Katharine Hepburn’s Country House in “Bringing Up Baby”

Bringing Up Baby-Susan's house

The classic 1938 madcap comedy Bringing Up Baby featured Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn on the big screen as David and Susan, a zoology professor and a flighty heiress thrown together in a series of crazy mishaps involving her pet leopard Baby.

Bringing Up Baby-Nissa the leopard

I’m a Katharine Hepburn fan and enjoy all of her movies, but this is one of my favorites because of  Susan’s charming country house in Westlake, Connecticut. I remember watching it as a girl and deciding I would move to Connecticut and get a house just like it when I grew up. (Any day now…)

Bringing Up Baby-Susan's house

Susan’s terrier George barks and barks and barks his way right through the movie, adding to the sense of comic mayhem:

front door dog

Director Howard Hawks liked his comedies to move fast. His characters talk fast, walk fast, and take pratfalls fast.  He never paused for laughs in his movies, saying, “If they miss it, they can watch it again.”

front door open

Howard Hawks and Dudley Nichols were inspired to create this movie by Katharine Hepburn’s real relationship with the director John Ford during the making of Mary of Scotland. She was the only person who was ever able to tease him on the set and get away with it, Peter Bogdanovich says in the DVD commentary. Grant even wore similar round glasses to Ford’s in this movie.

The gossip was that Hepburn and Ford had an affair, but there has never been any real evidence that it was anything more than friendship.

Bringing Up Baby house-entry

I found it interesting to learn that Howard Hawks was born in Goshen, Indiana in 1896, a town that had been founded by his family about 60 years before his birth. We have family living in that area and visit it often.

Bringing Up Baby-Connecticut entry

This was the first movie Grant made with Hawks, but it wasn’t the last. They went on to make four more, including my personal favorites, I Was a Male War Bride and His Girl Friday.

bar behind stairs

Grant did all of his own stunts in the film, including the part at the end when he pulls Susan up onto the scaffolding with him with one arm. (A stunt double was used for Hepburn in that scene, however.)

Bringing Up Baby house-hall

bedroom 2

Hepburn was reportedly happy to work with the young leopard who played Baby, but Grant preferred to use a double for his scenes with her. Did you know Baby was originally written as a panther? I guess a trained leopard was easier for the filmmakers to find!

bedroom 1

Hawks said he made the mistake of making everyone in this movie “screwball characters,” and that it was an error he never repeated. He believed it would have done better at the box office if there had been at least one “normal” person in the movie.

bedroom 3

2nd bedroom

When Susan’s aunt asks David why he’s wearing a woman’s dressing gown, Grant ad libbed the now-famous line, “I just went gay all of a sudden!” Movie historians believe that was the first time the word “gay” was used in a film in a way that didn’t mean strictly “happy and carefree.”

kitchen 3

This is a strange screenshot (below) that I took after the cook drops everything, but it gives us a quick glimpse at the entire stone wall in the kitchen with the range:

kitchen 2

I love that there is a back staircase off the kitchen, and that it appears to be a spiral one:

kitchen 1

dining room 1

Cary Grant never said, “Judy, Judy, Judy,” in a movie, but he did say, “Susan, Susan, Susan,” in this one.

dining room 2

Howard Hawks’ wife Nancy (a model known as “Slim”) liked this house so much that when they built a place in Bel Air, plans were based on these sets.

Bringing Up Baby house-wide shot entry

This is the best shot we get of the exterior of the house. Oddly enough, it looks like a one-story house here, even though there are two sets of stairs leading somewhere inside (we never do see the second story, though):

Susan's house-ext night

Bringing Up Baby was only a modest success in its day, and around that time Katharine Hepburn was famously labeled “box-office poison.” After this movie, she made another comedy with Grant called Holiday. It didn’t do well, either, but both films are now considered among her best.

photo 6-trimming the tree

Some sources claim that these sets were reused for the Barbara Stanwyck comedy Christmas in Connecticut in 1945. Check out the photos and decide for yourself! :-)

Julia-simple-teal-signature2

P.S. Pics of Katharine Hepburn’s Former Estate:

Katharine Hepburn former estate in Old Saybrook

Hepburn’s House Hits the Market

 

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Comments

  1. says

    Katharine is my ALL.TIME.FAVORITE! I’ll watch any movie with her, and this one in particular is so fun because she’s a great comedic actor and bounces off Cary Grant to perfection! And speaking of Cary, swoon! I’ve always loved him too.

    Yes, this is a fantastic set, and still has appeal in so many ways. Timeless, right? Thanks again for yet another fantastic movie set home!!!

    Kate

  2. The Vintage Reader says

    I’ve always thought she was at her best with Cary Grant. The two of them just had perfect comic chemistry. Holiday is one of my favorite movies of all time.

