I haven't seen this film and everything I've read about it is conflicting. Some say it was too married to the stage version to be anything spectacular with claims that it confines itself to the play's few locations and there is too much dialogue, a trap that many films fell into when talkies first emerged. Others say it's a good film that might even rival its more famous remake.

That remake came eight years later when Columbia crafted its own version of the play, wisely choosing its talent. Katharine Hepburn (Linda), Cary Grant (Johnny), Lew Ayres (Ned), Edward Everett Horton (reprising his role as Nick), Jean Dixon (Susan Potter), Doris Nolan (Julia), and Henry Daniell and Binnie Barnes (the Setons' awful cousin and his wife) are a magnificent cast. George Cukor was one of the best directors of sophisticated comedy, and the adaptation by Donald Ogden Stewart and Sidney Buchman is brilliant. (Fun fact: Stewart appeared in the original Broadway play as Nick Potter. He would also adapt Philip Barry's The Philadelphia Story.)

Stewart and Buchman were smart enough to keep the movie fairly faithful to its source material. Barry wrote a witty, elegant play full of interesting characters and subtly heartbreaking emotion. Stewart and Buchman kept that intact by leaving large pieces of dialogue exactly as they are in the play. Some scenes are moved around for the movie, but the shifting makes sense, especially since there is no need for the movie to only take place in two rooms of the Seton mansion. I'll give you an example. At the beginning of the play, Johnny arrives at the Setons' and realizes that his fiancee is a very rich woman. As they're talking, Julia relates how
she informed her father of their engagement at church earlier that morning. In the film, rather than Julia tell Johnny (and us) about this moment, we see her at the church service actually doing it.

The church isn't the only new location. We are shown many rooms at the Setons', which displays their vast wealth and makes the old playroom, Linda's favorite spot, seem simpler and more comfortable. The appearance of the Potters' apartment has the same function, as well as providing a "safe" place for Johnny and Linda at different parts of the story.

The Potters are another source of change. In the film, Nick and Susan are longtime friends of Johnny's and they soon become great friends of Susan's, too, illustrating her ease with Johnny's world. The play, however, has the married couple be old friends of both Johnny and Linda, a coincidence that provides one of many similarities between the two potential lovebirds. Either way works, but I will say that the film's choice turns Linda into more of a loner, thus making her vulnerability and sadness more justified. With the play, we're told that Linda has a decent amount of friends, but by taking all of them away, it becomes more understandable why Linda would feel obligated to live with her family, despite her father and sister's attitude toward her. She doesn't really have anyone to support her and encourage her to move on.

Perhaps the only thing that I've never quite gotten about Holiday is Linda's devotion to Julia. These women could not be more different. While Linda is kind and sympathetic, Julia is pretentious and struggles to picture a life without money. Ned beautifully articulates my thoughts on the matter when talking to Linda:

"[People are] taken in by her looks. At bottom she's a very dull girl, and the life she pictures for herself is the life she belongs in. ... You're twice as attractive as Julia ever thought of being. You've got twice the looks, and twice the mind, and ten times the quality. You
could charm a bird off a tree, if you would. And why not? If you were in her way, she'd ride you down like a rabbit."

Julia and her father are frequently condescending to Linda, treating her simple, no-frills nature as a weakness that is to be sniffed at rather than accepted. It always breaks my heart when Linda begs to throw her sister an intimate engagement party. To Linda, it is a loving gesture to demonstrate how much she adores Julia and how much she supports her union with Johnny. To Julia and their father, however, it is not a big deal -- just another childish thing that silly Linda
inexplicably clings to. When the party is taken out of Linda's hands and turned into a massive shindig, her feelings are hurt, but not enough to cure her of her dedication to Julia. Similar to Ned, Nick points out a crucial piece of information to Linda regarding her sister:

"Well, Linda, isn't it just possible that the things we like in Johnny may be the very things that your sister can't stand? And the fate that you feel he'll save her from may be the one fate in the whole world that she really wants?"

Right until the end, Linda defends Julia to anyone who will listen, despite Julia doing nothing to deserve it. I'm not saying that Linda's love for her sister is unrealistic -- I mean, I think we've all witnessed a relationship like theirs where you're not sure what one person sees in the other. Maybe I would feel better about it if Linda had a clearer "a-ha!" moment (like Johnny) where she realizes that Julia isn't who she thought.

