Stage Door is a film from 1937 starring Ginger Rogers and Katharine Hepburn as aspiring actresses rooming together in a boarding house. Based on a stage play of the same title from 1936, the film also stars a 14 year old Ann Miller and Lucille Ball in one of her earliest roles. The story is about boarding house girls gathering to trade career and relationship support and quips while lounging together in a commons area dressed in either gorgeous pajamas or gorgeous gowns. One girl keeps a cat lying on her lap or across her shoulders at all times! She has my life!
Katharine Hepburn is the rich newcomer who has decided to have a real experience by sharing a room in a boarding house. Ginger Rogers is her poor, savvy, no nonsense roommate who detests Hepburn’s upper class ways. I don’t think the creator of the play or the film meant for this to happen, but what results when Rogers & Hepburn start to bicker and tease is a palpable sexual tension between the two actresses that you can CUT WITH A KNIFE! It’s just scene-after-scene of me shouting KISS HER! at the screen. Just looking at the promos sends me. Look at the eyes they’re making at each other! Oh, they are falling in love in spite of themselves! They cannot resist each other’s charm! I can’t either! KISS HER!
The amazing documentary The Celluloid Closet discusses gay subtext in film. There are so few films made with non-tragic gay lead characters, or non-stereotypical gay characters, that queer viewers must find the subtext between film characters. We find the characteristics that we relate, expand on relationships that the film only gives us a taste of, and discover through their behaviour how they’re like us. Stage Door is an easy film for us to fit ourselves inside. Rogers and Hepburn play their characters with a vague distaste in men and an intense interest in each other. They give us enough so that a gay audience is able to believe that maybe they are falling for each other, maybe their animosity will soften into something other than platonic friendship, maybe they do want to push their beds together and make each other moan. This is what we seek, and when we find it, we hold on tight!