At the time, one of the most powerful figures in Hollywood was Howard Hughes. Though he hadn’t officially produced a movie since 1932’s “Scarface,” his influence and connections loomed large, and he happened to be friends with Howard Hawks and convinced him to cast Cary Grant — who was under contract with RKO — in “Bringing Up Baby.” According to “Cary Grant: A Biography” by Marc Eliot, it was Grant’s direct collaboration with the mogul that led to the creation of so many of the best gags in “Bringing Up Baby,” as the two would discuss the character of Dr. David Huxley in meeting after meeting.
For my money, the finest set piece in the film is when Grant’s Huxley accidentally tears the back of Katharine Hepburn’s dress, and he frantically tries to cover her exposed undergarments with his body or top hat. The two actors are in complete sync with one another and perform this beautifully choreographed near-dance of covering up beautifully. That scene was Grant’s idea.
The invention doesn’t stop there. Huxley in a frilly woman’s bathrobe, saying, “I’ve gone gay all of a sudden.” That’s from Grant, which slyly pokes at his much-debated and discussed sexuality. In one scene, the heel of Hepburn’s shoe breaks, and Grant immediately had the perfect one-liner for her and whispered it in her ear. He even got Hepburn to perform a stunt at the end of the movie that utilized a “circus grip” technique that he learned growing up as a vaudeville performer.
Cary Grant isn’t just integral to the success of “Bringing Up Baby” because of how deft an actor he is, but without his imagination — and Hawks’ willingness to collaborate — many of the film’s best moments wouldn’t exist. Talk about being indispensable.