    I didn’t know about his ad-libbed line; I did know that she ad-libbed the “I was born on the side of a hill” bit when her heel actually broke while filming the scene. And… I’m pretty sure George is played by the same dog who played Asta in the Thin Man movies, but I’m not going to go look it up and potentially disillusion myself. :-)

  3. Rhonda Hughes says

    A Suggestion while on the subject of Katharine Hepburn Id love to see the Mansion in Suddenly Last Summer… It is wonderful…

  4. says

    There are three things I love ~ Kitchen Staircases
    Dutch Doors (Willow Decor just did a feature on them)
    Cary Grant (If he were alive today…I’d marry him!)

    Thank you for another great post, Julia! Have a gorgeous week!

    : )

    Julie M.
    .-= The Little Red Shop´s last blog ..JingleJingleZzzzzz =-.

  5. says

    This house reminds me of the house in “The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer.” I had a massive crush on Cary Grant… When I was younger, of course!

  6. Cyndia says

    I’ve admired Katharine Hepburn for years; before her death she was in the top two people I’d most like to meet. This post makes me think I’m going to Netflix her old movies!

  7. Mary says

    Great post! Thanks for it. And now I have to put the movie on my Netflix list!

  8. Nita says

    This is why I love priscilla curtains sooooo much. Don’t these just set off the windows? This is why I also love the 1940s movies! Hope to see the Leave Her to Heaven sets here soon. They remind me of these also.

    There were rumors for years about Cary Grant and Randolph Scott living together, so maybe Grant knew that word and used it before most people did.

    I love Katherine Hepburn! She was so angular to look at and loved her hair.

  9. Nita says

    Also, really surprised no one has written a book featuring the wonderful Hollywood sets. I love all that stone inside and outside the house.

  10. E. George says

    Hi Julia I love this movie and Katharine Hepburn just don’t get to see these old treasures as often as I would like but if they put this on the late late late night movies I will make sure to watch again. I wonder what the house would look like in colour. This was great Julia thank you for sharing. Till next time Regards Esther from Sydney with strange weather…..

  11. says

    I love “I was a Male War Bride!” Of course I love Katharine Hepburn too! And Carey Grant! And “Bringing Up Baby!” Thanks for at least starting my Monday in the best possible way.
    .-= Holley´s last blog ..Everything is new =-.

  12. says

    Julia-I am a big Cary Grant fan and am glad to hear he said, “Susan, Susan, Susan”. :)
    It amazes me how much larger furniture has gotten over the years. Love seeing an early kitchen “island” too. Yes, I thought I might grow up and live in the Conneticut countryside myself (with a cook)—call me when you get there :) Thanks for another good one! ps- Saw The Next Three Days yesterday. I think you can wait on the DVD!
    .-= Susan´s last blog ..First Things First =-.

  13. Jane says

    Thank you for showcasing this movie! A long time ago, I discovered that all my favorite movies were my favorites because of the settings. This house is on my top ten list. Did you ever see the Christmas movie Remember the Night with Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurry? That has a great farmhouse too, set in Indiana. Lots of great fireplaces, stone walls and Priscilla curtains in that one too. And Elsa Lanchester’s little artist studio/stable in Come to the Stable is wonderful also.

  14. says

    Another great movie house post! Thanks for the hard work you put into these. I will admit that my first thought upon seeing them was the “Christmas in Connecticut” house. But, when I look at the photos in that post I don’t see as much of a resemblance as I remembered in my head.
    .-= Amy from China Shepherdess´s last blog ..Flowers of the Week- Its about time! =-.

  15. Carol M says

    I love Katharine Hepburn — and Cary Grant. This movie is one on my list of favorites — especially in the category of movies I love for the houses. There are so many great country house sets from that era. I would love to have one of my own!

  16. says

    I adore Katharine! Absolutely obsessed. We just recently watched Desk Set for the umpteenth time, and I’ve been thinking that I need to add some Katharine movies to our Christmas movies box!
    .-= hip hip gin gin´s last blog ..Peonies =-.

  17. says

    This reminds me of Cary Grant in “The Bishop’s Wife,” another favorite. They really loved those Priscilla curtains back then, didn’t they?
    .-= Ms. Pearl´s last blog ..Probably the last =-.

  18. says

    Good Morning, Julia!

    Did you have a good weekend? Mine was a little crazy.. my son got a bad throat infection, we went up at the hospital, even.. but thank GOD he’s much, much better now.
    :-)

    I remember watching movies like this one with my mom, when I was a kid… we had the best times.. just the two of us. So, this post brings me good memories.

