An Actress's Thoughts

How are Things with the Film Family?

On 19 February 24, the congress Empowered for Equality took place on the occasion of 10 years of Pro Quote Regie / Pro Quote Film during the 74th Berlin Film Festival. I was asked to give a keynote speech and also attend the official launch of the ffd PQF family-friendly filming website I created. Here is a shortened version of my 20-minute talk:

Last year, I was commissioned by Pro Quote Film to develop a catalogue of measures on the subject of family-friendly filming. I think it was supposed to be eight pages. But I soon realised that it didn’t make much sense that way and suggested creating a website instead, because it’s easier to expand, you can fit more on it and incorporate links. It was a bit daft to suggest that, as the project then got bigger and longer! But now the site is actually finished and, if everything works out, it will be launched a little later today.

How are Things with the Film Family?

We always say that we are one big film family and that families look after their folk. That’s very nice.

I’ll start – sitnce many of you have probably been sitting here for a very long time or have been somewhere else before where you’ve only received input – with a little quiz. Who is this, does anybody know?

(a photo)

Audience: some names are called out, among them “Katharine Hepburn”

That’s right, Katharine Hepburn. And who is this?

(a second photo)

Voices from the Audience: “Cary Grant!”

Yes. And who is this?

(a third photo)

Audience: (no reaction)

That’s Priscilla Lane. And there is a reason why you didn’t know that. I’ll come to that in a bit.

Three Hollywood Stars

left to right: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane. publicity shots, common licence.

What these three have in common is that their careers in the film industry overlapped, and they also worked together in some films. Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, for example, did HOLIDAY, BRINGING UP BABY and PHILADELPHIA STORY together – three films that have really silly German titles, so I won’t mention them. Cary Grant and Priscilla Lane were in ARSENIC AND OLD LACE. They get married at the beginning, maybe if you’ve seen the film you’ll remember her now? A very funny, talented actress.

But that’s not the only thing the three of them have in common… Who knows what I’m getting at? Yes, compatibility of family and film career or incompatibility of family and film career!

Katharine Hepburn was already in her late fifties when her partner Spencer Tracy, who was overweight, an alcoholic and had heart problems, became really ill. She interrupted her career that moment on and looked after him and cared for him for many years. In the end, she nursed him back to health to the extent that he was able to make one last film with her: GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER? – and then he passed away. She was able to come back and get her career going again, she won three of her four Oscars after this family time off and then continued filming, also of course because she already had a great career before her caring gap years.

Cary Grant, maybe you know this, maybe you don’t, – his mother died when he was eleven. And when he was 30, he learnt that his mother hadn’t died at all, but that his father had her committed to a lunatic asylum, and I deliberately call it that. At the time, this was done without a doctor’s signature, the husband could simply sign her up. As I said, Grant was 30, and when his father died, he did everything he could to get his mother out of there. She was living in England, he was working in the USA, and he looked after her from afar for the rest of his life, visiting her regularly and looking after her. But that is not his only family aspect. When he was 62, he and his fourth wife Dyan Cannone had their first and his only child, Jennifer Grant, and he stopped working immediately. He never made another film and was a full-time father. He reportedly spoke of Jennifer as his “best production”.
(EDIT: unfortunately I made a mistake in my talk and attributed Jennifer Grant to the wrong mother. It has now been corrected in this text, my apologies to all concerned.)

Priscilla Lane had gone through something similar at a much younger age. She made two more films after ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, then it was over because she got married when she was just 27. She had her first child and stayed at home, and eventually there were four children, and she said, “No, that’s all right, I’m happy to look after them.” A few years later, at 33, she did another film and it probably slipped out that she would have missed it so much, but then immediately added No, no, family comes first.


Many people would love to have both a family and a career. I have been commissioned to create this website to do something about this. You have just heard the three examples from Hollywood. They involved both children and relatives in need of care. And that’s what we are talking about. Maybe there are relatives who are ill, maybe someone has Longcovid or a complicated pelvic fracture, or their child has a disability or their parents are getting to the age where they can no longer look after themselves and need care. And something else is interesting in this context. German Actress Gesine Cukrowski launched the initiative #LetsChangeThePicture about the invisibility of women over 47 in German film and television productions, along with Palais Fluxx. And the same age now appears for those who care for relatives. Because when a woman is in her late 40s and her husband is the same age or a little older, some men develop illnesses – strokes, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, for example – and they may need to be given care. Or one’s own parents or parents-in-law become frail, then it’s primarily women who take care of them. So another reason why women stop working for money (even if they are still working full-time).

These two aspects – parenthood and caring for relatives – must be the focus. And this is actually a measure of the humanity of a society, how we deal with the future, i.e. the children, but also with the past, with our roots. And I have a feeling that small children, or rather someone with small children, are still more likely to hear “Oh how nice!” And small babies are really cute when they burp and then someone quickly goes to change their nappies and then they babble this crazy stuff to themselves. That’s cute. And young mums look almost sexy. If they only sleep for three hours every night, they have this tired face with shiny eyes, and if they’re still breastfeeding, they have large breasts, and that can also be very attractive. But the 50-year-old woman who is perhaps caring for her mother, her partner, her grandfather, who is babbling nonsense, who is incontinent, who is simply in need of care, nobody wants to talk about that because they may remind us of our own mortality. And outside of the film industry, they say – and these are of course only estimates – that only a quarter of the people working and at the same time being involved in caring for relatives in any way tell their employer at all, three quarters keep quiet about it. And I would estimate that there are even fewer in the film industry, perhaps 5 percent? That’s just an estimate. You probably all know people with children in the film industry. But how many do you know who care for relatives? Hm. Yes, they do exist.

But of course we can feel a bit more optimistic now as some producers recently called for more solidarity in the film industry. That’s great, because that’s what it’s all about.


[English translation to be continued]

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