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Friday December 1st 2023

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? | 1967

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner? filming location: Sutter Street, San Francisco
Guess Who's Coming To Dinner? location: the art gallery: Sutter Street, San Francisco

Stanley Kramer’s well-intentioned drama of interracial romance has its share of cringeworthy moments from a 21st Century perspective, but it’s the jaw-dropping moment when potential father-in-law Matt Drayton (Spencer Tracy) casually warns the terribly nice, well-heeled couple that if they marry they’ll be criminals in 16 states that gives you a sense of the times.

Tracy was extremely ill at the time of filming, which caused all sorts of problems with financing and insurance, and indeed he died only 17 days after filming his last scene. It also meant that the San Francisco-set story was made almost entirely on sets in Columbia Pictures’ Sunset Gower Studios in Hollywood.

There’s a little scene setting in the real San Francisco, but any shots featuring the characters played by Tracy and Katharine Hepburn (like the motor accident outside the drive-in restaurant) were filmed in longshot with lookalike stand-ins.

John Prentice (Sidney Poitier) and Joey Drayton (Katharine Houghton) arrive at San Francisco International Airport and take a cab to the art gallery run by Joey’s mother (Hepburn). The briefly-seen gallery exterior is 555 Sutter Street, between Powell and Mason Streets, a block north of Union Square.

The cab then takes the couple on to the Drayton house, the exterior of which was filmed in Pasadena.

For a short break from the family drama, the Draytons take a drive out to Mel’s Drive-In for ice cream. The Mel’s, where Matt samples the Oregon Boysenberry, is not the famous drive-in which stood at 140 South Van Ness Avenue, but the outlet at 5199 Mission Street, on the corner of Rolph Street, south of the city between the Outer Mission and Amazon Crocker districts. Predictably, it’s long gone (the Crocker Amazon Senior Apartments now occupy the site) but amazingly the Billiard Palacade, which you can see alongside Mel’s in the film, is still there.

Whether this was ironic or a deliberate choice, I don’t know, but the Mel’s chain had been picketed in October 1963 over the fact that, while the restaurant served African Americans and hired them as cooks, they were not allowed to work up front, where they could be seen by white customers.