As someone whose name is routinely spelled with an extra “e”, I’m conscious of correct spelling of names. Animate and inanimate.
And so it is with whisky. Is there an “e” in it or not?
The answer is yes.
Back in early 1980s Brisbane, family from overseas would come through the arrivals gate at the tin shed that served as Brisbane Airport and present a bottle.
Duty Free Scotch. Usually Glenfiddich. I had no idea what it was, but it wasn’t a time or place likely to be remembered for its sophistication. So any bottle that had to be hand-delivered internationally must have been exotic.
It was never referred to as “whisky” and it took me some years to work out that Scotch actually is whisky. Even longer to work out that whisky ain’t always Scotch.
And then the two spellings, and this time it isn’t just the Americans playing funny buggers with the language.
So here we go. “Whisky” generally comes from Scotland, Australia, Japan or Canada.
“Whiskey” is generally from Ireland and the USA. I say generally, because Makers Mark and George Dickel, both of which hail from the USA, opt to drop the E.
A helpful way to remember it is that countries that have an E in their names, have an E in their whiskey. Generally. Everything goes to hell with this system now with the Kiwis making whisky from the Scottish-influenced South Island, but generally.
E or no E, like a martini, it seemed to me a drink for grown-ups.
It also seemed likely to be a critical element in my chosen career. Back then, I was going to be a journalist, and had shaped my career aspirations from two sources; the Sally Baxter, Girl Reporter books, and the countless movies where hard-bitten but scrupulous journos would down a few belts after work and GET THE SCOOP.
Since my uncle didn’t own a newspaper like that prissy Sally Baxter’s did, clearly the booze was going to be of major importance to me.
But the news-hounds portrayed in the movies were mostly men. There are plenty of movies where you see male journos confidently downing whisky but not enough Tess Hardings.
Katharine Hepburn played Tess Harding, Foreign Correspondent in the 1942 film, “Woman of the Year”. She played opposite Spencer Tracy for the first time in this film and kindled their journalistic romance over a couple of scotches in THIS CLIP. Being a young romantic, I thought it a portrayal of a wonderful marriage of hearts and minds and wanted a relationship just like it.
And when you consider that there were 26 states in the whiskey-with-an-e USA where women were legally prevented from being bartenders until well into the 1970s, is pretty amazing (Wall Street Journal covers this here). Possibly too amazing for some.
Of course Sam tired of Tess’ brilliance and second-fiddling to her career and the whole marriage was imperilled until she donned an apron. He redeems himself somewhat by not letting her give the whole thing away, but it was definitely happier in the early scotch-drinking days (and given KH was dating Director George Stevens when production started and dating ST when production ended, maybe the apron thing was Stevens’ parting gift to her).
Five decades later the entire plot was lifted and bastardised for Up Close & Personal. If you managed to miss it, it’s a Michelle Pfeiffer offering of similar quality to Tequila Sunrise and also involving kissing in the ocean and THIS song which features orange lipstick and many shots of news-hounds at work and play.
MP plays the absurdly-named Tally Atwater, a television journalist who apparently “eats the camera”, sports a revolving door of hairstyles and endures no end of man problems with another genetically-blessed serious media type, Robert Redford.
I won’t be ruining anything for you by telling you that Robert Redford’s character – Warren JUSTICE – was killed off before he could demand that Tally stop being so damned successful and get back into his shadow.
But Tally Atwater is more Rita Hanson than Tess Harding which is not a good thing. Probably another goddamned vermouth drinker.
But Katharine Hepburn, now there’s a woman.
And when I finished high school, in one of those things that seem so important at the time but
within about three weeks had faded into complete irrelevance, I was given a Katharine Hepburn book as a prize for Speech and Drama. Kismet. I would follow her into journalism.
Except I didn’t. Didn’t get the marks for bloody journalism, did I?
But I did get the book.
So I know that KH was born in Hartford Connecticut which 80’s girls will remember featured heavily in Sweet Dreams books and which you likely won’t know is considered the world insurance capital. Take that Paris!
But Hartford is a helluva town, especially for lovers of reading and writing.
Amongst notables from Hartford are Mark Twain (author of Huckleberry Finn) and Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of influential abolitionist novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and reportedly the woman to whom Civil War President Abraham Lincoln said “so you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war”). Two books Tess Harding specifically (and a little pretentiously) mentions to Sam Craig during the scotch-drinking courtship.
I suspect there’s a lot about this movie that was meaningful to Katharine Hepburn. As well as meeting the love of her life (who regrettably may have been a bit of a dinosaury-shit in reality), her character paid tribute to her aunt, Ellen Whitcomb, a real mover and shaker in the feminist movement.
Like Katharine Hepburn’s mother – Katharine Martha Houghton Hepburn. Not only did KMHH host bad-arse women’s suffrage leader Emmaline Pankhurst on her USA visit, she founded the organisation that would become Planned Parenthood. And if ever there’s been an incontrovertibly good idea, it’s that becoming a parent – or not – is better if done as part of a PLAN.
So hats off and thanks to you, Katharine Martha Houghton Hepburn. Especially on behalf of girls who like a drink.
Because according to movies of the recent decades, if you’re of the fairer sex and drink whisky, expect to find yourself in trouble.
Like wild-girl Rizzo, who Drive-In scuttle-butt said had a bun in the oven. Fortunately it’s a false alarm for Rizzo so no need for any tough decisions before we Chang chang changitty chang shoobop. Phew.
Betty Rizzo was played by the kick-arse Stockard Channing (although soon to be distressingly recreated by High School Musical’s Vanessa Hudgens).
Channing’s acting credits are long and include journalist Marcia McGrath, a part written by another Hartford local, one John Gregory Dunne.
JGD was, for some 40 years before he dropped dead with a Scotch in his hand, the husband of writer and journalist Joan Didion, who inspired generations of writers – and not only because of how impossibly cool she looks in this photo, but because of the beauty of her prose.
Like Katharine, Joan has inspired me as a writer and as a woman. Her coolness knows no bounds, and at age 80 was named the face of the Spring 2015 Celine collection. What a kick-arse – if underweight – woman.
And yet, no one is perfect.
See, Didion and Dunne – another marriage of hearts and minds – collaborated to write the screenplay for a movie that would feature a song sung by another Celine. Yep, Up Close & Personal.
I need a scotch.
PS In one of those lovely quirks of fate, when I looked at the
bookplate in my Katharine Hepburn book for the first time in over a decade, I found this. An extra E.
Well played Universe.