“In the 1940 classic movie The Philadelphia Story, the reliable character actor John Halliday plays Katharine Hepburn’s reprobate father, who has returned home unexpectedly on the eve of her wedding.  Standing on a terrace in the early evening, he mixes and pours a dry martini for himself and his deceived but accepting wife (Mary Nash) while at the same time he quietly demolishes his daughter’s scorn for him and some of her abiding hauteur.  It’s the central scene of the ravishing flick, since it begins Tracy Lord’s turnabout from the chilly prig Main Line heiress to passably human Main Lain heiress, and the martini is the telling ritual:  the presentation of sophistication’s Host.  Hepburn had played the same part in the Broadway version of the Philip Barry play, a year before, which also required that martini to be mixed and poured before our eyes.  Sitting in the dark at both versions, I was entranced by the dialogue – only Philip Barry could have a seducer-dad convincingly instruct his daughter in morals – but at the same time made certain that the martini was made right:  a slosh of gin, a little vermouth, and a gentle stirring in the pitcher before the pouring and the first sips.  Yes, O.K., my martini-unconscious murmured, but next time maybe more ice, Seth.

“This is not a joke.  Barry’s stage business with the bottles and the silver stirring spoon in one moment does away with a tiresome block of explanation about the Lords:  he’s run off with a nightclub singer and she’s been betrayed, but they have shared an evening martini together before this – for all their marriage, in fact – and soon they’ll be feeling much better.  In the movie, which was directed by George Cukor, the afternoon loses its light as the drink is made and the talk sustained, and the whole tone of the drama shifts.  Everyone is dressed for the coming party, and the martini begins the renewing complications.  Sitting in the theatre, we’re lit up a little, too, and ready for all that comes next – the dance, the scene by the pool – because the playwright has begun things right.”

– from “Dry Martini” in Roger Angell’s Let Me Finish.


  1. Cubeland Mystic says


    Why does this capture your imagination? I am, I hate to use this word, “professionally” curious. It is more of a marketing question.

  2. Matthew Lickona says

    First, because it’s about martinis, which are JOB’s cocktail of choice.

    Second, because they’re being written about in a book JOB gave me.

    Third, because they are being written about in the context of advancing story, which is part of making art, which is a big topic around here of late.

    Fourth, because the passage is about the interaction of an art consumer with the art he’s consuming, which is sort of the subject of my attempt at a Percy book.

    Fifth, because said book includes a passage where I write about Bourbon and Percy and me in much the same way (though perhaps not with the same quality) as Angell writes here about martinis and Barry and himself.

    Sixth, because I really liked The Philadelphia Story, even though it’s no His Girl Friday or All About Eve.

    Seventh, because yes, the notion of the sinner preaching to the pious is appealing to me, at least when the sinner is preaching truth and not merely justifying his sin.

    Eighth, because I like the writing.

    Ninth, because I have an ill-concealed weakness for a world where people dress for dinner and have cocktails on the terrace that lead to conversations that are by turns witty and profound.

    Tenth, because I’m hoping Ellen will do a riff on it a la her riff on Ditchley.

    • Oh, terraces are the best. Terraces and lanais. I’ll see if the fancy strikes me. If I do, I will be sure to refrain from portraying any unwitting accomplices in ways undignified and unbecoming of ladies. That was, perhaps, funnier after two glasses of wine, when I was writing it.

      • Matthew Lickona says

        Many things are funnier after two glasses of wine. But I read it to the Wife while she was pretty close to sober, and she thought it was great.

    • Cubeland Mystic says

      Thanks Matthew
      This is one of my favorite films ever. I actually started watching it tonight but got shouted down by the little people. I think I like all the characters and the dialog. I like the pace too. I like Kate best of all.

  3. Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

    If theology is queen of the sciences, what is mixology?

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