    I hope you have a great week, and if you aren’t too busy, go see the “Restored Spanish Cottage” that I posted today… oh, that’s my dream!

    xo

    Luciane at HomeBunch.com

  19. says

    I love this movie, the house and Cary and Katharine! I’m a sucker for those stone walls, and I love the cow peeking through the dutch door! I have to say, the exterior really doesn’t look like it would match the 2 story interior. Do you think Pricilla curtains will ever make a comeback? I remember my Mother having them years and years ago. I just don’t think they have that “clean” look people prefer today.
    Thank you for all the trouble of posting such great old movies and the memories they bring!
    .-= Pat´s last blog ..Sunday Scripture =-.

  20. says

    Great post, great house, great movie. One minor correction – Hawks and his wife Slim actually built a copy of this house in Bel Air according to her autobiography.

  21. Steve says

    The move poster illustrates the vastly different attitude toward tobacco use back then. Hey, Cary Grant, put out that cigarette!

    • hookedonhouses says

      It’s on my list of shows I want to get to eventually. Maybe in the second half of 2011? Thanks for the suggestion! -Julia

  22. Janice says

    This is my favorite house of all time! I never noticed the bar was behind the stairs. It was searching for info on this house, to see if it really existed or where they got the set ideas from, when I found Hooked on Houses — and boy I’m sure glad I did! You make my day!

  23. Jackie W.- Kansas says

    John Ford grew up on one of the islands off of Portland, Main. He changed his Irish name to Ford.

  24. karin/lifeinsmallchunks@blogspot.com says

    You know it wasn’t until I started reading “Hooked on Houses” (quite some time ago!) that I realized that there were others out there, like me, who often watched the sets more than they did the movie! I remember watching this (along with “Miracle on 34th Street) as a little girl in California, and thinking I wanted to move to Connecticut and have one of those houses! Karin

  25. says

    I’ve never seen this movie but now I am more than intrigued, raising a leopard and Katherine Hepburn?! I need to add this to the Netflix queue. The stone work is beautiful, I love that in the kitchen. It’s so warm and welcoming. I also spied the spiral staircase, love those.
    .-= Bre´s last blog ..How To- Get a Facial =-.

  26. Nita says

    Tinsel! I miss tinsel so much, and I would have it this year, but I have cats now and that would be dangerous for me and them.

  27. Susan S says

    I LOVE these country homes! They are so architecturally interesting and generally cozy. Just what I’d be looking for if I were in the market for a new home.

  28. cheryl says

    Love, love, love everything about the house and Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. I would love to see a feature on Holiday Inn with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Bing Crosby leaves the spotlight behind in NY and opens an Inn that is only open on Holidays. It is so much fun to see how the house is decorated for each holiday and the show they put on for each holiday as well.

    I always look forward to your blog Julia….it is a treat!

    CHERYL

    • hookedonhouses says

      I watch “Holiday Inn” every December and sing along with all the songs (and my kids think I’m nuts). I’ll have to do a feature on it someday (the movie, I mean–not my singing).

  29. Lizzy says

    LOVE that one.

    After seeing White Christmas for the first time I wanted to move to New England and run an Inn….

    • hookedonhouses says

      Me, too! I dragged my husband on a vacation to Vermont one fall just because of that movie…but alas, Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney were nowhere to be found. :-)

  30. HollyM says

    I agree that the I Love Lucy country house was similar! Maybe they based their set design on some of these old movies. . . I noticed about a month ago, during a rerun marathon on TVLand, that the house in Who’s The Boss has the same stone walls, etc. It was supposed to be a Connecticut house, too.

    I would love to see a post about the set for Holiday Inn, the Bing Crosby/Fred Astaire movie. I’ve always loved that set, and the one for White Christmas.

    As always, I’m glad I start here with my daily blog peeking. I know I’ll be entertained, informed, and intrigued!

  31. Kim says

    I love Katharine Hepburn movies. She’s a great actress. One of the movies I love with her in, is:”Little Women”.

    I also love Cary Grant as an actor. He’s great at acting. One of the movies he’s in that my family own is: “That Touch of Mink”. I love him in that movie.

    What a great house! I love the country home charm. When I was little I dreamed about owning some property and living in a farm or country house. I still wouldn’t mind that.

    Here’s a website that has an outside picture of the “Bringing Up Baby” house: http://www.retroweb.com/rko_encino_residential_sets.html scroll down to the bottom until you get to “RKO Encino Ranch Residential Sets”. Second row all the way to the right is the house. You can click on it to see it bigger and you can even see it in full screen.

    Thanks for sharing this with us.

    • hookedonhouses says

      I hadn’t seen the photos of the house from the RKO lot before, so that’s pretty exciting. Thanks for the link, Kim!