Originally, the film was going to open at Lake Placid to show how Johnny and Julia met. These scenes might have helped explain better how Johnny fell for Julia, but it's hard to say without having seen them. Even though George Cukor didn't like the sequence, they went ahead and filmed it anyway. Cukor was probably thankful when it was decided to scrap the opening before the movie was released. Although it doesn't sound like the footage still exists, there are photos from Cukor's private collection that are available. You can check out a few below, including a rare lobby card depicting a lighthearted moment between Grant and Nolan.

Because of its cast, there are other deviations from Barry's play that help make the 1938 film more unique. An ex-vaudevillian, Cary Grant was able to use his acrobatic skills several times in Holiday. His flips are a lot of fun to watch, but they also have a purpose. As Johnny tells Nick and Susan at the start of the film, whenever he begins to feel uncertain, he just does a flip and he feels better. We see this when he first arrives at the Setons' monumental home:

His skills delight Linda, of course. Her face completely lights up when she learns that he can do a back flip. Later, at her makeshift New Year's party, the two of them do a marvelous (and terrifying) trick, which Johnny remarks that they've been working on together. It's just another instance of Johnny being more in sync with Linda than Julia. I love the fact that Katharine Hepburn was all for learning this trick.

Edward Everett Horton and Jean Dixon were given a little more to do as the Potters, capitalizing on their comic talents. Horton, for example, has a funny mix-up when they arrive at the party and one of his shoes gets taken away with his galoshes. He and Dixon then try to figure out how to use the elevator, which further exhibits their discomfort towards the lavish lifestyle that Julia represents. You have to wonder if they would still be friends with Johnny if he did marry Julia -- not because Johnny would drop them, but because Julia would likely isolate him from the life he had before she came along.

Something that is definitely in the film's favor is its ending. Recognizing that Julia isn't the woman for him, Johnny decides to sail away with the Potters. Linda is heartbroken and because of her sister's feelings, she believes that she can't run after him -- until she sees how relieved Julia is to have Johnny gone. Finally, finally Linda realizes that Julia doesn't love Johnny, allowing her to run after him.

"You've got no faith in Johnny, have you, Julia? His little dream may fall flat, you think. Well, so it may, what if it should? There'll be another. Oh, I've got all the faith in the world in Johnny. Whatever he
does is all right with me. If he wants to dream for a while, he can dream for a while, and if he wants to come back and sell peanuts, oh, how I'll believe in those peanuts!"

She leaves as Ned toasts to her, their father and Julia outraged and bewildered. All of that is also in the play, but the movie adds one more little scene. Johnny arrives on the ship and when the Potters ask about Julia, Johnny brushes it off and does the one thing that'll make him feel better: a flip. Linda then appears and the two of them are sweetly united. The play's ending is good, but I love seeing Johnny and Linda actually come together.

The script isn't the whole reason why this ending is so gratifying, though. Cary and Kate are both such strong actors that they wouldn't even have to say anything to convey their characters' feelings towards one another. There are many wonderful scenes where Linda looks at Johnny with adoration, her love for him slowly becoming more apparent to her. The best scene is when the two of them are alone in the playroom, hiding from the big New Year's bash downstairs. Julia and Johnny have just had a fight about Johnny's post-wedding plans, while Linda is still stinging from a rough conversation with her father.

Feeling low, Johnny and Linda share a slow dance. As the clock strikes midnight, they hear fireworks going off and head to the window to watch them. Johnny kisses Linda on the cheek. The intimacy of the moment begins to take hold of him as he hesitantly moves in to kiss Linda on the lips. She gently stops him and encourages him to join Julia downstairs. It's all done so delicately and with such melancholy. You just ache for them to be together.

Perhaps it is because they had already worked together before, or maybe it is their natural chemistry, but Kate and Cary have such ease with each other in this film. The second their characters see each other, there is a rapport that is breezy, fun, and ultimately romantic. Take for instance when Linda offers Johnny a bite of an apple. He eats it right from her hand and then slyly takes the whole fruit to her amusement. They develop inside jokes within minutes of meeting each other and they share the same sense of humor.

Although Holiday is definitely the Kate & Cary Show, the supporting cast is flawless. Horton and Dixon are excellent; Doris Nolan is great; Henry Daniell and Binnie Barnes make the most of their brief screen time. But the best of the bunch is Lew Ayres. Ned is such a sad character. He doesn't have Linda's fighting spirit, which causes him to become beaten down by their strict father. Linda tries to help him, yet the only comfort he seems to find is in a bottle. He can't even bring himself to leave with Linda at the end, but she promises to come back for him, a promise we know she'll fulfill.

