Who the Hell Is Howard Hawks?

By Wollen, Peter | Framework, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Who the Hell Is Howard Hawks?


Wollen, Peter, Framework


There is an interesting story concerning Howard Hawks to be found in Barbara Learning's Avon biography of Katharine Hepburn. In this book, Learning tells the story of Hepburn's romance with John Ford, which began, apparently, during the filming of Mary of Scotland (John Ford, U.S., 1936) The following year, she was to make Bringing Up Baby (U.S., 1938) with Howard Hawks. The screenplay was written by Dudley Nichols and, according to Learning, Hawks wanted it tailored for Hepburn, whose relationship with Ford was already well-known to Nichols. In fact, Hawks's set was full of what Learning calls 'members of the Ford group'-Ford cronies such as Ward Bond, Barry FitzGerald and D'Arcy Corrigan were all in the cast and the associate producer, once again, was Cliff Reid. Ford himself visited the set a couple of times. The relationship between Susan (Hepburn) and David (Gary Grant) in Hawks's film, Learning argues, was based on Hepburn's relationship with Ford, whose dignity she was forever puncturing and who, in Learning's words, possessed an 'exasperating ambivalence; he [Ford] is the sort of man who says, I love you, I think.' Howard Hawks, Learning also points out, 'gave Gary Grant, who played David, the small round glasses that were Ford's trademark.' Also, it might be added, Harold Lloyd's.

It is a fascinating anecdote, not least because it underlines Hawks's liking for scenes which mirrored or even parodied the behavior of people he personally knew or knew of, their own mannerisms and relationships or just odd things that had happened to them, whether they were film people or aviation people or whoever. In the same way, Lauren Bacall's performance in To Have and Have Not (U.S., 1944) made soon afterwards, was clearly modeled on Hawks's own new wife, 'Slim'. Hawks would direct actors by asking them how they would deliver a line if they were in the same situation, asking them to be themselves rather than characters, to re-live episodes from their own lives, even the most embarrassing and humiliating (and therefore the funniest) like the time Cary Grant somehow managed to get the dress of the wife of the head of the Metropolitan Museum caught in the zip of his flies (in a theater, of all places) so that, in Todd McCarthy's words, "they had to lockstep to the manager's office in order to find a pair of pliers.'

This parasitism on real life was fundamental to Hawks's whole modus operandi as a director. It is why his films veer towards a strange kind of cinéma vérité, as Bogart and Bacall fall in love or Montgomery Clift learns to respect John Wayne. He also relied shamelessly on scenes and situations borrowed from both his own and other people's movies, for whose memory of which the screenwriter Jules Furthman was especially prized-thus explaining, perhaps, Hawks's many echoes of Von Sternberg. At the same time, Hawks was always inventing self-aggrandizing stories about his own exploits-how he told Von Sternberg how to dress Marlene Dietrich, for example, or how he gave the original idea for Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, U.S., 1942) to Michael Curtiz, a particularly audacious claim when you consider what he himself had blatantly borrowed from Casablanca in making To Have and To Have Not. Yet, in a way, Hawks's compulsion for purloining and collecting and mix-and-match and tall story-telling may have been his strongest quality as a director, the one that made his films look like the very essence of Hollywood.

On the other hand, in making films which looked like the essence of Hollywood rather than like original works of art, Hawks also made it difficult for dubious critics to accept him as an artist, an innovator or a director with a clear personal agenda. Hawks's style turned out to be no-nonsense studio professionalism, salted with a kind of Robert Altman talent for improvisation on the set. Notoriously, Hawks worked in almost all the genres, treating them pretty much the same-the group could be cow-punchers or pilots delivering the mail or Free French patriots-it didn't much matter as long as there was danger and loyalty and sacrifice and a romance, salted with wisecracks and gimmicks, or, in the case of a comedy, plagued by humiliation and misunderstanding and descent into chaos. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Who the Hell Is Howard Hawks?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.