“`The recent motion picture, Loving, has a noted ancestor. Five decades ago, a big-screen smooch by cinematic lovers, Katharine Houghton and Sidney Poitier, created a commotion in our nation, and also for Columbia Pictures, the distributors and producers of Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner.
“`Once, studio execs discovered the subject matter of the film’s plot, they were convinced audiences would stay away, and they might lose millions of dollars on the flick. The studio was wrong. It made more money for Columbia Pictures than any previous production; earned 10 Oscar nominations — winning two; and was chosen by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 greatest movies. But, number’s of theaters in the South refused to screen it.
“`By today’s standards, the screenplay appears rather quaint, and even, antiquated. Modern, critics say it was ultimately a cautious movie without much bite. Looking back, it didn’t go far enough to confront racism. However, explained in a scene, the bi-racial couple met in Hawaii, where the lovers would eventually live, and bring up a bi-racial family. Plus, it’s inferred one of their kids might grow up to be president; prophetic, considering Barack Obama’s story.
“`However, the social backdrop was far different in 1967. While the film was being shot, more than a dozen states had laws against miscegenation. The same year it came out, Secretary of State Dean Rusk offered to resign after his daughter married a black man. Interracial romance was such an explosive topic that Beah Richards, who played Poitier’s mom in the film, couldn’t see it in her hometown of Vicksburg, Mississippi.
“`Columbia Pictures wanted to shut down the production, arguing it couldn’t get insurance for Spencer Tracy, who was gravely ill (he died just days after shooting wrapped). Katharine Hepburn and director Stanley Kramer agreed to put their salaries in escrow if Tracy couldn’t finish, and another actor needed to be hired. Truth be told, the movie studio might have had other motives in mind.
“`Recent commercials for Cheerios and Chase Bank celebrate interracial couples. Madison Avenue-made productions indicate a growing acceptance. The U.S. Census Bureau reports interracial opposite-sex married couple households increased by 28% over the decade; from 7% in 2000, to 10% in 2010.
“`Still, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner could have forced liberal audiences to confront their prejudices. I contend the motion picture remains a revolutionary pioneer in celluloid. And, this week, it celebrates its 50th anniversary.
Until next time> “never forget”