Holiday deftly handles its mixture of drama and comedy without letting things become too saccharine or cloying. Everyone, from in front of the camera to behind the scenes, is at the top of their game, helping to construct a splendid, lovely film.


This post is my first entry to the stellar Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn Blogathon, hosted by Crystal. It's imperative that you click here and check out the many incredible tributes to these two iconic performers.


  1. Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn are my favorite onscreen pairing as well as my favorite actors. I'm not sure why, but as many times as I've seen Holiday I never think of it first when talking about their movies. But it's a lovely quiet little understated film.

    1. They're my favorite actors, too. Holiday isn't the first film that comes to my mind, either, but it's still a sweet movie.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Michaela, I loved your insightful review. Like you said, this is a splendid, lovely film, well done in every way.

  3. Excellent review Michaela! Informative and entertaining :) I love the shots of them in the snow! Holiday is one of those films that I liked much more the second time I see it. And I have to say, as much as I love Kate and Spencer, my favourite duo has always been Kate and Cary. They are so funny together! :)

    1. Thanks! I liked it better the second time too, funny enough. Kate and Cary are pretty spectacular together. Why couldn't they have made at least a dozen more films together?

    2. Good question! They really were an amazing pair! By the way Michaela, I was wondering if you'll be interested to participate to my 3rd Grace Kelly blogathon??

    3. Thanks for the invite! I'm not sure if I'll be able to participate this year due to other blogathon commitments, but if it turns out I have the time, I'll let you know!

    4. No problem! I know there are a lot of blogathons arriving at the same time!

  4. I have to confess that I haven't seen Holiday, only the three other films they did together - and I deeply love every one of them. Sylvia Scarlett was a very good surprise to me, and I can't say enough good things about The Philadelphia Story or, my favorite, Bringing Up Baby.
    Awesome article, as always!

    1. So sorry I'm just now seeing this, Le! I agree that all of Kate and Cary's films are great, although I must admit I need to see Sylvia Scarlett again. Such a terrific team.

  5. Dear Michaela,

    This is a fine article! This is one of my favorite films. It introduced me to my favorite actor, Lew Ayres. Although his role is small and could be taken out without really altering the plot at all, he adds a wonderful sub-plot. His relationship with Linda is very sweet, and it really shows Linda's sensitive nature through her bond with her brother. I believe that Katherine Hepburn related this character to her own brother, who died when she was fourteen. I believe that the scene with Ned and Linda in the playroom on New Year's Eve is one of the sweetest scenes in the film. I appreciate that you were careful to quote all the lines correctly, since I've always enjoyed quoting from movies myself, and am a stickler for accuracy in quoting. Tiffany also wrote an article about "Holiday" for this blogathon. You can read it here:

    I, Rebekah Brannan, have not participated much in the blog world in the past, but I intend to become more involved now. I have read some of your other articles, and they are all informative and enjoyable.

    I would like very much for you to participate in my upcoming blogathon, The Singing Sweethearts Blogathon, which will be my first real participation in PEPS. This blogathon, which will be hosted around Valentine's Day, is celebrating the famous singing team Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.

    You can read the rules of the blogathon at: If you want to join, please comment and tell me your topic, if you have chosen one. I hope you'll join me in honoring this brilliant team and the holiday of love!


    Rebekah Brannan

    1. Thanks, Rebekah! It's an amazing, lovely film -- definitely worthy of our admiration! The connection between Linda and her brother is quite sweet, isn't it? I like to believe that once she and Johnny return to New York, they save Neddy from that stifling mansion. He deserves it!

      Congrats on your blogathon! They are always a lot of fun. Unfortunately, I'm really not very knowledgeable of either MacDonald or Eddy (I haven't even seen any of their collaborations), but I do wish you the very best! If I change my mind, I'll be sure to let you know!

  6. Dear Michaela,

    I'm sorry I didn't respond sooner, but I was not notified that you replied, so I just saw your comment today. I also like to think that Linda and Johnny were able to save Ned. Tiffany and I even dreamed up a sequel, which could have been called something like "Ned's Holiday!"

    Thank you for your kind words. I'm sure the blogathon will be fun, and I'm very thankful for your good wishes. If you cannot participate, I understand completely. If you'd like to learn about Jeanette and Nelson, you can come over to PEPS during the blogathon and see some of the great articles we're going to have!


    Rebekah Brannan

  7. Im watching this movie right now. Best scene ever is them in the room at midnight on new years eve.

    1. That is definitely my favorite part of the film! I must admit, though, that somehow I always forget that Holiday takes place on an actual holiday.


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