  32. says

    I have loved this house forever and ever and ever – and longer than that. The movie is fun, madcap, screwball, but, if I am honest, it is because of the house that I will sit down again and again to watch it. Thank you for that kitchen scene. I love the fireplace and see it as yet another place to cook, with the little compartments for bread to rise.

    I, too, am a Katherine Hepburn fan and do love her films with Spencer Tracey. She had a style of her own and I admired that. Thank you for this fun, fun post.

  33. Max Hare says

    I think the Christmas in CT house has similarities but since it was from a different studio, I think it unlikely to have been the same house as in Bringing Up Baby. But one house that Hepburn and Stanwyck DID share was what cannot ever be called anything but the Bonners’ apartment (from Adam’s Rib). Same set was also redressed for Stanwyck’s East Side West Side – same studio and even released in the same year. There’s no mistaking the layout, the entry hall with the great black and white tile (granite?) and stair case. It’s my dream apartment.

    • hookedonhouses says

      Good point about the different studios–I hadn’t thought of that. And I didn’t know about the Adam’s Rib apartment. Very interesting–thanks, Max!

    • hookedonhouses says

      Sometimes I learn more from my readers than I think they learn from me! :-)

  34. says

    Such an enjoyable post Julia…I love Kate & Cary (and leopards for that matter)!!
    These old movie CT country houses always make me feel Christmasy…wonder why??? ; ) This one reminded me a bit of Lucy and Ricki’s home in the CT countryside…but with a few more elegant touches.
    I’m surprised Cary wouldn’t hang around Baby…of course Katherine would, she was such a brave woman.

    Thank you for all the amazing effort!!! Hope you had a lovely and fun Thanksgiving! xo J~
    .-= Jessica´s last blog ..Our Special Guest =-.

  35. says

    Thanks so much for showing stills of this movie! I have watched it many times, both for the shear fun of it and for the charming adaptation of a Connecticut country house! I have spent my life since first viewing this movie while in my teens dreaming of duplicating that house. Of course the plan always gets diluted because I too love the house from Christmas in Connecticut and also the Connecticut homes in Pffft and When Ladies Meet. I have been to Connecticut many times and my husband went to prep school in Kent, but neither of us ever saw houses quite like Hollywood’s interpretation. I have narrowed it down to a post and beam construction with the ever so important Dutch Door and if I can find a window manufacturer who will custom make windows to hang on an slant like they do in Christmas in Connecticut, I may have a deal. My hubby will be relieved when I finalize it. By the way, my hubby’s name is David, so we are David and Susan just like the characters in Bringing Up Baby. He’s very level headed, but now that I think about it … I am a bit of a screwball! Thanks for a very enjoyable post!!!

    Love,
    Susan and Bentley
    xxoo
    .-= Susan´s last blog ..Santa Baby =-.

  36. Glenda Moore says

    Isn’t that house – at least the outside scene, the one that was used in the Richard Widmark and Doris Day movie “The Tunnel of Love”?

  37. Mary says

    Have you ever done a post on the house in The Enchanted Cottage? It’s a fabulous 1945 movie starring Robert Young. I think you would enjoy that house…. Also, have you ever done a post on the house in It’s A Wonderful Life…? I love that house, too!

    • hookedonhouses says

      I haven’t been able to find “The Enchanted Cottage” on DVD, but I’m dying to see it again. I remember it from years ago. I haven’t covered “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but I need to! -Julia

  38. Ms. Mellie says

    Chiming in with more accolades! I too love the priscilla curtains, although they don’t provide any privacy or insulation from the heat/cold (which may be why people don’t use them these days).

    Have you ever considered doing the sets from “Laura”? All three of the apartment sets in that film are fun to look at, but particularly Waldo Lydecker’s and Laura’s. (And it’s also interesting that even in an upper-crust apartment set in the 40s, the kitchen was totally utilitarian. I’ve noticed this seems to be true whether there’s a cook or the “lady of the house” does the duties.)

  39. kthnxbye says

    Oh drat, I missed this! My very favorite movie house ever.

  40. patricia says

    I love her house. My house was designed by the same architectt who designed Katharins’e Ct house – Cordelia Eaglesworth Mortimer. It is very similar but much smaller.

  41. Mia says

    It’s very interesting that you should mention the Grant-Hepburn movie “Holiday.” One of my all-time favorite rooms, the gathering room with the stone fireplace and chintz furniture, is in that movie. As I recall, in the movie they said that the children of the family used it as a playroom while growing up. Many times I have wished that movie was in color just to see that room with the fabulous fireplace!

  42. says

    I enjoyed your write-up on this film and your information about both the movie and the house!