This Day In History: December 12

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On December 12, 1967, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, a groundbreaking movie about an interracial romantic relationship starring Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton, opens in theaters.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner followed the story of a young white woman (Houghton) who brings her fiance (Poitier), an African American doctor, home to meet her parents, played by Hepburn and Tracy in their last film together. (Off-screen, the couple had a long romance, although Tracy was married to another woman. He died on June 10, 1967, a short time after the movie wrapped.)

Directed by Stanley Kramer, who was known for his “message” films—including Inherit the Wind (about the Scopes “monkey” trial) and Judgment at Nuremberg (about Nazi crimes during World War II)—Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner examines the reactions of the young couple’s various family members and friends to their relationship. Until the landmark 1967 civil-rights case Loving vs. Virginia, which was decided just five months before Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was released, marriage between blacks and whites was still illegal in parts of America, and Kramer’s film was notable for its willingness to tackle this taboo topic. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and collected two Oscars, including Best Actress for Hepburn, the second of her career.

Hepburn (1907-2003) won four Academy Awards (out of 12 total nominations) over the course of her long career, more than any other actress. She collected her first Best Actress Oscar for 1933’s Morning Glory, with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and went on to earn Best Actress Oscar nominations for Alice Adams (1935), The Philadelphia Story (1940), Woman of the Year (1942), which marked her first movie with Spencer Tracy, The African Queen (1951), Summertime (1955), The Rainmaker (1956), Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) and Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1962). The legendary screen star followed her Oscar win for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner with Best Actress golden statues for The Lion in Winter (1968) and On Golden Pond (1981). Her final feature film was 1994’s Love Affair, with Warren Beatty and Annette Bening.

Sidney Poitier, born on February 27, 1927, earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination for 1958’s The Defiant Ones, directed by Stanley Kramer and co-starring Tony Curtis and Theodore Bikel. For his performance as a handyman who builds a chapel for a group of German nuns in 1963’s Lilies of the Field, he became the first black man ever to win an Academy Award for Best Actor. Among Poitier’s other well-known films are To Sir, With Love (1967) and In the Heat of the Night (1967).

Spencer Tracy (1900-1967) took home his first Best Actor Oscar for 1937’s Captains Courageous, having been previously nominated in the category for 1936’s San Francisco. He won again for 1938’s Boys Town and went on to earn nominations for Father of the Bride (1950), Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), The Old Man and the Sea (1958), Inherit the Wind (1960) and Judgment at Nuremberg (1961). Tracy received his ninth and final Best Actor Oscar nomination for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.